Big 12: Zac Robinson

What to watch in the Big 12: Week 14

November, 29, 2012
11/29/12
10:15
AM ET
Here's what I've got my eye on in the Big 12 in the final week of the regular season.

1. Reach for the stars. If you fail, you'll still land among the Heismans ... or something. Collin Klein needs an absolute monster of a game to catch front-runner Johnny Manziel after Klein's awful outing against Baylor two weeks ago. He hasn't been himself after suffering an injury against Oklahoma State, having his two worst games of the season since. Can he bounce back?

[+] EnlargeLandry Jones
Brett Deering/Getty ImagesOklahoma's Landry Jones takes a string of two straight 500-yard passing games to TCU.
2. Shoot for three. Why not? Landry Jones, if you haven't been paying attention, has been tearing it up of late. Oklahoma has only had three 500-yard passing performances in school history; two have come in the last two weeks, and all three are from Jones. Jones has 1,054 passing yards, nine touchdowns and two picks in his past two games. Can he keep it rolling against a really good TCU pass defense that loves to disrupt in the backfield and force interceptions downfield?

3. No time to pout. Kansas State is the Big 12's No. 2 rush defense. Only three teams had managed to top 100 yards on the ground against the Wildcats before the Baylor loss. The Bears managed, uh, 342. Kansas State has a lot left to play for, but Texas excels on the ground, and may rely more on its running backs without David Ash starting. Can the Wildcats D answer the bell?

4. Make 'em do something else. TCU jumped out to an early lead against Texas, and the Longhorns never forced the Frogs to do anything special on offense. Quarterback Trevone Boykin threw just nine passes and ran 10 times against the Horns. If his pass attempts are that low again this week against the Sooners, Oklahoma's in big trouble.

5. Return of the MAC. Hey, if you're not doing anything else on Friday night, you really might want to tune into the MAC championship game at 7 p.m. ET on ESPN2. I usually wouldn't sanction such an action, but it's quite relevant for Big 12 fans. If No. 17 Kent State beats No. 21 Northern Illinois (the Huskies are favored), the Golden Flashes will be heading to the BCS -- likely at Oklahoma's expense. If the Huskies win, the Big 12 should be fine and place two teams in the BCS for the first time since 2008, barring upset losses by K-State or Oklahoma.

6. There's a first half too, guys. Oklahoma State has outscored Baylor 59-0 in the first half of its past two meetings. Those games were over before they even started. Can the Bears hang around in the first half this time and give themselves a decent shot in the second half?

7. Closing arguments, gentlemen? Alex Okafor and Devonte Fields are Nos. 1 and 2 in my defensive-player-of-the-year race. They both take on great offenses this week, offenses that love to get physical. A big performance by each might help his team grab an upset. Can either one make a strong case to close the season and take home the award? And on the offensive side of the ball, another off day by Collin Klein might open the race. Can Terrance Williams, Tavon Austin or perhaps Landry Jones step in there?

8. The Choo Choo keeps rolling and running. Clint Chelf hadn't done a ton of running before last week, but he looked a whole lot like Zac Robinson in the Cowboys' near-upset of Oklahoma. His 12 carries were more than he'd had in his previous three games combined. Some of them were on scrambles, but a few were designed. Does he look to run again against the Bears?

9. This might just be unfair. Kansas plays good team defense, but so do Iowa State and Oklahoma. And those teams have much better individual talents all over the field than the Jayhawks. Tavon Austin didn't play as much running back last week, but he still was all over the place for West Virginia. What does he have in store for a KU defense that ranks eighth in the league in total defense?

10. Is there hope? Kansas is sitting on a 20-game loisng streak in Big 12 play. If the Jayhawks win this game, it will be on the back of James Sims and Tony Pierson, controlling the clock and keeping West Virginia's offense on the sidelines. I don't believe the defense has any shot to slow them down otherwise. It's within reason. Can KU close the first year under Charlie Weis in style?
Dana HolgorsenPatrick McDermott/Getty ImagesDana Holgorsen returns to Stillwater to face an offense he installed two years ago.
Oklahoma State and West Virginia will meet Saturday. One team has to win.

Even if the Cowboys win Oklahoma State may have to, at least in part, thank Dana Holgorsen. He has helped take both programs to where they want to be, and on Saturday the former offensive coordinator will be back in Stillwater for the first time as a head coach.

At the end of 2009 Oklahoma State scored a total of seven points combined in a pair of embarrassing losses to close the season. Quarterback Zac Robinson was dealing with a bum shoulder, but seven points isn't enough to do much else but rack up frustrating losses that leave point-loving fans unfulfilled.

Coach Mike Gundy was designing his offense and decided to take a different approach to begin the following spring.

Robinson, a dual-threat quarterback built to run and take hits, was being succeeded by Brandon Weeden, a 6-foot-4, 218-pound junior with a big arm and we'll say ... hesitant legs.

With Gundy looking to take on a different role for his team, hiring Holgorsen made sense.

"I had a tremendous amount of respect for him for what he had done with the program," Holgorsen said. "His question to me was how [former Houston coach and current Texas A&M head coach] Kevin Sumlin did things from a CEO standpoint. I think Mike wanted to be more of a CEO type head coach, as opposed to being in the offensive room for 18 hours a day trying to get the offense better. I think he’s done a tremendous job of that.

"Since he’s gone back and made that switch, they’ve won a tremendous amount of ball games. Good for him."

Oklahoma State won a school-record 11 games the next season. Holgorsen left for West Virginia, a team that scored just seven points in a frustrating bowl loss of its own to close the 2010 season and wanted a new head coach.

