NCF Nation: Alexander Robinson

Wrapping up Week 1 in the Big 12

September, 4, 2011
9/04/11
12:08
AM ET
Helmet stickers will be on the way tonight. Here are some thoughts on Saturday's more drama-filled games.

Iowa State 20, Northern Iowa 19: This one? Well, it wasn't pretty. But Iowa State got the win with a brand-new quarterback and without its top playmaker from last year, Alexander Robinson. Steele Jantz was uninspired early, throwing three interceptions, but there's no denying what he did late. Facing a 4th-and-10, he hit Josh Lenz for a 26-yard score to go ahead late in the fourth quarter. He led a nine-play, 60-yard game-winning drive to take the lead for good in the final minute. Jantz's performance had warts all over it, but if you're an Iowa State fan, take those positives late as progress for Jantz. When he produces 267 yards of total offense, scores three touchdowns and gets a win in his first start ever, that's a good thing.

Kansas State 10, Eastern Kentucky 7: Kansas State is a more experienced team, but five turnovers against any team puts you in big danger, even when it's an FCS opponent. The Wildcats offense was actually third in the Big 12 last season, but still lacks a lot of explosiveness. Collin Klein finished with 13-of-21 for 128 yards and the game-winning, 33-yard touchdown pass to Chris Harper. Bryce Brown's stat line (three carries, 16 yards) is unavoidable, but K-State was able to run the ball. John Hubert and Klein combined for 169 yards on 42 carries, so it's clear this team's identity hasn't changed, as expected. Zone reads and ball control. It was ugly, but like Iowa State, a win is a win. Both of these teams are most likely on the outside of the bowl season, but it'll be close. Games like this have to be won.

Texas 34, Rice 9: Texas struggled early, but the offense came alive in the second half. You have to love what that kind of momentum could do heading into next week's game against BYU, who struggled Saturday at Ole Miss, but erased a 13-point lead against the Rebels in just over four minutes for a 14-13 win. Garrett Gilbert heard the boo birds, but finished 13-of-23 for 239 yards and a touchdown. Case McCoy played late but didn't complete either of his two passes. True freshman David Ash looks like he won't redshirt. He came in early on, but lined up at receiver. The Malcolm Brown Era is off to a great start with 86 yards on 16 carries. He had a fumble, but for a true freshman to do that in his first start -- against anyone -- is a fantastic sign for the Horns. Mike Davis also had a pair of 50-plus yard catches, finishing with three catches for 115 yards.

We'll run down the other four games shortly.
We wrapped up our position rankings by team a bit earlier, but we'll move on in ranking the 10 best players at each position.

Here's the top 10's you've missed so far:
Running back is one of the weakest position groups in the Big 12 heading into 2011, a change from last year's extremely strong class. Just one of the league's top 11 rushers returns, and part of the success from last season was because of so much experience at the position. There are a few guys on this list with upside, but only a few are truly established. Some guys might make good on their upside, but for now, running back joins cornerback and defensive line as the league's weakest positions.

Also, if you haven't played a snap in the Big 12, you're not included on this list. (Also, if your last name is Brown.)

[+] EnlargeCyrus Gray
Thomas Campbell/US PresswireTexas A&M's Cyrus Gray is among the Big 12's most experienced returning tailbacks.
1. Cyrus Gray, Texas A&M -- Gray took over late last season and returns as the only Big 12 player to rush for more than 750 yards last season. He finished with 1,133 yards and 12 scores, but 938 of those yards and 10 of those touchdowns came in the season's final seven games, most of which came after the No. 2 guy on this list got hurt.

2. Christine Michael, Texas A&M -- Before Gray took off, Michael was far outperforming his teammate and looked headed for a 1,000-yard season after rushing for 844 yards and 10 scores in 2009. He was at 631 yards through eight games before breaking his leg, and no player in the Big 12 could top his 2009 effort. Despite playing just over half the season, he still ranked 14th in the Big 12 in rushing. Considering 10 of the top 11 rushers in the league are gone, it's easy to see why the powerful, 5-foot-11, 215-pounder is No. 2 on the list.

3. Roy Finch, Oklahoma -- Finch showed lots of flash last season in spot duty behind DeMarco Murray before aggravating a foot injury that kept him out of the first half of the season. He'll have to stay healthy to make good on his potential, and despite being on the All-Big 12 preseason team, he's not on his own team's depth chart just yet. He'll have to jump over Brennan Clay and Jonathan Miller to get his touches in a crowded backfield that will likely carry the load by committee this season.

4. Joseph Randle, Oklahoma State -- Randle was extremely valuable last season out of the backfield, catching 37 passes for 427 yards and a key touchdown against Texas A&M. That was more receptions than any running back outside of DeMarco Murray, but this year, he'll join Jeremy Smith in trying to replace Kendall Hunter, who ran for more than 1,500 yards last season.

5. Eric Stephens, Texas Tech -- Stephens has been underrated and underexposed behind starter Baron Batch, but his time looks like it has finally come. The Red Raiders have a deep backfield, but Stephens is its top talent, averaging 5.26 yards on his 127 carries last season, leading the team with six touchdowns.

6. James Sims, Kansas -- Sims was one of the bright spots in a dark year for Kansas football last season, taking over the starting role after a season-opening loss to North Dakota State and rushing for 101 yards in an upset win against Georgia Tech. Sims also scored four of his nine touchdowns in a comeback win against Colorado. I'd expect Sims' touches to take a slight hit with Darrian Miller on campus now, but he was extremely productive considering the Jayhawks' lack of a passing game, which ranked 105th nationally last season.

7. Shontrelle Johnson, Iowa State -- Johnson's lateral movement reminds me a bit of Finch, but he's got a lot of speed and if Iowa State's offensive line gets him a crack, he can be a home-run hitter. He was stuck behind Alexander Robinson last season, but Johnson averaged 6.2 yards on the limited carries he got, turning them into a pair of touchdowns. That's the highest average of any returning Big 12 back.

8. De'Vion Moore, Missouri -- Missouri doesn't have a big time back, but it doesn't need one. Moore led a group of four backs that combined to rush for more than 1,500 yards and 19 touchdowns last seaosn. Look out for shifty Henry Josey to slide in and unseat Moore to lead the team in rushing, but Moore will get lots of touches in the red zone this season, and he's great at finding a crease. No Tigers running back got more than 100 carries last season, and that might still be the case, but Missouri truly proved that a running back platoon can be extremely successful, even if it lacks a game-changer at the top of the depth chart.

9. Terrance Ganaway, Baylor -- Ganaway is the bowling ball third of a good trio at Baylor. Jarred Salubi is the shiftier third and Glasco Martin is the young guy with lots of hype. All three should form a solid group. Art Briles said this week at media days that he'd love for one of them to separate themselves, but also understands it might not happen with this group.

