Big 12: Roy Miller

Mailbag: Best games and scariest players

August, 13, 2010
8/13/10
3:30
PM ET
Big G in Western Nebraska writes: The Expendables comes out Friday. If you had to make a team of elite warriors using Big 12 players, who would you put on it? Not necessarily an All-Star team, but the toughest, baddest dudes in the conference.

David Ubben: First off, no matter what my friends tell me, that movie looks like garbage. But this question is interesting. I'd invite you all to make your own lists, but here's mine.

1) Nate Solder, left tackle, Colorado: First off, at 6-foot-9 and 310 pounds, he's probably the biggest player in the entire league. But he also hang cleans 470 pounds, runs a 4.88 40-yard dash and has a 32-inch vertical leap. He's very high on my list of guys I wouldn't want to face in a jungle death match. And yes, that list exists.

2) Ronnell Lewis, linebacker, Oklahoma: Defensive coordinator Brent Venables has coached some big hitters in his day like Rocky Calmus and Roy Williams. He says Lewis, just a sophomore, hits the hardest. And he hails from tiny Dewar, Oklahoma. Everybody knows you don't mess with country boys.

3) Cody Johnson, running back, Texas: Anybody want to try and tackle him? The Longhorns' 5-foot-11, 250-pound goal-line back is the closest thing to a bowling ball in the Big 12. Steer clear. I know I will.

Who's on your list?


Craig in Wichita, Kan. writes: Two years ago, the Big XII was known for lighting up the scoreboard. Last seasonit was the defenses that took the spotlight. What's going to be the Big XII's signature in 2010?

DU: A conference takes on the identity of its top teams. There's a ton of other great offenses across the Big 12, but look at the top three teams in the league: Nebraska, Texas and Oklahoma. All three should field top-10 defenses in 2010. So even though there are offenses like Texas A&M, Texas Tech and Missouri, the league's going to be known for defense once again. If that's not enough, look around at the Big 12 representatives on any All-American team. Very few offensive players, but lots of defensive guys like Jared Crick at Nebraska, Aaron Williams at Texas or Travis Lewis at Oklahoma.


Cord in College Station, Texas, writes: As a longhorn living in College Station, I've already heard plenty of "noise" from the A&M faithful about this being their year. I know you're an Aggie, too, and I'm just wondering what you're non-biased prediction for the Aggie season is. Hook'em.

DU: I'm afraid you're mistaken. I've never gigged anything or anyone, but nine wins for the Aggies is probably about right. If I had to pick it, they knock off Nebraska at home, but lose to Texas, Oklahoma and Arkansas. They'll need to spring some upsets to win the South.


Craig in Ames, Iowa, writes: Do you think the recent flooding will help or hurt the Cyclones? Will the team-uniting fight against the adversity help, or will the routine-destroying distraction keep ISU from being ready for the first game against NIU?

DU: I don't think it hurts all that much, but if Paul Rhoads' team isn't already one of the league's closest, this sealed it. Some of the guys on that team have been through three coaching staffs, but finally got to experience some real success last season. Really, Iowa State only missed one practice, and though I'm sure there's some family troubles for a few of the players and some difficulty getting around still, I don't see the floods having much of an effect on the on-field product. But it's definitely a memorable experience that should change the way a lot of those guys see the world.


Tony in Lincoln, Neb., writes: Hey Dave, Just curious. What's the best game you've ever seen/been to?

DU: Of the games I've ever seen, it's pretty close between the Texas-Southern Cal Rose Bowl and the Boise State-Oklahoma Fiesta Bowl. I probably said this about 100 times in the weeks following the game, but the best part of that is the hook-and-ladder never works. Ever. It's a great play in theory, but the execution and timing has such a small margin of error required for success, plus it needs a little luck from the defense's call. That makes it impossible to execute. Except that one time.

I also love the big-time clashes. There was just an unfair amount of talent on the field in that national title game between Texas and USC, two teams who 100 percent earned the right to be there. You don't get that with every national championship.

Matt Leinart, Vince Young, Reggie Bush, Jamaal Charles, Lendale White, Steve Smith, Fred Davis, Selvin Young and Limas Sweed are all factors in the NFL now, most of whom I've started on my fantasy teams at least once. And that's just the offenses. Can't forget Aaron Ross, Michael Griffin and Michael Huff in the Longhorns secondary alone. Brian Orakpo and Roy Miller also played down in front. It just doesn't get much better than two premiere programs and NFL factories going at it in a game of that magnitude that delivered the drama, even if you could see that final drive coming the whole time.

Of the game's I've covered, I'd probably go with the Kansas-Missouri Border Showdown at the end of the 2008 season. Gotta love rivalry games, and Kansas-Missouri has been one of the most dramatic in recent seasons. That game was no exception. A ton of offensive talent on the field during a blizzard at Arrowhead Stadium. It included four go-ahead touchdowns in the final seven minutes, and finished with a Todd Reesing floater over Kerry Meier's shoulder on -- what else -- a broken play. Classic game with a classic finish.

A few notes from Austin

April, 1, 2010
4/01/10
2:10
PM ET
I suppose the title is somewhat misleading, since I'm actually in College Station today, but nonetheless, here's a few things from my visit to Austin Wednesday.

  • The team's energy is, of course, reaching a crescendo with the spring game on Sunday. The players said having past Longhorns like Quan Cosby on campus for pro day only accentuated that. Hardly a distraction, but seeing guys who are where they want to be injected some energy into Wednesday's practice.
  • Mack Brown feels pretty good about accomplishing his three big points for the spring. Among those:
  • Getting the punt return/block game back where it was in past years. Brown's really emphasizing that in the spring, and working defensive backs Aaron Williams and Curtis Brown, as well as receiver James Kirkendoll as returners. If the season began today, Williams would be the return man, and since they do, you know, have a game (kind of) on Sunday, look for Williams to get plenty of time back returning punts.
  • Re-establishing the offense. Much has been made of the Longhorns' move under center, but the style change is almost as big of an issue as the personnel changes Texas has undergone this spring. Brown doesn't know just yet exactly whom he wants to feature in the offense, but a big game on Sunday with plenty of eyes watching could give a receiver or running back a leg up heading into the fall. I'll have plenty more on that tomorrow, when we'll feature Texas on the blog.
  • Replenishing the defensive line. It really is remarkable how much talent has come through the defensive line at Texas in just the past couple of seasons. Kheeston Randall, Sam Acho and Eddie Jones will try to make the most of their time this season, but Roy Miller, Henry Melton and Brian Orakpo are all in the NFL. Sergio Kindle and Lamarr Houston should join them very soon.
  • Texas plans on making a conscious effort to prepare to be ... prepared if it loses a key player like it lost Colt McCoy in the national championship game. You'd expect the entire team to be kind of shaken when it loses a leader like that in that type of situation, and the Longhorns' play in the first half suggested that was the case. Brown's not looking for a repeat of that in any game in 2010.
  • Brown compared this team to his 2008 team, acknowledging that with all of the question marks, expectations will be lowered. Not that there isn't plenty of potential on both sides of the ball, but most of that potential is unproven. "This year, there’s so many unknowns, we’re not taking anything for granted," Brown said. "We’re making sure that we’re covering every little detail." In 2008, those question marks were answered to the tune of a BCS bowl win and just one loss.

