Big 12: Tommy Saunders

COLUMBIA, Mo. -- Tim Barnes remembers well. He should, he was there.

Missouri's senior center had -- in the most frustrating sense -- a front-row seat to Oklahoma's dominance on the line of scrimmage in three victories over the Tigers in 2007 and 2008.

Missouri left as losers, never coming within single digits of the Sooners, who celebrated a pair of Big 12 titles and a national championship appearance at the Tigers' expense.

"They pretty much handled us up front," Barnes said.

The quiet flights home from Norman and later San Antonio in 2007. A year later, the bus from Kansas City.

[+] EnlargeDe'Vion Moore
AP Photo/L.G. PattersonDe'Vion Moore celebrates one of Missouri's two rushing TDs against Oklahoma. The Tigers rushed for 178 yards against the nation's No. 1 team.
There wasn't much silence in Columbia, Mo., on Saturday night and into Sunday morning, following the Tigers' 36-27 win over No. 1 Oklahoma -- and there won't be in this midwestern college town for some time.

The Tigers' linemen on both sides of the ball are to thank.

"Our ability to run the football for 178 yards was huge. The offensive line played very, very well," said Missouri coach Gary Pinkel, who earned his first-ever win over Oklahoma and the program's first-ever win over a No. 1 team.

Blaine Gabbert completed 30 of 42 passes for 300 yards and a touchdown. Why? Well, it was obvious.

"He got a lot of time to throw," Pinkel said.

Way more than Chase Daniel got. The holes were bigger than the ones former backs Tony Temple and Derrick Washington tried to fit through. These Tigers won, and they did it by imposing their will on two Sooner lines filled with piles of recruiting stars that couldn't do anything about it.

This was a win over a No. 1 team, and it was a win over one of the Big 12 bullies that have tormented the Tigers, beating Pinkel 11 consecutive times before tonight.

It was a win for the program, and those players from the recent past were there to celebrate. Former receiver Tommy Saunders smiled amidst the sea of students on the turf, looking for someone to hug. Former linebacker Brock Christopher found one of his old teammates, defensive lineman Bart Coslet, and welcomed him with a huge, congratulatory hug.

There's no ceiling for Mizzou anymore. It left Faurot Field with the students carrying the goalposts to Harpo's downtown, celebrating through the steady rain. Players like Saunders, Washington, Christopher, Daniel and Temple helped Missouri reach that ceiling.

A new generation of players like Gabbert, Aldon Smith, T.J. Moe, Jerrell Jackson and Henry Josey helped shatter it.

"We wanted to come out there and prove to everyone that this year," Barnes said, "it was going to be a little different."

[+] EnlargeKevin Rutland
AP Photo/Jeff RobersonKevin Rutland and the Missouri defense disrupted the Oklahoma offense -- forcing two interceptions and holding the Sooners to just 99 yards rushing.
Message received. The defense held the Sooners to just 99 yards rushing.

Missouri knew this would be different early. The first time a Tiger touched the ball, Gahn McGaffie raced into the end zone on an 86-yard kickoff return. The first run from scrimmage: 20 yards by De'Vion Moore, longer than any other carry by a tailback in any of those three games in which Missouri failed to take its next big step as a program.

"We have a lot more experience and guys are getting better," Barnes said. "We wanted it so bad. I know for the linemen, it's just a little different for us."

It's different for Mizzou as a whole now, too, and Gabbert left no doubt as to what "it" was.

"I give all the credit in the world to our offensive line. They did an extremely good job winning the battle in the trenches," he said, "and that's why we were successful tonight."

The defensive line played just as well, pressuring the Sooners and hurrying Oklahoma quarterback Landry Jones.

The only thing the Missouri defense seemed to do wrong all night was fail to take an interception return into the end zone, a pick only created by Aldon Smith's pressure on Jones. Smith tipped the ball to himself and had to settle for a 58-yard return into Oklahoma territory, swinging the game's momentum and setting up a touchdown that put Missouri ahead 14-7 early.

"We'll talk about that later," Gabbert said of the return with a wide smile.

Pinkel couldn't help but crack a joke at the weaving return, too: "He's always talking about playing tight end," he said.

Smith's return to the field -- one he later said he had to make against the No. 1 Sooners -- from a broken fibula, helped spur a line that disrupted Oklahoma's passing attack, limiting them to just 60 yards passing in the second half after 248 in the first. None of Jones' final seven passes found their receivers; one found Missouri linebacker Zaviar Gooden deep in Oklahoma territory, which set up a field goal that put Missouri up 29-21.

"Our defensive line did really, really well, and that tempo of offense is very, very difficult," Pinkel said of the Sooners' high-speed attack. "When you win games like this, generally you go to the line of scrimmage and that tells the story."

It was a different ending this time for the Tigers, a story in Missouri's history that will be retold for decades. But after Saturday's celebration late into the night, they'll wake up on Sunday knowing that what happened on Faurot Field on Oct. 23, 2010, is exactly that: history. And that story's ending has yet to be written.

