Big 12: Northwestern State Demons

2009 stacked with Big 12 moments to remember

January, 13, 2010
1/13/10
2:00
PM ET
The 2009 season in the Big 12 didn't turn out as planned because of the rash of injuries and suspensions that began before the season and continued through the final bowl game of the year.

Here are my 10 most memorable moments of the Big 12 season. They aren't ranked in any specific order, but all played a huge part in the conference this season.
    [+] EnlargeColt
    Jeff Gross/Getty ImagesColt McCoy's injury in the BCS title game left fans wondering what could have been.

  • Colt McCoy's injury: When the senior Texas quarterback was lost for the game with a nerve injury to his throwing shoulder after five offensive snaps in the BCS National Championship Game against Alabama, the Longhorns' hopes were doomed. Even a strong and gutty relief performance by freshman backup quarterback Garrett Gilbert won't alter Texas fans from thinking what could have happened if McCoy had not been injured.
  • Sam Bradford's injuries: Oklahoma's hopes of a national championship were crushed after Bradford sprained an AC joint in his throwing shoulder shortly before halftime in the Sooners' season opener against BYU. Their dreams of a four-peat of consecutive Big 12 titles died when Bradford was reinjured early in the first quarter of its South Division showdown against Texas.
  • “I'm so proud to be your coach”: Without starting quarterback Austen Arnaud and top rusher Alexander Robinson, and with a sapping flu bug depleting his team, first-year Iowa State coach Paul Rhoads was overcome with emotion in the locker room following his team's 9-7 upset at Nebraska. His heartfelt reaction captured by an ISU film crew became an immediate YouTube sensation.
  • Sticks' dramatic comeback: With the Texas Tech program in limbo after Mike Leach's firing three days earlier, the Red Raiders fell behind underdog Michigan State in the Alamo Bowl. Interim coach Ruffin McNeill pulled Taylor Potts from the lineup and inserted backup Steven “Sticks” Sheffield at quarterback with 8:05 left to give his team a boost. Sheffield responded by hitting his first six passes and going 9-for-11 in the game to help direct the Red Raiders to a 41-31 victory. Potts earned Most Valuable Player honors in the game, but Sheffield saved the Red Raiders' victory.
  • Colt McCoy's "too early" Heisman moment: McCoy was presumed to have locked up the Heisman with a 65-yard touchdown run through the middle of the Texas A&M defense, helping spark a 49-39 victory over the Aggies. It punctuated an effort in which McCoy accounted for 479 yards and five touchdowns against A&M. That was, until …
  • "Big Suh" dominates Texas: Nebraska defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh provided a game for the ages against Texas in the Big 12 title game before losing to the Longhorns, 13-12. Suh had a Big 12 title game record 4.5 sacks, and the Cornhuskers harassed McCoy into three interceptions and sacked him nine times. The big effort not only doomed McCoy's Heisman hopes, but undoubtedly sparked Suh's trip to the Heisman presentation at the same time.
  • Broyles slices through the Cowboys: Oklahoma wide receiver/punt returner Ryan Broyles punctuated a 209-yard punt return effort with an 87-yard scoring return to lead the Sooners' 27-0 victory over Oklahoma State, ending the Cowboys' hopes of making a trip to a BCS game. Broyles' 316 all-purpose yards were the third-best effort in school history.
  • Robert Griffin's injury: Baylor's worst fears were realized during the Bears' 68-13 victory over Northwestern State when their stellar sophomore quarterback suffered a season-ending knee injury. It killed their hopes of snapping a 15-season bowl drought -- tied for the longest among schools with automatic BCS bids -- just when promise under Coach Art Briles had never appeared brighter.
  • Danario's late-season explosion: Missouri wide receiver Danario Alexander progressed into the nation's most explosive receiver during the final half of the season. He nearly became the first player in college football history to notch back-to-back-to-back-to-back 200-yard receiving games. He finished with 214 yards against Baylor, 200 against Kansas State, 173 yards against Iowa State and 233 yards against Kansas in his final four regular-season games.
  • Hunter Lawrence's field goal: After it appeared Texas had mismanaged its way to losing the Big 12 title game, one second was put back on the clock. Hunter Lawrence took advantage on the reprieve with a 46-yard field goal that gave the Longhorns a 13-12 victory over Nebraska and a berth in the BCS title game. It was the first time in Lawrence's career -- dating back to pee-wee football -- that he had ever attempted a game-winning kick.

Big 12 links: Miller a throwback to A&M's 'Wrecking Crew'

August, 19, 2009
8/19/09
1:10
PM ET

Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Griffin

Lunch links are here from across the Big 12.

Dig in.

  • Hybrid Texas A&M linebacker/defensive end Von Miller is evoking memories of great Aggie defensive players from the past, San Antonio Express-News/Houston Chronicle beat writer Brent Zwerneman reports.
  • Missouri will be attempting to exceed lessened expectations after losing several key players from the Tigers' back-to-back championship game teams, the Denver Post's John Henderson reports.
  • The Lawrence Journal-World's Dugan Arnett introduces us to one-time Michigan commit Quintin Woods, who is expected to boost Kansas' pass rush after transferring from junior college.
  • Record-setting quarterback Blake Szymanski provides Baylor with a battle-tested backup behind Robert Griffin, the Waco Tribune-Herald's John Werner reports.
  • Oklahoma State quarterback Zac Robinson tells the Oklahoman's John Helsley that he has never learned how to slide while he's scrambling.
  • Nebraska guard Derek Meyer is excited about a chance to play football closer to home sitting out last season after transferring from Kansas State.
  • Six-foot-7 wide receiver Adrian Reese will be transferring from Texas Tech to Northwestern State in hopes of earning more playing time after being demoted to the Red Raiders' scout team, Don Williams of the Lubbock Avalanche-Journal reports.
  • A number of at-risk Texas players ingested a silicone-coated CorTemp capsule to provide readings that enables trainers to better manage the searing South Texas heat at practice sessions, the Austin American-Statesman's Alan Trubow reports.
  • Colorado is intent on improving its run defense after struggling last season, Boulder Daily Camera beat reporter Kyle Ringo reports.
  • The Des Moines Register's Randy Peterson breaks down all things Iowa State in an informative chat about the Cyclones.
  • The Topeka Capital-Journal's Austin Meek reports that Grant Gregory is closing the gap in his bid to unseat Carson Coffman as Kansas State's starting quarterback.
  • The Columbia Tribune's Dave Matter writes about Missouri's recent troubling case of dropped passes -- a malady that Coach Gary Pinkel calls his No. 1 concern of preseason camp.

Why it's critical for Baylor to start the season fast

August, 18, 2009
8/18/09
3:38
PM ET

Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Griffin

I know some of you are wondering why I've made it a point of emphasis that Baylor needs a quick start to make its first bowl trip since 1994.

The major reason is that past history has not been kind to Big 12 teams that struggle in the nonconference portion of their schedules.

And with Baylor facing one of the toughest nonconference schedules in the Big 12, it will be critical for them to start fast. Baylor is facing a most daunting schedule in terms of being the only Big 12 team with two opponents from BCS conferences with its opener at Wake Forest on Sept. 5 and a home game on Sept. 19 against Connecticut.

I went back and did some figuring.

Of the 92 bowl teams in the 13-season history of the Big 12, only 10 of them had two nonconference regular-season losses. Only three teams with two nonconference losses have qualified for bowl games among the 46 teams making bowl trips since 2003.

Here's another nugget that might act as an incentive to Art Briles or anybody else in the conference. Of the 43 Big 12 teams that have started the season with a 4-0 record -- occasionally with a conference game thrown in -- all made bowl trips that season.

