Big 12: Virginia Tech Hokies
Blacksburg, Va., is an awesome place to be.
I normally spend my weekends during the fall in stadiums across the Big 12, but I'd heard plenty about Lane Stadium and the atmosphere at Virginia Tech. As I headed to VT, I had pretty high expectations, yet my mid-November trip somehow exceeded all of them. Hokie Nation's hospitality was second to none, the food and festivities were top notch, and game day is filled with traditions that separate Virginia Tech from other college football atmospheres. Great food, great people and top-notch ACC football? I'd do it again in a heartbeat. Here are some of the highlights of my trip:
Best meal: Mustard Rabbit at Our Daily Bread Bakery and Bistro. I had several great meals during my time in Blacksburg, including a burger at Mike’s and a terrific Italian food sampler at Sal’s, but the Mustard Rabbit at Our Daily Bread was the most memorable meal. Not only was it terrific, it’s hard to find rabbit in Oklahoma. Whenever I return to Blacksburg, a return visit is a no-brainer.
Biggest surprise: The passion. Blame it on my own naiveté, but I landed in ACC country expecting football fans with some passion but nothing like I’ve gotten accustomed to in the Big 12. I was way off; Hokie Nation is as passionate as any fan base I’ve interacted with and has high expectations for its program. The disappointment over the lack of a national championship was expressed over and over again by Hokies fans.
Biggest difference from Big 12: The style of play in the ACC is just vastly different. The Big 12 is full of wide-open offense, high-scoring games and big plays. The Hokies have always taken pride in their defense, ranking among the nation’s best for the past decade. To sum it up, VT and Maryland combined for 583 yards in the Terps’ 27-24 overtime win. Baylor averaged 624.5 yards per game this season. So, umm, yeah, a lot different.
They said it: "I’m thrilled I decided to come back and play with these guys, thrilled to be a part of this team, and my decision to come here was a great, great decision."
-- quarterback Logan Thomas after a 27-24 overtime loss to Maryland in his last game at Lane Stadium.
If I could go back: There are so many things I didn’t get to do and places I didn’t get to eat at in Blacksburg. If I get the chance to go back, I’ll definitely grab a drink at Top of the Stairs and Bull and Bones. When it’s time to grab a bite, I’ll head to the Cellar and Cabo Fish Taco first before working my way down the rest of the list. Blacksburg is the ideal college town with plenty of places to grab a bite or a drink, so I can’t wait to return.
You know: The conference that can count!
But the Pac-12, which has, yes, 12 teams, and the Big 12, which has 10 teams (though it's often hard to keep up with which ones), play each other in three bowl games this holiday season.
Joy to the world.
So it seemed like a good time for the Pac-12 and Big 12 bloggers -- Ted Miller and David Ubben -- to say howdy and discuss all the coming fun.
Ted Miller: Ah, David, the bowl season. Pure bliss. Unless you’re the Pac-12, which is expected to get a whipping from your conference over the holidays. We have three Pac-12-Big 12 bowl games with the Tostitos Fiesta Bowl between Stanford and Oklahoma State, the Valero Alamo with Baylor and Washington, and the Bridgepoint Education Holiday matching California and Texas. And the Big 12 is favored in all three!
Poor ole West Coast teams. What are we to do? It’s almost like the Big 12 is the SEC or something. Speaking of which, how are things with your Cowboys? Are they over not getting a shot at LSU for the national title? Are they excited about getting a shot at Andrew Luck and Stanford? We might as well start with that outstanding matchup in Glendale.
David Ubben: You know, I was actually a little surprised. I stuck around Stillwater for the BCS bowl selection show announcement, and the players took the news pretty well. They found out an hour before, but there wasn't a ton of down-in-the-dumpiness from the Pokes. When you've never been to this point before, it's a bit difficult to develop a sense of entitlement. If Oklahoma had OSU's record and was passed over by Alabama and sent to the Fiesta Bowl for the 17th time in the past six years, you might have had a different reaction.
But Oklahoma State's first trip to the BCS and first Big 12 title aren't being overlooked. These players are looking forward to this game. There's no doubt about that.
I know the Big 12 seems like the SEC, but I have a confession, Ted. I wasn't supposed to tell anybody, but I can't hold it in anymore. When the Big 12 began back in 1996 ... wow, I'm really going to do this ... then-SEC commissioner Roy Kramer graciously allowed the league to keep two of his teams. The league made a similar arrangement with the Big Eight a century ago, and the Southwest Conference around the same time. Missouri and Texas A&M are really wolves in sheep's clothing: SEC teams just pretending to be in other leagues. So, that might explain the Big 12's recent dominance.
These should all be fun games, though. I ranked two of the matchups among the top three in my bowl rankings.
As for the big one, they say you learn more by losing than by winning. Stanford got its first BCS win. How do you think that experience plays into this year's game? I hate to ruin the surprise, but Oklahoma State's a bit better than the Virginia Tech team Stanford beat last season. OSU's loss to Iowa State this season is bad, but it's nothing like the Hokies' loss to James Madison last season.
But that's 2010. The difference this year is the season-ending knee injury to middle linebacker Shayne Skov, who was an All-American candidate, a slight step back on the offensive line and a lack of top-flight receivers. But if Oklahoma State fans are looking for something to worry about it is this: Stanford's running game.
The Pokes are bad against the run, and they haven't faced a team that is as physical and creative in the running game as Stanford. As much as folks talk about Luck's passing, it's his run checks that often ruin a defense's evening.
The Fiesta Bowl matchup looks like a great one, perhaps the best of the bowl season. But I’m excited to see Mr. Excitement Robert Griffin III in the Alamo Bowl against Washington. Of course, I’m not sure that the Huskies, their fans and embattled Huskies defensive coordinator Nick Holt are as thrilled. First, tell us about what Washington should be most worried about with Griffin. Then tell us about Baylor in general. Such as: Can the Bears stop anyone?
David Ubben: Nope. Not really.
Oklahoma State's defense unfairly gets a bad rap. Baylor's bad rap is earned. This is the same team that won five consecutive games late in the season -- but became the first team ever to win four consecutive in a single season while giving up 30 points in each.
The man is a nightmare. Top to bottom, he's the most accurate passer in a quarterback-driven league. Then, you add in his athleticism, which he doesn't even really need to be extremely productive. It sets him apart, though, and forces defenses to account for it, and it buys him time in the pocket. How many guys break a 20-plus yard run before hitting a receiver for a game-winning 39-yard score to beat a team like Oklahoma for the first time?
