NCF Nation: Andre Sexton

Big 12 pre-spring power rankings

February, 10, 2010
With spring practice set to begin soon -- Texas opens its camp on March 2 -- here’s a quick look at how I have the teams ranked heading into spring practice. In formulating my rankings, I took into account returning players, transfers, arriving freshmen and a teams’ schedules.

1. Texas (14 starters back: 6 offensive, 7 defensive, 1 special teams). Garrett Gilbert got a head start on replacing Colt McCoy with his considerable playing time in the national title game, an invaluable learning experience for a young player. The Longhorns return most of the defense that improved in its second season under Will Muschamp. The biggest chores will be for offensive coordinator Greg Davis, who has to boost running game production and find a replacement for record-breaking wide receiver Jordan Shipley.

2. Nebraska (18 starters back: 8 offensive, 8 defensive, 2 special teams). Bo Pelini has the Cornhuskers positioned for a potential top-10 preseason ranking. Most of the offensive weapons will be back from a unit that sputtered down the stretch before breaking out in the Holiday Bowl victory. Quarterback Zac Lee will miss some of spring practice as he recovers from postseason surgery. Cody Green and Kody Spano will get most of the work until Lee returns. Nebraska coaches think the defense can be better this season, even without the up-the-middle strength of Ndamukong Suh, Phillip Dillard, Larry Asante and Matt O’Hanlon.

3. Oklahoma (15 starters back: 9 offensive, 4 defensive, 2 special teams). The Sooners overcame a debilitating run of injuries last season to finish with a flourish, knocking Oklahoma State out of a BCS game and winning the Sun Bowl in their final two games. Landry Jones will be infinitely better in his second season as a starter and Ryan Broyles and DeMarco Murray may be the best one-two receiving/running back combination in the conference. Bob Stoops will be facing a big renovation on defense where key players like Gerald McCoy and Dominique Franks left early for the NFL draft. Look for Travis Lewis to be the key to a defense that will need to improve by the time Big 12 play begins if the Sooners are to have any hope of claiming a seventh Big 12 title this season.

4. Missouri (19 starters back: 9 offensive, 9 defensive, 1 special teams). The Tigers will miss Danario Alexander and linebacker Sean Weatherspoon, who were arguably the best players at their positions in the conference last season. But Blaine Gabbert is back for a second season as starting quarterback and some talented recruits are expected to emerge on defense. A key for the Tigers’ success will be a more productive running game and consistency from the offensive line. Improvement on both will be critical for coordinator David Yost during the spring.

5. Texas Tech (15 starters back: 7 offensive, 6 defensive, 2 special teams). New coach Tommy Tuberville immediately will have to sort through a potentially difficult decision at quarterback between Taylor Potts and fan favorite Steven Sheffield. New coordinator James Willis hopes to install a 3-4 defense that should be a haven for athletic linebackers. But the group’s success will hinge on replacing Jamar Wall at cornerback and finding some pass-rushing threats to replace Brandon Sharpe, Richard Jones and Daniel Howard along the front.

6. Texas A&M (19 starters back: 8 offensive, 9 defensive, 2 special teams). With Jerrod Johnson, Jeff Fuller, Uzoma Nwachukwu and Christine Michael back, the Aggies shouldn’t have trouble scoring points, although the line needs to do a better job of protecting Johnson. But the Aggies’ success will depend on the returning starters quickly taking to new coordinator Tim DeRuyter’s teachings. The group was blistered for at least 35 points in seven games last season and allowed at least 30 points in two other games. So needless to say that even with nine starters back, DeRuyter has his work cut out.

7. Kansas (16 starters back: 7 offensive, 7 defensive, 2 special teams). New coach Turner Gill inherits an uncertain quarterback situation, but has the framework for a strong running attack with all of his starting linemen back, along with Toben Opurum and heralded back Brandon Bourbon as running threats. The Jayhawks will need to fill in for the loss of Darrell Stuckey in the secondary, but new coordinator Carl Torbush should find the elements for a blitzing, attacking defense among the returnees. But the biggest reason the Jayhawks might be bound for a bowl game in Gill’s first season is swapping Texas, Texas Tech and Oklahoma for Texas A&M, Oklahoma State and Baylor in their cross-divisional schedule.

