Big 12: Robert Hodge

Simms' turnover-binge boosts CU to title in No. 11 memory

June, 26, 2009
6/26/09
6:03
PM ET

Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Griffin

No. 11

When BCS meant "Boo Chris Simms"

Date: Dec. 1, 2001
Place: Texas Stadium, Irving, Texas
Score: Colorado 39, Texas 37

Texas had already won a Big 12 championship, but was looking for its first title under coach Mack Brown. Underdog Colorado was making its first trip to the Big 12 title game.

Shortly before the game, the Longhorns' stakes were raised when Tennessee stunned No. 2 Florida, seemingly providing an avenue for Texas to play in its first Bowl Championship Series title game.

But Chris Brown, Bobby Pesavento and Gary Barnett's underdog Buffaloes had other ideas.

After Cedric Benson scored on a 5-yard touchdown early in the first quarter, the Buffaloes charged back. Chris Brown scored a pair of touchdowns, sandwiched around a 39-yard field goal by Jeremy Flores that provided the Buffaloes a 16-7 lead.

Texas quarterback Chris Simms struggled through a miserable first half, throwing three interceptions and fumbling away another turnover in the first half before he was replaced by Major Applewhite. Those miscues prompted the wrath of fans, who booed him louder with each turnover.

His last interception typified Texas' luck in the game. Top lineman Mike Williams and Benson ran into each other trying to tackle Colorado safety Medford Moorer, who eluded them on a 64-yard touchdown. Both Williams and Benson were hurt for the rest of the game and Simms sustained a dislocated ring finger on his throwing hand on the play.  

Several Buffaloes mentioned after the game they were infuriated when they saw that Simms wearing patent leather shoes during his pregame warm-ups. They thought that action and a pregame television interview by Simms disrespected their team.

Applewhite provided a surge of momentum two plays after entering the game, hooking up with B.J. Johnson on a 79-yard touchdown pass which pulled the Longhorns within 29-17 at the half.

Brown added another 11-yard touchdown to start the second half and Applewhite led his first two second-half drives that led to field goals by Dusty Mangum, pulling Texas to 36-23.

Colorado was poised to put the game away when Barnett made what he confessed after the game was a bad mistake. Third-string quarterback Robert Hodge's pass from punt formation was intercepted by Roderick Babers, who returned in 54 yards for a touchdown, trimming Colorado's lead to six with 9:10 left.

Barnett was saved from criticism when the Buffaloes added Flores' clinching 43-yard field goal with 1:58 left, capping a 51-yard drive that consumed 7 minutes, 12 seconds.

Applewhite hooked up with Johnson on a 1-yard touchdown pass with 37 seconds left, but it was too late. The Buffaloes escaped with a 39-37 victory and their first conference championship since winning the Big Eight in 1991.

Factoids to note: Colorado's impressive victory continued a five-game winning streak that had included a blowout victory over Nebraska the previous week. Chris Brown rushed for 182 yards on 33 carries and scored three touchdowns. It gave him nine touchdowns in his last two games ... Applewhite completed 15 of 25 passes for 240 yards and two touchdowns with no interceptions ... Texas came into the game ranked second nationally in scoring defense (11.4 points per game) and yards allowed (227.3 per game) but were trampled by Colorado's ground-based attack ... Simms' four turnovers led to 22 Colorado points. Coming into the game, Simms had thrown 16 touchdown passes and two interceptions in his previous six games ... The victory enabled Colorado a measure of revenge after losing earlier in the season to the Longhorns at Austin, 41-7. 

They said it, part I: "When we left the hotel today, I told them we are a team of destiny. No one is playing with more heart right now." Colorado coach Gary Barnett on his team's resiliency in notching the upset.

They said it, part II: "I was stunned with what happened to me. We had a chance to go to the Rose Bowl. I don't know what happened." Texas quarterback Chris Simms, in explaining his struggles to the Associated Press.

They said it, part III: "We wanted to intimidate him. We wanted to hit him so often that he'd feel we were coming even when we weren't. I think it worked pretty well. We did cause him to throw some bad balls," Colorado safety Michael Lewis, who told the New York Times about his defense's plans to rough up Simms.

The upshot: The victory boosted Colorado into its first and only BCS bowl berth in history, where the Buffaloes lost, 38-16, to Oregon. The Buffaloes ended the season 10-3 with a No. 9 finish in the final Associated Press poll. It was Colorado's highest end-of-season finish since placing eighth in 1996.

Texas' loss dropped them to the Holiday Bowl. Before the game, Texas coach Mack Brown announced on a Web site interview -- extremely rare for its time -- that Applewhite would be his starter in the bowl game. 

