Big 12: William Moore

Big 12 set to flex in NFL draft's first round

April, 22, 2010
4/22/10
4:00
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Sam Bradford/Ndamukong Suh/Gerald McCoyUS PresswireSam Bradford, Ndamukong Suh and Gerald McCoy are expected to be the first three players selected in tonight's first round of the NFL draft.
We're only a few hours away from tonight's first round of the NFL draft, one that could be unprecedented for the conference.

As many as five of the first six picks could come from the Big 12.

Oklahoma's Sam Bradford is the assumed first pick. Defensive tackles Ndamukong Suh and Gerald McCoy should follow. As will offensive tackles Trent Williams (Oklahoma) and Russell Okung (Oklahoma State).

Considering where the conference has been in recent years, that's not a surprise to the coaches sending those players to the next level.

"I don’t think there’s any question it’s been excellent, evidenced by what, us and Texas in the last couple national championship games," said Oklahoma coach Bob Stoops, who was forced to play most of 2009 without Bradford, the 2008 Heisman winner. "And year in and year out we’ve been there. I’ve known that for a long time and it’s obvious the talent in this league is second to none and its throughout the league and it’s exciting."

Texas coach Mack Brown could also have a pair of Longhorns go in the first round: defensive back Earl Thomas and defensive end/linebacker Sergio Kindle. Both are Texas natives, with Thomas hailing from Orange and Kindle from Dallas.

"More of the kids are staying at home and wanting to play in the Big 12 area, where one of our schools is traditionally playing for the national championship, so we’re in the mix each year," Brown said. "And I also feel like since we’ve won in this league and we’ve been in the final game more often, that more national kids are starting to look at our schools more readily than before."

Missouri's program has reached new heights in the last few years, winning 12 games in 2007 and another 10 in 2008. Missouri's two first-round draft picks last season, receiver Jeremy Maclin and defensive tackle Ziggy Hood, helped make those seasons possible. The Tigers also had safety William Moore drafted in the second round of last year's draft.

"I remember Don James, my mentor who I worked for at Washington, he told me about three or four years ago, he says, ‘When you start getting more players drafted, a lot more high draft choices, you’re going to win a lot more games.’ And at this level, as it was at Washington, that’s the way it is," Pinkel said. "You’re not going to get six drafted every year, but certainly, if you’re going to win at this level, you’re going to get more players that go on and play in the NFL."

He could add another first-round pick, his third in two seasons, tonight in linebacker Sean Weatherspoon, giving the Big 12 as many as 10 selections among the first 32 picks.

"It shows schools are recruiting quality young men and good football players," said Oklahoma State coach Mike Gundy.

Missouri's all-decade team

January, 20, 2010
1/20/10
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After sputtering in the early part of the decade, the Tigers became consistent winners in the latter part of the decade, soaring as high as No. 1 nationally in the week before the 2007 Big 12 title game.

The Tigers are still looking for their first Big 12 title, but they've had many memorable players dot their rosters over the decade.

Here's a look at the best of them. The toughest decision was to leave Justin Gage off the team at wide receiver, although I opted to go with an alignment much like offensive coordinator David Yost preferred, with one running back, two wide receivers and two tight ends. My team is reflected with that strategy.

OFFENSE

QB: Chase Daniel

RB: Zack Abron

WR: Jeremy Maclin

WR: Danario Alexander

TE: Chase Coffman

TE: Martin Rucker

OL: Joel Clinger

OL: Tony Palmer

OL: Kurtis Gregory

OL: Rob Droege

C: Adam Spieker

DEFENSE

DL: Justin Smith

DL: Atiyyah Ellison

DL: Lorenzo Williams

DL: Ziggy Hood

LB: Sean Weatherspoon

LB: Marcus Bacon

LB: Brock Christopher

DB: William Moore

DB: Pig Brown

DB: David Overstreet

DB: Shirdonya Mitchell

K: Jeff Wolfert

P: Jake Harry

KR: Jeremy Maclin

Offensive player of the decade: QB Chase Daniel. Orchestrated the Tigers’ back-to-back North Division championship teams in 2007-08, finishing fourth in the Heisman race in 2007 and setting the school’s career total offense and passing records as a senior.

Defensive player of the decade: LB Sean Weatherspoon. Lightly recruited player who emerged to become the dominant defensive player for the Tigers during his three-season career as a starter, leading the team in tackles each season.

Coach of the decade: Gary Pinkel. After struggling in his first two seasons, has taken the Tigers to a bowl game in every season except one, including two Big 12 title games and a No. 4 finish in the 2007 season.

Memory of the decade: Missouri’s 36-28 victory over Kansas in a 2007 showdown for the Big 12 North title pushed the Tigers to their first Big 12 championship game appearance. Daniel completed 40 of 49 passes for 361 yards and three touchdowns, but the game wasn’t settled until Lorenzo Williams sacked Todd Reesing for a safety to ice the victory.

Beware of Missouri's stinging 'Scorpion' defense

September, 8, 2009
9/08/09
12:45
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Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Griffin


With a young defense still grasping the nuances of college football, Missouri coordinator Dave Steckel made an astute decision that belied his lack of experience in his new job.

Namely, why not unleash “The Scorpion?”

Steckel’s simplified four-man pass rush featured three defensive ends in the lineup at the same time to boost the athleticism of his defensive front.

“Coach Steckel said he got a little bored calling the same defense over and over,” Missouri linebacker Sean Weatherspoon said. “But why change anything when our base was working like it did?”

That assessment might have been one of the biggest understatements of the young season. The Tigers’ defense stung Illinois in a convincing 37-9 victory that ranked as the biggest surprise of the weekend in the Big 12.

Yes, that was the same Missouri defense that ranked 98th nationally in total defense and 117th in pass defense last season. The Tigers were also supposed to be reeling from the loss of first-round draft pick Ziggy Hood, top pass-rushing specialist Stryker Sulak and inspirational leader William Moore from last season.

But Missouri coach Gary Pinkel has been telling anybody who would listen this summer that his defense is faster and more athletic than any unit he has had at Missouri.

And “The Scorpion” proved that.

Steckel realized that he had so much talent at defensive end that it didn’t make sense not to play his best players together. So along with starting defensive ends Jacquies Smith and Brian Coulter, redshirt freshman defensive end Aldon Smith was added to the mix at defensive tackle.

Aldon Smith was the most productive of Missouri’s defensive linemen, producing a sack and six tackles, including three for losses. He saw action at both end and tackle and continually harassed Illinois quarterback Juice Williams.

“It was just a team effort and everybody did their job,” Smith said. “Some people might be surprised, but I’m not. We worked so hard in the off-season getting this down and Saturday’s game was the result of it.”

Yes, that was the same Illinois quarterback who torched the Tigers for 451 passing yards and five touchdowns in a wild 52-42 shootout that Missouri was fortunate to win in 2008. He was limited to 179 passing yards in Saturday’s loss.

The Missouri defense didn’t flinch this time around. And a secondary that was a running punch line last season didn’t allow a completion of longer than 24 yards against the Illini.

