Big 12: Trent Williams

ESPN draft expert Mel Kiper has two Big 12 players -- Oklahoma’s Lane Johnson and Texas’ Kenny Vaccaro -- potentially going in the first round of this year’s NFL draft.

Fellow expert Todd McShay has the same two as Kiper and also is optimistic about the chances of West Virginia’s Geno Smith and Tavon Austin.

So let’s split the difference and label the potential Big 12 first-round picks as an optimistic three, with Johnson being the only absolute first-round lock.

Those three would represent the fewest Big 12 players taken in the first round of the NFL draft since 2008. Even if four went, the Big 12 still would have the fewest since 2008.

That year, only Kansas -- yep, the Jayhawks -- managed a first-rounder, Aqib Talib to Tampa Bay with the 20th pick. In the four drafts that followed, the Big 12 has always put at least five players into the first round, including the first four overall picks in 2010.

How well this year’s group of first-round picks will fare might not be known for years. What is known, though, is how well Big 12 players have done when they are selected in the first round. With that in mind, here is a ranking -- from worst to best -- of the Big 12’s best first-round draft classes over the past 10 years.

2008: It’s all about quantity, and a little bit of quality. In 2008, the Big 12 only produced one first-round pick, Talib. He has not produced dramatic returns in the NFL. In the past two years, he has only started nine games. He was somewhat productive for Tampa Bay in the previous three seasons, starting 41 games and playing in 53. But, again, he was the only Big 12 player taken in the first round in 2008.

2006: Vince Young is working out at Texas’ pro day at the end of March. Enough said. Davin Joseph and Michael Huff have been solid producers. But when the No. 3 overall pick is out of the league and having to work out at his alma mater's pro day, it means it was a bad year for the Big 12 in the first round of the NFL draft.

2004: Tommie Harris and Marcus Tubbs, the two defensive tackles taken in the first round, were productive for a few years, with Harris selected to Pro Bowls in 2005, '06 and ’07 before he was beset by injuries. Tubbs lasted four seasons in the NFL. Roy Williams had 5,715 receiving yards but never lived up to the hype he generated coming out of Texas. Rashaun Woods played only two years and had seven career catches.

2005: The lack of numbers might be what hurts this group the most. Cedric Benson, Jammal Brown, Derrick Johnson, Mark Clayton and Fabian Washington all proved they could play at the NFL level. Benson has had three 1,000-yard-plus seasons. Johnson is one of the top linebackers in the game. Brown remains a solid option on the offensive line. Clayton played seven NFL seasons; Washington played six. But there were only five guys selected and that isn't enough to push 2005 to the top of the list.

[+] EnlargeAdrian Peterson
Andy Clayton King/Getty ImagesThe Big 12's 2007 draft class wasn't huge, but did feature 2012 NFL MVP Adrian Peterson.
2009: Every Big 12 player selected in the first round in 2009 has produced and appears to be poised to continue to do so. Only Jason Smith didn’t have a start last year. But the offensive lineman still played in all 16 games for the New York Jets. Michael Crabtree, Brian Orakpo, Josh Freeman, Jeremy Maclin, Brandon Pettigrew and Ziggy Hood are all starters for their respective teams.

2007: It wasn’t the biggest group, but it did include Adrian Peterson, so there could be some quibbling that maybe 2007 should be higher in the rankings. Throw in Aaron Ross and Michael Griffin and the debate could get even more heated. Adam Carriker was also taken this year. He started his career strong but suffered an injury and only played in two games last season.

2003: Kevin Williams has been the standout of this group. The defensive tackle has started every game but four in his 10-year career. Terence Newman has been effective as a defensive back, first in Dallas and last season in Cincinnati. Tyler Brayton played at least 15 games on the defensive line in a nine-year career. Ty Warren played eight solid seasons for New England but tailed off last season with Denver. Andre Woolfolk lasted four seasons, mostly as a reserve.

2011: Von Miller, who was the highest pick among Big 12 players this year, has proved to be the top player so far. Aldon Smith is not far behind. Add in Prince Amukamara, Phillip Taylor, who when healthy is a starter at defensive tackle, a somewhat productive Blaine Gabbert and Nate Solder as well as reliable backups Danny Watkins and Jimmy Smith and this proved to be a successful year for Big 12 first-round selections.

2012: Three quarterbacks, and all were not only starters as rookies but also made huge differences for their respective squads. Clearly, Robert Griffin III made the most dramatic impact, but Ryan Tannehill, with the Dolphins, and Brandon Weeden, with Cleveland, were both solid. Kendall Wright and Justin Blackmon each had 64 catches, for Tennessee and Jacksonville, respectively. Blackmon was targeted more (133 to 104) and had 200 more receiving yards.

2010: This list maybe doesn’t have the star power and is not littered with offensive playmakers, but six of the nine players picked were selected for the 2013 NFL Pro Bowl: Gerald McCoy, Trent Williams, Ndamukong Suh, Earl Thomas, Russell Okung and Jermaine Gresham. And the other three players -- Dez Bryant, Sam Bradford and Sean Weatherspoon -- were vital pieces for their respective teams.
The comparisons to the upcoming 2011 season and what Oklahoma experienced in 2009 have been unmistakable.

[+] EnlargeTravis Lewis
Matthew Emmons/US PresswireThe Sooners will open the season without defensive leader Travis Lewis.
Now, after the latest news emerging from fall camp in Norman, the similarities have become a bit eerie.

The Sooners opened 2009 as a top-five team with a Heisman-winning quarterback leading a loaded offense with a defense good enough to win a national title a year after coming up short against Florida.

