Big 12: Wisconsin Badgers

Marcus Mariota and Collin KleinUSA TODAY SportsWith quarterbacks Marcus Mariota and Collin Klein, the Fiesta Bowl won't be lacking in star power.
SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. -- The Tostitos Fiesta Bowl on Thursday night? Forget the corn chips; this matchup is about something else.

It's the Regret Bowl. The What Might Have Been Bowl. It's the Can the Mayans Make the Apocalypse Take Out Only Nov. 17 Bowl.

If Nov. 17, when No. 4 Oregon and No. 5 Kansas State both lost their only game of the season, were wiped away, this Ducks-Wildcats showdown likely would have been for the national title.

So, yes, when the Ducks and Wildcats turned on ESPN during the past month or so and watched reports on Alabama and Notre Dame, they often were nicked by a pang of regret, no matter how philosophical a pose their respective coaches tried to establish in the locker room.

Regrets? Yeah, both teams have a few.

"Yeah, a little bit, I'm going to be honest with you," Oregon quarterback Marcus Mariota said. "It's one of those things you have to learn from. We lost at the wrong time."

Of course, denial can come in handy. Alabama-Notre Dame? Who are they?

"I think this is the best two teams in the nation in this game right here," said Kansas State receiver Chris Harper, who transferred from Oregon. "I know Notre Dame and Alabama have their game, but I think this is the best matchup."

It's certainly a good matchup. No other bowls -- other than that aforementioned matchup in South Florida -- matches top-five teams. You have plenty of star power, with Kansas State QB Collin Klein, a Heisman Trophy finalist, and Oregon running back Kenjon Barner and Kansas State linebacker Arthur Brown, both All-Americans. Then there's celebrated Ducks redshirt freshman quarterback Mariota, who was first-team All-Pac-12 and will be near the top of many 2013 preseason Heisman lists.

And then there are the coaches. Kansas State coach Bill Snyder, the septuagenarian program builder, and Oregon's Chip Kelly, the wise-cracking mad scientist of offense, both would make just about everyone's top-10 list of college football coaches. An added dimension of intrigue is the possibility that Kelly may be coaching his last game as a Duck, as he's being eyeballed by a number of NFL teams.

Said Kelly, "I do not know what the future holds. I do know we have a football game [Thursday] night, and I'm going to be there."

Kelly's crew is playing in its fourth consecutive BCS bowl game. It lost its first two, including here to Auburn in the national title game after the 2010 season, but beat Wisconsin in the Rose Bowl last year. Kansas State is playing in its first BCS bowl game since 2003, and it has lost its past two bowl games.

So there doesn't seem to be much question about how hungry the Wildcats are to end their season with a victory.

"It would be huge," said Klein, who is 21-4 over the past two seasons. "We talk about finishing all the time. We haven't been able to finish the last two years. To be able to do that is very important to us."

Part of Kelly's coaching philosophy is that every game is the same -- a Super Bowl! -- because your preparation should always be your best. Yet the Ducks want to maintain their perch among college football's elite. A Fiesta Bowl victory likely would cement a 2013 preseason top-five ranking because the Ducks have a lot of talent coming back next fall.

"We have to make a statement to the rest of the country," Ducks offensive lineman Kyle Long said.

As for keys, you hear the usual from both coaches: turnovers, tackling, special teams, etc. But turnovers seem to be even more notable than usual in this one, at least based on the teams' performances this season.

Kansas State has the third-fewest turnovers (10) in the FBS this season and has forced the eighth-most (31). Oregon is tied for first in turnovers forced with 38, including 24 interceptions. The Ducks turned the ball over 19 times, second-fewest in the Pac-12.

Klein had three interceptions in the Wildcats' 52-24 loss to Baylor.

"When we've turned it over, we've struggled," Snyder said. "When we haven't, we've played reasonably well."

Sure, both teams wish they were playing for a national title. But the winner of this game will finish ranked in the top four. So that's better than 116 other FBS teams. Not too shabby, even if it includes a dose of what might have been.

Kelly was asked what he'd learned after playing in four consecutive bowl games.

"I think you learn really how hard it is to get there," he said. "That's the one thing I think as a team, as a staff, as a group of players, to not take it for granted. It's a truly special thing to be able to play in a BCS game."

Of course, it's more special to win one.
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.

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.

My Heisman Trophy ballot has changed every week for the last couple of months.

I'm not surprised there are more than three players going to the trophy presentation.

Five players were invited to New York for Saturday night's Heisman Trophy presentation -- quarterbacks Andrew Luck of Stanford and Robert Griffin III of Baylor, tailbacks Montee Ball of Wisconsin and Trent Richardson of Alabama and cornerback Tyrann Mathieu of LSU.

It's a shame the Heisman Trust didn't have room for three more quarterbacks because Houston's Case Keenum, USC's Matt Barkley and Boise State's Kellen Moore were just as deserving.

With five finalists going to New York, it figures to be one of the closer votes in recent Heisman Trophy history.

The closest vote in Heisman Trophy history came just two years ago, when Alabama tailback Mark Ingram edged Stanford's Toby Gerhart by only 28 points. Ingram received 227 first-place votes, Gerhart got 222 and Texas quarterback Colt McCoy, the second runner-up, received 203.

Given the number of finalists and their geographical regions, we could have another really close finish on Saturday night.

Luck, the runner-up to Auburn's Cam Newton last season, entered the 2011 season as the Heisman Trophy favorite. His performance didn't slip much this season, as he completed 70 percent of his passes for 3,170 yards with 35 touchdowns and nine interceptions.

I still feel Luck might be the most valuable player on any team in the country. Without him, there's no way the Cardinal is ranked No. 4 in the country and playing No. 3 Oklahoma State in the Tostitos Fiesta Bowl. Luck has done more with less, as Stanford lacks the game-changing playmakers that other teams have.

But Luck might still be the second-best quarterback in New York. Griffin, who is widely known as RG3, completed 72.4 percent of his passes for 3,998 yards with 36 touchdowns and six interceptions. He also ran for 644 yards with nine touchdowns.

Without him, the Bears wouldn't have beaten TCU, Oklahoma and Texas. Griffin's one drawback: He had a late interception that sealed the Bears' fate in a 36-35 loss at Kansas State on Oct. 1 and threw two picks in a 59-24 loss at Oklahoma State on Oct. 29. But with everything else RG3 has done this season, it's easy to give him a mulligan for the miscues.