How do you think Washington will try to slow him down? What has to happen for them to have some success?
Ted Miller: This game matches the 99th (Washington) and 109th (Baylor) scoring defenses. It has a 78-point over-under, the biggest of any bowl game. The offenses are going to score plenty, at least that's the conventional wisdom.
How does Washington stop RGIII? His name is Chris Polk. He's a running back. Baylor gives up 199 yards rushing per game. Polk right, left and up the middle is a good way to contain Griffin. The Huskies' best hope is to reduce Griffin's touches with ball control. It also needs to convert touchdowns, not field goals, in the redzone. The Huskies are pretty good at that, scoring 36 TDs in 45 visits to the red zone.
The Huskies also have a pretty good quarterback in Keith Price, who set a school record with 29 touchdown passes this year. He and a solid crew of receivers have prevented teams from ganging up against Polk. But Polk is the guy who burns the clock.
Should be a fun game. As should, by the way, the Holiday Bowl. David, Cal fans are still mad at Texas coach Mack Brown and his politicking the Longhorns into the Rose Bowl in 2004. Every team wants to win its bowl game, but the Old Blues really want to beat Brown.
Of course, neither team is what it was in 2004. Cal has an excuse. It's not a college football superpower. Sure you've been asked this before, but give me the CliffsNotes version of why the Longhorns have fallen so hard since playing for the national title in 2009.
David Ubben: Cal fans are still mad? Really? I'd suggest they get over themselves. What's anybody on that Cal team ever done anyway? It's not like the best player in the NFL missed out on a chance to play in the Rose Bowl. Now, if that were the case, we might have a problem. But honestly, I don't think Tim Tebow cares all that much about the Rose Bowl.
As for Texas' struggles?
The easy answer is quarterback play. Texas relied on Colt McCoy and Jordan Shipley more than anyone realized. When they were gone, Texas couldn't run the ball, and quarterback Garrett Gilbert never made it happen. Two seasons later, the Longhorns still don't have a quarterback.
The other big answer last season was turnover margin. Gilbert threw 17 interceptions and the Longhorns were minus-12 in turnovers, which ranked 115th nationally.
They were still only 90th this year, and without solid quarterback play in a Big 12 dominated by passers, they scored five, 13 and 17 points in three of their five losses. Texas keeps people from moving the ball and runs the ball better this year, but without a solid passing game and a defense that changes games, it's tough to rack up wins in the Big 12.
It's been awhile since Cal was in the mix for the BCS, even as USC has fallen. Oregon answered the call and rose, but what has prevented Cal from winning the Pac-10 and Super Pac-10 since the Trojans' swoon?
Ted Miller: You mention quarterback play. Cal fans ... any thoughts? You mention Aaron Rodgers. Cal fans? Oh, well, that's not very nice during this festive time of the year.
Cal has become a solid defensive team, but it's lost its offensive mojo, and that can be traced to a drop in quarterback play since Rodgers departed. The latest Bears quarterback, Zach Maynard, started fairly well, stumbled, but then seemed to catch on late in the season. It's reasonable to believe the team that gets better quarterback play -- mistake-free quarterback play -- is going to win this game.
Nice to cover a conference where quarterback play matters, eh David?
Speaking of quarterback play and winning, let's wind it up. Our specific predictions aren't coming on these games until after Christmas. But we can handicap the Big 12-Pac-12 side of things. We have a three-game series this bowl seasons.
I say the Pac-12, underdogs in all three games, goes 1-2. What say you?
David Ubben: And to think, before the season, all I heard was the Pac-12 had surpassed the Big 12 in quarterback play. Did somebody petition the NCAA for another year of eligibility for Jake Locker and/or clone Matt Barkley? You West Coast folk are geniuses; I figured you'd find a way. We can't all be Stanford alums ...
Clearing out all the tumbleweeds here in middle America, I'll go out on a limb for the Big 12 in this one. Every matchup is a good one, and I don't think Cal has seen a defense like Texas' and Washington hasn't seen an offense like Baylor's. People forget that, yeah, RG3 is outstanding, but the Bears also have the league's leading receiver and leading rusher.
Stanford-OSU is a toss-up, but I'll go with a perfect sweep for the Big 12. The Cowboys haven't played poorly on the big stage yet, so I'll give them the benefit of the doubt in this one, and they clean up for the Big 12 against what was almost its new conference this fall.
Oh, what could have been. Ubben and Miller on the same blog? Divided ultimately by a little thing we call the Rockies.
And Texas, as always seems to be the case, has nearly finished its recruiting with another solid haul of players among the top teams in the nation.
There's a reason for this, detailed in the Lincoln Journal Star earlier this week.
It seems Baylor, Nebraska and Texas are among only 12 schools nationally to have the same coaching staff in place for a third straight season heading into the 2010 campaign.
Continuity speaks volumes in the competitive world of college football recruiting. Having coaches in place for a number of years enables them to foster relationships with high school coaches that result in better recruiting over time.
You can definitely see that taking place this season with the Cornhuskers, Bears and Longhorns.
Here are the teams that have had the same full-time coaches in place since the start of the 2008 season, according to the Journal Star. I also listed their 2009 records and conference records.
1. Baylor (4-8, 1-7 in the Big 12 last season)
2. Indiana (4-8, 1-7 Big Ten)
3. Iowa (11-2, 6-2 Big Ten)
4. Navy (10-4)
5. Nebraska (10-4, 6-2 Big 12 runner-up)
6. North Carolina State (5-7, 2-6 ACC)
7. Penn State (11-2, 6-2 Big Ten)
8. Texas (13-1, 8-0 Big 12 champion)
9. UAB (5-7, 4-4 in Conference USA)
10. Vanderbilt (2-10, 0-8 SEC)
11. Virginia Tech (10-3, 6-2 ACC)
12. Wake Forest (5-7, 3-5 ACC)
Not all of these programs have experienced consistent recent success. But the Big 12 teams appear headed in that direction after a successful recruiting effort again this season. Staff continuity is one of the biggest reasons.
The two championship teams were the best of the conference's last 10 years. Some of the other BCS title participants were good, but not necessarily among the very best teams during the conference's recent history.
Here's how I rank the Big 12's top 10 teams over the last decade.
