Big 12: Percy Harvin
Still, there seems to be plenty of disagreement on where the Big 12 stands when it comes to this year's draft class.
Mel Kiper released his Big Board earlier this week, and how many Big 12 prospects made the list? A big, round zero . Kiper says no one in the Big 12 qualified to be on his list of the nation's top 25 prospects.
But fellow draftnik Todd McShay? In his list of the nation's top 32 prospects , he's got three players from the Big 12, including two inside his top 25.
McShay's already enamored with West Virginia quarterback Geno Smith's arm, and has Smith as the Big 12's leader in draft stock. Smith checks in at No. 17 on McShay's list, and his fast start has turned plenty of heads. Smith has already moved up to No. 17 from No. 24 earlier in the season.
Texas' versatile defensive back, Kenny Vaccaro, shows up on McShay's list at No. 22. McShay loves his explosiveness and instinct while roaming the secondary, and the 6-foot, 210-pounder obviously has a bright future ahead.
Vaccaro's as hard of a hitter as there is in the Big 12, but McShay's on the money when it comes to Vaccaro's football IQ. He knows how to be in the right place at the right time.
You can't teach speed, either. That's why Tavon Austin checks in at No. 32 on McShay's list. The 5-foot-8, 173-pounder has big questions about his size, the same kind of questions we heard about Ryan Broyles a year ago. It may keep Austin out of the first round, McShay writes.
It's true, but you can't deny his explosiveness. McShay compares him to Percy Harvin.
I'm not sure I agree so much with that assessment. Harvin and Austin both have similar straight-line speed, but Austin's shiftiness and quickness is significantly better, in my opinion.
Connecticut, to its credit, won its final five games to get here, but needed a 52-yard field goal in its season finale to win the Big East, a conference with one team (West Virginia) in the BCS top 25.
Even Vegas agrees, pinning the Sooners as a 17-point favorite.
So the big question is simple: What reason do we have to believe that we're not in for a snoozer on Saturday night?
Or do you think this is cracked and the Sooner are going to come out on fire?
David Ubben: Yeah, for as much as the Huskies have heard they don't belong here, Oklahoma has heard just as much about those famous flops on big bowl stages. Those didn't happen back in the 70s. Plenty of the guys on this team were there or played in the losses to West Virginia and Florida. They want to prove those days are behind them, and close a pretty good season by Oklahoma standards with a win. Also, unlike those teams, which had some of the best players in college football like Tim Tebow, Percy Harvin and Pat White, there's nothing about UConn that's particularly scary or gamebreaking. Jordan Todman is solid, but he's not a guy that's going to give Oklahoma nightmares like Noel Devine did.
And though teams like Boise State and West Virginia were short on program pedigree like the Huskies, they were also short on losses, where Connecticut has a healthy surplus. All five of those losses came to experienced teams and those five teams have the same number of losses combined (4) as the unranked Huskies have in just this season.
So, if Oklahoma is ready to play, are there any reasons for Sooners fans to be concerned?
Ted Miller: Well, I think we can all agree that if Oklahoma comes out and plays its best, it's going to win the game. It's simply more talented in nearly every area.
But this is college football, and talent doesn't always carry the day. UConn's recipe for success here isn't revolutionary. It needs to win the turnover battle, probably decisively. It needs to win third down on both sides of the ball. It needs to establish its running game and play keep-away from a potent Sooners offense. It needs to make at least a few plays downfield in the passing game to keep the Sooners defense reasonable honest when it tries to gang up on the line of scrimmage against running back Jordan Todman. And it needs to win the red zone, scoring TDs when it's there and keeping the Sooners out of the end zone when they are there.
What can't happen? UConn can't make mistakes. And it must maintain some pass-run balance to keep the Sooners honest.
So that's a fairly involved scenario for a UConn win. What do the Sooners need to do to prove the experts correct?
David Ubben: You're right, I think even Connecticut players would admit Oklahoma is the more complete team, but two of the greatest equalizers in football are turnovers and weather. Unfortunately, the three-point shot in college football (a.k.a. a field goal) isn't quite as effective as in basketball.
Since we'll be indoors, Oklahoma can count out that as a factor.
Don't expect the Sooners to put the ball on the ground, though. They've lost just five fumbles this year in 13 games, good for sixth nationally.
So, theories aside, let's get down to it. How does this play out?
So let's say 42-24 Oklahoma.
What's your take?
David Ubben: Yeah, I'm taking Oklahoma 41-20. Oklahoma hasn't seen a back as good as Todman this year that also plays in a power system. The closest thing has been Cyrus Gray at Texas A&M, who ran for 122 yards and the Aggies beat Oklahoma.
But unlike A&M, Connecticut doesn't have enough weapons elsewhere to keep up with an Oklahoma offense that it won't be able to stop barring turnovers. Remember, Connecticut is playing without nickel back Mike Lang, too. Oklahoma should be able to move the ball consistently, and while I think it might be close early, I tend to buy into your idea of them being worn down.
I think the Huskies can catch the Sooners on play action a couple times for big plays, but not enough to outscore them.
- Nebraska isn't focusing on its impending move to the Big Ten, Brian Cristopherson writes in the Lincoln Journal-Star.
- Will Muschamp must continue the waiting game for the top job at Texas, Berry Tramel writes in The Oklahoman.
- Oklahoma coach Bob Stoops is a big Colt McCoy fan. Fan of Texas? Not so much, Tramel writes.