So that should bode well for the Bears if they are able to run the table in an opening start with nonconference games at Wake Forest and home games against Connecticut, Northwestern State and Kent State.

Here's a look at the Big 12's bowl teams over the years and how they did in nonconference play during the regular season. The two-loss teams are indicated in bold facing.

1996: No losses, Kansas State; one loss, Colorado, Texas Tech, Nebraska; two losses, Texas.

1997: No losses, Kansas State, Nebraska, Oklahoma State, Texas A&M; one loss, Missouri.

1998: No losses, Colorado, Kansas State, Texas Tech, Nebraska; one loss, Missouri, Texas A&M; two losses, Texas.

1999: No losses, Kansas State, Nebraska, Texas A&M; one loss, Oklahoma, Texas; two losses, Colorado.

2000: No losses, Iowa State, Kansas State, Nebraska, Oklahoma, Texas Tech; one loss, Texas, Texas A&M.

2001: No losses, Kansas State, Iowa State, Nebraska, Oklahoma, Texas, Texas A&M, Texas Tech; one loss, Colorado.

2002: No losses, Kansas State, Oklahoma, Texas; one loss, Nebraska; two losses, Colorado, Iowa State, Oklahoma State, Texas Tech.

2003: No losses: Missouri, Nebraska, Oklahoma, Oklahoma State; one loss, Kansas, Kansas State, Texas, Texas Tech.

2004: No losses, Colorado, Oklahoma, Oklahoma State, Texas; one loss, Iowa State, Texas A&M, Texas Tech.

2005: No losses, Iowa State, Kansas, Missouri, Texas, Texas Tech; one loss, Colorado, Missouri; two losses, Oklahoma.

2006: No losses, Missouri, Texas A&M; one loss, Kansas State, Nebraska, Oklahoma, Oklahoma State, Texas, Texas Tech.

2007: No losses, Kansas, Missouri, Oklahoma, Texas, Texas Tech; one loss, Texas A&M; two losses, Colorado, Oklahoma State.

2008: No losses, Missouri, Oklahoma, Oklahoma State, Texas, Texas Tech; one loss, Kansas, Nebraska.

Additionally, Baylor has never started a season since joining the Big 12 with four straight victories. The Bears started 3-0 in 1996 under Chuck Reedy, finishing 4-7. And they started 3-0 under Guy Morriss in 2005, finishing 5-6.

Record-breaking nine bowl teams predicted for Big 12

August, 11, 2009
8/11/09
10:00
AM ET

Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Griffin

It's been a long time between bowl trips for Baylor.

The Bears' last bowl trip came in 1994 when they were defeated by Washington State in the Alamo Bowl. Current Baylor starting quarterback Robert Griffin was 4 years old when that game was played.

But excitement is rampant along the Brazos River and the Bears are ready to snap a bowl drought that is tied with Duke for the longest in schools in BCS-affiliated conferences.

Considering that Grant Teaff was coaching Baylor then and Steve Spurrier was directing the Blue Devils, it has been an extensive drought for both schools.

The Bears have their best hope this season and I'm thinking they squeak in. It will be critical for them to win at least one of their first two games against Wake Forest and Connecticut. They also need victories over Northwestern State and Kent State to enter Big 12 play at 3-1.

If Baylor does make that remarkable step, it will likely mean the Big 12 will be able to fill its full complement of bowls. It was unable to fill two bowls at the bottom of its list of partners. But that likely won't be the case this season if the Bears live up to their preseason hype.

Here's a look at how I predict the Big 12's bowl slots will be filled this season with a record nine teams making trips. The last two or three might be 6-6 teams, but there won't be much complaining from any of them.

Baylor Bears

Bowl bid: Possibly.

Best case: Robert Griffin electrifies the nation with stunning victories over Wake Forest and Connecticut to start the season and the Bears are already at six victories by mid-October. It makes them the feel-good story of the conference, places Art Briles in prime consideration for a couple of top jobs and pushes the Bears into the Alamo Bowl where they last went bowling in 1994.

Worst case: Offensive tackle Danny Watkins can't protect Griffin's blind side and the Bears stumble early with two-straight losses. Those pass-protection problems fester all season as the Bears revert to their losing ways and miss a bowl for another season.

Prediction: Texas Bowl.

Colorado Buffaloes

Bowl bid: Possibly.

Best case: In a nod to soothsayers everywhere, the Buffaloes indeed live up to Dan Hawkins' preseason "prediction" and win 10 games, claiming a surprise Big 12 title game and ending up in the Holiday Bowl.

Worst case: The Buffaloes don't settle on either quarterback and tumble out of bowl contention for the third time in the last four seasons under Hawkins, making his seat extremely toasty this winter.

Prediction: Independence Bowl.

Iowa State Cyclones:

Best case: The Cyclones become the surprise story of the conference as Austen Arnaud immediately blossoms in Tom Herman's new offense. The defense shows steady improvement under Wally Burnham, providing a surprise trip to the casinos and crawfish boils at the Independence Bowl in Shreveport, La.

Worst case: Paul Rhoads is a willing worker, but his new team just never jells with his philosophy. More road woes continue against Kent State as the Cyclones see their nation-worst road losing streak stretch to 22 games as they stay home from a bowl for a fourth-straight season.

Prediction: Home for the holidays.

Kansas Jayhawks

Bowl bound: Count on it.

Best case: The Jayhawks find a couple of defensive reincarnations of Aqib Talib to help them spring a couple of upsets over South Division powers. Confidence gleaned from those games helps them surprise the South Divison champion in the Big 12 title game and send Mark Mangino and his team skipping into their second BCS bowl in three seasons -- this time to the Fiesta Bowl.

Worst case: Todd Reesing struggles behind a retooled offensive line and the Jayhawks' offense isn't nearly as potent as expected. Without a high-powered scoring team, the Kansas defense is exposed as posers, falling to the Insight.com Bowl for the second-straight season.

Prediction: Sun Bowl.

Kansas State Wildcats

Best case: Bill Snyder brings the magic back to Manhattan, picking up a couple of upset victories to restore some pride in the Kansas State program from early in the season. The Wildcats ride that momentum for a surprise trip to the Insight.com Bowl.

Worst case: A quarterback never emerges and a struggling pass defense regresses into a horrific unit against the Big 12's high-powered aerial attacks. Those defeats make Snyder wonder why he ever left retirement as the Wildcats finish out of a bowl trip for the fifth time in six seasons.

Prediction: Home for the holidays.

Missouri Tigers

Bowl bid: Possibly.

Best case: Blaine Gabbert provides steady leadership as Derrick Washington becomes the most versatile back in the Big 12. The retooled defense emerges as the Tigers claim a surprise Big 12 North title and end up at the Cotton Bowl.

Worst case: The loss of Chase Daniel, Jeremy Maclin, Chase Coffman and both coordinators cause the wheels to fall off the Missouri program and they miss a bowl trip for the first time since 2004.

Prediction: Insight.com Bowl

Nebraska Cornhuskers

Bowl bound: Count on it.

Best case: Zac Lee is a revelation at quarterback and the defense emerges in Bo Pelini's second season to push the Cornhuskers to a upset victory in the Big 12 title game and into the Fiesta Bowl.

Worst case: The hype for Lee is just that. The new quarterback struggles and the Cornhuskers' defense backslides all the way t
o the Texas Bowl.

Prediction: Holiday Bowl.

Oklahoma Sooners

Bowl bound: Count on it.

Best case: The young offensive line jells and the defense plays better than expected as the Sooners earn another chance to play in the BCS title game -- restoring order in the Cotton Bowl on Oct. 17 along the way.

Worst case: The offensive front struggles to protect Sam Bradford and the defense isn't as good as expected, dropping the Sooners to their first visit to the Alamo Bowl.