1. 2005 Texas: A star-studded team paced by All-Americans Michael Huff, Jonathan Scott, Rodrique Wright and Vince Young ran off 13 straight victories, capping the season with a BCS title-game victory over USC. The team averaged 50.2 points per game en route to a then-NCAA record 652 total points, earning Texas’ first undisputed national championship since 1969. It was the greatest team that Mack Brown ever coached and arguably the best team in the rich football history of Texas.
2. 2000 Oklahoma: Bob Stoops claimed a national championship in his second season coaching the Trojans behind Josh Heupel, who finished second in the Heisman race that season. All-Americans Heupel, linebacker Rocky Calmus and J.T. Thatcher helped the Sooners notch the first undefeated season and national championship in Big 12 history. After winning three of their final four regular-season games by less than five points, the Sooners dominated Florida State in a 13-2 triumph in the Orange Bowl for the national championship.
3. 2008 Oklahoma: Sam Bradford won the Heisman Trophy with this team, which overcame a midseason loss to Texas and still claimed the Big 12 title in a 12-2 season that was marred by a 24-14 loss to Florida in the national championship game. The Sooners rolled-up a record 702 points as Bradford passed for 50 touchdowns, Chris Brown and DeMarco Murray each rushed for 1,000 yards and Juaquin Iglesias topped 1,000 yards receiving. The Sooners scored 35 points in each regular-season game and finished the regular season with five straight games of at least 60 points before the BCS title-game loss.
4. 2004 Oklahoma: The Sooners charged to 12 straight victories before a dropping a 55-19 decision to USC in the Orange Bowl for the national title. Freshman running back Adrian Peterson rushed for an NCAA freshman record 1,925 yards to finish second in the Heisman. Jason White claimed the Heisman the previous season and his numbers were down with Peterson's arrival, but he still passed for 3,205 yards and 35 touchdowns. This group had strength in the trenches with All-Americans like Vince Carter, Dan Cody, Jammal Brown and Mark Clayton as it claimed Bob Stoops’ third Big 12 title.
5. 2009 Texas: After streaking to a school-record 13-0 mark through the Big 12 title game, the Longhorns dropped a 37-21 decision to Alabama in the national title game in a contest that changed when Colt McCoy was hurt on the fifth play of the game. McCoy became the winningest quarterback in NCAA history during this season, repeatedly hooking up with favorite target Jordan Shipley, who snagged a school-record 116 receptions, 1,485 yards and 13 touchdowns. The Longhorns led the nation in rush defense, and All-American safety Earl Thomas tied a school record with eight interceptions. Lamarr Houston and Sergio Kindle also added playmaking abilities to the defense.
6. 2004 Texas: The Longhorns overcame a midseason 12-0 loss to Oklahoma to finish the season with seven straight victories in a season capped by a dramatic 38-37 victory over Michigan in the Rose Bowl. The Longhorns ranked second nationally in rushing offense and seventh in total offense as Young gradually found his confidence as a passer late in the season. Cedric Benson rushed for 1,834 yards and 19 touchdowns, and Young chipped in with 1,079 rushing yards and 14 touchdowns. This team showed a knack for comebacks, overcoming an early 35-7 deficit against Oklahoma State and also coming from behind in an early-season victory at Arkansas.
7. 2007 Oklahoma: Bradford led the first of two consecutive Big 12 championships on a team that enabled the Sooners to become the first Big 12 school to win back-to-back titles. The Sooners dropped road games to Colorado and Texas Tech but still overcame Missouri in the Big 12 title game behind a huge defensive effort keyed by Big 12 defensive player of the year Rufus Alexander. Bradford led the nation in passing efficiency, but the Sooners' bowl struggles continued in an embarrassing 48-28 loss to West Virginia in the Fiesta Bowl.
8. 2003 Kansas State: Don’t let the Wildcats’ 11-4 record fool you. After an early three-game losing streak to Marshall, Texas and Oklahoma State (by a combined margin of 15 points), Bill Snyder’s team won its final seven regular-season games by a combined margin of 271-66. That streak was culminated by a stunning 35-7 upset victory over Oklahoma in the Big 12 title game -- the last victory by a North Division team in the title game. The Wildcats ranked in the top 10 nationally in rushing, scoring, total defense, scoring defense and pass defense as Darren Sproles rushed for 1,986 yards and 16 touchdowns. The Wildcats dropped a 35-28 Fiesta Bowl loss to Ohio State in a game they fell into an early 21-0 deficit and had a chance to tie on the final play of the game after a frantic comeback directed by Ell Roberson.
9. 2007 Missouri: Chase Daniel led Missouri into the Big 12 title game for the first time in school history, taking the team to No. 1 nationally heading into the conference championship game. The Tigers lost twice to Oklahoma during a 12-2 season that was capped by 38-7 beatdown over Arkansas in the Cotton Bowl. Tony Temple made that game memorable by rushing for a record 281 yards and four TDs that pushed Missouri to No. 4 nationally at the end of the season. A star-studded collection of talent including Daniel, Jeremy Maclin, Chase Coffman, Martin Rucker and Sean Weatherspoon helped the Tigers rank among the top-10 teams nationally in passing, total offense and scoring and 11th in turnover margin.
10. 2007 Kansas: The Jayhawks earned Mark Mangino the national coach of the year award by running to an 11-0 start before losing to Missouri in the regular-season finale. The Jayhawks rebounded for a 24-21 victory over Virginia Tech in their first BCS bowl appearance in school history, finishing a 12-1 season that set a school record for victories. Todd Reesing passed for 33 touchdowns to highlight a high-powered offense that scored 76 points against Nebraska and scored at least 43 points in eight games. The Jayhawks were a balanced team that ranked second nationally in scoring offense, fourth in scoring defense and in the top 10 nationally in eight different team statistics. Anthony Collins and Aqib Talib earned consensus All-America honors.
The demise of Mark Mangino's coaching tenure can't take away from what he accomplished earlier in his career as he made the Kansas program relevant for the first time in the school's Big 12 history.
Here's a look at the players who shaped Kansas' football history during the past decade.