10. Fozzy Whittaker, Texas -- Whittaker has struggled to stay healthy throughout his career, but rushed for 351 yards last season and enters the season as the starter ahead of Cody Johnson. He'll have to hold off promising freshman Malcolm Brown as well as Johnson, but for now, the Longhorns' running backs have a lot to prove in a new offense built to help them succeed.
Here's the next in our look at the Big 12 rankings by position: Running backs.

Last year's class was one of the best in recent history, but this year's class? Unassuming to begin the season. There are a few possible stars looming, but very, very little talent returning. Cyrus Gray ranked seventh in rushing yards last year (thanks to an insane finish), but he's the only player returning to the Big 12 from the conferences' top 10 rushers in 2010.

That's nuts.

The Aggies are the only team with a truly elite backfield tandem, though I could see Oklahoma and/or Oklahoma State joining that group by the end of the year.

The rest of the league? Every team has at least a couple of players to get excited about, and teams 5-10 are all pretty close. No one is really understaffed at the position, but obviously, they're fit to be ranked.

Here's where I have them:

1. Texas A&M

[+] EnlargeTexas A&M's Cyrus Gray
AP Photo/Eric GayCyrus Gray had at least 100 yards rushing in each of A&M's final seven games last season.
I wouldn't have been surprised if Cyrus Gray and Christine Michael were the Big 12's top leading returning rushers this year, but a midseason injury from Michael prevented it from happening. Regardless, his return gives Texas A&M by far the best tandem in the Big 12, and arguably the best in the country. When Mister Jones isn't cranking the Counting Crows on his stereo, he's a pretty good reserve, alongside Ben Malena, who impressed me on my visit to College Station this spring.

2. Oklahoma

Oklahoma will try and replace do-everything forever (or whatever) back DeMarco Murray with a platoon likely led by shifty Florida native Roy Finch. True freshman Brandon Williams made a big impact in spring camp, and Brennan Clay will likely earn a few touches, too. Health concerns raise questions about a pair of other OU backs' knees (Jermie Calhoun, Jonathan Miller), but walk-on Dominique Whaley led the team in rushing in the spring game.

3. Oklahoma State

The Cowboys have a great pair in sophomores Joseph Randle and Jeremy Smith, and a nice set of backs to spell them if needed, too. Kye Staley, once a top-flight recruit, returned this spring after quitting the team following a severe knee injury, and might earn a few touches this spring. Also, Abilene, Texas, native and 2011 ESPNU 150 signee Herschel Sims arrives this fall and may jockey for time and the opportunity to shed a redshirt.

4. Missouri

What the Tigers lack in a truly elite back, they have in depth. Missouri has four backs who are all capable of being very good in the Big 12, even though neither of the four topped 600 yards a year ago. A big reason for that was none of the four got more than 100 carries, but with the carries they did get, every back averaged more than five yards per carry. The platoon approach works for Missouri, but senior De'Vion Moore and junior Kendial Lawrence will lead the way with sophomores Henry Josey and Marcus Murphy not far behind.

5. Kansas

[+] EnlargeKansas' James Sims
John Rieger/US PRESSWIREJames Sims is the No. 2 returning rusher in the Big 12 this season.
Running back will be a strength for Kansas next year, who might have found a second back this spring that perfectly complements power runner James Sims, a rising sophomore who racked up 742 yards last year after not playing in the opener. Believe it or not, he's the Big 12's No. 2 returning rusher, behind A&M's Gray. Darrian Miller burst onto the scene this spring, and figures to be a big part of the team in the fall. I see him being the Jayhawks' biggest home-run threat. DeShaun Sands and Brandon Bourbon offer even more depth at the position.

6. Texas Tech

The Red Raiders lose backfield constant Baron Batch, but have a good group lined up for 2011. Tommy Tuberville's effort to establish a more efficient running game is a realistic possibility with Eric Stephens as the likely feature back, and Aaron Crawford, Ben McRoy and Harrison Jeffers in the mix. True freshman Ronnie Daniels' strong spring likely earned him some time, too, rather than a redshirt.

7. Baylor

Baylor loses a 1,200-yard rusher in Jay Finley, and figures to use a thunder-and-lightning approach with 6-foot, 240-pound bowling ball Terrance Ganaway and shifty, 5-foot-9, 205-pound Jarred Salubi. Glasco Martin, a more balanced back, may earn a few carries, too. Regardless of who has the ball, life is good for Baylor backs, who get a bit more room from defenses that are forced to respect Robert Griffin III's legs.

8. Kansas State

The Wildcats' top two rushers, including two-time league rushing champ Daniel Thomas, are gone. Hopes are high for Wichita native and former blue-chip back Bryce Brown, but he's still entrenched in a position battle with John Hubert and Robert Rose heading into fall camp.

9. Texas

Texas brings back a pair of seniors in Fozzy Whittaker and Cody Johnson, but if the Longhorns are going to climb up this ladder by year's end (and they might) it's likely to be on the back of hyped incoming freshman Malcolm Brown, who is on campus and set to begin fall camp. D.J. Monroe might be the fastest player in the Big 12, but he'll have to master the nuances of pass blocking to get more than a few touches every game. Jeremy Hills can offer some depth at the position, too, after Tre Newton was forced to quit the game because of concussions.

10. Iowa State

Shontrelle Johnson showed some flash last year, but he still brings just 35 career carries into his 2011 effort to replace Alexander Robinson. Jeff Woody and James White offer a bit more depth, too. Florida native DeVondrick Nealy might get into the mix if he can put together a strong fall camp.

Checking the Big 12's health

May, 31, 2011
5/31/11
4:00
PM ET
Colleague Mark Schlabach recently took a look at every major program, handing out a 1-5 health rating on the state of the program.

Here's his scale:

5: Consistent winner with potential to be BCS bowl contender every season
4: Potential to join the sport's elite in the near future
3: Recent mediocre results but seems to be building momentum
2: Recent success but seems to be headed in wrong direction
1: Below-average program with little success in past or future

And here's what he had to say about each team in the Big 12:

Baylor
Rating: 3
The Bears have a star quarterback (Robert Griffin III) and underrated coach (Art Briles), who guided them to their first bowl game in 16 years in 2010. Building a consistent winner will be Briles' biggest challenge.

My take: Agreed. The Bears are moving in the right direction, but still far from becoming an annual elite team.

Iowa State
Rating: 2
The Cyclones can't seem to get over the hump, going 7-6 in 2009 and 5-7 in '10 in coach Paul Rhoads' first two seasons. At least Rhoads won seven more games than Gene Chizik did in his two seasons at Iowa State from 2007-08.

My take: I'd probably give the Cyclones a 3. Iowa State's fall from the postseason had more to do with its schedule, and Paul Rhoads' teams have gotten better every year. This year's team, he feels, is still his best yet, despite losing most of his offense in Austen Arnaud and Alexander Robinson.