This year, the Sooners opened the coaches' preseason poll as the nation's No. 1 team with a Heisman favorite leading a loaded offense and a defense likely better than the 2009 team. Additionally, the Sooners are coming off a 12-win season that culminated in a BCS bowl win against Connecticut.

But before the 2009 season, just days before the opener against BYU, news leaked that senior tight end Jermaine Gresham, named an All-American after his junior season, had suffered a knee injury. The severity was unknown, but it seemed likely he could return at some point.

Gresham never played again for OU after tests revealed torn cartilage in the knee, and the Sooners suffered a season-opening loss to BYU in Cowboys Stadium. In that loss, Sooners quarterback Sam Bradford played with a shoulder injury that he never fully recovered from. He had midseason surgery and ceded control of the team to Landry Jones.

Which brings us to today. Jones is still healthy. So is the rest of the team.

But linebacker Travis Lewis' toe injury can't help but conjure up scary images of a chase for a title gone awry before it even had a chance to begin.

Unlike the loss of Gresham, the Sooners have a fit replacement for Lewis with tons of promise.

Tight end essentially became irrelevant in Oklahoma's offense, which scored more points than any team in college football history during the run to the national title game in 2008.

Lewis, the preseason Big 12 Defensive Player of the Year, leaves a void at weakside linebacker, but he's backed up by touted blue-chip recruit Corey Nelson. The only thing keeping Nelson off the field was Lewis, who chose to turn down NFL money and chase a title, just like Gresham, Bradford, Gerald McCoy and Trent Williams did in 2009.

Now is Nelson's opportunity. Fans will get a chance to see him work at his natural position instead of the nickel back spot he'd been working at during fall camp.

This isn't 2009 yet, though it certainly smells similar.

Oklahoma finished 8-5 that season, hurt further by a rash of injuries on the offensive line that at one point forced defensive tackle Stacy McGee (a backup on this year's team) to move to offensive line.

The Sooners can still rise above Lewis' injury. They're good enough everywhere else to beat ranked teams Florida State and Missouri, who have September dates with the Sooners. Lewis could return in October, and until then, weakside linebacker could still remain a strength.

There's no replacing Lewis' experience, or his on-field energy, where he's one of the most talkative players in the league and the defense's unquestioned leader. Nelson can hold things together with his talent, though.

Barring further injury, Nelson and the Sooners have a chance to rewrite the forgettable history of 2009. In September, we'll find out if they can do it.

The Big 12 and NFL draft history

April, 27, 2011
For just the second time ever, the first round of the NFL draft will be the only part of the draft's first day, set for primetime on Thursday night.

This year, the Big 12 could have as many as five first-round picks, and five players from the league are in New York for the draft.

So, let's take a look back. Since the first NFL draft of the Big 12 era, who has the most first-rounders?

Texas: 16
Oklahoma: 12
Oklahoma State: 6
Missouri: 4
Kansas State: 3
Texas A&M: 2
  • 2003: DT Ty Warren, 13th overall, New England Patriots
  • 2003: DB Sammy Davis, 30th overall, San Diego Chargers
Texas Tech: 1
Kansas: 1
  • 2008: CB Aqib Talib, 20th overall, Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Baylor: 1
Iowa State: none since 1973 (George Amundson)

A few thoughts and observations:
  • I doubt many would be surprised that this list is also a reasonably accurate reflection of overall success since the Big 12's inception in 1996. Obviously, Texas and Oklahoma have dominated. Since 2000, Texas has the nation's fourth-most first-rounders. Oklahoma is No. 6. Their success has paralleled that, along with recruiting rankings.
  • In that same breath, it's impossible to look at this list and not once again be impressed with what Mike Leach did. He obviously has the reputation as an overachiever, but looking big picture, he was able to do it with one first-round pick. Nobody beat Texas and Oklahoma more and Leach helped put together what is still the Big 12's longest bowl streak.
  • Texas' consistency sticks out, too. Since just 2001, Texas has had two first-rounders in six different seasons. If you've got two first-rounders on your team, you're probably going to be pretty good. The Longhorns, if you haven't noticed, have been. Those two first-rounders in six seasons are more or as many as half the league has in the history of the Big 12. What else you should note? Texas is unlikely to have a first rounder this year, and after Aaron Williams is drafted, Sam Acho probably will be the next to go, which won't be until the third or fourth round.
  • Oklahoma State and Missouri's rise over the past three seasons has paid off in the NFL draft. Missouri had three first-rounders in the last two seasons and figures to add two more this year after having just one in the 12-year history of the league before 2009. That's quite a streak, and even more proof of what Gary Pinkel has built at Missouri. One more piece of evidence? Despite losing those two first-rounders, Missouri should be back in the preseason polls next year after losing two of its top players. That's definitely something new in Columbia. The Cowboys figure to add more soon with Justin Blackmon at least. As long as Pinkel and Gundy are at the helm for their respective programs, expect them to continue to rise.
  • Don't be surprised by Texas A&M's swoon following R.C. Slocum's departure. From 1990-1998, the Aggies won nine games every season but one. From 1990-96, the Aggies had eight first-round picks. Since 1998? Two seasons with at least nine wins and just two first-round picks.
  • More evidence you can't underestimate the importance of having first-round picks? None for Baylor in the history of the Big 12 before Art Briles. In just three years, Briles may have three if the Bears add two more this year with Phil Taylor and Danny Watkins. Taylor and Watkins both came from unlikely sources. Taylor was a Penn State transfer and Watkins a juco transfer that formerly worked as a fireman in Canada.

Mailbag: Sooners on the brain

January, 7, 2011
I'll be making my way out to Arlington in a bit for tonight's Cotton Bowl between Texas A&M and LSU at Cowboys Stadium, but if you've missed it this week, here's a look at just about everything we've written about the game this week.

