Big 12: Rice Owls

One team survived, the other did not.

RICE 25, KANSAS 24: Kansas surrendered a 24-13 lead to the Owls at home on Saturday, after Rice's Chris Boswell kicked a 45-yard field goal as the final horn sounded.

Missed field goals and a critical interception of Dayne Crist doomed KU, which looked to have control of the game entering the fourth quarter. Bryce Callahan intercepted Crist after the Owls had cut the lead to 24-22 with a 7-play, 93-yard drive on their previous possession.

Desperately needing a stop, KU couldn't get one in the final five minutes as Rice drove 26 yards to give Boswell the opportunity to kick the game winner.

As disappointing as the loss was for the Jayhawks, remember the names Tony Pierson and Taylor Cox. Pierson, a sophomore, finished with 19 carries for 120 yards while Cox had 15 carries for 79 yards in the loss. While the pair was going against a Rice defense that allowed 343 rushing yards to UCLA in its season opener, they each sent the message that they plan to be contributors on the Jayhawks offense even when James Sims returns from his three-game suspension against Northern Illinois on Sept. 22.

IOWA STATE 9, IOWA 6: The Baltimore Ravens would have been proud.

The Cyclones' defense stepped up when it mattered after both defenses dominated this in-state rivalry game. Neither team seemed to find a consistent rhythm on offense throughout the game.

Protecting a 3-point lead, ISU forced Iowa punts on back-to-back possessions early in the fourth quarter then -- helped by dropped passes by Hawkeye receivers -- forced a turnover on downs with 3:02 remaining in the game. They sealed the deal when Jake Knott intercepted James Vandenburg's pass with the Hawkeyes driving in the final two minutes.

ISU had some success through the air, recording 241 passing yards, but struggled to capitalize when it mattered, going 2-of-5 in the red zone including a critical interception late in the fourth quarter. The Cyclones’ defensive effort should bring a smile to the face of Paul Rhoads as A.J. Klein and company buckled down in the final quarter despite being put in difficult positions.

The Cyclones dominated the first half, spending the majority of the 30 minutes on the Iowa side of the field. Yet, ISU held a six-point lead at halftime, an early sign that the defense might have to shoulder the load.

What's coming up: Part 1

September, 8, 2012
9/08/12
11:00
AM ET
Kansas and Iowa State highlight the middle slate of games in the Big 12. Both squads are 1-0 with bigger tests facing them in Week 2. Here’s a look at what’s coming up:

Iowa State at Iowa (3:30 ET, Big Ten Network): Cyclone quarterback Steele Jantz is looking for another memorable performance (and victory) against Iowa after passing for 279 yards and four touchdowns during a 44-41 triple-overtime thriller in 2011. After accounting for three touchdowns (two passing, one rushing) in last week’s season-opening 38-23 win over Tulsa, Jantz could continue to insert his name into the conversation when Big 12’s top quarterbacks are discussed with another productive Saturday in Iowa City.

Rice at Kansas (3:30 p.m. ET, Fox Sports Network): The Jayhawks will look to continue to dominate this series... well, ok, they’re just 1-0 and yet they’re still aiming to remain undefeated against the Owls. That sound you hear is KU running backs Tony Pierson and Taylor Cox -- who recorded over 100 rushing yards each against South Dakota State last week -- licking their chops. The duo will face an Owl defense that allowed an eye-popping 343 rushing yards against UCLA in Week 1.

Big 12 Week 2 primer

September, 8, 2012
9/08/12
8:00
AM ET
You may be asking yourself, who is this guy? Or maybe not.

Either way, my name is Brandon Chatmon. I'll be helping out on the Big 12 blog today with our main man David Ubben in Manhattan, Kan., for the Wildcats' battle with The U. Follow me on Twitter @bchatmon and I'll have plenty of Big 12 updates throughout the day.

Enough about me, let's jump straight into football.

