Big 12: Phil Loadholt
So, what about the Big 12? I'm glad you asked.
I love the NFL, and it's time to take a look at the Big 12's top players at the next level. This isn't about what you did in college. This is about what you've done at the next level. Sorry, Vince Young.
You must be active, and I'm judging this team based on how good players are right now. However, I included players from teams in the Big 12 during the 2011 season.
Let's start with the offense:
QB: Sam Bradford, St. Louis Rams (Oklahoma)
Bradford edges out Kansas State's Josh Freeman for this award. Bradford won Rookie of the Year honors after winning the Heisman at OU, but had a rough sophomore season. Either way, it's Bradford's spot here.
RB: Adrian Peterson, Minnesota Vikings (Oklahoma)
Peterson's recovering from a serious knee injury, but he's got a case as the game's best running back.
RB: Jamaal Charles, Kansas City Chiefs (Texas)
Charles is coming back from a torn ACL, but he rushed for 1,467 yards in 2010, his second consecutive 1,000-yard season.
WR: Wes Welker, New England Patriots (Texas Tech)
I hated to leave Michael Crabtree off this list, but there's no doubt Welker belongs. His 1,569 receiving yards in 2011 were a career high, and his fourth 1,000-yard season.
WR: Jeremy Maclin, Philadelphia Eagles (Missouri)
Maclin is a deep threat for Michael Vick and dangerous as a runner, too. Anybody who saw him at Mizzou isn't surprised. He dealt with a cancer scare in 2011, but should get back to his form in 2012 like he was in 2010, catching 70 passes for 964 yards and 10 scores.
WR: Dez Bryant, Dallas Cowboys (Oklahoma State)
Bryant's a rising star, but health issues have slowed him a bit. He nearly doubled his production in 2011, his second season, with 928 yards and nine touchdowns.
TE: Jermichael Finley, Green Bay Packers (Texas)
Finley's been a big target for MVP Aaron Rodgers, and caught eight touchdown passes on 55 catches for 767 yards.
OL: Jammal Brown, Washington Redskins (Oklahoma)
Brown is a two-time Pro Bowler and a one-time All-Pro who left OU as an Outland Trophy winner in 2004. Most impressive? He's started 84 of a career 85 games.
OL: Davin Joseph, Tampa Bay Buccaneers (Oklahoma)
Joseph made two Pro Bowls (2008, 2011) and helped pave the way for LeGarrette Blount and a powerful Bucs rushing offense. He only took a season as a part-time starter before earning full-time honors in his second year in Tampa.
OL: Jeromey Clary, San Diego Chargers (Kansas State)
Clary started 60 games since being drafted in the sixth round in 2006.
OL: Phil Loadholt, Minnesota Vikings (Oklahoma)
Loadholt was a juco transfer who made a big impact on one of the best O-lines in Big 12 history for the 2008 Sooners. He's started every game of the first three years of his career for the Vikings helping pave the way for Adrian Peterson.
OL: Louis Vasquez, San Diego Chargers (Texas Tech)
Vasquez was the only rookie starter for the Chargers in 2009, and he's started all 34 games of his career. He already established himself as one of his division's top linemen.
Come back later this week when we tackle the defense.
Who would you have on the team?
As for this week's mailbag, I was pretty surprised when I started digging in, even with the news of Broyles' return on Thursday evening: Most everyone wanted to talk/ask about the Sooners.
So....here you go.
Mike in Dallas, Texas writes: All the media could talk about was Oklahoma's 5 straight BCS bowl losses. Now they win one against an obviously outmatched UConn team and I still read that "some" media members claiming "Well this one really doesn't count" (I'm paraphrasing). You're in the media loop. What do you feel is the media's perspective on this win?
David Ubben: Well, I don't know that anyone is outspokenly claiming, "This one doesn't count!," but certainly, beating UConn wasn't all that impressive. But more than getting a win, Oklahoma's BCS troubles were more about just not playing well in a big game, which is why you saw and heard so much criticism surrounding Bob Stoops during the streak. Last time, it was the goal-line failures against Florida with an offensive line that had four NFL talents: Trent Williams, Jon Cooper, Duke Robinson and Phil Loadholt.
Before that, there was the no-show against West Virginia when the Sooners got run off the field. Before that, the Boise State debacle in which, regardless of how much the Sooners said they respected an experienced, senior-filled Broncos team, they didn't play like it.
After 2004, you had a 12-0 Oklahoma team get completely embarrassed by USC, 55-19. Before that was the national championship loss to LSU, which wasn't all that bad, 21-14, but the Sooners also got embarrassed by big underdog Kansas State in the Big 12 Championship weeks earlier, and a two-game losing streak to end a year (even if those losses are in Big 12 and national title games) will leave a bad taste in fans' mouths.
So, circling back to my original point, Oklahoma's BCS streak was more about the Sooners just playing terrible with a month between games than winning or losing.
