NCF Nation: Alex Henery

Big Ten stock report, Week 3

September, 14, 2011
9/14/11
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Welcome back to the one stock report you can read without having to worry about your 401(k). Here's our look at the bulls and bears of the Big Ten:

Stock up

[+] EnlargeRussell Wilson
Jeff Hanisch/US PresswireRussell Wilson rates as the second most efficient quarterback in the country through two games.
Passing efficiency: Four of the top 15 most efficient passers in the country reside in the Big Ten. Wisconsin's Russell Wilson ranks second, followed by Michigan's Denard Robinson at No. 7, Illinois' Nathan Scheelhaase at No. 8 and Michigan State's Kirk Cousins at No. 15. Wilson has completed 79.4 percent of his passes through two games, while Cousins has connected on 79.1 percent and Scheelhaase is at 71 percent. In addition, Northwestern's Kain Colter is completing a Persa-esque 73 percent of his throws.

Illinois' rushing attack: Losing Mikel Leshoure hasn't hurt the Illini ground game yet this season. Ron Zook's team is averaging 283 yards rushing per game, tops in the Big Ten and tied for eighth in the FBS. It's been a balanced attack, with Scheelhaase, Jason Ford, Troy Pollard and Donovonn Young all churning out at least 100 yards through two games.

Nebraska's special teams: The departure of Alex Henery has barely caused a ripple in Lincoln. Brett Maher leads the FBS in punting with a 51.3 yards-per-kick average, and he has made all four of his field-goal attempts. Freshman Ameer Abdullah ranks second nationally in kick returns and 13th in punt returns. He brought a kickoff back for a 100-yard score in last week's Fresno State game. Whoever came up with these preseason position rankings was clearly insane.

Ohio State's pass protection: The Buckeyes are one of 10 teams in the country that has yet to allow a sack. They have a veteran offensive line, even without Mike Adams, so that stat is not too surprising after two games against MAC opponents. This week's game at Miami will provide a sterner test.

Nick Toon and Junior Hemingway: Both receivers had big days on Saturday. Wisconsin's Toon had an off year last season as a junior but seems re-energized so far as a senior. He had seven catches for 69 yards and a touchdown last week against Oregon State. Michigan's Hemingway had a patch honoring Desmond Howard affixed to his No. 21 jersey before the Notre Dame game. He responded with a Howard-esque performance, catching three balls for 165 yards and a score.

Stock down

Passing inefficiency: Not all the Big Ten quarterbacks are operating at high efficiency. Nebraska's Taylor Martinez ranks 84th nationally in passer efficiency and is completing just 48.8 percent of his passes. Minnesota's MarQueis Gray is 78th in efficiency and has a 52.3 completion percentage, while Purdue's Caleb TerBush is ranked 72nd and is completing 57.8 percent. Penn State's duo of Rob Bolden and Matt McGloin have combined to connect on just 40.7 percent of their throws, making the Nittany Lions the third-least efficient passing team in the country. And though Denard Robinson ranks high in efficiency because of his long throws and touchdowns, his completion rate is just 45.1 percent.

Illinois crowds: The Illini are off to a 2-0 start and have six more home games, but so far the fans haven't been clamoring to see them. They drew an announced crowd of 45,154 for the opener and just 42,212 last week. Memorial Stadium's official capacity is 60,670. The first two opponents -- Arkansas State and South Dakota State -- weren't exactly marquee draws. Let's see if Illinois fans respond better with a ranked team coming in this week in Arizona State.

Nebraska's defense: Did the Huskers leave the Blackshirts in the Big 12? So far, the defense we heard so much about hasn't been very special. Fresno State gashed Nebraska for 444 total yards, including 169 rushing yards by running back Robbie Rouse. The Cornhuskers didn't manage a single sack in that game. "I think every now and then you need to get smacked in the face and get a wake-up call," head coach Bo Pelini told reporters Monday. "When people are telling you how good you are, sometimes you need a reality check. In this world, you get humbled in a hurry. Last week we were humbled."

Iowa's pass rush: Perhaps a step back was to be expected from a defensive line that saw three starters from last year's team get drafted in April. Regardless, the line had a tough day in Ames last weekend. The Hawkeyes struggled to get pressure on Iowa State quarterback Steele Jantz, and when they did, he was able to run away from them and keep plays alive. Iowa has only one sack in each of its first two games this season.

Kevin Wilson's fourth-down gambles: The Indiana coach has been aggressive early in his tenure, but it hasn't paid off the way he or the Hoosiers would like. With IU leading 17-14 and staring at a fourth-and-3 from the Ball State 9-yard line in the opener, Wilson decided to go for the touchdown instead of the easy field goal. Incomplete pass, Indiana eventually loses 27-20. Last week, down 23-10 to Virginia and at the Cavaliers' 8-yard line, Wilson called for the fake field goal on fourth down. Incomplete pass, Indiana eventually loses 34-31. If the calls work, Wilson looks like a genius. But they didn't. That's the nature of coaching.