- Oklahoma State's recent recruiting suggests a hybrid position (think Percy Harvin) is on the horizon, Brandon Chatmon writes in The Oklahoman. Former Cowboys standout Bob Fenimore passes away.
- Five things to like and dislike about Texas Tech in 2010, Paul Myerberg writes.
- A Q&A with Kansas head coach Turner Gill. Jayhawks senior cornerback Chris Harris has done it all in his career, Matt Tait writes in the Lawrence Journal-World.
- Kansas State and Kansas need some entertainment value, Austin Meek writes in The Topeka Capital-Journal.
- Some Big 12 media days leftovers from the Columbia Daily Tribune's Dave Matter.
- Iowa State player David Sims has pleaded not guilty in his credit card case.
- Former Colorado quarterback Charles Johnson will no longer work the sidelines on the team's radio broadcasts, Kyle Ringo writes in the Daily Camera.
Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Griffin
Oklahoma players didn't waste much time before responding to Florida linebacker Brandon Spikes' charges that the Sooners were a "dirty team."
Understandably, the Sooners weren't too happy about Spikes' words.
"Dirty, like we're dirty players?" Oklahoma defensive tackle Gerald McCoy told the Oklahoman. "That's just how we play. We play hard. I guess you can consider that dirty, but some people just get intense, get riled up. Every team does."
The best I can remember, the BCS National Championship Game had a lot of chippiness and woofing on both sides.
Spikes charged Oklahoma tackle Trent Williams and then swatted his helmet after a play where Williams had driven Spikes to the ground.
Florida quarterback Tim Tebow drew an unsportsmanlike penalty late in the game after giving a "Gator chomp" in the direction of Oklahoma safety Nic Harris, who he had claimed had been chirping at him throughout the Gators' 24-14 victory.
But McCoy said that the Sooners weren't the only trash-talkers in the game.
"He [Spikes] is a liar if he's saying they don't have trash-talkers," McCoy said. "Every team does. You can't just put it on us."
It's interesting that the most notable sequence of the game has received little mention. That came when Harris twisted the injured ankle of Florida receiver Percy Harvin long after the play ended.
But I also remember that Harvin wasn't that unduly concerned about it after the game.
"He grabbed it, kind of twisting [my ankle] a little bit," Harvin told reporters after the BCS title game. "That comes with the game. I was expecting that a little bit. It's all good."
Harvin put that play behind him a few minutes after the game was over. But Spikes apparently has kept his feelings festering for more than eight months.
Like I said yesterday, if there's any justice, we'll see the Sooners and Gators play again somewhere this season.
Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Griffin
If it's a Friday afternoon, it's time to dive into my mailbag.
I received a bunch of good questions this week. Here are some of the best:
Justin from Austin, Texas, writes: I read your recent post about Texas having the most commits thus far from the ESPNU 150. One thing that interests me is the lack of a top running back on that list. I was curious as to your opinion on why Texas is not THE school to go to if you are a top quality running back, especially considering the Longhorns' lack of a true standout player at this position.
It would seem to me that someone with a lot of talent at the position would jump at the opportunity to come to a high profile school and potentially get 3 to 4 years of playing time right off the bat. Is it because Texas isn't perceived as a good running back school anymore, or are we already too stacked with players (though no "great" ones yet) so that recruits feel they won't get the playing time?
Tim Griffin: Justin, you make an interesting point. I, too, noticed that Texas hasn't attracted a blue-chip running back yet. Of course, Lache Seastrunk from Temple, Texas, would fit into that category. But it seems that Texas has missed out on the perceived great running backs and hasn't had a difference maker there since Cedric Benson graduated.
Maybe it's because of the Greg Davis' recent spread offense making top running back recruits shy away from the school as it becomes more heavily pass-oriented. But I think a bigger reason might be because of the development of spread offense as the de facto choice for many Texas high schools anymore. It means that more top athletes across the state are playing either quarterback or wide receiver.
There aren't nearly as many top running back prospects in Texas as there might have been 15-20 years ago. The days of top running backs like Earl Campbell, Adrian Peterson and Eric Dickerson now seems a little dated.
But if the Longhorns were successful in attracting Seastrunk, it wouldn't surprise me that Davis could develop an offense with him as a running back with 20-25 carries per game - even with a spread offense being employed much of the time.
Garon McClure writes: Tim, I am a Sooner fan and read your blog and columns almost daily. I was wondering what you thought about the Sooners trying to use Mossis Madu in the way that Florida used Percy Harvin the last few years. Have you heard any rumors or anything like that? I think it would be an intriguing wrinkle to the offense since they say they are moving him to the slot and he is a good runner too.
Tim Griffin: I think the Sooner coaches are tinkering with a variety of ways to employ Madu. His receiving skills, as well as the logjam at tailback with Chris Brown and DeMarco Murray, led to his move as a slot receiver this spring. It wouldn't surprise me if they still found a chance to let him run the ball, maybe in a limited role like Harvin did for the Gators last year.
I was very impressed with Madu last season for the Sooners. He came up big for them in the Big 12 championship game against Missouri when he rushed for a career-high 114 yards and three touchdowns after Murray was injured. And I look for him to be occasionally featured as a runner at times in 2009.
Dan Kaminski of Des Moines, Iowa, writes: When most teams are blowing out another team, coaches pull their starting quarterback and put in their backups. Texas did this and Florida did this last season with Colt McCoy and Tim Tebow respectively.
