Big 12: Washington State Cougars

Instant analysis: Baylor 49, UCLA 26

December, 28, 2012
12/28/12
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It was billed as a potentially high-scoring, exciting Bridgepoint Education Holiday Bowl. Baylor got the memo. UCLA didn't. The Bears dominated, making an early statement for the Big 12 in the battle with the Pac-12 for the title of "second best conference."

UCLA was gifted a TD at the end they didn't actually score. The final score should have been 49-19.

It was over when: It was 35-10 at halftime, so there wasn't much tension at any point. Baylor dominated in every way from gun-to-gun, on both sides of the ball. That the Bears' offense was explosive wasn't a surprise. That the Bears' defense crushed UCLA, well, that was.

Turning point: UCLA wanted to blitz and pressure Baylor's offense. It seemed like a good idea. But in the second quarter, on third-and-9 from the Baylor 45, the Bruins blitzed Bears QB Nick Florence, and he connected on a 55-yard TD pass to Tevin Reese. It was a beautiful pass and catch. It made the score 21-zip, and it firmly established the direction of this game.

Baylor game ball goes to: Coordinator Phil Bennett and the Baylor defense. There was this guy who kept calling Baylor's defense "horrible" and "terrible" and "awful." He doesn't feel very smart at this moment. Of course, that was the take on Baylor's defense just about all season from everyone. Still, just as Baylor transformed after a 3-4 start, the defense posted its best game in its final outing of 2012.

UCLA game ball goes to: Let's hear it for the special teams! Bruins kicker Ka'imi Fairbairn was 2-for-2 on field goals, and punter Jeff Locke was his usual outstanding self. Shaquelle Evans had a 43-yard punt return, and Steven Manfro had a 51-yard kick return.

Unsung hero: Baylor running back Lache Seastrunk, who announced his Heisman Trophy candidacy before the game, had a nice performance with 16 carries for 138 yards. But backup running back Glasco Martin had 98 yards and three TDs.

Stat of the game: UCLA was 1-of-17 on third down. That's just horrible. The Bruins were also 3-of-8 on fourth down. Credit to Baylor. Discredit to UCLA.

Stat of the game II: Baylor outrushed UCLA 306 yards to 33. One word: dominant.

What it means: This was the first of three bowl games putting Big 12 and Pac-12 teams. Those conferences are competing for the mythical title of Second Best Conference. This was a decisive win for the Big 12, as a team that went 7-5 overall and 4-5 in Big 12 play whipped a Pac-12 team that went 9-4 overall and 6-3 in conference play. While it's probably silly to read too much into one bowl game, which can be fluid and surprising, the pressure certainly is now on Oregon State in the Valero Alamo Bowl against Texas and Oregon in the Tostitos Fiesta Bowl against Kansas State.
Has something seemed odd to you about the BCS bowls this year? Does it seem like ... oh wait, West Virginia just scored again.

Does it seem like ... wait, there goes De'Anthony Thomas. Don't think he'll get caught from behind.

Does it seem like ... wait, would somebody please tackle Justin Blackmon?

Does it seem like there have been a lot of points this bowl season?

It's not just you. There have been a lot of points. More points than ever before. And by huge quantities.

So far, BCS bowl teams have averaged a total of 77 points in the Rose, Fiesta, Orange and Sugar bowls. That, folks, is nearly 26 points more than last year (51.6). And it's nearly 11 points better than the previous high of 66.3 from 2001-02.

Perhaps pairing two SEC teams in the title game has created a black hole sucking all defensive stinginess into the LSU-Alabama rematch, which you might recall went 9-6 with no touchdowns in their first meeting. West Virginia scored 10 touchdowns -- 10! -- against Clemson. Alabama gave up 12 TDs all season.

Speaking of Clemson: ACC. Well, well, well.

After the Tigers ingloriously fell 70-33 to the Mountaineers, we got our second story from the BCS bowl season: The ACC's insistence on throwing up on itself in BCS bowl games.

The conference that was once expected to challenge the SEC is now 2-13 in BCS bowl games. That's hard to do. You'd think in 15 BCS bowls the conference could get lucky at least five or six times. But no, it insists on making ACC blogger Heather Dinich, a genuinely nice person, into some sort of Grim Reaper every bowl season.

Heck, the Big East has won seven BCS bowls -- second fewest among AQ conferences -- but it's 7-7.

Of course, this all ties together, and we're here to bring out a bow, but first a warning: If you don't want to read about how good the SEC is for the 56,314th time this year, then stop reading. I'd recommend an episode of "South Park" or perhaps a John le Carré thriller as an alternative for passing the time.

We can all agree the SEC plays great defense right? Alabama and LSU will play for the title Monday with the nation's top-two defenses. Do you think perhaps that it's not a coincidence that the conference that is 16-7 in BCS bowl games plays great defense?

The only other AQ conference with a winning record in BCS bowl games is the Pac-12, which is 11-7. The Pac-12 isn't known for defense, either, but USC was when it won the conference's last national title in 2004.

The only team to win a BCS national title without an elite defense was Auburn in 2010, but the Tigers' defense seemed to find itself late in the season. Since 1999, eight national champions had a top-10 defense. Other than Auburn, the lowest-rated defense to win a BCS national title was Ohio State in 2002. It ranked 23rd in the nation in total defense.

Three of the four BCS bowl games have been thrillers. Two went to overtime. We've seen big plays all over the field in the passing game and running game. Yet, if things go according to script in the title game, we'll see none of that. We might not see more than a couple of plays that go for more than 20 yards. We might not see any.

Some might call that boring. It might seem that both offenses are so paranoid of making a mistake that they are stuck in mud, both in game plan and execution.

But, snoozefest or not, when the clock strikes zero a team from the SEC will hoist the crystal football for a sixth consecutive time.

That might say something about playing better defense.

Fiesta Bowl tones down the party

December, 26, 2011
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VIP strip club outings, illegal campaign contributions, expense claims that qualified as only slightly less than stealing: The Fiesta Bowl organization sounded like it was inspired by "The Sopranos" in a series of stories written by the Arizona Republic from 2009-10. When the U.S. Attorney's Office, FBI and IRS began investigations, the resemblance was even more striking.