Obviously, the Tigers were helped when top Illinois wide receiver Arrelious Benn went down with an ankle injury early in the first quarter and produced only one catch. But the Tigers sat back and dared Williams to beat them with his arm – and he couldn’t do it.

Weatherspoon also credited Steckel’s presence on the sideline for helping the defense improve. In the past, Missouri defensive coordinators were situated in the press box. But Steckel, a former Marine known for his intensity, was on the field exhorting his team.

“I think our communication was a whole lot better,” Weatherspoon said. “Coach Steckel still has a few wrinkles that nobody has seen. Our defensive line got a little bit more pressure. It was a good day to show what we could do.”

Having their fiery coach so close to his team provided a little extra motivation for the Missouri defense, Weatherspoon said.

“Now, you would have to face him as you came on the field,” Weatherspoon said, chuckling. “In the old days, we could wait until halftime or after the game. But now, he’s right there waiting if somebody made a mistake.”

In Missouri's opener, "The Scorpion" kept Steckel relatively quiet.

Three predictions for Missouri

August, 6, 2009
8/06/09
9:59
PM ET

Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Griffin

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Moore honors O'Neal's memory after starting NFL career

May, 29, 2009
5/29/09
8:50
AM ET

Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Griffin

Former Missouri defensive back William Moore is intent on honoring the memory of his late college teammate, Aaron O'Neal, after starting his new NFL career with the Atlanta Falcons.

Moore has arranged to wear O'Neal's old number with his new NFL team, according to J. Michael Moore of AtlantaFalcons.com. (Hat tip: Columbia Daily Tribune) 

Moore originally was assigned the number 24 after reporting to his new team. But he lobbied teammate Von Hutchins to wear the uniform number 25 that O'Neal wore before he died following a summer conditioning workout four years ago.

"Whenever I feel like I can't go the extra step, I think about Aaron and what he put on the line," Moore told AtlantaFalcons.com.

Hutchins agreed to give Moore the number in exchange for a donation to the Lupus Foundation of America. Hutchins' mother suffers from the chronic inflammatory disease. Hutchins, a six-year NFL veteran, is an avid supporter of the foundation's Georgia chapter.

"It will be a great opportunity for both of us to do something that's special to both of our hearts," Hutchins said.

It won't be the first time that Moore has worn O'Neal's former jersey number. He wore a nameless No. 25 jersey -- as did several other Missouri players before each game last season -- before the team's final home game against Kansas State.

Moore told O'Neal's father, Lonnie, at Missouri's spring game earlier this year that he planned to wear his son's jersey number wherever he ended up in the NFL. He was selected in the second round by the Falcons several weeks later.

And now, he's made it happen.

Big 12 could be headed for landmark draft

April, 24, 2009
4/24/09
3:05
PM ET

Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Griffin

It's fitting and somewhat understandable that the NFL draft will have a distinctly Big 12 tinge Saturday as the early part of the first round plays out.

Keep an eye for Big 12 players to be very conspicuous in ESPN's broadcast of the draft. Four Big 12 players have been invited to watch the proceedings from the "Green Room" for Saturday's first day of the draft.

Baylor tackle Jason Smith, Texas Tech wide receiver Michael Crabtree, Kansas State quarterback Josh Freeman and Texas defensive end Brian Orakpo all will be at Radio City Music Hall in New York City for the draft.

Smith, Crabtree and Orakpo all could be taken among the draft's 10 or 15 picks. But Freeman, who could go as high as the middle of the first round or drop to the second round, could provide the most compelling drama of the draft's broadcast. Does anybody remember Brady Quinn or Aaron Rodgers in recent years?

The draft undoubtedly will showcase the Big 12's collection of talent that was continually highlighted last season.

Most mock drafts expect the Big 12 will have five or six first-round draft picks. Likely players to be selected include Orakpo, Smith, Missouri wide receiver Jeremy Maclin, Oklahoma State tight end Brandon Pettigrew, Freeman and Crabtree.

Look for the Big 12's burgeoning reputation as being on the cutting edge in terms of passing to be showcased this weekend. Most mock drafts have Crabtree and Maclin ranked as the top two receivers available. And Pettigrew is the top tight end on most draft boards.

If six Big 12 players are selected in the first round, it would match the league's previous high of six first-round selections set in 2003.

The most interesting potential selection will be Smith, a lightly-regarded recruit after a high-school career as a tight end. He blossomed after adding nearly 80 pounds of muscle over his college career.

Smith will become the Bears' first first-round draft selection since defensive tackle Daryl Gardener was picked by the Miami Dolphins in 1996.

Most prognosticators expect Smith will be picked among the first three picks in the draft. That would be the earliest a Baylor player has been chosen since quarterback Adrian Burk was the second pick in the draft by Baltimore in 1950.

The exposure for the Baylor program will be immense, according to Baylor coach Art Briles.

"We could get the smartest marketers in Texas and ask them how we could best market Baylor University, and they couldn't come up with a better scenario than what's going to happen Saturday in New York," Briles said. "Jason is a great person, and it's been nothing but positive for Baylor. We just have to take that and continue to climb as a football program."

Freeman is poised to become only the second quarterback in Big 12 history to be selected in the first round. He would join Vince Young, who was picked third by Tennessee in the 2006 draft.

Freeman also would be Kansas State's first first-round pick since Terence Newman was picked fifth in the first round by Dallas in 2003. He will also become the Wildcats' highest-selected quarterback, bettering the previous selection of Lynn Dickey, who was picked with the fourth pick in the third round by Green Bay in 1971.

Freeman's size (6-6, 250 pounds) and his rocket arm are his two biggest attributes, despite his lack of extended success in college. His abilities were clear to Oklahoma State coach Mike Gundy and OSU coaches.

"The first time we saw Josh, because of his size, stature, the way he carried himself, and then his arm strength, we knew he had a chance to play," Gundy said. "He's just kind of arrived nationally -- people are just now starting to find out about him -- but we knew in our staff room that we was going to be first-round pick.

"You just don't find guys that are 6-6, 250, that can throw it and are as accurate as he is, and he's seemed to be very durable. We were impressed with him from day one."

Crabtree will become Tech's first first-round draft selection of the Big 12 era and the Red Raiders' first first-round pick since Gabe Rivera was picked with the 21st pick by Pittsburgh in 1983.

He will become the highest-selected Texas Tech wide receiver since Dave Parks was the first pick of the 1964 draft by San Francisco and the first one of Mike Leach's players to be picked on the first day of the draft.

Orakpo is poised to continue Texas' recent development as a factory for first-round selections.

Despite missing out last season, the Longhorns produced eight first-round picks in the previous four seasons and 13 over Mack Brown's coaching tenure.

In the process, Orakpo is hoping to counter-balance the so-called "Texas factor" that several analysts have mentioned this week to explain why some Longhorns have been disappointments once they started their NFL careers.

Brown angrily refuted those charges earlier this week.

"People can be more critical of us because we've had as many, or more, than anybody else in the draft," Brown told the Austin American-Statesman. "I don't really pay attention to (that), and I talk to enough general managers, coaches and scouts to know they don't either."