LSU defense
Kevin C. Cox/Getty ImagesRunning back Trent Richardson has been at his best in Alabama's biggest games.
I still believe Richardson is the best player in the country. He looked like the best player on the field in No. 2 Alabama's 9-6 loss in overtime to No. 1 LSU on Nov. 5. He had 89 rushing yards and 80 receiving yards in a game where every yard mattered. He finished the season with 1,583 yards with 20 touchdown runs and three touchdown catches. He's also Mr. Dependable, not losing a fumble in his past 520 touches and only once in 614 career touches.

Ball has been a scoring machine for the No. 10 Badgers this season, running for 1,759 yards with 32 touchdown runs and six touchdown receptions. His 38 total touchdowns are one shy of matching former Oklahoma State running back Barry Sanders' NCAA single-season record of 39 set in 11 games in 1988. Ball's production helped lead the Badgers to a Jan. 2 date against Oregon in the Rose Bowl Game presented by VIZIO.

Mathieu fell off my ballot after he was suspended from playing in the Tigers' 45-10 victory over Auburn on Oct. 22 for smoking synthetic marijuana. But his big plays helped the Tigers overcome deficits in each of their last two victories, over Arkansas and Georgia in the SEC championship game.

Mathieu -- aka the "Honey Badger" -- is the best player on the top-ranked team. He leads the Tigers with 70 tackles and has forced six fumbles and recovered five. He also is the most dynamic punt returner I've seen since Florida State's Deion Sanders. Mathieu has scored four touchdowns -- two on fumble returns and two on punt returns.

To penalize Mathieu for one foolish mistake wouldn't have been right. After all, Newton was briefly ruled ineligible at Auburn last season and 2010 Heisman Trophy finalist LaMichael James of Oregon was suspended from playing in last season's opener.

Big 12 mailbag: Would Texas ever move to the Big Ten?

February, 2, 2010
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Happy day before National Signing Day.

I couldn’t jump into the recruiting hubbub, however, without taking care of some Tuesday afternoon correspondence.

Here goes.

Richard Sylvester from Houston writes: Tim, love your blog. Thanks for all of the diligent hard work you’re cranking out day after day. I read it every morning and throughout the day.

My question is whether you’ve been reading an excellent set of posts from Frank the Tank’s Slant about a potential move by Texas to the Big Ten. It lays out several well-researched reasons why the ultimate big fish out there – bigger than Missouri, bigger than Syracuse and way bigger than Notre Dame – is Texas.

Could you envision a scenario where the Longhorns would ever leave the Big 12 behind and jump to the Big Ten?

Tim Griffin; I have been reading Frank’s interesting posts on the subject. And he raises some interesting points about how much money the Longhorns could ultimately make by joining the Big Ten in one of his most recent missives.

Obviously, the Big Ten is one of the most tradition-rich conferences in the nation, if not the most. Adding Texas would give them, like Frank writes the ultimate free agent in terms of college sports.

Texas matches the research qualities that members of the Big Ten’s academia would demand when a new conference partner would be added.

And it would deliver a huge potential market for the fledgling Big Ten cable television network if the state of Texas would be added. Some estimates are that the population for the states in the Big 12 would account for more than 90 million people if Texas was added to the Big Ten.

It would also conservatively mean the Longhorns would make at least $10 million in new athletic revenue because of the new revenue sources the Big Ten’s whopping television network provides, compared with the Big 12's current deal.

But whether they would leave the traditional rivals from the Southwest Conference and the new ones from the Big 12 is debatable. The travel costs would be huge in all sports and the Longhorns would be jumping into a cauldron of potential new opponents like Michigan, Ohio State, Penn State, Wisconsin and Iowa among others.

Texas would have to agree to a revenue sharing deal in place in the Big Ten that is different from the Big 12’s where the teams that appear in the most television games and make the most NCAA basketball tournament appearances earn more money.

And remember how the Texas Legislature became involved with news leaked that Texas was leaving for the Big 12 Conference. It basically paved the way for Baylor and Texas Tech to tag along with Texas and Texas A&M. It would be interesting to see what would happen if Texas announced it wanted to go to the Big Ten by itself.

The Big 12 has been good for Texas. Virtually every sports program is at a level where the Longhorns can legitimately contend for a national championship. It has an intriguing mix of local and regional rivals.

It makes for some fanciful thinking and has a lot of interesting points to think about Texas leaving the Big 12. But I just don’t see it happening – at least at this time -- because of so many obstacles that would exist in the move.

Meni of Manchester, N.H., writes: In regards to the link you had yesterday about the Oklahoma players who were likely first-round selections in the Class of 2011, the guy in College Football News listed Travis Lewis, DeMarco Murray, Quinton Carter and Dominique Franks on his list. I thought Franks declared for the NFL draft, didn’t he?

Tim Griffin: Meni, you are correct. Franks declared for the draft shortly before the deadline. Most draft analysts have him going in the third or fourth round. He’s a very determined player and I think his speed should help him make an NFL squad as a special-teams player, making him an intriguing sleeper pick.

Steve Sutton from Ozona, Texas, writes: Tim: Interesting story about players who exceeded recruiting expectations, showing how uncertain the recruiting process is. I was wondering if you might elaborate on some of the more celebrated misses during the time of your survey.

Tim Griffin: Steve, I hope I was able to showcase how inexact recruiting can actually be. But I think the player in the most celebrated Big 12 player in recent seasons who has failed to live up to expectations was Colorado running back Darrell Scott, who was the No. 2 running back in the nation in 2008 and had an 89 ranking by ESPNU. He played with the Buffaloes during his freshman season before leaving the team midway through the season in 2009. His next playing situation is unknown at this time.

Of course, the player ranked ahead of him at running back has been a bust as well. Jermie Calhoun of Oklahoma was the No. 1 running back in the 2008 class, but redshirted and then gained only 220 yards and scored a touchdown in his redshirt season. Calhoun had trouble getting a chance at playing time behind Chris Brown and DeMarco Murray last season. It will be interesting if he develops and gets more of a chance for a playing time in 2010 after Brown’s graduation.

Another player who hasn’t lived up to expectations has been Texas defensive end Eddie Jones, who had an 88 ranking and was the No. 2 defensive end in the nation in the 2006 class. He hasn’t started a game at Texas in his first three seasons, although he showed some flashes as a situational pass rusher with five sacks and seven tackles for losses in 2009.