"We play Nebraska next week," Pinkel said. "This isn't the national championship."

Lunch links: New NCAA head believes playoff 'inevitable'

April, 29, 2010
4/29/10
12:30
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CB Rutland emerging as leader for Tigers D

April, 21, 2010
4/21/10
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COLUMBIA, Mo. -- The Mouth is gone. That was obvious the moment Missouri lined up to stretch before its first spring practice of the post-Sean Weatherspoon era. He won’t be back, and a mouth of Weatherspoon’s volume can’t be duplicated.

But while draftniks discuss whether or not it’s good for an NFL locker room, Missouri is doing it’s best to replace all the good that came from Weatherspoon’s daily demeanor and leadership.

Plenty of candidates abound for the Missouri defense that lost Weatherspoon and fellow outspoken leader and defensive tackle Jaron Baston from last year’s team that finished 8-5. Leading the way is senior cornerback Kevin Rutland.

“I’m trying to help on my own, but he definitely came in here and took that spot,” said senior cornerback Carl Gettis.

Rutland has led the way with his play, too. Production is a necessity for his words to have impact. In five scrimmages this spring, Rutland came away with four interceptions. No other Tiger defender had more than one.

“I’ve watched older players. I’ve been here the longest and I’ve seen what great leaders have done here, as far as Sean Weatherspoon, Lorenzo Williams, Tommy Saunders, Martin Rucker,” Rutland said. “”I watched those guys and I just felt them all my years here and now feel like it’s my time to pilot this team.”

Rutland’s ballhawking antics would be much appreciated this fall. Last season, Missouri defenders intercepted just eight passes in 13 games, second-fewest in the Big 12.

“We’ve had constantly good linebacker play. We’ve had constantly good D-line play. But it seems at times our secondary would fall apart,” Rutland said. “We’ve got to eliminate that completely and we’ll be a great defense.”

Rutland and three other seniors in the Missouri secondary (Gettis and safeties Jasper Simmons and Jarrell Harrison) are ready to make fans and critics forget about their 2009 shortcomings. Rutland has no plans to contribute to a secondary that gave up over 250 yards per game and 20 touchdowns last season.

“Every year we have something to prove,” Rutland said. “You come into a new season, you have goals set to reach every time. If you fall short of that, then it’s an incomplete season.”

Is Missouri heading into hornet's nest?

September, 25, 2009
9/25/09
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Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Griffin

Back before Chase Daniel and Jeremy Maclin turned fortunes around, Missouri's game against Nevada was the kind of game that Missouri always seemed to lose.

In those underachieving days of Gary Pinkel's early history at Missouri, the Tigers lost at Bowling Green (51-28 in 2002), at Troy (24-14 in 2004) and at home against New Mexico (45-35 in 2005). These national television games seemed to always give them a problem.

That trend seems to have changed since Daniel and Maclin led the Tigers to back-to-back championship game appearances. Both are gone now and we'll see if Missouri regresses without them.

Missouri blew out Nevada last year in Columbia, notching a 69-17 victory last season. Something tells me that Chris Ault remembers Tommy Saunders' gadget pass that pushed the lead to 52-17 early in the second half.

This ought to be interesting to see how Blaine Gabbert fares in his first road game.

I can't wait.

Pinkel shaking up Missouri's depth chart

August, 18, 2009
8/18/09
10:47
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Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Griffin

It's one of the oldest motivational tricks in the book, but one that Missouri coach Gary Pinkel apparently is employing in the middle of two-a-day practices for his young team.

Sophomore Jerrell Jackson has moved ahead of Missouri's leading returning receiver, Jared Perry, after Perry struggled through the Tigers' scrimmage on Saturday.

Perry grabbed 41 passes for the Tigers in 2008. He expected to see his role expand with the departure of Missouri's top three receivers from last season -- wide receivers Jeremy Maclin and Tommy Saunders and tight end Chase Coffman.

Perry told the St. Louis Post-Dispatch he was surprised by the move.

"When I first heard about it, it was real frustrating, kind of de-motivating," Perry said. "I have to come back and make plays like I've done, and it'll all work out. I know I'm a playmaker. I respect the decision the coaches made, and it makes me work harder."

Also, quarterbacks Blaine Dalton and Jimmy Costello have moved into a co-No. 2 role behind starter Blaine Gabbert.

I'm just wondering if this is kind of an "inspirational move" meant to shake the cobwebs from Perry in the middle of long preseason practices, or if it instead shows Pinkel's growing confidence in one of his young players.

Pinkel has repeatedly said he's getting better, faster players from improved recruiting in recent years after the Tigers' back-to-back appearances in the Big 12 title game.

Maybe this is just one of those players moving up.

Three predictions for Missouri

August, 6, 2009
8/06/09
9:59
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Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Griffin

There's no doubt after spending a lot of time around Missouri players last week that they feel disrespected by preseason prognosticators who aren't picking them to contend in the North Division title race this season.

Sure, the Tigers lose players like Chase Daniel, Chase Coffman, Jeremy Maclin, William Moore, Ziggy Hood and Jeff Wolfert from their back-to-back title-game teams. All arguably are among the greatest players at their positions in school history.