How come everyone talks about Sam Bradford's numbers last season but no one talks about the fact that when OU was blowing teams out by 50 points, Bob Stoops rarely (or at the last few minutes of the fourth quarter only) put in his back-up and thus inflated Bradford's stats?
Don't get me wrong, I think Bradford is one of the top quarterbacks, but his stats wouldn't have been anywhere as impressive as McCoy's had McCoy stayed in and played all games until the end.
Tim Griffin: I think that the usage of Bradford and McCoy assuredly speaks to the comfort and confidence that Mack Brown had in his backup quarterback compared to Bob Stoops with his. But I don't think the scoring was as significant for Bradford in blowout games as you might think.
Late in the season, Bradford played into the fourth quarter against Texas Tech and was needed in the fourth quarter against Oklahoma State, considering the Sooners were nursing only a three-point lead midway through the quarter.
It was understandable for him to be in the fourth quarter of the Big 12 championship game, his last opportunity to shine for Heisman voters. Still, Bradford accounted for only seven of his 50 touchdown passes in the fourth quarter, and three of those came in Oklahoma losses or games settled by two touchdowns or less.
Bradford's single-season numbers were the best in Oklahoma history by a quarterback, but I don't necessarily think that playing deep into games was that big a factor in them.
Cecil Wilson from Plano, Texas, writes: Tim, when are you hosting your next online chat? And what does Mack Brown and Co. have to do, besides go undefeated and win the Big XII Championship to get to the National Championship game in Pasadena? Thank you.
Tim Griffin: My next chat will be coming up probably not next week but the week after, likely on the same day as my Big 12 previews appear.
I'll give a couple of days notice when it will be approaching, because I always enjoy receiving all of your questions.
And I don't necessarily think Texas would have to go undefeated to win the national championship. I do think it would be crucial for them to finish quickly and win the Big 12 title game. And they should hope that the other contenders all have a loss or two to help winnow the field and make them stand apart from the rest.
I think if they do that, a Big 12 champion team with zero or one loss is going to have a good shot to make the national championship game. A one-loss team made it last year from the conference with Oklahoma.
Clayton Buehrle from Dallas writes: Tim, concerning the Top 40 teams in the BCS, could you please explain how ESPN expects to "play" the different teams against each other? What teams are playing (Current teams or past teams?)? The whole scenario is fun but seems a bit confusing. My friends and I could use some insight. Thanks.
Tim Griffin: My colleagues took a novel approach of breaking up the 40 teams into four 10-team conferences and then having a playoff. Mark Schlabach's story today spells out how the fantasy would play out.
My favorite part is a yearly relegation that would drop out the bottom feeders every year and replace them with teams from outside the top 40. I know that sounds a little like European soccer, but I think that would really be interesting to see teams jump up a level or drop depending on how they played the previous season.
And that's what makes the whole idea of relegation such a fun topic idea.
Brad Millican of Fort Worth, Texas, writes: How are fall practice schedules set? There seems to be a huge difference in when all the Big XII teams report for camp. Is this regulated by the NCAA?
Tim Griffin: Brad, different coaches have different strategies in how they want to break down the practices as they get ready for the season. Each school has 29 practices from the start of practice to the first game. The first three practices are without pads. But the schedule is
different based on the academic schedule of each school. Some coaches like to have a lot of two-a-days early to immediately challenge their teams. Other coaches like to backload things and test their teams a little closer to the start of the season.
Mark McCabe of Stafford, Va., writes: Tim, growing up a Cornhusker fan and now having lived in several places around the country... I found the recent ESPN poll asking, "What are you most looking forward to in the fall? College or Pro Football (never mind the World Series)." Both the Big 12 (TX and MO the exceptions) and the SEC areas picked college football.
Do you think fan support has a major impact on success or does success lead to fan support?
Tim Griffin: Mark, I noticed the same chart. I've lived in both the South and Midwest for extensive periods and think that the passion for college football is the strongest in those "flyover areas." The lack of competing NFL teams lead to that support. And I do think it has a major impact on success. Recruits know they can pick a school in that area and realize their games will be the biggest sporting events in their states. That's a heady feeling for a recruit and a big reason why places like Nebraska, Oklahoma, Arkansas, Alabama and Iowa have been able to continue their success over many years.
And it doesn't surprise me that Texas and Missouri aren't as excited about college sports as other Big 12 areas. The heavy influence of professional sports in both states - probably as strong there as any area in the conference - has tempered some of the excitement for college sports in recent years. The fans there still get excited when a team like Texas or Missouri makes a run at a national championship. But the NFL helps cut down some of the day-to-day excitement in college football there.
Kenneth Smith of Houston writes: Who do you think will win the starting QB spot at Kansas State? Also do you think that K-State will be in the mix for the Big 12 North title?
Me personally, I think the Wildcats are going to upset a team this year, maybe Missouri or Kansas. The offense seems to be pretty good with Keithen Valentine in the backfield again and Brandon Banks at wide receiver. The defense last season was OK, but they need to learn just to wrap up to make a tackle. Who do you think will be the two teams competing in the North?
Tim Griffin: I think that Kansas State will be the mystery team in the North this season - even more than Colorado. I've always had huge respect for the coaching acumen that Bill Snyder brings to his program. He'll be facing a huge challenge at Kansas State, but I think his task will be a little easier because so many of his assistant coaches have coached or played for him and are familiar with his demands.