As for this week's mailbag, I was pretty surprised when I started digging in, even with the news of Broyles' return on Thursday evening: Most everyone wanted to talk/ask about the Sooners. you go.

Mike in Dallas, Texas writes: All the media could talk about was Oklahoma's 5 straight BCS bowl losses. Now they win one against an obviously outmatched UConn team and I still read that "some" media members claiming "Well this one really doesn't count" (I'm paraphrasing). You're in the media loop. What do you feel is the media's perspective on this win?

David Ubben: Well, I don't know that anyone is outspokenly claiming, "This one doesn't count!," but certainly, beating UConn wasn't all that impressive. But more than getting a win, Oklahoma's BCS troubles were more about just not playing well in a big game, which is why you saw and heard so much criticism surrounding Bob Stoops during the streak. Last time, it was the goal-line failures against Florida with an offensive line that had four NFL talents: Trent Williams, Jon Cooper, Duke Robinson and Phil Loadholt.

Before that, there was the no-show against West Virginia when the Sooners got run off the field. Before that, the Boise State debacle in which, regardless of how much the Sooners said they respected an experienced, senior-filled Broncos team, they didn't play like it.

After 2004, you had a 12-0 Oklahoma team get completely embarrassed by USC, 55-19. Before that was the national championship loss to LSU, which wasn't all that bad, 21-14, but the Sooners also got embarrassed by big underdog Kansas State in the Big 12 Championship weeks earlier, and a two-game losing streak to end a year (even if those losses are in Big 12 and national title games) will leave a bad taste in fans' mouths.

So, circling back to my original point, Oklahoma's BCS streak was more about the Sooners just playing terrible with a month between games than winning or losing.

And when OU beat Connecticut, it did it convincingly and played well. That's obviously a good sign. So while Oklahoma could have earned some additional street cred if it had beaten a more legitimate opponent, the way the Sooners played has to be encouraging and something to build on for next year.

(Side note: Both Sam Bradford and Andrew Luck missed last year's Sun Bowl with injuries, and though Luck is staying, is that the only game in college football history with two future No. 1 picks watching from the sideline? College football historians, get on this one.)

Matt in Stafford, Va. asks: DU, with no Big XII Championship what are the chances of a team that runs the table making it to the BCS Championship? Who has the best shot and why?

DU: You're seeing teams who want to compete for national titles beef up their nonconference schedules, most notably Texas and Oklahoma. Having a ninth conference game might keep fringe teams from making bowl games eventually, but it definitely helps strength of schedule. It's possible in the future that an undefeated team from the Big 12 gets left out, but with Oklahoma playing games against Florida State and Texas scheduling a future series with USC, they're doing their part to make sure they don't get left out.

Even still, three teams from BCS conferences going undefeated has only happened once, so I wouldn't lose too much sleep about it if I were you.

Tommy B in Austin, Texas writes: Could Ryan Broyles' decision to stay another year affect Justin Blackmon's decision whether to stay or go?

DU: Maybe. Blackmon is projected as a mid-first round pick and has the size Broyles doesn't, so unlike Luck's decision helping Blaine Gabbert's stock, that doesn't have much effect on Blackmon. What it might affect is this: If Broyles and Lewis had gone, there'd still be a bit of doubt on top of the Big 12. Not anymore. Heading into next season, Oklahoma might be a close-to-unanimous pick to win the Big 12. Those two coming back significantly lowers the chances of Oklahoma State getting the Big 12 title that narrowly eluded it this year; Oklahoma should be a lot better in 2011 than it was in 2010. So maybe that has an effect on Blackmon's decision. Maybe he sees it as a challenge and tells Brandon Weeden, "Let's come back and go after them again."

Neither of them have had a lot to say since the season ended.

Every player has to make an independent decision when it comes to their future, and I'm not sure Broyles' decision has a ton of effect on Blackmon's, but that's really the only way it would.

Terence in New York asks: David, Happy New year. With Ryan Broyles and Travis Lewis returning, as well as all those freshman that played so well, you have to figure OU is the front runner in the conference again. With 7 Conf championships over the past 11 years, and the team they have returning, why is Texas automatically a better job? Clearly you are able to win at the highest level at OU and have been a better overall program this decade.

DU: Well, it's close, but really, it comes down to resources. Oklahoma has done just fine for itself, but it's a bit easier for UT to recruit Texas than it is for Oklahoma. Again, not a huge gap there, but it takes a little less effort for Texas to get that top-tier talent in Austin than it does for Oklahoma.

Additionally, don't ever underestimate the dollar. Texas has more money than any other program in the country, and they're not afraid to use it. More than anything else, that's what separates them. Texas was paying Will Muschamp almost $1 million to be its defensive coordinator last year, and offensive coordinator Greg Davis was making just under $500,000. Being able to keep assistants happy helps a lot, too. Muschamp was making almost $150,000 more than any other assistant in the country.

Granted, in the Big 12, Oklahoma's coordinators were Nos. 3 and 4 on the pay scale, so it's not like they're slacking, but when it comes to paychecks, life as a Longhorn is good.

It's not like the Texas job is completely on a different level than Oklahoma. They're really pretty close. But when you start trying to go down the list and compare, you have to give the edge to Austin.

Shawn in Afghanistan asks: With the news of Travis Lewis and Ryan Broyles coming back for another season, what do you think of Oklahoma's chances of making a National Title run next year?

DU: The Sooners should be on that level, but they're helped by a tough, but not brutal nonconference schedule. They'll play at Florida State (minus Christian Ponder, remember), a difficult but very winnable game, and then have Ball State and Tulsa. Then it just comes down to getting it done in Big 12 play. It won't be easy, and there's plenty of teams capable of knocking the Sooners off their stoop. All it takes is playing badly on one Saturday.