And when OU beat Connecticut, it did it convincingly and played well. That's obviously a good sign. So while Oklahoma could have earned some additional street cred if it had beaten a more legitimate opponent, the way the Sooners played has to be encouraging and something to build on for next year.
(Side note: Both Sam Bradford and Andrew Luck missed last year's Sun Bowl with injuries, and though Luck is staying, is that the only game in college football history with two future No. 1 picks watching from the sideline? College football historians, get on this one.)
Matt in Stafford, Va. asks: DU, with no Big XII Championship what are the chances of a team that runs the table making it to the BCS Championship? Who has the best shot and why?
DU: You're seeing teams who want to compete for national titles beef up their nonconference schedules, most notably Texas and Oklahoma. Having a ninth conference game might keep fringe teams from making bowl games eventually, but it definitely helps strength of schedule. It's possible in the future that an undefeated team from the Big 12 gets left out, but with Oklahoma playing games against Florida State and Texas scheduling a future series with USC, they're doing their part to make sure they don't get left out.
Even still, three teams from BCS conferences going undefeated has only happened once, so I wouldn't lose too much sleep about it if I were you.
Tommy B in Austin, Texas writes: Could Ryan Broyles' decision to stay another year affect Justin Blackmon's decision whether to stay or go?
DU: Maybe. Blackmon is projected as a mid-first round pick and has the size Broyles doesn't, so unlike Luck's decision helping Blaine Gabbert's stock, that doesn't have much effect on Blackmon. What it might affect is this: If Broyles and Lewis had gone, there'd still be a bit of doubt on top of the Big 12. Not anymore. Heading into next season, Oklahoma might be a close-to-unanimous pick to win the Big 12. Those two coming back significantly lowers the chances of Oklahoma State getting the Big 12 title that narrowly eluded it this year; Oklahoma should be a lot better in 2011 than it was in 2010. So maybe that has an effect on Blackmon's decision. Maybe he sees it as a challenge and tells Brandon Weeden, "Let's come back and go after them again."
Neither of them have had a lot to say since the season ended.
Every player has to make an independent decision when it comes to their future, and I'm not sure Broyles' decision has a ton of effect on Blackmon's, but that's really the only way it would.
Terence in New York asks: David, Happy New year. With Ryan Broyles and Travis Lewis returning, as well as all those freshman that played so well, you have to figure OU is the front runner in the conference again. With 7 Conf championships over the past 11 years, and the team they have returning, why is Texas automatically a better job? Clearly you are able to win at the highest level at OU and have been a better overall program this decade.
DU: Well, it's close, but really, it comes down to resources. Oklahoma has done just fine for itself, but it's a bit easier for UT to recruit Texas than it is for Oklahoma. Again, not a huge gap there, but it takes a little less effort for Texas to get that top-tier talent in Austin than it does for Oklahoma.
Additionally, don't ever underestimate the dollar. Texas has more money than any other program in the country, and they're not afraid to use it. More than anything else, that's what separates them. Texas was paying Will Muschamp almost $1 million to be its defensive coordinator last year, and offensive coordinator Greg Davis was making just under $500,000. Being able to keep assistants happy helps a lot, too. Muschamp was making almost $150,000 more than any other assistant in the country.
Granted, in the Big 12, Oklahoma's coordinators were Nos. 3 and 4 on the pay scale, so it's not like they're slacking, but when it comes to paychecks, life as a Longhorn is good.
It's not like the Texas job is completely on a different level than Oklahoma. They're really pretty close. But when you start trying to go down the list and compare, you have to give the edge to Austin.
Shawn in Afghanistan asks: With the news of Travis Lewis and Ryan Broyles coming back for another season, what do you think of Oklahoma's chances of making a National Title run next year?
DU: The Sooners should be on that level, but they're helped by a tough, but not brutal nonconference schedule. They'll play at Florida State (minus Christian Ponder, remember), a difficult but very winnable game, and then have Ball State and Tulsa. Then it just comes down to getting it done in Big 12 play. It won't be easy, and there's plenty of teams capable of knocking the Sooners off their stoop. All it takes is playing badly on one Saturday.
Oklahoma lost both games.
As a freshman, Murray ran for 128 yards on 17 carries, picking up a big block of yardage on a 65-yard go-ahead touchdown in the third quarter.
Oklahoma won that game.
That looked more likely in the season opener against Utah State, when Murray handled a heavy load of 35 carries and turned them into 208 yards, both career highs.
"DeMarco, he honestly looks like he did as a freshman, now that he's fully healthy," said Oklahoma center Ben Habern.
But Murray's nearly six-yard average per carry in the season opener has dwindled to just 3.2 in his last three games, dipping to a season low of 2.4 on his 28 carries last week against Cincinnati. Texas entered last week as the nation's No. 1 rush defense, but when the Longhorns faced a team in UCLA that intended to run at the center of their defense, they gave up over 300 yards on the ground.
"That's irrelevant," Murray said. "I know they had a little hiccup last week, but I know they'll be fired up to play this game just like we will. They could be 0-5 and we could be 0-5 and we'd both be ready to play our best game of the year this week. It doesn't matter, last week."