Once he left, Gundy hired former OSU receivers coach Todd Monken to run the same offense Holgorsen installed in one spring.

"I knew a whole lot about it prior to going there, from a facilities standpoint, a coaching staff standpoint, culture and recruiting standpoint, knew a lot about it," Holgorsen said. "There wasn’t any surprises."

He spent nearly a decade at Texas Tech before coordinating Sumlin's offense at Houston, where the Cougars played Oklahoma State in each of Holgorsen's seasons. In 2009, the Cougars even upset a top five Oklahoma State team in Stillwater.

His first season as head coach at West Virginia -- which only came after scandal led to an early exit for the late Bill Stewart -- was his only season in the past 12 in which he didn't face the Cowboys.

"We were just a typical spread offense. Run/pass, no-huddle offense," Gundy said. "The impact it had was we changed our style of quarterback, so we brought in a scheme that could best fit what Brandon Weeden could have success with, which was pocket-style passing."

It worked. The Cowboys ranked No. 3 nationally in total offense in 2010, up from 70th in a nine-win campaign in 2009. A year later, using Holgorsen's system under Monken, the Cowboys won their first Big 12 title and once again ranked third nationally in total offense.

Meanwhile, Holgorsen was helping build West Virginia, who won the Big East in Year 1 and won a BCS bowl for the first time since 2007 -- Rich Rodriguez's final season in Morgantown.

West Virginia ranked 15th in total offense last season, a year after ranking 67th, despite possessing offensive talent like Geno Smith, Stedman Bailey and speedster Tavon Austin.

"[Gundy] was with Pat Jones there for a long time, played for Pat Jones, which is old-school football, tough, hard-nosed physical football and incorporated it into our style of spread offense," Holgorsen said, "keeping it as physical as it can possibly be."

Holgorsen's fingerprints will be all over both sidelines, but without a stop at Oklahoma State and proof he could run his offense at a major conference away from mentor Mike Leach and away from a minor league like Conference USA, a high-profile head job like West Virginia might never have come along.

"It worked out good for everybody," Holgorsen said.
To begin the season, I see six teams with a legitimate chance to win the Big 12. Today we'll continue our series looking at why each team will or will not win the league. Next up: The defending champs -- Oklahoma State.

More contenders:
Why Oklahoma State will win the Big 12

1. The Cowboys offense is set up for Wes Lunt to succeed. Most importantly, the bulk of the Cowboys offensive line returns, as does coach Joe Wickline. Never underestimate the power of an extra second in the pocket. Those add up over time. He's got arguably the league's best 1-2 punch at running back in Joseph Randle and Jeremy Smith, and though his receivers aren't the most experienced, they're hardly green, and he's got lots of targets who will be productive, starting with Josh Stewart, Tracy Moore and Isaiah Anderson. There's no Justin Blackmon or Brandon Weeden in this offense, but Lunt should do well, and he'll have loads of help.

[+] EnlargeBrodrick Brown
AP Photo/Sue OgrockiBrodrick Brown made five interceptions last season, including this one against Oklahoma.
2. This is becoming a theme: The defense is a lot better than most everyone realizes. Everyone wants to pretend they can write off Oklahoma State without Weeden and Blackmon, while conveniently overlooking that just about everyone else on the team comes back, especially on defense. Defensive linemen Jamie Blatnick and Richetti Jones are gone, leaving a pretty big hole on the defensive line, but the Cowboys have one of the Big 12's best secondaries, and colleague KC Joyner says the cornerback duo of Justin Gilbert and Brodrick Brown is the nation's second best, behind only Texas. Add in a great set of linebackers in Shaun Lewis, Alex Elkins and Caleb Lavey, and you've got a unit that's due a lot of respect. Too many people forget that this unit is the same one that led the Big 12 in scoring defense in conference play last year. Yes, it even gave up fewer points than Texas.

3. The Cowboys know what it takes to win a Big 12 title. Never underestimate the ability of a team that knows what it's like to reach the summit. No, Oklahoma State is not the best team in the Big 12 to begin the season, but it's stocked full of players who know what it takes to be that team. My guess is they're willing to push the rest of the team to that level if the players who need to step up are able to match that effort. You can't duplicate experience, but last year OSU broke the Oklahoma-Texas duopoly that dominated this league. The pieces are in place for the Cowboys to have a reasonable shot to do it again.

Why Oklahoma State won't win the Big 12

1. They're starting a true freshman at quarterback. The offense that Dana Holgorsen brought to Stillwater in 2010 is much simpler than what it ran when Mike Gundy was in charge of the offense piloted by Zac Robinson, but Lunt is still a true freshman. He'll make plays, and he'll make mistakes -- probably too many to ultimately win a title. History is absolutely against him. Only two first-year starting quarterbacks have won Big 12 titles, to say nothing of true freshmen, which has never been done, even if there have only been a handful of true freshmen to start in this league.

2. The turnover avalanche won't be quite as plentiful. Oklahoma State forces turnovers. Period. That's what the defense does. Last season, when the Cowboys forced an FBS-best 44 turnovers, was not a complete aberration. That said, it was still somewhat of an outlier, and in a few of those games, OSU needed every one of the turnovers it forced. OSU forced 34 turnovers in 2010 (fifth nationally) and 30 in 2009 (11th nationally). That's a pretty clear trend since the arrival of defensive coordinator Bill Young. OSU's defense should be very, very good, but it's a little silly to expect another 44 turnovers to roll in this season. No other team in college football had more than 39 last year.