Prediction: Fiesta Bowl.

Oklahoma State Cowboys

Bowl bound: Count on it.

Best case: The offensive triplets exceed expectations as Bill Young cobbles together enough defense to enable the Cowboys to outduel Texas and Oklahoma for their first Big 12 championship and a trip to the Fiesta Bowl.

Worst case: The defense still can't match up with Oklahoma and Texas -- and some of the other teams in the South Division either. Those struggles send the Cowboys skidding all the way to the Insight.com Bowl in Tempe, Ariz., where they play second-fiddle to the Sooners who are playing up the road in the Fiesta Bowl.

Prediction: Cotton Bowl.

Texas Longhorns

Bowl bound: Count on it

Best case: The Longhorns find a featured running back and enough push from the defensive front to make all of the BCS rankings meaningless en route back to another shot at the national title in Pasadena.

Worst case: Colt McCoy gets hurt, the running game struggles and the Longhorns keep playing dropsy with key turnovers chances for another season. Instead, Texas players fumble their way to the Holiday Bowl in San Diego where they munch fish tacos and feed the whales at Sea World for the fourth time in the last 10 years.

Prediction: BCS National Championship Game.

Texas A&M Aggies

Bowl bid: Possibly.

Best case: Jerrod Johnson plays so well at quarterback that Ryan Tannehill moves back to wide receiver full time. The Aggies respond to defensive coordinator Joe Kines' defense with vast improvement through the season, stunning Texas in the regular-season finale to push them into the Alamo Bowl.

Worst case: A leaky offensive line can't open holes or pass block and the Aggies' defense struggles against all Big 12 quarterbacks in another season that finishes without a bowl.

Prediction: Home for the holidays.

Texas Tech Red Raiders

Bowl bid: Count on it.

Best case: Taylor Potts exceeds all expectations and the Red Raiders defense plays so well that some start accusing the school of being a "defense-first" program. The Red Raiders don't win the Big 12 South, but they revisit the location of Mike Leach's biggest bowl victory at the Holiday Bowl.

Worst case: The Red Raiders miss Graham Harrell and Michael Crabtree more than expected and skid out of bowl contention for the first time under Leach.

Prediction: Alamo Bowl.

Big 12 teams should feel slothful after these gooey treats

July, 22, 2009
7/22/09
4:32
PM ET

Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Griffin

Earlier this week, I took a look at the nonconference games that Big 12 teams will struggle to win this season.

There's also a set of games that the Big 12 should have no worries about winning. These trips to the pastry wagon can get addictive, but they don't provide much nutritional value. So consider whatever tangible benefits that happen in these games as problematic -- mainly because of the opposition the Big 12 teams will be playing.

Here are the six easiest nonconference games of the season for the Big 12.

1. Idaho State at Oklahoma, Sept. 12: Want to know how bad Idaho State is? They lost to Northern Colorado last season in a 1-11 season marked only by an overtime victory over Sacramento State. The Bengals ranked as the nation's worst FCS team in total defense and pass efficiency defense, next-to-last in scoring defense and had the FCS's sixth-worst rushing defense. Sam Bradford will be watching this one from the bench by midway through the second quarter.

2. Northern Colorado at Kansas, Sept. 5: The Division I-AA Bears are 3-31 over the last three years, including a 32-point loss at Purdue last season, a 36-point loss at San Diego State and a 57-point loss at Hawaii in 2006.

3. Tennessee Tech at Kansas State, Sept. 26: Watson Brown will be looking for better luck against the Wildcats than little brother Mack Brown has enjoyed over the years. It won't happen on this trip.

4. North Dakota at Texas Tech, Sept. 5: The Fighting Sioux were a Division II team last year. They are transitioning to Division I-AA status and this game will be their first battle in modern history against an FBS opponent. That won't help them in an opener as Mike Leach tries to build confidence in his retooled offense quarterbacked by first-year starter Taylor Potts.

5. Northwestern State at Baylor, Sept. 26: The Bears dominated the Demons in a 51-10 blowout last season and will be even better this year. Considering that Baylor's first two games are against foes from BCS-affiliated conferences -- a feat that no other Big 12 will attempt this season in nonconference play -- gives them a little bit of a mulligan for playing such a weak opponent for their third game.

6. Grambling State at Oklahoma State, Sept. 26: Once upon a time, the Tigers were a virtual football factory for NFL talent. Those days are long gone, but at least the storied Grambling band will be coming to Stillwater -- at least we hope.

And some other dogs to avoid include:

  • Furman at Missouri, Sept. 19
  • Louisiana-Monroe at Texas, Sept. 5
  • Massachusetts at Kansas State, Sept. 5
  • UTEP at Texas, Sept. 26
  • Utah State at Texas A&M, Sept. 19
  • Louisiana-Lafayette at Nebraska, Sept. 26

Ranking the best and worst of Big 12 nonconference schedules

June, 10, 2009
6/10/09
12:01
PM ET

Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Griffin

Big 12 teams should be seldom tested before conference play begins as most teams again are opting to compete with a pillow-soft slate of opponents.

Here's the toughest and weakest of the Big 12 nonconference schedules:

1. Oklahoma: BYU (at Arlington, Texas), Idaho State, Tulsa, at Miami

The Sooners deserve props for adding the BYU game late. The nationally televised game should showcase Oklahoma's defense as it thwarts Max Hall and Harvey Unga for the Cougars. Idaho State is a bad Division I-AA team that went 1-11 last season. Tulsa and Miami both went to bowl games last season. The Golden Hurricane will be breaking in a new quarterback and a new coordinator -- not a good recipe for success for a road team at Owen Field. And although the game against Miami brings back memories of Jimmy Johnson vs. Barry Switzer, the fact is that the Hurricanes could be worn out by the time Oklahoma visits. Miami starts the season with a meat-grinder schedule of Florida State, Georgia Tech and Virginia Tech before the Sooners visit.

2. Colorado: Colorado State, at Toledo, Wyoming, at West Virginia

Coach Dan Hawkins has this team pegged for good things in the conference. The Buffaloes will be tested by four FBS opponents, including two on the road. The rivalry game against Colorado State should be decided in the trenches and the Buffaloes' offensive line will be a load for the Rams. The Toledo game might be trickier than expected considering the Buffaloes will be playing this one only five days after the Colorado State game. But Colorado still should have the talent to prevail. Something tells me that Hawkins will remember that new Wyoming coach Dave Christensen's offense hung 113 points against his defense the last two seasons when he was at Missouri. And the West Virginia trip will be a challenge, although new Mountaineers quarterback Jarrett Brown is largely untested.

3. Missouri: Illinois (at St. Louis), Bowling Green, Furman, at Nevada

The Tigers' inexperienced defense will get a huge challenge in the opener against Illinois' pass-and-catch tandem of Juice Williams and Arrelious Benn. They'll be facing another experienced quarterback in three-year Bowling Green starter Tyler Sheehan, but the Falcons' defense will be breaking in two new cornerbacks. Furman has a talented quarterback in Jordan Sorrells, but the Paladin's defense shouldn't be able to match Missouri. The trip to Nevada might be a hornet's nest. The Wolf Pack have made four straight bowl trips, multi-purpose quarterback Colin Kaepernick and the Western Athletic Conference's last two leading rushers. And, oh, yeah, the Wolf Pack probably still remember that 69-17 beatdown to the Tigers last season in Columbia.