Former Fiesta Bowl COO Natalie Wisneski was indicted in Arizona federal court on nine criminal counts on Nov. 16, and among the seven felony counts were conspiracy and filing false tax records. More indictments could follow, including for former bowl CEO John Junker, who was forced out in March. Junker, according reports on the investigations, piled up nearly $5 million in expenses on the company's credit card over a 10-year period. Along the way, he allegedly paid for a $1,200 strip club visit and held a $33,000 birthday party for himself at Pebble Beach.

Bowl games already were catching heat in the media, and not just because of fans wanting a playoff instead of the BCS. More than a few news reports had questioned the bowl games' tax-exempt status. Tales of the lavish ways of the Fiesta Bowl certainly didn't help the public perception.

[+] EnlargeRobert Shelton
AP Photo/Darryl WebbRobert Shelton was hired to help repair the Fiesta Bowl's image.
Fiesta, indeed.

Into this swirling mess stepped Robert Shelton: an academic, a physicist, a former president of the University of Arizona. But his taking over the top spot at the Fiesta Bowl wasn't a moment for relativity. The bowl organization's issues were philosophic as much as anything. And Shelton's focus after taking over were existential. A branding group from Dallas was brought aboard to study the simple idea of why the Fiesta Bowl existed and what it should aspire to be.

"If we disappeared tomorrow, what would be better or what would be worse in the world?" Shelton said. "The answer is pretty simple in the end. The answer isn't bowl games. We exist to bring economic value to the state of Arizona, to be a window to the state of Arizona, a source of pride. That people outside the state of Arizona will come to see Arizona. We exist for philanthropic purposes. So that's why we are here."

And then he added: "If we keep that in mind, then we can say, 'How do we do this?'"

If the Fiesta Bowl -- the game itself -- isn't the end, but the means to an end, then the Fiesta Bowl's prime directive is to serve its community, though probably not at the local strip clubs and through backdoor routes to political coffers.

There have been changes, starting with a turnover of about one third of the bowl's 35 full-time employees. Even before Shelton arrived, the bowl adopted a new set of bylaws that included a far stricter set of checks and balances on how money is spent. There's a new "authorization matrix," which lists who can approve what expenditures at what levels and what kind of sign-offs you must have for purchases. Large expenditures require multiple sign-offs. The bowl now uses bowl-owned purchasing cards, instead of allowing employees to use their own credit cards for expenses, expecting reimbursement, which helps the bowl get a concrete idea of expenses. Further, all employees and volunteers undergo background checks, and all employees and board members sign a code of conduct.

And the old, infamous "Fiesta Bowl Frolic," which was basically a big party for college administrators, is now the "Fiesta Bowl Summit." It will include panels on important subjects, such as concussions in college football.

The Fiesta Bowl's problems were about the corrupt actions of individuals, but they also were about the bowl's culture. Both had to change.

"There were a handful of individuals alleged to have misbehaved," Shelton said. "But they were enabled by an atmosphere that was created over many, many years. Not through any evil intent but an atmosphere that wasn't cautious and reviewing or as informed as it should be."

Shelton was hired in June, but the months before he came aboard were precarious. Existential thoughts? The Fiesta Bowl, first played in 1971, was facing potential extermination. It could have been kicked out of the BCS, for one. And it could have lost its bowl licenses from the NCAA, which includes its oversight of the Insight Bowl. In the end, the BCS fined the bowl $1 million but retained the Fiesta Bowl, and the NCAA Postseason Bowl Licensing Subcommittee put the bowl on one-year probation.

Shelton believes the bowl game is back on firm ground, though he said it wasn't yet time for the bowl to be "sanguine."

"I think there is a sense we've done the right things, and the BCS and NCAA value what we bring to the bowls and postseason play," he said.

The bowl's mission as a charitable organization also has been reviewed. When asked how much the bowl gave to charity in past years, Shelton admitted it was "relatively low in the past."

That $1 million fine from the BCS has been paid out to charity, and the Fiesta Bowl has decided to give out another $400,000 to charitable causes. It's also adopted a more systematic fashion of giving, holding publicized general calls for charitable requests.

Of course, there's another apparent conflict of interest that Shelton must face leading up to this year's Fiesta Bowl between Stanford and Oklahoma State on Jan. 2.

Shelton is a Stanford graduate.

"I am completely neutral," he said. "I shall be dressed in neutral colors. I can't talk for my wife or kids who are also Stanford alumni."

It's a great matchup, arguably even better than the national title game between LSU and Alabama, considering that is a rematch. But while both teams have sold out their ticket allotments, the bowl is not yet a sellout.

It's possible that in a sagging local economy, the locals won't immediately re-embrace a bowl game that let its community down.

But Shelton is hoping, after an existential crisis, that the bowl finds a mythic ending.

"We could use the Fiesta Bowl's tragic events to come out even better," he said. "That's the nature of the word 'Phoenix.'"

Bowl debate: Big 12 vs. Pac-12

December, 19, 2011
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The Pac-10 and Big 12 nearly got married last year, but only Colorado ended up eloping with the now-Pac-12.

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.

[+] EnlargeAndrew Luck
AP Photo/Gerry BroomeQuarterback Andrew Luck leads Stanford into its second consecutive BCS bowl, this season against Oklahoma State in the Fiesta Bowl.
Ted Miller: Not only is Oklahoma State better than Virginia Tech, it's still questionable whether this Stanford team is better than last year's. Since we're going all crazy and whispering about the SEC, there was a feeling out West that by the end of the 2010 season the Cardinal might not only be the best team in the Pac-12 but also in the nation. They were big and physical and quarterback Luck actually had a solid receiving corps with which to work. After a loss to Oregon in the fifth game, they didn't lose again until playing, er, Oregon in this year's 10th game. If we could go back in time and have the Cardinal play Auburn, I think Stanford would have won the national title.

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.

[+] EnlargeRobert Griffin III
Jerome Miron/US PresswireBaylor's Robert Griffin III will try to make it three straight bowl victories by Heisman Trophy winners.
Which, if you ask me, says plenty about both the defense and the power of RG3. They've got a lot of athletes on the defense, but when four of your top five tacklers are defensive backs, well, you need a guy like RG3 to go 9-3.

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.

Getting to know Colorado

February, 11, 2011
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Colorado is new to the Pac-12 but old to the Big 12, so it makes sense to check in with Big 12 blogger David Ubben to get his take on the state of the Buffaloes as they welcome new coach Jon Embree.

Just who are these Buffaloes? What are their strengths and weaknesses and how will they fit into the Pac-12, specifically the Pac-12 South?