3. The rest of the contenders are more talented. Oklahoma State has a ton of talent, but do the Cowboys have as much as the teams ahead of them in the conference poll? Certainly not Oklahoma. Depending on where you want to see talent, it's close between the Cowboys and West Virginia or Texas when you assess the depth chart from top to bottom. I'd probably lean toward West Virginia and Texas in both of those cases. Last year, OSU had as much talent as any team in the league, if not more. This year, the Cowboys have enough talent to win the league, but they don't have as much as other teams in the Big 12.
We'll be walking through the top 10 players at each position in the Big 12 before the season, but we'll start with the most important, especially in this league.

Let's do this:

1. Geno Smith, West Virginia: Smith put up huge numbers (4,385 yards, 31 TD, 7 INT, 65.8 completion percentage) and did so efficiently last season. Both of his top two targets are back and the adjustment to Big 12 defenses shouldn't be too difficult.

2. Landry Jones, Oklahoma: Jones and Smith will go head-to-head all season for honors as the Big 12's top passer. Who comes out on top is anyone's guess, but Jones regressed last season, and his receivers let him down after Ryan Broyles' season ended with a knee injury. He'll try to bounce back with just one reliable target (Kenny Stills) to start the season. The rest of the receiving corps is loaded with potential, but very inexperienced.

3. Collin Klein, Kansas State: Clearly, I'm taking more than just passing acumen into account here. Klein is the Big 12's No. 2 returning rusher, and also threw for just under 2,000 yards last season, adding 13 passing touchdowns to the 27 he scored rushing. We'll see how much better he is as a passer this fall.

[+] EnlargeCasey Pachall
Otto Kitsinger III/Getty ImagesTCU's Casey Pachall could be poised for a big year with a stable of talented receivers.
4. Seth Doege, Texas Tech: I refuse to hang last year's failures on Doege's shoulders. Absolutely not. He played well, at least as well as he could. The running game struggled and offered almost no support after Eric Stephens' injury. The defense was a disaster and there were injuries all over the place. Doege still went for more than 4,000 yards, 28 scores and just 10 picks. Don't be surprised if Doege throws his hat in the ring as the Big 12's best passer by season's end.

5. Casey Pachall, TCU: Pachall didn't have eye-popping numbers, but only because TCU rode on the shoulders of its trio of running backs. Still, Pachall's numbers are going to be better this year, and he's got great targets in Josh Boyce, Skye Dawson and Brandon Carter, not to mention youngster LaDarius Brown.

6. Nick Florence, Baylor: I like Florence to have a big year with really good receivers, but he's got too much to prove for now. He looked good in spot duty for RG3 against Texas Tech last season, but his senior season will look much, much different than his inconsistent freshman year all the way back in 2009.

7. Wes Lunt, Oklahoma State: The Big 12's only freshman quarterback is a true freshman, and Lunt earned this spot by beating out some really tough competition in J.W. Walsh and Colton Chelf this spring. Amazing stuff, and his coaches know good quarterbacks. Zac Robinson and Brandon Weeden have established quite the QB tradition in Stillwater. Here's guessing Lunt continues it.

8. Dayne Crist, Kansas: Crist's college career hasn't been what he imagined after coming to Notre Dame as one of the most highly recruited signal-calling prospects in his class, but he's got a chance to start something special at Kansas in his senior year, reunited with former coach Charlie Weis. Crist won't have the weapons some of the other guys on this list have, but he gives KU a big, big upgrade at the position.

9. Steele Jantz/Jared Barnett, Iowa State: These two have to cut down the turnovers, but they've both shown the ability to be playmakers. There's no guessing who wins this legitimate battle in the fall, but coach Paul Rhoads isn't afraid to bench either one if the turnovers don't stop.

10. David Ash/Case McCoy, Texas: Mack Brown insists it's still a contest. My jaw will be on the floor if Ash doesn't trot out on the field for the first game of the season. Ash has some potential and promising targets in Mike Davis and Jaxon Shipley, but he hasn't shown the big-play ability of Jantz or Barnett. Expect Ash to move up this list by season's end, but for now, it's all just potential.
STILLWATER, Okla. -- The similarities? Well, they're almost too uncanny.

A record-setting quarterback? Gone.

The best receiver in school history? Gone.

And that was in the spring of 2010.

Dez Bryant took a trek south after being drafted in the first round by the Dallas Cowboys. Zac Robinson took his ball and left for the NFL, too.

In the fall, Mike Gundy's Oklahoma State squad was picked to finish fifth out of six teams in something called the Big 12 South.

Instead, the Cowboys won 11 games for the first time, coming a defensive stop or two away from knocking off Oklahoma and playing for the Big 12 title, which also would have been unprecedented for the program.

There are more new faces in the spring of 2012. Could Oklahoma State overachieve again?

"I feel like it’s kind of the same. Gundy said that spring we were so good because we were scared," said sixth-year offensive lineman Jonathan Rush. "I wouldn’t exactly agree that we were scared, but I feel that urgency."

[+] EnlargeMike Gundy
AP Photo/Sue OgrockiMike Gundy's 2012 team has plenty of parallels to the 2010 unit that won a surprising 11 games.
How could he not? Two-time All-Big 12 first-team quarterback Brandon Weeden is headed to the NFL. Two-time Biletnikoff Award winner Justin Blackmon is likely to hear his name called in the top 10 of tonight's first round of the NFL draft.

Oklahoma State's 23 victories in the past two years were the highest total of any two-year period in school history, and Weeden and Blackmon were the two biggest pieces of a team that captured the Cowboy's first Big 12 title.

"It’s real similar, except Weeden was an older guy. Weeden was 26 years old or however old he was back then," Gundy said.

Now, Oklahoma State is left to rely on three inexperienced quarterbacks without the minor league baseball experience that helped shape Weeden's even-tempered demeanor.