Huskers demanding more from offense

September, 7, 2011
9/07/11
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Read the following quote from an FBS offensive coordinator and then ask yourself how many points his team scored in its season opener.
"We didn't play very well. We made a lot of mental mistakes. We did a lot of things that we haven't done since last spring. It blows my mind. We just made a lot of mistakes."

Need a little help? Here's another sound byte.
"We got to play with better effort. We have to play sounder fundamentally and technique-wise. And that's what I'm most displeased with."

Want to hear what the head coach thinks?
"The sense of urgency's got to pick up."

So how many points did this team score? A couple of field goals, perhaps? Maybe a safety?

Try 40.

Nebraska put up 40 points in its opener against Chattanooga, but no one in Lincoln -- players, coaches, fans -- left Memorial Stadium feeling too giddy about the offense. Coordinator Tim Beck didn't hold back in his comments to reporters following Monday's practice, and coach Bo Pelini, while a bit more restrained, clearly wants to see improvement from the unit.

Despite the points total, the concerns about Nebraska's offense are justified.
  • Quarterback Taylor Martinez, while doing his thing on the ground (135 rush yards, 3 TDs), completed just 50 percent of his passes against an FCS defense.
  • Nebraska had seven negative-yardage plays in the first half and two more before the starters exited in the fourth quarter. The offensive line didn't consistently generate push for the power run.
  • Before scoring two touchdowns on two plays midway through the third quarter, the Huskers had four sustained drives stall in Chattanooga territory. While kicker Brett Maher converted field goals on all four possessions, showing that there will be life after Alex Henery, Nebraska needs to get the ball in the end zone.

To be fair, Nebraska played its first game with a new scheme. But Pelini wasn't about to make excuses.

"I don’t think it has anything to do with the new system," he said. "We had some young guys in some spots, some older guys who didn't play as precise as we'd like them to play. But it's early in the year.

"It gave us a good benchmark of where we are and what we have to do to get better."

Nebraska's offense is being so closely scrutinized because many folks, including yours truly, think it once again will determine how far the Huskers go. The defense once again appears to be a championship-level unit, as it recorded 11 tackles for loss, three sacks and two takeaways in the opener.

It's critical that the Huskers take a step forward Saturday night against Fresno State, which didn't look good in its opener against Cal. The Bulldogs surrendered 36 points and 417 yards.

There's little doubt Nebraska will win, but a more polished passing performance from Martinez, along with greater consistency from a young offensive line, will go a long way toward easing concerns in Husker Country.
Meant to post this Friday, but we finally wrap up the Big Ten preseason position rankings with the individual specialists. I'll break down the top five kickers, punters and return men in the league (sorry, long snappers).

[+] EnlargeDerek Dimke
Mike DiNovo/US PresswireIllinois kicker Derek Dimke led the Big Ten with 24 field goals last season.
Although the Big Ten loses its most famous specialist from 2010 -- Michigan State punter Aaron Bates -- and Nebraska says goodbye to All-American Alex Henery, there are a few standout players back in the fold. Quite a few strong punters depart, although keep an eye on the sophomores coming back.

Let's take a look.

KICKER

1. Derek Dimke, Illinois, senior: Dimke had a terrific junior season, converting a league-high 24 field goals on 29 attempts. He also was perfect on extra-point tries, going 43-for-43, and led the Big Ten with 22 touchbacks. Dimke earned second-team All-Big Ten honors from the coaches and will be on the radar for the Lou Groza Award this fall.

2. Dan Conroy, Michigan State, junior: Thanks to Conroy, the loss of standout kicker Brett Swenson didn't sting too much for the Spartans. Conroy led the Big Ten in field-goal percentage, converting 14 of 15 opportunities, and missed only one of his 46 extra-point tries. Conroy earned consensus first-team All-Big Ten honors for his efforts.

3. Philip Welch, Wisconsin, senior: Doesn't it seem like Welch has been at Wisconsin for a decade? The three-year starter enters his final season in Madison after earning honorable mention All-Big Ten honors in 2010. Welch was perfect on 67 extra-point attempts last fall and went 17-for-22 on field-goal attempts.

4. Carson Wiggs, Purdue, senior: There's no doubt as to who has the strongest leg in the Big Ten, if not the country. Wiggs can connect from just about anywhere, as he showed in April during Purdue's spring game with a 67-yard field goal. His leg strength gets the attention, but Wiggs is a little underrated as an overall kicker. He connected on 15 of 19 attempts in 2010, going 4-for-4 between 40 and 49 yards, and had 11 touchbacks as Purdue led the Big Ten in kickoff coverage.

5. Mitch Ewald, Indiana, sophomore: Ewald had an excellent freshman season for the Hoosiers, capitalizing on limited opportunities. He finished fourth in the league in field-goal percentage, connecting on 16 of 19 attempts, and he was perfect on 33 extra-point tries. Ewald had five games with multiple field goals and will once again be a big weapon for IU this fall.