We went looking for insights and Ubben obliged.

Ted Miller: Well, David you -- and the Big 12 -- have to say goodbye to Colorado, with the Buffaloes looking to their future out West in the Pac-12. First of all, give Pac-12 fans a CliffsNotes description of the state of the program. Things haven’t gone so well in Boulder lately. Why?

David Ubben: Colorado is certainly in rebuilding mode as they kick off a new start under coach Jon Embree after firing Dan Hawkins in the middle of the 2010 season. They bring back two stars in quarterback Tyler Hansen and running back Rodney Stewart. But fitting those guys into Embree's new system and greatly improving from their 5-7 record seems like asking a lot.

Hawkins came to Boulder promising big things but never delivered. As for why it didn't go well? Any number of reasons. One that angered fans is Hawkins' tendency to play less talented players who knew the system well over more talented players that maybe didn't have as solid of a grasp of what they wanted to do on the field. Embree has said he'll do essentially the opposite, so I guess that's a start in the eyes of fans.

TM: OK, let’s look forward then. Tell Pac-12 folks about Embree, his new staff and the talent the Buffaloes have returning. What are strengths and what are question marks heading into the 2011 season?

DU: He's stocked his coaching staff with quite a few Buffaloes, but most of the names would be more recognizable as players. The biggest name is his offensive coordinator, former Buffs great Eric Bieniemy, who spent the past few years coaching Adrian Peterson as the running backs coach at the Minnesota Vikings. They also swiped Bobby Kennedy, a Boulder native, from Texas to coach receivers.

Last year, they ran the ball pretty well, and Stewart is back. He's a small, shifty back that seems way, way underrated. He rushed for more than 1,300 yards last year, and the only Big 12 backs who had more were Daniel Thomas and Kendall Hunter, who should be drafted this year. They lose tackle Nate Solder, another first-round pick, but Ryan Miller is back, and he's an all-conference level guard.

The big question for them next season will be if their defense can stop the pass -- which my sources tell me, is pretty important in the Pac-12. Maybe not as important as in the Big 12, but still necessary for big success. Both corners from last year, Jalil Brown and Jimmy Smith, should be drafted. They weren't great at stopping the pass last year (9th in the Big 12) so it's hard to see them being better at it next year.

TM: OK. Good stuff. Let’s wind it up. How would you have projected them in the Big 12 next fall? And do you have any feeling for how they might do in the new Pac-12 South?

DU: They definitely looked like a team in the bottom third of the Big 12 next year, and it seems like it'll be tough for them to finish in the top half of the Pac-12 South in 2011.

Right now, it's just about being competitive and maybe stealing a game or two that people didn't think they'd win. If that happens enough, a bowl game isn't out of the question. We don't have any idea what to expect out of an Embree-coached team, and that could be a good or a bad thing. We won't know for sure until next year, but if Embree can bottle up whatever Colorado had inside of them the way they played down the stretch last season after Hawkins was fired, it could be a real surprise 2011 for the Buffs.

Record-breaking nine bowl teams predicted for Big 12

August, 11, 2009
8/11/09
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Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Griffin

It's been a long time between bowl trips for Baylor.

The Bears' last bowl trip came in 1994 when they were defeated by Washington State in the Alamo Bowl. Current Baylor starting quarterback Robert Griffin was 4 years old when that game was played.

But excitement is rampant along the Brazos River and the Bears are ready to snap a bowl drought that is tied with Duke for the longest in schools in BCS-affiliated conferences.

Considering that Grant Teaff was coaching Baylor then and Steve Spurrier was directing the Blue Devils, it has been an extensive drought for both schools.

The Bears have their best hope this season and I'm thinking they squeak in. It will be critical for them to win at least one of their first two games against Wake Forest and Connecticut. They also need victories over Northwestern State and Kent State to enter Big 12 play at 3-1.

If Baylor does make that remarkable step, it will likely mean the Big 12 will be able to fill its full complement of bowls. It was unable to fill two bowls at the bottom of its list of partners. But that likely won't be the case this season if the Bears live up to their preseason hype.

Here's a look at how I predict the Big 12's bowl slots will be filled this season with a record nine teams making trips. The last two or three might be 6-6 teams, but there won't be much complaining from any of them.

Baylor Bears

Bowl bid: Possibly.

Best case: Robert Griffin electrifies the nation with stunning victories over Wake Forest and Connecticut to start the season and the Bears are already at six victories by mid-October. It makes them the feel-good story of the conference, places Art Briles in prime consideration for a couple of top jobs and pushes the Bears into the Alamo Bowl where they last went bowling in 1994.

Worst case: Offensive tackle Danny Watkins can't protect Griffin's blind side and the Bears stumble early with two-straight losses. Those pass-protection problems fester all season as the Bears revert to their losing ways and miss a bowl for another season.

Prediction: Texas Bowl.

Colorado Buffaloes

Bowl bid: Possibly.

Best case: In a nod to soothsayers everywhere, the Buffaloes indeed live up to Dan Hawkins' preseason "prediction" and win 10 games, claiming a surprise Big 12 title game and ending up in the Holiday Bowl.

Worst case: The Buffaloes don't settle on either quarterback and tumble out of bowl contention for the third time in the last four seasons under Hawkins, making his seat extremely toasty this winter.

Prediction: Independence Bowl.

Iowa State Cyclones:

Best case: The Cyclones become the surprise story of the conference as Austen Arnaud immediately blossoms in Tom Herman's new offense. The defense shows steady improvement under Wally Burnham, providing a surprise trip to the casinos and crawfish boils at the Independence Bowl in Shreveport, La.

Worst case: Paul Rhoads is a willing worker, but his new team just never jells with his philosophy. More road woes continue against Kent State as the Cyclones see their nation-worst road losing streak stretch to 22 games as they stay home from a bowl for a fourth-straight season.

Prediction: Home for the holidays.

Kansas Jayhawks

Bowl bound: Count on it.

Best case: The Jayhawks find a couple of defensive reincarnations of Aqib Talib to help them spring a couple of upsets over South Division powers. Confidence gleaned from those games helps them surprise the South Divison champion in the Big 12 title game and send Mark Mangino and his team skipping into their second BCS bowl in three seasons -- this time to the Fiesta Bowl.