TV SCHEDULE
  • Miami (Fla.) at No. 21 Kansas State, noon ET, FX
  • Iowa State at Iowa, 3:30 p.m. ET, Big Ten Network
  • Rice at Kansas, 3:30 p.m. ET, Fox Sports Net
  • Grambling State at No. 20 TCU, 7 p.m. ET, Fox Sports Net
  • Texas Tech at Texas State, 7 p.m. ET, ESPN3/WatchESPN
  • Florida A&M at No. 5 Oklahoma, 7 p.m. ET, PPV
  • New Mexico at No. 17 Texas, 8 p.m. ET, Longhorn Network
  • No. 18 Oklahoma State at Arizona, 10:30 p.m. ET, Pac-12 Network
WEATHER
  • Manhattan, Kan. -- Sunny skies, game-time temperature of 67 degrees, north and northwest winds at 5 mph
  • Iowa City, Iowa -- Sunny skies, game-time temperature of 72 degrees, northwest winds at 11 mph
  • Lawrence, Kan. -- Sunny skies, game-time temperature of 76 degrees, north and northwest winds at 8 mph
  • Fort Worth, Texas -- Partly sunny skies, game-time temperature of 84 degrees, north winds at 16 mph
  • San Marcos, Texas -- Partly sunny skies, game-time temperature of 83 degrees, north and northeast winds at 13 mph
  • Norman, Okla. -- Partly sunny skies, game-time temperature of 78 degrees, north winds at 10 mph
  • Austin, Texas -- Partly cloudy skies, game-time temperature of 78 degress, north and northeast winds at 10 mph.
  • Tucson, Ariz. -- Cloudy skies, game-time temperature of 83 degrees, southeast winds at 9 mph.

 

In case you missed it, Ubben's coverage this week should have you primed and ready for kickoff:

Texas announces future home games with UTEP, BYU

January, 26, 2010
1/26/10
6:48
PM ET
Texas made an upcoming scheduling addition on Tuesday, adding home football games with BYU and UTEP for the 2011 and 2012 seasons.

The Longhorns will host BYU on Sept. 10, 2011, and UTEP on Sept. 8, 2012.

Additionally, Texas also confirmed the annual game with Texas A&M will be played on Thanksgiving night for the next two years.

Texas and BYU played a home-and-home series in 1987 and 1988 with the Cougars winning both games. The Longhorns and UTEP have played four previous times with the Longhorns winning all four games.

The announcement completes the Longhorns' schedules for the next two seasons. Here's a look at the upcoming schedules.

2010

Sept. 4 at Rice (at Reliant Stadium)

Sept. 11 Wyoming

Sept. 18 at Texas Tech

Sept. 25 UCLA

Oct. 2 Oklahoma (at Dallas)

Oct. 16 at Nebraska

Oct. 23 Iowa State

Oct. 30 Baylor

Nov. 6 at Kansas State

Nov. 13 Oklahoma State

Nov. 20 Florida Atlantic

Nov. 25 Texas A&M

2011

Sept. 3 Rice

Sept. 10 BYU

Sept. 17 at UCLA

Sept. 24 UCF

Oct. 8 Oklahoma (at Dallas)

Oct. 15 Nebraska

Oct. 22 at Iowa State

Oct. 29 at Baylor

Nov. 5 Kansas State

Nov. 12 at Oklahoma State

Nov. 19 Texas Tech

Nov. 24 at Texas A&M

Note: All home games are listed in bold.

The announcement of the game against BYU is particularly noticeable. Texas hasn't faced many teams from outside conferences since a series against Ohio State in 2005 and 2006. BYU won't be as daunting as the Buckeyes, but still represents a step in the right direction towards a more challenging schedule for the Longhorns.

Big 12 mailbag: OSU playing 8 home games?

August, 21, 2009
8/21/09
6:21
PM ET

Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Griffin

Let's throw open the mailbag on a Friday afternoon and see what you the readers are thinking and asking me about.

W. Dawson of Dallas writes: Tim, have you looked at Oklahoma State's schedule yet? How can they get away with having eight home games? I can't believe the Big 12 allowed this to happen, much less their competition. This is an incredible advantage, especially given the narrow margins that separate various Big 12 foes. Talk about running downhill before anyone else has snapped the ball.