Applewhite produced when he got a chance as a starter. He capped his Texas career by passing for a career-best 473 yards to lead the Longhorns to a dramatic 47-43 comeback victory over Washington. The Longhorns overcame a 19-point deficit late in the third quarter as Applewhite led what at the time was the largest rally in school history. The Longhorns finished the season 11-2 and No. 5 nationally in the AP poll, their highest finish since 1983.

The countdown:

12. A Buffalo stampede: Six Brown TDs lead CU to first Big 12 title game.
13. Run, Ricky, run. Ricky Williams breaks career rushing record.
14. Wild game, wilder post-game rants when Gundy and Leach meet in 2007.
15. Rout 66: No, that score wasn't a typo.
16. KSU finally slays the Cornhuskers.
17. Kingsbury and Long hook up in a passing duel for the ages.
18. Henery and Suh make Colorado blue.
19. Stunning OSU rally leads to Stoops' first home loss.
20. It's never over for Texas Tech until it's over.
21. Reesing to Meier. Again and again.
22. A Texas-sized comeback -- Texas over Oklahoma State in 2004.
23. A Border War unlike any of the rest -- Missouri over Kansas in 2007.
24. Seneca Wallace's wild TD run vs. Texas Tech in 2001.
25. Baylor's "So Much for Taking a Knee" against UNLV in 1999.

Tim's mailbag: Big 12's most underrated assistants considered

March, 13, 2009
3/13/09
5:03
PM ET

Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Griffin

Here's a representative batch of letters and e-mails I got this week.

Steve Delaney from Wichita, Kan., writes: Hey, Tim, we always hear about Will Muschamp or Brent Venables as the top coordinators in college football. Do you have a Big 12 coordinator who you consider to be among the underrated gems in the country?

Tim Griffin: That's a great question. I think the best example of a coordinator who doesn't get the kind of national respect he probably deserves is Shawn Watson of Nebraska. He did a good job of orchestrating Colorado's offenses in the Gary Barnett era with a variety of journeyman quarterbacks like Robert Hodge and Bobby Pesavento. And he appeared to do the same thing with the Cornhuskers with Joe Ganz last season. It will be interesting how he handles the Cornhuskers' presumed lack of quarterbacking depth and proven production this season.

I also think Greg Davis at Texas does a consistently outstanding job for the Longhorns. I know it's been fashionable for many of the message board fans to knock him over the years. But look at the improvement and the change in Colt McCoy's game over the last several years to indicate how good Davis really is as an offensive coach.


Nick from Hastings, Neb., writes: What have you heard about the Cornhuskers' pro day? I'm kind of interested to know how Joe Ganz did considering he wasn't invited to the combine or any postseason all- star games.

Tim Griffin: The most notable news that came out of Nebraska's pro day were the shots that Ganz took at Patrick Witt, who announced last month he was leaving school.

But as far as on-the-field performance, Lydon Murtha again had good workouts, even though he only went through positional drills. The scouts I talked to love his combination of speed and size and expect him to be an underrated pick.

Matt Slauson had a nice time in the 40-yard dash, but lost some ground when he strained his pectoral muscle during his bench press.

Marlon Lucky had a fast initial 40-yard time, although he pulled a muscle on the second one.

And Ganz took the battery of tests for the assembled pro scouts. I think it's going to be interesting to see where he goes.

I know his measurable (height, weight and speed) don't measure with some of the other top available quarterbacks. But the leadership he showed with the Nebraska program -- best exhibited in his gutty performance against Clemson in the Gator Bowl -- were impressive to me. It will be interesting to see if an NFL team takes a chance on him with a draft pick , although I'm hearing it's more likely he'll end up being a free agent.


Steve Landis from Kansas City writes: Tim, I was interested in your recent study about homecourt advantage. Why do you think Oklahoma has been so strong at home over the years under Bob Stoops?

Tim Griffin: I know the Sooners haven't lost a home game since 2001. And they consistently have played better, with a better record, than any other Big 12 team. Probably the best reason is because they always seem to have some of the conference's very best players.

But here's an underrated reason why I think that Texas' and Oklahoma's home Big 12 records always seem better than everybody else's.

Namely, the Sooners never have to play Texas in Norman and the Longhorns don't face Oklahoma in Austin. I'm not saying that those teams would regularly win on their opponents' home fields. But I still think they would be the toughest Big 12 challenger on a consistent basis and both likely would have won there over the years.

So I'm wonder how much you can quantify Oklahoma's and Texas' home records with the fact that Texas never travels to Normal or Oklahoma to Austin. It's something I think needs to be considered when you look at extending winning streaks for both the Sooners and Longhorns.


Bobby from Fort Worth writes: Tim, do you see Oklahoma and Texas playing to see who represents the Big 12 in the national championship game? I don't see anyone beating either one of these teams. The only thing I'm worried about is if Florida and USC can run the table and get to the championship game if Oklahoma or Texas runs the table.