The similarities don't end at what's gone, either.

"We’ve got good running backs, good receivers and we’ll be as good on the offensive line as we’ve been," Gundy said.

All-American Kendall Hunter helped carry the 2010 team with a 1,500-yard season, the second of his career. In 2012, Joseph Randle is ready to carry the offense after rushing for 1,200 yards and 24 touchdowns in 2011. Jeremy Smith and Herschel Sims fill out the rest of the Pokes' deepest unit, which also features a fourth underrated, powerful runner in Desmond Roland.

"We’re further along on defense, because we recruited well the '09, '10, '11 and '12 seasons, so we’re further along athletically," Gundy said. "But offensively, it’s about the same."

Gundy is entering his eighth season in Stillwater this fall. In 2010, he credited a system that had been drilled into players for the surprising success. Knowing what was expected helped to soothe some of the growing pains new players would experience in a new system.

That's been drilled only deeper into this year's squad.

"They realize what they have to do personally. How to practice. They realize those things that are essential to be a good team. You have to work hard, show up on time. It’s not even so much a big thing," Rush said of the team's younger players. "They realize how essential little things are. Working hard, not quitting. Finishing."

Said receiver Isaiah Anderson: "I feel like we have a lot more leaders now than people know. It’s not just up to the seniors to lead. The young guys can step in and lead if they need to."

The biggest talents are gone. This year, OSU won't be picked near the bottom of the Big 12. Instead, it will be near the bottom of the top 25.

With the spotlight on teams above OSU, will 2012 be yet another Stillwater surprise for the Big 12?

"Be on the lookout, but they know we’re coming now," Anderson said. "We all know what it takes to get there and willing to do what it takes to get there again."

Get used to Mike Gundy as an elite coach

January, 9, 2012
1/09/12
9:00
AM ET
Finally, these two lovebirds made it official.

Really, though, it was a matter of time. Flirtations with A&M? An eventual breakup?

Please.

Mike Gundy loves Oklahoma State. Oklahoma State loves Mike Gundy.

They'll be together for eight years and Gundy will be paid among college football's top 10 coaches after agreeing to a contract extension and a big raise. As it should be.

That's what happens when one pays for the other's education and hires him as a 23-year-old assistant coach and 27-year-old offensive coordinator.

And that's what happens when a 44-year-old head coach (yes, he's a man) guides his alma mater to the two best seasons in school history in consecutive years.

These two belong together. Gundy, who hired agent Jimmy Sexton, grew uncomfortable as the process dragged on during his team's preparations for its Fiesta Bowl date with Stanford.

The Cowboys won to cap the first 12-win season in school history, which coincided with the school's first BCS appearance ever.

Uncomfortable or not, it shouldn't have come to this. "This," though is in the past and Gundy's gotten what's coming to him.

How many coaches have held the same job for seven years and had an equal or better record every season?

Not many, and Gundy's being paid like one. His deal reportedly averages out to about $3.75 million per year, up from $2.1 million this past season.

Kansas' Turner Gill and Texas A&M's Mike Sherman were paid more in 2011. They were both fired after the season. Now, only Texas' Mack Brown and Oklahoma's Bob Stoops are paid more in the Big 12.

Gundy was the 29th-highest paid coach nationally this season, according to USA Today's coaching salary study. His new raise puts him at sixth, ahead of guys like Bobby Petrino at Arkansas, Chip Kelly at Oregon and Bret Bielema at Wisconsin.

Gundy kicked off his career with a four-win season and two seven-win seasons. For some who saw those years, its hard to see Gundy, who first burst on the scene with his polarizing rant, as a coach who has ascended to the coaching elite.

But consider also: Gundy has as many BCS wins now as Petrino and Kelly, who both have earned reputations as offensive virtuosos. He has one more than Bielema, who is 0-2 in two Rose Bowl appearances.

He's developed offensive talent with the best of anyone in the country, sending stars like Dez Bryant, Kendall Hunter, Zac Robinson, Russell Okung and soon to be Brandon Weeden and Justin Blackmon to the NFL. On the way, he collected bushels-full of wins that Oklahoma State has never seen before.

This has been the best four-year period in the history of Oklahoma State football. Gundy is the biggest reason why.

This took too long. Why Oklahoma State wouldn't want to pay up for as long as possible, especially with more Big 12 money on the way, I have no idea.

But it's done now.

Oklahoma State paid up. Gundy is paid like one of college football's best coaches.

With a résumé like he's put together, with 41 wins, a Big 12 title, a BCS bowl win and a share of the Big 12 South all in the past four years, how else should he be paid?
For so long, it was so cruel. This "rivalry," if you could even call it that.

Colt McCoy and Vince Young tormented Oklahoma State, rescuing Texas from 28, 19 and 21-point deficits in a span of just four years.

OSU had beaten Texas just once in Big 12 history, back in 1997 in a harmless game in Stillwater between two teams that would combine for 12 wins that year, the last time Texas (4-8) saw a losing season.

The Cowboys program rose, winning as many or more games than the previous year in each season under Gundy. But no wins over Texas as Zac Robinson, Kendall Hunter and Dez Bryant tried to help OSU climb among the nation's elite.

[+] EnlargeJustin Blackmon and Oklahoma State
Brendan Maloney/US PresswireTexas hopes the scene will be different after this year's game against Oklahoma State as the Longhorns look to avoid another loss to the Cowboys
Until last season, when OSU took its biggest leap into national relevance with 11 wins and Texas plummeted to its first losing season under Mack Brown.

Oklahoma State was the better team, by far. The Cowboys won easily, racing to an early 33-3 lead and beating Texas in Austin for the first time since 1944.