Tim Griffin: Obviously, Mike Holder and Mike Gundy can do anything they want with their schedule. And it's a good home schedule with the four Big 12 games and home non-conference games against Georgia, Houston, Grambling and Rice. I guess the risk/reward is this. Most coaches want their team to face a non-conference challenge of some kind before they head into conference play. It doesn't have to be especially taxing - Texas going to Wyoming, Kansas to UTEP -- but most coaches believe that kind of experience is good before they head into conference play.

Obviously, Gundy doesn't think like that. The Cowboys will get a huge boost after playing four home games, but he won't know much about how ready his team will be to play on the road for their first trip to Texas A&M on Oct. 10. If I was coaching, I'd like a little more piece of mind before that first conference road game. And I bet Gundy will be thinking that way the week before the game.


Ocean from Kemah, Texas, writes: Tim, I'm very interested to hear if there has been any shift of momentum due to freshman Chris Whaley's arrival this summer. Also an update on the other Big 12's other freshman prospects would be greatly appreciated.

Tim Griffin: Whaley has struggled keeping up with the other Texas backs after reporting to training camp with an ankle injury that was aggravated playing basketball before he ever arrived. It set him back in his battle for playing time in a crowded Longhorn backfield.

From what I'm hearing, Fozzy Whittaker will be the leading candidate to have more of the carries in the Texas backfield. But he's got to remain healthy, which is something he hasn't been able to do so far. Then, look for veteran Vondrell McGee to have the next shot. Cody Johnson will also be there along with Tre' Newton and Whaley. I look for Whaley to get more playing time as he shows coaches he is more comfortable with his role in the offense and particularly in pass-protection schemes. We'll see that later, rather than sooner for the Longhorns.

And also, look for a post early next week where I'll break down the conference's leading freshman producers so far in training camps.


Mark M. from Arlington, Texas, writes: I know Baylor is pegged as your eighth team in the conference, but I think even that might be overrated! Why is no one talking about how incredible of a job Jason Smith did protecting Robert Griffin last year? Without his protection, combined with a very challenging non-conference schedule, I think Griffin takes a lot more hits and goes through a sophomore slump. I think they finish last in the Big 12 South as a result. Am I wrong?

Tim Griffin: Your scenario could very easily happen, although I do have the Bears winning six games and making a bowl trip. But I think that watching the Bears' left tackle position will be one of the most interesting positions in the conference.

Obviously, Smith was the best lineman in the conference last season, as evidenced by his No. 2 selection in the NFL draft by the St. Louis Rams. I've heard some great things about his replacement, muscular 6-foot-4, 315 pound former Canadian fireman Danny Watkins. But we won't know anything until he starts hooking up with players like Jeremy Beal, Sergio Kindle and all of the others.  

Watkins' inexperience will be one of Baylor's biggest question marks. And one missed blitz assignment could end the Bears' season in a hurty. Coach Art Briles has to hope that Watkins is ready for the challenge.

But we'll see how he does. It might be the major factor if the Bears are able to go 6-6 and make that elusive bowl trip, or end up in the Big 12 cellar and you hint. The margin between the two is very slim - particularly with the balance in the Big 12.


Ross Jackman from Sioux Falls, S.D., writes: Tim, I saw the story you linked earlier this week about the conference's most underrated and overrated coaches from that guy in Lincoln. Who is your selection, as the most underrated head coach, offensive coordinator and defensive coordinator in the Big 12?

Tim Griffin: Ross, good question. For a head coach, I'll take Kansas' Mark Mangino, who quietly has taken the Jayhawks on their most successful, consistent run in school history. The Jayhawks made back-to-back bowl trips for the first time in school history the last two years and are poised for much more this season.

For my offensive coordinator, I'll take Nebraska's Shawn Watson. The work he did with Joe Ganz the last two seasons was simply phenomenal. Earlier work at Colorado with Gary Barnett's team was outstanding as well. Watson's past history is one of the reasons I think Zac Lee might be better than a lot of people expect for the Cornhuskers. I know he'll be ready, considering Watson's track record.

