Big 12: Todd Graham
Make it three years in a row that the loser of the Pac-12 championship game has gone on to have an uninspiring performance in the bowl season. In 2011 it was the waiver-approved UCLA Bruins who fell to Oregon in the title game and then dropped a 20-14 contest to Illinois in the Kraft Fight Hunger Bowl. Last year, it was the Bruins again who lost to Stanford in the title game and then got stomped by Baylor 49-26 in the Holiday Bowl.
Whether a title game hangover actually does exist is probably more fodder than fact. But Graham wasn’t interested in excuses. Rather, he and his coaching staff shouldered the brunt of the blame.
“It’s not the players’ fault, that’s why they hire coaches, to get your guys ready to play,” Graham said. “We didn’t get our guys ready to play and on the other hand the other team did I was embarrassed for our fans that showed up today that we did such a poor job of having our guys prepared to play. I love these players, tremendous group of seniors. Guys gave us everything they had. Really proud of them. Absolutely zero excuses. We just didn’t show up as a coaching staff and didn’t have our guys prepared to play.”
Of course, there is something to be said for Texas Tech hearing all week how great a team Arizona State was and how out of hand this game might get.
“Everybody was picking them,” said Texas Tech coach Kliff Kingsbury. “They were one of the top 15 teams in the country, we knew that sentiment going in and the kids responded well. They felt it all week. It was a celebration of Arizona State but we wanted them to know that we were here, too.”
Texas Tech quarterback Davis Webb certainly made his presence felt. He threw four first-half touchdowns -- matching a Holiday Bowl record for passing touchdowns in a game -- while completing 28 of 41 passes for 403 yards. All-American tight end Jace Amaro was the recipient of eight of those passes for 112 yards. Jakeem Grant caught two of Webb's four touchdowns.
“Going out, beating a top-15 team as your last game when everyone had you losing by 20 points initially is something to be proud of,” Amaro said. “We knew we were a great team this whole year. We knew how great we could be and I think we proved it tonight on national television.”
On the flip side, ASU’s defense didn’t look good in HD, SD or in person. The Sun Devils were gutted by Webb & Co. as Texas Tech scored touchdowns on four of its first five possessions and had six plays of 20 yards or more in the first half.
Playing without injured running back Marion Grice, the Sun Devils offense got off to a sluggish start -- though it did finish with 287 yards on the ground. That was mostly because quarterback Taylor Kelly was pressured all night and had little time to throw. He was just 5-of-7 for 14 yards in the first half and the Sun Devils gained just 181 yards to Texas Tech’s 352. They settled for a pair of Zane Gonzalez field goals in the first quarter and finally got a touchdown from D.J. Foster midway through the second quarter.
“He’s one of the top scorers in the country and he’s a guy we miss,” Graham said of Grice. “D.J. was a little banged up too. But we didn’t protect our quarterback. We took too many negative-yardage plays. We just didn’t play well and I think that had a lot to do with Texas Tech and the energy they were playing with. This game is meant to be played with great passion and you gotta bring it every single game. They brought it. They were the more passionate team today and, again, it’s a disappointment for our fans.”
Just when it seemed like ASU could grab some momentum, something catastrophic would happen. Case in point: a mismanaged final drive of the first half -- that had the Sun Devils with first-and-goal at the 1-yard line -- yielded no points. Then the Sun Devils marched the opening kickoff of the second half down for a touchdown, only to watch Reginald Davis return the ensuing kickoff 90 yards for a touchdown.
The first-half deficit was too much to overcome.
“The worst half of football we have played defensively all year,” Graham said. “We just didn’t have them prepared. Seven critical errors in the first half we didn’t see anything, really, we didn’t see in practice. We didn’t come prepared to play, and that’s our job as coaches.”
It was a rainy afternoon in Memphis, Tenn., but Tulsa won this rematch with Iowa State in pretty convincing fashion. The Golden Hurricane flipped the script from the teams' first meeting of the season in September, when Tulsa raced to a 16-7 lead after one quarter before being dominated from that point on. This time around, Iowa State grabbed a 17-7 lead after the first quarter before Tulsa took over and clearly looked like the better team.