"When you have played at a high level like we had over the last few years, having so many close games and not being able to get over the hump. It made it a good win for our team and the university," Gundy told reporters this week. "For everyone involved it was very positive. I am sure it had some effects on our recruiting. It also changed the way we were perceived across the country. The win was another step in our goal, to hopefully win a championship."

A kink in switching 12-team Big 12 schedules to 10-team schedules means Oklahoma State travels to Texas again and hosts Oklahoma to close the season.

Once again, Oklahoma State is the better team.

This time, Oklahoma State stands in the way of Texas' attempts to re-join the nation's best. The Longhorns were embarrassed a week ago by No. 3 Oklahoma.

"Things are always better when you watch the video. It’s hard to make a 55-17 loss to a good team where you played poorly good, but what you do as a coaching staff is you go back and find the things that are good," Brown said. "They did try hard. They did a lot of things good, but we made so many mistakes, we never had a chance in the game. You can’t lose five turnovers to a great team."

That's the first goal. With an opponent like Oklahoma State -- the Cowboys are ranked No. 2 in total offense, even higher than Oklahoma -- the Longhorns will need more from their offense than a late touchdown if 45 points are separating the teams.

"You use caution when talking about Texas football and needing to get better. I think Oklahoma played very well. Once the game got rolling, the momentum changed," Gundy said. "I cannot speak for Texas, or their staff. I do know that there is some youth in key positions. That can factor in situations when things do not go well."

Texas' secondary will have to grow up fast.

So will quarterbacks Case McCoy and David Ash.

If not, another beating like last week is waiting, and a chance to country's top squads may prove to be another season away.

The Big 12's annual tease teams

August, 12, 2011
8/12/11
9:00
AM ET
Today, we're taking a look at the tease teams across the Big 12, and the past three seasons, we've seen a good number of cases in the Big 12.

These three programs find themselves in the top 10 again this year, but here's what's happened lately. Is one of these squads simply a tease in 2011?

2010: Texas A&M

The Aggies, coming off a 6-7 season in 2009, weren't convincing enough to earn preseason top 25 honors, but the potential for a big year was there, and anyone paying attention knew it. The offense was loaded, led by the league's preseason offensive player of the year, Jerrod Johnson. Johnson, however, struggled early, throwing four interceptions in consecutive games against Florida International and Oklahoma State, turning the ball over five times in a loss to the Cowboys. The Aggies were embarrassed on their home field by Missouri to fall to 3-3, and despite a late-season rally, couldn't qualify for the Big 12 championship game.

2009: Oklahoma State

The offseason crescendo built to a pressure-packed season opener against SEC foe Georgia, but Dez Bryant and the Cowboys knocked off the Bulldogs to land in the top 5 and on the cover of Sports Illustrated. A week later, however, Case Keenum (and Dana Holgorsen, by the way) waltzed into Stillwater and gave the Cowboys a nasty buzzkill in the form of a 45-35 upset, officially derailing a championship season. OSU also suffered a pair of embarrassing 27-point losses to Big 12 South rivals Oklahoma and Texas, including a 27-0 shutout loss to Oklahoma. Kendall Hunter (ankle), Zac Robinson (shoulder) and Dez Bryant (NCAA suspension) were all forced off the field at times, but there's no doubt: That team was a tease.

2008: Missouri

The Tigers reached No. 1 heading into the Big 12 championship game in 2007, but a loss sent them to the Cotton Bowl and hoping for better luck next year. Chase Daniel and Co. opened the season at No. 6 and ran off a 5-0 start, including a 52-17 obliteration of Nebraska in Lincoln, the first win for the Tigers there since 1978. A week later, though? A program-defining win for Oklahoma State on Missouri's field, followed by an absolute undressing by Colt McCoy and Texas in Austin a week later, featuring a 35-3 halftime deficit. The Tigers were upset by Kansas before being rolled over 62-21 by Oklahoma and settling for an appearance in the Alamo Bowl. Quite the tease, Tigers.

So, which of the Big 12 teams ranked this year looks like a tease?
Mike Gundy has been through this before.

After a 9-4 season in 2008, Oklahoma State brought back quarterback Zac Robinson and receiver Dez Bryant, one of the nation's best. The team also had an All-America running back coming off a 1,500-yard season.

The Cowboys opened the season at No. 8 and rose to the top five after a season-opening victory over Georgia in one of the most anticipated season openers in school history.

[+] EnlargeMike Gundy
Chuck Cook/US PresswireCoach Mike Gundy hopes the experiences from the 2009 season will help his players stay focused despite the hype around the program.
Oklahoma State's opener isn't quite as attractive this year, but the build-up to the season?

"Very similar," Gundy said.

Oklahoma State won a school-record 11 games in 2010 and returns one of the nation's best quarterbacks, Brandon Weeden. Justin Blackmon exceeded anything Bryant ever did, leading the nation with 20 receiving touchdowns. He also had 1,782 yards on 111 catches to win the Biletnikoff Award.

Hunter is gone, but in his place, a capable duo with loads of potential in Jeremy Smith and Joseph Randle.

In a recent preseason poll by "College Football Live," the Cowboys rolled in at No. 8.

"We’re so well-received across the country right now and hopefully, the experience we had in the summer prior to 2009 will help our players understand the importance of staying focused and getting ready for a good season," Gundy said.

But back in 2009, after the win over Georgia, the Cowboys' lofty hopes of a title crumbled with a series of setbacks. First, they suffered a loss to Houston the following week. An ankle injury slowed Hunter, and forced senior Keith Toston to fill his role. The NCAA suspended Bryant for the remainder of the season after three games for lying about his relationship with Deion Sanders.