Tim Griffin: Bobby, I think the Sooners and Longhorns have the best chance to represent the Big 12 in a national title game. Oklahoma State obviously has a better collection of talent coming back and a favorable schedule. But I still don't know if the Cowboys have the defensive depth to contend with the Sooners and Longhorns.

As to your concerns about the Big 12 being left out if there were a multiteam logjam with undefeated teams, here's a little nugget to remember: A Big 12 team with an undefeated regular-season record has always ended up playing for the national championship in the BCS era. And I don't see that ending as long as the Big 12 South is as strong as it appears to be. I think the South's strength should catapult an undefeated winner into a BCS title game.


Stevie U. from Galveston, Texas, writes: Tim, an old Jayhawker, here. What do you think of Kansas' chances of finally bringing home a Big 12 North title after what you've seen in practice so far.

Tim Griffin: Steve, I haven't seen much, but I have kept up with the Jayhawks from afar. Everybody is questioning their linebackers after the departure of James Holt, Joe Mortensen and Mike Rivera from last year. And I think that remains a legitimate concern, particularly in a conference where offenses will be as predominant as the Big 12.

But I'm also a little taken aback at the move of starting left tackle Jeremiah Hatch to center and the apparent insertion of converted defensive end Tanner Hawkinson into the mix at left tackle.

I know that Kansas coach Mark Mangino has been among the most successful in plugging holes in the starting lineup with players from other positions.

But I still consider left tackle kind of a sacred spot. Whoever emerges there will be protecting quarterback Todd Reesing's blind spot. And Reesing will remain only an unblocked blitz away from a serious injury. So it will be interesting to see who finally emerges there. I think the development of the Kansas offensive line will be the Jayhawks' biggest offensive question heading into the season.


T. B. from Houston writes: Tim, you've criticized the Big 12's fifth tiebreaker for three-way ties a couple times recently. But each time you criticize it, you offer no alternative. Do you have any ideas regarding what may be a better system?

Tim Griffin: I like the SEC rule where a three-way tie is settled by taking the two highest-ranked teams in the BCS poll and then determining a winner by head-to-head results. I think this provides a fairer way to determine the winner. And it also gives the conference a shot at having its top team in terms of BCS with at least a head-to-head chance of playing for a national championship.

I know I've heard some Big 12 officials saying that it is very important to get the team with the highest BCS ranking to move forward. That might be true, but at least in a multiteam tie, the SEC's rule would provide some type of mechanism for a t
eam that might have beaten that team with the highest ranking to receive some credit for it.

But I'm guessing we won't have a three-way divisional tie like we had last season in the South for a long time.

And for that, I bet Big 12 commissioner Dan Beebe would be greatly relieved.

Thanks again for all of the correspondence and keep them coming. I'll be glad to answer any and all questions.

Witt's departure throws Nebraska QB battle into a quandary

February, 24, 2009
2/24/09
12:02
PM ET

Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Griffin

The news bounced through Nebraska with the stunning shock of some kind of a natural disaster.

The surprise announcement that Patrick Witt was leaving the Nebraska program came on a couple of levels.

First, Witt was the Cornhuskers' backup in their final game last season, playing after Joe Ganz was dinged in the Gator Bowl against Clemson.

So the presumption was that Witt would get the first shot -- or at least a good one -- when the Nebraska starting quarterback job was contested at spring practice and beyond.

But his decision has ratcheted up competition and opened a three-way battle involving Zac Lee, Kody Spano and freshman Cody Green. It's left the Cornhuskers with as little depth and experience at the position as any Big 12 team.

Lee is perceived by most to be the most immediately ready, although coaches hope he will work on managing a game better in their offensive philosophy.

Spano is a long shot to earn the starting job, but does have his moments as a runner and thrower.

Green likely has the best athletic tools. It might not be a surprise to see coach Bo Pelini utilize him like Ohio State did with Terrelle Pryor last season. Green would receive work early in the season to build confidence in hopes he could be a major contributor by the end of the season.

Any thoughts that Nebraska could afford to redshirt Green likely left when Witt made his announcement. Pelini's insurance plan has suddenly gone kaput.

(Read full post)

Tim's mailbag: What would Bryce Brown mean to KSU?

January, 30, 2009
1/30/09
7:11
PM ET

Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Griffin

Here's a representative sample from the group of letters that came this week.

Chris from Lawrence, Kan., writes: Tim, from what I'm hearing, Kansas State actually has a good shot at landing Bryce Brown. What kind of impact would you expect him to make next year if he does suit up for Coach Bill Snyder?

Tim Griffin: Obviously, Brown immediately would immediately become Kansas State's top back if he arrived in Manhattan as well as the most publicized recruit in Snyder's coaching tenure. He would give Snyder's team the kind of rushing threat it had with Darren Sproles when it was most successful in its championship season back in 2003.