The loss for the Cyclones dropped the Big 12 to 3-3 in its bowls and improved Conference USA to 4-1 for the second consecutive season.
Let's get to some instant analysis.
It was over when: Tulsa capitalized on an Iowa State turnover with a 1-yard touchdown from Alex Singleton with 1:50 to play in the third quarter. Iowa State scored 17 points in the first quarter (including an interception returned for a touchdown by Jeremy Reeves), but the offense was shut out over the final three quarters. With a double-digit lead and a running game that rolled over Iowa State for most of the game, there was no coming back for the Cyclones.
Game ball goes to: Tulsa running back Trey Watts. The son of Oklahoma quarterback great J.C. Watts, Trey had another big game against the Cyclones but got the win this time with 149 yards on 25 carries. He didn't score, but he did break the Golden Hurricane's longest play from scrimmage all day, a 48-yard run that set up a touchdown. He ran hard and gave the Iowa State defense fits when it tried to bring him down.
Stat of the game: Tulsa rushed for 320 yards and four touchdowns on 58 carries. That was the story. Iowa State looked outmanned and Tulsa simply looked like the better, more physical team. It proved it on both sides of the ball and in the trenches with a strong pass rush and a great performance from the offensive line. That's how you win games.
Second-guessing: Cleyon Laing's self-control. The senior defensive lineman was flagged for a cheap shot late after Iowa State made a third-down stop deep in its own territory while trailing 21-17. Instead of settling for a field goal, Tulsa eventually scored a touchdown on the drive. Coach Paul Rhoads gave Laing a pretty intense lecture after he came to the sidelines, and it was deserved. Not only was it a cheap play, but it was one of the game's biggest plays -- and it never should have happened.
What Iowa State learned: It still has a quarterback problem on its hands, but the offense has other issues too. Sam Richardson showed some promise to close the season, but after a strong first quarter, including a 69-yard touchdown pass to tight end Ernst Brun Jr., he struggled to establish much of anything. Outside of that Brun touchdown, Richardson was just 9-of-20 for 60 yards and an interception. Iowa State didn't have a first down in the third quarter and Brun was benched for Steele Jantz, just as Jared Barnett was in last year's Pinstripe Bowl. Jantz never engineered a comeback, turning it over twice in his final game as a Cyclone. Look for a competitive spring at the position between Richardson, Barnett and Grant Rohach.
What Tulsa learned: It has yet another coach who can win big. Winning the C-USA title was plenty of evidence, but the bowl game provided even more. Todd Graham and Steve Kragthorpe helped build the Golden Hurricane into one of the best non-AQ programs in the nation, and second-year coach Bill Blankenship looks very capable of continuing that tradition after an 11-win season. That tied Graham's 2008 team for the most wins in school history.
Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Griffin
After struggling through one of my worst weeks in recent history, I'm hoping for a turnaround in these picks.
Here they are.
Kansas 41, Duke 17: The Jayhawks have too many offensive weapons and an improved defense with a knack of making big plays. Jake Sharp and Toben Opurum provide an emerging 1-2 weapon at running back and Dezmon Briscoe will juice production in the passing game with Todd Reesing as he becomes more comfortable in the offense. Duke coach David Cutcliffe will likely alternate Sean Renfree and Thaddeus Lewis at quarterback. Both will likely struggle against an emerging Kansas defensive front that has produced nine sacks in its first two games.
Missouri 45, Furman 6: Look for the Tigers to jump on their FCS opponent quickly, hoping to make amends after last week’s closer-than-expected victory over Bowling Green. Blaine Gabbert regressed in his second start, but should be ready to show improvement this week. If they can find the edge exhibited against Illinois, this one won’t be close for very long.