PUNTER

1. Brad Nortman, Wisconsin, senior: Like Welch, Nortman has been a fixture in Madison the past four years and enters 2011 as the league's most experienced punter by far. Nortman averaged 42.7 yards per punt in 2010, blasting eight punts of 50 yards or more and placing 14 punts inside the 20-yard line. He has averaged 42.1 yards per punt during his career.

2. Anthony Fera, Penn State, sophomore: Fera had an excellent freshman season for Penn State, which improved in punt coverage and other special teams areas. He averaged 41.4 yards per punt, placed 13 punts inside the opponents' 20 and had nine punts of 50 yards or longer. Fera also forced 19 fair catches.

3. Cody Webster, Purdue, sophomore: Webster helped Purdue address a need at punter and turned in an excellent freshman season. He finished fifth in the Big Ten in punting average (43.3 ypp), booming 17 punts of 50 yards or longer and placing 12 inside the opponents' 20.

4. Will Hagerup, Michigan, sophomore: Hagerup was the lone bright spot for Michigan's special teams in 2010. He started 10 games and ranked fourth in the Big Ten in punting average (43.6 ypp), a mark that ranked second in team history (minimum of 30 attempts). He placed 11 punts inside the 20.

5. Ben Buchanan, Ohio State, junior: Ohio State needs to be sharper in the kicking game this fall, and Buchanan will play a huge role. He averaged 41 yards on 44 attempts in 2010, placing 15 punts inside the opponents' 20 and forcing 17 fair catches. Expect Buchanan to take another step in his development this season.

RETURNER

1. Troy Stoudermire, Minnesota, senior: Already a record-setting return man, Stoudermire needs only 16 kick returns and 189 kick return yards to set NCAA all-time records in both categories. Stoudermire has 2,929 kick return yards, recording 30 runbacks or more in each of the past three seasons. He averaged 27.2 yards on returns in 2010.

2. Jordan Hall, Ohio State, junior: Hall is likely the Big Ten's best all-around returner. He finished second in the league in kick return average (27.9 ypr) and third in punt return average (9.9 ypr). Hall really emerged as Ohio State's go-to return man last season. It will be interesting to see if his return responsibilities change at all depending on who emerges as the Buckeyes' top running back.

3. Keshawn Martin, Michigan State, senior: Expect teams to punt the ball away from Martin this fall. He led the Big Ten and ranked 11th nationally in punt return average (14.2 ypr). His touchdown return against Wisconsin set the stage for Michigan State's come-from-behind win. Martin's kick return average of 17.8 yards should increase this fall.

4. Venric Mark, Northwestern, sophomore: For the first time in recent memory, Northwestern has a true difference maker in the return game. Mark came on strong late in his freshman year, finishing fourth in the league in kick return average (26.2 ypr) with a touchdown runback against Wisconsin. He also showed promise as a punt returner, averaging 12.9 yards on nine attempts.

5. Jaamal Berry, Ohio State, sophomore: Berry forms a dangerous Buckeye return tandem with Hall. He finished fifth in the league in kick return average (25.4 ypr) but had three more attempts than Hall. Berry clearly has big-play skills as a running back, so don't be surprised if he breaks off some big returns this fall.
Our preseason position ranking series comes to an end today with everybody's favorite group: special teams.

For this ranking, we're going to consider punters, kickers and returners only. No offense to the long-snappers or the punt-team gunners, but things like kickoff coverage units are hard to forecast. We'll give a little extra weight to teams that have returning and proven players at these spots, because it's difficult to know how new punters and kickers will fare when the pressure of real games begin.

As the guys in these positions would say, let's kick it:

[+] EnlargeDan Conroy
Andrew Weber/US PresswireDan Conroy was nearly perfect on his field goal attempts last season.
1. Michigan State: Kicker Dan Conroy made 14 of his 15 attempts last year, and Keshawn Martin led the league in punt return average. They will miss punter Aaron Bates and will have to improve their kickoff return game. And you know you always have to watch out for the fake when the Spartans line up for a kick.

2. Wisconsin: The Badgers are set at both punter and kicker, with seniors Brad Nortman and Philip Welch, respectively. Both are third-year starters who can be relied upon. Wisconsin will need to find a replacement for primary return man David Gilreath.

3. Penn State: The Nittany Lions bring back punter Anthony Fera and punt returner Devon Smith, who finished just behind Martin in yards per attempt last season. Chaz Powell and Stephfon Green are dangerous kick returners. Fera could move over to handle field goals this season if incoming freshman Sam Ficken doesn't win the job.

4. Ohio State: The Buckeyes have a veteran punter in senior Ben Buchanan and two threats to take a kick to the house in Jordan Hall and Jaamal Berry. Sophomore Drew Basil is expected to take over at place-kicker. Special teams are almost always a force in Columbus.