QB: Todd Reesing
RB: Brandon McAnderson
RB: Jon Cornish
WR: Dezmon Briscoe
WR: Kerry Meier
WR: Mark Simmons
OL: Anthony Collins
OL: Justin Hartwig
OL: Joe Vaughn
OL : Ryan Cantrell
C: Joe Vaughn
DL: James McClinton
DL: Nate Dwyer
DL: David McMillan
DL: Charlton Keith
LB: Nick Reid
LB: Joe Mortensen
LB: James Holt
DB: Aqib Talib
DB: Charles Gordon
DB: Darrell Stuckey
DB: Carl Nesmith
P: Kyle Tucker
K: Scott Webb
KR: Marcus Hereford
Offensive player of the decade: QB Todd Reesing. He wasn't the most imposing physically, but Reesing was ideally suited to direct the Jayhawks as a starter for three seasons as the most statistically proficient quarterback in school history.
Defensive player of the decade: DB Aqib Talib. While dabbling as a two-way player, Talib's biggest talents came as a lockdown cornerback. He earned All-American honors as a junior after leading the nation in passes broken up as a sophomore and claiming All-Big 12 honors in both seasons.
Coach of the decade: Mark Mangino. Despite the controversy when he left the Kansas program, Mangino made the Jayhawks a challenger for the Big 12 North title and took them to a BCS bowl game for the first time. In the process he directed Kansas to three straight bowl victories and earned national coach of the year honors in 2007.
Moment of the decade: An opportunistic defense forced three turnovers to pace the Jayhawks to a 24-21 triumph over Virginia Tech in the 2008 Orange Bowl. Aqib Talib's 60-yard interception return for a touchdown started the scoring and earned him game Most Valuable Player honors. It capped a 12-1 season where the Jayhawks notched a school record for victories.
1. Texas: Longhorn fans will always remember Colt McCoy’s injury in the national championship game and what could have been. Texas overcame every challenge during the regular season, but came up lacking without its leader in the biggest game of the year. The way the Alabama game played out will always haunt Texas fans. If they could have ever grabbed a touchdown lead or more over Alabama, was there any real indication that Alabama could have won with Greg McElroy and the Crimson Tide’s leaky offensive line? But it went the other way and the Longhorns were ground into submission by Alabama’s potent rushing attack to put a disappointing capper on an otherwise memorable season.
2. Nebraska: The Cornhuskers finished 10-4 and were only five or six plays removed from winning three of those games -- losses to Texas, Iowa State and Virginia Tech. If that had happened, it’s not out of the realm of possibility the Cornhuskers could have finished in the top five or six teams nationally. But the convincing victory over Arizona, especially with the unexpected offensive firepower, should build confidence and embolden Bo Pelini and his team for bigger and better things next season.
3. Texas Tech: A roller-coaster season finished with Mike Leach and Ruffin McNeill looking for work despite an impressive 9-4 record where the Red Raiders overachieved to a Top 25 finish. Tommy Tuberville’s arrival will bring changes, but Tech returns with a strong nucleus starting of quarterbacks Taylor Potts and Steven Sheffield and running back Baron Batch. If Tuberville can get the Red Raiders up and running quickly, it’s not out of the realm of possibility that his new team could challenge Texas and Oklahoma next season. But it will be tough as he tries to change the culture of the most memorable era of Tech football.
4. Oklahoma: A fast finish took some of the sting out of Bob Stoops’ most disappointing recent season. The Sooners’ hopes of a Big 12 four-peat were doomed as soon as Sam Bradford was lost for the season. And Jermaine Gresham’s injury before the season changed the way Kevin Wilson’s offense could operate. But at the end of the season, Landry Jones showed enough promise to give him a foothold for the starting position next season. The defense developed some young playmakers like David King and Demontre Hurst who showed promise in the bowl game for future growth. The Sooners will be back challenging for the Big 12 title next season if those players build on their late-season efforts.
5. Oklahoma State: All of the promise at the start of the season unraveled with a disappointing string of injuries and suspensions. And even with all of those struggles, the Cowboys still had a chance to play in a Bowl Championship Series game if they had beaten Oklahoma. Losses in the last two games of the season left a bad taste for what could have been Mike Gundy’s breakout season. The defense played much better than expected under new coordinator Bill Young, but the offense didn’t live up to the promise -- especially when Zac Robinson was hurt and his offensive weapons were stripped away. All things considered, a 9-4 record with everything the Cowboys overcame this season was better than could be expected.
6. Missouri: As well as the Tigers played at times during the season, their season was marked by their fourth-quarter home collapse against Nebraska and their confounding Texas Bowl upset loss to Navy. Truthfully, it was expected to be a rebuilding year after losing Chase Daniel, Jeremy Maclin and Co., but some of that was lost after a four-game winning streak to start the season. Blaine Gabbert surpassed expectations and is in line to become the conference’s best quarterback over the next couple of years. And Danario Alexander was the best receiver in the nation over the second half of the season. Defensive woes hurt them, but Gabbert’s return and some young defensive talent should have the Tigers pointed to improvement next season and maybe a challenge at the North title.
7. Iowa State: Was there a better moment in the 2009 Big 12 season than Paul Rhoads’ emotional response to his team’s upset victory over Nebraska which became a YouTube staple? Rhoads’ first season far surpassed expectations with a 7-6 record, the Insight Bowl victory over Minnesota and all of the other surprising accomplishments. Alexander Robinson was the most underrated player in the Big 12 and the gritty Iowa State defense played just like you would expect from a Rhoads-coached team. It won’t be easy for them to duplicate next year as they switch to the Texas-Texas Tech-Oklahoma gauntlet of South Division opponents. But it was a nice first step for Rhoads in building his program.
8. Kansas State: The Wildcats missed out on a bowl trip because of playing too many creampuffs during the nonconference season, but Bill Snyder’s first season was better than expected. The Wildcats received huge contributions from Grant Gregory and Daniel Thomas, who both arrived before summer practice with no real expectations coming into the season. Thomas developed into one of the conference’s best backs and should return for more next season. If Oregon transfer Chris Harper can develop into a playmaker at either quarterback or wide receiver and the defense comes together, the Wildcats might be a threat to make a bowl appearance in 2010.
9. Texas A&M: For all of their offensive weapons, the Aggies’ defense and special teams were the primary culprits in a 6-7 season capped by a disappointing Independence Bowl loss to Georgia. Jerrod Johnson posted the top statistical numbers ever produced by an A&M quarterback and he’s surrounded by a bevy of strong offensive weapons. But Mike Sherman’s new coordinator is going to need to produce more improvement from a young defense if the Aggies have any hopes of contending in the South Division next season and beyond.