Colorado 24, Wyoming 21: It can’t get any worse for Dan Hawkins and the Buffaloes, can it? If they lose this one, it will. Despite the struggles stopping big plays and operating the offense in losses against Colorado State and Toledo, the Buffaloes will rebound. Even though the Cowboys turned the heat up on Texas last week and Dave Christensen had his way against the Buffaloes when he was offensive coordinator at Missouri -- he outscored Colorado by a combined 113-10 margin last season -- it won’t be that easy this time. The Buffaloes will rebound and win a gritty game that won’t be very spectator friendly.
Oklahoma 38, Tulsa 17: Landry Jones makes his second career start against Tulsa, an underrated program under Todd Graham that will be itching to earn some national revenge against their “big brothers” from across the state. This should be a good matchup between the Golden Hurricane, who led the nation in total offense each of the past two seasons, and the salty Oklahoma defense. Sooners coaches are familiar with Tulsa quarterback G.J. Kinne, who they tried to recruit as a linebacker. Even without Sam Bradford, the Sooners still should have enough offense to win.
Virginia Tech 28, Nebraska 21: Nebraska quarterback Zac Lee will be looking to stop the Hokies’ 31-game home nonconference winning streak in his first career road start. There might be tougher first-game assignments in college football, but I don’t know of many. Lee leads the conference in pass efficiency, but will be stepping up in class when he faces the active Virginia Tech defense. Ryan Williams and fellow freshman David Wilson both rushed for more than 160 yards last week and the Hokies will be looking to set the tempo by using them. Still, the Cornhuskers might make this one closer than expected with a strong pass rush against Tyrod Taylor and if they can stay away from special-teams mistakes.
Baylor 31, Connecticut 21: The Bears will be gunning for their second straight conquest over an opponent from a BCS-affiliated conference against Connecticut, which beat them in Storrs last season. But this is a different Baylor team, which has had a bye week to settle down after an upset victory over Wake Forest in its opener. Backup quarterback Cody Endres steps in as Connecticut’s starter after Zach Frazer was hurt last week against North Carolina. One item to watch will be how Baylor’s young Canadian tackles Danny Watkins and Phillip Blake will handle Lindsay Witten, who leads the Big East in sacks.
Kent State 24, Iowa State 21: Paul Rhoads will try to halt the Cyclones’ nation-worst 17-game road losing streak. Iowa State quarterback Austen Arnaud will be trying to rebound after throwing four interceptions in the Cyclones’ 35-3 loss last week to Iowa. Freshman quarterback Spencer Keith will make his first career start for the Golden Flashes, who ranked 96th or worse in each of the four major offensive statistical categories. In the end, this one might be settled by which of two of the nation’s worst turnover margin teams -- Kent State is 94th and Iowa State is 108th -- does the better job of protecting the ball.
Texas A&M 38, Utah State 10: Texas A&M hopes to build on a strong opening-game performance against New Mexico where the offense and defense were both productive in a 41-6 victory. Jerrod Johnson looked more comfortable starting his second season as quarterback and the Aggies showed strong skill players. The defense, while still not at the “Wrecking Crew” standards of the past, had a strong effort with five sacks keyed by three from Von Miller. Utah State was challenging for Utah, but likely doesn’t have the firepower to stay close to the rejuvenated A&M attack for long in this game.
Oklahoma State 45, Rice 17: The Cowboys are intent on rebounding after last week’s disappointing home loss to Houston. They likely will play without Big 12 leading rusher Kendall Hunter, but backups Beau Johnson and Keith Toston averaged nearly 8 yards per carry against Houston. The Cowboys gave up more yardage in the first half last week than against Georgia in the previous week. They shouldn’t face much of a challenge from Rice, which is rebuilding from last season’s 10-win team. Coach David Bailiff alternated among three quarterbacks last week and could do the same against an Oklahoma State defense that will be intent on improvement this week.
Texas 54, Texas Tech 31: Even though they claim otherwise, rest assured the Longhorns have been awaiting this rematch ever since their 39-33 loss in Lubbock last season. They should have the upper hand in this one because their secondary is a year more experienced and this will be Texas Tech quarterback Taylor Potts’ first road game as a starter. The Longhorns looked lethargic in the first half last week at Wyoming, but blew the game by scoring 28 unanswered points in the second half. It won’t be that easy this week against Potts and the Red Raiders, but look for the Longhorns’ offense to produce similar late success.