Recruiting has picked up in recent years for the Tigers. And that infusion will have them be competitive in nearly every game this season.

But being able to contend for a third-straight appearance in the Big 12 championship game might be a different story -- particularly with the balance that should be present in the rest of the division this season.

Here's a look at three predictions for the Tigers this year.

1. There's no way that Missouri can escape the nonconference part of their schedule without at least one loss.

Illinois has lost all four games in the Missouri series since it returned to St. Louis in 2002. The Illini have been embarrassed by allowing an average of 46 points per game in the last two seasons. They will want revenge and with Juice Williams, they probably will get it this season.

And veteran Nevada coach Chris Ault still remembers how the Tigers ran up the score in a 69-17 loss at Columbia last season. The Wolf Pack will have their chance at revenge this season, buying quarterback Colin Kaepernick some exposure before a national television audience.

I'm expecting Missouri to lose at least one of those nonconference games. And it wouldn't be a shock to me if they lost both of them.

2. Blaine Gabbert won't be Chase Daniel, but he won't fare badly in his first season as starter.

There was some "Chicken Little" thinking among Missouri fans when Gabbert struggled during the spring game. Don't worry about him. By the middle of the season, I'm expecting him to be an accomplished Big 12 starter.

And even with the troubles I'm expecting for his team early, the Big 12 will be a different story. And if Gabbert can orchestrate a big victory over Nebraska on Oct. 8 in the Tigers' Big 12 opener, they might hang around the Big 12 North Division title race a lot longer than most are expecting.

3. Missouri will have five receivers who will produce at least 50 receptions this season.

The Tigers won't have Maclin, Coffman or Tommy Saunders this year. Don't look for as much concentration at the top of the receiving list, but expect a lot more balance. Danario Alexander, Wes Kemp, Andrew Jones, Jared Perry and even running back Derrick Washington are ready to step up as receivers this season. New coordinator David Yost's offensive strategy will feature a lot of producers.

Five games to fear in the Big 12

July, 13, 2009
7/13/09
9:00
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Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Griffin

There are several obvious games that are already noticeable that should carry an extra bit of trepidation for Big 12 teams as they prepare for the upcoming season. Even with Big 12 teams likely to be solidly favored in these games, here are five games that should come with a warning label considering the opponent and the circumstances of the game.

North Dakota State at Iowa State, Sept. 3: Craig Bohl will have the Bison fired up for their game in Ames. And he knows a little bit about beating the Cyclones, considering his history as a defensive coordinator at Nebraska.

This game has all the marking of one to worry about for the Cyclones. It's Paul Rhoads' first game as a head coach. The Bison have been tough in other road games at FCS teams in recent seasons, losing by three points at Wyoming last season, beating Minnesota and Central Michigan on the road in 2007 and losing by one point at Minnesota and beating Ball State on the road in 2006. Even with the talent disparity, this game might be closer than expected.

Rhoads should ask Colorado coach Dan Hawkins how much losing to an FCS team in your first game at a Big 12 school can ruin your first season. That 2006 opening-game loss to Montana State was a particularly bad start for Hawkins' coaching tenure there.

Houston at Oklahoma State, Sept. 12: This game is coming at a tricky time for Oklahoma State, which will be coming back for a second game after a huge emotional opener against Georgia the week before. The Cougars will have 5,000-yard passer Case Keenum along with 1,000-yard rusher Bryce Beall and 1,000-yard receiver Tyron Carrier among a group of 15 returning starters.

And not only do the Cougars return a lot of experience, but they also have a modicum of confidence against OSU. Houston led the Cowboys last season, 16-7, late in the first half before the Cowboys' offense blitzed them for four touchdowns in a span of barely 7½ minutes. If Houston can do a better job defensively this season, it could make Mike Gundy sweat against the preseason Conference USA West Division's favorites.

Kansas at UTEP, Sept. 12: The trip to the Sun Bowl might be a little more harrowing than expected for the Jayhawks.

UTEP quarterback Trevor Vittatoe threw for 33 touchdown passes and 3,274 yards last season. The Miners also surround him with 14 other returning starters. If Vittatoe can stay protected, he might be able to singe the Jayhawks' questionable linebacking corps and perhaps win a shootout. Stranger things have happened -- particularly playing in front of what should be a sellout crowd at the Sun Bowl.

And here's a statistic to keep in mind before the game: The Jayhawks have lost their last three true nonconference road games and haven't claimed a nonconference road game since winning at Wyoming in 2003. Their trip to El Paso won't be a picnic.

Wyoming at Colorado, Sept. 19: On paper, this looks like a game the Buffaloes should easily win. But a couple of trends might prove to benefit new Wyoming coach Dave Christensen, who will be playing his first road game.

Christensen was the offensive coordinator of a Missouri team that beat Colorado by a combined margin of 113-10 over the past two seasons, including a 58-0 victory last season. He won't have Chase Daniel, Jeremy Maclin or Chase Coffman in this game, but he still has confidence of being successful against Colorado's defense.