And for my most underrated defensive coordinator, I'll choose Texas Tech's Ruffin McNeill. The work he did with the Red Raiders to help develop their defense was a big reason the Red Raiders were able to forge a three-way tie for the South Division title last season. He'll have his work cut out trying to replace pass-rushing specialists like McKinner Dixon and Brandon Williams and safeties Darcel McBath and Daniel Charbonnet, but I expect McNeill will have another strong unit again this season.


Mitch Nelson from Kansas City, Mo., writes: Tim, the Big 12 has four high-profile quarterbacks this year in Sam Bradford, Colt McCoy, Zac Robinson and Todd Reesing who will probably finish their college careers after this season. Can you break down who their possible replacements will be and which team has the best chance to not miss a step with a new quarterback next year?

Tim Griffin: I really am hesitant to pick which team has the best quarterback situation in the future because so many of these players don't have any game action. I'd like to reserve my decisions until I get to see some of the young kids play in a little bit of game action. But here's how I see those four schools in the future.

Oklahoma: The leader as far as experience would appear to be redshirt freshman Landry Jones, along with junior John Nimmo and Ben Sherrard. I've heard some good things about Drew Allen, a tall 6-foot-6 thrower from San Antonio Alamo Heights High School. But especially keep an eye out for Blake Bell of Wichita, Kan., a dual-threat thrower/runner who is one of the prizes of the Sooners' 2010 recruiting class. He will be the most heralded quarterback to enter the Oklahoma program since Rhett Bomar.

Texas: As far as promise goes, the Longhorns would appear to have it with Garrett Gilbert who I expect to play as a freshman and beat out Sherrod Harris for the backup role this season. And they also have two more quarterbacks coming in the 2010 recruiting class - Connor Wood of Second Baptist High School in Houston and Case McCoy, the 6-foot-2, 169-pound little brother of Colt McCoy.

Oklahoma State: I know that Gundy actually wasn't that disappointed with Zac Robinson's injury last week because it forced the action in the backu quarterback battle
between junior Alex Case and sophomore Brandon Weeden. Gundy told me he was a little angry that one of the two players hadn't jumped out and taken the backup role. Whoever wins that would appear to be in line to replace Robinson.

Weeden has a little bit more maturity because of his five-season career in minor-league baseball. But Cate has more game experience and comfort in the OSU offense. And the Cowboys also have a commitment from 2010 recruit Johnny Deaton of Sand Spring, Okla., who might be their long-term answer.

Kansas: I think the fact that redshirt freshman Kale Pick has won the backup job is significant here. First, it will enable Kerry Meier to move to wide receiver full time. It will also get Pick more snaps in practice and have him ready in the spring when the opportunity to replace Reesing will materialize for him.

Mangino is also high on a couple of freshmen quarterbacks he has in Christian Matthews, a taller, skinner thrower and Jordan Webb, who kind of looks like Reesing and followed his route by graduating early and reporting to college a semester early to boost his early assimilation into Ed Warinner's offense.

That's all the questions I have time for this week.

Thanks again and have a great weekend.

Rice-Texas game in 2010 headed for Reliant Stadium

August, 20, 2009
8/20/09
5:17
PM ET

Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Griffin

Rice officials have decided to move their season-opening home game in 2010 from Rice Stadium to Reliant Stadium in Houston.

Riceowls.com had some interesting details on the financing for the game. Rice will receive an undisclosed sum from Lone Star Sports & Entertainment and SMG-Reliant Park officials for relocating the nonconference contest, but it's a figure so sizable that it nearly doubles the Owls' total revenue from their six home games played at Rice Stadium in 2008.

"Every single institution around the country has been put in situations where finances are first and foremost," Rice athletic director Chris Del Conte told Riceowls.com. "The economic health and viability of the Rice athletic department - every day that's what I worry about. We've had some really good last couple of years, we're doing a better job (of balancing the budget), and everything is going in the right direction. But at the same time you've always got to worry about the financial health of your athletic department."

Texas probably doesn't have much to worry about as far as a potential upset opportunity in either facility, but their chances figure to be a lot stronger at Reliant Stadium -- where they likely will have the majority of the fans at the game.