Big 12 mailbag: Will Blackshirts be good in 2010 again?

January, 19, 2010
1/19/10
5:15
PM ET
I received a slew of comments about some of my early choices for my All-Decade teams across the conference. Hopefully, that will prove as popular during the rest of the week for the rest of the Big 12 teams as they are released.

Here's a representative example of some of the other missives I've received over the last few days.

Mike Heuertz of Iowa writes: Tim, even with Ndamukong Suh leaving Nebraska, as well as a couple other key defensive players, do you think the Blackshirts will be better next season? And what do you think Nebraska's record will be?

Tim Griffin: I talked with several Nebraska fans during my swing through the state last week who seemed almost giddy about the Cornhuskers’ chances next season.

That being said, the loss of Suh will be huge. I think he can be considered the arguably greatest defensive player in the history of the program. The Cornhuskers also will lose Barry Turner, Phillip Dillard, Larry Asante and the heart, grit and talent provided by Matt O’Hanlon.

Now I can see players like Prince Amukamara, Will Compton, Sean Fisher and Jared Crick getting a lot better gaining experience playing Bo Pelini’s defense. But it might be a little wishful thinking to hope for much improvement from this season -- considering the Cornhuskers’ big defensive personnel losses.

As far as their record, I would expect them to be one of the powers of the Big 12. They have a tricky game at Washington which will earn them a lot of national notoriety if they can win. Texas will be coming to Lincoln, as will Colorado and Missouri. A road game at Oklahoma State doesn’t look as daunting as it could be with the Cowboys breaking in a new quarterback. But an underrated challenge for the Cornhuskers might wait at Texas A&M with Jerrod Johnson and all of A&M’s strong returning offensive weapons back for next season.

Looking at that schedule, I’ll pick the Cornhuskers to go 10-2 and finish as the Big 12 North champion. Considering their returning talent and their schedule, I think that’s a relatively conservative pick.

But as far as next year's team being better than the 2009 version of the Blackshirts, that might be wishing for a little bit much -- even for the Pelinis.


Chris Henson from Salt Lake City, Utah, writes: Tim, a quick addition to the Texas A&M-Oklahoma State tidbit. The Red, White, and Blue Out in 2001 was organized by a group of students first and foremost as a fundraiser for the victims of 9/11. I appreciate you noting this event as it really shows what Texas A&M is all about.

Tim Griffin: Chris, thanks for the clarification. Like you wrote, it was truly an emotional event. There’s a picture of the stadium that is still hung in the press box at Kyle Field of the stadium bedecked for that game. It still gives me goose bumps when I see it.


Travis from Seattle writes: Tim, the players of the decade category has created quite a stir, with many saying, "...well how could X player be off the list." For the most part I agree with your list if you look at it being, who were great players, AND who did the most to influence their team's success, (thus why Graham Harrell is off, being a plug-and-play quarterback in that system although he did do a fine job).

But I propose a different category. Who were the best ATHLETES of the decade? And how about the best competitors, the ones who did everything to try to win. What are your thoughts?

Tim Griffin: You raise a good point about my list earlier being an all-around grouping of all qualities. As far as the best athletes of the decade in the Big 12 from the last decade, in no specific order I would include Ndamukong Suh, Eric Crouch, Robert Griffin, Chris Brown, Vince Young, Seneca Wallace, Dez Bryant, Dezmon Briscoe, Darren Sproles, Danario Alexander (before and after his injury), Brad Smith, Jeremy Maclin, Adrian Peterson, Brian Orakpo, Michael Huff, Earl Thomas, Reggie McNeal, Robert Ferguson, Sammy Davis and Michael Crabtree.

And among the top competitors I’ve seen include Stephen McGee, Crabtree, Colt McCoy, Roy Miller, Joe Pawelek, Jordan Lake, George Hypolite, Todd Reesing, Chase Daniel, Sean Weatherspoon, Matt O’Hanlon, Suh, Josh Fields, Brian Iwuh, Darrell Stuckey, Steven Sheffield, Wes Welker and Kliff Kingsbury. There are many others, but those are just some of the names that come to me off the top of my head. And the fact that Suh and Crabtree made both of those lists is pretty indicative of how exceptional they really were.


Fred Dodge of Annapolis, Md., writes: Tim, in reference to your top 10 jobs in college football. You have a good list, BUT the one caveat that I think goes with this list or any list is context. Most of these are still the "right-guy-for-the-right-place" jobs -- as are coaches. Being a Husker, I lean toward Bo Pelini and Nebraska as my first examples. Bo would not be a good fit for many of these jobs...I just can't see Bo fitting at USC or Florida for example; but I also can't see Lane Kiffin or Pete Carroll being successful in Lincoln. And in my opinion there are only a few guys who can shape a program around their personality. Nick Saban could coach anywhere, Urban Meyer probably could, and Jim Tressel could in most places. But I have a difficult time seeing Mack Brown outside the southeast or southwest and Bo Pelini outside the midwest. All of these guys could still coach, but I think they would struggle in fan support -- and so they would also in recruiting.

Tim Griffin: You make an interesting point, although I think that Pelini would work in more places than you might suspect. He’s a dyed-in-the-wool football coach and would succeed at most traditional powers, although I think his style best suits him at Nebraska. But I could see him being successful in the Southeastern Conference, in the Big Ten or even at Notre Dame. Anywhere they have a deep appreciation for football, I can see Pelini working out.

I think coaches like Bob Stoops, Saban, Meyer and Tressel would work most places. I also think you might include some underrated coaches out there like Mike Riley of Oregon State, Gary Patterson of TCU, Jeff Tedford of California and Chris Peterson of Boise State would be adaptable at almost any job in the country. But it does seem that the smart coaches are the ones who pick places where they are comfortable and have the best chance for success.