Pete from Omaha, Neb., writes: Tim, great blog, I love reading every day. I noticed that ESPN Sports Nation did a poll that asked if recruiting or game planning was more important for a coach to succeed. The vote showed that most fans think recruiting is more important.

But I disagree.

Bill Callahan and Charlie Weis were great recruiters, but did they ultimately succeed? What about John Blake? Nope. Game planning is what wins. Take Pat Fitzgerald at Northwestern, Bo Pelini at Nebraska and Kirk Ferentz at Iowa. All of them are good recruiters, but they never attract top-five classes. Yet they have their programs at a consistent level. What’s your take on the issue?

Tim Griffin: Pete, you raise an interesting question. I think you ultimately have to have a combination of both, but I would lean to game planning as being just as important as recruiting in developing a contending program.

Like you mentioned, coaches like Pelini and Ferentz get good players, but they take them to high competitive levels thanks to their teaching and game planning.

The old recruiting adage has always described college football as “not being about the Xs and Os, but about the Jimmys and the Joes.”

But I think that’s changing as there’s more parity across the nation. When good coaches get good players, that’s when programs the foundations for really good programs start being built.

Cecil Wilson of Plano, Texas, writes: With recruiting coming to an end, I just noticed that Texas did not get a commitment from a tight end. Looking at the Longhorns’ roster, they have several, but I have not seen or heard of any of them, except for Blaine Irby. What do you think the Horns will do about this position in the upcoming season? With a new quarterback, either Garrett Gilbert or Case McCoy, they are going to need all the options they can have. Thank you for all your hard work. Hook 'Em.

Tim Griffin: The tight end hasn’t been a position of much relevancy for the Longhorns since Jermichael Finley left after the 2007 season. Irby was injured early in the 2008 season and didn’t play last season.

That left the Longhorns utilizing four-receiver sets in many occasions for many occasions. Greg Smith, a 260-pounder was the primary blocking tight end for most of the season. He was backed up by Ahmard Howard. Wide receiver Dan Buckner emerged at the flex tight end spot early in the season, but struggled getting the ball late in the season and has elected to transfer to Arizona.

The status of Irby is unknown at this time as he recovers from his injury. I look for D.J. Grant to have the best shot of emerging during spring practice. Grant was declared academically ineligible at the start of the season, but should be ready to go.

The tight end position will be of vital importance as Gilbert uses it for checkdown receptions. The question will be who will ultimately be catching passes from that position.

Thanks again for all of the good questions this week. I’ll check back again on Friday.

Big 12 mailbag: College football vs. the NFL

January, 22, 2010
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If it’s a Friday afternoon, it means we’ve got a few letters to answer before we start the weekend.

Here are a some that I’ve received over the last couple of days.

Austin from Arlington, Va., writes: Hey Tim, enjoy reading the blog, thanks for your reporting. I was interested in one of your comments today, when you mention you prefer the college version to the pros. I'm with you, but I was curious to hear you expand on that a little. What aspects of the game (excluding outside the game stuff like recruiting) make the college game a better version for you? Thanks again, keep up the good work!

Tim Griffin: I just think the college game lends itself more to the fans. You don’t have greedy owners threatening to move colleges at the drop of the hat if they aren’t satisfied with their stadium deal. I love the pageantry of a Saturday afternoon game. There’s color involved when you hit a college campus hours before a game you just don’t see in and around NFL stadiums. I’ve covered the NFL for many years, and it always seems too antiseptic for my tastes.

I also like the college game more. I think it skews a little bit more towards offense, which I like. I love the fact the clock stops after a first down, giving teams more plays over the course of a game. I hate the fact that television has made the NFL into a three-hour, 20-minute window with commercials after every kickoff.

I also will take recruiting over the NFL draft any day. And give me the college version of overtime where both teams have the opportunity to have the ball before a game is settled.

In my opinion, it’s really quite clear why the college game is better than the pro version.


Nate from Seattle, Wash., writes: Tim, love the blog, please keep the content coming during the offseason. That being said, on your "crystal ball" piece, in which you looked in to the Big 12's future, you got one thing terribly wrong. Bo Pelini is not interested in the LSU job. It has been mentioned before, but several reports have stated that his wife hated Baton Rouge and Bo wasn't a big fan of the area either. Ohio State may be an issue some day, but LSU? No.

Tim Griffin: Nate, thanks for the kind words. But I’ve heard from sources that Pelini wasn’t that all that happy with his experience in Ohio State, either. I just think that when some school from the Southeastern Conference waves a huge multi-million contract in front of Pelini, likely sometime in the future, he’ll have to think about it. And he left on great terms in the administration and among LSU fans. Not saying that would be enough to persuade his wife to start liking boudin and beignets, but a paycheck with a lot of zeroes at the end has a way of doing some not-so-subtle convincing.


Thomas from Columbia, Mo., writes: Tim, I liked your crystal ball predictions but was a little disappointed that nothing more about Missouri came from your thoughts. I was hoping that the Big 10 blogger would comment on Mizzou, but that didn't happen. If Missouri does not leave the Big 12, what are your predictions for the Tigers through 2020? And if they do go to the Big 10, where do you think they would end up? Will they fit in with a heavy offense, and annually limited defense? Will they flop or soar in the Big 10?

Tim Griffin: I would think it would be a little harder for Missouri to compete in the Big Ten on a consistent basis than the Big 12. The reason why is because I think the Big Ten is deeper top to bottom than the Big 12. The Big 12 has more dominant teams at the top like Texas, Nebraska and Oklahoma, but there are still some teams that Missouri enjoys a natural advantage over.

I think they would be on a more even basis in the Big Ten. Ohio State, Penn State, Michigan and Iowa would replace their big rivals in the Big 12. But I think they would be challenged on a consistent basis with teams like Wisconsin, Northwestern, Michigan State and others in the Big Ten as well.

Another possible problem if they were to ever leave the Big 12 would be that Missouri’s developing recruiting presence in Texas would gradually dry up. The Tigers and Gary Pinkel are entrenched in the state and have done a nice job of picking up under-recruited players like Chase Daniel, Sean Weatherspoon, Stryker Sulak and Ziggy Hood from Texas high schools and developing them once they spend a few seasons in the program.