Texas has shut down Murray the last two seasons with a handful of would-be NFL draft picks on its defensive line, such as Sergio Kindle, Lamarr Houston, Brian Orakpo, Roy Miller and Henry Melton, along with linebackers such as Roddrick Muckelroy.
"They've definitely had good players, but we've had pretty good guys, too, NFL guys like Trent [Williams], Phil [Loadholt] and Duke [Robinson]," Habern said.
Murray also suffered an ankle injury in last year's game that kept him out of the following week's game against Kansas.
"It hurt really bad, but I had to be a man and step up," Murray said. "That's one game you definitely don't want to miss."
He's not asking for excuses. All he wants is the ball, and Oklahoma feels its struggles running the ball the past few weeks are about to end.
"The last few weeks, we were only a few holes away from breaking DeMarco and Mossis [Madu] free for big runs," said quarterback Landry Jones.
On Saturday, the Sooners will work toward making sure those holes are there. Otherwise, Texas may leave the Cotton Bowl with a fifth Red River victory in six years.
All of those accomplishments are a testament to Bob Stoops, one of two conference coaches to direct his team throughout the decade.
Setting the Sooners’ all-decade team was difficult. The choice at wide receiver next to Mark Clayton was extremely difficult. Malcolm Kelly, Juaquin Iglesias or Ryan Broyles all would have been good choices. I went with Broyles because of his proficiency despite constant double-team defenses this season when he produced 89 receptions.
And at quarterback, I went with Sam Bradford over Jason White in a tough positional choice between two Heisman Trophy winners.
Here’s my choice for Oklahoma’s all-decade team.
QB: Sam Bradford
RB: Adrian Peterson
RB: Quentin Griffin
WR: Mark Clayton
WR: Ryan Broyles
TE: Jermaine Gresham
OL: Jammal Brown
OL: Trent Williams
OL: Davin Joseph
OL: Phil Loadholt
C: Vince Carter
DL: Dan Cody
DL: Tommie Harris
DL: Gerald McCoy
DL: Jeremy Beal
LB: Teddy Lehman
LB: Rocky Calmus
LB: Curtis Lofton
DB: Derrick Strait
DB: Roy Williams
DB: Andre Woolfolk
DB: Brandon Everage
K: Garrett Hartley
P: Jeff Ferguson
Ret: Ryan Broyles
Offensive player of the decade: QB Sam Bradford. He became the first quarterback in Big 12 history to lead his team to back-to-back titles, capping his sophomore season by throwing for 50 touchdowns and earning the Heisman Trophy. His final season in college didn’t go as expected, but he still leaves school as a player who will be immortalized with a statue at Owen Field in the not-too-distant future.
Defensive player of the decade: S Roy Williams. He was such a natural that Bob Stoops created a position “the Roy” especially for his talents. He set the standard as a physical run-stuffing safety and sealed his legacy with the hit on Chris Simms that sealed the 2001 victory over Texas.
Coach of the decade: Bob Stoops. The only coach of the decade for the Sooners had more unprecedented early success than any coach in Big 12 history, winning the national championship in his second season and claiming a record six conference championships. They aren’t calling him “Big Game Bob” as much as before, but Stoops still ranks among the most pivotal figures in Big 12 history.
Most memorable moment of the decade: On a misty night at Pro Player Stadium, the Sooners’ defense turned in a masterful performance to claim the 2001 Orange Bowl and bring home the 2000 national championship. Josh Heupel managed to direct the offense despite a sore elbow and the Oklahoma defense would have pitched a shutout in a 13-2 triumph over Florida State except for a special-teams safety in the final minute of play.
Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Griffin
It's fitting and somewhat understandable that the NFL draft will have a distinctly Big 12 tinge Saturday as the early part of the first round plays out.
Keep an eye for Big 12 players to be very conspicuous in ESPN's broadcast of the draft. Four Big 12 players have been invited to watch the proceedings from the "Green Room" for Saturday's first day of the draft.
Baylor tackle Jason Smith, Texas Tech wide receiver Michael Crabtree, Kansas State quarterback Josh Freeman and Texas defensive end Brian Orakpo all will be at Radio City Music Hall in New York City for the draft.
Smith, Crabtree and Orakpo all could be taken among the draft's 10 or 15 picks. But Freeman, who could go as high as the middle of the first round or drop to the second round, could provide the most compelling drama of the draft's broadcast. Does anybody remember Brady Quinn or Aaron Rodgers in recent years?
The draft undoubtedly will showcase the Big 12's collection of talent that was continually highlighted last season.
Most mock drafts expect the Big 12 will have five or six first-round draft picks. Likely players to be selected include Orakpo, Smith, Missouri wide receiver Jeremy Maclin, Oklahoma State tight end Brandon Pettigrew, Freeman and Crabtree.
Look for the Big 12's burgeoning reputation as being on the cutting edge in terms of passing to be showcased this weekend. Most mock drafts have Crabtree and Maclin ranked as the top two receivers available. And Pettigrew is the top tight end on most draft boards.