4. Nebraska: Florida Atlantic, Arkansas State, at Virginia Tech, Louisiana-Lafayette

No truth to the rumor that the Cornhuskers are gunning for the September version of the Sun Belt championship. Their road game at Virginia Tech is the toughest game that any Big 12 team will play this season. But Bo Pelini will have two games to get his defense ready for Tyrod Taylor and Co. Florida Atlantic coach Howard Schnellenberger made his career name by beating the Cornhuskers in the 1984 Orange Bowl while at Miami. He won't be nearly as successful this time around. Arkansas State stunned Texas A&M last season, but the Red Wolves will be utilizing a new offensive line this season. And Louisiana-Lafayette's offense is very young and the Cornhuskers will be catching them the week after they have met up with LSU.

5. Oklahoma State: Georgia, Houston, Rice, Grambling

Four home games make for an ideal schedule for the Cowboys to make some national noise. The Georgia game will be arguably the biggest home nonconference game in school history. But the Cowboys grab a break as the Bulldogs try to break in new quarterback Joe Cox. Houston will have Case Keenum and a high-powered offensive attack, but the Cowboys blistered the Cougars for 56 points last year and could score more this season. Rice won't be as good this season after losing most of its offensive firepower. And Grambling has a great football history and an even better band.

6. Baylor: at Wake Forest, Connecticut, Northwestern State, Kent State

The nonconference schedule could determine whether the Bears can snap that long bowl drought. And it won't be an easy one considering that Baylor is the only Big 12 team with two opponents from "Big Six" conferences. The Wake Forest opener will be a huge test, but Robert Griffin might be able to feast on a depleted Demon Deacon defense that lost four starters to the NFL draft. The Bears nearly beat Connecticut last season on the road and the Huskies lose their starting quarterback and top rusher from that team. New coach Bradley Dale Peveto will bring new ideas for Northwestern State, but the Bears have a big edge. And Kent State will be breaking in a new quarterback for a team that has won only 19 games in the last five seasons under Doug Martin.

7. Kansas: Northern Colorado, at UTEP, Duke, Southern Mississippi

The Jayhawks should be able to name their margin against Northern Colorado in the opener. The trip to the Sun Bowl against UTEP the following week might be a different matter. UTEP quarterback Trevor Vittatoe could be a challenge, although the Jayhawks should have enough firepower to outscore them. A Kansas-Duke game would be a made-for-national television delight in basketball. Football, however, is a different story. And Southern Mississippi might be poised to challenge for the Conference USA title and might be a chore with leading conference rusher Damion Fletcher and all of its starting secondary back to challenge Todd Reesing and Dezmon Briscoe.

8. Texas A&M: New Mexico, Utah State, UAB, Arkansas (at Arlington, Texas)

The Aggies desperately need to build confidence and collect a few victories before the South Division gauntlet begins. After last season's opening-game loss against Arkansas State, expect coach Mike Sherman to have the Aggies focused for all of the games. They catch new New Mexico coach Mike Locksley with an uncertain quarterback in the Lobos' opener. Utah State is universally picked to finish last in the Western Athletic Conference. UAB will be rebuilding its defense and likely won't pose many problems for Jerrod Johnson. But the game against Arkansas at
the new Dallas Cowboys' stadium will be a challenge for A&M's defense. The Razorbacks should be much improved in Bobby Petrino's second season. Fans are paying premium prices and expect big things from both teams. The Aggies may catch a break considering the Razorbacks will play SEC contenders Georgia and Alabama in their previous two weeks.

9. Texas Tech: North Dakota, Rice, at Houston, New Mexico

Mike Leach's nonconference schedule won't be as bad as last season's trip to the pastry wagon, but not by much. North Dakota is transitioning into FCS status this season after ranking 137th among the 148 Division II passing teams last season. Sounds like target practice for Taylor Potts, doesn't it? Rice won't be nearly as tough as last season without James Casey, Jarrett Dillard and Chase Clement gone. The trip to Houston will be Tech's biggest challenge and Case Keenum will test Tech's rebuilt secondary in the first battle between the old Southwest Conference rivals since 1995. And New Mexico will have had several weeks to work under Locksley's system, making them a tougher challenge for the Red Raiders in early October.

10. Texas: Louisiana-Monroe, at Wyoming, UTEP, Central Florida

The Longhorns had a couple of game against Utah and Arkansas fall through in their planning. But don't expect the Longhorns to get that much sympathy for a group of opponents that won't give them much BCS bounce. Louisiana-Monroe will be breaking in a retooled offense with a new quarterback. The road trip to Wyoming doesn't resonate like some the Longhorns have made to places like Ohio State and Arkansas in recent seasons. The Cowboys will be breaking in a new quarterback, too. UTEP could contend for the Conference USA West title, but the Miners are a different team on the road. And the Nov. 7 game against Central Florida will bring the nation's worst offensive team from last season into Austin.

11. Iowa State: North Dakota State, Iowa, at Kent State, Army

Paul Rhoads doesn't want any surprises early in his first season and his nonconference schedule. North Dakota State has posed problems to FBS teams like Minnesota in the past. Iowa doesn't have Shonn Greene back, but has almost everybody else back on a stout defense that will challenge the Cyclones. Mighty mite 5-foot-5, 170-pound tailback Eugene Jarvis will test ISU's defense and the trip to Kent State won't be a gimme. And new Army coach Rich Ellerson will bring 6-10, 283-pound wide receiver Ali Villanueva along with starting quarterback Chip Bowden from a team that won three games last season.

12. Kansas State: Massachusetts, at Louisiana-Lafayette, at UCLA, Tennessee Tech

The schedule doesn't provide as many gooey treats as some that Bill Snyder's teams have feasted on in the past, but it's still nothing to write home about. Massachusetts is a contender in the CAA, which is the toughest top-to-bottom FCS conference in the nation. Louisiana-Lafayette will have to replace a lot of offensive talent, but can be troublesome at Cajun Field. UCLA struggled offensively last year and will be breaking in a new quarterback with four new offensive linemen. KSU might be able to compete in that one better than most might think. And Tennessee Tech coach Watson Brown, older brother of Texas coach Mack Brown, returns a talented pass-and-catch combination of Lee Sweeney and Tim Benford. KSU still should roll, however.

Tags:

Barry Switzer, Nevada Wolf Pack, New Mexico Lobos, Minnesota Golden Gophers, Mike Locksley, Miami Hurricanes, Illinois Fighting Illini, Jarrett Brown, BYU Cougars, Toledo Rockets, Harvey Unga, Colorado State Rams, Iowa Hawkeyes, Arrelious Benn, James Casey, Nebraska Cornhuskers, Arkansas State Red Wolves, Tim Benford, Bill Snyder, Jordan Sorrells, Kent State Golden Flashes, Bradley Dale Peveto, Ali Villanueva, Baylor Bears, Wyoming Cowboys, Massachusetts Minutemen, Texas Longhorns, Doug Martin, Oklahoma State Cowboys, Southern Mississippi Golden Eagles, Connecticut Huskies, Juice Williams, Central Florida Knights, Texas Tech Red Raiders, Wake Forest Demon Deacons, Missouri Tigers, Rich Ellerson, Colorado Buffaloes, Bowling Green Falcons, Todd Reesing, Dave Christensen, Oklahoma Sooners, Georgia Bulldogs, Utah State Aggies, Chip Bowden, Dan Hawkins, Mike Leach, Robert Griffin, Duke Blue Demons, Kansas State Wildcats, Grambling Tigers, Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets, Florida State Seminoles, Louisiana-Lafayette Ragin Cajuns, Furman Paladins, Northwestern State Demons, LSU Tigers, Watson Brown, Colin Kaepernick, Paul Rhoads, Kansas Jayhawks, Damion Fletcher, Idaho State Vandals, Florida Atlantic Owls, Tulsa Golden Hurricane, West Virginia Mountaineers, Tyrod Taylor, Army Black Knights, North Dakota State Bison, Jerrod Johnson, Shonn Greene, Case Keenum, Lee Sweeney, Alabama Crimson Tide, Taylor Potts, Iowa State Cyclones, Trevor Vittatoe, Mack Brown, Schedule rank 061009, UCLA Bruins, Dezmon Briscoe, UTEP Miners, Bobby Petrino, Northern Colorado Bears, Tennessee Tech Golden Eagles, Houston Cougars, Louisiana-Monroe Warhawks, Jimmy Johnson, Eugene Jarvis, Virginia Tech Hokies, North Dakota Fighting Sioux, Ohio State Buckeyes, Jarrett Dillard, Tyler Sheehan, UAB Blazers, Arkansas Razorbacks, Howard Schnellenberger, Chase Clement, Mike Sherman, Texas A&M Aggies

Ranking the best and worst Big 12 games for 2009

June, 5, 2009
6/05/09
11:31
AM ET

Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Griffin


The season is less than 100 days from starting and it's never too early to start analyzing schedules.