I think Carson Coffman will get the start for the Wildcats' opener Sept. 5 against Massachusetts. But I'm thinking that Grant Gregory and Daniel Thomas likely will have chances to play as well. I think Thomas could be the starting quarterback later this season, as Snyder has always favored quarterbacks who were adept at running and passing like Michael Bishop, Ell Roberson and Jonathan Beasley. Thomas fits that mold.
And as far as the last two teams competing in the Big 12 North, I'll go with Nebraska and Kansas. I think the regular-season finales for both teams - Nebraska at Colorado and Kansas and Missouri at Arrowhead Stadium in Kansas City - will have much importance in determining the North champion this season.
Thanks for all of your questions this week. We'll check back again next Friday.
Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Griffin
Texas (Big 12 No. 1) vs. Florida (SEC No. 1)
Texas' record against the SEC: 3-3
Florida's record against the Big 12: 1-0
Previous games: Texas leads the series, 2-0-1
Most recent game: Texas won, 26-0, at Gainesville, Fla., in 1940.
Distance between them (as the crow flies according to How Far Is It): 925 miles.
Where they should play: New Orleans, La. (457 miles to Gainesville, 468 miles to Austin)
Who wins: Florida.
Why: The consensus battle between the preseason No. 1 and No. 2 teams would have everything.
And while some Texas fans have tried to state their case of beating the Gators by pointing out how they defeated defending national champion USC for the 2005 national title in similar circumstances, these Gators are a little different than those Trojans.
I'm not thinking the Gators will be nearly as complacent. If anything, their defense should be better next season with the return of all of their defensive starters and all but one of the top 22 players from last season's two-deep. And as disruptive as the Gators played late last season (12.9 points per game over their final eight games) under Charlie Strong, it's not a big stretch to say that they will be improved this year.
Tim Tebow worked on his mechanics since the end of last season and will be driven to claim his third national championship. Louis Murphy and Percy Harvin will be missed as receiving threats and the returning players might have trouble against Texas' deep and talented secondary -- arguably the strength of its team.
Speedy running backs like Chris Rainey and Jeffery Demps would give the Gators an element of athleticism that would be difficult for Texas to match.
The Longhorns will have some offensive weapons, but I don't like their chances of beating top teams like the Gators without some kind of running threat besides Colt McCoy. Maybe freshman Chris Whaley will develop into that player as the season progresses. But I don't like Texas' chances against a swarming defense like Florida's if McCoy has to run the ball too often.
And also don't discount the edge that Florida might have because of defensive line coach Dan McCarney, who knows a thing or two about the Longhorns from his time coaching Iowa State.
It would be a great game. But in the end, Tebow and Florida's speed would boost the Gators to the mythical victory.
The count: SEC, 7-5.
Note: Matchups are determined by the most recent rankings of Big 12 blogger Tim Griffin and SEC blogger Chris Low. All cumulative records go back to the 1996 season -- the first of competition in the Big 12.
Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Griffin
It's always been hard for Kansas State wide receiver Brandon Banks to put on weight.
The 5-foot-7, 151-pound Banks is one of the skinniest players in the Big 12. But he's never let his lack of bulk stop him as he's developed into one of the most explosive multi-dimensional players in the conference.
Banks ranked 20th nationally with an average of 87.4 yards receiving per game. In 2008, he produced four 100-yard receiving games and notched six touchdown grabs in his first four games en route to team-leading totals of 67 receptions, 1,049 yards and nine TD grabs.
With the Wildcats' spring game approaching on Saturday, we talked to Banks about the changes brought about by new coach Bill Snyder, the Wildcats' group of new quarterbacks and why he doesn't like vegetables, meat and pasta.
|Peter G. Aiken/Getty Images|
|Brandon Banks recorded four 100-yard receiving games in 2008.|
How have things changed in your program with coach Snyder's arrival?
Brandon Banks: Things have changed a lot, just because of who he is. Coach Snyder is a legend. It's pretty exciting playing under him. Our attitude as a team has changed because of him. We're coming together as a team and being a part of a special group. Coach Snyder is getting us together as one.
There's been some talk that your role offensively will be changing this season. Can you tell us about the changes?
BB: I can't really comment on that now. Hopefully, I'll be a big part of the offense, but truthfully, I really don't know what I will be doing. I know I'll touch the ball more than last year. But I would like to be the Jeremy Maclin or Percy Harvin of this team. I want to get the ball in the open field a lot and hopefully have the chance to outrun people.
What role of the game do you think you are the best at -- receiving, running or returning kicks?
BB: Personally, I think I'm a better return guy than as a receiver. I've had a chance to prove myself doing it over the years. But I'd like to evolve and get better at all of the different facets of the game. I think I'm at my best when I have the ball in the open field. My best aspect is getting the ball in the open field and making other people miss.
After the way the season finished up for you after your fast start, do you think you'll be more of a marked man this season by opposing defenses?
BB: If they want to do that, we have some other guys who can step up. I can't do it by myself, and if somebody keys on me, those other guys will be able to take advantage. They can do the job, too.
BB: We've got a pretty competitive situation with Carson, Collin and Joseph. Hopefully, one of them can step in and do what they need to do to lead us with the job. And it's always better for the team when you have the competition for playing time like we've had this spring.
Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Griffin
NORMAN, Okla. -- Considering all of the key receivers that left Oklahoma's team after last season, it's understandable why some aren't sold on the Sooners' returning talent at the position.