If six Big 12 players are selected in the first round, it would match the league's previous high of six first-round selections set in 2003.
The most interesting potential selection will be Smith, a lightly-regarded recruit after a high-school career as a tight end. He blossomed after adding nearly 80 pounds of muscle over his college career.
Smith will become the Bears' first first-round draft selection since defensive tackle Daryl Gardener was picked by the Miami Dolphins in 1996.
Most prognosticators expect Smith will be picked among the first three picks in the draft. That would be the earliest a Baylor player has been chosen since quarterback Adrian Burk was the second pick in the draft by Baltimore in 1950.
The exposure for the Baylor program will be immense, according to Baylor coach Art Briles.
"We could get the smartest marketers in Texas and ask them how we could best market Baylor University, and they couldn't come up with a better scenario than what's going to happen Saturday in New York," Briles said. "Jason is a great person, and it's been nothing but positive for Baylor. We just have to take that and continue to climb as a football program."
Freeman is poised to become only the second quarterback in Big 12 history to be selected in the first round. He would join Vince Young, who was picked third by Tennessee in the 2006 draft.
Freeman also would be Kansas State's first first-round pick since Terence Newman was picked fifth in the first round by Dallas in 2003. He will also become the Wildcats' highest-selected quarterback, bettering the previous selection of Lynn Dickey, who was picked with the fourth pick in the third round by Green Bay in 1971.
Freeman's size (6-6, 250 pounds) and his rocket arm are his two biggest attributes, despite his lack of extended success in college. His abilities were clear to Oklahoma State coach Mike Gundy and OSU coaches.
"The first time we saw Josh, because of his size, stature, the way he carried himself, and then his arm strength, we knew he had a chance to play," Gundy said. "He's just kind of arrived nationally -- people are just now starting to find out about him -- but we knew in our staff room that we was going to be first-round pick.
"You just don't find guys that are 6-6, 250, that can throw it and are as accurate as he is, and he's seemed to be very durable. We were impressed with him from day one."
Crabtree will become Tech's first first-round draft selection of the Big 12 era and the Red Raiders' first first-round pick since Gabe Rivera was picked with the 21st pick by Pittsburgh in 1983.
He will become the highest-selected Texas Tech wide receiver since Dave Parks was the first pick of the 1964 draft by San Francisco and the first one of Mike Leach's players to be picked on the first day of the draft.
Orakpo is poised to continue Texas' recent development as a factory for first-round selections.
Despite missing out last season, the Longhorns produced eight first-round picks in the previous four seasons and 13 over Mack Brown's coaching tenure.
In the process, Orakpo is hoping to counter-balance the so-called "Texas factor" that several analysts have mentioned this week to explain why some Longhorns have been disappointments once they started their NFL careers.
Brown angrily refuted those charges earlier this week.
"People can be more critical of us because we've had as many, or more, than anybody else in the draft," Brown told the Austin American-Statesman. "I don't really pay attention to (that), and I talk to enough general managers, coaches and scouts to know they don't either."
Maclin will become the first Missouri player selected in the first round since Justin Smith was picked by Cincinnati with the fourth pick of the draft in 2001. And Maclin also is poised to become the first Missouri wide receiver ever taken in the first round.
Here's my unofficial pegging of Big 12 draft status during the weekend draft.
Sure first-round picks: Baylor OT Jason Smith, Texas Tech WR Michael Crabtree, Texas DE Brian Orakpo, Missouri WR Jeremy Maclin,
Likely first-round picks: Kansas State QB Josh Freeman
Maybe first-round picks: Missouri DT Evander "Ziggy" Hood, Oklahoma State TE Brandon Pettigrew
Likely picks inside the first five rounds: Texas A&M QB Stephen McGee, Texas Tech S Darcel McBath, Texas Tech DE Brandon Williams, Texas DT Roy Miller, Texas A&M RB Michael Goodson, Texas A&M DE Mi
chael Bennett, Oklahoma S-LB Nic Harris, Texas Tech G Louis Vasquez, Nebraska DE Zach Potter, Nebraska T Lydon Murtha.
Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Griffin
Every team is green someplace. Here are the specific areas of the most inexperience for each Big 12 team.
Baylor offensive tackle: The Bears need to break in two new starters after losing Jason Smith and Dan Gay.
Colorado defensive line: Help is needed along the defensive front where the Buffaloes lose starting defensive end Maurice Lucas, starting defensive tackle George Hypolite and starting nose tackle Brandon Nicolas.
Iowa State defensive line: Coach Paul Rhoads desperately wants somebody to emerge on the defensive line where the Cyclones lose starting defensive tackle Michael Tate, starting defensive end Kurtis Taylor and top backup defensive back Travis Ferguson.
Kansas linebackers: Even as Mark Mangino is contemplating going to a two-linebacker base defense because of the Big 12's spread offenses, he still needs to find those two players. The Jayhawks lose starters James Holt, Mike Rivera and Joe Mortensen at the position from last season.