It also should provide a recruiting boon to both schools by playing in an NFL facility that has hosted a Super Bowl in the past.  

And the larger seating capacity will mean more fans will have the opportunity to see both the Longhorns and the Owls.

It sounds like a win-win deal for both schools to me.

10 minutes with Texas' Roddrick Muckelroy

July, 15, 2009
7/15/09
2:00
PM ET

Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Griffin

Despite his productivity with Texas' defense, linebacker Roddrick Muckelroy might be one of the most underrated defensive players in the Big 12.

 
  Brian Bahr/Getty Images
  Roddrick Muckelroy will be expected to help lead the Texas defense in 2009.

Muckelroy led Texas in tackles last season, starting all 13 games at middle linebacker. His 8.6 tackles per game ranked 50th nationally, including a career-best 16 tackles in the Longhorns' victory over Oklahoma.

Texas defensive coordinator Will Muschamp is counting on Muckelroy to step up even more during his senior season, when he will be counted as one of the leaders of the Texas defensive unit.

We caught up with Muckelroy for a few minutes after a recent practice to talk to him about how the Longhorns were affected by sharing the Big 12 championship but not advancing to the championship game. He also discussed growing up in tiny Hallsville, Texas, his comeback from a serious finger injury and his development in football techniques since he arrived at Texas.  

How would you describe your career so far at Texas?

Roddrick Muckelroy: It's been a lot of work. Coming into college was a challenge for me with a different attitude and different terminology in the defense I had to learn. I just had to learn how to practice and dealing with the meetings in order to prepare myself to contribute here.

Some of your teammates have described, in detail, how you had to learn how to watch film after you arrived at college. How much of a challenge was that?

RM: When I got here, I really didn't know much about watching film or studying my playbook. I didn't really know what to look for. I think the first time they showed film to us, I was just watching it just to watch guys make plays. It was a big transition from high school to get where I am now.

How have you changed in what you look for as you study opponents?

RM: That's what film is for. You learn to study the game and you get a good idea of what the offense is running. I've found that you just learn a lot as time goes by. I've learned how to break down film about an offense.

(Read full post)

Big 12 lunch links

July, 15, 2009
7/15/09
12:00
PM ET

Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg

Filling in for the vacationing Tim Griffin today. Let's take a spin around the Big 12. 

Texas Football's magazine release tells us the season beckons

June, 15, 2009
6/15/09
6:30
PM ET

Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Griffin

Today is a special summer day for football fans across Texas and the Southwest.

Today is the annual release date of Dave Campbell's Texas Football, which is the unquestionable college football magazine of record in these parts every year.

This magazine is special because it's the 50th anniversary edition. The first one was laid out on the kitchen table of former Waco Tribune-Herald sports editor Dave Campbell, who started it in 1960.

It's gotten much bigger than that over the years, being read by three generations of football fans over the years. Today, there's a Texas Football classic every year at the Alamodome and even an official Texas Football song.

I first learned about the magazine in the late 1960s when a friend of mine in fifth grade, Richard Jackson, moved to Memphis from Houston. Along with his neat Houston Astros hat that I always was envious of was his copy of Texas Football Magazine. The story and pictures of the guys from Texas, Baylor and Rice were so different than anything I came across in the Southeastern Conference. I wanted mine, too.

My dad occasionally traveled to Texas with his job and soon learned to look at the 7-Eleven on one of his trips to Dallas to see if he could score a copy of Dave Campbell for me.

Later, my family moved to Texas and I learned the excitement of visiting the newsstand in mid-June to pick up the Dave Campbell magazine, which was there to chronicle the demise of the Southwest Conference and the start of the Big 12.

The new one will officially be released today across the area. And the coverboy is Texas quarterback Colt McCoy, who becomes the first individual player to be pictured since Texas wide receiver Roy Williams in 2003.

I picked up my copy and am already deeply into it. It takes me back to my childhood.

The only problem is that I wonder why I couldn't pick up a Grape Slurpee to drink with it like I used to back in the day.