The Oklahoman's Berry Tramel did just that, doing his yearly list of the best and worst of the upcoming Big 12 schedule, ranked 1 through 96.

His top game and mine are alike, as are most of them. His list is heavily stacked to conference games, as the days of reputable non-conference games for Big 12 teams are getting to be few and far between.

Here's Tramel's list of the top 10 games:

1. Texas vs. Oklahoma at Dallas, Oct. 17
2. Texas at Oklahoma State, Oct. 31
3. Georgia at OSU, Sept. 5
4. Oklahoma at Texas Tech, Nov. 21
5. Oklahoma State at Oklahoma, Nov. 28
6. Nebraska at Missouri, Oct. 8
7. Oklahoma at Miami, Oct. 3
8. Nebraska at Virginia Tech, Sept. 19
9. Missouri vs. Kansas at Kansas City, Nov. 28
10. Texas Tech at Texas, Sept. 19

And here's his list of the bottom 10 games as well:

96. Idaho State at Oklahoma, Sept. 12
95. Northern Colorado at Kansas, Sept. 5
94. North Dakota at Texas Tech, Sept. 5
93. Tennessee Tech at Kansas State, Sept. 26
92. Grambling at Oklahoma State, Sept. 26
91. Northwestern State at Baylor, Sept. 26
90. Furman at Missouri, Sept. 19
89. Massachusetts at Kansas State, Sept. 5
88. Louisiana-Monroe at Texas, Sept. 5
87. North Dakota State at Iowa State, Sept. 3

Oklahoma teams dominate his list. I've got to think some North Division games will be good ones, but they probably don't rank with those he listed involving the power elite of the South.

I've got three underrated rivalries that merit some mention, although they probably aren't in the top ten. Texas Tech and Oklahoma State always play entertaining games against each other, particularly in Stillwater, Okla. Texas Tech and Texas A&M is merely the nation's most underrated blood feud. And I'm curious about the Nebraska-Kansas State game as much for the post-game handshake between Bo Pelini and Bill Snyder -- if it happens -- as anything on the field.

But as you can see there's a lot of feast and famine in the Big 12 schedule this season. But I still can't wait. September can't get here quickly enough for me.

Baylor-Wake Forest set for ABC/ESPN coverage

June, 4, 2009
6/04/09
5:22
PM ET

Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Griffin

Baylor officials announced today that the Bears' Sept. 5 opener at Wake Forest will be nationally televised by ABC/ESPN.

The game will begin at 3:30 p.m. ET. The Atlantic Coast Conference announced the game will be regionally broadcast on ABC, with a mirror telecast on ESPN2.

"Baylor football is on the rise and our television partners are excited about our program's bright future," Baylor athletic director Ian McCaw said. "Having the Wake Forest game televised on both ABC and ESPN2 affords our program tremendous exposure and we are thrilled with this opportunity."

Baylor's last appearance on ABC came in 1997, when the Bears dropped a 45-14 decision to 13th-ranked Miami, Fla., in Waco before a regional television audience.

Baylor also announced that kickoff for its Sept. 19 home opener against Connecticut will be at 5 p.m. ET and home contests against Northwestern State on Sept. 26 and Kent State on Oct. 3 will both kick off at 7 p.m. ET.

As of Thursday, here's the link to all of the games that are currently scheduled to be broadcast by the ABC/ESPN networks.  

Watch these critical schedule points for Big 12 teams in 2009

May, 29, 2009
5/29/09
9:00
AM ET

Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Griffin

Like the guys who write copy for the commercials like to say, every game matters.

But some are more important than others, and a specific stretch can be found for each Big 12 team that will determine their relative success during the upcoming season.

Here's a look at the most important parts of the schedule for each Big 12 team during the 2009 season:

Baylor (Sept. 5, at Wake Forest; Sept. 19, Connecticut; Sept. 26, Northwestern State; Oct. 3, Kent State): The first four games of the season will determine if the Bears are legitimate bowl contenders. The first two games are particularly big, considering that Baylor will be playing two teams that beat them last season. It's hard to imagine Baylor making a bowl trip unless it wins three of its first four games. But if the Bears shoot out of the starting blocks and go to a 4-0 start, which would be their best start since 1991, then bowl hopes would seem legitimate. Just as important would be how Art Briles could coax his team back from the ledge if it loses the first two games of the season.

Colorado (Oct. 17, Kansas; Oct. 24, at Kansas State; Oct. 31, Missouri): These three games will likely determine if the Buffaloes can realistically challenge for the Big 12 North title. Kansas will be going for an unprecedented four-game winning streak against Colorado. Coming into the season, the Buffaloes have lost 12 of their last 14 conference road games. And their 58-0 shutout loss last season against Missouri snapped a 242-game scoring streak. If the Buffaloes can win two of three, they likely will go bowling. If they can win all of them, a North title challenge isn't out of the question.

Iowa State (Sept. 12, Iowa, Sept. 19, at Kent State; Sept. 26, Army; Oct. 3 Kansas State (at Kansas City, Mo.): Paul Rhoads' team will need to prove its mettle early. It doesn't get any bigger for ISU than the Cy-Hawk Rivalry against Iowa, especially since the Cyclones have won seven of the last 11 in the series. In their next game, the Cyclones will be attempting to snap a 17-game road losing streak when they visit Kent State. Army has played Big 12 teams tough in recent seasons, losing four of its last five games against the conference by a combined total of 18 points. And the Kansas State game could determine which team finishes the season in the Big 12 North cellar. A fast early start is imperative for the Cyclones.

Kansas (Oct. 17, at Colorado; Oct. 24, Oklahoma; Oct. 31, at Texas Tech; Nov. 7, at Kansas State): The Jayhawks' hopes of making their first Big 12 title game appearance will depend on navigating a tough four-game stretch in the middle of the season. Todd Reesing has beaten Colorado three straight times, but before Kansas' 2007 victory in Boulder, the Buffaloes had won five straight and 10 of their last 11 against the Jayhawks there. Mark Mangino has never beaten Bob Stoops, losing all three games against his old team. Revenge will be big in the Texas Tech game after the Red Raiders' stunning 63-21 victory in Lawrence last season. And Bill Snyder beat Kansas eight straight times at the end of his first stop in Manhattan, allowing an average of 8.5 points in those games. The Jayhawks likely need a split in these four games to contend for a championship. A 3-1 record might cement their title chances.