Kansas State quarterback: Josh Freeman departed for the NFL early, leaving Carson Coffman and junior college transfer Daniel Thomas to compete for the starting job. It's not a pleasant introduction back to football for returning KSU coach Bill Snyder.
Missouri skill-position players: The Tigers need a quick infusion of playmakers after losing quarterback Chase Daniel, wide receiver/kick returner Jeremy Maclin and tight end Chase Coffman. All of them arguably were the greatest players at their respective positions in Missouri history. Blake Gabbert will receive first look at quarterback and Andrew Jones will work at tight end. It could take several players to fill in for what Maclin did.
Nebraska quarterback: It will be tough for the Cornhuskers to replace all that Joe Ganz did for them, both as a playmaker and a leader at quarterback. Zac Lee will get the first shot, along with freshman Cody Green and redshirt freshman Kody Spano. Maybe the Cornhuskers really could use former Miami quarterback Robert Marve next season.
Oklahoma offensive line: The departure of starting center Jon Cooper, tackle Phil Loadholt and guards Duke Robinson and Brandon Walker means that Sam Bradford will have an inexperienced group protecting him next season. Trent Williams moves to left tackle and Bob Stoops likes his incoming talent, if not its early work habits.
Oklahoma State defensive tackles: The Cowboys ranked last in the conference in sacks last season and lost starting defensive tackles Tonga Tea and Jeray Chatham. It will mean that new defensive coordinator Bill Young will need somebody to step up in the trenches to help shore up that weakness.
Texas defensive line: The major question dogging the Longhorns' national title hopes will be rebuilding a defensive front that loses All-American defensive end Brian Orakpo, defensive tackle Roy Miller, defensive tackle Aaron Lewis and defensive end Henry Melton from last season.
Texas Tech offensive line: New quarterback Taylor Potts will be relying on a retooled offensive line protecting his blind side after left tackle Rylan Reed, left guard Louis Vasquez and center Stephen Hamby all departed from last year.
Texas A&M running backs: The Aggies' offensive backfield will need to restock players: Michael Goodson left school early to declare for the NFL draft and fullbacks Jorvorskie Lane and Nick LaMantia are gone. Look for Cyrus Gray to get most of the work this spring with heralded freshman Bradley Stephens arriving in the summer.
Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Griffin
Oklahoma coach Bob Stoops left little doubt about the area of his offense that needs the most improvement as the Sooners prepare for the spring practice.
Stoops singled out an inexperienced offensive line that returns only tackle Trent Williams from last season as his biggest concern.
Unlike many coaches in spring news conference settings, Stoops didn't sugarcoat his feelings about the rebuilt offensive line.
"Losing four of our five starters, that's where another major issue will be. And we'll see," Stoops said. "Those guys at this point -- whether their work ethic or attitude -- those are the things that need to improve."
Stoops ripped into the group after they have fallen behind other parts of the team in early conditioning drills.
"They haven't had the winter that everybody else has had," Stoops said. "Right now, they are the weak link of our team. We'll see if they can respond and can have the kind of spring and summer to help us become a team that can contend for a title. They will be a big part whether we will or will not, depending on their attitude and work habits."
The Sooners' offensive line was a key part of a record-breaking offense that scored at least 58 points in its final six Big 12 Conference games last season. The Sooners led the nation in scoring and ranked third in total offense, passing offense and sacks allowed.
But the loss of starters like tackle Phil Loadholt, guards Duke Robinson and Brandon Walker and center Jon Cooper -- a group that combined for 149 career college starts -- makes it an entirely different proposition for the new offensive group this season.
The Sooners' rebuilt offensive line began working at spring practice Tuesday trying to reach their coach's exacting standards.
Williams is expected to move to left tackle where he can protect the blind side of quarterback Sam Bradford. Heralded transfer Jarvis Jones from LSU and returning junior Cory Brandon will battle for the starting job at right tackle.
Sophomore Stephen Good is expected to have the nod at left guard with Brian Simmons starting the spring No. 1 at right guard. Sophomore Alex Williams will be the primary reserve at both positions. Jason Hannan and redshirt freshman Ben Habern are hooked up in a tight battle at center.
Stoops put all of them on notice that he's expecting immediate improvement throughout the spring.
"They have been very inconsistent in how they work," Stoops said. "We'll just see if they can develop that toughness and attitude to get it done."
Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Griffin
When I was a little kid, one element among my favorites of going to a football game was collecting a game program. I loved nothing better than to scan rosters and check the heights and weights of players as I looked at them through my father's binoculars.
It led me to collecting many programs that probably still are around my parents' house somewhere. I guess I just wanted to add to the clutter of my bedroom.
If I had known then what I know now, I might not have been so diligent about all of the effort. Little boys don't know those heights and weights for their football heroes aren't always correct.
The best way to analyze the discrepancy is by comparing the heights and weights of some of the Big 12 players who attended the recent NFL combine and compare them with what they were listed at during their college careers.