A list of the cover boys in the magazine's history exhibits a unique history of football in the southwest. Here's a list of the players who have graced the cover of the magazine over the years.

1960: Texas RB Jack Collins

1961: Baylor RB Ronnie Bull

1962: TCU QB Sonny Gibbs

1963: Texas coach Darrell Royal and DT Scott Appleton

1964: Baylor coach John Bridgers and WR Lawrence Elkins

1965: Texas Tech RB Donny Anderson

1966: SMU NG John LaGrone, Baylor DT Greg Pipes, Texas DT Diron Talbert

1967: Texas A&M T Maurice "Mo" Moorman

1968: Texas A&M QB Edd Hargett

1969: Texas QB James Street

1970: Texas RB Steve Worster

1971: Texas Tech QB Charles Napper

1972: Texas A&M LB Brad Dusek

1973: Texas LB Glen Gaspard

1974: Texas coach Darrell Royal

1975: Baylor coach Grant Teaff

1976: Houston coach Bill Yeoman

1977: Texas Tech QB Rodney Allison

1978: Texas A&M K Tony Franklin and Texas K/P Russell Erxleben

1979: Texas DT Steve McMichael

1980: Baylor LB Mike Singletary and Texas A&M QB Mike Mosley

1981: Baylor RB Walter Abercrombie and SMU RB Craig James

1982: Texas A&M QB Gary Kubiak

1983: SMU QB Lance McIlhenny

1984: Texas A&M DE Ray Childress

1985: TCU coach Jim Wacker and TCU RB Kenneth Davis

1986: Texas A&M coach Jackie Sherrill

1987: Texas QB Bret Stafford and Texas coach David McWilliams

1988: Texas RB Eric Metcalf and Texas A&M LB John Roper

1989: Houston coach Jack Pardee and SMU coach Forrest Gregg

1990: Texas Tech coach Spike Dykes

1991: Houston QB David Klingler

1992: Rice RB Trevor Cobb

1993: Texas A&M coach R.C. Slocum

1994: Texas QB Shea Morenz

1995: A collage of Southwest Conference historical figures including Texas RB Earl Campbell, Houston coach Bill Yeoman, Baylor LB Mike Singletary, TCU QB Sammy Baugh, Texas coach Fred Akers, Texas coach Darrell Royal and SMU RB Doak Walker.

1996: Baylor coach Chuck Ready, Texas Tech coach Spike Dykes, Texas coach John Mackovic and Texas A&M coach R.C. Slocum

1997: Texas QB James Brown and Texas RB Ricky Williams

1998: Texas A&M LB Dat Nguyen, Texas RB Ricky Williams and Texas coach Mack Brown

1999: Texas coach Mack Brown and TCU coach Dennis Franchione. Note: Alternative cover for those magazines sold outside the state featured Dallas Cowboys QB Troy Aikman

2000: Midland Robert E. Lee H.S. RB Cedric Benson

2001: Texas QB Chris Simms, TCU QB Casey Printers, Texas A&M QB Mark Farris and Texas Tech QB Kliff Kingsbury

2002: Texas Tech QB Kliff Kingsbury, Celina H.S. coach G.A. Moore, Dallas Cowboys RB Emmitt Smith and Baytown Lee H.S. QB Drew Tate.

2003: Texas WR Roy Williams

2004: Texas Tech DE Adell Duckett, TCU S Marvin Godbolt, Houston QB Kevin Kolb, North Texas RB Patrick Cobb

2005: Texas QB Vince Young and Texas A&M QB Reggie McNeal

2006: Former Texas RB Earl Campbell, Mansfield Summit H.S. QB John Chiles, Texarkana Texas H.S. QB Ryan Mallett and Gilmer H.S. QB G.J. Kinne

2007: Texas A&M QB Stephen McGee, Texas QB Colt McCoy and TCU DE Tommy Blake

2008: Texas Tech coach Mike Leach, Texas Tech QB Graham Harrell and Texas Tech WR Michael Crabtree

2009: Texas QB Colt McCoy

Source: ESPN.com research

Ranking the best and worst of Big 12 nonconference schedules

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

Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Griffin

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Versatile Robinson settling into ISU's new spread offense

May, 22, 2009
5/22/09
4:20
PM ET

Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Griffin

Alexander Robinson's college career has been a testament to adaptability.