Maclin will become the first Missouri player selected in the first round since Justin Smith was picked by Cincinnati with the fourth pick of the draft in 2001. And Maclin also is poised to become the first Missouri wide receiver ever taken in the first round.

Here's my unofficial pegging of Big 12 draft status during the weekend draft.

Sure first-round picks: Baylor OT Jason Smith, Texas Tech WR Michael Crabtree, Texas DE Brian Orakpo, Missouri WR Jeremy Maclin,

Likely first-round picks: Kansas State QB Josh Freeman

Maybe first-round picks: Missouri DT Evander "Ziggy" Hood, Oklahoma State TE Brandon Pettigrew

Likely second-round picks: Oklahoma G Duke Robinson, Missouri S William Moore.

Likely third-round picks: Oklahoma WR Juaquin Iglesias, Oklahoma T Phil Loadholt, Missouri TE Chase Coffman.

Likely picks inside the first five rounds: Texas A&M QB Stephen McGee, Texas Tech S Darcel McBath, Texas Tech DE Brandon Williams, Texas DT Roy Miller, Texas A&M RB Michael Goodson, Texas A&M DE Mi
chael Bennett
, Oklahoma S-LB Nic Harris, Texas Tech G Louis Vasquez, Nebraska DE Zach Potter, Nebraska T Lydon Murtha.

Weatherspoon expects Tigers to confound skeptics

April, 17, 2009
4/17/09
2:44
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Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Griffin

COLUMBIA, Mo. -- Sean Weatherspoon stops himself just short of saying that the final results of his last two seasons have been a disappointment.

His Missouri team qualified for two-straight Big 12 championship games, but lost convincingly to Oklahoma in the title game to cap both seasons.

 
  Brad Schloss/Icon SMI
  Missouri coaches are very happy top linebacker Sean Weatherspoon is back for his senior season.
With a rash of key personnel losses, few think the Tigers can claim make history as the first North team to make three straight championship game appearances.

Except maybe Weatherspoon and his teammates, whose cause was boosted when the senior linebacker opted to return after flirting with declaring for the NFL draft.

"When I decided to come back, I did so to help our football team," Weatherspoon said. "We still have a lot of great players, but just didn't put it together the way it should have been. This team has the opportunity to do that and over time, hopefully become a better team."

The Tigers lose offensive standouts like Chase Daniel, Chase Coffman and Jeremy Maclin. And their defensive departures will be sizable too, with Stryker Sulak, Ziggy Hood and William Moore among a group of seven starters who won't be back.

But in a balanced North Division without a clear-cut favorite, Weatherspoon thinks the Tigers will be able to confound observers who are already predicting their demise.

"It's great when you are the underdog," Weatherspoon said. "Everybody had said we'd win the North the past two or three years, but we still haven't gotten over the hump yet. With this team, we're going to surprise some people this year."

If they do, Weatherspoon will be a key reason.

He's become the face of the program as his visage adorns ticket promotions and the Tigers' preseason media guide.

But even after a strong finish that featured a 17-tackle effort that earned him the MVP honors in the Tigers' Alamo Bowl victory over Northwestern, Weatherspoon was projected as a third-round draft choice.

That realization was like a cold slap to Weatherspoon and provided some immediate motivation for his senior season.

"As soon as that happened, (Missouri linebackers) coach (Dave) Steckel called me up," Weatherspoon said. "He told me I could go back and show them what I really have by winning the Butkus and proving something to them."

Weatherspoon has returned with a different attitude. He's still the Tigers' most active and vocal leader heading into their Saturday spring game, but also is attacking other areas to help prepare him for the next level.

The most significant area he must improve is in separating himself from offensive linemen. His inability to "shed blockers" in scout speak is the major weakness that keeps him from comparing with potential first-round linebacker picks like Aaron Curry, Clay Matthews and James Laurinaitis.

"I just need to work harder in the weight room and become more diligent in my film study," Weatherspoon said. "I've got to spend more time in the film room and learn tendencies and stuff like that -- just become more of a student of the game."

Steckel, who has since been hired as the Tigers' defensive coordinator, is glad to have Weatherspoon back.

"Sean is a very, very good football player, but he just needs to take care of the little things," Steckel said. "He's intelligent, smart, fast and really knows our defense. Now, he just had to the little intricacies of the position to take him to the next level."

And an inspired Weatherspoon, with the low draft reports as a stimulus, might have a chance to become one of the nation's elite players.

"Knowing Spoon, that will spur him to great things," Steckel said. "Personally, I think he's close to getting to that level anyway. I was the happiest guy in the world when I heard he was coming back."

Don't always believe those heights and weights

February, 24, 2009
2/24/09
6:14
PM ET

Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Griffin

When I was a little kid, one element among my favorites of going to a football game was collecting a game program. I loved nothing better than to scan rosters and check the heights and weights of players as I looked at them through my father's binoculars.

It led me to collecting many programs that probably still are around my parents' house somewhere. I guess I just wanted to add to the clutter of my bedroom.

If I had known then what I know now, I might not have been so diligent about all of the effort. Little boys don't know those heights and weights for their football heroes aren't always correct.

The best way to analyze the discrepancy is by comparing the heights and weights of some of the Big 12 players who attended the recent NFL combine and compare them with what they were listed at during their college careers.

The before is their listed height and weight during last season. The after is what they were measured over the weekend by the NFL.

(Read full post)

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.

Missouri's Eberflus could be headed to NFL

February, 20, 2009
2/20/09
10:37
AM ET

Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Griffin

Several newspapers are reporting that Missouri defensive coordinator Matt Eberflus could be the next coach to leave Gary Pinkel's staff.

The Cleveland Plain Dealer reported Friday that new Cleveland Browns coach Eric Mangini is close to hiring Eberflus as his new linebackers coach.

It would be a significant departure for Missouri for a couple of reasons. First, it would represent the second coordinator to leave the Tigers' program since the end of the regular season. Dave Christensen left for the head-coaching position at Wyoming.

These transitions are a little new for Gary Pinkel, who until this offseason had managed to keep his staff together during his entire eight-season tenure coaching the Tigers.

The timing also is bad for the Tigers, who begin spring practice on March 10.

But Dave Matter's blog for the Columbia Daily Tribune indicates that Pinkel has already mobilized in case the position in open.

Sources told Matter that Pinkel would promote linebackers coach Dave Steckel to replace Eberflus. And Missouri director of football operations Barry Odom would begin coaching the Tigers' safeties, a position that Eberflus currently coaches.

It will be a loss from a continuity standpoint. But I'm wondering if Pinkel might consider hiring a coordinator from outside his program to bring some fresh ideas to his program.

The Tigers have won back-to-back North Division titles, but have been overmatched against the Texas-Oklahoma power elite at the top of the conference. And whoever takes the job would be facing a challenge as he attempts to replace standouts like Stryker Sulak, William Moore, Tommy Chavis and Ziggy Hood.

People are talking about the huge transition that Missouri will be facing in replacing Chase Daniel, Jeremy Maclin and Chase Coffman with the offense.