Sooners past nightmare hasn't influenced future

January, 6, 2011
We've seen this show before.

This time two years ago, Oklahoma was beaming. Heisman Trophy winner Sam Bradford announced his intention to return to Oklahoma for his junior season, despite being a possible No. 1 pick.

Tight end Jermaine Gresham, offensive tackle Trent Williams and defensive tackle Gerald McCoy elected to do the same.

Their intentions were clear: national championship or bust.

The Sooners had been denied by Florida in the title game weeks earlier, but looked in position for a second run in 2009.

Fresh off a dominant 48-20 win over 8-4 Connecticut in the Fiesta Bowl, linebacker Travis Lewis elected to return for his senior season. Coach Bob Stoops advised both Lewis and receiver Ryan Broyles to stay at Oklahoma.

"I’m coming back to win a national championship," Lewis said. "Anything else would be a disappointment."

Sound familiar? It should.

Even with Broyles, Oklahoma won't look the part of the defending national runner-up that came back for the 2009 season. But one thing is certain, it'll be a whole lot better than the Oklahoma team that finished the 2009 season in the Sun Bowl.

Gresham never made it to the season opener, tearing cartilage in his knee just days before and missing the entire season. Bradford's season was derailed in the first half of the opener when he sprained his AC joint in his throwing shoulder and eventually required surgery.

Williams and McCoy had solid seasons, but with apologies to Ndamukong Suh, offensive and defensive tackles don't win ballgames in the Big 12.

Now, a year after beating Stanford in the Sun Bowl, Lewis is willing to risk injury in the pursuit of the Sooners' first title since 2000.

Despite Gresham and Bradford's serious injuries, both remained first-round picks. Bradford was drafted No. 1 and looks like a favorite for the NFL's Offensive Rookie of the Year award.

Broyles is still undecided, but Stoops' recommendation that he stay has to weigh heavily on the receiver. Considering the past, why wouldn't it?

Lewis wasn't scared, and if Broyles commits to being a Sooner in 2011, you can be sure, any memory of those costly injuries is distant.
Oklahoma running back DeMarco Murray has carried the ball 12 times in the past two Red River Rivalry games. Those 12 carries have gone for a total of 3 yards.

Oklahoma lost both games.

As a freshman, Murray ran for 128 yards on 17 carries, picking up a big block of yardage on a 65-yard go-ahead touchdown in the third quarter.

Oklahoma won that game.

[+] EnlargeDeMarco Murray
Jim Owens/Icon SMIDeMarco Murray already has seven rushing touchdowns this season.
Maybe it's not that simple. Or maybe it is. Either way, a big day from Murray certainly helps the chances of a big day for Oklahoma, especially in the Red River Rivalry, where the team with more rushing yards has won the Golden Hat on 11 consecutive occasions.

That looked more likely in the season opener against Utah State, when Murray handled a heavy load of 35 carries and turned them into 208 yards, both career highs.

"DeMarco, he honestly looks like he did as a freshman, now that he's fully healthy," said Oklahoma center Ben Habern.

But Murray's nearly six-yard average per carry in the season opener has dwindled to just 3.2 in his last three games, dipping to a season low of 2.4 on his 28 carries last week against Cincinnati. Texas entered last week as the nation's No. 1 rush defense, but when the Longhorns faced a team in UCLA that intended to run at the center of their defense, they gave up over 300 yards on the ground.

"That's irrelevant," Murray said. "I know they had a little hiccup last week, but I know they'll be fired up to play this game just like we will. They could be 0-5 and we could be 0-5 and we'd both be ready to play our best game of the year this week. It doesn't matter, last week."

Texas has shut down Murray the last two seasons with a handful of would-be NFL draft picks on its defensive line, such as Sergio Kindle, Lamarr Houston, Brian Orakpo, Roy Miller and Henry Melton, along with linebackers such as Roddrick Muckelroy.

"They've definitely had good players, but we've had pretty good guys, too, NFL guys like Trent [Williams], Phil [Loadholt] and Duke [Robinson]," Habern said.

Murray also suffered an ankle injury in last year's game that kept him out of the following week's game against Kansas.

"It hurt really bad, but I had to be a man and step up," Murray said. "That's one game you definitely don't want to miss."

He's not asking for excuses. All he wants is the ball, and Oklahoma feels its struggles running the ball the past few weeks are about to end.

"The last few weeks, we were only a few holes away from breaking DeMarco and Mossis [Madu] free for big runs," said quarterback Landry Jones.

On Saturday, the Sooners will work toward making sure those holes are there. Otherwise, Texas may leave the Cotton Bowl with a fifth Red River victory in six years.

Opening camp: Oklahoma

August, 5, 2010
Schedule: Practice starts today

What’s new: The cornerbacks. Brian Jackson and Dom Franks are gone, but they'll be replaced by some combination of Demontre Hurst, Jamell Fleming Gabe Lynn or incoming freshman Tony Jefferson.

Key battle: The two linebacking spots alongside Travis Lewis. Oklahoma has lots of talent on the defense's second line, but sophomore Ronnell Lewis and redshirt freshman Tom Wort will try to hold off the more experienced junior Austin Box and sophomores Daniel Franklin and Jaydan Bird for the starting spots.

New on the scene: Wide receiver Kenny Stills. The early-enrolling receiver made a splash in the spring and will try to to challenge Dejuan Miller as the No. 2 receiver opposite the conference's best, Ryan Broyles, in the Sooners offense.