5. Purdue: No one in the league has a bigger leg than Carson Wiggs; the questions is whether he can consistently harness it. Punter Cody Webster averaged 43.3 yards per attempt last season, second best among returning punters. The Boilermakers' return game needs to improve.

6. Illinois: Derek Dimke was a Lou Groza semifinalist last season and broke the school record for points by a kicker. He nailed two 50-plus yarders. Ray Guy semifinalist Anthony Santella is gone, though return man Troy Pollard is back.

7. Northwestern: Brandon Williams improved at punter as his freshman year went along last season. The Wildcats at long last have an elite return option in Venric Mark. But place-kicker was a concern this spring, with Jeff Budzien and Steve Flaherty competing for the job.

8. Iowa: Kirk Ferentz's teams usually find a way to be good on special teams, so odds are the Hawkeyes will climb these rankings. But they lost a lot from 2010, including Ray Guy finalist and four-year starter Ryan Donahue, plus both primary return men. Eric Guthrie held the edge at punter after the spring. Place-kicker Mike Meyer returns after taking over that role for the final 10 games and doing a solid job.

9. Indiana: Mitch Ewald was named to the Groza watch list after a strong freshman year in which he made 16 of 19 field goals. Chris Hagerup needs to increase his punting average of 39.4 yards. The Hoosiers should have enough athletes to replace Tandon Doss on returns.

10. Minnesota: Dan Orseske's 36.1-yard average was worst among starting Big Ten punters in 2010, so that must get better. Jerry Kill must also find a new place-kicker -- NC State transfer Chris Hawthorne looks like the top option. Troy Stoudermire, one of the league's top return specialists, is back for his senior year.

11. Nebraska: Like Iowa, this is a team that will almost assuredly outperform this ranking. But boy did the Huskers lose a lot of talent and experience. It will be difficult to match the value that punter/kicker Alex Henery brought -- Brett Maher and freshman Mauro Bondi will battle to replace him -- and Adi Kunalic was a secret weapon as kickoff specialist. Top returner Niles Pau is gone, too. The Cornhuskers will likely reload, but nobody has bigger shoes to fill at these positions in the Big Ten.

12. Michigan: The kicking game looked like a disaster this spring, with neither Seth Broekhuizen nor Brendan Gibbons inspiring confidence. Incoming freshman Matt Wile might win the job this summer. This could prove to be an Achilles' heel for the Wolverines, as it was a year ago. On the plus side, Will Hagerup is the leading returning punter in the Big Ten, though he had only 33 attempts last season.

Q&A: Nebraska RB Rex Burkhead

February, 10, 2011
2/10/11
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I'll spend the coming weeks familiarizing myself with Nebraska's full roster, but I have an idea about my favorite Huskers player to watch. Big Ten fans should like him, too.

What's not to like about Rex Burkhead? He ran the ball for 951 yards and seven touchdowns on 172 carries last season. He also served as Nebraska's quarterback out of the wildcat formation. All three of his completed passes went for touchdowns in 2010, as Burkhead boasted an Aaron Bates-like passer rating of 396. Burkhead is no stranger to the quarterback position, calling signals for Plano High School as a sophomore while playing running back his other three seasons.

I caught up with Burkhead earlier this week.

[+] EnlargeNebraska's Rex Burkhead
Eric Francis/Getty ImagesRex Burkhead rushed for 951 yards and seven touchdowns last season for Nebraska.
So you run the ball, pass the ball. Are you going to kick field goals this year without [Alex] Henery there?

Rex Burkhead: I don't know, I've never been the greatest kicker in the world. I punted in high school. That's about it.

How much fun is it to contribute in multiple ways? It seems like football is becoming more and more specialized.

RB: It's fun. Just to show your versatility and to act like you're the quarterback of the team every now and then, it makes the game a lot of fun. Stand back there and be the leader of the team every now and then throughout the game, just to give a spark to the offense, it's a good thing.

How much have you and your teammates talked about the move to the Big Ten since the Holiday Bowl? Have you spent much time on it?


RB: Oh, yeah. We're already watching film on the Big Ten games from last year. We're definitely looking forward to it, and a big thing is playing new teams. That's what a lot of people are looking forward to. We're not playing the same Big 12 teams every year, so now it's a whole new conference, a whole different style of games, so we're just looking forward to it.

What stood out to you when you watched tapes of those Big Ten games?

RB: Teams are very physical. That's a big thing. The offensive schemes are just lining up, pounding it at you and then throw the play-action pass. The defensive lines and offensive lines, they're very big and athletic, so that has really stood out to us.

Do you think you'll have to adjust your style at all for the Big Ten? Will there be a feeling-out process between you guys and your opponents?


RB: Yeah, I think we're going to have to feel it out and see what we're dealing with. But the coaches have confidence in our scheme and whatever they feel like they're comfortable with, we're going to go with it 100 percent.

I know you didn't end last season the way you wanted to. What has been the mood around the team as you go through your winter program?