I don’t think Missouri would be quite as effective recruiting Texas if they ever left the Big 12, because I don’t know how excited Texas players like I mentioned would be to play against Big Ten schools rather than Big 12 schools. Those Texas players are excited about an occasional trip back to Texas where friends and family could watch them play.

It will be interesting to see what happens with the Tigers. And like I predicted in my piece earlier today, it wouldn’t surprise me if they decide to move if they get the opportunity.


Dan from Texas writes: Hey Tim, read the blog every day, keep up the good work. I was wondering with the recent success of the Flexbone/Triple Option run by Georgia Tech, and the military academies, do you see more teams hiring coaches that run that system? Are you surprised more schools haven't given it a shot?

Tim Griffin: Dan, I don’t see the triple option really taking off as a mainstream offense at many schools. The military academies recruit to that kind of offense because they have tradition in place in running them and coaches who are confident in playing that offense.

But it’s a big change for most coaches to go to that kind of offense. They worry that the offense doesn’t provide an opportunity to come back in games if they were to fall behind by a couple of touchdowns. It’s not attractive to many of today’s recruits who have been weaned on the excitement of pass-and-catch football. Also, it’s the kind of offense that places your quarterback in jeopardy of being injured on almost every running play if he carries the ball. Most coaches add all that up and see that the flexbone or the option provides much risk when compared with other offensive philosophies.

While the option has a place in college football, I just don’t see it getting a lot of acceptance by most coaches when other offensive avenues are available.


Julio Ramirez from Corpus Christi, Texas, writes: Tim, were you surprised that Mack Brown had such a quick hook with Dan Buckner when he decided to leave school last week?

Tim Griffin: I was stunned that Buckner elected to transfer as quickly as he did. I don’t suspect he was particularly happy with his shrinking role in the offense at the end of the season. I don’t know if the arrest necessarily triggered that or not. But Mack Brown’s statement when he was released mentioned that Buckner’s family was convinced he would be cleared once he goes through the legal process.

Buckner will be getting a fresh start at Arizona starting in 2011. It’s a rare move from a Brown-coached school to one directed by a Stoops brother. But in Arizona’s offense, I think that Buckner could flourish. I think he saw what former Arizona tight end Rob Gronkowski was able to do and likely thinks he could produce similar numbers with an opportunity to play for Mike Stoops’ team.


Charles Urich from Dallas writes: From your story about the hiring of Tim DeRuyter yesterday: "But duplicating that success against the offensive firepower in the Big 12 will be a different challenge? Particularly with the personnel the Aggies currently have." Tim, I'm curious to know what you meant by this statement. Are you saying the 4-star athletes we have in this new recruiting class on defense are lesser than what the Air Force Academy had? Are you saying that with the defense we had last year that almost beat Texas and beat Tech is a challenge to work with?

Tim Griffin: The Aggies do have some defensive talent, but in regards to the Texas game you were speaking of, I believe the Longhorns did gash the Aggies for 597 yards and 49 points in that game, didn’t they? The Aggies allowed more than 44 points in five games last season, including two in the sixties. They allowed 640 yards to Oklahoma, 520 yards to Texas Tech and even 521 yards and 31 first downs to Utah State, a team that went 4-8 this season.

DeRuyter will find himself with better defensive players, but he’ll be facing better offensive players, too. It’s a double-edged sword that will make turning around the Aggies’ defense a lot more of a challenge than his previous work at the Air Force.

Thanks again for all of your good questions this week. I’ll check back again on Tuesday.

Brown changes bowl philosophy

January, 4, 2010
1/04/10
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NEWPORT BEACH, Calif. -- After back-to-back losses in the 1999 and 2000 seasons, Mack Brown knew he needed to make some changes in his bowl preparations.

The Longhorns were thrashed by Arkansas in the 2000 Cotton Bowl, 27-6. In the following season, Texas was shocked by a faster Oregon team that posted a 35-30 victory in the Holiday Bowl.

In order to change his thinking, Brown sent his assistants to places like Florida State and Wisconsin which had success during that period in bowl games. The Texas coaches picked the brains of Bobby Bowden, Barry Alvarez and their respective staffs to find out what had worked for them to get ready for bowl games.

"Both those teams had great runs [in bowl games]," Brown said. "We went to meet with them and asked what they were doing. We found out that they are really physical during their work here and let up a little once they got there."

The change in attitude seems to have helped. The Longhorns have won seven of their last eight bowl games, including a three-game winning streak in BCS games and a two-game winning streak at the Rose Bowl.

Brown has continued that strategy during its work in Austin as it prepared for Thursday's BCS National Championship Game against Alabama.

"You really just have to go back and work on fundamentals," Brown said. "We've had very, very physical practices. They've all been ones [first-stringers] against ones. They knocked each other around. They had fun."

And once the Longhorns arrived in California, Brown has moderated a little from how it prepared during the regular season.

"We'll do a little less conditioning out here for one thing," Brown said. "We really conditioned every day pretty hard back in Austin. We'll hit some [early in the week], but we back on the hitting as it comes closer to game time to make sure that we are fresh. One of the things we have learned is that when you have all of the bowl activities, they are out and standing and on their feet all of the time. They are excited and you work them hard. If you're not careful, you have a tired football team by Thursday."

Hitting so much before a bowl game is a calculated risk, but Brown believes his team is better prepared utilizing his current strategy.

"Another coach called and asked how we hit so much and not worry about injuries," Brown said. "I told him that you worry about injuries every day. That's what you do. But you hope you get lucky because you cannot take this much time off and not hit and then expect to be physical during this ballgame. This will be a very physical ballgame."

Big 12 has six of top 21 national schools in total revenue

July, 29, 2009
7/29/09
7:07
AM ET

Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Griffin

I'm always curious about where the Big 12 ranks with other FBS schools in all kinds of rankings. Total revenue provides an interesting glimpse of the conference in comparison with others.  

The Orlando Sentinel had a chart earlier this week where it ranked all of the FBS schools in that statistic. It's a telling number because it quantifies what the schools took in during the 2007-08 season -- the most recent year where numbers are available. The revenues include both generated revenue from areas such as ticket sales and sponsorships and also allocated revenue that includes tuition waivers, direct institutional support and money from student fees.

The figures are compiled by the U.S. Department of Education's Office of Postsecondary Education. All schools but the U.S. Naval Academy and the U.S. Military Academy were required to report their overall numbers to the Department of Education.