Breaking out: Left tackle Donald Stephenson. The 6-foot-6, 285-pound junior sat out all of last season because of eligibility issues, but Oklahoma coach Bob Stoops raved about Stephenson throughout the spring and continued to do so at last week's media days. Stoops says he has comparable talent to last year's left tackle, Trent Williams, who was drafted fourth overall in the NFL Draft.

Don’t forget about: Quinton Carter. One of the conference's hardest hitters, Carter will return for another year patrolling the secondary at free safety. Jonathan Nelson, Marcus Trice and last year's starter Sam Proctor give the Sooners great depth on the defense's back line.

All eyes on: The sidelines. Oklahoma's star power spent most of the season there last season with Heisman winner Sam Bradford and All-American tight end Jermaine Gresham forced to watch. Common sense says it can't happen again, but any more serious, impactful injuries would be increasingly frustrating for Oklahoma.

Quoting: "I really believe, going through a year ago, losing the number of seniors that we did, that we gained experience that you didn't want at the time. That will definitely give us -- make us a better and stronger team coming into this year. More experienced team maybe than we would have been." -- Oklahoma coach Bob Stoops

Mailbag: Oklahoma edition

July, 14, 2010
Lots of good Oklahoma questions this week. Much appreciated. Had to cut out a bunch of solid ones.

Here's the rest of the teams we've covered so far: Timm Decker in Louisville, Ky. asks: Do you prefer OU or Texas' method of scheduling? OU takes risk and schedules some big names which can help out in tie breaker situations and overall status, but that doesn't help if you don't win those games. I contend that had OU scheduled like Texas and played cupcakes, then Bradford probably wouldn't have been hurt and they meet Texas undefeated. People rip Texas's schedule but that didn't seem to matter last year as they played for the title. Over the course of many years, I think you are more likely to gain from the benefits of a Texas-like schedule (small chance of non-conference losses) vs. the benefits of an OU-like schedule (advantage in team comparisons / tie-breakers). What are your thoughts?

TBowman88 in Derby, Kan. asks: Why does Bob Stoops and David Boren continue to make one of the toughest schedules for themselves year after year while watching the majority or the other Big 12 powers play a cream puff non-conference schedule which in UT's case has sometimes help them go to a BCS game.

David Ubben: I’m not sure you can definitively say one is better than the other. I don’t have a strong preference, although Oklahoma earns a lot more street cred in the way they schedule. With the strength of the Big 12 in the past few years, any extremely difficult nonconference games were just gravy, but the tough schedule definitely helped push Oklahoma into the title game in 2008.

Oklahoma’s reasoning for scheduling the way it does is a desire to put a quality product on the field for fans to watch, and it obviously helps in December, too. But like last year, playing teams like BYU and Miami early in the season can hurt you (and your quarterback) pretty badly. Oklahoma doesn’t sound like it has any intention of changing the way it schedules, and they’ve got games with Tennessee, Notre Dame and Ohio State on the schedule in the future, in addition to Florida State and Cincinnati this season.

The one thing you have to watch out for is if Texas gets left out of a championship game, and the nonconference schedule becomes a reason, their nonconference scheduling strategy might change playing in a Big 12 without Nebraska, even if they’re playing an additional conference game.

Coop-@-loop in McMinnville, Tenn. asks: So my wifes b-day is comin up, what should i get her, flowers and perfume or a #4 (Kenny Stills) jersey?

DU: Coop, I’m hardly an expert on the fairer sex, but you’d forever regret buying her a Kenny Stills jersey for her birthday. Trust me on this one.

Go with the classic Landry Jones QB jersey for the birthday. Save Stills for an anniversary. You know, a young guy with a future, just like your relationship.

Vgg in OK asks: Do you think OU is just kind of sitting back happily and listening to all this UT/NEB stuff, and just quietly going under the radar a little bit? I know everyone is on this NEB bandwagon and maybe rightfully so, and i know they arent on OU's schedule. But it took 5 picks at home to barely beat my sooners. my point is, i guess, is that the biggest game on texas' schedule is not nebraska nor is it the toughest game.

DU: In some ways, Oklahoma might be. But it’s clear (judging by Texas’ lack of a response to any of the Nebraska talk) that Nebraska is taking this game much more seriously than Texas is. That’s not to say Texas is taking Nebraska lightly, but when you’ve had so many recent, memorable close losses to one team and so much controversy at the top of the decision-making chain, that’s pretty natural on Nebraska’s end. It also helps that the game is in Lincoln, and it helps Nebraska to further hype the game to its fans. But Texas knows who its historical rival is, even if the Huskers are gunning for them in 2010. No one has to tell them they’re responsible for showing up to both.

Paul Johnstone in Chicago, Ill. writes: David: Many Sooner fans are concerned about the offensive line after last year. While it concerns me, with the rash of injuries, there was a new line every game last year giving the team as a unit this year invaluable experience. My real concern is breaking in 2 new CB's in a pass happy league. What is do you feel is the team's biggest question mark going into the 2010 season?

DU: Definitely the offensive line. They’ve got some talented guys in Stephen Good and Cory Brandon, but they really couldn’t ever put it together last year. In addition, they lose the three best blockers from last year’s team in Trent Williams, Brody Eldridge and Brian Simmons. The corners should do really well; they’ve got a lot of depth there. I expect Demontre Hurst to be everything Bob Stoops thinks he is. Jonathan Nelson and Jamell Fleming have a lot of game experience, especially Nelson, even if a lot of that experience came at safety last year for Nelson and on special teams for Fleming. Gabe Lynn has a lot of potential, too, and should get some valuable playing time this season.