UCLA 21, Kansas State 10: This one figures to be a low scoring game as the Wildcats have sputtered offensively and UCLA will be playing without starting quarterback Kevin Prince, who sustained a broken jaw late in the Bruins’ victory at Tennessee. Look for both teams to try to take control on the ground with UCLA employing Johnathan Franklin and Kansas State countering with Big 12 rushing leader Daniel Thomas. The Wildcats have also struggled mightily with special teams in their first two games and must improve for any upset hopes. But the UCLA defense is too formidable, winning this one as they pick up the slack for an offense missing Prince.
Last week: 7-3 (70 percent)
For the season: 16-6 (72.7 percent)
Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Griffin
Here are today's lunchtime offerings.
- The late Bob Frederick shared what it meant to him to be a Jayhawk in an article in the Lawrence World-Journal. The memorial service for Frederick, a former Kansas athletic director, will be held on the Kansas campus later this afternoon.
- The Topeka Capital-Journal's Austin Meek reports that Kansas State could be on the hook for about $900,000 if it buys out associate athletic director Jim Epps.
- Kansas City Star columnist Joe Posnanski provides an entertaining summertime parlor game on his blog. Among the schools he includes on his first list of teams in "Be True to your School" include Kansas, Missouri, Colorado and Texas.
- Although Blaine Gabbert hasn't officially been christened as Missouri's starting quarterback, Dave Matter of the Columbia Daily Tribune finds it significant that he's already appearing in television commercials for Missouri season tickets.
- The Omaha World-Herald's Rich Kaipust reports on 5-foot-7 wide receiver Ty Kildow, who attracted Nebraska coaches' attention after running a 4.39 time in the 40-yard dash. After tearing both the MCL and ACL in his knee last summer, Kildow is trying to make the team as preferred walk-on.
- Iowa State athletes have learned of the power of social networking Web sites, Bobby LaGesse of the Ames Tribune reports.
- Fox 34 Lubbock has an interesting video report about Texas Tech's preparations for the upcoming season under strength coach Bennie Wylie.
- The Lawrence Journal-World's Jesse Newell writes that history is the major reason why Nebraska should be ranked ahead of Kansas in preseason polls.
- Former Texas quarterback G.J. Kinne has emerged as the leading candidate to be Tulsa's starter this season, Golden Hurricane coach Todd Graham told the Tulsa World's Eric Bailey.
- The Nebraska State Paper's Sam McKeon wonders if Nebraska will ever be able to narrow the revenue gap with national leader Texas.
Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Griffin
There's an interesting list that Foxsports.com posted of the top 10 college football coaches on the rise.
The Big 12 is represented on the list only once, and it's not by any head coach. Texas defensive coordinator Will Muschamp checks in at No. 3. Muschamp, who starts his first season with the Longhorns this year, ranks only behind BYU head coach Bronco Mendenhall (No. 1) and Tulsa coach Todd Graham (No. 2).
Muschamp is the only assistant on the list. And the Foxsports list makes it sound like it's a foregone conclusion that he'll have another job. It even pegs his most likely location, saying Muschamp's most logical next position would be as head coach at Tennessee.
Muschamp knows his way around that conference after stops at LSU and Auburn. But he apparently has noticed the way that defensive coaches at Texas have moved to head coaching jobs in recent seasons.
After Dick Tomey, Greg Robinson and Gene Chizik, Muschamp likely will be the next.
The Big 12 is indirectly mentioned with North Texas coach Todd Dodge, a former Texas quarterback who is ranked No. 10 on the list. The Web site speculates that the next position for him could be as Oklahoma's offensive coordinator.
If that was to happen, it would be kind of a piece of reverse karma from long, long ago. Seems that legendary Texas coach Darrell Royal once was a pretty good Oklahoma quarterback.