Leading returning receiver Ryan Broyles doesn't mind that at all. In fact, Broyles actually likes that many are considering his receiving corps as one of the Sooners' biggest positional question marks.
|Stephen Brashear/Icon SMI|
|Ryan Broyles will be one of quarterback Sam Bradford's go-to guys in 2009.|
"We've all been doubted around here before," Broyles said. "We just want to rise to the occasion and show what we can do when we get the chance."
The Sooners must replace playmakers Manuel Johnson, Juaquin Iglesias and Quentin Chaney from last season. That trio combined to produce 145 receptions, 2,368 yards and 21 touchdowns to spark an explosive passing game that catapulted Sam Bradford to the Heisman Trophy.
Their departure is expected to hamstring the Sooners' vertical passing game in Bradford's third season as a starter. But it's also bolstered the confidence of several players who are figuring that it's now their time to shine.
No player has been more vociferous this spring as 6-foot-4 senior wide receiver Adron Tennell, a senior who is poised to emerge as one of the Sooners' likely deep threats.
"I feel like I'm back in high school. I'm unstoppable and nobody can touch me," said Tennell, who has produced only 16 catches in the first three seasons at Oklahoma after struggling with a knee injury and talented teammates in front of him.
Tennell, known as "Pooh" by his relatives since childhood, arrived at Oklahoma as the most-heralded receiving recruit in recent history. One scouting service had him ranked as the third-highest recruit in the 2006 recruiting class, behind only Florida's Percy Harvin and USC's Vidal Hazelton.
But Tennell's development was stunted after he injured his knee on special teams late in his sophomore season against Texas Tech. The injury caused him to miss all of winter conditioning and spring practice before last season.
As the other players developed, Tennell's playing time diminished. He produced only nine catches for 68 yards last season.
"Being behind all of those guys who were here before me, I was hoping I'd get to play," Tennell said. "But when I didn't, I got anxious about having to sit and watch. Now, I'm trying to shine when I get my chance."
Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Griffin
There was a thought-provoking blog post this afternoon written by the wise pundit of the Tulsa World, veteran columnist Dave Sittler.
As Sittler watched Jeremy Maclin honored at the Oklahoma-Missouri basketball game last night in Columbia, Mo., it made him wonder what Maclin would have meant to the Sooners if he had attended there as he had originally committed.
I'm thinking that Maclin would have had the same explosive role with the Sooners. And I imagine that Oklahoma offensive coordinator Kevin Wilson would have found a variety of uses for Maclin, who was almost like a Swiss Army Knife because of the usefulness of his multiplicity of talents in Missouri's offense.
But Maclin would have been the cherry to top the Sooners' sundae.
Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Griffin
Here's a batch of fresh letters from my readers who wrote me about various Big 12 topics this week.
Steve from Clearwater, Fla., writes: I'm wondering what's the status of Oklahoma's DeMarco Murray and Ryan Reynolds. Will they be ready for spring practice? Thanks again for all of your great coverage of Big 12 ball.
Tim Griffin: Hey, thanks for the kudos. Because of the severity of Murray's partial rupture of his left hamstring tendon and Reynolds torn knee ligaments, neither player will participate in a full spring practice regimen in the next few weeks. But Oklahoma officials say that both are progressing at or ahead of the normal pace of recovery for their injuries. The forecast for both key players participating in the 2009 season is bright, I am told.
Dale from Richmond, Texas, writes: Is John Chiles the next Percy Harvin? His athleticism is unquestionable on film. Moving Chiles to wide receiver is like finding a diamond in the rough! What is your opinion?
Tim Griffin: Like you mentioned, Chiles is an athlete and should be able to make plays in Texas' offense.
I'm wondering, however, if he might be better suited as a running back than a receiver. His speed and pass-catching abilities could be more useful there. I think the Longhorns are much weaker in the backfield with oft-injured Fozzy Whittaker, Tre' Newton and Vondrell McGee as their lone breakaway threats along with the hulking Cody Johnson. Among receivers, Chiles will have to challenge Dan Buckner, Malcolm Williams, Brandon Collins, James Kirkendoll and Jordan Shipley when he recovers from his injury. It will be very hard for him to crack that rotation.
An even more likely role for him will be as a kick returner. Mack Brown said that special emphasis will be placed on improving the Longhorns' kick returns after the Longhorns placed only sixth in the conference last season. I could see Chiles being very useful there.
Kent from Cushing, Iowa, writes: Tim, in your blog about what you don't love about the Big 12 you list human mascots and have my beloved Cyclones listed. Hey, we had a REAL cyclone for one game in Ames. It was against Colorado in 2005, I believe. CU just packed up Ralphie and went home.
Tim Griffin: I remember that game and the unusual weather conditions. But I still like animals rather than those mascots in costumes -- even if the climatic conditions might belong on The Weather Channel.
Kyle Highberg from Omaha writes: Hey, good blog and I greatly appreciate it. But that being sad, can the North Division get some love, too? Each and every day you blog about something going on at Texas. I know you live only an hour away from Austin, but I don't need to hear three updates a day on the same slow news story! Maybe it's just me, or maybe it is only February and I have a big itch for Big 12 football. Seriously, thanks for the blog!
Tim Griffin: The reason that Texas schools have been featured so prominently the last several days is that they are actually practicing. Texas is taking advantage of the warmer weather to start practice as the first team in the conference. Baylor will start its next week, leading to my story earlier today on Robert Griffin.