10. Kansas: The Jayhawks’ leaky defense did it with mirrors against a weak early schedule, but it all caught up with them during a seven-game losing streak to close the season that precipitated Mark Mangino’s resignation. Todd Reesing, Kerry Meier and Dezmon Briscoe all finished careers that will go down among the top players in Kansas history. But the challenge for new coach Turner Gill and defensive coordinator Carl Torbush will be to rebuild a defense that allowed at least 31 points in seven of eight conference games.
11. Colorado: Dan Hawkins popped off about challenging for a Big 12 North title at the end of last season. Instead, his team’s struggling performance ended his hopes of “10 wins and no excuses” before conference play even began. The season started off badly with embarrassing nationally televised losses to Colorado State, Toledo and West Virginia and didn’t get much better once conference play began. The Buffaloes did start Kansas’ losing streak and beat Texas A&M, but sputtered offensively as they ranked in the bottom 10 teams in rushing, passing efficiency and sacks allowed and in the bottom 20 teams in total offense. Tyler Hansen emerged as the quarterback of the future. His development will be critical in Hawkins’ hopes at a contract extension.
12. Baylor: The Bears started the season with a confidence-building upset at Wake Forest, but their season for all intents and purposes ended as soon as Robert Griffin sustained a season-ending injury in the third game. Griffin should be back next season but key defensive players like Joe Pawelek and Jordan Lake won’t be. The quarterback's return will be critical in rebuilding offensive confidence that was booming heading into the season. The Bears might have the opportunity to snap the conference's longest bowl drought next season in a more balanced Big 12 South, but the key for the season will be developing a defense that can better challenge the South Division’s powers.
Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Griffin
The pundits over at College Football News had an interesting project a couple of weeks ago that I wanted to discuss before the start of the season.
Their list had a decided crimson-and-cream hue to it with more Oklahoma players -- by far -- than any other team in the country.
The Sooners had 10 players selected. Penn State was next with six players, followed by Florida, Virginia Tech and USC with five players apiece. Oklahoma State, Texas and Kansas were among the team with four players apiece.
Here's a list of the Big 12 players who were selected with their rankings in parenthesis.
Oklahoma (10): QB Sam Bradford (5), DT Gerald McCoy (8), TE Jermaine Gresham (20), T Trent Williams (47), CB Dominique Franks (T141), LB Travis Lewis (142), RB DeMarco Murray (148), LB Ryan Reynolds (173), DE Jeremy Beal (182), RB Chris Brown (185).
Texas (4): QB Colt McCoy (4), DE-LB Sergio Kindle (19), T Adam Ulatoski (122), DT Lamarr Houston (152).
Baylor (3): QB Robert Griffin (37), LB Joe Pawelek (73), S Jordan Lake (126).
Missouri (2): LB Sean Weatherspoon (17), RB Derrick Washington (118).
Nebraska (2): DT Ndamukong Suh (10), DE Pierre Allen (170).
Colorado (1): RB Darrell Scott (116)
None selected: Iowa State, Kansas State, Texas A&M, Texas Tech
As expected, the Big 12's offensive reputation dominates with 17 players from that side of the ball, compared with 13 defensive players. And the 21-9 edge that the South Division enjoys isn't actually as one-sided as nearly every all-conference team that I saw.
But it again exhibits the star power of the conference when 30 of the top 200 players -- a cool 15 percent -- will be playing in the Big 12 this season.
I'll check back tomorrow with this list broken down by opposing nonconference players that Big 12 teams will be seeing in their nonconference games.
Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Griffin
I feel badly I wasn't able to get to these last Friday. But duty called and I was scrambling at Oklahoma to finish my interviews, hammer out a few posts and still make it to the airport in time to get back home that night.
It made for an eventful day, and the e-nails did pile up. Here are the best of the questions I received over the last several days to try to clear the decks.
Nathan Winslow of Austin writes: What new information was revealed to the NCAA after the 2008 season in Oklahoma linebacker Mike Balogun's case that was not presented in his first review?
Tim Griffin: The question at case was Balogun's age when he played for the Prince George Jets, a winter semipro team, and the Maryland Marauders of the semipro North American Football League.
Under NCAA rules, any participation during each 12-month period after a player's 21st birthday would result in a corresponding loss of a season of collegiate eligibility. Balogun signed with the Sooners at the age of 24 after two seasons at Lackawanna College last season.
The NCAA now is in the process of determining if Balogun played in any semipro games after his 21st birthday, and if so, for how many 12-month periods after turning 21.
Different newspapers have different accounts of how long Balogun played semipro ball. The New York Times reported that Balogun played only a year and a half before starting at Lackawanna in 2006 and 2007. But a Maryland paper reported that Balogun played for the Jets, in the fall of 2005.
The matter was thought to be resolved before last season when Balogun was certified for the 2008 season by the NCAA. Also scrambling enforcement of the penalty is the fact the Jets no longer exist, according to the Tulsa World.
Balogun was certified by the NCAA to play two seasons at Oklahoma. But if it turns out that Balogun turned 21 and then participated on a semipro team during a 12-month period, he would be eligible to play in only one season - which would turn out to be last season.
That matter will be determined between now and Wednesday. Balogun remains working out with the Sooners until his decision is announced.
It obviously would hurt Oklahoma's depth at linebacker, although Ryan Reynolds has come back healthy after knee surgery and Oklahoma coaches have been raving about the play of freshman Tom Wort in the middle. If Balogun can't play, it would hurt the Sooners' depth but wouldn't be a catastrophic loss.
Charles Mitchell from Las Vegas, N.M., writes: Tim, an educated guess, please. Will Georgia make more money playing OSU in Stillwater or playing the Citadel in Athens?
Tim Griffin: Just a guess on my account, but I'm guessing with a 92,746-seat capacity at home at Sanford Stadium, the Bulldogs would be in line for a multi-million dollar payout at home for almost any game. Even with television payments they might get for the Oklahoma State game, I'd be doubtful to think they can come close to those numbers for any road game.
Dusty McAfee from McKinney, Texas, writes: Tim, I've always enjoyed reading your columns, always believed you to be objective, and frankly, better than most others in your profession.
That being said, I have to question why Brandon Carter, a consensus All-American in 2008, was noticeably absent from your preseason All-Big 12 team. It's assumed that a returning consensus All-American would be expected to earn all-conference honors; however, I'm sure you had a reason for why he didn't make the team. Why, I'm wondering did you leave him off?