Worst case: Todd Reesing struggles behind a retooled offensive line and the Jayhawks' offense isn't nearly as potent as expected. Without a high-powered scoring team, the Kansas defense is exposed as posers, falling to the Insight.com Bowl for the second-straight season.

Prediction: Sun Bowl.

Kansas State Wildcats

Best case: Bill Snyder brings the magic back to Manhattan, picking up a couple of upset victories to restore some pride in the Kansas State program from early in the season. The Wildcats ride that momentum for a surprise trip to the Insight.com Bowl.

Worst case: A quarterback never emerges and a struggling pass defense regresses into a horrific unit against the Big 12's high-powered aerial attacks. Those defeats make Snyder wonder why he ever left retirement as the Wildcats finish out of a bowl trip for the fifth time in six seasons.

Prediction: Home for the holidays.

Missouri Tigers

Bowl bid: Possibly.

Best case: Blaine Gabbert provides steady leadership as Derrick Washington becomes the most versatile back in the Big 12. The retooled defense emerges as the Tigers claim a surprise Big 12 North title and end up at the Cotton Bowl.

Worst case: The loss of Chase Daniel, Jeremy Maclin, Chase Coffman and both coordinators cause the wheels to fall off the Missouri program and they miss a bowl trip for the first time since 2004.

Prediction: Insight.com Bowl

Nebraska Cornhuskers

Bowl bound: Count on it.

Best case: Zac Lee is a revelation at quarterback and the defense emerges in Bo Pelini's second season to push the Cornhuskers to a upset victory in the Big 12 title game and into the Fiesta Bowl.

Worst case: The hype for Lee is just that. The new quarterback struggles and the Cornhuskers' defense backslides all the way t
o the Texas Bowl.

Prediction: Holiday Bowl.

Oklahoma Sooners

Bowl bound: Count on it.

Best case: The young offensive line jells and the defense plays better than expected as the Sooners earn another chance to play in the BCS title game -- restoring order in the Cotton Bowl on Oct. 17 along the way.

Worst case: The offensive front struggles to protect Sam Bradford and the defense isn't as good as expected, dropping the Sooners to their first visit to the Alamo Bowl.

Prediction: Fiesta Bowl.

Oklahoma State Cowboys

Bowl bound: Count on it.

Best case: The offensive triplets exceed expectations as Bill Young cobbles together enough defense to enable the Cowboys to outduel Texas and Oklahoma for their first Big 12 championship and a trip to the Fiesta Bowl.

Worst case: The defense still can't match up with Oklahoma and Texas -- and some of the other teams in the South Division either. Those struggles send the Cowboys skidding all the way to the Insight.com Bowl in Tempe, Ariz., where they play second-fiddle to the Sooners who are playing up the road in the Fiesta Bowl.

Prediction: Cotton Bowl.

Texas Longhorns

Bowl bound: Count on it

Best case: The Longhorns find a featured running back and enough push from the defensive front to make all of the BCS rankings meaningless en route back to another shot at the national title in Pasadena.

Worst case: Colt McCoy gets hurt, the running game struggles and the Longhorns keep playing dropsy with key turnovers chances for another season. Instead, Texas players fumble their way to the Holiday Bowl in San Diego where they munch fish tacos and feed the whales at Sea World for the fourth time in the last 10 years.

Prediction: BCS National Championship Game.

Texas A&M Aggies

Bowl bid: Possibly.

Best case: Jerrod Johnson plays so well at quarterback that Ryan Tannehill moves back to wide receiver full time. The Aggies respond to defensive coordinator Joe Kines' defense with vast improvement through the season, stunning Texas in the regular-season finale to push them into the Alamo Bowl.

Worst case: A leaky offensive line can't open holes or pass block and the Aggies' defense struggles against all Big 12 quarterbacks in another season that finishes without a bowl.

Prediction: Home for the holidays.

Texas Tech Red Raiders

Bowl bid: Count on it.

Best case: Taylor Potts exceeds all expectations and the Red Raiders defense plays so well that some start accusing the school of being a "defense-first" program. The Red Raiders don't win the Big 12 South, but they revisit the location of Mike Leach's biggest bowl victory at the Holiday Bowl.

Worst case: The Red Raiders miss Graham Harrell and Michael Crabtree more than expected and skid out of bowl contention for the first time under Leach.

Prediction: Alamo Bowl.

Mackovic's UT coaching career doomed in 66-3 loss

June, 22, 2009
6/22/09
4:00
PM ET

Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Griffin

No. 15

Rout 66: No, that score wasn't a typo

Date: Sept. 13, 1997
Place: Darrell K. Royal/Texas Memorial Stadium, Austin, Texas
Score: UCLA 66, Texas 3

Simply stated, it was one of the most embarrassing moments in Texas football history.

 
  Stephen Dunn /Allsport
  Bruins quarterback Cade McNown threw for a school-record five touchdown passes.

Rebuilding UCLA came into the season unranked. And the Bruins' national perception took a hit after starting the season with losses to Washington State and Tennessee.

The No. 11 Longhorns met UCLA without starting quarterback James Brown, who was nursing a bruised left ankle. Texas still had many of weapons returning from a team that had notched an upset victory the previous season to claim the Big 12 championship over Nebraska.

But those factors didn't matter to UCLA quarterback Cade McNown, who blistered Texas' secondary for 202 passing yards and a school-record five touchdown passes to spark the stunning victory.

McNown blew the game open with a pair of touchdown throws 20 seconds apart early in the second quarter; he hit Skip Hicks on a 43-yard scoring pass and then hooked up with Mike Grieb on a 1-yard touchdown reception after a Texas turnover.

But he was just getting started. McNown hit Jim McElroy with a 4-yard touchdown pass and Grieb with another 1-yard scoring toss that boosted UCLA to an improbable 38-0 lead with 4:37 left in the first half.

Texas got a 35-yard field goal from Phil Dawson early in the third quarter to account for all of its scoring, but the landslide didn't stop when UCLA coach Bob Toledo pulled his starters and inserted his substitutes.

The Bruins erupted for 21 points in the fourth quarter, including a 10-yard scoring run from Keith Brown with 4:24 left and a 40-yard interception return for a touchdown from Damian Allen 23 seconds later.

The Longhorns struggled with eight turnovers and seven sacks in a humiliating performance that hasn't been matched in Texas' modern football history. It was the worst home defeat in Texas history and at the time was the worst loss for a ranked team in the 61-year history of the Associated Press poll.