RB: We've had a really good winter so far. The guys, we came back and started even a week early. The guys have been really motivated. Especially after that loss, you get a bad taste in your mouth, so the guys have been really determined. We're working hard out and coach [James] Dobson, our strength coach, he's getting us prepared.

You're from Texas and so are some of your teammates. One big question a lot of people are asking is: Will Nebraska still have a presence in Texas for recruiting? Will that be a bigger challenge now that you're in the Big Ten?

RB: Yeah, I think it will be a little bit more of a challenge. I wanted to play in the Big 12 because there were games close to home, but at the same time, Nebraska's such a tremendous program that people are still going to want to come here from all over the country. We have a few guys that have connections down in Texas on our coaching staff, so I'm sure we'll be getting guys out of there every year.

The guys in this recruiting class from Texas, did they express any concerns about their families not being able to go to as many games or anything like that?

RB: Honestly, I haven't heard any of that. I think they're in the same boat as we are and just looking forward to playing the new teams. I'm sure they're a little upset, but at the same time, it's college football, so you've got to love it.

What are your goals individually going forward? You played a big role last year and you guys lose Roy [Helu Jr.]. Where do you see yourself fitting in?

RB: I want to especially lift up the leadership role. That's a big thing. The coaching staff kind of put that on my shoulders this offseason as well. That's my biggest goal, to step up and say things when things need to be said and hold other guys accountable and make sure they're holding me accountable as well.

No matter what happens with the offense, do you expect to be a team with a lot of guys carrying the ball, or could you be more of a featured back going forward?

RB: In college football now, you've got to have multiple backs. That's just how it is. It's a long season, especially how we run the ball. So you're going to have to have multiple backs. In the NFL, you see that every team has multiple backs. The system's kind of changed now, and I think it helps change up the pace of the game.

A lot of people are excited about the running back recruits you signed. What have you learned about those guys?

RB: I texted with Aaron [Green] throughout the process, just telling him what was going on here. Because his brother [Andrew] was on our team, I got to know him quite a bit and he's a great kid, great-looking kid. Saw his highlights, saw him play in the Army All-American Bowl. I love that he's coming here and I look forward to playing with him and getting to know how we works.

What are your thoughts on the schedule for 2011?

RB: It's going to be exciting. Some of the stadiums we're playing at are incredible, with a lot of tradition. We're just looking forward to it. There's going to be some great games, especially some home games that we have. Ohio State we have at home, so it should be fun.

What should Big Ten fans expect from Nebraska fans when you start playing in the league?

RB: Oh, man. They're great, they travel well, you can expect them to come to the away games. They're really nice and humble, that's the main thing. They love their Nebraska football, that's what it is here in the state. So they're fired up.

Nebraska recruiting analysis

February, 3, 2011
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NEBRASKA CORNHUSKERS

The class

Recruits: 20 (18 high school seniors, two junior college transfers, three players enrolled early)

Top prospects: The Huskers bring in the Big Ten's top-rated recruit in Aaron Green, ranked as the nation's No. 3 running back and No. 11 overall prospect by ESPN Recruiting. They also bolstered the offensive backfield with ESPNU 150 quarterbacks Jamal Turner and Bubba Starling, although Starling could bolt to play professional baseball. Both lines are addressed in this class with players like center Ryne Reeves and defensive tackles Todd Peat Jr. and Kevin Williams. The defensive backfield adds a key player in ESPNU 150 cornerback Charles Jackson.

Needs met: Nebraska needs a featured running back following Roy Helu Jr.'s departure, and the addition of both Green and Ameer Abdullah answers a need there. The Huskers also need to build depth at receiver and brought in two potential contributors in Taariq Allen and Daniel Davie. Life after star specialist Alex Henery begins this fall and Nebraska picked up kicker Mauro Bondi late in the recruiting process.

Analysis: If the 2011 class is any indication, Nebraska will be a formidable recruiting force in the Big Ten. The Huskers capitalized on their Texas connections with players like Green, Turner and Jackson and also did well closer to home with in-state products like Reeves. Although Nebraska didn't neglect its two lines, the overall athleticism in this class really stands out. Skill players like Green, Turner, Starling and Jackson should be able to contribute early in their careers.

ESPN Recruiting grade: B

Recruiting needs: Big 12 North

January, 26, 2011
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Signing day is exactly a week from today, and it's time to take a look at who needs what in its 2011 class.

Some schools have addressed these with their current class. Some haven't. Others are still trying.

We'll kick things off with the artists formerly known as the Big 12 North and examine the South later today.

COLORADO

Cornerback: Jalil Brown and Jimmy Smith were pretty reliable for the Buffaloes, but both are headed to the NFL, and the Buffaloes could definitely use some depth behind their first-year starters. It's not quite as pressing of an issue considering their move to the less pass-happy Pac-12, but they still like to sling it out west.