The before is their listed height and weight during last season. The after is what they were measured over the weekend by the NFL.
Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Griffin
One of the most interesting parts of spring practice will be watching potential replacements emerge in key situations across the Big 12.
Here are some of the key departures from around the conference and some of the players who will compete to try to fill those vacancies.
|Brian Orakpo's pass-rushing skills will be missed by Texas.|
- Texas Tech wide receiver Michael Crabtree -- The Red Raiders will miss the two-time Biletnikoff winner. Lyle Leong will get the first shot and should be challenged by Jacoby Franks and 6-foot-4 Rashad Hawk. Top returning receivers Detron Lewis and Tramain Swindall will remain inside as slot receivers, meaning that other players will have to emerge at Crabtree's old featured slot.
- Texas' pass-rushing specialist replacing Brian Orakpo -- Texas coaches are hoping that Sergio Kindle will ratchet up his play to Orakpo-like levels as he moves to a near permanent status as a pass-rushing specialist at defensive end. Sam Acho will get most of the work on the other side during the spring with Eddie Jones battling back from shoulder and ankle surgery, meaning the spotlight will be on Kindle this spring.
- Jeremy Maclin's talents at Missouri -- It likely will take several players to cover what the multi-purpose Maclin provided as a receiver, rusher and kick return threat. Among the players who will get a look at a variety of roles include Wes Kemp, Jerrell Jackson, Gahn McGaffie and Rolandis Woodland.
- Oklahoma fills a depleted offensive line -- Only tackle Trent Williams will be back as a starter for the Sooners' unit, which will lose key producers like guards Duke Robinson and Brandon Walker, center Jon Cooper and mammoth tackle Phil Loadholt. The four departing starters combined for 149 starts during their college careers. Replacements like tackle Cory Brandon, guards Alex Williams and Brian Simmons and center Jason Hannan are presumed to be talented, but are still very inexperienced. That's not a comforting thought for returning Oklahoma quarterback Sam Bradford -- at least until spring practice begins.
- Kansas State replaces Ron Prince -- Sure, the Wildcats made only one bowl trip in Prince's three-season tenure before he was fired. But it will still be a huge test for legendary Kansas State coach Bill Snyder to match the success he produced earlier in his career after his sabbatical during the Prince years. It will especially be challenging this season with the loss of quarterback Josh Freeman and offensive coordinator Andy Ludwig, who went packing late last week for a similar position at California after only six weeks at Kansas State. Junior-college transfer Daniel Thomas and Carson Coffman will compete to replace Freeman. And it's anybody's guess whom Snyder will find to replace Ludwig with the start of spring practice approaching on April 6.
Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Griffin
Here's the official list of 41 Big 12 players who have been invited to the NFL combine Feb. 18 through Feb. 24 in Indianapolis.
Oklahoma led all Big 12 teams with eight players invited to the combine, followed by Texas, Missouri and Nebraska with six players each and Texas Tech with five players.
All Big 12 schools were represented with the exception of Colorado, Iowa State and Kansas.
All players are expected to attend with the exception of Texas wide receiver Jordan Shipley, who was granted an extra season of eligibility and will remain in college. Shipley recently underwent shoulder surgery and will not be able to participate when spring practice begins for the Longhorns later this week.
NFL officials have calculated that players invited to the NFL combine typically are drafted 64 percent of the time. So these players would appear to have the best chance of being picked among eligible players from the Big 12.
Here's a list of invited players listed by their schools.
Baylor: T Dan Gay, T Jason Smith.
Iowa State: None.
Kansas State: QB Josh Freeman, DE-LB Ian Campbell.
Nebraska: LB Cody Glenn, RB Marlon Lucky, T Lydon Murtha, DE Zach Potter, G Matt Slauson, WR Nathan Swift.
Oklahoma: C Jon Cooper, S Nic Harris, S Lendy Holmes, WR Juaquan Iglesias, WR Manuel Johnson, T Phil Loadholt, G Duke Robinson, G Brandon Walker.
Oklahoma State: P Matt Fodge, TE Brandon Pettigrew.
Texas A&M: DE Michael Bennett, P Justin Brantly, RB Michael Goodson, QB Stephen McGee.
* Note: Shipley has elected to stay for a sixth season of eligibility with Texas. He will be available for the 2010 draft.
Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Griffin
Six Oklahoma players have been invited to attend the NFL combine Feb. 18-24 in Indianapolis.
The Sooners are hopeful of improving their draft stock with big performances in the testing and workouts.
Players who have been invited include:
- Duke Robinson, guard
- Phil Loadholt, tackle
- Manuel Johnson, wide receiver
- Lendy Holmes, cornerback/safety
- Nic Harris, safety
- Juaquin Iglesias, wide receiver
Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Griffin
Texas Tech quarterback Graham Harrell struggled through a difficult performance during Saturday night's Under Armour Senior Bowl in Mobile, Ala.
Harrell completed 4 of 13 passes for the North team, which dropped a 35-18 decision to the South in the annual matchup of top senior talent.