The game was played before a crowd of 77,203 that shrank to a few thousand hardy souls before halftime.

But it still didn't keep those fans left fromgiving the Longhorns a standing ovation late in the first half -- after the beleaguered defense forced a incompletion by McNown on third down, stopping UCLA from scoring for the first time.

After the loss, Texas coach John Mackovic was living on borrowed time on the Forty Acres.  

Factoids to note: UCLA scored on its first six possessions ... Mackovic tried two quarterbacks to fill in for Brown with little success. Starter Richard Walton went 16-for-27 for 145 yards with an interception and four sacks before he was pulled. Replacement Marty Cherry was sacked three times and completed 9 of 18 passes for 105 yards and three interceptions ... UCLA's underrated defense shackled Ricky Williams and held him to one of the worst performances of his career. Williams rushed for only 36 yards on 13 carries, the third-lowest total of his career. His only games with less rushing production were 4 yards against Oklahoma in 1995 as a freshman and 7 yards against Nebraska in the 1996 Big 12 championship game ... The victory was the most lopsided for UCLA since the Bruins romped over San Diego Naval Training Center, 67-0, in 1954 ... UCLA turned six of its eight turnovers into touchdowns.

They said it, part I: "My family's out there waiting. I know it sounds horrible, but I don't want to look them in the eye. Playing sports all my life, fighting with my brother, I've never seen something like this. It's embarrassing," Texas center Ryan Fiebiger, who told reporters of his angst after the loss.

They said it, part II: "What do you say to friends and family who see this score?" Texas coach John Mackovic after the loss.

They said it, part III: "When the landslide starts, it's hard to get it stopped. I feel bad for John," UCLA coach Bob Toledo, who spoke after the game of his empathy for Mackovic.

They said it, part IV: "At least the band kept playing." The classic first paragraph in Kirk Bohls' column about the game.

The upshot: Mackovic was never able to overcome the loss as he was fired after the season ended. Only a year after the Longhorns claimed the Big 12 title, Texas finished 4-7. But the Longhorns have been to a bowl game every season since hiring Mack Brown.

Walton would win the starting job in Mack Brown's first season. But he sustained a season-ending injury early-on against the Bruins at the Rose Bowl and never started again for the Longhorns.

The Bruins used the big victory to spark them on a memorable comeback. After losing the first two games of the 1997 season by a combined nine points, UCLA erupted on a 10-game winning streak to finish the season, capped by a 29-23 victory over Texas A&M in the 1998 Cotton Bowl. In that game, UCLA overcame an early 16-0 A&M lead to charge back for the triumph that helped them finish No. 5 in the final Associated Press poll.

The countdown:

16. Kansas State 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.

Griffin only Big 12 player included in fastest players list

June, 1, 2009
6/01/09
12:14
PM ET

Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Griffin

I'm intrigued every year when HeismanPundit.com's annual listing of the fastest players in college football is released.

The Big 12 has only one representative this year in Baylor quarterback Robert Griffin, who was ranked in 10th place.

Griffin finished third in the NCAA 400 meter hurdles last season. He placed behind Washington State's Jeshua Anderson, who won the race and is listed as ninth on the list of fastest players.

The Pundit had a lot of nice things to say about Griffin and speculated he could be a world-class athlete in sprinting if he gave up football.

It's not often you see a quarterback on this kind of list. Actually, you've probably never seen a quarterback like Griffin, who finished third (behind Jeshua Anderson) in last year's NCAA 400m hurdles final. His best mark in the event is 49.22 which, again, would equate to about a 10.5 100m.

If he concentrated on the event, I have no doubt he would run in the 48 second range, which means that he has a lot of untapped speed in those legs. In football, he was even better, throwing for over 2,000 yards and rushing for over 800 as just a true frosh while accounting for 28 touchdowns.

Quite possibly the greatest athlete ever to play the quarterback position (or can you name some other quarterback who can run track's hardest race in 49 seconds?)."

Griffin gave up his burgeoning track career this spring to concentrate on offseason conditioning with his football team. It's a move that should help the Bears become more competitive as they attempt to snap the conference's longest bowl drought.

But I imagine we haven't heard the end of Griffin and his track career. Considering Baylor's storied track program and the coaching he will receive there, it wouldn't surprise me to see him fulfill his dream of making an Olympic team one day if he dedicates himself to a track career.

Jeffrey Demps of Florida is listed as the No. 1 fastest player and Trindon Holliday of LSU is listed as No. 1A. After watching Demps race through Oklahoma in the BCS National Championship Game in January, I don't have any real complaint with him being at the top of the list.

But I was a little surprised that no other Big 12 player made the list of 10 players or the 12 who earned honorable mention.

I've got to think that Baylor's David Gettis would have been included if he had developed a little more as a football player. And I've got to think that DeMarco Murray of Oklahoma and Dez Bryant of Oklahoma State, among others, aren't that far behind.

Are there any other Big 12 players who should have been included among this list of players that I might have missed?

Would Missouri really be the best addition to the Big Ten?

May, 8, 2009
5/08/09
4:33
PM ET

Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Griffin

Penn State coach Joe Paterno's recent comments about the Big Ten's need to expand has provided all kinds of fodder for Midwest reporters and columnists who have spent the past week speculating about which school makes the most sense to add.

The best of the lot came from my colleague Adam Rittenberg, even if he is trying to steal one of my teams and chide me about all of the frequent-flier miles I'm supposedly pocketing in my "sprawling conference" in a post earlier this week.

Just to let you know, Mr. Rittenberg, I'll take the front seat of my car and a satellite radio over one more trip through airport security or the displeasure of landing the cherished middle seat between two hefty airplane companions any day.

But I digress.

Rittenberg lays out several compelling arguments why Missouri makes the most sense for a future Big Ten addition.

Included among his reasons are the Tigers' recent development as a national football and basketball power, their recent facility improvements, the benefit of making the St. Louis metropolitan area as a true Big Ten market and the immediate rivals they would have in Illinois and Iowa.  

I think Missouri makes the most sense in all sports, although Nebraska would really beef up the Big Ten's football credibility.

But I also agree with Rittenberg that Notre Dame is the Big Ten's ultimate dream date. If they could convince the Notre Dame administration to join, it would be a master stroke for Jim Delany or whoever else pulls it off.