Receiver: Colorado isn't exactly starving anywhere on offense, but receiver sticks out a bit. Toney Clemons was good, but maybe not quite what the Buffaloes hoped he'd be in 2010, but they caught a break in getting Paul Richardson back after a great freshman season. The Buffaloes need some complementary pieces around Clemons and Richardson to replace departed pass-catchers Scotty McKnight and Travon Patterson. Next year, that should be tight end Ryan Deehan and receiver Will Jefferson.

IOWA STATE

Receiver: It's been a struggle for Iowa State in recent years, but they have to get better outside to help out their quarterback. Sedrick Johnson's transfer only worsens the Cyclones depth at the position, but Jake Williams and tight end Collin Franklin, the team's leading receiver, are gone. Shontrelle Johnson looks ready to become a big factor in the offense, but the Cyclones filling the space at receiver will make it easier for Johnson to replace running back Alexander Robinson.

Safety: Both starters, David Sims and Zac Sandvig, are gone. So is the Cyclones top reserve at the position, Michael O'Connell. Sims was a top-notch talent that will be tough to replace, but Iowa State needs more depth here. They should be solid at corner with Leonard Johnson, Ter'ran Benton, Jeremy Reeves and Anthony Young, which could make the new safeties' jobs easier.

KANSAS

Defensive line: KU is losing three of four starters on the line, including the team's only All-Big 12 talent, defensive end Jake Laptad. Turner Gill wants more speed, and this is a place to install it. Tackles that tip the scales at 320 pounds aren't too necessary in this league, but speed on the edge can go a long way in stopping the pass.

Quarterback: Neither Jordan Webb or Quinn Mecham look like long-term answers at quarterback for the Jayhawks. Mecham will be a senior, and Webb might develop into a better player as a sophomore next year, but Kansas needs other options. The Jayhawks hope Brock Berglund, the top-rated recruit in Colorado, is the solution to the problem.

KANSAS STATE

Running back: I hear your cries for Bryce Brown, Wildcats fans, but K-State can't expect to hitch their wagon to the former blue-chip recruit turned Tennessee transfer in the same way it did for Daniel Thomas. Thomas and his backup, William Powell, are gone, and the Wildcats need some depth at running back to show up.

Interior offensive linemen: K-State loses both guards and its center from an offense that produced the Big 12's leading rusher in 2010. Don't expect them to do it again in 2011 without Wade Weibert, Kenneth Mayfield and Zach Kendall, as well as Thomas and Powell, but finding some new talent behind them will help them come close.

Cornerback: David Garrett emerged as a budding star in 2010 ready for a breakout senior year in 2011, but the Wildcats lose Terrance Sweeney and Stephen Harrison, as well as safety Troy Butler. Like we've mentioned earlier, good secondaries are a must for success in the Big 12, and K-State had one of the league's worst in 2010.

MISSOURI

Receiver: Missouri has some good ones ready to suit up in 2011, namely Wes Kemp, Jerrell Jackson and T.J. Moe, but the Tigers don't have a true gamebreaker. They have some younger players in Marcus Lucas and Jimmie Hunt who they hope will develop into big-time, All-American caliber receivers, a la Jeremy Maclin and Danario Alexander. In Missouri's system, though, adding a few receivers is always a good idea. They certainly don't need any more running backs.

Defensive backs: Mizzou doesn't have any huge holes that need to be filled with recruiting, but the Tigers lose both corners, Carl Gettis and Kevin Rutland from their 2010 team. Kip Edwards and E.J. Gaines look likely to fill those roles, but the Tigers could use some depth and keep recruiting in the secondary to help add some talent around Tavon Bolden and Matt White, safeties who will replace departed Jarrell Harrison, who actually had to play some linebacker in 2010 because of injuries.

NEBRASKA

Every kind of kicker: Alex Henery, the team's punter and kicker is gone. So is kickoff specialist and lover/producer of touchbacks, Adi Kunalic. Fan favorite Henery was hardly underappreciated by the Nebraska faithful, but they'll miss him even more if the Huskers can't find a suitable placekicker and punter. Bo Pelini was reportedly after Wake Forest commit Mauro Bondi this week.

Receiver: Niles Paul and Mike McNeill are gone. The Huskers need Brandon Kinnie to come through with another good year and it'd be nice if Quincy Enunwa broke through in 2011, but Taylor Martinez needs some more help at wide out, and a couple new recruits could provide it as Martinez's passing prowess matures.