Kansas State (Oct. 3, Iowa State at Kansas City, Mo.; Oct. 10, at Texas Tech, Oct. 17, Texas A&M; Oct. 24, Colorado): Success in their first four conference games will determine if the Wildcats can shock pundits and challenge for a bowl berth. The Iowa State game will set the tone for both teams in a series where the Cyclones have won three of the last five games. The Red Raiders have beaten them four straight times since 2000. The KSU defense was torched for 544 yards against A&M last season. And after a four-game winning streak against Colorado from 1996-2000, Snyder lost four of his last five games against the Buffaloes. The Wildcats desperately need a fast start considering their last four games are against Oklahoma, Kansas, Missouri and Nebraska. These games will set the tone for their bowl hopes.

Missouri (Oct. 8, Nebraska; Oct. 17, at Oklahoma State; Oct. 24, Texas; Oct. 31, at Colorado): The Tigers start their conference play after a week off. They'll need it. Missouri has caught Bo Pelini's attention by outscoring the Cornhuskers by a combined 93-23 margin in the past two seasons. The Oklahoma State game is a revenge game after OSU snapped Missouri's unbeaten streak last season. Texas has won the last five games against Missouri and 14 of the last 15 since 1931. And Colorado will be pumped about Missouri's visit after 55-10 and 58-0 losses to the Tigers in the last two seasons. Obviously, this stretch will not be very forgiving for a team with a sophomore quarterback like Blaine Gabbert.

Nebraska (Nov. 14, at Kansas; Nov. 21, Kansas State; Nov. 27, at Colorado): The Cornhuskers could be putting the finishing touches on their first Big 12 title game appearance since 2006 with a fast finish. It will be tough, considering the Cornhuskers allowed a school record 76 points in their last trip to Lawrence. Nebraska has toyed with Kansas State in recent seasons, averaging 64.5 points in their last two games. Additionally, this will be the first head-coaching matchup between old rivals Bo Pelini and Bill Snyder. And the Cornhuskers should bring confidence into the Colorado game considering they have won six of their last eight games there. A 2-1 record or better in these games likely will push the Cornhuskers into the championship game.

Oklahoma (Oct. 17, Texas at Dallas; Oct. 24, at Kansas; Oct. 31, Kansas State; Nov. 7, at Nebraska): As usual, the Texas game will play a huge role in determining the South title. Bob Stoops is 5-0 against Kansas in his coaching tenure. Stoops is 6-1 against his old boss, Bill Snyder, with his only loss coming in the 2003 Big 12 title game. And before Oklahoma's 2005 victory at Nebraska, the Sooners had lost six straight there in a streak that dated to 1987 -- Barry Switzer's next-to-last season. The Sooners have overcome losses to Texas in two of the last three seasons and still won the Big 12 title. It would be hard to imagine them pulling off that feat again.

Oklahoma State (Nov. 14, Texas Tech; Nov. 19, Colorado; Nov. 28, at Oklahoma): The Cowboys could be putting the final touches on their first Big 12 South title with a fast finish against these teams this year. The Red Raiders have averaged 673.5 yards per game in the last two games against Oklahoma State. It will be trying to turn around some bad recent karma in the Colorado game as the Cowboys have lost their last three home finales. And coach Mike Gundy is 0-8 against Oklahoma during his career as a head coach and starting quarterback. The Cowboys need at least two victories in this finish if they are to contend for the South title, if not three.

Texas (Oct. 17, Oklahoma at Dallas; Oct. 24, at Missouri; Oct. 31, at Oklahoma State): The Longhorns' hopes for their first Big 12 title game berth since 2005 will depend on these three games. Mack Brown has quietly taken control of the Oklahoma series in recent seasons, winning three of his last four against Bob Stoops after losing five straight games against the Sooners from 2000-04. Some of the achievement of that streak has been diminished because the Sooners have claimed an unprecedented three straight Big 12 titles. The Longhorns have won five of their last six games in Columbia. And Texas has won 11 straight against Oklahoma State, although it has needed comebacks to win several of the rece
nt games, including climbing out of a 21-0 hole on the last trip there in 2007. These three games likely will determine if the Longhorns are national title contenders.

Texas A&M (Oct. 3, Arkansas at Arlington; Oct. 10, Oklahoma State; Oct. 17, at Kansas State): The Aggies' bowl hopes and their chance of climbing out of the Big 12 cellar will depend on these three games. Arkansas has won 10 of the last 15 games in the series that will be resumed for the first time since 1991. A&M has won five of the last six games against Oklahoma State in Kyle Field -- a place where OSU coach Mike Gundy has never won before. And the Aggies had won five straight games against Kansas State before their loss last season against the Wildcats. With some luck, the Aggies could go 3-0 in these games. If they lose one game, they still might have bowl hopes. But 1-2 or worse will mean it could be a long season for coach Mike Sherman.

Texas Tech (Oct. 24, Texas A&M; Oct. 31, Kansas; Nov. 14, at Oklahoma State; Nov. 21, Oklahoma): These four games will determine whether the Red Raiders can make a surprise charge into contention in the South Division. Tech coach Mike Leach has never lost to A&M at home, fashioning a 4-0 record. Kansas players remember a humiliating 63-21 loss at Lawrence last season that pushed Tech's margin to 10-1 in that series. Tech hasn't won at OSU since 2001. And the Red Raiders will be looking to hang a third straight victory in Lubbock over Bob Stoops after last season's 65-21 loss that spoiled the Red Raiders' 10-0 season start. Tech likely won't be challenging for the South title this season, but success in this four-game stretch should point them on a rewarding bowl trip. An 0-4 finish might keep Tech out of a bowl trip for the first time under Leach.

Tim's mailbag: Why Baylor might struggle in 2009

January, 14, 2009
1/14/09
3:15
PM ET

Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Griffin

Here is a representative sample of the questions I received during the past week about the Big 12:

Jeff from Austin writes: Tim, thanks for your work at ESPN.com covering the Big 12. I enjoy reading your stuff. But I'm floored by your perspective about Baylor being sixth in the South next year. There is not any way that Texas A&M or Texas Tech is better than Baylor next season. I think Baylor will easily win six games, maybe seven or eight. I think you might be picking according to history, and not looking at the information that is the 2009 season. I don't see how they finish without a bowl game.

Tim Griffin: I did consider history pretty strongly. For example, Baylor hasn't won in College Station since 1984. Their schedule also turns around. Baylor's four toughest games will be at home, but I just don't see them being able to consistently beat teams like Texas, Texas Tech, Nebraska and Oklahoma State. All are listed in most preseason top 25 lists. Baylor will be lucky, in my opinion, to win one of those games. The Bears go to Oklahoma, Missouri, Texas A&M and Iowa State for their road games. They haven't won at any of those schools except Iowa State since the Big 12 was formed. Their nonconference schedule eases a little bit, but I still see them as an underdog at Wake Forest. They should win remaining home games against Connecticut, Northwestern State and Kent State.

So even with another year of experience for Robert Griffin and Joe Pawelek's return, it will be tougher for the Bears to improve by two games with their schedule turning around. I think it will be close between Texas A&M and Baylor, but I give A&M a slight edge just because they are playing coach Art Briles' team at home.


Joe from Omaha writes: Tim, some up here are all over you about picking Nebraska to win the North Division. What is your rationale for picking the Cornhuskers to win?

Tim Griffin: I know that many polls are picking Kansas to win the North Division. But I'm thinking that the South Division will dominate the North as before, and Kansas has a murderous South with visits to Texas Tech and Texas and a home game against Oklahoma. That likely will give the Jayhawks three losses right there. It will mean that Kansas absolutely has to beat Nebraska in the showdown game and hope the Cornhuskers lose two other games in the division.

I also looked at how Joe Ganz flourished under Shawn Watson's tutelage and think he should be able to get Patrick Witt or Zac Lee to similarloy develop in his offense. Quentin Castille looked like a monster in the Gator Bowl and Roy Helu Jr. had his moments. The Cornhuskers will have four starting offensive linemen returning. And the Cornhuskers' defense with Ndamukong Suh, Pierre Allen and Phillip Dillard and the secondary with Anthony West, Larry Asante, Matt O'Hanlon and Eric Hagg will be the strength of the team.