Kyle Zander of Fort Hood, Texas, writes: Will Chris Whaley and Desean Hales get playing time for Texas in 2010? I played against Hales in high school and the kid is the real deal, Texas needs to get him involved as soon as possible. And Whaley could help, too.

Tim Griffin: Texas needs to find some help for its running game. Whaley was hurt when he reported to practice last summer and never regained his form. If he’s willing to rededicate himself, there likely is a chance for him to earn some playing time this spring. He needs to have a big spring to get there.

Sales is in a similar situation. The Longhorns have wide receiving talent in players like senior-to-be John Chiles and James Kirkendoll. Malcolm Williams is a big strong receiver who will emerge in coming seasons and should be the team’s featured receiver in 2010. But there are catches – plenty of them -- available for Hales if he can force himself into the mix.


Brett Stamm from Keller, Texas, writes: Tim, love the blog! Keep up the good work! Has Mike Sherman, or will Mike Sherman, or why will Mike Sherman not, consider Dat Nguyen for defensive coordinator? Talk about a guy who has done an outstanding job in his current position and would bring some instant credibility with players and recruits in a program that has pretty much let a proud defensive tradition die with questionable and mediocre hires. This is a guy who was the face of and exemplified the "Wrecking Crew" tradition for four years! Your thoughts?

Tim Griffin: Brett, Dat Nguyen has been a key member of Wade Phillips’ staff as an assistant linebacker coach and defensive quality control assistant with the Dallas Cowboys. But I would suspect that Sherman probably would like for Nguyen to have a little more seasoning and experience calling defenses before he would give him the responsibility of serving as the Aggies’ defensive coordinator.

In a way, Nguyen reminds me a little of Major Applewhite as they develop in their coaching careers. It won’t surprise me if both become successful coordinators and eventually outstanding head coaches. But they need more experience to get there.

Nguyen seems like a natural to join the A&M coaching staff in the future. But I think it might be a stretch to see him as the Aggies’ defensive coordinator at this stage of his career.

That’s all the time I have for today. Thanks again for all of the good questions and keep the letters and e-mails coming. I’ll check back again on Friday.

Kindle's accident helps him mature as team leader

August, 10, 2009
8/10/09
5:41
PM ET

Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Griffin

AUSTIN, Texas -- A recent automobile accident while text messaging helped Texas defensive end/linebacker Sergio Kindle learn to put down his phone while driving.

Kindle, an All-Big 12 preseason pick, said the June 24 accident was an enlightening experience that provided a valuable lesson about the perils of text messaging while driving.

"Mistakes happen even in the most innocent situations," Kindle said. "I apologized to my team and addressed and told them the whole deal of what happened. They still have faith in me so that's a good deal. I've got to go on."

His teammates said that Kindle was contrite when he explained what happened.

"It was a sincere and heartfelt apology," Texas senior defensive tackle Lamarr Houston said.

No charges have been filed against Kindle because of the accident. Kindle has said he wasn't drinking at the time of the crash. He sustained a concussion and was treated by team doctors the following day.

The accident has provided a teaching point for Texas coach Mack Brown, who wasted little time after Kindle's incident to implore his team not to text and drive.

"I think in a very unusual way, the texting incident probably helped him with his maturity and his leadership because he had to step up," Brown said. "He had to talk to me about it and then he had to talk to the team about it. Sergio had to admit that he would have done some things differently if he had to do it over."

The Dallas Morning News reported earlier this week that Kindle had been exchanging text messages with Bobby Estes of Woodrow Wilson High School in Dallas.

The News said that Kindle had been watching Texas' game against LSU in the College World Series earlier in the evening. He stopped by the home of Texas defensive coordinator Will Muschamp for a couple of innings before leaving. And he texted Kindle soon after the accident to let him know what had happened.

Kindle said punishment for the incident has been handled internally and will result in no loss of playing time or practice activities.

His emergence is critical for the Longhorns at their biggest question mark along the defensive line as the team's most productive player. Kindle produced 53 tackles and 10 sacks while shuttling between linebacker and defensive  end.   

The Longhorns need production after the defensive line that led the nation with 47 sacks and lost NFL draft picks Brian Orakpo, Roy Miller and Henry Melton from last season.

Muschamp said that Kindle's instincts in the running game must improve for him to become a dominant player, as well as the honing his assortment of his pass-rushing techniques.

During his time as the defensive coordinator with the NFL's Miami Dolphins, Muschamp worked with All-NFL player Jason Taylor. That association, he believes, can help him teach Kindle.

"Jason didn't have a whole bunch of moves, but he was really good at what he did," Muschamp said. "We've tried to really work on building the things that Sergio does so well. He's got great initial quickness and take-off ability. We need to convert that to power and the work counter from that. Basically, that's what we've tried to do is just hone in on just getting really good at those things."

As much as his production, Kindle also will be counted to provide leadership for the Longhorns.

Orakpo provided a clear role model for Kindle's development as a team leader, although Kindle realizes that he is different from his older teammate.

"I have to develop a leadership style, but I'm not too much of a 'talker,' I'm a 'doer,' " Kindle said. "I will lead by example and not as much vocally. My style is completely different."

Texas' Lamarr Houston finally at home in the trenches

July, 2, 2009
7/02/09
11:32
AM ET

Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Griffin

The rest of the Big 12 should consider themselves warned. Lamarr Houston is finally feeling comfortable at defensive tackle.

After playing defensive end earlier in his college career, Houston moved inside last season to help fill a hole for Texas. A foot injury and his new surroundings kept him from really ever thriving at the new position last season.

 
  Brian Bahr/Getty Images
  Texas' Lamarr Houston should show improvement in his second season at defensive tackle.
But that will all change as Houston begins his second season at defensive tackle when training camp starts for the Longhorns.

"It's a completely different position from defensive end," Houston said. "The contact coming on you is so much faster and it's on every play. It comes immediately after the ball is snapped. You have to get used to that."

Houston has worked on boxing techniques to get ready for the hand-to-hand combat inside in the trenches. After a year of playing experience, he finally feels ready to blossom in his senior season.

"Obviously, playing defensive tackle is totally different from what I was used to," Houston said. "It was quite an adjustment mentally for me. But I got over it plenty fast and feel like I'm coming along in learning my position."

Houston's on-the-field development, as well as his leadership, will be critical for a Texas defensive line that is judged as one of the team's primary question marks.