As I've often said, I consider the 12 schools in the conference as almost my children and I try not to show any one of them any more love or favoritism than another. Even if it makes me feel like Old Mother Hubbard sometimes.
But during next few weeks, you can be assured that I'll have reports of teams across the Big 12.
Dane from Dallas writes: What is a guy do until September 5th? Your blogs alone are enough to satiate me enough to prevent withdrawals and I am going crazy here! How do you feel about OU opening up Jerry's world against BYU?
Tim Griffin: First, let me suggest ESPN Classic. They often play great games of the past that will help feed your "Football Jones" when no live games are available.
As for the Sooners, I think their game against BYU will be one of the most intriguing nonconference games of the season. Both teams have got a lot of offensive firepower. The Cougars have never lost to a Big 12 team, beating two teams from the conference since the Big 12 started play in 1996.
It should make for an intriguing first college game at the Dallas Cowboys' Stadium in Arlington, Texas, shouldn't it? First team to 50 points will win.
Rene from Valencia, Calif., writes: Hey Tim, I just have two simple questions. I'm a Longhorn fan, and I was wondering if the Rose Bowl 2006 has been the only time that USC has played Texas? How many times has Texas played USC in school history? And in your opinion, what makes one team better than another? History, accomplishments such as national championships, Heisman Trophies. or head-to-head records?
Tim Griffin: The Longhorns and Trojans have played five times in the history of both programs. USC won the four previous games in the series: 19-7 in Los Angeles in 1955, 44-20 in Austin in 1956, 10-6 in Austin in 1966 and 17-13 in Los Angeles in 1967. Some my more experienced friends in Austin still see former USC football player John Wayne attending the game in Austin back in 1966.
But the way that the 2006 Rose Bowl played out convinced me that these two programs should be occasionally playing each other. It would be a heck of an intersectional matchup.
And as far as the most important factor I use to gauge the strength of programs is consistency: If a team has been great for a long time, I think that speaks volumes about it. And it's why I think that ESPN.com's ranking of Oklahoma as the nation's most prestigious program was completely warranted.
John from Austin writes: In your coverage of the Nebraska quarterback battle, you haven't really mentioned Taylor Martinez. I realize that he was brought in to be a safety, but his high school quarterback numbers and apparent competitiveness warrant SOME mention, I think. I have an issue with prototypical quarterbacks like Sam Keller, Harrison Beck and Josh Freeman and how it seems like they never really live up to their hype - but maybe that's just been because we've been spoiled with a player like Joe Ganz!
Wasn't there talk about Martinez getting a chance to compete for the job? Where has that talk gone, if it ever existed?
Tim Griffin: I think the talk was the heaviest right around national signing day when Bo Pelini was trying to convince Martinez to attend Nebraska. I do
know that Martinez will fall far behind Cody Green, Kody Spano and Zac Lee because those players will receive chances to take many snaps during spring practice. It would be hard to imagine Martinez being able to catch up against that trio when he arrives later this summer, but I know he desperately wants to play quarterback.
Eventually, Martinez might become a factor, but it might be too early to think he will become one in 2009.
The Cornhuskers will have little depth at the position. I'm predicting Lee to have the starting job going into the summer with Green close behind. I could see Pelini using Green like Ohio State coach Jim Tressel used Terrelle Pryor last season by getting his feet wet with a few snaps early in the season before more extensive use later in the season. It will be interesting to see how it plays out.
That's all the time I have for today. Check back for my live chat on Big 12 football on Monday and keep the e-mails coming. I appreciate all of them.
Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Griffin
MIAMI -- Oklahoma's struggles on short-yardage plays have bit them all night.
The Sooners were turned away again on a third-and-1 play from the Florida 32 midway through the third quarter, marking the third time that they were stuffed by an aggressive Florida defense on a short-yardage play.
The nation's most explosive offense has sputtered through its worst game of the season, trailing 14-7 after three quarters.
The stop forced a 49-yard field goal by Jimmy Stevens that was blocked.
Florida appears to have taken control of momentum after marching 75 yards on a drive capped by Percy Harvin's 2-yard TD run to take the lead. Tim Tebow showed his grit by twice converting third-down plays with his own carries.
The Sooners have been most successful when they have dictated tempo and gone at a faster pace than the Gators wanted. But when the Florida defense has gotten set, the Sooners have had trouble making much yardage.
Sam Bradford has completed 21 of 30 passes for 193 yards, but has struggled on the third-down plays. Oklahoma has converted only 5 of 11 third-down plays.
The Gators' tough defense has shackled Oklahoma. The Sooners led the nation in scoring and have scored at least 35 points in every game. They won't come anywhere close to that total tonight.
Florida's defense appears to have made some substantive adjustments at the half, limiting the Sooners to four first downs in the third quarter.
Again, the Sooners couldn't take advantage of good fortune after Jamaal Deveaux was flagged for a roughing penalty on Oklahoma punter Mike Knall. But Oklahoma couldn't take advantage of the play and was stopped after three more plays.
Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Griffin
MIAMI -- I just wandered briefly among the clutter of people along the Oklahoma sideline at Dolphin Stadium. The stadium is still less than half full and appears to be about 80 percent Florida fans so far.
There seems to be definite electricity surging through the stadium, no different from any of the nine previous national championship games I've covered. You can tell this one is a little extra special, though.