But I think the key to all of that happening would be if Notre Dame ever lost or showed signs of losing its lucrative deal with NBC. If that money was slipping away, I could see the Irish joining the Big Ten in a South Bend minute.

NBC is making allowances along with the Irish. They will play a neutral-site game in San Antonio Oct. 31 in prime time against Washington State. It will be interesting to see how that game draws against all of the football choices available on that date.

If that Notre Dame-NBC marriage ever unravels, Notre Dame will be headed to the Big Ten, trust me. 

And Missouri, Iowa State and Nebraska would remain safe in the Big 12.  

Big 12 ranks third nationally in attendance

April, 16, 2009
4/16/09
2:00
PM ET

Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Griffin

Statistics compiled by the NCAA indicated the Big 12 is coming off a record season in attendance as well as the largest growth of any BCS-affiliated conference.

The Big 12 attracted an average of 62,956 fans per game last season -- one of only five FBS conferences to show growth last season. A struggling economy helped explain why only the SEC and Big 12 showed attendance growth during 2008 for home games.

Here's a look at how the Big 12 ranked with the other FBS conferences

Average Attendance
Conference 2007 2008 Growth
Southeastern 75,139 76,844 +2.27%
Big Ten 71,158 70,125 -1.45%
Big 12 60,941 62,956 +3.31%
Pac-10 57,956 57,350 -1.05%
Atlantic Coast 53,787 52,737 -1.95%
Independents 51,778 50,802 -1.88%
Big East 41,456 43,145 +4.08%
Mountain West 33,937 32,021 -5.65%
Conference-USA 27,666 27,118 -1.98%
Western Athletic 23,014 24,475 +6.35%
Sun Belt 16,374 18,584 +13.50%
Mid-American 17,334 16,727 -3.50%
Source: ESPN Stats & Analysis, NCAA

A more telling examination can be found how individual schools rank in attendance. The Big 12 had one school ranked among the top 10 schools in home attendace, four in the top 14 and five among the top 26 schools.

Here's a list of each Big 12's average attendance and where it ranks among FBS schools, and also among the 65 schools in BCS-affiliated conferences.

Rankings
School 2008 home att. National BCS conf.
Texas 98,046 5 5
Oklahoma 85,075 12 12
Nebraska 85,071 13 13
Texas A&M 82,193 14 14
Missouri 64,520 26 25
Texas Tech 53,625 38 36
Kansas 50,907 41 39
Colorado 49,476 43 41
Oklahoma St. 48,761 46 44
Iowa St. 47,429 49 47
Kansas St. 45,190 52 49
Baylor 34,124 68 58
Source: ESPN Stats & Analysis, NCAA

It's interesting to note that all Big 12 schools played to 90 percent home capacity with the exception of Baylor, which played to less than 70 percent capacity at Floyd Casey Stadium.

And for you trivia connoisseurs out there, the four teams that ranked in front of Texas were Big Ten powers Michigan, Penn State and Ohio State and Tennessee from the SEC.

The 10 non-BCS affiliated schools that ranked higher than Baylor in average attendance were Notre Dame (16th), BYU (27th), Utah (51st), East Carolina (56th), Hawaii (58th), Navy (59th), UCF (61st), Air Force (64th), Fresno State (65th) and UTEP (66st).

And the seven BCS-affiliated schools that ranked lower in Baylor than average attendance last season were Syracuse (69th), Cincinnati (71st), Indiana (72nd), Wake Forest (73rd), Washington State (74th), Duke (78th) and Northwestern (79th).

 

Tim's mailbag: Why doesn't Notre Dame play Big 12 teams?

February, 20, 2009
2/20/09
6:43
PM ET

Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Griffin

Mike from Livonia, Mich., writes: Hey Tim, I'm a diehard follower of the blog here. I was looking at Notre Dame's 2009 schedule and notice that four of the six major BCS conferences are represented - but not the Big 12. That led me to remember any past games the Irish had against Big 12 foes. Wasn't the last one when Nebraska and Eric Crouch played them?

My question is how come Big 12 teams don't play Notre Dame more often. They are playing Washington State in San Antonio this season and have plans to play Arizona State in the Cowboys' new stadium. Why not Nebraska or Texas A&M or Colorado, who they have had a rich bowl history with?

Tim Griffin: Interesting question Mike and there's a reason why Notre Dame has rarely hooked up with Big 12 teams. And also why the Irish are opting to bring some unconventional opponents for their upcoming "home" games at Texas stadiums.

The Big 12's two major television partners, ABC/ESPN and Fox Sports Network, have exclusivity for all games played in their seven-state geographical footprint.

That has kept any Big 12 team from playing neutral-site games during the Irish's recent run of "barnstorming" games where they have become the designated home team for games played outside of South Bend.

Those games, like all of Notre Dame's games, are the exclusive broadcasting property of NBC. And because of the Big 12's deals, it keeps a Big 12 team from playing a game inside its footprint that isn't carried by a Big 12 television partner.

For example, Baylor and Notre Dame originally wanted to play at the Cowboys' stadium in 2012. But Baylor couldn't be involved because of the conference's exclusivity, leading Arizona State to replace them in the game in Arlington in 2013. Notre Dame instead took its 2012 "home" game with Baylor in New Orleans.

So the only way imaginable for Big 12 teams to play Notre Dame would be in a home-and-home series. And the Irish do have a home-and-home series against Oklahoma, with games in Norman (broadcast on the Big 12 television partners) in 2012 and in South Bend (broadcast by NBC) in 2013.

The last time that Notre Dame played a Big 12 opponent was in 2001, when Nebraska beat the Irish, 27-10, in Lincoln, Neb.


Michael from Huntsville, Ala., writes: Here's something from your recent article about Mike Leach in regards to their victory over Texas last season. You described it as what "might have been the biggest play in Big 12 history." Way to sensationalize the story. Did you exaggerate much?

Tim Griffin: Actually, I don't think that's overstating the importance of that game. It kept Texas from playing for the national championship -- the Longhorns' only loss of the season settled on a play with one second left.

The only other plays I would rank with that one was the tipped ball by Nebraska's Matt Davison in the 1997 Missouri game and Vince Young's game-winning TD run against USC in the 2006 Rose Bowl. But both of those plays had plays after them, lessening the sense of finality in setting those plays as the ultimate winning play. So I'll stick with the Crabtree catch, which I still think is the biggest, most exciting play in Big 12 history.