Tim Griffin: Dusty, first, thanks for the kind words. I'm not taking anything away from Carter, who I think is one of best offensive linemen in the conference. But I keep remembering his struggles - like all of Texas Tech - at the end of the Cotton Bowl against Mississippi. I don't think any of the Red Raiders' offensive line had a particularly good game protecting Graham Harrell in that game and that is the freshest memory for me.
Maybe that game stuck with me, but that's what I kept remembering and why I elevated my choices in front of Carter.
Obviously, my team is merely a guess at this time of year and solely my choice. Carter can play his way onto my final first-team squad if he has a big season.
It might behoove him to keep the films of that second half of the Mississippi game handy for some ready inspiration.
Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Griffin
Nebraska's hopes of sneaking into Virginia Tech and getting an upset victory over the Hokies improved markedly with the announcement that leading rusher Darren Evans will miss the season for the Hokies after he tore a ligament in his left knee during practice.
Virginia Tech relied on heavily Evans, who rushed for 1,265 yards and scored 11 touchdowns last season despite starting only eight games. I still can see him churning through Maryland in a Thursday night game last season when he set the school record with 253 rushing yards. He also picked up MVP honors in the Orange Bowl after gaining 153 yards.
The Cornhuskers remember Evans well, too. He gashed them for a pair of touchdowns in Virginia Tech's 35-30 victory in Lincoln last season.
But this Virginia Tech team might not be quite as salty offensively without Evans. Quarterback Tyrod Taylor's run-pass option abilities are lessened without his major offensive weapon.
Considering that only Josh Oglesby among Evans' replacements has carried the ball gives Nebraska a much better chance of winning one of the Big 12's biggest road tests during the nonconference part of the schedule.
Just a guess here, but I bet that Bo Pelini's camp grumpiness brightened for a few minutes Tuesday afternoon.
Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Griffin
The Big 12's nonconference schedule is marked with several extremely difficult tests early. These are statement games for the conference as a whole. If Big 12 teams can win these games, it would grab a lot of national attention.
If not, the Big 12's national reputation could take an early hit that could have naysayers reminding us about the conference's bowl struggles last season against the SEC.
But here's a look at six games that will be the most difficult for Big 12 teams. These will be a little more difficult than those last week I listed as potential trap games.
1. Nebraska at Virginia Tech, Sept. 19: Bo Pelini's toughest nonconference road game to date. The Hokies are ranked no lower than 14th nationally in any preseason magazine I've seen yet and will be a tremendous challenge in Blacksburg. In order to win, the Cornhuskers will have to keep Virginia Tech's defense and special teams in check and hope for a break or two.
2. Georgia at Oklahoma State, Sept. 5: This game will arguably be the biggest nonconference game in Oklahoma State history. And even though the Cowboys likely will be favored and facing a Georgia team breaking in a new starting quarterback, it will still be a huge test to beat one of the Southeastern Conference's traditional power teams.
3. Iowa at Iowa State, Sept. 12: The Cyclones have won four of the last five games at home in the series, but Paul Rhoads' first big test against his cross-state rivals looms especially large. Particularly with the Hawkeyes expected by many to be the surprise team in the Big Ten this season.
4. Illinois vs. Missouri (at St. Louis), Sept. 5: This game was already going to be tough before Sean Weatherspoon started tweeting about squeezing "the pulp" out of Illinois quarterback Juice Williams. And bet that Ron Zook and the Fighting Illini haven't forgotten that the Tigers have won four straight games against them in the bragging-rights battle.
5. Oklahoma at Miami, Oct. 3: This rivalry was one to circle back in the mid-1980s when Barry Switzer and Jimmy Johnson were battling. It's still a good one and Randy Shannon will be looking for a statement victory that would grab attention for his program from across the nation. Bet that Shannon will remind his team about the 51-13 whipping it endured last season in Norman for a little inspiration before the game at Land Shark Stadium.
6. Baylor at Wake Forest, Sept. 5: Baylor should be much better than last season and the Demon Deacons should be a little down from last season. But Wake Forest still should be a challenge considering Jim Grobe's recent transformation of the Demon Deacons, who have posted a 14-5 home record in the last three seasons. Baylor's defense will have to play much better than last season, when it allowed scoring drives on Wake Forest's first three possessions in an eventual 41-13 loss in Waco.
And 10 others to watch:
Colorado at West Virginia, Oct. 1
Oklahoma at BYU (at Arlington), Sept. 5
Texas A&M vs. Arkansas (at Arlington), Oct. 3
Texas Tech at Houston, Sept. 26
Houston at Oklahoma State, Sept. 12
Kansas at UTEP, Sept. 12
Missouri at Nevada, Sept. 26
Connecticut at Baylor, Sept. 19
Southern Mississippi at Kansas, Sept. 26
Kansas State at UCLA, Sept. 19
Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Griffin
I received more e-mails and correspondence this summer from fans about my Big 12 most memorable moments series than I have in a long time. This letter was typical of the missives.
Robert Godfrey from Olathe, Kan., writes: Tim, I really enjoyed the recent series on the Big 12's most memorable plays. How hard was it to settle on those 25 plays, and what are some others that almost made your final cut? Thanks again for the stories. They really got me excited about the coming season and how great this conference has been during its brief history.
Robert, you wouldn't believe the number of selections that I considered before I settled on my 25 most memorable Big 12 moments. It was one of the toughest assignments I've had in a long time, trying to cull those memories into a coherent list.
The only ramifications I had were that the moments had to make me go "wow" and every team had to be represented at least once. I think I was able to carry those out.
But there were about 25 more memories I wished I could have included, but just couldn't because of the list number. Here are the ones that just missed my cut, in no specific order.
Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Griffin
The number crunchers at Docsports.com have come up with the common statistical traits that the BCS national championship winners have shared.
1. Be a member of a "Big Six" conference or Notre Dame:
Teams still fitting the profile: 67.
2. Have at least eight wins in the previous season. Of the 11 BCS title winners nine teams (and the past six consecutive) have had at least eight wins the season prior to winning the championship. All have had at least seven.
Teams still fitting the profile: 37
3. Have a winning regular-season record in November-December games in the previous season. Winning games late in the season usually ensures a strong finish. Only LSU in 2002 -- with a 2-2 record in November and December -- claimed a BCS national championship without a winning record in those two months in the year before.