The Cowboys won at Tennessee last season so they aren't intimidated by hostile road environments. They have 17 starters back, including eight defensive players who will be facing Colorado's defense with some confidence after strong play late last season.

Colorado has a history of struggling as a big favorite in previous nonconference home games, winning by seven against Eastern Washington last season and losing at home to Montana State in Hawkins' first game in 2006. The signs point to this being a game where the Buffaloes potentially could struggle.

Missouri at Nevada, Sept. 25: This Friday night game will set up nicely for veteran Nevada coach Chris Ault and the Wolf Pack, who will showcase their program on national television in this game.

Nevada has the explosive Pistol offense keyed by quarterback Colin Kaepernick, the returning Western Athletic Conference player of the year who will be looking to make a national name for himself with a big performance. Also back are 2008 WAC leading rusher Vai Taua and 2007 leading rusher Luke Lippincott, who sustained a season-ending knee injury in the second game last year. And they'll be facing a retooled Missouri defense.

The Wolf Pack still remember a gadget pass for a touchdown by Missouri wide receiver Tommy Saunders when they were behind 45-17 midway through the third quarter of a game they eventually lost 69-17 in Columbia last season. Could revenge spur a better effort at home? It will be interesting to see if the Wolf Pack can similarly make the Tigers sweat in a game played at high altitude at Reno.

Missouri spring wrap

May, 14, 2009
5/14/09
9:30
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Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Griffin

Missouri Tigers
2008 overall record: 10-4

2008 conference record: 5-3

Returning starters

Offense: 5, defense: 4, kicker/punter: 1

Top returners

RB Derrick Washington, WR Jared Perry, G Kurtis Gregory, LB Sean Weatherspoon, NT Jaron Baston, CB Carl Gettis.

Key losses

QB Chase Daniel, TE Chase Coffman, WR-KR Jeremy Maclin, WR Tommy Saunders, DE Stryker Sulak, DT Evander "Ziggy" Hood, S William Moore, K Jeff Wolfert

2008 statistical leaders (* returners)

Rushing: Derrick Washington* (1,036 yards)
Passing: Chase Daniel (4,335 yards)
Receiving: Jeremy Maclin (1,260 yards)
Tackles: Sean Weatherspoon* (155)
Sacks: Stryker Sulak (10 1/2)
Interceptions: Sean Weatherspoon*, Brock Christopher (3)

Spring answers

2009 Schedule

Sept. 5 Illinois (at St. Louis)
Sept. 12 Bowling Green
Sept. 19 Furman
Sept. 25 at Nevada
Oct. 8 Nebraska
Oct. 17 at Oklahoma State
Oct. 24 Texas
Oct. 31 at Colorado
Nov. 7 Baylor
Nov. 14 at Kansas State
Nov. 21 Iowa State
Nov. 28 Kansas (at Kansas City)

1. De'Vion Moore: With Derrick Washington missing much of spring practice recovering from knee surgery, Moore did a good job of picking up the slack at the position. Look for Missouri to feature its running game more than in recent seasons. The combination of Moore and Washington will be important in powering the Tigers' offensive attack.

2. Depth at defensive end: Starters Jacquies Smith and Brian Coulter will face a lot of pressure to keep their starting jobs after the strong spring development of Aldon Smith and converted offensive lineman Brad Madison. It will make the position one of the deepest on the Tigers' defense.

3. Cornerbacks: Coach Gary Pinkel believes he has the best collection of athletes in his nine-season tenure here. Starter Carl Gettis returns along with redshirt freshmen Robert Steeples and Kip Edwards, junior Kevin Rutland, junior Trey Hobson and former Notre Dame transfer Munir Prince.

Fall questions

1. Quarterback: Blaine Gabbert showed some strong progress over much of the spring, despite his struggles in the spring game. But it sill will be a huge adjustment for the Tigers as they attempt to replace Chase Daniel, the heart and soul of the team that made back-to-back Big 12 title appearances.

2. Wide receivers: Not only are key producers like Jeremy Maclin and Tommy Saunders gone from last season, but top returning receivers Danario Alexander and Jared Perry both missed most spring practice as they recovered from injuries. It gave receivers Jerrell Jackson, Wes Kemp and Brandon Gerau plenty of opportunities, but the return of Alexander and Perry will be critical for the Tigers' success during the season.

3. Kicker: Jeff Wolfert left college as the most accurate kicker in college football history. Senior walk-on Tanner Mills will get the first opportunity to replace him, although heralded arriving freshman Joe Schrick could challenge later this summer.

Big 12 lunch links: Did coaches make right tiebreaker call?

May, 7, 2009
5/07/09
1:21
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Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Griffin

Who said that May is supposed to be the "dog days" of college football?

How great is it that some topic or another seems to percolate for conversation about the Big 12 almost all the time?

Today was no exception.