Late in the year, a shoulder injury to Robinson contributed to the Cowboys getting shut out in a loss to Oklahoma and scoring just seven points in a Cotton Bowl loss to Ole Miss.

Two years later, they're trying to avoid the problems that arose during that 9-4 season in 2009, and apply the lessons learned.

"It takes a lot to maintain. They’ve worked extremely hard to raise the level to where they’re at now, but they have to stay focused and have a great offseason," Gundy said. "There’s so many distractions out there nowadays, and it’s important to avoid distractions and take care of everything that’s important off the field as well as on the field."

Last year, the Cowboys were picked to finish fifth in the Big 12 South after losing Robinson, Bryant and four offensive linemen, but with the hype of this offseason, things will be different this fall.

"We’re not going to have the opportunity to sneak up on anybody," Gundy said. "People are obviously aware of who we are, and so we have to go back and earn our stripes each summer and prepare for kicking it off in September."

Sizing up the Big 12 in the Super Bowl

February, 7, 2011
2/07/11
11:00
AM ET
We took a look a while back at the former Big 12 stars suiting up on active rosters in the Super Bowl, and if you hadn't heard, they played the game last night.

A few of you may have seen it.

Anyway, here's a look at how they did.

Green Bay

Mason Crosby, K, Colorado
  • 4-of-4 on extra points, made 23-yard field goal in only attempt of the night.
Graham Harrell, QB, Texas Tech
  • Did not play, was active as third quarterback
Brandon Jackson, RB, Nebraska
  • Caught one pass for 14 yards.
Jordy Nelson, WR, Kansas State
  • Had nine catches for 140 yards, both game highs, and caught the game's first touchdown in his only score of the night.
Pittsburgh

Casey Hampton, NT, Texas
  • Made one tackle
Justin Hartwig, C, Kansas

Tony Hills, LT, Texas

Jonathan Scott, OT, Texas

Ziggy Hood, DL, Missouri
  • Had one tackle, but tackle was a sack for loss of four yards

Nelson had by far the biggest game of the group, and his nine catches and 140 yards were both career highs. Nelson has come on as one of Aaron Rodgers' most frequent targets in the playoffs. It's good to see a guy have the best game of his career on a stage like that, even if a few drops kept him from going over 200 yards and adding a second score, which likely would have been the case if he had hauled them in.

That said, he woke up this morning as a Super Bowl champion, so I think he'll get over it. Even still, not bad for a walk-on from tiny Riley, Kan. right?

On a final note, for those of you keeping score, former Texas Tech star Graham Harrell and former Missouri star Chase Daniel have collected Super Bowl rings in consecutive years as backups.

Zac Robinson, your day is coming.
Blaine Gabbert made the right decision by declaring for the NFL draft. ESPN's Scouts, Inc. has Gabbert as the No. 20 overall prospect in April's draft, and Gabbert received a first-round grade from the NFL draft advisory committee after he submitted his paperwork.

For every Jake Locker and Jevan Snead, there's a Sam Bradford: There's nothing wrong with sticking around another year if you're projected as a first-rounder, and the risk of injury is somewhat overrated.

[+] EnlargeBlaine Gabbert
Scott Rovak/US PresswireBlaine Gabbert is leaving Missouri to enter the NFL draft.
Gabbert is a bit different. In Missouri's spread offense, he wouldn't have been much further along as an NFL prospect this time next year, and his size (6-foot-5, 240 pounds) and arm strength (ridiculous) are exactly what NFL teams want in a prospective future starter. His capability to make NFL reads and develop footwork on dropbacks wouldn't have been much further along, and for a guy with a promising future looming like Gabbert, he might as well get a head start. Now was the time.

The lack of an elite receiver like Jeremy Maclin or Danario Alexander kept Gabbert from posting jaw-dropping numbers in 2010, but he played well and notched Missouri's fourth 10-win season in school history. To Gabbert's credit, he didn't force very many plays this year, and did what he needed to do for Missouri to win games. Missouri notched 10 wins because of it.

Gabbert is a competitive guy, and he'd surely like to achieve more than he did -- he never played in a Big 12 Championship or won a bowl game -- but he still had a great career and will go down as one of the best quarterbacks in Tigers history. He'll lack the legacy of Heisman finalist and three-year starter Chase Daniel, but don't be surprised if Gabbert is better in the NFL than in college. He's an Academic All-Big 12 performer and a smart, coachable player who made clear strides for all three of his seasons at Missouri. I'd expect that to continue in the NFL.

For the Tigers, things get a bit complicated.

The knee-jerk reaction for some will write off Missouri as a Big 12 contender in 2011, but that's not necessarily what should happen. It'll be tough for Missouri to win, but they bring back plenty of talent, especially on defense and in a more experienced receiving corps with a stable of young running backs who all got experience this year. Talk about replacing starters all you'd like, but Oklahoma State lost a "franchise" quarterback in Zac Robinson and played a first-year quarterback in Brandon Weeden who had not made a start in nine years. His last start was in high school. That worked out pretty well for them. I'd say 11 wins is a pretty good season.

Replacing Gabbert will be crucial for Missouri not just in 2011, but in retaining its stability as a winner in the Big 12. Tommy Tuberville said it last week at the TicketCity Bowl: In the SEC, you win with running backs and defense. In the Big 12, you win with quarterbacks. That's exactly how Missouri has done it.

In the last four years, Oklahoma is the only team with more Big 12 wins than Missouri.

Sam Bradford, Colt McCoy, Chase Daniel, Zac Robinson, Graham Harrell, Todd Reesing -- the bar has been set high in this league, even in just the most recent few years.