Teams still fitting the profile: 25.
Among those still standing are: Alabama (4-0), Boston College (4-1), California (3-2), Cincinnati (5-0), Florida (5-0), Georgia Tech (3-1), Iowa (3-1), Michigan State (3-1), Mississippi (4-0), Missouri (3-1), Nebraska (3-1), Northwestern (3-1), Ohio State (3-0), Oklahoma (4-0), Oregon (3-1), Oregon State (4-1), Penn State (3-1), Pittsburgh (4-1), Rutgers (4-0), Texas (3-1), Texas Tech (3-1), USC (5-0), Wake Forest (3-2), West Virginia (3-2) and Virginia Tech (3-1).
4. Have a junior or senior quarterback with some playing experience. All 11 teams that have won BCS national titles have had a junior or senior playing. All but Tee Martin of Tennessee had starting experience entering the season.
Teams still fitting the profile: 17.
Among those still alive are: California (Kevin Riley), Cincinnati (Tony Pike), Florida (Tim Tebow), Georgia Tech (Josh Nesbitt), Iowa (Richard Stanzi), Mississippi (Jevan Snead), Northwestern (Mike Kafka), Oklahoma (Sam Bradford), Oregon (Jeremiah Masoli), Oregon State (Lyle Moevao), Penn State (Daryll Clark), Pittsburgh (Bill Stull), Texas (Colt McCoy), USC (Mitch Mustain), Wake Forest (Riley Skinner), West Virginia (Jarrett Brown) and Virginia Tech (Tyrod Taylor).
5. Have six returning defensive starters from a unit that ranked in the top 20 in scoring defense in the previous season. Eight of the past nine teams to have won the BCS title have had a defense in the nation's top 20 in scoring defense the previous season (Florida was 46th in 2007) and all but one team (1998 Tennessee) returned at least six starters from their previous season's defense.
Teams still fitting the profile: 6.
Those teams that are eligible include Florida (fourth in scoring defense, 11 returning starters), Iowa (fifth in scoring defense, eight returning starters), Mississippi (20th in scoring defense, eight starters), Texas (18th in scoring defense, seven starters), West Virginia (11th in scoring defense, eight starters) and Virginia Tech (ninth in scoring defense, seven starters).
The formula has been accurate over the years. Of the seven teams that fit the profile coming into last season -- Alabama, Florida, Georgia, Kansas, Rutgers, USC, and Wake Forest -- all won at least eight games and Florida won the national championship. The team the Gators beat for the national title, Oklahoma, was not included among those on the list.
So keep these trends in mind this season. It might be the reason why we end up seeing Texas and Florida playing for the national championship, if not Iowa, Mississippi, West Virginia or Virginia Tech at the Rose Bowl.
Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Griffin
Baylor quarterback Bryce Petty turned in a scintillating performance to spark Team USA's 41-3 victory over Canada in the championship game of the Junior World Football Championships Sunday in Canton, Ohio.
Petty completed 14 of 14 passes for 190 yards and three touchdowns to lead the Americans to the victory over the No. 1-seeded Canadians in Sunday's championship game.
The Americans won their three games in the tournament by a combined margin of 174-3.
Petty, a native of Midlothian, Texas, started the offensive fireworks for the American team on Sunday with a 17-yard TD strike to Florida Atlantic recruit Jamal Davis on the third play of the game.
He later hooked up on a 47-yard TD strike to Oregon State recruit Kevin Cummings and a 34-yard scoring pass to Eastern Illinois recruit Erik Lora.
''The thing about a 14-14 that goes unnoticed is about 12 of those were a 5-yard hitch [routes] that [the receivers] just turned and went up the field," Petty told the Akron Beacon-Journal. "Basically what I am saying is, we have athletes.
"I have nothing to do with it. I could get my 12-year-old sister to go out there and throw 5-yard passes and they would do the same thing with it."
Baylor wide receiver recruit Tevin Reese of Temple, Texas, produced two catches for 17 yards in the championship game. And Texas A&M defensive end recruit Chris Henderson of Dallas Carter High School produced a tack.
Petty finished the three games of the tournament by completing 25 of 30 passes for 382 yards, six touchdowns and no interceptions.
His NCAA pass efficiency ranking for those three games was 256.3. The NCAA's single-season record was set by Colt Brennan of Hawaii, who amassed a passer rating of 186.0 over the 2006 season. Oklahoma's Sam Bradford led the nation in pass efficiency last season with a rating of 176.5.
"I can't even put into words what this has been like. I am extremely blessed," Petty said.
Virginia Tech recruit David Wilson was named tournament MVP, leading Team USA's rushing attack with 10 carries for 87 yards and a touchdown on Sunday.
Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Griffin
Roll left: James Brown guarantees victory and then beats Nebraska
Date: Dec. 7, 1996
Place: TWA Dome, St. Louis, Mo.
Score: Texas 37, Nebraska 27
The first Big 12 championship game had much meaning and symbolism on both sides.
Nebraska and Texas had been on opposite sides of practically every major issue in the early history of the Big 12 -- from the first commissioner and site of the conference office to how many partial qualifiers would be acceptable to each conference school.
Nebraska was a two-time defending national champion that came into the game looking for a chance to play for the national championship. Texas arrived as a three-touchdown underdog, but one that had played well down the stretch. The Longhorns entered with a late four-game winning streak that boosted them to the South title after losing four of five games earlier in the season.
When reporters asked Texas quarterback James Brown about the Longhorns' huge underdog status before the game, he brazenly predicted his team might win by three touchdowns.
And while he didn't quite live up to that boast, Brown was masterful in directing one of the most memorable upsets in Big 12 history.
The Longhorns weren't intimidated by the Cornhuskers from the opening snap, marching 80 yards on 11 plays on the first drive of the game, capped by a 5-yard TD run by Priest Holmes. Texas was poised to extend the lead on its second drive after moving inside the Nebraska 10, but Brown was intercepted by Eric Stokes in the end zone to kill the drive.
The Cornhuskers tied the game on their ensuing possession on a 2-yard TD run by DeAngelo Evans.
Holmes later added a 61-yard TD run later in the first half that was matched by a 23-yard TD run by Evans later in the second quarter. Texas claimed a 20-17 halftime lead on a 30-yard field goal by Phil Dawson with 1:00 left before the break.