Jacob in Nebraska asks: Are you as high on Oklahoma's depth at Wide out as I am? There is experience all the way from Broyles to Reynolds. Plus you add on young guy's like Mccay and Stills.

DU: I’m not. I don’t have a lot of faith in any of those guys. Ryan Broyles is obviously a superstar, but past him, Oklahoma had an ever-spinning rotation of No. 2 guys in 2009. Dejuan Miller looks like the most likely guy to step into that role after finishing strong last year, but him becoming a non-factor like he was for most of the first half of the season wouldn’t shock me. There’s a lot of potential there in guys like Miller and Jaz Reynolds and the young receivers like Kenny Stills and Justin McCay, but they have to prove they can be consistent contributors on the field before I start claiming Oklahoma has any depth at receiver. Brandon Caleb has been underwhelming, but as a senior, he might even end up being the guy who Jones can count on opposite Broyles.

Travis in Norman, Okla. asks: I'm hearing rumors that another quarterback (possibly Drew Allen) is the front-runner to become the Sooners' playmaker this fall. Any truth?

DU: Not much. It would take a monumental meltdown for Landry Jones to lose his starting job, but Drew Allen and incoming freshman Blake Bell should both be solid backups.

Jon in Dallas, Texas asks: How realistic was the possibility of Oklahoma joining the SEC during the realignment talks?

DU: President David Boren said the Sooners had an offer, but like I wrote earlier today, Oklahoma didn’t sound real eager to break up with Texas. It's what was best for both schools.

Lunch links: Huskers galore

July, 1, 2010
I hope none of you stayed up all night to hear the Clippers will be allowed to make a presentation to LeBron.

What's up with OU at No. 1?

May, 27, 2010
Mark Schlabach has Oklahoma at No. 12 in his post-spring top 25. The Sporting News' top 100 lists the Sooners at No. 10. Most other early rankings had them just inside or outside that mark.

[+] EnlargeLandry Jones
John Rieger/US PresswireLandry Jones is one reason for Sooner optimism. He threw for 3,198 yards and 26 touchdowns last season.
So when Phil Steele and his preseason magazine crew put the Sooners as their preseason No. 1, they had to know it'd garner some attention. Mission accomplished.

But even if Steele is overrating the Sooners, who finished last season 8-5, it's far from an insane pick. Call it a leap of faith in a group of five guys.

It's not hard to see why they're a top-10 team. They have a deep group of running backs with an experienced feature back. They have a quarterback in Landry Jones who threw for 3,198 yards and 26 touchdowns while being thrust into sudden action when Sam Bradford played only sparingly after suffering a shoulder injury in the season opener. He could be set for a big year.

They also have the conference's best receiver in Ryan Broyles, who caught 15 touchdowns in 2009, second-most in college football. He also emerged as Jones' safety blanket, catching 89 passes and notching fewer than seven receptions in just three games, including a loss to Miami when he was injured after a 37-yard reception on the opening drive.

The defense should have one of the best front fours in the country, headlined by defensive end Jeremy Beal. Junior linebacker Travis Lewis has taken control of the Sooners' leadership role after leading the team in tackles as a freshman and sophomore, and will line up next to a pair of promising young linebackers in Tom Wort and Ronnell Lewis, or experienced junior Austin Box.

The same goes for the secondary, which returns both safeties and should be deep at corner with Demontre Hurst, Jonathan Nelson, Jamell Fleming and Gabe Lynn.

In short, Oklahoma is well above average at nearly every unit.

But there's a unit missing from that breakdown, the unit Steele clearly must have faith in: the offensive line.

I can't speak for Steele's reasons, but if the offensive line doesn't improve -- and that's a big if -- then Steele's prediction is outrageous.

Oklahoma's current offensive line consists of Jarvis Jones, Stephen Good, Ben Habern, Tyler Evans and Cory Brandon. That's absent two NFL draft picks in Trent Williams and Brody Eldridge, along with outgoing senior Brian Simmons.

If last year is any indication, that lineup will change. The Sooners started nine different combinations on the offensive line in 2009, in part because of injury and in part because of injury.

Steele put Good, who started just seven games last season, on his All-Big 12 first team. He put Brandon on his second team. Habern made the third team and Jones, who missed the last four games of last season with a fractured heel, was on his fourth team.

Jones earned an All-Big 12 honorable mention nod, but the others on Steele's list didn't make any postseason lists.

As his preseason poll indicates, he disagrees with those assessments.

And we'll have to wait three more months to find out if he's right. And I'll wait for e-mails from Alabama fans ripping me for not calling Steele a houndstooth-hating fool.

Here's where the rest of the Big 12 sits on Steele's top 25:

1. Oklahoma

5. Nebraska

11. Texas

No dice for the Tigers or Aggies, who've slipped into the top 25 in a few pre-preseason polls.

DeMarco Murray vs. 1,900 yards

May, 26, 2010
Oklahoma coach Bob Stoops made his way to Tulsa last night for the Sooner Caravan, giving him and other coaches within the program a chance to meet and speak with fans.

Though plenty was made of his comments about Oklahoma as it relates to possible realignment, he also had an interesting comment about running back DeMarco Murray.

[+] EnlargeMurray
John Rieger/US PresswireDeMarco Murray's best season came in 2008, when he gained 1,002 yards.
From The Oklahoman:
In his first season as the team's primary ball-carrier, Murray has set a goal for himself to rush for 1,500 yards, which would be a career high.

OU coach Bob Stoops has even greater expectations.

"I don't think that's enough," Stoops said Tuesday during an OU carvan stop in Tulsa. "I'd sure like to see him at 1,900. Not like we haven't done it. Adrian (Peterson) and Quentin Griffin both were over 1,900. We'll see. Hopefully he can do something like that."