But I'm thinking the defensive transition could be almost as daunting, particularly with a new coordinator.

What to watch at Big 12 spring practices

February, 13, 2009
2/13/09
10:00
AM ET

Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Griffin

The Big 12 should again be loaded in 2009. And the spring will feature several key positional battles and holes to fill that will go a long way in determining whether Oklahoma can make history and claim a fourth-straight championship this season.

Here a look at each team and three major items to watch in spring practice.

NORTH DIVISION

Colorado Buffaloes

Spring practice begins: March 31

Spring game: April 25

What to watch:

  • The health of the team: The Buffaloes' players lost a combined total of 121 games to due to illness or injury last season. Some players like tight end Riar Geer, guards Devin Head, Maxwell Tuioti-Mariner and Mike Iltis, linebacker Jon Major and cornerback Jalil Brown will be limited during the spring because of past injuries. But others like tackle Ryan Miller, tailback Rodney Stewart and cornerback Benjamin Burney should be good to go throughout the spring. Coach Dan Hawkins won't push things, but it will be good to have as many regulars as possible practicing again.
  • The return of Darrell Scott: The conference's most publicized running back recruit of 2008 never could get untracked, rushing for disappointing totals of 343 yards and 3.9 yards per carry last season. The spring will give him a chance to show why he was one of the nation's top recruits in the Class of 2008.
  • Settle the kicking game: After Colorado kickers combined to shank 11 of 17 attempts last season, it might be the last chance for Aric Goodman or Jameson Davis to show what they can do after their struggles last season and the arrival of heralded recruit Zach Grossnickle in the fall.

Iowa State Cyclones

Spring practice begins: March 24

Spring game: April 18

What to watch:

  • Paul Rhoads' early assimilation: After his hiring last Dec. 23, Rhoads has concentrated on recruiting and building a coaching staff. Being able to work on the field with his team will likely be a relief for him after such a hectic start.
  • Help in the secondary: The Cyclones lose starters Chris Singleton and Brandon Hunley from a unit that ranked in the bottom 10 nationally in pass efficiency defense and pass defense. Rhoads' specialty is defense, but he'll have his work cut out with his new unit.
  • Finding another starter at wide receiver: Darius Darks is back after an impressive freshman season, but Rhoads needs to find a replacement for 2008 leading receiver R.J. Sumrall. Look for Sedrick Johnson, Marquis Hamilton and Houston Jones all to have their chances at the starting unit during the spring.

Kansas Jayhawks

Spring practice begins: March 9

Spring game: April 11

What to watch:

  • Finding starters at linebackers: The Jayhawks must completely rebuild their linebacking corps as James Holt, Mike Rivera and Joe Mortensen all are gone from last season. Arist Wright and Dakota Lewis are in the mix because of their experience. A bigger wild card could be converted running back Angus Quigley, who turned heads with his defensive instincts and tackling in work before the Jayhawks' bowl game last season.
  • Get a consistent kick returner: The mystifying struggles of Marcus Herford last season resulted in a drop of more than 8 yards per kick return as the Jayhawks fell from seventh in 2007 to 118th nationally last season. Dezmon Briscoe showed flashes of being a productive returner late in the season, but more work from different players will be needed in the spring to shore up the area.
  • Rebuild the center of the offensive line: Losing starting guards Chet Hartley and Adrian Mayes along with center Ryan Cantrell will be the biggest offensive concern this spring for the Jayhawks. Carl Wilson and Sal Kapra should get a long look at guard and Brad Thorson will given the first shot at center.

Kansas State Wildcats:

Spring practice begins: April 6

Spring game: May 2

What to watch:

  • Bill Snyder's return to coaching: The wily Snyder will be facing the biggest challenge of his professional career after returning after a three-year coaching sabbatical. The Wildcats aren't as bad as they were in 1989 when Snyder originally took over, but the Big 12 is a much tougher than the Big Eight was in those days. And it will test the patience and legendary work ethic of Snyder to get the Wildcats back into Big 12 title contention in the immediate future.
  • The quarterback battle: New offensive coordinator Andy Ludwig is one of the conference's most notable hirings after his strong recent work at Utah. Ludwig will be challenged as he looks at Carson Coffman or junior-college transfer Daniel Thomas to replace Josh Freeman as his starting quarterback.
  • Looking for a defensive turnaround: The Wildcats were woeful last season, ranking among the bottom 10 teams nationally in rushing defense, scoring defense and total defense and 106th nationally in pass defense. It will likely try the patience of new coordinator Chris Cosh, who will be looking for replacements along the defensive front for Brandon Balkcom and Ian Campbell. One potential playmaker could be Jeff Fitzgerald, who started 13 games for Virginia in 2007.

Missouri Tigers

Spring practice begins: March 10

Spring game: April 18

What to watch:

  • The changing of the guard on offense -- and then some: Gone are all-time greats like Chase Daniel, Jeremy Maclin and Chase Coffman, along with productive receivers Tommy Saunders and Earl Goldsmith. Offensive coordinator Dave Christensen has left for the Wyoming coaching job, meaning that Dave Yost takes over as the coordinator along with Blaine Gabbert at quarterback, Andrew Jones at tight end and Jerrell Jackson as the featured receiver. Collectively, it will be the largest transformation in Gary Pinkel's coaching tenure at Missouri.
  • Finding a pass rush: Three starters are gone along the defensive front as productive starters Stryker Sulak, Tommy Chavis and Ziggy Hood all are gone from last year. Look for redshirt defensive end Aldon Smith to get in the fight for playing time immediately, along with holdover Brian Coulter at defensive end if he can recover quickly from labrum surgery. Terrell Resonno and Dominique Hamilton will get a long look at defensive tackle before the arrival of heralded "tight end" Sheldon Richardson in the summer.
  • Secondary assistance: The Tigers need help after losing starting safeties Justin Garrett and William Moore and cornerback Tru Vaughns from last year's team. Considering all of the prolific offenses in the Big 12, this will capture much of defensive coordinator Matt Eberflus' attention as newcomers like safety Jarrell Harrison and cornerback Robert Steeples will show what they can do.

Nebraska Cornhuskers

Spring practice begins: March 21

Spring game: April 18

What to watch:

  • The battle for quarterback: One of the nation's most intriguing quarterback battles will play out during the spring. Incoming freshman Cody Green arrived in college early intent to battle for the starting job and become the first four-year starting quarterback for the Cornhuskers since Eric Crouch. Holdovers Patrick Witt, Zac Lee and redshirt freshman Kody Spanos all are in the hunt to replace Joe Ganz. Witt has more experience, but it's not much more than any other contender. It should be interesting to see how offensive coordinator Shawn Watson handles the competition.
  • Find starters at wide receiver: The Cornhuskers lose starters Nate Swift and Todd Peterson who combined for 125 receptions last season as the team's two major receiving threats. Menelik Holt has more experience than any other returner, although coaches are salivating about the chance to work with Antonio Bell, a 2008 recruit who wasn't on the team last season while he got his grades in order.
  • Rebuild the right side of the offensive line: Powerful blockers Matt Slauson at guard and tackle Lydon Murtha both are gone from last season, leaving a huge void for offensive line coach Barney Cotton to fill. Marcel Jones and D.J. Jones should get the first crack at the starting jobs during the spring.