But I'm still thinking it might be tough to keep him from linking up with his brother at Miami. It will be interesting to see where the younger Brown ends up, although I'm hearing it won't be until well after National Signing Day when we find out where he will be playing.


Steve from Reston, Va., writes: Is there any chance Oklahoma will be adding another wide receiver in this year's recruiting class? I think the recent addition of the junior college of junior college wide receiver Cameron Kenney will help. What do you think?

Tim Griffin: Obviously, I believe that Bob Stoops could find room for Rueben Randle if the heralded receiver from Bastrop, La., would choose the Sooners over LSU among others. Randle is visiting Gene Chizik and Auburn this weekend. And the Sooners probably will still need to add another receiver or two to help Sam Bradford, considering the loss of key targets like Manuel Johnson, Juaquin Iglesias and Quentin Chaney from this year's team.

There figures to be a lot of passes for somebody to catch for the Sooners next season.


Ryan from Lincoln, Neb., writes: You reported earlier this year that Bo Pelini was one of the lowest-paid head coaches in the Big 12. Have you heard any rumors about when he might get offered a raise after going 9-4?

Tim Griffin: Coaches are like anybody else, with ego driving their salary demands.

But that being said, I think Pelini earned every penny of his $1.1 million salary last season, which now ranks as tied for the lowest in the league along with Paul Rhoads of Iowa State and Bill Snyder of Kansas State, according to the web site coacheshotseat.com. The league's formerly lowest paid coach, Mike Gundy of Oklahoma State, got a big raise back in December.

I'm thinking Pelini would be deserving of a renegotiation, considering the way that salaries are spiraling upwards in college football. But the decision will ultimately be made by Nebraska athletic director Tom Osborne.


David Correa from Dallas writes: Tim, Any truth to the rumors that Baylor and Wake Forest are looking to drop each other from the upcoming 2009 schedule?

Tim Griffin: I haven't heard any rumblings from either side about canceling that game. But I know after covering the game in Waco back in August that Wake Forest coach Jim Grobe saying that he wasn't looking forward to the rematch in Winston-Salem in 2009. And that was before Robert Griffin started really showing what he could do as a versatile run-pass option.

And with Baylor looking to qualify for its first bowl game since 1994, I could see why they wouldn't necessarily be looking forward to facing the Demon Deacons on their home field, either.

It will be interesting to see if the game comes together. Because there still is a contract for a return date in place, the last I checked.


Steve Johnson from Wichita, Kan., writes: Tim, how could you forget about the infamous story about how Josh Freeman got out of his Nebraska commitment and left for Kansas State on your list of memorable recruiting stories this morning.

Tim Griffin: Sorry, Steve, that one slipped my mind. It was a good one. Namely, the urban legend is that Freeman informed then-Nebraska coach Bill Callahan he wouldn't be attending Nebraska by a text message.

Understandably, the announcement didn't make Callahan very happy. He responded with the legendary line where he called out Freeman, although he didn't call him by name. Callahan said about Freeman's de-commitment: "If you're a prima donna, if you're a drama queen, there's no room for you at Nebraska. You can go to Kansas State."


Ryan Carrell of Round Rock, Texas, writes: Tim, you said that former Miami quarterback Robert Marve "blistered Texas A&M for 212 passing yards and two touchdowns to orchestrate a 41-23 victory over the Aggies in College Station last season." Would you like to take a mulligan on the word "blistered?" Especially in the context of the A&M squad. Blistered might have been 400+ yards, but a little more than 200 is barely enough to get a rug burn.

Tim Griffin: Except when it concerns Robert Marve. It was his career high, so I think the term "blistered" is used in the right context for him. And Marve could have thrown for many more yards if the game had been closer, but Miami ran the ball for much of the second half in the easy victory.

So putting everything into context, I think that Marve blistered the Aggies. Or at least that's what I remembered A&M defensive coordinator Joe Kines saying after the game.


Tom Krier writes: Tim, I read your comments on Nebraska winning the North if they can find a "serviceable quarterback." You might point out that Nebraska offensive coordinator Shawn Watson seems to be a master of doing just that. The success he had at Colorado with backup quarterbacks (Bobby Pesavanto, for example) was impressive.

Tim Griffin: Tom, I agree with you. The work that Watson did with Joel Klatt, Robert Hodge and Craig Ochs wasn't too shabby, either, during his time at Colorado. And I doubt many Nebraska fans could have projected Joe Ganz's record-breaking season last season if you had asked him if those numbers were possible back in August.

It's why I think that Watson is one of the most underrated offensive coordinators in the nation. I expect him to be a head coach somewhere pretty soon. While I'm writing checks for Osborne, I might considering bumping up Watson, too.

That's all for this week. Keep the letters and e-mails coming and I'll check back again next week.

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