The numbers for the Big 12 were telling. It's no surprise that Texas ranks as No. 1 in the country with revenues of more than $120 million. But the rest of the figures are intriguing because of the wide variance in terms of the Big 12's order.

The top-ranked school are those that typically are the most successful in drawing fans. But there are some interesting rankings among the top 10 schools and the Big 12's rankings.

Here's a listing of the top 10 schools nationally.

  • 1. Texas: $120,288,370
  • 2. Ohio State: $117,953,712
  • 3. Florida: $106,030,895
  • 4. Michigan: $99,027,105
  • 5. Wisconsin: $93,452,334
  • 6. Penn State: $91,570,233
  • 7. Auburn: $89,305,326
  • 8. Alabama: $88,869,810
  • 9. Tennessee: $88,719,798
  • 10. Oklahoma State: $88,554,438

And here's a list of the rest of the Big 12 schools and their national rankings, according to the Sentinel's chart.

  • 11. Kansas: $86,009,257
  • 17. Oklahoma: $77,098,009
  • 20. Nebraska: $75,492,884
  • 21. Texas A&M: $74,781,640
  • 43. Colorado: $52,631,896
  • 46. Missouri: $49,113,786
  • 47. Kansas State: $48,160,113
  • 56. Baylor: $44,151,763
  • 58. Texas Tech: $42,844,855
  • 63. Iowa State: $38,642,013

It's interesting to note that schools from the Big 12, Big Ten and Southeastern Conference accounted for the top 13 slots before Notre Dame cracked the list at No. 14. The first other conference represented was the Pac-10's Stanford at No. 18.

Among schools in the top 20 nationally, here's the conference breakdown:

Big Ten and SEC, six apiece; Big 12, five; Pac-10, two; independents, one.

Among top-40 schools, the Big Ten had 10 and the SEC had nine to lead the list. The Big 12, Pac-10 and ACC accounted for six schools apiece, followed by two for the Big East and an independent.   

TCU (57th) was the highest-ranked team from outside a BCS conference.

You can bend these numbers in any manner you want, but these are the kind of figures that Big 12 commissioner Dan Beebe will be taking to potential television partners as he bids to create a television network. It gives an idea of how the Big 12 schools compare with other BCS-level competitors in the other conferences in terms of revenue.

As the figures indicate, the athletic departments with the highest revenue typically are from schools that fill 80,000- to 100,000-seat football stadiums on autumn Saturdays and come from conferences that receive an automatic Bowl Championship Series bid.

Big 12 lunch links: Can OU's defense be great?

July, 22, 2009
7/22/09
1:43
PM ET

Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Griffin

And now, for your lunchtime dining pleasure, a few tasty morsels from across the Big 12.

  • The Oklahoman's Berry Tramel predicts that Oklahoma's defense can be great at every position this season.
  • Veteran Kansas City Star reporter Mike DeArmond writes that those predicting Nebraska will win the Big 12 North are "abso-tooting-lutely nuts."
  • Oklahoma State coach Mike Gundy talked up the Cowboys during a two-day trip to the ESPN campus in Bristol, Conn., the Oklahoman's Scott Wright reports.
  • Texas A&M coach Mike Sherman was blunt in his assessment of what his program needs to do to keep up with other national contending teams at his school, according to Brent Zwerneman of the San Antonio Express-News/Houston Chronicle.
  • Colorado quarterback Cody Hawkins is almost as confident as his father about his team's chances heading into the upcoming season, the Boulder Daily Camera's Kyle Ringo reports.
  • Baylor coach Art Briles tells the Temple Daily Telegram's Craig Meister that Robert Griffin will be much improved by concentrating on football this spring rather than running track.
  • Former Oklahoma quarterback Jamelle Holieway and a female companion were arrested on shoplifting charges at a large discount store in McAlester, Okla., the Tulsa World's John Hoover reports.
  • The Topeka Capital-Journal's Rick Dean provides the definitive story about Bill Snyder's return to coaching at Kansas State.
  • Lawrence Journal-World sports editor Tom Keegan writes that incoming Kansas freshman running back Toben Opurum looks and sounds a lot like former Jayhawk standout Brandon McAnderson.
  • Massive 6-foot-6, 285-pound offensive tackle Anthony Gatti from Parkway North High School in the St. Louis area has committed to Missouri over offers from Mississippi and Wisconsin, the Columbia Tribune's Dave Matter reports. Gatti is the Tigers' 10th commitment in the 2010 recruiting class.
  • Lincoln Journal-Star staffers Steve Sipple and Brian Christopherson break down the storylines for next week's Big 12 media days.
  • Former Georgia coach and Oklahoma assistant Jim Donnan talks to the Tulsa World's Dave Sittler about the unrealistic expectations of Oklahoma fans.

Tim's mailbag: 2008 Border War better than 2007

June, 19, 2009
6/19/09
2:49
PM ET

Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Griffin

If it's Friday afternoon, it must be time for opening my mailbag.

We received some interesting questions and comments this week. Here are some of the best.

Bob Jackson from Sioux Falls, S.D., writes: Tim, I'm really enjoying your countdown on the top 25 moments in Big 12 history. But one question. Why did you pick the Missouri-Kansas game last year over the one in 2007 that had so much hype involved with it? I'm curious how you determined one from another.

Tim Griffin: Bob, hopefully all of my readers are enjoying the countdown of moments as much as I enjoyed developing the list.

My rationale for picking specific moments over others deals with the "wow factor" of the game. I wanted my top events to be moments that made people gasp with excitement when they were watching them live. It has no correlation to the importance of the game, although big plays in huge games tend to make those more memorable than others.

But I picked the 2008 game over the 2007 one because of those "wow" moments. The 2007 game had much more hype than any Missouri-Kansas game in history, but had trouble living up to that billing. Missouri jumped ahead early and really had to scramble only at the end of the game when a late sack and safety by Lorenzo Williams wrapped up the game.

The game last season had lessened stakes than that one. But it was hard to tell it by watching the game. There were four lead changes in the fourth quarter, including the dramatic game-winning score from Todd Reesing to Kerry Meier. The fact that both players were injured earlier in the season and battled back to play in the game heightened its drama, in my opinion. And the fact that Missouri had a chance to tie the game on the final play before a blocked kick only added to the excitement.