The defensive front loses key performers from last season's unit like Roy Miller, Brian Orakpo, Henry Melton and Aaron Lewis. That group that led the nation in sacks and ranked third nationally in rush defense.

"It's always hard to replace those guys like Orakpo, Miller and Melton," Houston said. "But we recruit so that our tradition never really graduates."

(Read full post)

Ten Big 12 names to remember

May, 19, 2009
5/19/09
10:00
AM ET

Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Griffin

Here are 10 players who developed as names to remember during spring practice across the Big 12.

Baylor WR Terrance Williams: Talented redshirt freshman who had a strong camp as he developed into one of Robert Griffin's primary receivers.

Colorado CB Jimmy Smith: Emerged as the Buffaloes' most talented one-on-one pass defender and the Buffaloes' key player in the secondary.

Iowa State QB Jerome Tiller: Lanky freshman who might still have a chance to compete for playing time with starter Austen Arnaud. Tiller didn't hurt his chances by throwing for 250 yards and two touchdowns and also adding a 65-yard touchdown run in the spring game.

Kansas WR Johnathan Wilson: Took advantage of the departure of top deep threat Dezmon Briscoe to emerge as the Jayhawks' prime deep threat when he was gone. Wilson led all receivers with 133 receiving yards and could be a capable featured receiver if Briscoe or Kerry Meier is injured.

Kansas State DE Brandon Harold: After struggling after being moved inside, Harold flourished with a big spring after moving back to defensive end.

Missouri RB De'Vion Moore: As Derrick Washington recovered from offseason knee surgery, Moore played as the Tigers' No. 1 tailback during most of the spring. Not only did he show tough between-the-tackles running ability but also developed into a strong receiving threat out of the backfield.

Nebraska LB Matthew May: The converted sophomore safety earned a role at weakside linebacker in both the Cornhuskers' nickel and base defenses.

Oklahoma LB Tom Wort: Became an immediate producer for the Sooners as a true freshman. He could be ticketed to immediate play on special teams as he provided immediate depth.

Texas DT Ben Alexander: The 310-pound senior claimed the starting job next to Lamarr Houston as the Longhorns look for a playmaker in the trenches to replace Roy Miller.

Texas Tech DE Brandon Sesay: After losing 21 pounds before spring practice, a slimmer Sesay notched two sacks in the spring game to showcase a strong finish as he challenges for a starting position left open when McKinner Dixon was suspended for academic reasons. .

Texas spring wrap

May, 14, 2009
5/14/09
9:10
AM ET
Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Griffin

Texas Longhorns
2008 overall record: 12-1

2008 conference record: 7-1

Returning starters

Offense: 8, defense: 6, kicker/punter: 2

Top returners

QB Colt McCoy, WR Jordan Shipley, C Chris Hall, T Adam Ulastoski, S Earl Thomas, DT Lamarr Houston, DE/LB Sergio Kindle, LB Roddrick Muckelroy

Key losses

DE Brian Orakpo, WR Quan Cosby, G Cedric Dockery, RB Chris Ogbonnaya, DT Roy Miller, LB Rashad Bobino

2008 statistical leaders (* returners)

Rushing: Colt McCoy* (561 yards)
Passing: Colt McCoy* (3,859 yards)
Receiving: Quan Cosby (1,123 yards)
Tackles: Rodrick Muckelroy* (112)
Sacks: Brian Orakpo (11.5)
Interceptions: Ryan Palmer (3)

Spring answers

2009 Schedule
Sept. 5 Louisiana-Monroe
Sept. 12 at Wyoming
Sept. 19 Texas Tech
Sept. 26 UTEP
Oct. 10 Colorado
Oct. 17 Oklahoma (at Dallas)
Oct. 24 at Missouri
Oct. 31 at Oklahoma State
Nov. 7 Central Florida
Nov. 14 at Baylor
Nov. 21 Kansas
Nov. 26 at Texas A&M

1. Secondary depth: Texas coach Mack Brown believes the Longhorns might have the best depth at defensive back of any team he's ever had. The group made Colt McCoy look ordinary in the spring game, continuing its strong performance from earlier in practice. It was a big turnaround from last season, when Texas produced a Big 12-low six interceptions and generated only 16 turnovers. But strong play this spring from safeties Earl Thomas, Christian Scott, Nolan Brewster and Blake Gideon make the position seem set. Cornerbacks Chykie Brown and Aaron Williams appear to have emerged as two of the most physical players to have lined up at the position for Texas in several years. And Curtis Brown and Deon Beasley add solid depth at the position.

2. Speed pass-rushers: Sergio Kindle was switched to defensive end and dominated early practices like Texas defensive coordinator Will Muschamp had hoped. Kindle is being counted on to fill the featured pass-rusher role so ably played by Brian Orakpo last season. But just as much of a revelation was the play of freshman Alex Okafor. Brown traditionally has been hesitant to give true freshmen significant playing time. He might not be able to avoid it with Okafor, who tore up early practices. Speed pass-rushers are vitally important in the Big 12 and Okafor combines with Kindle to give the Longhorns two of the fastest in the conference.

3. McCoy back for more: So much for any thoughts about complacency after McCoy nearly won the Heisman last season. McCoy has come back driven and appears ready to take another step during his senior season. He's returned 10 pounds heavier and appears to be the Longhorns' obvious leader on a team of talented young players desperately seeking one.

Fall questions

1. Running back: Cody Johnson appeared to be close to winning the job midway through camp at tailback before he was sidelined with a left hamstring pull. He needs to report to camp this summer in better shape. The Longhorns tinkered with their power running game with Vondrell McGee and Fozzy Whitaker and all three of the touchdowns in the spring game came from the I-formation. It was a start, although the Longhorns failed to average 3 yards per carry in the
spring game. Someone needs to emerge since the Longhorns can't realistically expect McCoy to be the team's leading rusher again this season. One hope could be Chris Whaley, a bruising 235-pounder who arrives this summer as the team's most highly touted freshman offensive player.

2. Defensive tackle: Texas' depth inside was hit hard by attrition after Roy Miller left. One of the best stories of the spring was the emergence of Ben Alexander, who has struggled finding the field against spread teams in the past. But Texas' depth is perilous behind him, starter Lamarr Houston and Kheeston Randall. And it got worse last week when heralded redshirt freshman Jarvis Humphrey had to quit football because of a kidney ailment. The Longhorns will need some help this summer when incoming players like heralded recruits Derek Johnson and Calvin Howell arrive.