SOUTH DIVISION

Baylor Bears

Spring practice begins: March 3

Spring game: April 4

What to watch:

  • Competition at offensive tackle: The Bears will be looking for two new starting tackles to replace Don Gay and Jason Smith along the offensive line. Sophomore Joe Korbel figures to get a look at one of the positions, but beyond him it's anybody's guess who will replace the talented pair that combined for 73 career starts.
  • New starters on the left side of the defensive line: Starting defensive end Leon Freeman and defensive tackle Vincent Rhodes both will be gone after their eligibility expired. The only holes in Baylor's front seven will be found there as Jameon Hardeman and Zac Scotton will challenge at defensive end and Sam Sledge at defensive tackle.
  • Better production in their pass defense: The Bears struggled mightily last season and could never seem to produce big plays when they needed them, ranking 103rd in pass defense, 84th in sacks and 109th in tackles for losses. Another spring learning the concepts of defensive coordinator Brian Norwood should benefit them and perhaps serve as a catalyst for a bowl berth with significant improvement.

Oklahoma Sooners

Spring practice begins: March 3

Spring game: April 11

What to watch:

  • Help at wide receiver: After losing Juaquin Iglesias, Quentin Chaney and Manuel Johnson from last season's BCS title-game runner-up, the Sooners desperately need some players to emerge this spring. Ryan Broyles assumes the No. 1 position, although junior college receiver Cameron Kenney will help, along with Brandon Caleb from last season's two-deep roster. It will also be noteworthy to watch the work of running back Mossis Madu, who will receive some work at slot receiver.
  • Competition in the offensive line: Trent Williams is the only returning starter from last season for a talented veteran group that will lose four starters who combined for 149 starts during their college career. The Sooners aren't devoid of talent, but it's just untested. It means they need a big lift this spring from players like tackle Cory Brandon, guards Brian Simmons and Alex Williams and center Jason Hannan.
  • New look at safety: Nic Harris and Lendy Holmes seemingly had been at Oklahoma since
    the days of Brian Bosworth. That's a little bit of an exaggeration, but the Sooner duo combined for 83 starts and provided steady, efficient defense throughout their careers. Quinton Carter and Desmond Jackson appear poised to take over for them, although it will be impossible for the Sooners to match their experience.

Oklahoma State Cowboys

Spring practice begins: March 9

Spring game: April 18

What to watch:

  • Bill Young's work: Oklahoma State has the offense to challenge for the Big 12 championship. But the success of the season ultimately will be determined by the defense generated by new defensive coordinator Bill Young. The Cowboys return six starters but must improve drastically after last season's late collapse that saw them blistered for 56, 61 and 42 points among their final three games of the season.
  • Help at safety and defensive tackle: The Cowboys lose starters Tonga Tea and Jeray Chatham at tackle and starting safeties Quinton Moore and Ricky Price. Those key positions in the heart of Oklahoma State's defense will command much of Young's attention. He's particularly excited about the play of Swanson Miller and Shane Jarka and Johnny Thomas at safety. But other players need to step up when they get their chance.
  • Develop depth at wide receiver: Dez Bryant accounted for a larger percentage of completions than any other wide receiver in the Big 12. His absence this spring as he recovers from knee surgery will enable others to have a chance to play and become acclimated with the first-string offense. The Cowboys' depth at the position is aggravated after Bo Bowling was suspended after his arrest earlier this week. It will provide players like Hubert AnyiamJosh Cooper and DeMarcus Conner an opportunity to work with Zac Robinson while Bryant and Bowling are gone.

Texas Longhorns

Spring practice begins: Feb. 27

Spring game: April 5

What to watch:

  • Build consistency in the running game: The Longhorns ranked 41st nationally in rushing last season -- their worst national ranking since 2002 -- and relied on Colt McCoy as their primary running threat. That dangerous strategy has to change this season if the Longhorns have any legitimate national title contenders. Key tasks during the spring will be to build cohesion in an offensive line that loses only starter Cedric Dockery from last season and additional work for Fozzy Whittaker, who struggled with injuries most of his freshman season last year.
  • Rebuild the defensive front: The Longhorns had the nation's most productive pass rush, leading the country with an average of 3.62 sacks per game last season. It will be a challenge to replace key players like Brian Orakpo, Roy Miller and Henry Melton. But defensive coordinator Will Muschamp liked what he saw in limited playing time for players like Sam Acho, Russell Carter, Ben Alexander, Michael Wilcoxson, Kheeston Randall and Eddie Jones. Those players, along with possibly Sergio Kindle getting more playing time at defensive end, will be key to Texas' defensive hopes this season. And incoming freshmen Dominique Jones, Alex Okafor and Kyle Kriegel all arrived at college early to challenge for immediate playing time.
  • Build confidence with young receivers: Leading receiver Quan Cosby graduated and Jordan Shipley will miss spring work after recovering from shoulder surgery. It will give McCoy a chance to build confidence in some of the younger members of his receiving corps, most notably Brandon Collins, Dan Buckner, Malcolm Williams and James Kirkendoll.

Texas A&M

Spring practice begins: March 26

Spring game: April 18

Spring practice ends: April 24

What to watch:

  • Additional development of young talent: The Aggies were one of the nation's youngest teams last season as 10 true freshmen combined to see action in 90 games and start in 41 of them. The spring will provide an additional opportunity for those young players and others on the roster to gain much-needed experience.
  • Improvement of the pass rush: The biggest hole on defense for the Aggies will be at defensive end where Michael Bennett, Amos Gbunblee and Cyril Obiozor accounted for most of the playing time last season from a group that ranked 11th in the Big 12 and 100th nationally in sacks. Paul Freeney is poised to assume one of the starting positions there. The other side looks like a wide-open battle that will play out throughout the spring and into summer camp.
  • Find a running back: Coach Mike Sherman will be looking at Keondra Smith, Cyrus Gray and Bradley Stephens for the role as the Aggies' featured running back -- for a few weeks anyway. Whoever wins that battle may celebrate a kind of pyrrhic victory as heralded running back Christine Michael arrives for fall camp as the Aggies' likely featured back. But Sherman likely will be working on building depth in the spring.