If Pelini can find a serviceable option at quarterback, they should be able to cobble together enough wins to win a tight North Division race.

(Read full post)

Missouri using View Masters for Daniel's Heisman gimmick

September, 8, 2008
9/08/08
7:35
PM ET

Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Griffin

Missouri soon will begin its promotional blitz for Chase Daniel's Heisman bid. Several newspapers have detailed how the school plans to send out 2,500 View-Masters to voters and other media members. Cost of the promotion will be about $25,000.

Missouri coach Gary Pinkel said Daniel's best selling tool will be continued on-field success.

"Everybody is aware of it and he more than anybody understands his play at a high level is what we need to win," Pinkel said. "And that (the Heisman) will not happen unless we win at a high level, too."

Daniel finished fourth last season in the Heisman balloting behind eventual winner Tim Tebow of Florida, Darren McFadden of Arkansas and Colt Brennan of Hawaii. Daniel's bid has helped galvanize his team into helping him winning college football's top individual award, Pinkel said.

"We don't talk about it at all," Pinkel said. "But they (his teammates) think it's pretty cool that we have a player thought of highly enough that he's in the race."

Here are some other tidbits:

  • Missouri S William Moore will return to practice Tuesday after missing the Tigers' victory over Southeast Missouri State with a sprained right foot. Pinkel said that Moore's return to the lineup in the Tigers' game Saturday against Nevada is "very probable." "We think he's going to play. He's feeling a lot better," Pinkel said. "All the swelling's completely gone off his foot. We'll get him out in a red pullover tomorrow and hopefully he's going to be 100 percent. ... We'll know a little bit more after tomorrow's practice."
  • Two botched fourth-down plays were still a topic of conversation for Texas Tech coach Mike Leach after his team's victory over Nevada. The Red Raiders tried twice on fourth-and-short situations inside their own 30, leading to two Wolf Pack field goals. "I thought we would make it," said Leach, who described the two calls as "not smart decisions." said. "You hate to punt. We like our punter, but we'd like to keep him out of business as best we can."
  • Tech QB Graham Harrell marked his career low for completions in a game as a starter against Nevada, hitting 19-of-46 passes for 297 yards. It marked his fewest yards since passing for 250 yards in a loss to Oklahoma on Nov. 11, 2006. "I think he had an off night, but our defense really played tough," Leach said. "And he was really patient and composed and worked his way through it. It was a good learning experience."
  • Baylor coach Art Briles wasn't surprised by the smooth performance by freshman quarterback Robert Griffin in his first career college start. Griffin passed for 294 yards and three touchdowns and rushed for 42 yards and another score to spark the Bears' victory over Northwestern State. "I think he handled it really well," Briles said. "He's really poised for his age but he's been situations before, going to the state championship twice and being here since the spring. He wasn't wide-eyed and we tried to give him some comfort early."
  • Iowa State leads the nation with 10 takeaways and is tied for second nationally with a plus-3 turnover ratio per game. The Cyclones' success is inexplicable to Coach Gene Chizik. "They are kind of an enigma to me," Chizik said about the turnover binge. "They come in bunches. Sometimes there's a bunch of them and sometimes not too many. I think it's a product of couple of things. We've been opportunistic at the right times and we've taken advantage when (opposing) quarterbacks, running backs and punt returns are swinging the ball outside."
  • Most Texas coaches didn't sleep on Sunday after the Longhorns returned back to Austin at about 5:30 a.m. after their late-evening game at UTEP. "Because they were already here (at the Texas football office) when we got back, most of our coaches didn't go to bed," Texas coach Mack Brown said. "It makes it a short week for us this week. And it's something we have to look to see if we're doing what's best for the kids."
  • Nebraska coach Bo Pelini said that Barry Turner's likely season-ending injury with a broken leg not only moves Pierre Allen into the starting lineup but will likely pull a new player into the rotation along with starter Zach Potter and backup Clayton Sievers. Likely players involved could include Nick Covey, David Harvey, Will Yancy and freshmen Cameron Meredith and Josh Williams.
  • How engrossed was Pelini in coaching the defense at LSU last season? When asked if Nebraska's three-pronged I-back rotation of Roy Helu Jr., Marlon Lucky and Quentin Castille reminded him of the Tigers, Pelini had an honest answer. "I don't know what they used at LSU," Pelini said. "I really can't think back to how they rotated their backs. I didn't pay attention to it."
  • Pelini said he's aiming to keep all three of his I-backs refreshed and involved in the game. "We're starting to get a little more consistency in when we're subbing them and how often. They're all similar talents and all make plays," Pelini said. "You want to make sure all three of them get a chance to make touches and make sure all three are fresh when they do get those touches."

Oklahoma sneaks past Missouri into top Big 12 slot

September, 8, 2008
9/08/08
9:39
AM ET

Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Griffin

A change in the top has been reported after Oklahoma's second-straight impressive victory to start the season:

1. Oklahoma -- Surging Sooners hope for better luck -- and better officiating -- at Washington than they received on their last trip to the Pacific Northwest.

2. Missouri -- No problems with the Tigers, even though the decision to play Jeremy Maclin against SE Missouri State looks a little more dubious with the final margin of victory.

3. Texas -- A bow to the past this week as Arkansas visits. Only trouble is that Bobby Petrino is anything but the normal Razorback coach that Texas fans have loathed over the years.

4. Texas Tech -- Defense saves the Red Raiders from crapping out in Nevada, despite a career-worst start for Graham Harrell, in terms of completions.

5. Kansas -- Remember when Jocques Crawford talked about rushing for 2,000 yards? The lack of a productive running game is the Jayhawks' biggest concern heading into the South Florida showdown.

6. Oklahoma State -- Forget about Adarius Bowman and Dantrell Savage. The Cowboys might be more talented this season offensively with replacements Dez Bryant and Kendall Hunter.

7. Kansas State -- Maybe Josh Freeman wasn't bragging. He is playing like the best of the Big 12's quarterbacks, even though he hasn't played against a competent defense yet.

8. Nebraska -- The Cornhuskers' defensive woes get more serious with the loss of top pass-rusher Barry Turner for the season. And it's coming at a bad time as pass-happy New Mexico State approaches.

9. Colorado -- The Buffaloes have work to do as they prepare for West Virginia's visit. CU's defense improved in the second half, but was still lucky to escape with victory over plucky Eastern Washington.

10. Iowa State -- The Cy-Hawk Trophy has looked good in the Cyclones' athletic offices the last few years. Gene Chizik would like nothing more than claim his second-straight win over Iowa.

11. Texas A&M -- Hold off on a potential quarterback controversy because of their week off. But Jerrod Johnson's improvisational skills might be better suited for working with A&M's young line.

12. Baylor -- Beating up on Northwestern State felt good for the Bears. It also represented Robert Griffin's impressive coming-out party as a starting college quarterback.

Big 12 links: Conference should have easy week

September, 6, 2008
9/06/08
11:03
AM ET

Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Griffin

RENO, Nev. -- Sorry for the delay this morning, but the sun was barely creeping over the nearby Sierra Nevadas when I started this. Also, with only four games played in the conference before this evening, most fans should be taking a similarly leisurely game-day routine.

With most Big 12 teams taking a trip to the pastry wagon this week, here are some delectable links almost tasty as the cupcakes being served at most places around the conference.