I've talked about Murray plenty on the blog. I think you'd have a tough time finding a more talented running back in the conference. An easier task: finding a more productive back. He's topped 1,000 yards just once in his career, and that was in 2008 when he sat out the Big 12 and national championship games with an injured hamstring. Murray and Chris Brown complemented each other well, but Murray never seemed to get enough touches. Offensive coordinator Kevin Wilson said he wanted DeMarco to touch the ball 25 times a game last season. There's a lot that goes into that number, but Murray got 25 touches in a game just twice, and eclipsed 20 in just two other games.

If he's going to flirt with 2,000 yards (1,000 more than the number I think he flirts with this season) three things have to happen:

1) He has to stay healthy. He did that, for the most part, last season. He missed just one game (a road win over Kansas) with an ankle injury. That's been the biggest knock on him throughout his career, and if he goes down again, that knock will continue. It's worth noting that the injury criticisms are probably a little unfair. In three seasons, he's missed six games. The problem has been when he's missed games. In 2007, he missed the Bedlam game, the Big 12 championship and the Fiesta Bowl loss to West Virginia. In 2008, like I mentioned earlier, it was the Big 12 and national championships.

2) He needs more carries. With a struggling offensive line in 2009, Oklahoma constantly worked the flats against good defenses with Murray and receiver Ryan Broyles, their two biggest playmakers in space. He can get receptions there whenever he wants them, but Stoops sounds like he wants to pound it with Murray, who isn't lacking for size at 6-foot-1 and 214 pounds.

He only carried the ball 171 times in 2009. He'd have to average 11.1 yards per carry with that number of carries to hit 1,900 yards. Good luck with that.

But he has to prove he's productive enough to warrant those additional carries. Stoops isn't going to give him the ball because he's DeMarco Murray. He'll have to earn them with his play in games and in practice, and if he doesn't, there's plenty of backs behind him such as Jermie Calhoun or Mossis Madu ready to pick up the slack, not to mention incoming freshmen Roy Finch and Brennan Clay.

3) The offensive line has to improve. This is far from a given, especially after losing their three best blockers from last year's team in Trent Williams, Brody Eldridge and Brian Simmons. But Ben Habern and Tyler Evans have to stay healthy and consistent, and they need help from guys like Donald Stephenson, Jarvis Jones and Cory Brandon.

The Revolving Door: Oklahoma

May, 11, 2010
Here, we'll take a look at a couple of key players going, staying and coming for each team in the Big 12.


Trent Williams, OT

Before last season, offensive coordinator Kevin Wilson called Williams the best lineman he'd ever coached. Even though the offensive line heard plenty of criticism during last season, Williams parlayed his performance into a top-five selection in the NFL draft. He and Gerald McCoy were the only ones among Oklahoma's Big Four who came back after a national runner-up season in 2008 that didn't suffer a serious injury. The first-team All-American showed he was the nation's best offensive tackle last season, which was confirmed in April's draft.

Gerald McCoy, DT

McCoy was the heart of Oklahoma's top-10 defense in 2009 and stayed healthy throughout the season, unlike fellow first-round draft picks Sam Bradford and Jermaine Gresham. McCoy was drafted No. 3 in last month's draft after starting every game for three seasons and notching 15.5 tackles for loss in 2009.


Ryan Broyles, WR

Broyles enters his junior season as the top returning receiver in the conference. His 1,120 receiving yards on 89 catches helped spur Landry Jones' development, and he did it while missing almost two full games and playing with a still-healing fractured shoulder blade against Texas. The speedy, 5-foot-11 Broyles is one of the most dangerous players in the conference after the catch and in the open field, and could continue his punt-returning duties (first-team All-Big 12) in what should be another big year in 2010.

Travis Lewis, LB

Lewis embraced his role as the new voice and leader of the Sooners defense this spring, gearing up for a season alongside two newcomers at linebacker. Lewis led the team in tackles as a freshman (144) and sophomore (109) and could do it again in 2010. Lewis was named to the All-Big 12 first team in both seasons and it'd be surprising to not see him there again this season.


Kenny Stills, WR

Stills could help bolster a unit that, outside of Broyles, struggled in 2009. The Sooners worked all season to find a second target opposite Broyles, and may have done it in junior Dejuan Miller, but Stills showed he had potential to be an impact player as a true freshman. The early enrolling freshman came to Oklahoma as the No. 36 receiver in his class, according to Scouts Inc., but he could end up being the No. 2 receiver for the Sooners. He led all receivers in the spring game with 84 yards and a touchdown on six catches.

Bronson Irwin, OL

Oklahoma's offensive line was forced to enlist the services of walk-on Brian Lepak late last season. Irwin, who also enrolled early, could give the line the additional depth it could have used last season, but might need to use this season. The 6-foot-5, 322-pound Mustang, Okla., native came to Norman as the nation's No. 22 offensive tackle prospect, and got a jump start on his fellow incoming linemen with his work this spring.

More Revolving Door:

Oklahoma spring wrap

May, 6, 2010
2009 overall record: 8-5

2009 conference record: 5-3

Returning starters: Offense (9), Defense(4) P/K (2)

Top returners: QB Landry Jones, RB DeMarco Murray, LB Travis Lewis, S Quinton Carter, WR Ryan Broyles, DE Jeremy Beal, DE Frank Alexander

Key losses: DT Gerald McCoy, OL Trent Williams, QB Sam Bradford, RB Chris Brown, DE Auston English, OL Brian Simmons, OL Brody Eldridge

2009 statistical leaders (*returners)

Rushing: Chris Brown (774 yards)

Passing: Landry Jones* (3,198 yards)

Receiving: Ryan Broyles* (1,120 yards)

Tackles: Travis Lewis* (108)

Sacks: Jeremy Beal* (11)

Interceptions: Brian Jackson (4)

Three spring answers

1. O-line no longer offensive. Coach Bob Stoops tabbed his offensive and defensive lines as two of the most improved units on the team, a big difference from a year ago when Stoops called out his offensive linemen for not working hard enough. Part of the problem last season was injuries, and right guard Eric Mensik was lost for six weeks with an MCL injury, but even without their three best blockers from a season ago, the line is further ahead as a unit than they were last spring.