Texas Tech Red Raiders

Spring practice begins: March 25

Spring game: April 18

Spring practice ends: April 20

What to watch:

  • Any passing game regression?: Graham Harrell and Michael Crabtree rewrote the national record book as one of the most prolific pass-and-catch
    combinations in NCAA history. But yet, the Red Raiders always have always had a potent passing attack with Mike Leach in charge. It will be interesting to see Taylor Potts' development at quarterback and the growth of wide receivers like Detron Lewis, Lyle Leong, Edward Britton, Rashad Hawk and Tramain Swindall as they try to fill those big shoes for the Red Raiders.
  • Find a pass-rushing threat: Defensive end Brandon Williams is turning pro after leading the Big 12 with a school-record 12 sacks last season. McKinner Dixon was a big performer in spot duty last season and could be ready to emerge, as is junior-college transfer Daniel Howard.
  • Rebuild the left side of the offensive line: Rylan Reed and Louis Vasquez were the two most decorated linemen in Texas Tech history during their careers. The productive duo will be missed, along with starting center Stephen Hamby. Chris Olson at left tackle and Lonnie Edwards at left guard aren't nearly as big or experienced as Reed and Vasquez. Growth during the spring for the unit will be important as the Red Raiders prepare for a difficult September schedule.
Tags:

Quentin Chaney, Houston Jones, Ian Campbell, Sergio Kindle, Lydon Murtha, Jerrell Jackson, Menelik Holt, Cyril Obiozor, Will Muschamp, Brad Thorson, Ziggy Hood, Nate Swift, Rodney Stewart, Mike Iltis, Brandon Balkcom, Lonnie Edwards, Barney Cotton, Brian Norwood, Christine Michael, Justin Garrett, Joe Korbel, Ryan Cantrell, Andy Ludwig, Josh Cooper, Aric Goodman, James Kirkendoll, Trent Williams, Chris Cosh, Quan Cosby, Tru Vaughns, Nebraska Cornhuskers, Jameon Hardeman, Mike Rivera, Sam Sledge, Ryan Broyles, Roy Miller, Cameron Kenney, Bill Snyder, Kyle Kriegel, Eddie Jones, Sedrick Johnson, Baylor Bears, Chase Coffman, Brandon Williams, Ben Alexander, Leon Freeman, Texas Longhorns, Jeff Fitzgerald, Marcus Herford, Vincent Rhodes, Mossis Madu, Malcolm Williams, Dez Bryant, Oklahoma State Cowboys, Kody Spanos, Jason Smith, Colt McCoy, William Moore, Stryker Sulak, Brandon Caleb, Johnny Thomas, Ryan Miller, Texas Tech Red Raiders, Michael Bennett, Tommy Saunders, Louis Vasquez, Quinton Moore, Cory Brandon, Adrian Mayes, Missouri Tigers, Darrell Scott, Colorado Buffaloes, R.J. Sumrall, Patrick Witt, Jason Hannan, Shane Jarka, Maxwell Tuiot-Mariner, Matt Slauson, Tommy Chavis, Chase Daniel, Cyrus Gray, McKinner Dixon, Zac Scotton, Chet Hartley, Eric Crouch, Devin Head, Dakota Lewis, Robert Steeples, James Holt, Cody Green, Matt Eberflus, Chris Singleton, Dave Christensen, Oklahoma Sooners, Spring what to watch, Andrew Jones, Michael Wilcoxson, Manuel Johnson, Dan Hawkins, Todd Peterson, Mike Leach, Kansas State Wildcats, Russell Carter, Edward Britton, Dan Buckner, Darius Darks, Alex Williams, Michael Crabtree, Juaquin Iglesias, Angus Quigley, Shawn Watson, Marquis Hamilton, Carl Wilson, Paul Freeney, Paul Rhoads, Bradley Stephens, Kansas Jayhawks, Joe Mortensen, Stephen Hamby, Brian Coulter, Sheldon Richardson, Detron Lewis, Bo Bowling, Lendy Holmes, Bill Young, Zac Robinson, Hubert Anyiam, Blaine Gabbert, Brandon Collins, Jameson Davis, Antonio Bell, Taylor Potts, Daniel Thomas, Iowa State Cyclones, Alex Okafor, Desmond Jackson, Graham Harrell, Benjamin Burney, Keondra Smith, Brian Bosworth, Lyle Leong, Cedric Dockery, Dezmon Briscoe, Earl Goldsmith, Fozzy Whittaker, Nic Harris, Henry Melton, Brian Simmons, Amos Gbunblee, Daniel Howard, Dominique Jones, Jordan Shipley, Chris Olson, Rashad Hawk, Jarrell Harrison, D.J. Jones, Brian Orakpo, Ricky Price, Jeray Chatham, Swanson Miller, Brandon Hunley, Jeremy Maclin, Terrell Resonno, Tremain Swindall, Josh Freeman, Carson Coffman, Gary Pinkel, Zach Grossnickle, DeMarcus Conner, Kheeston Randall, Aldon Smith, Marcel Jones, Dominique Hamilton, Arist Wright, Rylan Reed, Jalil Brown, Quinton Carter, Mike Sherman, Texas A&M Aggies

Big 12 power rankings: Texas back on top

February, 9, 2009
2/09/09
10:20
AM ET

Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Griffin

It's an inexact science trying to provide power rankings more than six months before the Big 12 season starts, but here's my best guess heading into spring practice. I've considered coaching changes, NFL draft defections, returning players, schedules and expected boost from arriving recruiting classes in determining how I think teams should be placed heading into the spring.

1. Texas -- A sense of unfinished business is present after the Longhorns came within seconds of challenging for the national championship last season. That feeling helped lure Colt McCoy and Jordan Shipley back for another year. If recruit Chris Whaley can emerge at running back and the defensive line can be rebuilt, the Longhorns should be in the hunt for a shot at the national title game at the Rose Bowl. The last time the crystal ball was awarded there, Texas upset USC for the championship. Could history repeat itself?

2. Oklahoma -- The Sooners had a strong signing day, but an even better one a couple of weeks earlier when Heisman Trophy winner Sam Bradford, Jermaine Gresham and Gerald McCoy, among others, decided to return for the 2009 season. But the Sooners still need to find some playmakers at wide receiver and rebuild their offensive line. And of a more immediate concern for Bob Stoops than his recent BCS bowl struggles is that nagging 1-3 mark against Texas over the past four seasons.

3. Oklahoma State -- Next season's Texas Tech could be Oklahoma State, which has all of its major weapons returning after Russell Okung decided to put off the NFL draft for another season. But the Cowboys' hopes of challenging for their first Big 12 South title will depend on wily veteran coordinator Bill Young's work with the defense. If it can improve like the Red Raiders did most of the 2008 season, it won't be far-fetched to think that the Cowboys can make a similar jump.

4. Nebraska -- The Cornhuskers got a big shot of momentum after their impressive comeback victory in the Gator Bowl. Ndamukong Suh will be back, but the Cornhuskers have to find a replacement for Joe Ganz at quarterback. Offensive coordinator Shawn Watson's work in turning out serviceable players at the position at Colorado and Nebraska lessens some of those concerns. But it still wouldn't surprise me to be seeing heralded incoming freshman Cody Green to be starting at the position by early November -- maybe even with the North Division title on the line.

5. Kansas -- The Jayhawks made history last season by making back-to-back bowl trips. With most of their major offensive weapons back, can they make similar history with their first undisputed Big 12 North title? Todd Reesing and Dezmon Briscoe will pile up passing yardage, along with increased talent from their past two recruiting classes. But the Jayhawks still face the same challenging Texas-Oklahoma-Texas Tech rotation among South opponents, making for the toughest challenge of any North team in their out-of-division contests.