  • Tulsa World sports editor Mike Strain wonders if Texas fans will fly banners over the Big 12 meetings later this month as conference athletic directors gather to discuss tiebreaking rules. And Bryan Eagle columnist Robert Cessna thinks that Big 12 coaches made a wise move by not changing the tiebreaking rules.
  • Colorado could be facing a reduction in the number of available football scholarships after player attrition could affect the school's Academic Progress Rate, Boulder Daily Camera beat writer Kyle Ringo reports.
  • Former Texas Tech quarterback Sonny Cumbie will be headed back to Lubbock this fall as a graduate assistant coach for the Red Raiders, the San Angelo Standard-Times' Bill Nance reports (hat tip Double T Nation.com). But first, he's got some playing still left as the quarterback for the San Angelo Stampede of the Indoor Football League.
  • St. Louis Post-Dispatch columnist Jeff Gordon says there's some merit to Missouri soliciting an invitation to join the Big Ten, although he thinks adding an Eastern school would be more beneficial to the conference.
  • The Omaha World-Herald's Tom Shatel provides his takes on a potential move in the future for Nebraska-Omaha athletic director Trev Alberts back to Nebraska and his stance on a potential penalty for wide receiver Niles Paul.
  • The St. Louis Post-Dispatch's staff kicks around whether Missouri can maintain its recent success produced after making back-to-back championship game appearances.
  • Austin American-Statesman columnist Kirk Bohls catches up with two Florida fans who are making a cross-country trek in an RV to rally support against the Bowl Championship Series.
  • After washing out at their first NFL minicamps, Dave Matter of the Columbia Daily Tribune reports that Tommy Saunders and Chase Patton will likely get another shot with new NFL teams. Saunders has signed with the Detroit Lions and Patton is close to accepting an offer with the Kansas City Chiefs.
  • Steve Sipple of the Lincoln Journal-Star had some interesting comments from Nebraska athletic director Tom Osborne about some dissatisfaction in the Big 12's current television contract:

"One thing we're looking at [in the Big 12] is television because the SEC kind of stole the march on us with its pact with ESPN, which is very lucrative," Osborne told the Journal-Star. "The Big Ten has its own network. We think that's probably OK but not necessarily a super arrangement for them. So I think there's some thought in the Big 12, with our Fox contract expiring in a couple years, that we need to be ready to make a move. That's something in the next year or so that will need to be more clearly defined."

Ten good minutes with Missouri's Dave Yost

April, 8, 2009
4/08/09
8:59
AM ET

Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Griffin

COLUMBIA, Mo. -- Missouri offensive coordinator David Yost is one of the busiest men in college football. And his work has only gotten more involved this spring.

 
  Paul Jasienski/Getty Images
  Replacing Chase Daniel will be important for Missouri.

Yost is Missouri's new offensive coordinator, along with serving as the team's recruiting coordinator and kicking coach. And he's working on a huge vacancy on the team as he tries to find a new starting quarterback to replace Chase Daniel.

During a recent interview, Yost discussed his new responsibilities, the challenge of replacing Daniel and whether he plans to shave his soul patch as he assumes his new job.

How have things changed for you this spring with the new job?

Dave Yost: Definitely, there are some things that are different for me. But it's easier because of how our offense has worked and how the staff has been together for so long. Four of us have been here for eight years and three of the other coaches have been together for 14 years. But it's the same ol' stuff that keeps going, because we have a way we do things and it's how we've done them.

But there are some little things I'm in charge of. Now I have to decide what time we are meeting as an offensive staff after the staff meeting. There are some others.

It's fun. I enjoy it. It's kind of what I've wanted to progress to in this business. Having that opportunity is great. I'm glad coach [Gary] Pinkel is giving me the opportunity to do it.

I'll probably get way too much credit when things are going good. But we have a lot of good people around me and some good players, too.

Do you think your new role will cause you to grow up a little bit? After all, you might be the only offensive coordinator -- at least in the Big 12 -- with a soul patch.

DY:
I've always been grown up, I just try not to get old [laughing]. But I haven't been told I have to change any of that stuff. I try to be myself as much as I can. I'm not going to try to be coach C (his predecessor, Dave Christensen) in that way. As long as coach Pinkel lets me continue to be the way I am, I will be.

The same fun-loving guy as before?

DY: Everybody thinks that.

(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

Missouri recruiting needs

January, 21, 2009
1/21/09
1:13
PM ET

Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Griffin

Missouri's recruiting efforts have been as solid as any in the North Division over the last several seasons, largely because Gary Pinkel's staff had been untouched for the first eight years of his coaching tenure.

That familiarity helped his staff build relationships that enabled them to attract several unheralded recruits who blossomed as the Tigers claimed back-to-back North championships.

But the departure of offensive coordinator Dave Christensen for the Wyoming head coaching job will provide the first break in Pinkel's staff since he arrived in Columbia in 2001.

Christensen's old unit is also undergoing a major breakup as well. The Tigers will be missing the most heralded pass-and-catch trio in school history with the loss of quarterback Chase Daniel, wide receiver Jeremy Maclin and record-setting tight end Chase Coffman.