2. Young talent rising. Plenty of young players didn’t get on the field in 2009, for various reasons, whether it be injury, more experienced talent, or still being in high school. But linebackers Tom Wort and Ronnell Lewis, along with cornerback Demontre Hurst and receiver Kenny Stills could be big parts of Oklahoma’s 2010 team. Lewis will help replace one of the linebacker positions vacated by Ryan Reynolds and Keenan Clayon, but moved around in the spring. Wort is a likely starter as well after missing all of last season with a torn ACL. Hurst will help replace one of the corner positions vacated by Dominique Franks and Brian Jackson. And Stills could start for a receiving corps that struggled in 2009.

3. Lewis takes the reins. Oklahoma’s defense won’t be short on talent, headlined by defensive ends Jeremy Beal and Frank Alexander. But junior linebacker Travis Lewis, the team’s leading tackler as a sophomore, is ready to take over as the voice of the team, talking plenty of trash before the spring game and backing it up with his play, helping his team pitch a shutout. Gerald McCoy was the heart of the defense last season. This year, it’s Travis Lewis.

Three fall questions

1. Can the Sooners stay healthy? The theme for last season was injuries everywhere for the Sooners. Stoops says confidently he isn’t changing a thing, and it’s the right move. But it won’t stop fans—and maybe a couple of coaches—from cringing every time a player goes down awkwardly. Injuries turned the Sooners from a national title contender into an eight-win team a year ago, and another year of getting beat up could add to the frustration.

2. How much better will Landry Jones be? Jones played well when forced into action early by Sam Bradford’s injured shoulder. He played poorly in games against Texas and Nebraska, but finished the season with a career-high 418 yards and three touchdowns against Stanford. Jones is loaded with potential, and Stoops is optimistic at how Jones will look after a full spring and fall as starter.

3. Do the Sooners have a kicker? Jimmy Stevens lost his job to walk-on Patrick O’Hara late last season, but the two combined were just 1-of-8 from beyond 40 yards last season. A rainy spring game did little to settle the spring debate, and a couple misses on reasonable kicks by whoever wins the job in the fall could lead to another switch.

Lunch links: QB chaos in the Big 12

April, 28, 2010
Tune your TV sets to ESPNU today at 5:30 p.m. ET if you care to hear me talk about Big 12 football. Posting might be a little lighter through the week as we load up for some big postspring stuff coming soon.

Sorting out the draft for the Big 12

April, 26, 2010
The Big 12 had 30 players drafted over the weekend, fifth most among the major six conferences.

Here's a look at who went where when:

First round (9):
1. Sam Bradford, QB, Oklahoma (St. Louis)

2. Ndamukong Suh, DT, Nebraska (Detroit)

3. Gerald McCoy, DT, Oklahoma (Tampa Bay)

4. Trent Williams, OL, Oklahoma (Washington)

6. Russell Okung, OL, Oklahoma State (Seattle)

14. Earl Thomas, DB, Texas (Seattle)

19. Sean Weatherspoon, LB, Missouri (Atlanta)

21. Jermaine Gresham, TE, Oklahoma (Cincinnati)

24. Dez Bryant, WR, Oklahoma State (Dallas)

Second round (2):

43. Sergio Kindle, DE, Texas (Baltimore)

44. Lamarr Houston, DT, Texas (Oakland)

Third round (3):
80. J.D. Walton, C, Baylor (Denver)

84. Jordan Shipley, WR, Texas (Cincinnati)

85. Colt McCoy, QB, Texas (Cleveland)

Fourth round (4):

110. Darrell Stuckey, FS, Kansas (San Diego)

115. Phillip Dillard, LB, Nebraska (New York Giants)

121. Keenan Clayton, LB, Oklahoma (Philadelphia)

131. Roddrick Muckelroy, LB, Texas (Cincinnati)

Fifth round (6):

135. Dominique Franks, CB, Oklahoma (Atlanta)

137. Perrish Cox, CB, Oklahoma State (Denver)

141. Joshua Moore, DB, Kansas State (Chicago)

160. Larry Asante, SS, Nebraska (Cleveland)

162. Brody Eldridge, TE, Oklahoma (Indianapolis)

165. Kerry Meier, WR, Kansas (Atlanta)

Sixth round (4):

191. Dezmon Briscoe, WR, Kansas (Cincinnati)

196. Jamar Wall, CB, Texas Tech (Dallas)

198. David Gettis, WR, Baylor (Carolina)

202. Jordan Pugh, DB, Texas A&M (Carolina)

Seventh round (2):

228. Reggie Stephens, OL, Iowa State (Cincinnati)

250. Zac Robinson, QB, Oklahoma State (New England)

When you arrange those by team, Oklahoma comes out on top, with seven selections.
1. Oklahoma (7)

2. Texas (6)

3. Oklahoma State (4)

T-4. Nebraska (3)

T-4. Kansas (3)

6. Baylor (2)

T-7. Iowa State (1)

T-7. Kansas State (1)

T-7. Missouri (1)

T-7. Texas Tech (1)

T-7. Texas A&M (1)

12. Colorado (0)