Kansas
Rating: 2
Turner Gill's first season as the Jayhawks' coach was an unmitigated disaster, as they limped to their second straight losing record at 3-9. Gill had a lot of success at Buffalo, but competing in the Big 12 might be a different animal.

My take: Agree. There's no telling what's in store for Turner Gill at Kansas, but last year's team was one of the worst in Big 12 history. The Jayhawks should be better in 2011, but KU hasn't proved its two-year free fall in 2009 and 2010 is officially over.

Kansas State
Rating: 2
Even legendary Wildcats coach Bill Snyder is having a hard time cleaning up the mess former KSU coach Ron Prince left behind. In Snyder's second go-around in Manhattan, the Wildcats are 13-12 in two seasons combined.

My take: The 'Cats are straddling 2-3, but 2011 will be a telling year. The Brown Brothers will have a big influence on if Snyder succeeds in "calming the waters" for his second successor.

Missouri
Rating: 4
Gary Pinkel has guided the Tigers to unprecedented success, winning 40 games over the last four seasons and going to six straight bowl games. The only things missing: A Big 12 championship and BCS bowl game.

My take: Agreed. Missouri and Oklahoma State are the closest two teams in the Big 12 to joining college football's elite, and the Tigers took a huge step last year by beating Oklahoma for the first time under Pinkel.

Oklahoma
Rating: 5
Even the sport's best teams suffer a mediocre season every once in a while (OU went 8-4 in 2005 and 8-5 in '09), but Bob Stoops has built one of the most consistent winners in the country. Under his watch, OU has won seven Big 12 titles and played in four BCS National Championship games since 2000.

My take: Eight BCS appearances and one title make anything but a 5 impossible to argue here.

Oklahoma State
Rating: 4
The Pokes won 29 games during the last three seasons combined, including a school-best 11-2 record in 2010. Of course, in-state rival Oklahoma might be OSU's biggest obstacle in joining college football's upper crust.

My take: Oklahoma State missed a golden opportunity to get over the hump last year against Oklahoma, but there's no doubt the Cowboys are getting closer and closer under Mike Gundy, beginning with last year's historic season.

Texas
Rating: 4
The Longhorns have more talent, money and resources at their disposal than just about every other program in the country. That's what makes last season's 5-7 finish so perplexing. With a new coaching staff in place, it shouldn't take Mack Brown long to get UT back on track.

My take: Handing out a three would be a little harsh for the Longhorns, who made it easy to forget this season that they were in the national title game 17 months ago. But is 2011 the next step towards the end, or a rebound year from a shocking 2010?

Texas A&M
Rating: 4
Mike Sherman led the Aggies to a 9-4 record in 2010, nearly equaling his victory total (10-15) from his first two seasons in College Station. Sherman has upgraded the Aggies' talent and has them in position to become a Big 12 challenger every season.

My take: The Aggies finally had their first winning season under Sherman in 2011, and this year's team should be even better. This game is tough to predict, but it's hard to see A&M not ending up in a BCS bowl in the very near future.

Texas Tech
Rating: 3
The Mike Leach fiasco seemed to suck life out of the Texas Tech program, but then former Auburn coach Tommy Tuberville produced an 8-5 record in his first season in Lubbock. At least Tuberville is teaching the Red Raiders how to play defense.

My take: He's teaching them to play defense, but last year, the Red Raiders weren't fast or healthy enough to do it. Changing that is step one to getting Tech back to contender status.
Springtime is almost here. And here's a look at what to expect across the Big 12 when it gets into full swing here in the next couple weeks.

BAYLOR BEARS

Spring practice starts: February 28

Spring game: April 2

What to watch:
  • Big changes on defense. Baylor brought in Phil Bennett as its new defensive coordinator, and he says his scheme will be multiple, built to fit the Bears' personnel. Considering the Bears' recent recruiting successes in the secondary, look for a 4-2-5 type of look.
  • Recruiting stars: time to shine. Both safeties, Tim Atchison and Byron Landor, are gone. Baylor, though, has two former ESPNU 150 recruits at safety who would be well served to start filling their potential. Prince Kent was a reserve last season and at one time, the nation's No. 51 overall recruit who originally signed with Miami. Ahmad Dixon, meanwhile, was the No. 15 overall prospect in the 2010 class. The opportunity is there. Baylor needs big talent at the position. Briles has recruited it. Can they develop into players who make Baylor a contender?
  • Running back competition. Jay Finley topped 1,200 yards in 2010, but he's gone. Who steps into his void? Terrance Ganaway is a bowling ball at 5-foot-11, 235 pounds, but the shifty Jarred Salubi could get a good amount of carries, too. They could begin to share carries this spring.
IOWA STATE CYCLONES

Spring practice starts: March 22

Spring game: April 16

What to watch:
  • Quarterback competition. It should be a good one in Ames this spring. Jerome Tiller is the name most recognize after getting lots of meaningful time and starts because of injuries to Austen Arnaud over the past two seasons. But juco transfer Steele Jantz sounds confident he can win the job. Rising sophomore James Capello and redshirt freshman Jared Barnett will compete, too.
  • Paging Cyclone receivers. Iowa State had one of the most underwhelming receiving corps in the league during the past season, and three of its top five pass-catchers won't return in 2011. Of those three, however, one is a tight end (Collin Franklin) and another is a running back (Alexander Robinson). The new quarterback will need some help, and Darius Darks and Darius Reynolds will need to provide it as seniors.
  • Shontrelle's time or not? Freshman Shontrelle Johnson looked like the running back with the most pop behind Robinson for most of 2010, but two other freshmen running backs jockeyed for carries, too. Paul Rhoads is hardly handing the job over to Johnson, but spring could be the time when he really separates himself from the pack.
KANSAS JAYHAWKS

Spring practice starts: April 1

Spring game: April 30

What to watch:
  • What are they doing behind center? Kansas never got much consistent play out of the quarterback position last year, but freshman Brock Berglund is one of the 2011 class' top recruits, and enrolled early to compete in the spring with Jordan Webb and Quinn Mecham. With a building program like Kansas, there's perhaps some value in handing the program to a younger player like Webb or Berglund, but they'll have to earn it. Doing so will start in the spring, but don't expect the Jayhawks to have a set-in-stone starter by spring's end.
  • Top linebacker back on the field. Huldon Tharp missed all of 2010 with a foot injury, but he says he's 100 percent and ready to get back on the field. As a freshman in 2009, he was fifth on the team in tackles, with 59, and looked like one of the league's possible budding stars. Now, he'll get his chance to join fellow linebacker Steven Johnson as one of the team's top tacklers, and he'll do it as a sophomore after redshirting in 2010.
  • Toben rising? Turner Gill raised plenty of eyebrows when he moved his team's leading rusher in 2009, Toben Opurum, to linebacker in fall camp, and eventually slid him up to defensive end. But toward the end of 2010, Opurum started showing some major signs of growth at the position. We'll get a better idea this spring if he's one of the league's most unlikely new stars at defensive end.
KANSAS STATE WILDCATS