The record-breaking Texas Tech quarterback started the game, but led the North on no scoring drives in his five possessions. His first three possessions were three-and-outs, directing the North to only two first downs in his playing time.
The most notable Big 12 performer was Oklahoma wide receiver Juaquin Iglesias of the North, who produced game-high totals of six receptions for 90 yards. Iglesias' 41-yard reception from Sam Houston State quarterback Rhett Bomar that was the game's longest play from scrimmage.
Here is how other Big 12 players performed in the game.
- Missouri's Ziggy Hood (North) started at left defensive tackle and produced one assist.
- Missouri's William Moore (North) started at strong safety, notched one tackle.
- Texas' Quan Cosby (South) produced one reception for 15 yards.
- Oklahoma's Phil Loadholt (North) started at right tackle and Oklahoma State's Brandon Pettigrew (North) started at tight end. Neither player had any recorded statistics.
Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Griffin
The Senior Bowl usually has the best players of any of the postseason college all-star games. And it's that way again this season with most of the top senior players hoping to show what they can do for a bevy of pro scouts who have spent this week watching them work out.
Saturday's contest will have a little more interest for Big 12 fans for another reason. Texas and Oklahoma players will be pitted on different teams in the game, which begins at 7 p.m. ET from Ladd-Peebles Stadium in Mobile, Ala. It will be shown on the NFL Network.
I know it's not quite like the Red River Rivalry, but it still might be interesting when Texas wide receiver Quan Cosby of the South runs some routes against Oklahoma linebacker/defensive back Nic Harris of the North team in Saturday's game.
Below is a list of Big 12 players who will be participating with their uniform numbers in parentheses. And here's a link for complete rosters for the North and South teams from the Senior Bowl's Web site.
North: Oklahoma LB-DB Nic Harris (No. 5), Texas Tech QB Graham Harrell (No. 6), Oklahoma WR Juaquin Iglesias (No. 9), Missouri DB William Moore (No. 11), Oklahoma WR Manny Johnson (No. 22), Oklahoma T Phil Loadholt (No. 79), Oklahoma State TE Brandon Pettigrew (No. 87) and Missouri DT Ziggy Hood (No. 94).
South: Texas WR Quan Cosby (No. 6).
|AP Photo/Chris O'Meara|
|Bob Stoops and the Oklahoma Sooners lost again in a BCS title game Thursday night and are drawing comparisons to the Buffalo Bills.|
Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Griffin
FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. -- Maybe it all came too quickly for Bob Stoops.
The national championship in his second season as a coach back in 2000 and all of those early victories against top-ranked teams made Stoops appear bulletproof.
That image took another hit Thursday night with another BCS title-game loss. That's five BCS losses and counting, including three BCS title-game disappointments.
When Stoops looks back at Thursday's 24-14 loss to Florida with some perspective, he'll see that the better team won. The Sooners couldn't afford all of the red-zone problems as they left too many points on the field in the first half.
The maligned Oklahoma defense actually played pretty well before wearing down from the pressure of trying to contain Tim Tebow and all of Florida's speedy skill-position threats.
Now, the Sooners' struggles in big games are making them kind of like the Buffalo Bills of college football. And those kind of struggles could detract from the Big 12's season after the bowls finished.
Oklahoma will be underdogs next season in the South Division. The rivalry against Texas has never been more heated. It will be interesting to see how the Sooners fare in that position as they attempt to go for an unprecedented fourth-straight Big 12 title.
But I bet Stoops burns for a chance at another BCS game.
Here are some other quick thoughts that came to me this morning as I was packing up after a week in Florida.
- There's no doubt that Sam Bradford is ready for the NFL draft, but I still think it would help his future prospects by returning for another season in college. Another year of maturity and a chance to excel against pressure defenses would make him an even more marketable product next season. But he's clearly a first-round talent now.
- Perhaps the most telling point of Oklahoma's loss in the BCS title game came when Chris Brown was stuffed on two-straight running plays in the second quarter from the Florida 1-yard line. What surprised me most was the quick snap play that offensive coordinator Kevin Wilson opted to try on fourth down. I would have figured that the Sooners could have gained a yard running behind their vaunted left side of the offensive line. But they failed on both plays in a momentum-turning play as heralded blockers Phil Loadholt, Duke Robinson and Jon Cooper were whipped at the point of attack.
- So much for those thoughts about Oklahoma's defense being "a joke." Brent Venables came up with a productive scheme that featured a couple of unexpected big plays against Tim Tebow before wearing down late in the game. The Sooners didn't lose Thursday night because of their defense.
- I couldn't be happier for anybody winning a national championship than for Florida defensive line coach Dan McCarney. The Gators got a huge lift from McCarney's defensive line Thursday night.
- What little boost in national perception the Big 12 received after a pedestrian 4-3 bowl season came from the North Division, which was was maligned all season after a 3-15 record against South teams and another championship game blowout loss.