After another Dawson field goal, Nebraska took its first lead of the game on Evans' third TD jaunt of the game -- a 6-yarder with 2:11 left in the third quarter that boosted them to a 24-23 advantage.
The Cornhuskers then extended their lead to 27-23 on a 24-yard field goal by Kris Brown with 10:11 left.
But Brown, who passed for 353 yards on the game, put the Longhorns ahead to stay by arching a 66-yard TD pass to Wane McGarity with 7:53 left.
McGarity, a converted running back, made a brilliant over-the-shoulder catch over the outstretched hands of Nebraska safety Mike Minter near the sidelines before streaking past him for the final 35 yards into the end zone.
The Cornhuskers were stopped in Texas territory on the ensuing drive, but opted to punt the ball on fourth down to the Texas 7 with about four minutes left.
Texas coach John Mackovic then converted on the gamble of the year. Facing fourth-and-inches from his own 28, Brown faked a dive and rolled left. Tight end Derek Lewis was wide open down the left sidelines, Brown hit him in stride with a perfect pass, gaining 61 yards before he finally was stopped.
Holmes scored on an 11-yard TD run on the next play, punctuating a wild 37-27 upset victory that gave the Longhorns the first Big 12 title.
Factoids: Coming into the start of the Big 12, Nebraska coach Tom Osborne was the loudest critic of staging a conference championship game. But he and other coaches were outvoted because of the revenue generated for each conference school by the extra game ... Holmes rushed for 120 yards on nine carries ... Ricky Williams was used as a decoy, rushing for a career-low 7 yards on eight carries. But his pass blocking was invaluable in the Longhorns' triumph ... Evans rushed for a game-high 130 yards on 32 carries ... Nebraska quarterback Scott Frost rushed for 47 yards on 18 carries and completed 15-of-24 passes for 155 yards ... The Longhorns gashed the Cornhuskers for a season-worst 503 yards of total offense, despite having the ball for only 20 minutes, 25 seconds. Texas produced 8.82 yards per snap ... Before the loss, Nebraska had won its previous nine games and their last 31 games against conference opponents.
They said it, part I: "I could have thrown that ball behind my back and hit him. The play was so wide open. I looked up and Derek was open deep. I just had to get him the ball," Texas quarterback James Brown on the "Roll Left" pass to Derek Lewis.
They said it, part II: "Oh God. The losses stick with me more than the wins. And that game was disappointing to say the least. We were more talented with that team than the 1997 team that won the national championship," Nebraska defensive tackle Jason Peter on the disappointment of the Cornhuskers' loss.
They said it, part III: ''That was a tremendous call. It was a big gamble, but it worked,'' Nebraska coach Tom Osborne on Texas' dramatic fourth-down conversion.
The upshot: Texas ruined Nebraska's hopes of playing for a shot at the national championship. Instead, the Longhorns earned their first berth in the Fiesta Bowl against Penn State. The Longhorns squandered a halftime lead as the Nittany Lions stormed back to outscore them 31-3 in the second half en route to a decisive 38-15 victory. The loss dropped Texas to 8-5 for the season, finishing No. 23 in the final Associated Press poll.
While knocked out of the national title picture, Nebraska took advantage of four-straight scoring drives in the second half to claim a 41-21 triumph over Virginia Tech in the Orange Bowl. The Cornhuskers finished the season 11-2 and No. 6 in the final AP poll -- their lowest end-of-season finish in four years.
11. When BCS meant "Boo Chris Simms."
12. A Buffalo stampede: Six Chris Brown TDs lead CU to first Big 12 title game.
13. Run, Ricky, run. Ricky Williams breaks career rushing record.
14. Wild game, wilder post-game rants when Gundy and Leach meet in 2007.
15. Rout 66: No, that score wasn't a typo.
16. KSU finally slays the Cornhuskers.
17. Kingsbury and Long hook up in a passing duel for the ages.
18. Henery and Suh make Colorado blue.
19. Stunning OSU rally leads to Stoops' first home loss.
20. It's never over for Texas Tech until it's over.
21. Reesing to Meier. Again and again.
22. A Texas-sized comeback -- Texas over Oklahoma State in 2004.
23. A Border War unlike any of the rest -- Missouri over Kansas in 2007.
24. Seneca Wallace's wild TD run vs. Texas Tech in 2001.
25. Baylor's "So Much for Taking a Knee" against UNLV in 1999.
Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Griffin
The dedication and zeal of Nebraska fans rank among the strongest in all of college football.
Brian Christopherson of the Lincoln Journal-Star has a great story this morning about the Cornhuskers' support from fans scattered around the world.
My favorite part was an anecdote from Nebraska graduate Tim Pendrell, who shared the story of watching the 2006 Nebraska-Texas game with friends at the Shao Yuan dorms at Peking University as he took part in a Nebraska-sponsored study-abroad program.
While watching that tight game, Pendrell's new friends were shouting, "Husker jia you, Husker jia you, Husker jia you," which is Chinese for "go team."
Hopefully, Pendrell's friends got a good appreciation for Big 12 football while watching that game. And if so, do I have some links for them today.
- The Oklahoman's Berry Tramel doubts we will ever see a college coach's affairs turned into a reality television show.
- New Kansas State quarterback Chris Harper tells the Manhattan Mercury's Joshua Kinder that sitting out the upcoming season won't be an imposition for him.
- Big 12 schools are paying increased attention to Sequoyah Indian schools for potential players, Jim Trickett of the Cherokee Phoenix writes.
- Texas A&M coaches are targeting Northern Louisiana as a fertile potential recruiting area, Jason Pugh of the Shreveport Times reports.
- Kansas running back-turned-linebacker Angus Quigley credits his mother for helping him persevere in his football career, the Lawrence Journal-World's Dugan Arnett reports.
- The Lawrence Journal-World's Eric Sorrentino isn't buying concerns about Oklahoma's revamped offensive line.
- Patrick Ridgell of the Longmont Times-Call writes about the divergence of opinions about Colorado in preseason magazines this summer.
- Oklahoma State-Georgia, Oklahoma-BYU, Oklahoma-Miami, Missouri-Illinois and Nebraska-Virginia Tech are among the top national nonconference games this season mentioned in a panel discussion by the writers at College Football News.com.
- I Am the 12th Man opines that an unconventional offensive or defensive scheme might help Texas A&M transform its program that much faster.
- The Oklahoman's Jake Trotter predicts how Oklahoma's receiving statistics will break down this season.