As Tech chancellor Kent Hance said yesterday, he's already seen that play more than any he can remember in highlights, rivaling only Doug Flutie's "Hail Mary" pass in 1984. I bet the Crabtree catch will have that kind of staying power, too.


Michael Byrd writes: In your Baylor outlook, did you know that Baylor has Phil Taylor to play defensive tackle next season? He was one of the top recruits two years ago for Penn State before he transferred to Penn State. The Baylor coaches have been quoted in the Waco newspaper as saying that Taylor was a monster during his redshirt season in practice. Heard of him?

Tim Griffin: Yes I have and I think he'll be a big contributor. But I'll wait until he plays in a college game before I rush too quickly to praise him. It will be interesting to see if he lives up to the advance billing that has preceded him.


Nathan from Kansas City, Mo.: Tim, you might want to do your homework a little better. Missouri beat Kansas State in Manhattan in 2007 by a score of 49-32, so they haven't won in Manhattan since 2007 and not 1989 as you wrote.

Tim Griffin: To the Missouri fans, I apologize for the gaffe. I need to watch Truman on You Tube as punishment for absolution.


Carroll from Ames, Iowa, writes: What do you think of new Iowa State coach Paul Rhoads' coordinator hires - Rice's Tom Herman and South Florida's Wally Burnham?

Tim Griffin: I'm really impressed. Herman did a fine job at Rice, directing a controlling passing attack that included players like Chase Clement, Jarett Dillard and James Casey and ranked in the top-10 nationally in passing, scoring and total yards last season. I think his arrival will help Austen Arnaud's development greatly. And the veteran Burnham is the addition for Rhoads' defense.

Rhoads was a little deliberate on his choices, but now I can see why. He made two very good hires for those positions.


Little Stevie from Lenexa, Kan., writes: Tim, how in God's green earth can you have Kansas State ranked over Missouri and Kansas. Remember, Kansas State fired their coach last season.

Tim Griffin: Stevie, maybe I'm buying too much into Bill Snyder's arrival, but I think he should be good for a couple of extra wins. And considering their schedule to Kansas and Missouri, I think they will be very competitive. I think the North will be wide open.

Remember that Kansas loses all three starting linebackers and still plays that same South Division gauntlet in Texas, Oklahoma and Texas Tech. And besides losing Chase Coffman, Chase Daniel, Jeremy Maclin, Ziggy Hood, William Moore, Stryker Sulak, Tommy Chavis and others, Missouri also will likely have new offensive and defensive coordinators. And that's after having no staffing changes in eight seasons. I think it might be a little tougher for the Tigers than some Tiger fans might be expecting.


David Lasseter writes: Hey, Tim. You need to put down the crack pipe. You must be on something to predict a 5-7 record for Baylor. I will give you eight wins. They will go 4-0 by beating all their non-conference games. And they will go 4-4 in conference play. No way Nebraska beats them breaking in a new starter or Texas Tech breaking in a new quarterback with a suspect defense. Also, we're beating Iowa State and Texas A&M on the road. And we might get Oklahoma State and Missouri, too. I bet you dinner they go 8-4 and I will pay you if you lose.

Tim Griffin: David, I'm not supposed to bet my readers. But remember that Baylor does play in the South Division. All I can say is let's catch up before the start of the season. I'd be curious to hear your thoughts then.


Jim from Grand Junction, Colo., writes: Tim, I'm wondering about the wisdom of Coach Dan Hawkins' remarks. The 10-2 prediction, was it necessary? Was it wise? What happens if he does/doesn't achieve the goal?

Tim Griffin: Hawkins has definitely told the world he thinks his team will be a lot better in 2009 than 2008. A lot better.

I don't know if I would have made the comments in a public setting like Hawkins did. But he obviously is very confident his team will be much better. Hence, his pronouncement.

But he has put a lot of pressure squarely on him and his team.


Cecil Wilson writes: Hey Tim, how come no lunchtime links a couple of days earlier this week. I need my daily fix of Big 12 football. Still 7 1/2 months till kick off.

Tim Griffin: Sorry, Cecil. For a couple of days earlier this week my family and I went on a short vacation to New Mexico. I had to introduce my 4-year-old son to snow. He didn't like it.

But I can assure you the lunchtime links are back to stay. Thanks for planning your day around them -- and please keep reading them.


David from New York City writes: You are spot on about the Texas Longhorns having a chip on their shoulders about last season. I believe they are as talented as Oklahoma, but are so hungry and angry about the way OU got to the title game last season, they're taking it to the title game. What do you think?

Tim Griffin: I've got Texas as my favorite over the Sooners at this point heading into spring ball. My major reasons are Oklahoma's rebuilding offensive line and new safeties and Texas' hunger after how last season played out. I think these are the major contributing factors that make me rank them a little ahead of the Sooners.

Readers, as always thanks for all of the questions this week. I'll check back with you again next week.

Oklahoma State bowl tidbits

December, 30, 2008
12/30/08
1:42
PM ET

Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Griffin

Here are a few factoids about Oklahoma State's bowl history heading into the Cowboys' game tonight in the Pacific Life Holiday Bowl against Oregon.

OKLAHOMA STATE  

Bowl record: 12-6

Current bowl streak: Won 2.

Most memorable bowl victory: Then known as Oklahoma A&M, the Cowboys blitzed St. Mary's (Calif.) in the 1946 Sugar Bowl with a 33-13 victory that capped a 9-0 season. All-American tailback Bob "The Blonde Bomber" Fenimore ran for two scores and passed for another score as the Cowboys finished No. 5 in the final AP poll after the victory -- the best ranking in school history.

Worst bowl loss: Les Miles was negotiating with LSU officials as his team prepared for the 2004 Alamo Bowl and it showed. Ohio State played without starting quarterback Troy Smith, but didn't miss him in the Buckeyes' 33-7 triumph. Backup Justin Zwick passed for 189 yards and a touchdown despite struggling with a hamstring pull to lead Ohio State's victory. Leading Oklahoma State rusher Vernand Morency was limited to 24 yards as the Cowboys didn't score until late in the game.

Best individual/team performance: Oklahoma State rolled up 698 yards after being paced by three highlight efforts in their 62-14 victory over Wyoming in the 1988 Holiday Bowl. Barry Sanders set Holiday Bowl records with 222 rushing yards and five touchdowns to pace an offensive attack that also included a 315-yard passing effort by quarterback Mike Gundy and a 10-catch, 163-yard outing by wide receiver Hart Lee Dykes.