I got a chance to see celebrities like New England coach Bill Belichick and team owner Robert Kraft sizing up the talent on the field. I also watched Florida running back/wide receiver Percy Harvin run a couple of pass patterns without too much pain, despite pregame reports of a tweaked ankle suffered in practice earlier this week.
The Sooners look loose and prepared. There were no pregame incidents involving either team, despite some beefed-up security because of some of the things said earlier in the week.
Here are a couple of other last-minute factors to watch:
Weather: It's currently 74 degrees with 50 percent humidity and hardly any wind. I can't imagine conditions being any more ideal. Temperatures are expected to drop into the high 60s as the game continues with no chance of rain.
Injuries: The Sooners are in pretty good shape with the exception of missing two key players. Running back DeMarco Murray, the Sooners' leading breakaway threat and top kick returner, will miss the game with a torn hamstring sustained in the Big 12 championship game. It means that Chris Brown will get most of the carries with Mossis Madu filling in at times as well. Both of the backs rushed for 100 yards and scored three touchdowns against Missouri.
Backup defensive tackle Demarcus Granger will miss the game after undergoing back surgery. Granger contributed 20 tackles and will be replaced in the rotation by Cory Bennett.
Mike Balogun will be starting at middle linebacker, although Austin Box said earlier this week he is nearly 100 percent and should be ready to play. Look for Oklahoma coach Bob Stoops to play Balogun until he makes a bust. Then, it wouldn't surprise me to see Box play.
Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Griffin
Call me a soothsayer or just a predictor of events. Here's a look at five early 2009 predictions for the Big 12.
1. Sooners denied again. Oklahoma and coach Bob Stoops will lose another BCS game, dropping a 35-31 decision in the upcoming matchup with Florida later this week. But the Sooners win plaudits in the loss with a gritty performance in their best outing during a five-game BCS losing streak. The game is settled only when Tim Tebow directs the Gators on a dramatic game-winning drive settled when Florida wide receiver Percy Harvin beats loquacious Oklahoma cornerback Dominique Franks for the game-winning TD in the final minute.
2. Early NFL draft departures strip the league's talent. The balance of power in the league is profoundly shaped for 2009 after Oklahoma quarterback Sam Bradford and tight end Jermaine Gresham, Texas Tech wide receiver Michael Crabtree and Oklahoma State offensive tackle Russell Okung all leave school to declare for the NFL draft. The net loss of talent keeps the Big 12 South from claiming its position as the nation's toughest division for a second-straight season.
3. The Red River Rivalry percolates. In one of the most anticipated games in Big 12 history, Texas beats Oklahoma, 34-17, to take control of the South Division early in the conference race. In an expectation almost as certain as the steady stream of fans eating corny dogs before the game outside the Cotton Bowl, Texas fans boo heralded Oklahoma freshman defensive tackle Jamarcus McFarland every time he takes the field.
4. Bo's first division title. After Nebraska coach Bo Pelini inserts Zac Lee into the starting lineup, the Cornhuskers catch fire and cruise to the North Division title in a tight race that features four teams that eventually make bowl trips -- Nebraska, Colorado, Kansas and Missouri. The Cornhuskers don't have enough firepower, however, to beat Texas. The Longhorns win their conference title since 2005 after a 38-24 triumph over the Cornhuskers to cruise to the BCS title game after a 12-1 season marred only by a loss at Oklahoma State.
5. McCoy's Heisman moment. Not only do the Longhorns claim the league championship, but Colt McCoy has a huge season to become the first quarterback from his school to ever claim the Heisman Trophy. His victory comes over runner-up Tebow, who faces the Big 12 champion again in the 2010 national championship game at the Rose Bowl.
Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Griffin
FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. -- Even as he discounted Florida quarterback Tim Tebow among his ranking of top Big 12 quarterbacks, Oklahoma cornerback Dominique Franks doesn't have any reason to diminish some of Tebow's weapons.
Franks said he is impressed with Florida's athleticism at wide receiver as the Sooners prepare for Thursday's FedEx BCS National Championship Game.
"Those guys have a lot of speed and I expect a lot of deep balls to test us vertically," Franks said. "We're going to have to make sure we don't give up any big plays and keep everything in front of us. And when they do catch the ball, we have to make sure we get them down on the ground and not get any yardage after the catch."
The Gators have five receivers who have more than 10 catches and average more than 14.5 yards per catch. Their prime playmakers are two threats who both averaged a stout 17.0 yards per catch. Senior Louis Murphy leads the Gators with 36 catches and junior running back/wide receiver Percy Harvin paces the team with seven TD grabs and also averaged 8.8 yards per carry and scored nine TDs on only 61 carries.
"This is going to be another great test," Franks said. "We haven't faced receivers this fast. Especially the way that Tebow throws the ball -- he just throws it up and they go get it. We have to know what's coming."
Harvin sustained a sprained ankle in the Gators' victory over Florida State and didn't see action in Florida's SEC title game triumph over Alabama. Coach Urban Meyer said he expects Harvin to play in Thursday's game.
Franks said he wants to beat the Gators with Harvin healthy for Thursday's game.
"We don't want any excuses," Franks said. "I hope he plays. He's a great player and even when he's not 100 percent, just being on the field will give them a whole different dynamic in the offense. All those guys are fast, but we just don't want to let them into open space. I think we'll be ready for the challenge."
Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Griffin
Here are some letters I've received over the last several days about Big 12 happenings.