Both games were good, but the 2008 game was slightly more memorable to me than the one in 2007 because of those memorable plays. And that's why I ranked them in that order.


Bill Barkley from Waco, Texas, writes: Tim, Just a comment about Art Briles and Baylor. I think Briles is not only one of the best coaches in the Big 12 but he is one of the best coaches in the nation. NOBODY [Mike Singletary included] could be doing as good a job as he has done at Baylor. Robert Griffin is here as you know because of Briles. Put Mack Brown in Waco without Will Muschamp and Major Applewhite and see how many games he wins. Put Art Briles in Austin or College Station and we could be talking a top-5 team in the nation every year. This guy has it as a coach.

Tim Griffin: Bill, I agree with you on Briles' coaching acumen. Look at the job he did dominating Texas high school football before even coming to college. But one concern I might have if I was a Baylor backer and the Bears play as well as some of those rosy preseason predictions. Then, I'm wondering if other more attractive schools might come looking at him as a coach.

Obviously, making a bowl game is his most immediate goal. But if that happens and a football power school wants to hire him, it will then be interesting to see if Briles stays in Waco.


David Clouse from Pacola, Okla., writes: What are you expecting this season out of Oklahoma running back Chris Brown? He could be the most valuable RB in the conference, yet DeMarco Murray receives most of the attention. Brown will be a huge key for OU on third downs this year.

Tim Griffin: Actually, I think that Brown will also be effective on first, second and fourth  downs, too.

I think that together, Brown and Murray are the best combination in the Big 12 (Sorry, Nebraska fans). And working together only heightens their value. Both don't face the constant pounding that would be in place if they were both every-down backs. It's not to say that either couldn't fill that role, but just that they are each more effective with the other as a part of the team.

For example, I still think that Murray's presence in the BCS title game might have helped lead to a different result for the Sooners. It would have been interesting to see his explosive running and Brown's bullish between-the-tackles thrusts against Florida.

If both stay healthy, it wouldn't surprise me to again see Brown and Murray both rush for more than 1,000 yards. Neither will likely be in the mix for All-American honors, but their abilities together help make the Sooners one of the nation's top teams.


Ted Padberg of Independence, Mo., writes: I have news for you, Tim. Blaine Gabbert may just supplant Chase Daniel in the Mizzou record books and in the hearts of Tiger fans. He has that much potential.

Tim Griffin: Ted, I'm not arguing with you. Gabbert is coming into the Missouri lineup as likely the most hyped recruit in Gary Pinkel's tenure. He has better size and likely a better arm than Daniel did. He won't have the surrounding weapons - at least this season - so it will be interesting to see how patient Missouri fans will be after the Tigers' back-to-back championship game appearances in the last two seasons.

So there are huge expectations that he will be facing. He might someday do more than Daniel, but he arrives having to replace the most statistically successful quarterback in school history. And no matter how you consider it, those are some huge shoes to fill.


Matt from Lincoln, Neb., writes: Great blog Tim! I was just wondering how long you think it will take Bo Pelini to get Nebraska in a BCS game or national championship game. Will it be within four seasons?

Tim Griffin: Obviously, the quick turnarounds and early success that coaches like Bob Stoops, Pete Carroll and Jim Tressel have enjoyed have proven that tradition-rich programs can turn around quickly. And Pelini is in exactly that kind of position.

But in order to get into that BCS discussion, he's going to have to significantly improve the Cornhuskers' recruiting. He needs to start attracting a bunch of athletic difference makers that will be needed to enable the Cornhuskers to compete with Texas and Oklahoma for the Big 12 title. They'll need to be in that ballpark to get into the BCS mix.

Can that happen in four seasons? No doubt. But Pelini will have to build on his first season of success and ratchet up the Cornhuskers' program another couple of rungs to get them on that level.

And there still is a lot of work remaining to get there.


Joe Bonds of Dallas writes: Tim, I will agree that Texas' non-conference schedule is extremely weak this year, but could someone please point out that it was not intentionally scheduled this way. Utah backed out, Arkansas backed out and UT tried to negotiate a game with Wisconsin this year. Texas does have some big-name programs on the schedule in the future. Why does no one point that out?

Tim Griffin: Joe, you are exactly right. But the BCS computers or pollsters aren't going to factor in that the Longhorns almost played Utah or that Arkansas didn't want to play them or that Wisconsin couldn't have been arranged.

We can point out who the Longhorns almost played, but it still won't take away the fact that their non-conference schedule includes games against Louisiana-Monroe, UCF, UTEP and Wyoming. Those will be the four games that Texas will be judged against.

And I still think that lack of competition, especially compared to some of the non-conference games that other potential national contenders are playing, could come back to haunt the Longhorns.

The road to a national championship is paved with good intentions. But that weak non-conference schedule remains something that Mack Brown and the Longhorns can't diminis
h. Because it's there.


Kenneth Smith of Houston writes: How will Brandon Banks will play this year? Considering teams know who he is now, will that change how he produces for Kansas State. Also how high will he go into the draft?

Tim Griffin: I've gone on record as thinking that Brandon Banks might be the most underrated player in the Big 12. And even though teams know about him a little more this season, they still have to stop him. And that's more easily said than done.

I've heard rumblings that Banks will have a new role with Del Miller as the offensive coordinator. It wouldn't surprise me to see him used in a modified role of a "Wildcat" where he would take direct snaps from center and perhaps and run and throw the ball a little like Darren McFadden originally did for Arkansas.

If he does that and is successful, it will only boost his national stature.

Banks is one of the fastest players in the country with reputed 4.28 speed in the 40-yard dash. But his professional chances are hampered by his size at 5-foot-7 and 150 pounds. Because of that size, I think it's a long shot he'll be drafted until he really tears things up this fall.

Thanks for all of the good questions. We'll check in again next week.  

Two Big 12 schools crack top 10 in athletic revenue

June, 16, 2009
6/16/09
5:59
PM ET

Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Griffin

It's not surprising that Texas ranks as the nation's leader in total athletic department revenue. But the other Big 12 member in the top 10 might surprise you.

According to a study commissioned by Street & Smith's SportsBusiness Journal, Texas and Oklahoma State are among the top 10 revenue-producing athletic departments.

Using information generated from the Equity in Athletics Disclosure Act forms, the study found that Texas' athletic programs generated $120.3 million in the 2007-08 fiscal year. Second was Ohio State at $118 million.