Record against Oregon: The teams have never played.

Common 2008 opponents: Washington State. The Cowboys defeated Washington State on Aug. 30 at Seattle, 39-13. Oregon won on Sept. 27 at Washington State, 63-14.

The number: 9. That is how many Big 12 teams have won at least 10 games in a season since Oklahoma State last achieved the feat in 1988. The only Big 12 teams not to win 10 games in a season since then are Baylor and Iowa State.

The 30 most significant Big 12 moments of 2008

December, 24, 2008
12/24/08
2:53
PM ET

Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Griffin

I've always liked those montages at the end of the year where videographers come up with a bunch of snapshots or highlights that encapsulate an event with a number of images.

It made me think if I could do something similar for the Big 12 this season - boiling down the conference's 2008 campaign into the 30 most significant moments of the football season.

Here are my choices. Let me know if you think I've forgotten any.

They aren't ranked in any immediate order, although some assuredly are more important than others.

  • Michael Crabtree's catch -- Catapulted Texas Tech into a share of the South Division title for the first time in school history with his game-winning 28-yard TD grab with one second left over Texas. It also ended Texas' national title hopes only a second away from four victories over top-12 teams in succession.
  • Blake Gideon's dropped interception -- Without this drop against Texas Tech, we might not have had Crabtree's heroics on the following play.
  • Sam Bradford's soaring, spinning leap -- Although he didn't score a touchdown on this play against Oklahoma State, the Oklahoma quarterback showed Heisman voters his toughness and moxie that helped set him apart in a crowded field of contenders and eventually won him the award.
  • Jordan Shipley's kickoff return -- Texas looked lost against Oklahoma until this 96-yard kickoff return for a touchdown pushed them back into the game and an eventual 45-35 comeback victory.
  • Ryan Reynolds' injury -- Oklahoma's defense wasn't the same after the middle linebacker went down with a season-ending knee injury early in the second half - particularly on Chris Ogbonnaya's 62-yard run that led to Texas' clinching score later in the game.
  • Oklahoma's blizzard of points against Texas Tech -- It would be hard to boil down the Sooners' domination to a single play, but Travis Lewis' late 47-yard interception return that set up the last of the Sooners' five second-quarter touchdowns was pretty big in a 65-21 drubbing of the Red Raiders.
  • Alex Henery's record-setting kick -- Nebraska coach Bo Pelini had faith that Henery could deliver and his school-record 57-yarder provided the game-winning margin against Colorado and propelled the Cornhuskers to a New Year's Day bowl berth.
  • Orakpo schools Loadholt -- On a succession of plays in the second half, Texas defensive end Brian Orakpo simply manhandled massive 6-foot-9 Oklahoma offensive tackle Phil Loadholt, turning around momentum in Texas' victory.
  • DeMarco Murray's hamstring injury on the first play of the Big 12 title game -- The Sooners didn't miss him in their easy Big 12 title game romp over Missouri, thanks to big efforts by backups Chris Brown and Mossis Madu. The national championship game against Florida might be a different story, however.
  • Colt McCoy's touchdown run against Rice -- His 8-yard TD charge plowing over a hapless Owl defender for Texas' first score indicated the new power that McCoy was going to exhibit. He didn't stop until he eventual became the leading rusher on his team.

(Read full post)

Coaches Hot Seat dotted with struggling Big 12 coaches

November, 19, 2008
11/19/08
8:00
PM ET

Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Griffin

I had to give my monthly look at coacheshotspot.com to see how they were ranking the Big 12 coaches most likely to be fired. I have to admit, it's kind of a guilty pleasure.

Interestingly, three of the top 10 coaches were Big 12 coaches and three others had extensive Big 12 experience earlier in their careers.

Texas A&M coach Mike Sherman has the hottest seat of any Big 12 coach, ranking fourth only behind Auburn's Tommy Tuberville (first), San Diego State's Chuck Long (second) and Washington State's Paul Wuff (third).

Other Big 12 coaches ranked in the top 10 included Iowa State's Gene Chizik at seventh and Colorado's Dan Hawkins at 10th.

Coaches with associations with Big 12 schools include Tuberville, a former Texas A&M defensive coordinator; Louisville coach Steve Kragthorpe, a former Texas A&M offensive coordinator; and Long, a former Oklahoma offensive coordinator.

Interestingly, the coach with the most security is Texas Tech coach Mike Leach, who is ranked 120th in the poll this week.

Here's a list of how Big 12 coaches ranked this week:

4. Mike Sherman, Texas A&M

7. Gene Chizik, Iowa State

10. Dan Hawkins, Colorado

47. Ron Prince, Kansas State (dismissed earlier this season)

52. Mark Mangino, Kansas

74. Art Briles, Baylor

89. Bo Pelini, Nebraska

103. Mike Gundy, Oklahoma State

106. Gary Pinkel, Missouri

111. Mack Brown Texas

114. Bob Stoops, Oklahoma

120. Mike Leach, Texas Tech

Davis using his basketball instincts in budding football career

October, 14, 2008
10/14/08
11:56
AM ET

Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Griffin

Some football purists have scoffed at terms like "basketball on grass," insinuating that the action on the hardwood is tamer and less physically demanding than that on the football field.

 
 Julie Scheidegger/US Presswire
 Damian Davis celebrates one of his two touchdown receptions against Missouri last Saturday.

Skinny Oklahoma State wide receiver Damian Davis, a converted high school basketball player, may beg to differ. He's utilizing basketball strategy that has helped him quickly develop into a key receiver for the Cowboys.

The lanky 6-foot-5, 185-pound Davis provided two critical second-half touchdown receptions last week to spark the Cowboys' 28-23 upset victory over Missouri. And his 31-yard snag, owing much to his basketball instincts, was the play that put the Cowboys ahead by two scores and gave them the cushion that eventually led to one of the biggest stunners in school history.

Quarterback Zac Robinson lofted the ball high in the end zone where it was basically a rebound situation between him, teammate DeMarcus Conner and Missouri defender Hardy Ricks. Davis outjumped and outgrabbed the other players to end up with the ball.

"I just went up thinking I was grabbing a rebound," Davis said. "Fortunately, I was in the right place and came down with it. It was kind of like a fighting for rebound coming off the backboard."

(Read full post)

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