And for Missouri, any hope they have of being a legitimate Big 12 contender hinges on the guy who steps in for Gabbert. And unlike Daniel and Gabbert were, choosing the next starting quarterback won't be a formality this spring.

James Franklin played more than any of Missouri's other young quarterbacks, but he was used mostly as a runner. He was a miniature version of Brad Smith, at the risk of Missourian heresy.

He has the arm strength, but his decision making ability is a question mark. His coaches probably have only a bit more information from what they've seen in practices. That's what Missouri has to figure out when spring practice kicks off in a couple months.

The true freshman threw all of 14 passes in 2010. That's not much of a sample size.

I'd expect a fierce competition between Franklin and Gabbert's younger brother, freshman Tyler Gabbert, as well as redshirt freshman Ashton Glaser.

Franklin's experience, however limited, gives him the edge. And the Tigers have a few proven playmakers in receiver T.J. Moe, tight end Michael Egnew and receivers Wes Kemp and Jerrell Jackson.

Franklin's legs produced a valuable change of pace, especially in the red zone. He ran 23 times for 116 yards and a pair of touchdowns.

But those legs won't win him the job in 2011. He has to prove it as a passer. Maybe he's Missouri's most accurate passer. Maybe it's the younger Gabbert or Glaser.

We'll find out soon. It should be an interesting spring in Columbia.

Oklahoma State makes program history

November, 20, 2010
11/20/10
3:37
PM ET
The win won't look like much for Oklahoma State at the end of the year, a did-what-they-should-have 48-14 win over Kansas, but the Cowboys did plenty to hang their ten-gallon hats on in this one.

First off, it's the team's 10th regular-season win, a first in program history. In the win, Brandon Weeden also broke Zac Robinson's single-season record for total offense.

But on the small scale, the Cowboys rebounded from a rough start and played a complete second half on both sides of the ball. After falling behind 14-10, Oklahoma State scored the game's final 38 points, and the defense, which was gashed in the first half for two early touchdowns, held the Jayhawks to 80 total yards in the second half and prompted a quarterback change from Quinn Mecham to Jordan Webb.

You learn more from struggling than you do from dominating, and that first-half game tape should provide plenty of homework for the defense heading into next week's game against Oklahoma with the Big 12 South on the line. The defense's play in the second half should give coaches plenty of confidence that they've got a big head start on preventing those mistakes from surfacing again.

video
All the pieces were in place. Zac Robinson was the senior franchise quarterback who would eventually leave as the program's all-time leader in total offense. Kendall Hunter was the running back coming off the All-American season and ready to run past his 1,555 yards as a sophomore. Receiver Dez Bryant was the playmaker like no other, one that would eventually leave as a first-round pick in the NFL Draft.

Best of all, they'd be operating behind an experienced offensive line headlined by a four-year starter protecting Robinson's blind side, Russell Okung, who eventually was selected sixth in the NFL Draft.

The next in a line of triplets at Oklahoma State that have included greats like Barry Sanders, Rashaun Woods and Mike Gundy looked ready to compete for a Big 12 title -- maybe more.

But Hunter suffered an ankle injury early on and didn't look like the same back until the season's final game. Bryant was suspended for the season after the third game for lying to NCAA officials about a visit with Deion Sanders. Robinson suffered a shoulder injury and wasn't himself in a shutout loss to Oklahoma to close the regular season, when a win would have sent the Cowboys to a BCS bowl.

They settled for 2nd in the South, the highest finish ever for the program, and an appearance in the Cotton Bowl.

[+] EnlargeBrandon Weeden and Kendall Hunter
John Rieger/US PresswireBrandon Weeden and Kendall Hunter have given the Cowboys a shot at the Big 12 South title.
This year, a new group of unsuspecting triplets have emerged.

Brandon Weeden, a 27-year-old first-time starter, leads the Big 12 in passing yards, completion percentage, touchdowns (his 26 are tied for No. 1 nationally) and passer rating. Hunter is better than ever as a senior, leading the Big 12 in rushing and ranking third nationally.

And Justin Blackmon, a sophomore with 20 career catches that no one outside the Big 12 had ever heard of before the season, has emerged as the favorite for the Biletnikoff Award and a possible Heisman finalist. He leads the nation in receiving yards per game by a wide margin, and is tied for the most touchdowns with 15.

Together, they have the No. 10 Cowboys (8-1) on top of the Big 12 South and in position to reach the Big 12 title game for the first time ever. With a win at Texas on Saturday, Oklahoma State would come home from Austin as winners for the first time in 11 tries since 1944.

"This is what you play for. Every game gets bigger as you go and this one is a big one," Weeden said.

Even an offensive line with four new starters has become a strength.

"I thought we had a pretty good product to work with," said new offensive coordinator Dana Holgorsen. "You never know how kids are going to develop, but that’s why you get out there and practice every day and put guys in a position to improve."

The hype surrounding the team wasn't there when the season began, but attention on the Cowboys -- picked fifth in the Big 12 South in the preseason -- has grown as the wins have piled up.

"It’s only a factor if you start to listen to it," Gundy said. "I’ve said this for four or five weeks now. If you start to think you’re a pretty good player and that your team is better than they really are, you just need to look around the country every Saturday and you will see teams get knocked off. I’m a firm believer in that. We have some good players who have made a lot of good plays this year. And we have a good football team. But we’re not beyond practicing well and keeping the right frame of mind in order to win our football game."
Just call this one the Disrespect Bowl.

No. 21 Baylor and No. 17 Oklahoma State have flipped the Big 12's preseason media poll upside down. First-place Baylor (4-1 in conference) was picked sixth in the preseason, and Oklahoma State, tied for second at 3-1, was picked fifth.