Untested sophomore Blaine Gabbert will likely take over the starting quarterback position. Returning receivers will feature a cast including Danario Alexander, Jared Perry, Jerrell Jackson and tight end Andrew Jones. But other players are needed to add depth at the positions, particularly at flanker where seniors Tommy Saunders and Earl Goldsmith both completed their eligibility this past season.

The offensive line loses starters Ryan Madison and tackle Colin Brown, but should be in good shape for the future with six freshmen or sophomores in the final two-deep roster. Rebuilding the defensive line is a concern after starting ends Tommy Chavis and Stryker Sulak and defensive tackle Ziggy Hood all finished their college careers.

But depth is present after freshman defensive end Jacquies Smith and redshirt freshmen defensive tackles Terrell Resonno and Dominique Hamilton and redshirt freshman Chris Earnhardt all received work last season.

An infusion of new talent also is needed at safety, where starters Justin Garrett and William Moore both were seniors last season and top backup, Hardy Ricks, will be a senior in 2009.

The Tigers could also need some help at kicker where Jeff Wolfert finished his record-breaking career as a senior last season and Tanner Mills is in place to be his replacement.

It will prove a challenge for the Tigers to continue their mastery of the North. But if Pinkel can find some replacements for his departing stars, Missouri could be a factor in what should be a balanced North Division.

Halftime: Oklahoma 38, Missouri 7

December, 6, 2008
12/06/08
10:13
PM ET

Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Griffin

KANSAS CITY, Mo. -- Oklahoma came into the Big 12 title game needing to make a statement to prove their legitimacy as the South Division title-game participants.

After one half, the Sooners' resounding 38-7 lead shows that they not only belong in Kansas City, but likely in Miami for the BCS title game as well.

The Sooners have scored on all but one first-half possession as they have manhandled the Tigers from the start. They've already piled up 359 yards on 54 first-half plays, averaging 6.6 yards per snap.

It's that high-powered offense that has enabled them to score 678 points for the season, setting a modern-day NCAA record.

Oklahoma's defense has been fearsome, notching two sacks and forcing two turnovers. Cornerback Brian Jackson has notched a fumble recovery and an interception that set up scoring drives.

How dominant has it been? Leading Oklahoma rusher DeMarco Murray sprained his ankle on the opening kickoff and hasn't played. And he's hardly been missed as the Sooners have piled up 119 rushing yards.

The onslaught could best be seen late in the first half. After Chase Daniel was tackled with seven seconds left, the Tigers decided to meekly let the rest of the clock tick away despite having the ball on the Sooners' side of the 50.

Oklahoma scored 28 points in the second quarter and blew the game open. The Tigers look beaten and like they want to go sit where it's warm instead of coming out for the second half.

Here are some items of interest I've noticed in watching the first half.

  • The South Division has dominated the Big 12 in the last several years and it's continuing tonight with Oklahoma's fast start. Including the last four years and tonight's first half, the South Division teams have outscored the North, 202-37.
  • The Sooners have taken advantage of their huge size edge on the left side, running behind clearing blocks by massive left tackle Phil Loadholt and Outland finalist Duke Robinson for success throughout the first half.
  • The Sooners became the first team in Big 12 history with a pair of 1,000-yard backs. Murray came into the game with 1,002 yards. And Brown has joined him with 83 yards and two touchdowns in the first half, giving him 1,071 for the season.
  • Missouri's secondary struggled throughout the season. And the loss of starting cornerback Castine Bridges appears to have worsened the condition. The Tigers have been susceptible to slants as they've been outclassed by Oklahoma's more physical and quicker collection of receivers. Ryan Broyles has six catches, Juaquin Iglesias has four and Quentin Chaney has two. And massive tight end Jermaine Gresham has run free through the secondary with six receptions for 59 yards.
  • The game has been chippy in the early going. Oklahoma defensive end Frank Alexander and Missouri tackle Elvis Fisher both were flagged for unsportsmanlike conduct after tangling in the first quarter.

Veteran Missouri wide receiver Tommy Saunders was flagged for taunting after the Tigers' touchdown, setting up good field position that the Sooners turned into a 53-yard touchdown drive. And Iglesias was flagged for taunting after his own touchdown later in the second quarter.

It prompted referee Randy Christal to call the teams together with about 12 minutes to go in the half, telling them to cool the extra energy.

  • Sam Bradford's Heisman candidacy has never looked stronger. Despite playing with an injured left thumb immobilized by a splint, Bradford has completed 22 of 31 yards for 240 yards and two touchdowns in the first half.

1Q: Oklahoma 10, Missouri 0

December, 6, 2008
12/06/08
9:04
PM ET

Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Griffin

KANSAS CITY, Mo. -- It hasn't been the smoothest of starts for Oklahoma so far.

But even after losing starting tailback DeMarco Murray on the opening kickoff and having the Sooner Schooner damage a wheel after its first touchdown, Oklahoma is cruising with a 10-0 lead over Missouri after the first quarter.

Murray hobbled off with what appeared to be an ankle injury on the opening kickoff. He hasn't played since, but hasn't been missed as Chris Brown has rushed for 44 yards on eight carries and a touchdown.