Spring practice starts: April 6

Spring game: April 30

What to watch:
  • Prodigal Kansan sons come home. There's no doubt that the Wichita native Brown brothers are the main attraction at Kansas State this spring, a season after transferring back home. Bryce Brown, the running back, was the nation's No. 8 prospect in the 2009 class. Arthur Brown, the linebacker, was the nation's No. 6 prospect in the 2008 class. Bryce transferred from Tennessee and Arthur from Miami. The Wildcats are pinning much of their hopes on the duo, and we'll get a good sense of what they can provide soon.
  • Quarterback competition. Carson Coffman is gone, and two new faces will challenge for the job: juco transfer Justin Tuggle and Daniel Sams. Sammuel Lamur is also up for the gig. Collin Klein may or may not be; Bill Snyder hasn't explicitly confirmed a past comment from Sams saying Klein had moved to receiver. Don't expect a starter to be named by spring's end, but a general order could start to form.
  • Can the defense show improvement? Kansas State had the Big 12's worst overall defense last year, and the worst rushing defense in college football, giving up 3,008 yards on the ground. Coordinator Chris Cosh looks like he'll still be around in 2011, and defensive backs David Garrett and Tysyn Hartman are solid pieces to try and build around. But this young maturing defense must get better to make a bowl game again with so many questions on offense. That starts in the spring.
MISSOURI TIGERS

Spring practice starts: March 8

Spring game: April 16

What to watch:
  • Franklin comes alive! Blaine Gabbert bolted to the NFL early, and Missouri has a gaping hole a quarterback. The position, however, is surrounded by a lot of quality talent that likely makes the Tigers a Top 25 team. There's no understating the importance of the position for the Tigers, and that will begin to be decided in the spring. James Franklin, a rising sophomore, saw spot duty in 2010 as more of a runner, and may have the inside track on the job, but Tyler Gabbert, Blaine's younger brother, and Ashton Glaser should make it an interesting competition in the spring. If neither of them impress early, don't count out incoming freshman Corbin Berkstresser.
  • Here is the new secondary. Same as the old secondary? After years of pass defense being one of the Tigers' biggest weaknesses, it became a strength in 2010 behind the leadership of senior corners Kevin Rutland and Carl Gettis. But the Tigers lose them and safety Jarrell Harrison. Rutland emerged as one of the team's most impressive players last spring, but was Missouri's success in the secondary a one-time thing or the beginning of a welcome trend?
  • Time to dominate the trenches? Missouri played without likely first-round pick Aldon Smith for much of the previous season, but the defensive and offensive lines for the Tigers were as good as ever in 2010. How will they look in 2011? Impact juco transfer Sheldon Richardson won't be enrolled by the spring, but the four returning starters on the offensive line should get some solid work against Brad Madison, Jacquies Smith and Terrell Resonno.
OKLAHOMA SOONERS

Spring practice starts: March 21

Spring game: April 16

What to watch:
  • Freshmen on display. Coach Bob Stoops hasn't been shy about saying his 2010 recruiting class was his best ever, but it could look even better after this spring. Two of his best emerging recruits, Justin McCay and Geneo Grissom, didn't even play in 2010, and could start to make an impact. The same goes for Corey Nelson, who will try to earn some more time somewhere backing up star Travis Lewis.
  • Is there a golden boot in Norman? Jimmy Stevens was much more accurate in 2010, finishing 19-for-23, but his attempts outside 45 yards were sparse. The good news is he missed none of his 53 extra points. Field goals have been a bit of an adventure for the past couple years, but continuing in the spring what he started last year would be a good sign for Oklahoma. The Sooners are strong everywhere and need good special teams play to reach their lofty title goals.
  • Are the Sooners' backs back? Roy Finch missed the Fiesta Bowl with a stress fracture, and his durability is certainly questionable entering 2011. When he's healthy, he looks like the next star in the Sooners' backfield, but they'll need some depth behind the 5-foot-8, 173-pounder. Jermie Calhoun, Jonathan Miller and Brennan Clay have all looked good at times, but there should be some good competition from newcomers Brandon Wegher, an Iowa transfer who'll be in camp this spring and eligible next season, and blue-chip recruit Brandon Williams, who enrolled early.
OKLAHOMA STATE COWBOYS

Spring practice starts: March 7

Spring game: April 16

What to watch:
  • Every piece of the offense. The spring in Stillwater is all about keeping or improving upon the status quo. Had it kept Dana Holgorsen, there'd be little doubt that would happen, but Oklahoma State must make the most of its five returning offensive linemen, quarterback Brandon Weeden and receiver Justin Blackmon. The opportunity for a historic season is there, but they'll have to pick up the nuances of the new offense quickly in the spring like they did last year.
  • What about the kicker? Dan Bailey won the Lou Groza Award as the nation's top kicker in 2010, but he's gone. Oklahoma State needs to fill that role quickly, and we'll likely know who will get the nod after the spring.
  • Who steps up on the defensive line? The Cowboys lose three starters up front on defense, including All-Big 12 performer Ugo Chinasa and tackles Chris Donaldson and Shane Jarka. Can senior Richetti Jones become a star in the Big 12? We'll have a good idea if he, or any of the Cowboys' other defensive linemen, can by the end of April.
TEXAS LONGHORNS

Spring practice starts: February 24

Spring game: April 3

What to watch:
  • New coaches and their students/players. Texas has five new coaches. Although it's hard to get a good read early on, how they relate with the players on the field, in the film room and around the facilities will have a big impact on how the 2011 season plays out in Austin. The young-blooded coordinators could serve themselves well by relating to players and the players will need to spend plenty of extra time learning new schemes and plays.
  • Quarterback competition ... or not? Mack Brown says the gig is open and it is, for now. Garrett Gilbert can close it with a strong spring. If Garrett struggles on the field or has difficulty grasping the new system, the door will be wide open for Connor Wood or Case McCoy to step in and close it. Gilbert didn't get much help, but he did very little in 2010 to inspire a lot of breathing room with McCoy and Wood clamoring for playing time.
  • And you've got to defend the pass, too. Texas loses its top three cornerbacks to the NFL, and only Carrington Byndom and A.J. White got much meaningful playing time last season. Younger players can earn some rare early playing time with a strong spring. Will anyone step up?
TEXAS A&M AGGIES

