Big 12: Scott Downing
Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Griffin
I’m starting a Monday post each week where I’ll assign a grade from the performance of each Big 12 team in the previous week. It will change from week to week and will have no correlation with the power rankings which will be more a judgment of the relative strength of a program.
But here’s a look at how I thought each Big 12 team performed in openers.
Missouri: A. The Tigers had the most solid performance of the weekend -- and maybe the most underrated one in college football. Blaine Gabbert was a first-game revelation. And where did that defense come from?
Texas A&M: A-minus. Coach Mike Sherman needs a bowl this season and Saturday’s outing was a good start. Maybe the “Wrecking Crew” defense is coming back as Von Miller leads the nation in sacks.
Baylor: B-plus. A fast start enabled the Bears to take Wake Forest out of their game. Sure, there were some late stumbles, but the Bears did enough to finish an opponent on the road. When’s the last time we saw that?
Nebraska: B-plus. I was most impressed with the way the Nebraska defense came up with turnovers. The Blackshirts gave up some yardage, but were playing a quarterback in FAU’s Rusty Smith who will be in the NFL next season. And the future looks extremely bright if the first-game performances of Rex Burkhead and Cody Green are any indication.
Oklahoma State: B-plus. I might be grading on the curve here, but after watching them Saturday, I think the Cowboys can play much, much better. Maybe it was because of Georgia. But the Cowboys’ offense and special teams -- two presumed strengths -- still could carry this team and they didn't show much. Bill Young gets my coach of the week award for his masterful job against Georgia, rebuilding the Cowboys' confidence after the first TD drive by Georgia to start the game.
Texas: B. The Longhorns gave up more points than they’ve allowed in an opener in 10 years and still won by 39 points. That says something, doesn’t it? And D.J. Monroe might end up being that threat in the backfield.
Kansas: B. Hard to get a gauge on the Jayhawks after their victory against Northern Colorado, considering the fearsome Bears have posted a 3-32 record for former Nebraska aide Scott Downing over the last three-plus years. We’ll get a better gauge this week at UTEP, particularly with Dezmon Briscoe returning to the receiving corps and the special teams.
Iowa State: B. Solid first game for Paul Rhoads, particularly considering his offensive coaches made makeshift adjustments after their headsets went out during the first half. Thank goodness for those unlimited cell phone plans. The Cyclones tackled better, although they still missed too many. And transfers Darius Reynolds and David Sims look like keepers.
Kansas State: C. The Wildcats’ special teams -- such a strength during the Ron Prince era -- nearly cost them big-time against Massachusetts. Fortunately for Bill Snyder, his defense mustered two big stops and his offense overcame two key turnovers by Carson Coffman. Special notice to Daniel Thomas who rushed for 104 yards and showed the athleticism expected when he arrived from Northwest Mississippi Junior College.
Texas Tech: C. Where were those blowout scores we’re used to seeing when the Red Raiders pummel some hapless FCS school? The fact that the mighty Fighting Sioux of North Dakota were within two scores for most of the fourth quarter wasn’t a good sign. And neither was Taylor Potts’ three interceptions.
Oklahoma: D. BYU is a good team and deserved to win. But the Sooners’ struggles with penalties and offensive sputtering in the red zone were likely enough to prompt even more discussion among Sooner offensive coaches than Sam Bradford’s injury. The offensive line’s play looked like something captured from a John Blake time warp. Was Stockar McDougle still playing for the Sooners and I missed it?
Colorado: F. Where do I begin? The Buffaloes were supposed to have a physical, dominating offensive line with heralded running back Darrell Scott as the key to their running game. After one carry against Colorado State, wonder if Scott is regretting he didn’t go to Texas? The Buffs looked slow and unorganized on offense and were repeatedly blistered by big plays on defense. Toss in a dropped TD pass and some late-game charity and the Buffaloes could have been beaten Sunday night by 20 points. And it won’t get any easier considering their short work week heading into the Toledo game.
Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Griffin
Here are some things I'm watching across the Big 12 this week, starting with Iowa State's season opener against North Dakota State tonight in Ames, Iowa.
1. Can Oklahoma State prove it belongs among the national powers? Oklahoma State started 8-1 before collapsing with four losses in its final six games in 2008, including struggling defensive performances against Texas Tech, Oklahoma and Oregon. The Cowboys will be depleted without MLB Orie Lemon and will be facing a Georgia team that shouldn’t be intimidated by the crowd at Boone Pickens Stadium. The Bulldogs are 30-4 on the road since Mark Richt took over in 2001 -- a better winning percentage than for their home games. Georgia is 10-2 on the road against ranked teams on the road under Richt, including 3-1 against top-10 foes. So it will be a huge challenge for the Cowboys to counter those trends, particularly with a roster that has been dotted with defections this week.
2. Oklahoma’s retooled offensive line: The Sooners’ offensive line has been the team’s biggest question coming into the season as they try for an unprecedented fourth straight Big 12 title. Four offensive line starters are gone from last season’s team, leaving only left tackle Trent Williams back to protect Heisman Trophy winner Sam Bradford. The Sooners’ line was called out before spring practice because of their lack of dedication by coach Bob Stoops, but has received recent praise after working with the Sooners’ monstrous defensive line in recent weeks. The Sooners shouldn’t be tested very much by a BYU defense that ranked 60th in rushing defense and 59th in total defense last season.
3. Does Baylor deserve its early hype? The Bears started last season with a 28-point home loss to Wake Forest. This season, they are a slight underdog on the road against the Demon Deacons. Can Robert Griffin continue his mercurial development and lead the Bears to an upset against the Demon Deacons, who have qualified for three straight bowl games? The Bears have lost 13 of their last 14 road games and have never won away from Waco with Art Briles coaching them. Does an improved, senior-laden team have what it takes to win -- especially with two new tackles protecting Griffin’s flanks?