6. Texas Tech -- Michael Crabtree and Graham Harrell are gone. Mike Leach is angry after a prolonged contract dispute with school officials. It will mean that Taylor Potts will face a huge challenge stepping in at quarterback. And defensive coordinator Ruffin McNeill hopes that some of the strong talent in the trenches can step forward immediately after his team's late collapse against Oklahoma and Mississippi last season.

7. Missouri -- The Tigers' offense will take a big step back with Chase Daniel, Chase Coffman and Jeremy Maclin all gone from last season's Alamo Bowl team. Sean Weatherspoon will anchor a defense that will have to rebuild after losing Ziggy Hood, Stryker Sulak and William Moore. Too many key Tiger players are leaving to think they can make a three-peat of North Division titles, although Missouri should again be in the hunt for a bowl game.

8. Colorado -- Dan Hawkins is already sold on this team, proclaiming it capable of a 10-2 record shortly after his team's disappointing finish last season. I'm not thinking Colorado will be that good, but I do expect a bowl trip if the Buffs can stay away from injuries, Cody Hawkins or Tyler Hansen emerges at quarterback and Darrell Scott fulfills the promise he arrived at college with.

9. Baylor -- Art Briles' unexpectedly solid recruiting class should provide Robert Griffin with a lot of weapons. Most notable might be Terrance Ganaway, a bullish 220-pound transfer from Houston who will give Jay Finley a nice balance at running back. The Bears' hopes of making their first bowl appearance since the Big 12 was formed will depend on playing better in close games -- they were 0-3 in games settled by a touchdown or less in 2008.

10. Kansas State -- Bill Snyder's return to college coaching didn't wow recruits, but it's a start. The Wildcats do have 15 returning starters, but have to hope that new coordinator Andy Ludwig can make some offensive magic with either Carson Coffman or junior college transfer Daniel Thomas. And they have to hope that some offensive linemen emerge to protect whoever is starting.

11. Texas A&M -- Mike Sherman added speed and playmaking ability to his defense, but the Aggies really needed it. And all of the heralded recruits still will be facing a steep learning curve against all of the other heralded offenses in the South Division. But Christine Michael will be arriving as the most heralded playmaker for the Aggies in more than decade, ensuring there will be some excitement when he's surrounded by players like Jerrod Johnson and Jeff Fuller.

12. Iowa State -- Paul Rhoads is back at Iowa State, and he'll think it's kind of li
ke 1995, when he started coaching there on Dan McCarney's staff. The challenges in the Big 12 might be even more imposing than they were then, meaning Rhoads will be facing a steep climb to respectability. Austen Arnaud, Alexander Robinson and Darius Darks provide an offensive foundation, but Rhoads' biggest talents have always been developing a defense. He'll definitely have his work cut out at his new job.

Big 12 recruiting hits and misses over the years

February, 3, 2009
2/03/09
5:07
PM ET

Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Griffin

While watching the recruiting lists that will be released by Big 12 schools tomorrow, it might be wise to remember some of the players who have thrived without much early recruiting hype. It's also interesting to remember some of the highly touted recruits who struggled once they arrived at college.

Here's a look at some of the more notable hits and misses in the Big 12 the past few seasons which should explain why some of the recruiting hoopla should be taken with a grain of salt.

Quarterbacks

Hits: The Big 12's two Heisman Trophy finalists in 2008, Sam Bradford of Oklahoma and Texas' Colt McCoy, both were projected as middle-of-the-pack recruits. Oklahoma State's Zac Robinson was presumed to be a step behind them. All three have developed into players who could end up being among the finest quarterbacks in their respective schools' histories.

Misses: Oklahoma's Tommy Grady never materialized as a prospect from the Class of 2003 and ended up transferring to Utah. And Harrison Beck was a highly anticipated prospect at Nebraska before washing out and ending up at North Carolina State.

Running backs

Hits: Oklahoma State's Kendall Hunter was a midrange recruit before blossoming to lead the Big 12 in rushing in 2008. And Shannon Woods was even more lightly regarded before excelling as a multifaceted back in Texas Tech's offense.

Misses: Daniel Davis was a highly ranked junior-college prospect who was expected to blossom once he arrived from at Kansas State. He never fulfilled that promise after several legal run-ins. Webster Patrick was a tough running back who was compared favorably to the Davis brothers who had thrived in Dan McCarney's offense at Iowa State. But Patrick failed to qualify academically for the Cyclones and ended up at Butte College.

Wide receivers

Hits: Juaquin Iglesias was barely recruited coming out of Killeen (Texas) High School, where his track exploits were more widely regarded. He accepted a scholarship offer from Oklahoma and blossomed into the second-leading receiver in school history. Dezmon Briscoe had one catch as a junior at Cedar Hill High School in Dallas, but caught the attention of then-Kansas assistant coach Tim Beck. He produced 92 catches for school-record totals of 1,407 yards and 15 touchdowns last season for the Jayhawks.

Misses: Colorado's Tyler Littlehales was a huge recruit for Gary Barnett in the Class of 2002 after playing at the Army All-American Bowl, but never could crack the starting lineup for the Buffaloes. Marquis Johnson was a top national recruit who was counted as a top recruit when he came to Texas from Champaign, Ill., as an All-American high school receiver. He failed to keep his grades up and ended up at Hutchinson Community College, eventually resurfacing at Texas Tech where he caught 21 passes in a two-season career.

Tight ends

Hits: Jermaine Gresham wasn't a top prospect after a knee injury in his junior season of high school stifled recruiting interest. He blossomed in college and is expected to be a first-round pick in the NFL draft this April. Chase Coffman was thought to be a good but not great prospect while playing at Raymore-Peculiar High School in Raymore, Mo. Coffman beefed up from his high school playing weight of 210 pounds and developed into a sure-handed receiver who won the Mackey Award in 2008.

Misses: Josh Barbo appeared to be a prototypical tight end and had the recruiting clippings to match when he arrived at Missouri in the 2003 recruiting class. But Chase Coffman and Martin Rucker took over the position as Barbo moved to defensive line and never got higher than third string on the depth chart before leaving school after the 2006 season. Walter Nickel was presumed to be a key player at Iowa State after arriving from Dixie State Community College, but he struggled with injuries and produced 35 catches in his two seasons with the Cyclones.

Offensive line

Hits: Few could have imagined that Jason Smith would be a key producer when he arrived at Baylor as a 220-pound tackle. But after gaining 85 pounds, he likely will go among the first 10 picks in the upcoming NFL draft. Center Daniel Sanders wasn't offered a scholarship by Colorado until the week before signing day after originally committing to Northern Arizona. He developed into a four-year starter for the Buffaloes.

Misses: Jorrie Adams was touted as the nation's best offensive line prospect when he arrived at Texas A&M in the class of 2003 from Jasper, Texas. But Adams struggled and switched to defense before he was kicked out of school after a drug-related arrest. Kyle Riggs was one of the nation's top line prospects when he arrived at Missouri in 2003, but never developed after suffering from an undetermined stomach condition. He eventually became a student assistant coach.