Spring practice starts: March 22

Spring game: April 16

What to watch:
  • New linebackers in the running. Spring isn't so scary when you bring back nine defensive starters, but the two Texas A&M lost were the heart of its defense. Linebackers Michael Hodges and Von Miller are gone. Kyle Mangan didn't look fantastic when forced into action during the Cotton Bowl, but the time is now for Damontre Moore and Dominique Patterson, a pair of sophomores, to make their impact.
  • Tannehill's tuning things up. Quarterback Ryan Tannehill played about as well as anyone could have hoped late last season, but he'll need it to continue his performance with a solid spring nailing down the timing with his receivers, who all return. He's already got a leg up on last year's quarterback, Jerrod Johnson, who was held out of team drills last spring after shoulder surgery that eventually derailed his senior season.
  • Christine's back. Christine Michael missed the second half of the season with a broken leg, giving way to Cyrus Gray's rise among Big 12 backs. It should make Texas A&M's depth at the position even more impressive, but we'll see how Michael looks coming back from the injury.
TEXAS TECH RED RAIDERS

Spring practice starts: February 19

Spring game: March 26

What to watch:
  • Past defending that pass defense. Texas Tech had the Big 12's worst pass defense last season, but has a pair of big potential players at cornerback in rising sophomores Tre Porter and Jarvis Phillips. Starters LaRon Moore and Franklin Mitchem are gone, but if returning starters Cody Davis and Will Ford can continue to mature, the defense should improve in the area most important for success in the Big 12.
  • And they're off! There's a four-man quarterback derby set in Lubbock this spring between Seth Doege, Jacob Karam, Michael Brewer and Scotty Young. I don't expect it to be settled until midway through fall camp, similar to last season, but there should be a solid front-runner and more clarity after spring. Coach Tommy Tuberville was extremely impressed with Doege and Karam last spring after Taylor Potts and Steven Sheffield went down with injuries.
  • Time to find new stars. Most of the big names on Texas Tech's defense are gone. Colby Whitlock, Bront Bird, Brian Duncan will all continue their careers elsewhere. The leaders on the defense will have to begin to emerge in the spring. Is it Scott Smith? Cody Davis? A younger, unexpected player? We'll find out. Sometimes these types of situations aren't as easy to predict as they might seem, like Missouri's strength in 2010 emerging in the secondary.
Tags:

Baylor Bears, Iowa State Cyclones, Kansas State Wildcats, Missouri Tigers, Oklahoma Sooners, Oklahoma State Cowboys, Texas Longhorns, Texas A&M Aggies, Colby Whitlock, Brennan Clay, Christine Michael, Von Miller, Alexander Robinson, Chris Cosh, Steven Sheffield, Brandon Wegher, Turner Gill, James Franklin, Tysyn Hartman, Bill Snyder, Bront Bird, Case McCoy, Brandon Williams, Dan Bailey, Justin Blackmon, Franklin Mitchem, Richetti Jones, Connor Wood, Ryan Tannehill, Terrance Ganaway, Cody Davis, Travis Lewis, Cyrus Gray, Scotty Young, Chris Donaldson, Bryce Brown, Jerome Tiller, Brian Duncan, LaRon Moore, Justin Tuggle, Darius Darks, Paul Rhoads, Brad Madison, Art Briles, Sheldon Richardson, Bob Stoops, Jerrod Johnson, Blaine Gabbert, Jay Finley, Jared Barnett, Taylor Potts, Jimmy Stevens, Arthur Brown, Mack Brown, Garrett Gilbert, Jermie Calhoun, Collin Franklin, Phil Bennett, Jacquies Smith, Jarred Salubi, Collin Klein, Carl Gettis, Seth Doege, Scott Smith, Terrell Resonno, Carson Coffman, Aldon Smith, Brandon Weeden, Toben Opurum, Shane Jarka, Tyler Gabbert, Ahmad Dixon, Corey Nelson, Prince Kent, Shontrelle Johnson, Geneo Grissom, Quinn Mecham, Damontre Moore, Byron Landor, Darius Reynolds, Ugo Chinasa, Kevin Rutland, Jacob Karam, Michael Brewer, Jordan Webb, A.J. White, Huldon Tharp, Ashton Glaser, Jarvis Phillips, Tim Atchison, Michael Hodges, Tre Porter, Kyle Mangan, Brock Berglund, David Garrett, Carrington Byndom, Justin McCay, Corbin Berkstresser, Daniel Sams, Dominique Patterson, James Capello, Jonathan Miller, Steele Jantz

Recruiting needs: Big 12 North

January, 26, 2011
1/26/11
9:00
AM ET
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.

Big 12 predictions: Week 12

November, 18, 2010
11/18/10
9:00
AM ET
» Predictions: ACC | Big 12 | Big East | Big Ten | Pac-10 | SEC | Non-AQ

Now, that was more like it. The Big 12 Blog got back on track with picks last week, missing only Colorado's surprise win over Iowa State. Now, we'll see about this week, which contains an upset special.

Last week: 5-1 (.833)

Overall: 66-17 (.795)

No. 10 Oklahoma State 51, Kansas 17: There's no reason to think the Cowboys won't post a big number in this one, and Oklahoma State's terrifying trio of Justin Blackmon, Kendall Hunter and Brandon Weeden get it done to head to Bedlam with the Big 12 South on the line.

Kansas State 31, Colorado 27: Kansas State is a better team than Iowa State, who Colorado beat in Boulder last week. Dan Hawkins making an appearance to support his son, Cody Hawkins, is overrated as an "awkward" sideplot, but only mistakes will keep Kansas State from getting the win. The biggest mistake they could make? Not putting Collin Klein on the field as much as possible. He and Daniel Thomas carry the Wildcats to the win with a strong second half on the ground.

Texas Tech 35, Weber State 24: Texas Tech is searching for motivation, but they should be be able to handle the Wildcats in the first of two yawn-worthy nonconference games to close the season.

Texas 27, Florida Atlantic 17: I've said it all week, and I'll say it again: there's no guarantee that Texas wins this game. They should. I think they will. But Texas hasn't shown they can beat very many teams this year, and they'll have to play well to do it. Rack up a handful of turnovers, give up a big play or two and try to force your way back into the game and this game is UCLA all over again. That said, I'll take the Longhorns with a comfortable, but hardly convincing win.

No. 15 Missouri 38, Iowa State 20: Iowa State hasn't been able to defend the spread all season, and a renewed Missouri offense takes advantage. The Cyclones have played well at home, but they won't be able to score enough to keep up with the Tigers, who'll likely key in on Alexander Robinson and force Jerome Tiller to make difficult throws to Iowa State's underwhelming receiving corps.

No. 14 Oklahoma 35, Baylor 30: This is my pick of the week. Come back later today for a video of me explaining my pick.

No. 19 Texas A&M 27, No. 8 Nebraska 24: I'll call my shot here in an upset special. I barely missed when I picked the Aggies to beat Oklahoma State. I missed by, let's say, a wide margin, when I picked Missouri to beat the Huskers. The third time's the charm, right? Let me explain:

1) Texas A&M got a lot of practice defending the zone read against Baylor last week, with Robert Griffin III and Jay Finley. They gave up a few big plays in the first half, but played a lot better in the second half. That'll continue this week.