 
  Icon SMI
  Alexander Robinson led the Cyclones last season with 703 yards rushing.

The Iowa State running back is playing under his third offensive coordinator in less than three seasons with the arrival of Tom Herman on Paul Rhoads' new coaching staff. But despite never really feeling settled earlier in his college career, Robinson appears to be better suited for Herman's new no-huddle spread offensive attack than any of his previous offenses.

"I'm definitely excited about this," Robinson said. "We're going to spread the ball around. It gives us a chance to get outside and everybody is a threat on every play. It highlights everyone in the offense."

The spread offense might be a great equalizer for the Cyclones, who have struggled matching up with some of the more talented teams in the Big 12 in recent seasons. ISU has lost 21 of its last 24 conference games and has finished in the North Division cellar or tied for last place during each of the past three seasons.

But Herman's spread attack, keyed by quarterback Austen Arnaud, could give ISU a chance to at least make things interesting offensively.

One of the biggest reasons for that optimism is the production of the 5-foot-10, 184-pound Robinson, who rushed for a team-leading 703 yards last season. He also added 17 receptions, including seven catches in his final two games.

That strong showing, along with his quick assimilation into Herman's new offense this spring, has the new coaching staff buzzing about what Robinson can do.

"A-Rob has been a shining light," Rhoads said. "He's intelligent, he's quick, and he's strong."

Herman's offense at Rice was one of the most innovative in the nation last season. The Owls ranked in the top 10 in passing, total yards and scoring.

Robinson's early production in Herman's offense has the new coordinator excited about using him in a variety of roles as a rusher and a receiver. He even got some snaps in the spring game lining up as a quarterback in a "Wildcat" formation.

"After being around here for a very short time, he might be my favorite player," Herman said. "And the reason why is the number of different things he does for us. He's just a very versatile, productive player."

(Read full post)

Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Griffin

Those delicious football weekends never seem farther away from me than in May. The weather is warm and inviting and reminds me of another time later in the season when the weekend is made for college football games.

Other than that, Happy Friday. Here are some links that remind us we're only 3 1/2 months -- and counting, thankfully  -- until the start of the season in early September.

My Big 12 dream schedule for 2009

May, 8, 2009
5/08/09
2:43
PM ET

Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Griffin

It's never too early to start thinking about the upcoming season and the games that the Big 12 will provide.

During a flight of fancy last night, I sat down and plotted my ultimate dream schedule if I could watch what I now consider the best game every week.

Here's my list, including a running total of the miles I would travel from my San Antonio home:

Week 1: Georgia at Oklahoma State, Sept. 5 -- This might be the best nonconference game of the season for a Big 12 team as Mike Gundy's Cowboys face the Bulldogs. It should be a clash of two top 20 teams in the season opener. We'll get an early opportunity to see whether the Cowboys are as legitimate as their preseason publicity might suggest.

  • Other games I considered: Oklahoma vs. Brigham Young (at Arlington), Illinois-Missouri (at St. Louis), Colorado State at Colorado.
  • Round-trip mileage from San Antonio to Stillwater: 934 miles

(Read full post)

Herman to be tested in ISU turnaround

March, 24, 2009
3/24/09
11:23
AM ET

Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Griffin

I've always wondered about those people who like to trump the fact they are Mensa members.

 
  Icon SMI
  Austen Arnaud is a cornerstone that Tom Herman can build the offense around.

New Iowa State offensive coordinator Tom Herman seemed a little sheepish about his membership in the group when he was interviewed recently by Des Moines Register beat writer Randy Peterson.

"That and a quarter will get you ... no, you better make that a dollar because of the economy ... that and a dollar will get you a cup of coffee," Herman said. "Mensa -- I guess that means mom and dad raised me right."

Peterson found out that a conversation with a key family member steered Herman to the Mensa test.

"My mom thought it would look good on my résumé," he said. "But that's obviously before I decided to go into football coaching."