Here are the top 10 in the nation, according to the SportsBusiness Journal. Big 12 teams are in bold.

1. Texas -- $120.3 million
2. Ohio State -- $118 million
3. Florida -- $106 million
4. Michigan -- $99 million
5. Wisconsin -- $93.5 million
6. Penn State -- $91.6 million
7. Auburn -- $89.3 million
8. Alabama -- $88.9 million
9. Tennessee -- $88.7 million
10. Oklahoma State -- $88.6 million

Steele picks Nebraska, Texas to win Big 12

June, 1, 2009
6/01/09
5:59
PM ET

Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Griffin

My friends joke with me about how possessive I get about my "college football bible" that I carry everywhere in my work satchel.

But after losing one Phil Steele several years ago, I learned my lesson. The first thing I do is put my name is big block letters on the inside page. And I usually buy two copies, one for my office and one for carrying around.

So you can imagine my excitement the other day when a crisp 2009 copy arrived at my mailbox. My wife said I was more thrilled about that delivery than our little boy was when he got his train set for his birthday last year.

But I digress. The reason why I and so many others utilize Phil Steele is because he's right more often than not in his predictions. If you don't believe it, look at the cover. In big block letters, Phil trumpets the fact that he's been "the most accurate preseason magazine in the last 10 years!"

Who am I to doubt him?

I quickly thumbed through the national stuff and found Steele's predictions for the Big 12 this season.

Here are his predictions for this season, along with the bowl matchup he's picking for each school. Several will open some eyes.

North Division

1. Nebraska (Holiday Bowl vs. California)

T2. Colorado (Independence Bowl vs. Auburn)

T2. Kansas State (Insight Bowl vs. Wisconsin)

4. Kansas (Alamo Bowl vs. Michigan State)

5. Missouri

6. Iowa State

South Division

1. Texas (BCS title game vs. Florida)

2. Oklahoma (Fiesta Bowl vs. Boise State)

3. Oklahoma State (Cotton Bowl vs. LSU)

4. Texas Tech (Sun Bowl vs. UCLA)

5. Baylor (Texas Bowl vs. Navy)

6. Texas A&M

Among the Big 12 players that Steele picked on his All-America team include Kendall Hunter, Dez Bryant and Russell Okung of Oklahoma State, Jermaine Gresham and Gerald McCoy of Oklahoma, Sean Weatherspoon of Missouri and Sergio Kindle of Texas. Bryant was chosen twice, both as a first-team All-American at wide receiver and a punt returner.

And here is Steele's choices for All-Big 12 first team:

QB Sam Bradford, Oklahoma

RB Kendall Hunter, Oklahoma State

RB DeMarco Murray, Oklahoma

WR Dez Bryant, Oklahoma State

WR Dezmon Briscoe, Kansas

WR Jordan Shipley, Texas

TE Jermaine Gresham, Oklahoma

T Russell Okung, Oklahoma State

T Trent Williams, Oklahoma

G Brandon Carter, Texas Tech

G Kurtis Gregory, Missouri

C Chris Hall, Texas

DE McKinner Dixon, Texas Tech

DT Gerald McCoy, Oklahoma

DT Ndamukong Suh, Nebraska

DE Jeremy Beal, Oklahoma

LB Joe Pawelek, Baylor

LB Sean Weatherspoon, Missouri

LB Travis Lewis, Oklahoma

LB Sergio Kindle, Texas

CB Cha'pelle Brown, Colorado

CB Dominique Franks, Oklahoma

SS Darrell Stuckey, Kansas

FS Jordan Lake, Baylor

K Alex Henery, Nebraska

P Derek Epperson, Baylor

KR Perrish Cox, Oklahoma State

PR Dez Bryant, Oklahoma State 

Needless to say there's all kinds of other information available. And it will be hitting newsstands across the entire Big 12 readership area by June 9.

Thorson's blog helping to personalize KU's athletes

March, 12, 2009
3/12/09
1:00
PM ET

Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Griffin

Let me give Kansas junior center Brad Thorson a hearty welcome to the blogosphere.

Thorson has started blogging and convinced others to join him at Jayhawk Chalk Talk, a portal for student athletes to provide their thoughts. The blog can be found at jayhawkchalktalk.blogspot.com.

Thorson, a transfer from Wisconsin, helped conceive the idea as a way of personalizing Kansas athletes.

"What is this? Well to be honest, I don't think many of us know exactly where we are going just yet," Thorson blogged. "But we here at the University of Kansas Student-Athlete Advisory Committee decided if everyone else has a blog, why not us."

Good reason. Even set-in-their-ways former newspaper reporters can become dedicated bloggers. Hopefully, Thorson and his friends can, too.

"You'll probably hear a lot of things about me but let me assure you they are all lies, even the one I'll be forced to write about my rendition of Whitney Houston in a purple crushed velvet pimp suit," Thorson blogged.

I can't wait to read that story, and a lot of others.

Could Texas' non-league slate be a national-title albatross?

January, 16, 2009
1/16/09
9:51
AM ET

Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Griffin

Kirk Bohls of the Austin American-Statesman had an interesting story earlier this week about Texas considering some major late changes in its nonconference schedule for the 2009 season and beyond.

Bohls reported that Texas and Wisconsin were in serious talks about a 2009 game in Austin. But that discussion finally bogged down when the two schools couldn't arrange for a return game to Wisconsin until at least 2013. Texas officials had even agreed to shift its Sept. 19 game against Central Florida to a future season, but still couldn't agree to a potential deal with the Badgers.

Texas senior assistant athletic director Butch Worley also told Bohls that the Longhorns are considering trying to get Notre Dame back on their schedule for the first time since 1996. That game makes sense because the Irish are desperate to have upcoming games in the talent-rich recruiting area of Texas.

Such discussion from Texas officials is interesting after the Longhorns were barely nosed out by Oklahoma for the Big 12 South Division title game berth after the Sooners and Longhorns finished in a three-way tie for the division crown with Texas Tech.

Texas' four-game 2008 nonconference schedule featured games against Florida Atlantic, Rice, Arkansas and UTEP, while Oklahoma's was marked by games against No. 7 TCU and No. 17 Cincinnati along with Tennessee-Chattanooga and Washington.