"The parity in college football and in our league play is increasing and I think it’s going to level itself out more over the years to come, with us being in a league where we all play each other," said Oklahoma State coach Mike Gundy.

[+] EnlargeRobert Griffin III
Brett Davis/US PresswireRobert Griffin III and coach Art Briles have Baylor in contention for the Big 12 South title.
He coaches a team that lost the school's all-time leader in total offense, quarterback Zac Robinson, along with a first-round pick in receiver Dez Bryant. Four offensive linemen and seven defenders also didn't return.

Yet here they are.

While Texas' attempt to establish a power running game floundered, the Cowboys' shift to Dana Holgorsen's Air Raid has flourished. No proven receivers and a first-year quarterback? Receiver Justin Blackmon and quarterback Brandon Weeden have emerged as two of the league's newest stars, both near the top of the nation statistically at their respective positions. Running back Kendall Hunter is even better than his All-American 2008 self, ranking third nationally in rushing yards and on track to speed past his 1,555 yards as a sophomore. Hunter has 1,174 yards through eight games as a senior.

"When you can use the length of the field the way teams do now, it allows players that may not be as big or as fast as other players, to have an opportunity to have success, to make plays with the ball in their hand and compared to years ago, when the game was played in between the hash marks. And so, the bigger and stronger opponent had an advantage," Gundy said. "Now, the game is played sideline to sideline, and so there are other teams that may have other players that may not be as athletic as the other schools, traditional schools, but they still have enough of an opportunity to make plays and score points and win games."

Baylor's 7-2 start overall is the product of a rebuilding (or, perhaps more accurately, building) project in its third year under Art Briles, centered around a transcendent talent in Robert Griffin III, who has reassumed his position as one of the league's premier stars after missing most of 2009 with a torn ACL. He's showcased a passing talent far surpassing what he had as a freshman in 2008, racking up 2,592 yards through the air, second-most nationally, though he's played nine games to others' eight.

"It’s just one of those deals, the old cliché: Any given Saturday. You used to have your tongue in your cheek when you said it. But now, it’s very much a reality," Briles said.

Baylor began the year with realistic bowl hopes that have blossomed into a realistic chance to win the division after clinching the program's first winning season in 15 years with a 30-22 victory over Texas in Austin.

Oklahoma State began 2010 as a season stamped "Rebuilding" by those on the outside. It appeared to be an imminent fall from a 9-3 season in 2009, when the Cowboys were a win over Oklahoma away from reaching a BCS bowl, and finished second in the South.

Both have reached the top with offenses that rank in the top 10 nationally, spurred by elite talents like Blackmon and Griffin. Neither defense ranks inside the top 75 nationally.

Oregon and Auburn (35th and 57th in total defense) sit atop the polls as the favorites to appear in the national title game.

Like the Ducks and Tigers, neither Baylor nor Oklahoma State would make the short list of traditional college football powers. For all the talk of defenses winning championships, offenses seem pretty good at taking programs to new levels.

"There’s just a number of players out there with spread offenses and people that can throw and make plays on offense and if you’re not prepared, you take a chance at getting beat on any given Saturday," Gundy said. "So, there’ll be more parity from this point on. I’m convinced that there’ll be teams that can beat schools that traditionally they wouldn’t have thought that they could beat."

Measuring up the Big 12's 'hot team'

August, 10, 2010
8/10/10
11:00
AM ET
Every conference has at least one. Each year, fans and media crown a team outside the current powers with a chance to upset the order.

Last season, Oklahoma State earned the tag, entering the season with a remarkably talented trio in running back Kendall Hunter, quarterback Zac Robinson and receiver Dez Bryant.

Injuries and eligibility afflicted all three, but the Cowboys still managed a second-place finish in the South.

This year, a similarly talented set of triplets will be on display for the Big 12's 2010 "hot team" in College Station: Texas A&M.

By now, non-Aggies fans are at least a little tired of hearing all the reasons a team that's won 10 games in two seasons and never finished higher than fifth in its six-team division is going to challenge for a South title in 2010. Call Texas A&M a dark horse, but the shade of the Aggies' coat has lightened with an avalanche of coverage and expectations from the media over the offseason.

Seventeen starters return, including linebacker Von Miller and quarterback Jerrod Johnson, two of the Big 12's best talents. Joining them are a highlight-making corps of receivers and two of the conference's best running backs in Cyrus Gray and Christine Michael. They'll get a chance to build some early steam with a back-loaded schedule that saves the Aggies' toughest tests for November. Before then, they'll face very winnable games against Arkansas in Arlington, Texas, and against Oklahoma State in Stillwater before hosting Missouri and Texas Tech.

But Texas A&M has clear weaknesses that must be overcome if it wants to play in its first Big 12 title game since 1998. Chief among those is a defense that gave up a Big 12-worst 33.5 points per game in 2009, twice giving up 60 points and 40 points on three more occasions.

Additionally, the Aggies must plug three holes in the offensive line if they want to maintain their status as the Big 12's second-best offensive team at over 465 yards per game.

In the offseason, they made moves to fix both problems. We won't know how well either fix works until the Aggies are tested. New defensive coordinator Tim DeRuyter comes to College Station via Air Force, where he coordinated the nation's 10th-best defense. Luke Joeckel and Jake Matthews were among the best tackle prospects in the 2010 class. Both signed with coach Mike Sherman and could start when the opener against Stephen F. Austin arrives on Sept. 4.

The Big 12 championship game is exactly five months later. If Texas A&M keeps the heat on, it might be there, ending Texas' and Oklahoma's 11-year streak of representing the South on Championship Saturday.

SPONSORED HEADLINES