3. Leadership: The Longhorns clearly have one of the most talented teams in the nation. But one concern that won't be answered before the season is how the team responds to adversity. Last year's team received strong direction from players like Miller, Quan Cosby and Orakpo and had a knack for responding when challenged -- such as in comeback victories against Ohio State and Oklahoma and their near comeback against Texas Tech. Brown openly questioned the makeup of this team in the spring. He won't have any answers until the season starts.

Big 12 could be headed for landmark draft

April, 24, 2009
4/24/09
3:05
PM ET

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 second-round picks: Oklahoma G Duke Robinson, Missouri S William Moore.

Likely third-round picks: Oklahoma WR Juaquin Iglesias, Oklahoma T Phil Loadholt, Missouri TE Chase Coffman.

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.

Big 12 lunch links: Not much Lubbock love for moving Baylor game

March, 26, 2009
3/26/09
1:57
PM ET

Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Griffin

Ah. Sitting in a Kansas City airport with my trusty wireless stick as I rifle through Big 12 media sources looking for the best of today's conference information.

It couldn't get much better as I start my North Division swing.

Here a few stories to tide you over until the real stuff starts tomorrow.

  • Lubbock business owners aren't happy about Texas Tech moving the Baylor game to Dallas later this season, Joshua Hall of the Lubbock Avalanche-Journal reports. 
  • After spending the last 3½ months with the Baylor basketball team, inside receiver Kendall Wright is back for the last two weeks of the Bears' spring football practice, the Waco Tribune-Herald's John Werner reports.
  • Newsday blogger Adam Abramson ranks the Big 12's quarterbacks heading into spring practice.
  • The Austin American-Statesman's Suzanne Halliburton reports a couple of interesting tidbits from Texas' pro day. Defensive end Henry Melton ran a 40 in the high 4.5 range and defensive tackle Roy Miller has boosted his weight to 313 -- up 23 pounds since the Fiesta Bowl. And American-Statesman columnist Cedric Golden opines about how Quan Cosby hopes to ascend in the draft despite being one of the oldest and smallest draft-eligible players.
  • Lincoln Journal-Star columnist Steve Sipple writes that it appears that the starting quarterback job is Zac Lee's for the taking after Nebraska's first spring practice.
  • B.G. Brooks of In Denver Times reports that Colorado coach Dan Hawkins isn't backing away from his "10 wins and no excuses" mantra for the upcoming season. But Sporting News blogger Spencer Hall wonders how far that confidence will carry the Buffaloes against tough Big 12 South opponents.
  • Oklahoman beat writer and new papa Scott Wright writes of the development of Oklahoma State's defensive line, particularly junior defensive tackle Chris Donaldson and redshirt freshman Nigel Nicholas.

The Big 12's greenest units

March, 17, 2009
3/17/09
1:37
PM ET

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.

NFL snub inspires Kindle in his changing role

March, 2, 2009
3/02/09
8:34
AM ET

Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Griffin

AUSTIN, Texas -- The reports assuredly weren't what Sergio Kindle wanted to read.

 
  Marc Piscotty/Icon SMI
  Sergio Kindle has high expectations for the 2009 season.

So when the stark prognosis from NFL evaluators came back about what Kindle's draft prospects would be if he declared early, the Texas defensive standout didn't waste much time with the rest.

"After they said I was a second- or third-round choice, I didn't even bother reading all of it," Kindle said. "I saw that and threw it away. I said, 'OK, I'm coming back.'"

If Kindle has a dramatic senior season that drastically improves his stock for the 2010 NFL draft, that balled-up NFL scouting evaluation might be the biggest piece of inspiration that got him there.

Texas coaches are using Kindle as a down lineman this spring after alternating as a defensive lineman and linebacker last season. His development as the team's major playmaker along the defensive front will be critical in settling one of the Longhorns' critical lingering questions in their hopes of challenging for the Big 12 championship.

In his first season as a starter in 2008, Kindle produced 10 sacks and ranked fifth on the team with 53 tackles.

Such a performance was remarkable considering that Kindle barely had a chance to work at defensive end before the season started. He missed last spring recovering from knee surgery and was moved to his new position for some snaps by Texas defensive coordinator Will Muschamp shortly before the season started.

"We weren't really fair to him last year putting him at a new position without repping it enough in the situations we put him in at defensive end," Muschamp said. "We really didn't know what we had until we were rolling in fall camp. We need to get ready to play by getting guys comfortable with what they are going to do."

(Read full post)

Don't always believe those heights and weights

February, 24, 2009
2/24/09
6:14
PM ET

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.

(Read full post)

What to watch at Big 12 spring practices

February, 13, 2009
2/13/09
10:00
AM ET

Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Griffin

The Big 12 should again be loaded in 2009. And the spring will feature several key positional battles and holes to fill that will go a long way in determining whether Oklahoma can make history and claim a fourth-straight championship this season.

Here a look at each team and three major items to watch in spring practice.

NORTH DIVISION

Colorado Buffaloes

Spring practice begins: March 31

Spring game: April 25

What to watch:

  • The health of the team: The Buffaloes' players lost a combined total of 121 games to due to illness or injury last season. Some players like tight end Riar Geer, guards Devin Head, Maxwell Tuioti-Mariner and Mike Iltis, linebacker Jon Major and cornerback Jalil Brown will be limited during the spring because of past injuries. But others like tackle Ryan Miller, tailback Rodney Stewart and cornerback Benjamin Burney should be good to go throughout the spring. Coach Dan Hawkins won't push things, but it will be good to have as many regulars as possible practicing again.
  • The return of Darrell Scott: The conference's most publicized running back recruit of 2008 never could get untracked, rushing for disappointing totals of 343 yards and 3.9 yards per carry last season. The spring will give him a chance to show why he was one of the nation's top recruits in the Class of 2008.
  • Settle the kicking game: After Colorado kickers combined to shank 11 of 17 attempts last season, it might be the last chance for Aric Goodman or Jameson Davis to show what they can do after their struggles last season and the arrival of heralded recruit Zach Grossnickle in the fall.