Ashtyn from Jefferson City, Mo., writes: Which has a better chance of happening? The Big 12 going 7-0 or the Big Ten going 0-7 in the bowl season?
Tim Griffin: Actually, I don't see either happening. For some reason, it wouldn't surprise me if Wisconsin upsets Florida State in a battle between two underachieving teams. And I think that Iowa might be ready to play against South Carolina, too.
And in the Big 12, I think that Oklahoma and Nebraska both will have difficulty pulling off upsets in their bowl games against Florida and Clemson, respectively. It wouldn't be impossible, but I think both will be pushed to do it. I beleive Oklahoma is going to miss DeMarco Murray more than most people might think.
T. Broyles from Austin writes: First off, I wanted to tell you that your blog is amazing. But let's get down to the point. I won't ramble on about who I think is better between Texas and Oklahoma, but let's pretend that Texas made it to the national championship game against Florida. I believe Oklahoma will have a tough time beating UF, but do you think Texas would have a harder time beating them? If you could drop a final score between Texas and UF, what would it be?
Tim Griffin: First, thanks for your nice compliments about the blog. I think that Texas will face similar problems that Oklahoma does. Mainly, their secondary and defense will be facing a big test in trying to control Percy Harvin and Tim Tebow. And both teams would be challenged to control Florida's fast and active front seven on defense. Texas might have even more trouble because I don't think its running game is as good as Oklahoma's. So if the Longhorns got behind, I think they would be one-dimensional against Florida's fierce pass rush.
But in the end, I would make the Gators slight favorites over both Big 12 teams. And I think Florida would win both games by a score of, say, 35-31.
Jim from Grand Junction, Colo., writes: Tim, I don't know if you follow recruiting closely, but perhaps you can answer this. I've noticed on the recruiting sites that Colorado has only eight signed recruits. Most already have 20-plus recruits. Why is the Colorado number so low? Are they on NCAA sanctions or what? Thanks.
Tim Griffin: Colorado has a different philosophy than many schools with only eight recruits so far. But coach Dan Hawkins prefers to add to his classes later in the recruiting season. He has told Colorado reporters he plans to have 20-22 recruits in his class this season, so I wouldn't expect anything too strange at this point.
M. Holliday from New Braunfels, Texas, writes: I know this is subjective but Colt McCoy at number 11 in your poll of the best players in the Big 12 invalidates and removes subjectivity and borders on lunacy!
Tim Griffin: I appreciate your concerns, but the opinions I made were based strictly on my own opinions after talking to some of my friends in professional scouting. They actually had McCoy ranked a little lower than I ranked him. But it's interesting to see how different people value different kinds of players. I guess that's why some teams like the Tennessee Titans always seem to play well with players who were presumed to be borderline talents. And others like the Detroit Lions continually struggle despite continually getting top players in the draft every season.
But it has been interesting to see how different fans of different schools have taken personal umbrage with these lists. C'mon, lighten up. It was developed to merely to provoke some meaningful discourse about the Big 12.
And I can assure you it has certainly done that!
Zac F. from Houston writes: Hey, Tim, I'm a big fan of your blog, but I'm curious with Oklahoma losing some of its big men up front that this would affect the big numbers that their passing game has been generating?
Tim Griffin: Zac, I think you might be onto something. Something tells me that Sam Bradford might be more worried about the departure of senior starting offensive linemen Phil Loadholt, Duke Robinson, Jon Cooper and Brandon Walker than any of his receivers.
The Sooners do have some talent along the offensive line, but it will take time to develop. And it remains to be seen if this young group will grow up with Bradford or a new quarterback.
Ray from Hanford, Calif., writes: Now that its official and Jordan Shipley has a sixth year, how do you think Texas will do next season? With the emergence of Malcolm Williams late this season, does Texas have a 1-2 punch at receiver to work along with Colt McCoy?
Tim Griffin: Most definitely. I think that Williams and Shipley potentially might be one of the best receiving duos in the conference. And the expected return of Blaine Irby at tight end will only strengthen that group. It's one of the biggest reasons I think the Longhorns are the team to beat in the Big 12 South heading into the 2009 season.
Chris from Austin writes: Great job on the blog, it's become my go-to for any time I want Big 12 news. I feel that the "curse" of the Heisman isn't really a curse, it's mostly caused by the media tour that follows after a winner is announced and all of the practice that you miss. But how much preparation time does the Heisman winner actually miss on average?
Tim Griffin: Chris, a Heisman winner usually doesn't miss much practice time with his team. It's basically some of the conditioning that players take care of themselves before reporting back to practice after exams finish up. Heisman winners typically are stuck on the rubber chicken circuit when all that is going on.
I think an even bigger factor is that opposing teams zero in on a player with much national notoriety like a Heisman Trophy winner. It's a big reason why Heisman winners are 2-6 in their bowl games since 2000.
And if you want to impress your friends, know the only Heisman Trophy winners who have won during that eight-season period in the bowls were USC's Matt Leinart (over Oklahoma in the 2005 Orange Bowl) and USC's Carson Palmer (over Iowa in the 2003 Orange Bowl). Leinart is also the last Heisman winner to win a national championship in the same season as his Heisman. Recent losing Heisman winners in order have included Reggie Bush, Troy Smith and Tebow last season.
I wish a blessed and peaceful holiday season to all of my readers. Enjoy the times with your family and I'll look forward to more cards and e-mails after the holidays are over.