Newton leads AP All-America team

December, 14, 2010
12/14/10
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Heisman Trophy winner Cam Newton and Auburn teammate Nick Fairley headline the AP All-America team, announced Tuesday. Auburn is one of five players on the first team. Here is the complete list of first-teamers:

Offense
QB -- Cam Newton, Auburn
RB -- LaMichael James, Oregon
RB -- Kendall Hunter, Oklahoma State
WR -- Ryan Broyles, Oklahoma
WR -- Justin Blackmon, Oklahoma State
OL -- Gabe Carimi, Wisconsin
OL -- John Moffit, Wisconsin
OL -- Rodney Hudson, Florida State
OL -- Nate Solder, Colorado
OL -- Chase Beeler, Stanford
TE -- Michael Egnew, Missouri

Defense
DL -- Nick Fairley, Auburn
DL -- Ryan Kerrigan, Purdue
DL -- Stephen Paea, Oregon State
DL -- Da'Quan Bowers, Clemson
LB -- Greg Jones, Michigan State
LB -- Luke Kuechley, Boston College
LB -- Von Miller, Texas A&M
DB -- Patrick Peterson, LSU
DB -- Tejay Johnson, TCU
DB -- Quinton Carter, Oklahoma
DB -- Prince Amukamara, Nebraska

Special teams
P -- Chas Henry, Florida
PK -- Alex Henery, Nebraska
AP -- Randall Cobb, Kentucky

ESPN.com's All-Big 12 team

December, 8, 2010
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There were definitely plenty of tough calls in this group, and a lot of deserving guys who got left off, but here is my All-Big 12 team for the 2010 season. For reference, here is how the media voted, and how the coaches voted.

OFFENSE

QB: Brandon Weeden, Oklahoma State
RB: Kendall Hunter, Oklahoma State
RB: Daniel Thomas, Kansas State
WR: Justin Blackmon, Oklahoma State
WR: Ryan Broyles, Oklahoma
TE: Michael Egnew, Missouri
C: Tim Barnes, Missouri
OL: Levy Adcock, Oklahoma State
OL: Nate Solder, Colorado
OL: Ricky Henry, Nebraska
OL: Danny Watkins, Baylor

DEFENSE

DE: Jeremy Beal, Oklahoma
DT: Jared Crick, Nebraska
DT: Lucas Patterson, Texas A&M
DE: Sam Acho, Texas
LB: Von Miller, Texas A&M
LB: Lavonte David, Nebraska
LB: Orie Lemon, Oklahoma State
CB: Prince Amukamara, Nebraska
CB: Alfonzo Dennard, Nebraska
S: Quinton Carter, Oklahoma
S: Byron Landor, Baylor

SPECIALISTS

P: Quinn Sharp, Oklahoma State
K: Alex Henery, Nebraska
KR: Coryell Judie, Texas A&M
PR: Niles Paul, Nebraska

I'll stop short of listing who I had to snub on my own team, but the easiest positions for me to pick were receiver, linebacker, kicker and tight end. The most difficult were cornerback, kick returner, safety, defensive tackle and quarterback.

Here's how it shook out by team:

1. Nebraska (7)
2. Oklahoma State (6)
3. Texas A&M (3)
3. Oklahoma (3)
5. Missouri (2)
5. Baylor (2)
7. Texas (1)
7. Kansas State (1)
7. Colorado (1)
10. Kansas (0)
10. Iowa State (0)
10. Texas Tech (0)
ARLINGTON, Texas -- Nebraska kicker Alex Henery was voted first-team All-Big 12 for the first time this week, but only by the media.

The league's 12 coaches pegged Oklahoma State kicker Dan Bailey for the first team, a move that Huskers coach Bo Pelini called "crazy."

Henery showed everyone watching why with a perfect 54-yard kick that put Nebraska up 10-0 in the first quarter.

It would have been good from well over 60 yards, too.

Henery's only miss in 18 kicks this year was a 50-yarder that was blocked, and it's the biggest advantage for the Huskers in this game.

Big 12 predictions: Week 14

December, 2, 2010
12/02/10
9:00
AM ET
Predictions: ACC | Big 12 | Big East | Big Ten | Pac-10 | SEC | Non-AQ

The perfect weeks have been elusive this year. I've missed a single game plenty of times, but managed a perfect week just once. I thought I might have one heading into Bedlam on Saturday night, but alas, it wasn't to be. I'm pretty satisfied with my record on the season, but after a season of doing it, I should be in good position for a perfect record in 2011.

We'll see if I can manage one this week with a schedule chock full of one whole game.

Last week: 5-1 (.833)

Overall: 76-19 (.800)

Oklahoma 17, Nebraska 16. This could end up being one of the more physical games of the entire season, but Oklahoma will cash in when it reaches the red zone more than Nebraska, and two touchdowns are better than one, of course. Alex Henery shows once again why he's so valuable, as do the Blackshirts, but Oklahoma's handful of offensive weapons prove to be too much. Landry Jones doesn't have a great statistical game, but he takes care of the ball, and supplementary offensive talents like Kenny Stills and Cameron Kenney make enough plays to win. Oklahoma confuses the Huskers front seven with its Diamond package enough to move the ball with some consistency, too.

Nebraska controls field position early

November, 26, 2010
11/26/10
4:12
PM ET
Cody Green got the start, as expected, for the Huskers, and he's doing what he needs to do for Nebraska to win: Play efficiently. His numbers might be uninspiring (3-of-5, seven yards; two rushes, six yards), but he nearly threw a 25-yard touchdown pass to Curenski Gilleylen in the front left corner of the end zone.