Sam Bradford has showed little effect of his thumb injury, passing for 96 yards. The Sooners have used the shotgun, an easier snap to handle, almost exclusively. 

Oklahoma has played several snaps at the end of the first quarter in a defensive formation featuring two down linemen. The first play resulted in a loss and the second was a 15-yard gain from Chase Daniel to Tommy Saunders -- the Tigers' longest gain of the first quarter.

The Sooners have attacked Missouri early with a fierce defensive performance so far, limiting the potent Missouri offense to only 49 yards and 3.1 yards per snap.

The Oklahoma defense turned away the Tigers on two possessions inside their own 40. Jeff Wolfert missed a field goal on the Tigers' first possession and a devastating hit by Keenan Clayton on Daniel killed the Tigers' drive after Missouri had taken over at the Oklahoma 41.

Emptying out the notebook on a Friday

November, 7, 2008
11/07/08
7:15
PM ET

Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Griffin


Here are a few tidbits, notes and quotes from around the conference that I've collected over the past week. Enjoy them.

WHO'S HOT AND NOT

Sizzling:

Oklahoma running back Chris Brown, who is averaging 108.6 yards per game and 7.95 yards per carry in his last three games. And he's doing it while splitting time with DeMarco Murray in the Sooners' backfield platoon.



Hot:

Texas wide receiver Malcolm Williams, who produced 182 yards on four receptions in his most substantial playing time last week against Texas Tech. Williams also downed a punt at the Texas Tech 1 and contributed two special-teams tackles.

Not:

Texas Tech's offensive line, which allowed only one sack combined in the first seven games of the season, but two sacks in each of its last two games.


Hot:

Colorado's pass rush, which notched four sacks on 31 Texas A&M passing attempts last week. The Buffaloes had produced four sacks in their previous three games, a span of 115 passing attempts.

Not:

Colorado's sputtering offense. The Buffaloes have scored 31 points in five Big 12 games.


Hot:

Nebraska linebacker Tyler Wortman, who produced 11 tackles against Oklahoma. Wortman had seven tackles combined in the first eight games of the season.

Not:

Kansas cornerback Chris Harris, a key performer last season for the Jayhawks. He's been beaten out by Justin Thornton and converted wide receiver Daymond Patterson for the starting cornerback positions. Harris is listed as a backup free safety behind starter Phillip Strozier.


Hot:

Kansas State walk-on linebacker Alex Hrebec, who notched a team-high nine tackles after drawing a start against the Jayhawks.


Not:

Kansas State kick returner/wide receiver Deon Murphy, who vowed to "take one to the crib" for a touchdown against Kansas. He didn't come close, producing only 60 all-purpose yards against the Jayhawks.


Hot:

Missouri DE Brian Coulter, who produced six tackles and 1 sacks for theTigers vs. Baylor in his first career start.

Not:

Kansas WR Kerry Meier, who produced a season-low three receptions last week against Kansas State.


Hot:

Missouri WR Tommy Saunders, who produced seven receptions for a career-best 109 yards against Baylor last week.

Not:

Texas starting wide receivers Quan Cosby and Jordan Shipley, who combined for eight catches for 45 yards against Texas Tech, an average of 5.6 yards per catch.

Frigid:

Texas Tech's special teams. The Red Raiders have had nine kicks blocked this season - five extra points, three field goals and a punt. That total is the most of any team in the country.


JAWJACKING

Here are a few quotes that kept reporters titillated across the Big 12 this week.

"Oklahoma State is now the biggest game in the history of this year," Texas Tech coach Mike Leach, describing his team's approach to the Cowboys after beating No. 1 Texas last week.

"I don't believe in moral victories, but we showed that we come to play every day," Baylor freshman quarterback Robert Griffin told the Waco Tribune-Herald after the Bears' near-miss against Missouri last week.

"I'm 47, I still haven't made man," Leach on Mike Gundy's infamous "I'm a man. I'm 40" tirade.

"No, I don't wish I didn't say it. I mean, I'm confident. I'm that dude. That's just me. If anybody doesn't like it . . . oh, well." Kansas State wide receiver Deon Murphy told the Topeka Capital-Journal after his pre-game comments backfired after calling out Kansas before last week's game.


"Crab made an unbelievable catch, and not only did he make an unbelievable catch, he made an unbelievable run after that and got into the zone and got us a win." Texas Tech quarterback Graham Harrell, on Michael Crabtree's game-winning catch against Texas.

"That's crazy that they would drop. It surprises me, but all they can do is take care of their business," Nebraska coach Bo Pelini, after seeing Oklahoma drop from fourth to sixth in the BCS standings despite beating his Cornhusker team by 34 points last week.

"At least when they come crying wondering why they're not playing, they'll know why. It's pretty simple to see." - Oklahoma coach Bob Stoops to the Lincoln Journal-Star after his reserve defense has allowed late touchdowns against Kansas, Kansas State and Nebraska in its last three games.