Iowa State Cyclones

Spring practice begins: March 24

Spring game: April 18

What to watch:

  • Paul Rhoads' early assimilation: After his hiring last Dec. 23, Rhoads has concentrated on recruiting and building a coaching staff. Being able to work on the field with his team will likely be a relief for him after such a hectic start.
  • Help in the secondary: The Cyclones lose starters Chris Singleton and Brandon Hunley from a unit that ranked in the bottom 10 nationally in pass efficiency defense and pass defense. Rhoads' specialty is defense, but he'll have his work cut out with his new unit.
  • Finding another starter at wide receiver: Darius Darks is back after an impressive freshman season, but Rhoads needs to find a replacement for 2008 leading receiver R.J. Sumrall. Look for Sedrick Johnson, Marquis Hamilton and Houston Jones all to have their chances at the starting unit during the spring.

Kansas Jayhawks

Spring practice begins: March 9

Spring game: April 11

What to watch:

  • Finding starters at linebackers: The Jayhawks must completely rebuild their linebacking corps as James Holt, Mike Rivera and Joe Mortensen all are gone from last season. Arist Wright and Dakota Lewis are in the mix because of their experience. A bigger wild card could be converted running back Angus Quigley, who turned heads with his defensive instincts and tackling in work before the Jayhawks' bowl game last season.
  • Get a consistent kick returner: The mystifying struggles of Marcus Herford last season resulted in a drop of more than 8 yards per kick return as the Jayhawks fell from seventh in 2007 to 118th nationally last season. Dezmon Briscoe showed flashes of being a productive returner late in the season, but more work from different players will be needed in the spring to shore up the area.
  • Rebuild the center of the offensive line: Losing starting guards Chet Hartley and Adrian Mayes along with center Ryan Cantrell will be the biggest offensive concern this spring for the Jayhawks. Carl Wilson and Sal Kapra should get a long look at guard and Brad Thorson will given the first shot at center.

Kansas State Wildcats:

Spring practice begins: April 6

Spring game: May 2

What to watch:

  • Bill Snyder's return to coaching: The wily Snyder will be facing the biggest challenge of his professional career after returning after a three-year coaching sabbatical. The Wildcats aren't as bad as they were in 1989 when Snyder originally took over, but the Big 12 is a much tougher than the Big Eight was in those days. And it will test the patience and legendary work ethic of Snyder to get the Wildcats back into Big 12 title contention in the immediate future.
  • The quarterback battle: New offensive coordinator Andy Ludwig is one of the conference's most notable hirings after his strong recent work at Utah. Ludwig will be challenged as he looks at Carson Coffman or junior-college transfer Daniel Thomas to replace Josh Freeman as his starting quarterback.
  • Looking for a defensive turnaround: The Wildcats were woeful last season, ranking among the bottom 10 teams nationally in rushing defense, scoring defense and total defense and 106th nationally in pass defense. It will likely try the patience of new coordinator Chris Cosh, who will be looking for replacements along the defensive front for Brandon Balkcom and Ian Campbell. One potential playmaker could be Jeff Fitzgerald, who started 13 games for Virginia in 2007.

Missouri Tigers

Spring practice begins: March 10

Spring game: April 18

What to watch:

  • The changing of the guard on offense -- and then some: Gone are all-time greats like Chase Daniel, Jeremy Maclin and Chase Coffman, along with productive receivers Tommy Saunders and Earl Goldsmith. Offensive coordinator Dave Christensen has left for the Wyoming coaching job, meaning that Dave Yost takes over as the coordinator along with Blaine Gabbert at quarterback, Andrew Jones at tight end and Jerrell Jackson as the featured receiver. Collectively, it will be the largest transformation in Gary Pinkel's coaching tenure at Missouri.
  • Finding a pass rush: Three starters are gone along the defensive front as productive starters Stryker Sulak, Tommy Chavis and Ziggy Hood all are gone from last year. Look for redshirt defensive end Aldon Smith to get in the fight for playing time immediately, along with holdover Brian Coulter at defensive end if he can recover quickly from labrum surgery. Terrell Resonno and Dominique Hamilton will get a long look at defensive tackle before the arrival of heralded "tight end" Sheldon Richardson in the summer.
  • Secondary assistance: The Tigers need help after losing starting safeties Justin Garrett and William Moore and cornerback Tru Vaughns from last year's team. Considering all of the prolific offenses in the Big 12, this will capture much of defensive coordinator Matt Eberflus' attention as newcomers like safety Jarrell Harrison and cornerback Robert Steeples will show what they can do.

Nebraska Cornhuskers

Spring practice begins: March 21

Spring game: April 18

What to watch:

  • The battle for quarterback: One of the nation's most intriguing quarterback battles will play out during the spring. Incoming freshman Cody Green arrived in college early intent to battle for the starting job and become the first four-year starting quarterback for the Cornhuskers since Eric Crouch. Holdovers Patrick Witt, Zac Lee and redshirt freshman Kody Spanos all are in the hunt to replace Joe Ganz. Witt has more experience, but it's not much more than any other contender. It should be interesting to see how offensive coordinator Shawn Watson handles the competition.
  • Find starters at wide receiver: The Cornhuskers lose starters Nate Swift and Todd Peterson who combined for 125 receptions last season as the team's two major receiving threats. Menelik Holt has more experience than any other returner, although coaches are salivating about the chance to work with Antonio Bell, a 2008 recruit who wasn't on the team last season while he got his grades in order.
  • Rebuild the right side of the offensive line: Powerful blockers Matt Slauson at guard and tackle Lydon Murtha both are gone from last season, leaving a huge void for offensive line coach Barney Cotton to fill. Marcel Jones and D.J. Jones should get the first crack at the starting jobs during the spring.

SOUTH DIVISION

Baylor Bears

Spring practice begins: March 3

Spring game: April 4

What to watch:

  • Competition at offensive tackle: The Bears will be looking for two new starting tackles to replace Don Gay and Jason Smith along the offensive line. Sophomore Joe Korbel figures to get a look at one of the positions, but beyond him it's anybody's guess who will replace the talented pair that combined for 73 career starts.
  • New starters on the left side of the defensive line: Starting defensive end Leon Freeman and defensive tackle Vincent Rhodes both will be gone after their eligibility expired. The only holes in Baylor's front seven will be found there as Jameon Hardeman and Zac Scotton will challenge at defensive end and Sam Sledge at defensive tackle.
  • Better production in their pass defense: The Bears struggled mightily last season and could never seem to produce big plays when they needed them, ranking 103rd in pass defense, 84th in sacks and 109th in tackles for losses. Another spring learning the concepts of defensive coordinator Brian Norwood should benefit them and perhaps serve as a catalyst for a bowl berth with significant improvement.