It's clear that the Sooners got a boost from the stronger nonconference schedule. And it undoubtedly helped the Sooners nose out the Longhorns in the final BCS standings despite Texas' 45-35 head-to-head victory over Oklahoma earlier in the season.

The Longhorns again could be facing a similarly weak nonconference schedule dilemma compared to the South Division's other projected powers. Here's how the top projected teams in the conference measure up for 2009.

Oklahoma: BYU (at Arlington, Texas), at Miami, Tulsa, one game to be determined.

Texas: Louisiana-Monroe, Central Florida, UTEP, at Wyoming.

Oklahoma State: Georgia, Rice, Grambling, Houston.

It's understandable why the Longhorns are beating the bushes trying to beef up their nonconference schedule. Because as it stands now, they are definitely behind both the Sooners and the Cowboys in terms of strength of nonconference schedules.

Tim's mailbag: No 7-0 bowl season expected for the Big 12

December, 23, 2008
12/23/08
4:08
PM ET

Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Griffin

Here are some letters I've received over the last several days about Big 12 happenings.

Ashtyn from Jefferson City, Mo., writes: Which has a better chance of happening? The Big 12 going 7-0 or the Big Ten going 0-7 in the bowl season?

Tim Griffin: Actually, I don't see either happening. For some reason, it wouldn't surprise me if Wisconsin upsets Florida State in a battle between two underachieving teams. And I think that Iowa might be ready to play against South Carolina, too.

And in the Big 12, I think that Oklahoma and Nebraska both will have difficulty pulling off upsets in their bowl games against Florida and Clemson, respectively. It wouldn't be impossible, but I think both will be pushed to do it. I beleive Oklahoma is going to miss DeMarco Murray more than most people might think.


T. Broyles from Austin writes: First off, I wanted to tell you that your blog is amazing. But let's get down to the point. I won't ramble on about who I think is better between Texas and Oklahoma, but let's pretend that Texas made it to the national championship game against Florida. I believe Oklahoma will have a tough time beating UF, but do you think Texas would have a harder time beating them? If you could drop a final score between Texas and UF, what would it be?

Tim Griffin: First, thanks for your nice compliments about the blog. I think that Texas will face similar problems that Oklahoma does. Mainly, their secondary and defense will be facing a big test in trying to control Percy Harvin and Tim Tebow. And both teams would be challenged to control Florida's fast and active front seven on defense. Texas might have even more trouble because I don't think its running game is as good as Oklahoma's. So if the Longhorns got behind, I think they would be one-dimensional against Florida's fierce pass rush.

But in the end, I would make the Gators slight favorites over both Big 12 teams. And I think Florida would win both games by a score of, say, 35-31.


Jim from Grand Junction, Colo., writes: Tim, I don't know if you follow recruiting closely, but perhaps you can answer this. I've noticed on the recruiting sites that Colorado has only eight signed recruits. Most already have 20-plus recruits. Why is the Colorado number so low? Are they on NCAA sanctions or what? Thanks.

Tim Griffin: Colorado has a different philosophy than many schools with only eight recruits so far. But coach Dan Hawkins prefers to add to his classes later in the recruiting season. He has told Colorado reporters he plans to have 20-22 recruits in his class this season, so I wouldn't expect anything too strange at this point.


M. Holliday from New Braunfels, Texas, writes: I know this is subjective but Colt McCoy at number 11 in your poll of the best players in the Big 12 invalidates and removes subjectivity and borders on lunacy!

Tim Griffin: I appreciate your concerns, but the opinions I made were based strictly on my own opinions after talking to some of my friends in professional scouting. They actually had McCoy ranked a little lower than I ranked him. But it's interesting to see how different people value different kinds of players. I guess that's why some teams like the Tennessee Titans always seem to play well with players who were presumed to be borderline talents. And others like the Detroit Lions continually struggle despite continually getting top players in the draft every season.

But it has been interesting to see how different fans of different schools have taken personal umbrage with these lists. C'mon, lighten up. It was developed to merely to provoke some meaningful discourse about the Big 12.

And I can assure you it has certainly done that!


Zac F. from Houston writes: Hey, Tim, I'm a big fan of your blog, but I'm curious with Oklahoma losing some of its big men up front that this would affect the big numbers that their passing game has been generating?

Tim Griffin: Zac, I think you might be onto something. Something tells me that Sam Bradford might be more worried about the departure of senior starting offensive linemen Phil Loadholt, Duke Robinson, Jon Cooper and Brandon Walker than any of his receivers.

The Sooners do have some talent along the offensive line, but it will take time to develop. And it remains to be seen if this young group will grow up with Bradford or a new quarterback.


Ray from Hanford, Calif., writes: Now that its official and Jordan Shipley has a sixth year, how do you think Texas will do next season? With the emergence of Malcolm Williams late this season, does Texas have a 1-2 punch at receiver to work along with Colt McCoy?

Tim Griffin: Most definitely. I think that Williams and Shipley potentially might be one of the best receiving duos in the conference. And the expected return of Blaine Irby at tight end will only strengthen that group. It's one of the biggest reasons I think the Longhorns are the team to beat in the Big 12 South heading into the 2009 season.


Chris from Austin writes: Great job on the blog, it's become my go-to for any time I want Big 12 news. I feel that the "curse" of the Heisman isn't really a curse, it's mostly caused by the media tour that follows after a winner is announced and all of the practice that you miss. But how much preparation time does the Heisman winner actually miss on average?

Tim Griffin: Chris, a Heisman winner usually doesn't miss much practice time with his team. It's basically some of the conditioning that players take care of themselves before reporting back to practice after exams finish up. Heisman winners typically are stuck on the rubber chicken circuit when all that is going on.

I think an even bigger factor is that opposing teams zero in on a player with much national notoriety like a Heisman Trophy winner. It's a big reason why Heisman winners are 2-6 in their bowl games since 2000.

And if you want to impress your friends, know the only Heisman Trophy winners who have won during that eight-season period in the bowls were USC's Matt Leinart (over Oklahoma in the 2005 Orange Bowl) and USC's Carson Palmer (over Iowa in the 2003 Orange Bowl). Leinart is also the last Heisman winner to win a national championship in the same season as his Heisman. Recent losing Heisman winners in order have included Reggie Bush, Troy Smith and Tebow last season.

I wish a blessed and peaceful holiday season to all of my readers. Enjoy the times with your family and I'll look forward to more cards and e-mails after the holidays are over.

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