"The snowball started rolling on us, and we didn't do anything to get it stopped," Pelini, after Oklahoma jumped to an early 35-0 lead over his team last week.

"That's going to teach him as a running back, you're never, ever going to be healthy. And once he realizes that, he'll be fine. He'll realize it this weekend." Colorado assistant coach Darian Hagan, who told the Rocky Mountain News that freshman Darrell Scott will have to adjust to the physical nature of college football.

"All we did was score too quickly. And then, two great players made a great play at the end," Texas coach Mack Brown, on Texas Tech's wild comeback last week.


THE NUMBER

254 - Yards needed by Nebraska wide receiver Nate Swift to break Johnny Rodgers' career receiving yardage record of 2,479.


THE BIG 12 - IN FACTOIDS

  • Baylor has lost 17 straight games in which they trailed at the half.
  • Each of Oklahoma coach Bob Stoops' four previous games against Texas A&M have been decided by seven points or less.
  • Oklahoma State will become only the second team in history to face three top-three teams in true road games in one season. The Cowboys beat No. 3 Missouri and then lost to No. 1 Texas before playing No. 3 Texas Tech on Saturday. The only other team to face such a gauntlet was the 1969 TCU team, which lost games at No. 1 Ohio State, No. 3 Arkansas and No.
    2 Texas.The Horned Frogs lost those games by a combined 155-13 margin.
  • Robert Griffin is the first player in Baylor history to rush for 10 TDs and pass for 10 TDs in same season.
  • Nebraska free safety Ricky Thenarse's interception snapped an interception drought that had stretched nearly six complete games for Nebraska. The Cornhuskers failed to produce an interception during a stretch of 142 opposing pass attempts - a period of 357 minutes, 42 seconds.
  • Kansas State has allowed two of its last three opponents to post season-high rushing totals - Colorado (247) and Kansas (280). And Oklahoma's 275-yard effort missed beating the Sooners' best mark by only one yard.
  • Texas Tech is off to a 5-0 start in conference play for the first time since 1953, when the Red Raiders were members of the Border Conference.
  • Oklahoma State wide receiver Dez Bryant needs three more touchdown receptions to match OSU's single-season TD reception record of 17 set by Rashaun Woods in 2002.
  • Baylor went 4-for-4 on fourth downs last week against Missouri. The Bears were 5-for-13 on third-down conversions.
  • Kansas State has allowed at least 50 points in a game three times this season - most since 1988.
  • Iowa State has forced three punts in the last two games. The Cyclones have forced four punts or fewer in four of their last five games and in six of nine games this season.
  • Kansas State quarterback Josh Freeman has created 13 turnovers in his three games against Kansas.
  • Missouri tailback Derrick Washington failed to score a touchdown in last week's game for the first time this season.

BY THE NUMBERS, PART I

Kansas quarterback Todd Reesing has struggled in recent games after a hot start. He's averaging only 158 yards passing in his last two games, compared to an average of 331.7 yards per game in his first seven categories.

Here's an indication of how Reesing's production has dropped during the last two games.

Att. Comp. Int. Yds TD Pass Eff. rating W-L
First seven games 280 195 5 2322 17 155.77 5-2
Last two games 49 30 4 316 3 119.27 1-1


BY THE NUMBERS, PART II

Texas Tech will be facing a huge challenge of facing a top-10 team the week after beating the No. 1 team in the country. Only once since 1965 has a team been able to beat a No. 1 team and then beat a top-10 team the following week.

That team was the 1984 Oklahoma team, which was coached by Barry Switzer and featured current Texas coach Mack Brown as its offensive coordinator.

Here's a look at how teams fared the following week against a top-10 foe after beating a No. 1 team in their previous game (since 1965).


Team No. 1 team Score Next week (opponent/rank) Score


1993 Boston College @Notre Dame 41-39 West Virginia (No. 5) L, 14-17

1990 Michigan State @Michigan 28-27 @Illinois (No. 8) L, 13-15

1984 Oklahoma @Nebraska 17-7 Oklahoma State (No. 3) W, 24-14

1982 Notre Dame @Pittsburgh 31-16 Penn State (No. 5) L, 14-24

1981 Wisconsin Michigan 21-14 UCLA (No. 9) L, 13-31

Source: ESPN Stats & Information Department

BY THE NUMBERS, PART III


Michael Crabtree's dramatic game-winning touchdown pass did more than merely keep Texas Tech's BCS national title hopes alive. It also extended Crabtree's string of consecutive games with a touchdown reception to 12 games - with barely a second to spare.

Here's a list of the top consecutive touchdown reception streaks in college football history.

Years Player School Consecutive TD catch games

2002-03 Larry Fitzgerald Pittsburgh 18

2005-06 Jarett Dillard Rice 15

2001-02 Charles Rogers Michigan State 14

1990-91 Desmond Howard Michigan 13

1997 Randy Moss Marshall 13

2007-08 Michael Crabtree Texas Tech 12

1990-91 Aaron Turner Pacific 12

Source: ESPN Stats & Information Department

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