2) Conservative, average, punchless, whatever. Call it what you want. Mediocre has many names. That's what Nebraska's offense has been without a full-strength Taylor Martinez. I have my doubts about how healthy Martinez's ankle is, and in this game, where Nebraska will have to put points on the board, that's a big deal. Their running offense won't be as effective, and the Aggies have athletes on the edge and in the middle at linebacker in Garrick Williams, Von Miller and Michael Hodges who can make the stops necessary to keep the Huskers at bay.

3) Oklahoma State couldn't stop Nebraska's offense. Missouri couldn't move the ball against Nebraska's defense. Texas A&M, however, has a better pass rush and a better secondary than Oklahoma State, and can run downhill with power, versus Missouri's slow-developing, east-west running attack that got swallowed up by the Huskers speed on defense. Taylor Martinez isn't throwing for 300 yards against Tim DeRuyter's defense, and as long as Cyrus Gray gets 20-plus touches, the Aggies should be able to run the ball where Nebraska has been vulnerable: right in the middle of the defense. The Aggies offensive line is getting better fast, and those two freshman tackles have turned from a liability into a strength, coach Mike Sherman said this week.

4) Missouri doesn't have the talent at receiver to get open, but Texas A&M does. Jeff Fuller probably won't have a big day against Prince Amukamara, but Uzoma Nwachukwu will occupy Alfonzo Dennard, and opportunities over the middle should be there for slot men Ryan Swope and Kenric McNeal, as well as tight end Nehemiah Hicks and Gray out of the backfield. Ryan Tannehill will find them enough to help the Aggies spring the upset and finish the season strong.

What to watch in the Big 12: Week 10

November, 4, 2010
11/04/10
10:18
AM ET
I'll be in Stillwater on Saturday checking out a big South battle between Oklahoma State and Baylor, but I'll have my eye on every game as usual. Here's what I'm watching:

1. The scoreboard at Boone Pickens Stadium. You saw it in my pick this morning, there's going to be a lot of points on the board this Saturday, featuring some of the best skill-position talent in the league. Oklahoma State's triplets -- quarterback Brandon Weeden, running back Kendall Hunter and receiver Justin Blackmon -- go head-to-head with Robert Griffin III, Jay Finley and Kendall Wright.

[+] EnlargeBrandon Weeden and Kendall Hunter
John Rieger/US PresswireOklahoma State's Brandon Weeden (3) and Kendall Hunter (24) -- along with receiver Justin Blackmon -- have been tough to stop this season.
2. Big hits. This should be something to keep an eye on for the rest of the season, really. I had it on last week's what to watch, but I'm interested to see if receivers over the middle go unjacked-up, or if there's any noticeable difference with how defenders hit. Oklahoma safety Quinton Carter, one of the league's hardest hitters, says his style is changing because of the crackdown. Nebraska's defense says it won't change the way it plays after linebacker Eric Martin was suspended. Courtney Osborne's hit on Blaine Gabbert (clean in my book) went unpunished after Missouri's Gary Pinkel sent it to the league for review in hopes of educating his players on which hits were legal and which hits weren’t.

3. Texas' defense. It completely shut down the league's best rushing offense earlier in the season in a marquee 20-13 victory at Nebraska. Now, it takes on the Big 12's No. 2 rushing team, Kansas State, in Manhattan. What's in store for running backs Daniel Thomas and William Powell?

4. Texas Tech's receivers. Jacoby Franks and last year's leader, Alex Torres, are out. They the are Red Raiders' Nos. 3 and 4 targets. Franks is gone for the year, and Torres could be too, but arthroscopic surgery earlier this week provided hope he could return in a few weeks. Those who will be playing, namely seniors Lyle Leong and Detron Lewis, will need to play well to keep up with Missouri's offense. Younger players like Austin Zouzalik and Tramain Swindall have to elevate their play.

5. Blaine Gabbert. Gabbert actually played pretty well for what was available last week, running when he needed to and throwing without any real misses on the rare occasion when a receiver was open. This week should be much easier against a Texas Tech secondary that is the worst in the league and one of the worst in the nation. Is he due for a big week? His targets will be back open, and he won't get hit nearly as much. The Red Raiders gave up 449 yards to Ryan Tannehill, 274 yards to Cody Hawkins and 356 to Brandon Weeden in the past three weeks. Not a sparkling résumé.

6. Oklahoma on the road. Bob Stoops says it's not a real problem. The Sooners' win-loss margin at home is 22.7 points higher than away from Owen Field, by far the highest of any other elite program. This year, the Sooners have a loss to Missouri and a two-point win over Cincinnati, the last-place team in the Big East at 3-5, on their record. Texas A&M is a renewed team with Ryan Tannehill at quarterback. Is an upset in store?

7. Tannehill's next test. Like we mentioned above, Texas Tech's secondary ranks last in the league, giving up 45 more yards per game through the air than any other team. That ranks 119 out of 120 teams nationally. Oklahoma isn't way, way better (sixth in Big 12, No. 83 nationally), but they'll be tougher than Texas Tech. What does Tannehill have in store for his encore after a school-record 449 yards and four touchdowns in his first start last week?

8. Quarterback controversies. Texas Tech has reopened the competition between Steven Sheffield and Taylor Potts, and hasn't officially announced a starter. Kansas' top two passers may be back this week, but their status is in doubt as No. 3 Quinn Mecham hopes to make his second career start. Texas A&M coach Mike Sherman hasn't explicitly said Tannehill will start on Saturday, but it would be hard to imagine he wouldn't after last week. Keep an eye on how all this shakes out on Saturday.

9. Kansas climbing. The Jayhawks led at halftime last week at Iowa State. Now, they host the next-worst team in the league, Colorado, the Big 12's only other 0-4 team. There's no doubt this is the best chance for either team to get their first -- and maybe only -- conference win of the year.

10. Huskers taking care of the ball. I'm not 100 percent sure, but I think the definition of a football nightmare is finishing a game with more turnovers than points. That's what Nebraska did last year, turning the ball over eight times in a 9-7 home loss to an Iowa State team missing its two best players, running back Alexander Robinson and quarterback Austen Arnaud. They'll face a full-strength Iowa State team in Ames on Saturday for control of the North. The Huskers have an incredible 26 fumbles in eight games, but have lost only nine of them. What are the odds history repeats itself?
Kansas ranks dead last in the Big 12 in scoring defense this year, but the Jayhawks don't seem to care in the first half against Iowa State.

Iowa State's only points came on a 62-yard Josh Lenz punt return, and Kansas used three Jacob Branstetter field goals to take a 9-7 lead at halftime.

Kansas is clearly trying to ride that defense today, with a third-string quarterback in Quinn Mecham making his first career start. Instead of taking a shot at the end zone near the end of the half, Turner Gill elected to send out the reliable Branstetter, who booted a 38-yarder to send the Jayhawks to the half with a lead for the first time in conference play.