- A funny thing happened in the bowls. Nebraska and Missouri showed a lot of pluck in comeback bowl victories and Kansas might have played better in its bowl game than any other Big 12 team. The South was a different story. Texas earned a dramatic victory over Ohio State, but had enough struggles against the Buckeyes to be lucky to have won the Fiesta Bowl. Texas Tech looked ill-prepared and played like it in its loss to Mississippi. Oklahoma State collapsed when Dez Bryant was injured and Oklahoma lost in the national title game. The conference's best teams are in the South, even if they didn't play like it in the bowls.
- I was a little surprised, but not shocked, that Nebraska didn't crack either the AP media top 25 or the USA Today coaches' poll. I don't think most of the country realizes the turnaround that Bo Pelini was able to accomplish late in the season with the Cornhuskers. At the end of the season and the bowls, they were playing as well as any team in the Big 12.
Here's my quick picks heading out of the season if all of the teams would return their expected players. I'll reserve my right to change these picks after the NFL draft declaration day passes next week.
But right now, here's how I have the Big 12 set for 2009:
North: 1. Nebraska; 2. Kansas; 3. Colorado; 4. Missouri; 5. Kansas State; 6. Iowa State
South: 1. Texas; 2. Oklahoma; 3. Oklahoma State; 4. Texas Tech; 5. Texas A&M; 6. Baylor.
Big 12 championship game: Texas over Nebraska.
Bowl teams: Texas, Nebraska, Oklahoma, Oklahoma State, Kansas, Texas Tech, Colorado, Missouri.
Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Griffin
Florida defensive line coach Dan McCarney has leaned a little bit on familiarity this week as he prepares for an old but friendly nemesis.
McCarney knows all about Oklahoma after a career serving as the head coach at Iowa State from 1995 to 2006, when he set the school record for games and victories and directed the Cyclones to five bowl games. He is also close with Oklahoma coach Bob Stoops after coaching him during Stoops' playing career at Iowa and later serving with him on Hayden Fry's staff with the Hawkeyes during Stoops' formative stages of coaching.
Even with that knowledge, McCarney still faces a difficult challenge that might be even more pronounced than when he lost all six games against the Sooners during his career at ISU.
His young defensive line will be trying to attack Oklahoma's offensive line, which is dotted with NFL prospects like Outland finalists Duke Robinson at guard, Phil Loadholt at tackle and Jon Cooper at center.
"They are a little different than the dominant Nebraska teams I saw when I was coaching in the Big 12," McCarney said. "But you see the incredible numbers these guys from Oklahoma are putting up. When you consider that they are averaging 54 points a game for 13 games, are you kidding me?"
The Sooners' line has allowed only 11 sacks and has served as the backbone of the nation's most explosive offense, a group that has scored a school-record 702 points, keyed by Heisman Trophy winner Sam Bradford.
McCarney called Oklahoma's group the best offensive line he has faced this season. He said it was better than the Alabama unit anchored by Andre Smith that the Gators beat in the Southeastern Conference championship game.
"It will be a major challenge," McCarney said. "We won't match them and won't put anybody on the field with that kind of size. But we're as ready as we can be and we've see a lot of good lines in the SEC."
A key trend in Thursday's game will be the pressure that Florida is able to generate on Bradford. Florida defensive end Jermaine Cunningham said that the best way to determine Florida's success will be to look at the grass stains on Bradford's pants. If there are many, the Gators likely will be successful.
"There are games when you break down their season where they look like it's seven-on-seven drills when they are throwing the ball around because nobody ever touches their quarterback," McCarney said. "That goes back to the protection up front. We've got to bring our A-plus game on Thursday or we'll be in trouble."
McCarney has been credited with turning a weakness into one of the Gators' biggest improvements this season after arriving on Urban Meyer's staff after coaching one season at South Florida.
Florida have increased their sacks, ranking tied for 30th nationally with 32. The Gators fell apart late last season, notching 11 sacks in their final six games and allowing 524 yards in a 41-35 loss to Michigan in the Capital One Bowl.
This season, Florida has played progressively better down the stretch. The Gators have allowed an average of only 13 points per game over their final nine games since losing to Mississippi on Sept. 27.
McCarney's young defensive line, which features eight freshmen and sophomores among its primary nine-man rotation, has been a big reason for the late surge.
"When Urban came to me in February, he told me that he needed a couple of my best years in coaching because there were some issues on and off the field with the defensive line. They had gotten kicked all over the field against Michigan and they needed to get it straightened out," McCarney said.
And his group should only get better next season.
"I'm proud of my bunch," McCarney said. "They've made a lot of strides. And whatever we do, we need to build on it because we should have a heck of group next spring."
BIG 12 SCOREBOARD
Final North Dakota State 34 Iowa State 14 Final West Virginia 23 2 Alabama 33 Final Louisiana Tech 16 4 Oklahoma 48 Final Samford 14 TCU 48 Final Central Arkansas 35 Texas Tech 42 Final Stephen F. Austin 16 20 Kansas State 55 Final North Texas 7 Texas 38 Final 1 Florida State 37 Oklahoma State 31