Defensive line

Hits: Texas Tech coaches discovered Brandon Williams playing in a high school basketball game at South Hills High School at Fort Worth. He eventually developed into the Big 12's leading sacker last season. Stryker Sulak's recruiting was almost as surprising. Sulak was set to attend Houston before Missouri coaches saw him in a recruiting film. He eventually bulked up and became a three-season starter for Missouri and an All-Big 12 selection last season.

Misses: Texas A&M defensive end Chris Smith was one of the nation's top prospects who committed to Aggies before his senior season in high school in 2004. He hurt his knee during his senior season and struggled thereafter, posting 12 tackles and not playing in the 2008 season. Xavier Lawson-Kennedy was one of the most heralded players to arrive at Oklahoma State, announcing his decision on regional television as a key member of the 2003 class. Struggles with injuries and his weight kept him from developing into a starter in his college career.

Linebackers

Hits: Sean Weatherspoon weighed 195 pounds when he left Jasper, Texas, as a marginal recruit who picked Missouri over Houston, Iowa State and TCU. He has developed into the Tigers' key defensive player on back-to-back North Division championship teams. Joe Pawelek also received little interest from FBS football schools, but immediately claimed a starting job as a freshman with Baylor. He was a freshman All-American and an All-Big 12 selection by his junior season when he led the conference in tackles.

Misses: Kelvin Flood was one of the top linebacker prospects of the 2002 class. But after the Dallas Kimball player selected Texas A&M, he never cracked the Aggies' lineup and left sch
ool after two seasons. Mike Reed was a prototypical middle linebacker who was one of the nation's top recruits when he arrived at Oklahoma from California's Yuba College in 2007. But Reed had difficulty juggling college with the finances of raising three young children and eventually left school. Reed resurfaced last season at the University of Central Oklahoma.

Defensive backs

Hits: William Moore was a midrange recruit who was thought to be more of a wide receiver than a defensive player. But he's blossomed into a standout at safety and a likely first-round draft pick in April. Jordan Lake was a hard-hitting safety at Houston McAllen Memorial who received scant recruiting notice. Lake picked Baylor over Northwestern, Rice and Houston and has developed into an All-Big 12 player with one more season remaining.

Misses: Edorian McCullough was one of the highest-ranked defensive back prospects in recent Big 12 history. But his career stalled at Texas before transferring to City College of San Francisco and ending up at Oregon State. Jason Frederick was one of the top recruits at Texas A&M in the class of 1999, but transferred out of school after only one season. He struggled to earn playing time after transferring to Sam Houston State.

Kicker

Hits: Jeff Wolfert arrived at Missouri on a partial diving scholarship and tried out for the football team on a lark. He left school as the most accurate kicker in college football history in combined percentage for field goals and extra points. Matt Williams arrived on Texas Tech's doorstep last season after capturing the attention of coaches while converting a field goal during an in-game promotion. Williams converted all of his 33 extra points after claiming the job midway through last season.

Misses: Williams got his chance only because of the struggles of Donnie Carona, who arrived as the first scholarship kicking recruit at Texas Tech in Mike Leach's tenure. Carona lost his chance to kick after missing four extra points and five of his nine field goal attempts last season. Iowa State kicker Josh Griebahn was the highest-rated kicking recruit ever attracted to Iowa State by McCarney. But Griebahn redshirted as a freshman and had ankle surgery the following season. He never won the Cyclones' kicking job.

Forty-one Big 12 players invited to NFL Combine

February, 2, 2009
2/02/09
2:41
PM ET

Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Griffin

Here's the official list of 41 Big 12 players who have been invited to the NFL combine Feb. 18 through Feb. 24 in Indianapolis.

Oklahoma led all Big 12 teams with eight players invited to the combine, followed by Texas, Missouri and Nebraska with six players each and Texas Tech with five players.

All Big 12 schools were represented with the exception of Colorado, Iowa State and Kansas.

All players are expected to attend with the exception of Texas wide receiver Jordan Shipley, who was granted an extra season of eligibility and will remain in college. Shipley recently underwent shoulder surgery and will not be able to participate when spring practice begins for the Longhorns later this week.

NFL officials have calculated that players invited to the NFL combine typically are drafted 64 percent of the time. So these players would appear to have the best chance of being picked among eligible players from the Big 12.

Here's a list of invited players listed by their schools.

Baylor: T Dan Gay, T Jason Smith.

Colorado: None.

Iowa State: None.

Kansas: None.

Kansas State: QB Josh Freeman, DE-LB Ian Campbell.

Missouri: TE Chase Coffman, QB Chase Daniel, DT Ziggy Hood, WR-KR Jeremy Maclin, S William Moore, DE Stryker Sulak.

Nebraska: LB Cody Glenn, RB Marlon Lucky, T Lydon Murtha, DE Zach Potter, G Matt Slauson, WR Nathan Swift.

Oklahoma: C Jon Cooper, S Nic Harris, S Lendy Holmes, WR Juaquan Iglesias, WR Manuel Johnson, T Phil Loadholt, G Duke Robinson, G Brandon Walker.

Oklahoma State: P Matt Fodge, TE Brandon Pettigrew.

Texas: WR Quan Cosby, DT Roy Miller, RB Chris Ogbonnaya, DE Brian Orakpo, CB Ryan Palmer, WR Jordan Shipley.*

Texas A&M: DE Michael Bennett, P Justin Brantly, RB Michael Goodson, QB Stephen McGee.

Texas Tech: WR Michael Crabtree, QB Graham Harrell, S Darcel McBath, G Louis Vasquez, DE Brandon Williams.

*  Note: Shipley has elected to stay for a sixth season of eligibility with Texas. He will be available for the 2010 draft.

Rusty Harrell misfires often at Senior Bowl

January, 26, 2009
1/26/09
11:26
AM ET

Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Griffin

Texas Tech quarterback Graham Harrell struggled through a difficult performance during Saturday night's Under Armour Senior Bowl in Mobile, Ala.

Harrell completed 4 of 13 passes for the North team, which dropped a 35-18 decision to the South in the annual matchup of top senior talent.

The record-breaking Texas Tech quarterback started the game, but led the North on no scoring drives in his five possessions. His first three possessions were three-and-outs, directing the North to only two first downs in his playing time.

The most notable Big 12 performer was Oklahoma wide receiver Juaquin Iglesias of the North, who produced game-high totals of six receptions for 90 yards. Iglesias' 41-yard reception from Sam Houston State quarterback Rhett Bomar that was the game's longest play from scrimmage.

Here is how other Big 12 players performed in the game.

  • Missouri's Ziggy Hood (North) started at left defensive tackle and produced one assist.
  • Missouri's William Moore (North) started at strong safety, notched one tackle.
  • Texas' Quan Cosby (South) produced one reception for 15 yards.
  • Oklahoma's Phil Loadholt (North) started at right tackle and Oklahoma State's Brandon Pettigrew (North) started at tight end. Neither player had any recorded statistics.

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