  • The multifaceted Oklahoma offense is described by the Oklahoman's Jake Trotter as college football's version of the Swiss army knife. The Sooners' offensive versatility will be tested by Cincinnati, even if many Sooners don't know which conference the Bearcats are members of.
  • Renovated Boone Pickens Stadium is officially a big house -- at least in Big 12 terms -- with 60,000 seats. The new configuration should result in increased reverberation Saturday night against Houston because of the configuration of the new seats.
  • New Texas defensive coordinator Will Muschamp led his team through a Sunday night walkthrough, something that hadn't been done around Austin before. That came after an impressive opening-game victory that had UTEP coach Mike Price thinking the Longhorns had 14 defenders as he watched the game film.
  • Texas A&M is seeking redemption this week at New Mexico, despite a frustrating recent history of struggling in nonconference road games.
  • Nebraska remains confident in its running game, despite producing the second-lowest rushing total in an opener in 30 years last week and netting 3 or more yards on only 13 of 31 carries. Maybe that's why San Jose State coach Dick Tomey admitted to the San Jose Mercury News this week that he dropped Tennessee and added Nebraska to the schedule because he thought it's a more winnable game.
  • Nevada's pass defense shouldn't be intimidated against Texas Tech's high-powered aerial attack, considering the Wolf Pack played four of the nation's top 11 passing offenses last season.
  • Missouri fans are excited about the Tigers' home opener against Southeast Missouri State -- to the tune of a record 40,000 season tickets sold. One of the more intriguing story lines today will be who gets the snaps behind QB Chase Daniel once the Tigers get the game under control. 
  • Baylor players know they can't overlook any opponent, especially after their first-game struggles. Their nine-game losing streak heading into Saturday's game against Northwestern State ties the school's longest since dropping 10 straight in 1998-99.
  • The Boulder Daily Camera's Neill Woelk says it's time to forget about the last time Colorado played a Football Championship Subdivision opponent -- even if ESPN the Magazine still expects a rough game for the Buffaloes today against Eastern Washington.
  • The Topeka Capital Journal's Austin Meek writes about how a Montana State kicker once converted 17 field goals in a game. I guess that's not a surprise from a school that produced NFL Hall of Fame K Jan Stenerud.
  • Times have changed at Memorial Stadium for Kansas games, where Louisiana Tech players who played there in 2005 will hardly recognize the place since the Jayhawks' recent success.
  • Iowa State CB Devin McDowell has waited a long time to follow in the footsteps of his older brother, former All-Big 12 CB DeAndre Jackson. His Cyclones are intent on gaining revenge Saturday for last year's loss to Kent State.

Ten Big 12 things to watch for in this week's games

September, 5, 2008
9/05/08
6:49
AM ET
Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Griffin

Here are 10 things to watch for in Saturday's games.

1. First-start jitters for Baylor QB Robert Griffin: The freshman played well when he entered the game early in the second quarter last week against Wake Forest. Griffin was named the starter for the Northwestern State game the next day. After thinking about it for more than a week, how will he react?

2. How will Texas' defensive line play without Lamarr Houston? The suspended defensive tackle is back home in Austin after his arrest on DWI charges following last week's game. Aaron Lewis will get the start in his place Saturday at UTEP. Pressure inside will be critical to take the heat off Texas' young secondary.

3. Improvement in Kansas' rushing game: The Jayhawks struggled against Florida International, averaging only 3.6 yards per carry and producing 128 yards. They need to progress Saturday against Louisiana Tech as they prepare for next week's critical game at South Florida.

4. Texas A&M responds to last week's upset: The Aggies failed to score on eight second-half possessions last week against Arkansas State. It will be interesting to see how A&M's young offensive line grows from those struggles and how it produces against New Mexico's wild collection of blitz packages.

5. Darrell Scott: Colorado's heralded freshman running back appeared to be getting more comfortable in the latter stages of his first game against Colorado State. The Buffs should have plenty of opportunities to build his confidence against Eastern Washington.

6. Iowa State's progress: Gene Chizik hasn't forgotten his ISU debut, a 23-14 loss to Kent State. The Cyclones will again face the Golden Flashes and have the opportunity to use this game as a kind of litmus test of their growth since his arrival.

7. The Oklahoma State secondary: The Cowboys had a big game last week against Washington State, but will be stepping up in class against Houston QB Case Keenum. Look for OSU to try a variety of coverages to confuse Keenum, who passed for a career-high 392 yards and threw for five TDs last week against Southern.

8. Get out your calculators: Saturday night's battle in Reno between Nevada and Texas Tech will match two of the nation's four most prolific offensive attacks. Considering the two teams combined for 1,268 yards last week, this game might last forever.

9. Will Jeremy Maclin and William Moore play for Missouri? Both key players are listed as probable for Saturday's game against Southeast Missouri State. But considering the wide talent gap, it might be wise for Gary Pinkel to allow both key players extra time to recuperate. They shouldn't be needed on Saturday.

10. Sam Bradford vs. the opportunistic Cincinnati defense: Oklahoma's talented sophomore quarterback has thrown only eight interceptions in his career and had only one game where he threw multiple picks. He will be facing a Cincinnati defense that led the nation in interceptions (26) and forced turnovers (42) last season.

Big 12 internal affairs: Bean's job affected by Gustav worries

September, 3, 2008
9/03/08
1:53
PM ET

Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Griffin

Here are some intriguing tidbits around the Big 12 heading into Saturday's games.

1. Texas A&M K Richie Bean misfired on two easy field goals of 32 yards and 25 yards in a loss to Arkansas State, but had even bigger worries. His family had just rebuilt their home in the New Orleans area in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, and Hurricane Gustav was on a direct path during the game. Bean's recent slump has reopened the kicking competition before this week's game with New Mexico with freshman Randy Bullock, who A&M coach Mike Sherman said he would have used late in the first game after Bean's earlier misses.

2. Kansas fans are concerned after the Jayhawks rushed for 128 yards and averaged a pedestrian 3.6 yards per carry in a blowout victory over Florida International. One of the biggest reasons was the absence of T Jeremiah Hatch, who didn't play for undisclosed reasons. Coach Mark Mangino said that Hatch is practicing with the team and could be available for Saturday's game against Louisiana Tech. His return would immediately boost Kansas' ground game.

3. Baylor QB Robert Griffin has another reason to get excited about his first college start against Northwestern State. His older sister, Dejon, a junior who competes in the hammer, discus and shot put for the Demons' track team, says she'll support her little brother over her own school at Saturday's game in Waco.

4. Texas coach Mack Brown will consult with DE Henry Melton and LB Sergio Kindle before he decides how many games DT Lamarr Houston will be suspended for after his weekend arrest. He was charged with driving while intoxicated. Melton and Kindle both were suspended three games last season after they were arrested for similar charges last summer.

Houston's absence Saturday night from the Longhorns' pass rush against UTEP adds a little more pressure for Texas redshirt freshmen S Blake Gideon and S Earl Thomas, who will be starting their first road games at the raucous Sun Bowl.

5. Kansas State coach Ron Prince has repeatedly said that QB Josh Freeman was his most improved player since the spring. Freeman played like it in the Wildcats' season-opening 45-6 victory over North Texas, accounting for five touchdowns. But the most noticeable change for Freeman in his third season as a starter appears to be his patience at hitting second and third receivers. He also looked more comfortable as a running threat, which wasn't always the case in his previous two seasons as a starter.

6. Colorado coaches worried about finding a defensive playmaker to replace Jordon Dizon. If the Buffaloes' first game is any indication, they don't have any worries. Rangy LB Brad Jones was all over the field with seven tackles and a sack in their victory over Colorado State. But most impressive was his play on Colorado State TE Kory Sperry, who was neutralized with only two catches after blistering the Buffaloes for eight catches and three TD grabs last season.

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