4. Blaine Gabbert’s first career start for Missouri: All the sophomore quarterback has to do is pick up the reins from Chase Daniel, who piloted the Tigers to back-to-back trips to the Big 12 title game and arguably was the best quarterback in school history. Gabbert was a higher regarded prospect coming into school than Daniel and will be able to prove those ratings, but he’ll be facing the challenge of playing in his home area against arch-rival Illinois.
5. Vondrell McGee’s chance as Texas’ featured running back: McGee took advantage of an injury to Fozzy Whittaker to claim the starting position and an opportunity to work as Texas’ featured running back in the Longhorns’ opener against Louisiana-Monroe. McGee should be able to play on most downs when the Longhorns’ starting team is in the game. How will he hold up -- particularly considering he’s had double-figure carries in only five games in his career and never rushed for more than 80 yards in any game? The opportunity to claim the role is there against a Louisiana-Monroe team that ranked 109th nationally against the run.
6. Colorado’s starting quarterback: Will Dan Hawkins opt for a quiet dinner table at home by starting backup Tyler Hansen or stick with his family ties by giving his son Cody the nod in the Buffaloes’ Sunday night opener against Colorado State? Both should play, although the Colorado coach remains adamant he’s not making the call until shortly before kickoff Sunday night.
7. Bill Snyder’s emotional return to the sideline: Is the Kansas State coach bigger than his program? Snyder will travel to the stadium Saturday on a highway named in his honor before arriving at a stadium named for him and his family as he ends a three-year sabbatical to return to coaching Saturday night against Massachusetts. The moment should be even more poignant for him and the program as the largest athletic reunion in the school’s history will coincide with the game.
8. Nebraska’s new-look offense: Bo Pelini starts his second season with the Cornhuskers facing a massive turnover as he looks for a new quarterback, two new wide receivers and help in his running game. The Cornhuskers must try to build on last season’s 9-4 record with new quarterback Zac Lee, new featured receivers and a heavy reliance on Roy Helu Jr. after Quentin Castille’s dismissal late in training camp. Nebraska players say that Lee will provide more of a vertical passing game than was featured last year with Joe Ganz. He shouldn’t face much of a challenge against a Florida Atlantic University team that ranked 81st or lower in every major team statistic, tied for 112th in sacks and returns only three defensive starters.
9. Will Kansas show much mercy against outmanned Northern Colorado? The Bears come into Lawrence coached by former Nebraska assistant Scott Downing. It will be interesting to see how much that association causes Mark Mangino to step off the accelerator if the Jayhawks jump ahead early against an opponent that was 1-10 last season and ranked among the bottom 20 FCS teams in pass defense and pass efficiency defense. I’m looking for extended target practice for Todd Reesing, Dezmon Briscoe, Kerry Meier and the rest of the Jayhawks’ talented pass-and-catch combo against the outclassed Bears.
10. The tackling of Iowa State’s defense: The Cyclones have had a total makeover defensively by new coach Paul Rhoads and defensive coordinator Wally Burnham, who have been critical of the Cyclones’ tackling techniques they inherited from the staff of former coach Gene Chizik. Rhoads even admitted that the lack of technique “frustrated” him. Iowa State shouldn’t face too many challenges tonight against North Dakota State, although the Bison have won three of their last five games against FBS teams. Rhoads and his new program can’t afford such a slow start.
Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Griffin
Teams are reporting back for summer workouts across the Big 12 this week.
Me, I'm conditioning myself to find as many good links as possible during the supposed quiet time before the season.
There was a good haul today. Enjoy them.
- Boulder Daily Camera beat writer Kyle Ringo gives his spin on the chances of Josh Smith transferring to USC and his rationale behind his 8-4 season prediction for Colorado.
- The Tulsa World's "The Picker" sports blog wonders if Bob Stoops peaked as a coach, or is he still peaking?
- Bryan Eagle columnist Robert Cessna writes that the $16 million line of credit issued to the Texas A&M athletic department by former school president Robert Gates is proving unpalatable to many fans because of the Aggies' recent struggles in football.
- Kansas coach Mark Mangino told Kansas supporters that all of his team reported Monday to begin their summer workouts, the Topeka Capital-Journal reports. Lawrence Journal-World reporter Dugan Arnett writes that Kansas' upcoming seven-week boot camp is designed to build discipline and prepare the Jayhawks for the rigors of the upcoming season.
- The Kansas City Star's Blair Kerkhoff ranks his readership area's top 10 Big 12 stories during the most recent school year.
- If starting an NFL team, the College Football News' Richard Cirminiello and Jon Miller of Hawkeye Nation agree they would both select Colt McCoy as their first offensive player.
- Venerable Colorado announcer Larry Zimmer has broadcast the exploits of 34 starting Colorado quarterbacks, seven head coaches and been there for five different "Raphie" mascots for the Buffaloes, the Denver Post's Dusty Saunders reports.
- Matt Hinton of the blog Dr. Saturday wonders if Missouri can reload after its run of recent North Division success.
- Dave Matter explains why he doesn't get excited about football camps, provide a rare Gary Pinkel summer interview and ranks the current Kansas wide receiving group among the best in Big 12 history in his weekly "Case of the Mondays."
- New Northern Colorado coach Scott Downing tells the Lincoln Journal Star's Steve Sipple that his biggest concern as he prepares for season-opening opponent Kansas is the Jayhawks' new co-defensive coordinator, Bill Miller.
- The Oklahoman's Berry Tramel was reminded over the weekend of the depth and passion of Oklahoma's fan base.