Herman joked to Peterson that he zips through the USA Today crossword puzzle every morning and regularly beats the contestants on "Who Wants To Be A Millionaire?"

But an even bigger test of his intellect begins Tuesday in Ames when he tries to turn around the moribund Iowa State offense as the Cyclones begin spring practice.

The team ranked 67th in rushing, 31st in passing and 59th in scoring offense. All of those figures were improvements on the previous season, but Iowa State still has a long way to go to catch up with the rest of the Big 12's powerful offenses.

Herman's hiring by new Iowa State coach Paul Rhoads represents a start. His offense at Rice, keyed by quarterback Chase Clement, wide receiver Jarett Dillard and tight end James Casey, ranked fifth in passing, 10th in total offense and eighth in scoring offense. It helped lead the Owls to their first bowl victory in 54 seasons with a triumph over Western Michigan in the Texas Bowl.

He arrives with a nice collection of returning talent, keyed by quarterback Austen Arnaud. That's a beginning for Herman to build on.

"The fact that we've got a QB who played every snap last season and still two years of eligibility is a big plus for us," Rhoads said. "Austen is an exciting and talented player who is smart and has a lot of savvy. We want to put him in the situations where he can have comfort and confidence. And for him to be here as we start gives us a pretty good launching spot."

But turning the culture around and making them relevant will be a bigger challenge for Herman than any Mensa test he has ever completed.

Gauging the Big 12's spring quarterback battles

March, 18, 2009
3/18/09
5:16
PM ET

Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Griffin

The biggest potential issue for any team during spring practice is settling on a starting quarterback. It makes vacation go a lot more smoothly for coaches if they know there's a firmly entrenched starter in place after spring practice concludes.

Here's a look at the quarterback situations in the Big 12, grouped by the level of confidence coaches should have in their players at the position.

No worries: Everything should be great here.

  • Baylor: Robert Griffin is solidly in command and should only be better in his second season as the starter.
  • Oklahoma: Hard to complain with defending Heisman Trophy winner Sam Bradford still in charge.
  • Texas: Colt McCoy is still one of the top three returning quarterbacks in the nation, but John Chiles' position change makes the Longhorns' depth a little weak until Garrett Gilbert arrives this summer.
  • Kansas: Todd Reesing ready for his senior season with almost every school passing record in his crosshairs.
  • Oklahoma State: Bigger, stronger Zac Robinson might not want to run as much as the old Zac Robinson did.

Solid: A starter is firmly entrenched but he needs to pick up his effort this season.

  • Iowa State: It will be interesting to see what Austen Arnaud does working with new coordinator Tom Herman. Will it be more like Herman's Rice offense in recent seasons? And will Arnaud be suited for that?
  • Texas A&M: Talk of a quarterback controversy here will be likely that. Look for Jerrod Johnson to take control of the team during the spring and Ryan Tannehill to be back catching passes.
  • Texas Tech: Even though Taylor Potts has never started a game before, Mike Leach is confident in what he will be able to do.

Red alert: Lack of a proven starter is a major cause for concern for each of these schools.

  • Missouri: Blaine Gabbert appears to have taken the lead, but still has to prove his ability to consistently run the offense -- with a new coordinator in Dave Yost, to boot.
  • Colorado: Cody Hawkins and Tyler Hansen both have had college success, but haven't been able to do it consistently. Matt Ballenger also will be a factor in what should be an intriguing and wide-open battle without a true favorite.
  • Kansas State: Where have you gone Josh Freeman? New coach Bill Snyder will have to wade through the process of finding a starter with little-used Carson Coffman and junior college transfer Daniel Thomas favored to win out.
  • Nebraska: The biggest positional question from making the Cornhuskers an overwhelming preseason choice to win the Big 12 North. After Patrick Witt bailed on Bo Pelini last month, it left Zac Lee, Kody Spano and incoming freshman Cody Green poised to replace Joe Ganz. Lee enters as the favorite, but will he be able to maintain that edge throughout spring practice?

We'll check these again at the end of spring practice to see how they've changed.

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