Big 12: Russell Erxleben

Erxleben gets his first career punt

September, 19, 2009
9/19/09
8:58
PM ET
Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Griffin

AUSTIN, Texas -- Texas Tech made an interesting personnel move when they pulled punter Donnie Carona after his line-drive punt set up Jordan Shipley's touchdown.

Tech inserted Ryan Erxleben to punt after their next possession sputtered.

Erxleben is familiar to Texas fans because his father, Russell, was a record-setting kicker and punter for the Longhorns from 1975-78. Erxleben's son played at nearby Lake Travis High School.

So much for first punt jitters. The younger Erxleben hammered a 41-yard punt on his first kick with no return. And his 33-yard second attempt led to a return of minus-3 yards by Shipley.

Ranking the Big 12's special teams

September, 3, 2009
9/03/09
6:22
PM ET

Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Griffin


I know this makes me sound like a coaches, but I actually think that special teams really does account for a third of a team's success. And I think that solid play in all facets is especially critical in the Big 12 because of the small margin of error in most games.

Here's a look at how I rank the special teams in the conference, giving each team a master rating including all facets of the kicking game.

1. Texas: The best combination kicking game in the league with two-deep talent at both kicker and punter and Jordan Shipley to take care of the returns. The Longhorns always have fast, talented athletes covering kicks as well. And I'm curious to see if Justin Tucker really will be able to produce rugby-style punts with both feet.

2. Oklahoma State:The Cowboys have the best kickoff/punt returners in the conference in Dez Bryant and Perrish Cox. Special-teams coach Joe DeForest always does an outstanding job, although he’ll be in tough spot replacing Matt Fodge as his punter this season.

3. Nebraska: Alex Henery was the best kicker in the conference with a knack for making huge kicks. It's curious that Nebraska coaches would risk that success by having him double up as a punter this season. But he actually came to college as a walk-on punter. Niles Paul will get the start as both punt returner and kick returner. And Adi Kunalic led the nation in touchbacks as a kickoff specialist.

4. Kansas State:I’m basing this as much on past success as anything else -- Ron Prince’s team blocked four punts for touchdowns last season. Brandon Banks is a threat to break a big return on every play and he’ll be doubling as a kick and punt returner this season. Even with Bill Snyder taking over, I’m still thinking this will be a productive unit as they break in new kicker Josh Cherry and new punter Ryan Doerr.

5. Baylor: The Bears have the most consistent punter in the conference with Derek Epperson. Look for improvement from kicker Ben Parks. One key will be boosting punt returns with new returner Krys Buerck after ranking only 118th nationally as a team last season.

6. Iowa State: I think that Jack Trice Stadium might be the toughest facility in the conference because of its swirling winds. Paul Rhoads has some confidence with Grant Mahoney back at kicker and Mike Brandtner at punter. Leonard Johnson is one of the most effective kickoff returners in the conference. But the Cyclones need a boost on punt returns and in covering kicks.

7. Oklahoma: For a team with as many athletes as the Sooners, I was surprised with their difficulties in covering kicks last season. That’s the immediate concern for them. DeMarco Murray was a threat on every return, but I doubt he plays there much because of his recent injury problems. Dominique Franks, Ryan Broyles and Cameron Kenney are expected to contribute in the return game. And Kenney might even push Tress Way for punting duties. Coaches have also been impressed with the improved range of kicker Jimmy Stevens. We’ll see if that holds up when the season starts.

8. Texas Tech: The story about Matt “Lynwood” Williams was one of the best in college football last year as he emerged from an in-game kicking contest to win most of the kicking honors for the Red Raiders. Donnie Carona was a disappointment as a kicker, but may emerge as a punter along with Ryan Erxleben (yeah, he’s the son of former Texas punter Russell Erxleben) as the Red Raiders wait for Jonathan LaCour to come off a Big 12-mandated suspension. Edward Britton and Jamar Wall will be involved in returning kicks, along with many others.

9. Texas A&M: Here’s a stat that shows how far Texas A&M’s once vaunting kicking game has fallen in recent years. The Aggies haven’t converted a field goal of 50 yards or more since 2000. Randy Bullock is back as the kicker and freshman Ryan Epperson and Ken Wood are still battling for the punting job. Christine Michael inherits the kickoff return duties, but look for heralded junior-college cornerback Coryell Judie to be involved some way.

10. Missouri: No Jeremy Maclin and Jeff Wolfert means that the Tigers will rebuild one of their strongest units last season. Their net punting figures to improve after Jake Harry’s strong start. Grant Ressel won the kicking job in a tight battle, but might be pushed this season. Gary Pinkel is sorting through his options in the return game but won’t have anybody nearly as gifted as Maclin. And they need to do a better job covering kicks after allowing a kickoff return for a touchdown for the first time last season.

11. Kansas: The Jayhawks desperately need some improvement in this category. Jacob Branstetter converted 75 percent of his kicks, but his longest was only 34 yards. Punter Alonso Rojas’ net average was only 33.9 yards. And the Jayhawks ranked 118th nationally in kickoff returns as Marcus Herford accounted for most of the returns. They showed some strong improvement late in the season when Dezmon Briscoe took over.

12. Colorado: The Buffaloes had the worst field-goal percentage in the country as they converted only 29 percent last season. They also lose Josh Smith, who set a school record for total kick return yards. Coaches think that Andre Simmons will be able to help here, but I’ll take a wait-and-see attitude before I get too excited.

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

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