Iowa State's Alexander Robinson has found some holes in the Kansas defense, running for 68 yards on just seven carries, but quarterback Austen Arnaud has just 39 yards passing, completing 5-of-11 attempts.

Big 12 predictions: Week 9

October, 28, 2010
10/28/10
9:03
AM ET
» Predictions: ACC | Big 12 | Big East | Big Ten | Pac-10 | SEC | Non-AQ

Last week was OK, but my string of 5-1 weeks was broken by Texas and Missouri. Sometimes erring on the side of history doesn't pay off. That gave me my first miss on Missouri this season, but I've now missed the Longhorns three times this season (UCLA, Nebraska, Iowa State). It seems like the only person having a harder time figuring them out than me is Mack Brown. Doesn't look like an easy task for either of us, with a tough game for the Longhorns on Saturday and a tough pick for me.

I'll be in Lincoln this weekend taking in the de facto Big 12 North championship game between the Huskers and Missouri. Should be a great one.

This is the most difficult week of picks we've had this season, but that's what you get in conference play. Three of the six games look like toss-ups, and I went against my gut on two of them.

Last week: 4-2 (.667)

Overall: 55-10

No. 17 Oklahoma State 41, Kansas State 24: Justin Blackmon's absence will be felt, but the Cowboys still have plenty of power on offense that Kansas State can't account for. This already looked like a pretty bad matchup for the Wildcats, and only slightly less so without Blackmon. Kendall Hunter will get loose a lot in this one. Look for 200-plus yards from him once again.

Iowa State 31, Kansas 17: Kansas gets a little closer against the Cyclones, but Collin Franklin and Alexander Robinson have good days in a solid win for Iowa State.

No. 6 Missouri 31, No. 14 Nebraska 27: Count this as me going against my gut No. 1. Check back later today for a video of me explaining my pick.

Texas A&M 27, Texas Tech 24: The Aggies buck the trend of road teams winning two in a row in the series, start Jerrod Johnson and eventually go with Ryan Tannehill, who engineers a couple touchdown drives for the win.

Texas 21, No. 25 Baylor 20: Going against my gut here, too. I picked against an angry Texas team in Nebraska, but you have to think it'll only be more intense this week. Nebraska's offense is better than Baylor's, and the Horns shut it down. They've got the corners in the back to slow Kendall Wright and Josh Gordon through the air, and Sam Acho and Keenan Robinson play well up front to keep Robert Griffin III and Jay Finley from having the kind of days they enjoyed last week against Kansas State. And D.J. Monroe gets more than one carry!

No. 9 Oklahoma 45, Colorado 10: This one's not close. Roy Finch makes Sooners fans drool yet again, making a few late highlights in the fourth quarter. He'll be a good one real soon.

Big 12 predictions: Week 7

October, 14, 2010
10/14/10
9:02
AM ET
» Predictions: ACC | Big 12 | Big East | Big Ten | Pac-10 | SEC | Non-AQ

Last week was a good one for picks here on the Big 12 blog, with my only miss coming in one of the week's toss-ups, when I picked Baylor to beat Tech.

Last week: 5-1 (.833)

Overall: 46-7 (.867)

Here's who I've got for this weekend's games:

THURSDAY


Kansas State 21, Kansas 20: Kansas matches up with K-State really well, and look for Jayhawks linebacker Justin Springer to have another huge game like he did against Georgia Tech. But Daniel Thomas' day will be bigger, giving the Wildcats another narrow victory.

SATURDAY

No. 21 Missouri 27, Texas A&M 24: Toughest pick of the week, no doubt. See me explain it in a video this afternoon.

No. 5 Nebraska 31, Texas 14: I don't feel great about this pick, but if you remove all the tough-to-assess, intangible aspects of this game, this is what I think happens. Mack Brown-coached teams after a bye week and after playing Oklahoma are scary, but I still expect Taylor Martinez to break at least one or two big runs and gash the defense for plenty of 5- to 8-yard runs. An angry Nebraska team that -- regardless of what they'd like to tell the media this week -- remembers last year's game and what should be a raucous crowd may cancel out some of Texas' urgency for a win and preparation over the past two weeks.

No. 20 Oklahoma State 44, Texas Tech 38: Sixty-six years since the Cowboys have won in Lubbock? Time to reset that clock. The more touches for Kendall Hunter, the better, but the Cowboys make more defensive stops and knock off the Red Raiders.

Baylor 24, Colorado 20: The next two games are the biggest in a long time for Baylor football. That may be lost on folks outside Waco, but the Bears shouldn't need to be reminded. Brian Norwood's defense gets back on track against the Buffs and the Bears take advantage.

No. 6 Oklahoma 34, Iowa State 20: Oklahoma has been unable to blow anybody but Florida State away, and that will continue this week. So what if Iowa State might not have Alexander Robinson? They beat Nebraska without him and Austen Arnaud last year, and Shontrelle Johnson is a solid backup for Robinson. This is a resilient bunch, but the defense surrenders a big, big day to DeMarco Murray.

Cyclones can capture another moment

October, 6, 2010
10/06/10
12:15
PM ET
By now, if you don't know, you haven't been paying attention.

The only thing most people know about Iowa State football is how proud Paul Rhoads is to be coaching there.

[+] EnlargePaul Rhoads
AP Photo/Charlie NeibergallPaul Rhoads and his Iowa State Cyclones will face No. 10 Utah on Saturday.
Sure, there's more to the Cyclones, like running back Alexander Robinson and quarterback Austen Arnaud and Big 12 Newcomer of the Year David Sims, a safety.

Or its new group of linebackers that have been racking up tackles, taking interceptions into the end zone and earning Big 12 Player of the Week honors.

But mostly, any word association that follows "Iowa State" and "football" is going to start with Rhoads and his emotional locker room speech, even if Paul Rhoads is proud to coach his team on days it doesn't beat Nebraska. Which is natural. YouTube works like that.

Saturday, Iowa State will get its first real chance at an encore.

No. 10 Utah is coming to Ames, where the Cyclones are back to work after a confidence-building 52-38 win over Texas Tech. Utah has feasted on cupcakes for the past three weeks after needing overtime to rid themselves of Pitt, who has since struggled to a 2-2 start with a blowout loss to Miami and no quality wins.

In short, Utah doesn't look the part of a team ready to roll into Ames and leave with a blowout victory.

If the Cyclones can assume the role of non-AQ killer -- three teams from outside BCS conferences currently rank in the top 10 -- they'll give America reason to notice them once again, almost a year removed from a 9-7 upset win over Nebraska.