Oklahoma Sooners

Spring practice begins: March 3

Spring game: April 11

What to watch:

  • Help at wide receiver: After losing Juaquin Iglesias, Quentin Chaney and Manuel Johnson from last season's BCS title-game runner-up, the Sooners desperately need some players to emerge this spring. Ryan Broyles assumes the No. 1 position, although junior college receiver Cameron Kenney will help, along with Brandon Caleb from last season's two-deep roster. It will also be noteworthy to watch the work of running back Mossis Madu, who will receive some work at slot receiver.
  • Competition in the offensive line: Trent Williams is the only returning starter from last season for a talented veteran group that will lose four starters who combined for 149 starts during their college career. The Sooners aren't devoid of talent, but it's just untested. It means they need a big lift this spring from players like tackle Cory Brandon, guards Brian Simmons and Alex Williams and center Jason Hannan.
  • New look at safety: Nic Harris and Lendy Holmes seemingly had been at Oklahoma since
    the days of Brian Bosworth. That's a little bit of an exaggeration, but the Sooner duo combined for 83 starts and provided steady, efficient defense throughout their careers. Quinton Carter and Desmond Jackson appear poised to take over for them, although it will be impossible for the Sooners to match their experience.

Oklahoma State Cowboys

Spring practice begins: March 9

Spring game: April 18

What to watch:

  • Bill Young's work: Oklahoma State has the offense to challenge for the Big 12 championship. But the success of the season ultimately will be determined by the defense generated by new defensive coordinator Bill Young. The Cowboys return six starters but must improve drastically after last season's late collapse that saw them blistered for 56, 61 and 42 points among their final three games of the season.
  • Help at safety and defensive tackle: The Cowboys lose starters Tonga Tea and Jeray Chatham at tackle and starting safeties Quinton Moore and Ricky Price. Those key positions in the heart of Oklahoma State's defense will command much of Young's attention. He's particularly excited about the play of Swanson Miller and Shane Jarka and Johnny Thomas at safety. But other players need to step up when they get their chance.
  • Develop depth at wide receiver: Dez Bryant accounted for a larger percentage of completions than any other wide receiver in the Big 12. His absence this spring as he recovers from knee surgery will enable others to have a chance to play and become acclimated with the first-string offense. The Cowboys' depth at the position is aggravated after Bo Bowling was suspended after his arrest earlier this week. It will provide players like Hubert AnyiamJosh Cooper and DeMarcus Conner an opportunity to work with Zac Robinson while Bryant and Bowling are gone.

Texas Longhorns

Spring practice begins: Feb. 27

Spring game: April 5

What to watch:

  • Build consistency in the running game: The Longhorns ranked 41st nationally in rushing last season -- their worst national ranking since 2002 -- and relied on Colt McCoy as their primary running threat. That dangerous strategy has to change this season if the Longhorns have any legitimate national title contenders. Key tasks during the spring will be to build cohesion in an offensive line that loses only starter Cedric Dockery from last season and additional work for Fozzy Whittaker, who struggled with injuries most of his freshman season last year.
  • Rebuild the defensive front: The Longhorns had the nation's most productive pass rush, leading the country with an average of 3.62 sacks per game last season. It will be a challenge to replace key players like Brian Orakpo, Roy Miller and Henry Melton. But defensive coordinator Will Muschamp liked what he saw in limited playing time for players like Sam Acho, Russell Carter, Ben Alexander, Michael Wilcoxson, Kheeston Randall and Eddie Jones. Those players, along with possibly Sergio Kindle getting more playing time at defensive end, will be key to Texas' defensive hopes this season. And incoming freshmen Dominique Jones, Alex Okafor and Kyle Kriegel all arrived at college early to challenge for immediate playing time.
  • Build confidence with young receivers: Leading receiver Quan Cosby graduated and Jordan Shipley will miss spring work after recovering from shoulder surgery. It will give McCoy a chance to build confidence in some of the younger members of his receiving corps, most notably Brandon Collins, Dan Buckner, Malcolm Williams and James Kirkendoll.

Texas A&M

Spring practice begins: March 26

Spring game: April 18

Spring practice ends: April 24

What to watch:

  • Additional development of young talent: The Aggies were one of the nation's youngest teams last season as 10 true freshmen combined to see action in 90 games and start in 41 of them. The spring will provide an additional opportunity for those young players and others on the roster to gain much-needed experience.
  • Improvement of the pass rush: The biggest hole on defense for the Aggies will be at defensive end where Michael Bennett, Amos Gbunblee and Cyril Obiozor accounted for most of the playing time last season from a group that ranked 11th in the Big 12 and 100th nationally in sacks. Paul Freeney is poised to assume one of the starting positions there. The other side looks like a wide-open battle that will play out throughout the spring and into summer camp.
  • Find a running back: Coach Mike Sherman will be looking at Keondra Smith, Cyrus Gray and Bradley Stephens for the role as the Aggies' featured running back -- for a few weeks anyway. Whoever wins that battle may celebrate a kind of pyrrhic victory as heralded running back Christine Michael arrives for fall camp as the Aggies' likely featured back. But Sherman likely will be working on building depth in the spring.

Texas Tech Red Raiders

Spring practice begins: March 25

Spring game: April 18

Spring practice ends: April 20

What to watch:

  • Any passing game regression?: Graham Harrell and Michael Crabtree rewrote the national record book as one of the most prolific pass-and-catch
    combinations in NCAA history. But yet, the Red Raiders always have always had a potent passing attack with Mike Leach in charge. It will be interesting to see Taylor Potts' development at quarterback and the growth of wide receivers like Detron Lewis, Lyle Leong, Edward Britton, Rashad Hawk and Tramain Swindall as they try to fill those big shoes for the Red Raiders.
  • Find a pass-rushing threat: Defensive end Brandon Williams is turning pro after leading the Big 12 with a school-record 12 sacks last season. McKinner Dixon was a big performer in spot duty last season and could be ready to emerge, as is junior-college transfer Daniel Howard.
  • Rebuild the left side of the offensive line: Rylan Reed and Louis Vasquez were the two most decorated linemen in Texas Tech history during their careers. The productive duo will be missed, along with starting center Stephen Hamby. Chris Olson at left tackle and Lonnie Edwards at left guard aren't nearly as big or experienced as Reed and Vasquez. Growth during the spring for the unit will be important as the Red Raiders prepare for a difficult September schedule.
Tags:

Quentin Chaney, Houston Jones, Ian Campbell, Sergio Kindle, Lydon Murtha, Jerrell Jackson, Menelik Holt, Cyril Obiozor, Will Muschamp, Brad Thorson, Ziggy Hood, Nate Swift, Rodney Stewart, Mike Iltis, Brandon Balkcom, Lonnie Edwards, Barney Cotton, Brian Norwood, Riar Geer, Christine Michael, Justin Garrett, Joe Korbel, Don Gay, Ryan Cantrell, Andy Ludwig, Josh Cooper, Aric Goodman, James Kirkendoll, Trent Williams, Chris Cosh, Quan Cosby, Tru Vaughns, Nebraska Cornhuskers, Jameon Hardeman, Joe Ganz, Mike Rivera, Sam Sledge, Ryan Broyles, Roy Miller, Cameron Kenney, Bill Snyder, Kyle Kriegel, Eddie Jones, Sedrick Johnson, Baylor Bears, Chase Coffman, Brandon Williams, Ben Alexander, Leon Freeman, Texas Longhorns, Jeff Fitzgerald, Marcus Herford, Vincent Rhodes, Mossis Madu, Malcolm Williams, Dez Bryant, Oklahoma State Cowboys, Kody Spanos, Jason Smith, Colt McCoy, William Moore, Stryker Sulak, Brandon Caleb, Johnny Thomas, Ryan Miller, Texas Tech Red Raiders, Michael Bennett, Tommy Saunders, Louis Vasquez, Quinton Moore, Cory Brandon, Adrian Mayes, Missouri Tigers, Darrell Scott, Colorado Buffaloes, R.J. Sumrall, Patrick Witt, Jason Hannan, Shane Jarka, Maxwell Tuiot-Mariner, Matt Slauson, Tommy Chavis, Chase Daniel, Cyrus Gray, McKinner Dixon, Zac Scotton, Chet Hartley, Eric Crouch, Devin Head, Dakota Lewis, Zac Lee, Robert Steeples, James Holt, Sal Kapra, Cody Green, Matt Eberflus, Chris Singleton, Dave Christensen, Oklahoma Sooners, Spring what to watch, Andrew Jones, Michael Wilcoxson, Manuel Johnson, Dan Hawkins, Todd Peterson, Mike Leach, Kansas State Wildcats, Tonga Tea, Russell Carter, Edward Britton, Dan Buckner, Darius Darks, Alex Williams, Michael Crabtree, Juaquin Iglesias, Angus Quigley, Shawn Watson, Marquis Hamilton, Carl Wilson, Paul Freeney, Paul Rhoads, Bradley Stephens, Kansas Jayhawks, Jon Major, Joe Mortensen, Stephen Hamby, Brian Coulter, Sheldon Richardson, Detron Lewis, Bo Bowling, Lendy Holmes, Bill Young, Zac Robinson, Hubert Anyiam, Sam Acho, Blaine Gabbert, Brandon Collins, Jameson Davis, Antonio Bell, Taylor Potts, Daniel Thomas, Iowa State Cyclones, Alex Okafor, Desmond Jackson, Graham Harrell, Benjamin Burney, Keondra Smith, Brian Bosworth, Lyle Leong, Cedric Dockery, Dezmon Briscoe, Earl Goldsmith, Fozzy Whittaker, Nic Harris, Henry Melton, Brian Simmons, Amos Gbunblee, Daniel Howard, Dominique Jones, Jordan Shipley, Chris Olson, Rashad Hawk, Jarrell Harrison, D.J. Jones, Dave Yost, Brian Orakpo, Ricky Price, Jeray Chatham, Swanson Miller, Brandon Hunley, Jeremy Maclin, Terrell Resonno, Tremain Swindall, Josh Freeman, Carson Coffman, Gary Pinkel, Zach Grossnickle, DeMarcus Conner, Kheeston Randall, Aldon Smith, Marcel Jones, Dominique Hamilton, Arist Wright, Rylan Reed, Jalil Brown, Quinton Carter, Mike Sherman, Texas A&M Aggies

Texas starting early in 2010 recruiting class

February, 9, 2009
2/09/09
8:56
AM ET

Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Griffin

So much for any rest for the weary. Texas coaches are out recruiting for 2010 and already have attracted the foundation of a strong class -- less than a week after national signing day.

Alan Trubow of the Austin American-Statesman writes today that the Longhorns have already picked up five verbal commitments in their 2010 class.

And their early signees have already helped fill what appears to be their biggest positional need at defensive tackle. Among the five players are two of the state's most highly ranked players at the position in Alief Taylor's DeAires Cotton and Denton Guyer's Taylor Bible, Trubow reports.

Other verbal commitments over the weekend came from Galena Park offensive lineman Trey Hopkins, DeSoto wide receiver Darius Terrell and Garland Naaman Forest receiver John Harris.

Bible, a 6-foot-3, 280-pounder, picked the Longhorns over Oklahoma. Recruiting analysts see that he could develop into the next line in a succession of Longhorn players at the position like Casey Hampton, Roy Miller, Frank Okam, Shaun Rogers and Marcus Tubbs.

The high school junior had an interesting comment on why he picked Texas.

"I guess the best way to describe it was Texas just feels like my own bed," Bible told the American-Statesman. "You know when you spend a lot of time on the road and you just get sick of that hotel bed? Well, a lot of schools feel like that bed. It's uncomfortable. But when I'm at Texas, I feel like I'm in my own bed."

That feeling of comfort works for Bible at Texas. And it's why Mack Brown's recruiting efforts already are off to a good start early in the recruiting game for next season.

Forty-one Big 12 players invited to NFL Combine

February, 2, 2009
2/02/09
2:41
PM ET

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.

Colorado: None.

Iowa State: None.

Kansas: None.

Kansas State: QB Josh Freeman, DE-LB Ian Campbell.

Missouri: TE Chase Coffman, QB Chase Daniel, DT Ziggy Hood, WR-KR Jeremy Maclin, S William Moore, DE Stryker Sulak.

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: WR Quan Cosby, DT Roy Miller, RB Chris Ogbonnaya, DE Brian Orakpo, CB Ryan Palmer, WR Jordan Shipley.*

Texas A&M: DE Michael Bennett, P Justin Brantly, RB Michael Goodson, QB Stephen McGee.

Texas Tech: WR Michael Crabtree, QB Graham Harrell, S Darcel McBath, G Louis Vasquez, DE Brandon Williams.

*  Note: Shipley has elected to stay for a sixth season of eligibility with Texas. He will be available for the 2010 draft.

SPONSORED HEADLINES