Taylor Martinez is dressed and battling an ankle injury on his right foot and turf toe on his left, but my guess is we won't see him today.

That said, if Nebraska wins this game, Roy Helu Jr. and Rex Burkhead will carry them there, buoyed by a strong defensive performance. When they get chances in Colorado territory, they have to leave with points, and so far, that's what's happened.

Alex Henery's 42-yard attempt was good to put Nebraska up 3-0 late in the first quarter.

Colorado has yet to reach Nebraska territory, but the Huskers first possession neared midfield.

Former coach Dan Hawkins, whose son Cody Hawkins is the Buffaloes' starting quarterback, is also in attendance at the game, watching from the press box.

Physical drives provide rare scores

November, 20, 2010
11/20/10
11:09
PM ET
COLLEGE STATION, Texas -- Texas A&M hasn't found many creases in Nebraska's defense Saturday, but the Aggies found enough for a drive to put themselves ahead.

Sure enough, Nebraska answered after being backed up on their own five-yard line to start its next drive.

Add it up, and we're tied at six here midway through the fourth quarter after a pair of field goals.

Both teams did it on the ground, with Rex Burkhead digging Nebraska out of a hole with a 33-yard run on the first play of the drive. Niles Paul also made a big catch-and-run for 24 yards on a 3rd-and-8.

Neither team had been able to find a rhythm, but the penalty-plagued Huskers will take it, tying the game in a timely fashion.

Taylor Martinez is back in the game for Nebraska, but he's been able to do very little with his legs after returning from a re-injured ankle.

Here's how both drives shaped up:
  • Texas A&M: 15 plays, 84 yards, 5:21. Finished with a 28-yard field goal by Randy Bullock.
  • Nebraska: 12 plays, 78 yards, 6:02. Finished with a 29-yard field goal by Alex Henery.

What is this, the Big Ten?
COLLEGE STATION, Texas -- What an entertaining first half from both teams. I love low-scoring, defensive battles, and that's what we've got on our hands in this one for sure. Here's a few notes.

Turning point: Taylor Martinez's injury. No question here. Nebraska's offense is hardly scary without the speedy freshman, and offensivelyNebraska hasn't done much without him after he aggravated a right ankle injury when offensive lineman Mike Caputo stepped on it in the first quarter.

Stat of the half: Texas A&M is 0-of-7 on third down. Most of those have been passing downs, and the Blackshirts secondary has said "No, sir!" every time they've come up.

Best player in the half: Alex Henery, P/K, Nebraska. Henery bailed out the offensive line when a personal foul and a false start made a 28-yard kick a 48-yard kick. But Henery split the uprights and put Nebraska on the board first. He's also been solid in the punting game, and like the 2009 Nebraska offense, the Huskers have needed it to play the field position game.

What Nebraska needs to do: Find some offense somewhere, and keep the ball off the ground. That probably means more Wildcat with Rex Burkhead. The offense is going nowhere against an inspired Texas A&M defense that's kept Cody Green at bay for most of the first half.

What Texas A&M needs to do: Keep fighting on the ground and win the game at the line of scrimmage. Testing the secondary is a bad idea that might cost them later in the game. Give Cyrus Gray the ball, work the play action, and try to take a shot down the field every now and then. It's going to be tough to move the ball regardless, but Texas A&M basically has no shot to do it through the air, and that's a high-risk proposition. They might be able to find some consistency on the ground.

Fireworks start early in Stillwater

October, 23, 2010
10/23/10
4:03
PM ET
Nebraska's big-play offense is back, but from unfamiliar sources this time around.

Taylor Martinez hit Brandon Kinnie over the middle, Kinnie broke a tackle and scored a 45-yard touchdown that's helped put Nebraska up 7-3 early. It also helped Nebraska fans forget Kinnie's drop late against Texas on a similar play that would have resulted in a touchdown. After Saturday's catch, he's finally got his first career score.

It wouldn't have been possible without punter Alex Henery's 27-yard scamper to keep the drive alive on a 4th-and-8 fake punt that might have been a run/kick option. Henery rolled to his right to set up a rugby punt, but no Oklahoma State defenders filled the space in front of him. It cost them possession and, later, seven points.

Martinez has yet to run, but nearly threw an interception after tossing an underhanded pass while stumbling near the line of scrimmage.

These are two of the best offenses in the Big 12, with the Cowboys' balance giving them a slight advantage. The Huskers' have the advantage between the two defenses, and it's going to have to play a great game to give Nebraska a rebound victory after last week's loss to Texas.

Oklahoma State reached the red zone on the drive after Nebraska's quick score, but had to settle for a field goal from Dan Bailey, who remained a perfect 14-of-14 this season.

Not perfect? Oklahoma State quarterback Brandon Weeden, who is 0-of-4 through the air so far against the best pass defense in the nation. Kendall Hunter nearly broke a run for a score, and he's already got 51 yards on four carries. If Oklahoma State wins this game, it's going to be on the back of his performance.

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