"It felt as good as the UNI win and the NIU win," Rhoads said of Saturday's win over Texas Tech, which moved Iowa State to 3-2 and 1-1 in conference play. "They're all extremely important. You work so hard all year long recruiting, coaching, scheming, training, motivating and to get a victory at this level is very important. We were thrilled with it, enjoyed it, celebrated it and we're moving on to our Utah preparation."

That may be the case inside the locker room, but if that preparation is good enough to beat Utah, the Cyclones can expect more attention and for the second consecutive season under Rhoads, a signature win.

And this time, with what looks like an even more improved team, they might have a few more signature wins left.

Big 12 Power Rankings: Week 6

October, 4, 2010
10/04/10
9:04
AM ET
» Power Rankings: ACC | Big 12 | Big East | Big Ten | Pac-10 | SEC | Non-AQ

This shouldn't be surprising, but Week 5's games meant the most movement so far of the Big 12's young season.

1. Oklahoma (5-0, LW: 1) Theorize all you want about whether or not Nebraska would beat Oklahoma. They might if they played tomorrow, but look at who Nebraska's beaten and who Oklahoma's beaten. Almost weekly fourth-quarter miscues have produced some scores that were closer than they should have been, but Oklahoma was clearly the better team in all five wins.

2. Nebraska (4-0, LW: 2) Kansas State is well-equipped to beat Nebraska, especially in Manhattan, but if the Huskers play like they did against Washington, there aren't many teams who'll beat them anywhere.

3. Oklahoma State (4-0, LW: 4) It wasn't pretty, but in conference play, it doesn't have to be. Oklahoma State deserved to win the game and needs to keep the momentum rolling into Louisiana this week for a Friday night game against the Cajuns.

4. Kansas State (4-0, LW: 6) The Wildcats sat at home on Saturday, but have a gigantic opportunity on Thursday night against the Huskers to earn some national attention.

5. Missouri (4-0, LW: 7) Missouri's probably a pretty good team, but we may know less about them than any team in the Big 12. They have yet to play a team that's as good as they are, but they've trailed in the second half twice. They might be as good or better than Oklahoma State. They might be nowhere near as good. Either way, they have the least impressive resume of any of the Big 12's undefeated teams, but they should feel good about being members of a dwindling club that'll lose at least one more member after Thursday night.

6. Texas (3-2, LW: 3) The Longhorns may rebound when the schedule softens after Nebraska, but right now, they're making a beeline for 3-3 and their only somewhat impressive win was to a team that lost to Iowa State on Saturday. Texas has no reliable offensive options and when the defense isn't on point, (i.e., first half against Oklahoma, second half against UCLA) Texas looks awful.

7. Baylor (4-1, LW: 10) Don't forget that Baylor's only loss is to the No. 4 team in the nation, even if it was extremely one-sided. They've soundly beaten everyone else they've played and while Kansas is a bad Big 12 team, they're not historically bad. They are not the kind of team you look at and say, "Yeah, Baylor should handle them by almost 50." The Bears thumping the Jayhawks like they did on Saturday should put everyone in the Big 12 on notice. Like I said yesterday, the only teams I feel 100 percent confident in being better than Baylor are Oklahoma, Nebraska and Oklahoma State, especially when Robert Griffin is on like he was on Saturday. Art Briles has said since spring this is his most talented and deepest team at Baylor. We're seeing those results on the field.

8. Texas A&M (3-1, LW: 8) Math time! So, Texas A&M's only loss came to a ranked, undefeated team on the road by a last-second field goal that came after their fifth turnover of the game? A worse team would have lost that by double digits or worse. Jerrod Johnson's turnovers are still extremely perplexing and the only variables are his offseason shoulder surgery and a young offensive line that's played pretty well so far this season.

9. Iowa State (3-2, LW: 9) Should have moved up with the win over Texas Tech, but Baylor keeps them at No. 9. I said at the beginning of the year Texas Tech's aggressive style would make the defense look unstoppable at times and completely inept at others while giving up many big plays. When an offensive line plays like Iowa State's did, you see the latter. Austen Arnaud made plays to win and a handful of fantastic throws despite having an injured left shoulder, and Shontrelle Johnson is making sure the Cyclones will be just fine at running back after Alexander Robinson graduates.

10. Colorado (3-1, LW: 11) I didn't think Colorado would lose big against Georgia, but I didn't think they had a great chance to win. Give the Buffs some credit; it was a good win. But Georgia is still 1-4 with a win over Louisiana-Lafayette.

11. Texas Tech (2-2, LW: 4) This feels way, way low, but Texas Tech's wins are over a terrible New Mexico team and a decent SMU team. It took a valiant effort by the Red Raiders to dig out of a 24-0 hole, but looking at the rest of the division, they've been the least impressive team in the South and have an 0-2 conference record to show for it.

12. Kansas (2-3, LW: 12) That was embarrassing, Kansas. The only positive out of Saturday's performance is it's hard to see it getting much worse for the Jayhawks.

Tech shows how not to onside kick

October, 2, 2010
10/02/10
10:42
PM ET
Texas Tech scored the fifth touchdown of the fourth quarter to get within seven points of Iowa State.

But Iowa State returned the ensuing onside kick 42 yards for a touchdown and won 52-38.

For all the criticism the Red Raiders offense faced after the loss to Texas, it's rebounded nicely.

Taylor Potts had five touchdown passes, no interceptions and topped 300 yards.

But even if you're Texas Tech, giving up 52 points makes the odds of winning very, very slim, even if that's aided by a few fumbles from the offense.

Iowa State had two 100-yard rushers after backup Shontrelle Johnson broke a 61-yard touchdown run in the fourth quarter, joining Alexander Robinson.

The Red Raiders now have fallen to 0-2 in Big 12 play.

Scoring coming in chunks in Ames

October, 2, 2010
10/02/10
9:55
PM ET
Texas Tech didn't rebound well from a two-week break after losing to Texas.

The Red Raiders gave up 24 consecutive points to Iowa State to open scoring in the second quarter.

They did rebound well from the Cyclones opening punch.

Texas Tech quarterback Taylor Potts hit Lyle Leong for a 21-yard touchdown late in the third quarter that tied the game, but Iowa State opened the fourth quarter with a 27-yard touchdown pass from Austen Arnaud to Collin Franklin to take a 31-24 lead.

Give Texas Tech credit, the defense has played well after going down 24-0 and the offense scored a pair of touchdowns in the last minute of the first half, thanks to a defensive stop.

That stretch included Leong's first touchdown catch of the game, giving him eight receiving touchdowns while still playing in his fourth game this year.

Iowa State recovered some momentum heading into the fourth quarter, recovering a fumble in Texas Tech territory to take a 3-0 lead in the turnover battle, and turned the third turnover into Arnaud's third touchdown pass.

Potts has completed 28-of-39 passes for 238 yards and three touchdowns.

Iowa State running back Alexander Robinson has already topped 100 yards on just 12 carries, including a touchdown.

Should be a great finish.

SPONSORED HEADLINES