8. Iowa State (13 starters back: 8 offensive, 4 defensive, 1 special teams). Paul Rhoads returns most of the offensive weapons that led the Cyclones to the Insight Bowl, most notably quarterback Austen Arnaud and running back Alexander Robinson. But the team loses all of its starting linebackers; veteran coordinator Wally Burnham will be challenged to cobble together a serviceable unit. The Cyclones could actually be a better team in 2010 but post a worse record. A tougher schedule featuring nonconference games against Utah, Iowa and Northern Illinois and the addition of South Division powers Oklahoma, Texas and Texas Tech will make last season’s bowl trip much tougher to duplicate.

9. Oklahoma State (10 starters back: 4 offensive, 4 defensive, 2 special teams). The Cowboys must find replacements for key players like Zac Robinson, Keith Tosten, four offensive linemen (including Outland finalist Russell Okung) and six of their back seven on defense. New offensive coordinator Dana Holgorsen finds an uncertain quarterback situation but will lean heavily on a healthy Kendall Hunter. A manageable nonconference schedule should have them in bowl contention, but this should be a step back from Mike Gundy’s last two teams.

10. Kansas State (15 starters back: 7 offensive, 6 defensive, 2 special teams). The Wildcats missed out on a bowl trip last season only because they scheduled two FCS teams, but they surprisingly challenged for the Big 12 North title up to their last game of the season. It might be tougher to do that this season, although Daniel Thomas will provide the foundation on offense. Carson Coffman has the inside track at quarterback, but keep an eye out for Oregon transfer Chris Harper at either that position or wide receiver. Players like Jeffrey Fitzgerald and John Houlik will be missed on defense, but all four starters are back in the secondary.

11. Colorado (16 starters back: 8 offensive, 7 defensive, 1 special teams). Dan Hawkins’ seat is the hottest in the Big 12 and arguably in college football after missing a bowl for a second straight season last year. Tyler Hansen returns as the starting quarterback, but the Buffaloes need to find some help in the backfield with only three scholarship backs in spring practice. The defense was young last season and should be improved, but will miss the leadership provided by Jeff Smart and Cha’pelle Brown. A bowl trip likely will be necessary to save Hawkins’ job and a tough nonconference schedule featuring games at California and against Hawaii and Georgia will prove troublesome even before Big 12 play begins.

12. Baylor (14 starters back: 6 offensive, 6 defensive, 2 special teams). The Bears’ hopes of stopping the conference’s longest bowl drought will hinge largely on the health of Robert Griffin, who is recovering from knee surgery that forced him to miss the final nine games of the 2009 season. New offensive lineman “Big” Robert Griffin will have to protect his quarterback if coach Art Briles has any hope of making a bowl trip. Jay Finley and Kendall Wright are underrated offensive threats, but the Bears will miss key defensive leaders like Joe Pawelek and Jordan Lake who were stalwarts for several years.

All-Big 12 bowl team dotted by seven Cornhuskers

January, 12, 2010
It was a forgettable bowl season for much of the Big 12.

But there were still enough top producers to fill out a team of top performers from the conference's 4-4 bowl season.

Here's a look at my top performers:


QB Landry Jones, Oklahoma: Passed for career-best 418 yards and added three passing TDs to direct Sooners’ Sun Bowl victory over Stanford.

RB Alexander Robinson, Iowa State: Rushed for 137 yards -- his sixth 100-yard game of the season -- to pace Cyclones’ victory over Minnesota in the Insight Bowl.

RB Baron Batch, Texas Tech: Rushed for 100 yards, scored two TDs and produced six receptions for 85 yards in Red Raiders’ comeback victory in the Alamo Bowl over Michigan State.

WR Jordan Shipley, Texas: Overcame slow start to produce 10 catches for 122 yards and two TDs against Alabama, becoming Texas’ leading career receiver.

WR Ryan Broyles, Oklahoma: Produced career-best totals of 13 receptions, 156 receiving yards and also matched career high with three TD receptions to help beat Stanford in the Sun Bowl.

TE Trent Ratterree, Oklahoma: Grabbed three receptions for 86 yards, including pivotal 38-yard catch that was Jones’ longest pass of game in Sun Bowl victory over Stanford.

OL Ricky Henry, Nebraska: Helped Cornhuskers dominate in the trenches in biggest Cornhuskers' bowl victory since 2000.

OL Kelechi Osemele, Iowa State: Dominant effort helped Cyclones claim first bowl victory since 2004 and only third bowl victory in school history.

OL Jacob Hickman, Nebraska: Cornhuskers’ center set the tone for easy victory over Arizona.

OL Brandon Carter, Texas Tech: Colorful lineman helped Tech roll up school bowl-record 31 first downs, 579 total yards against Michigan State.

OL Trent Williams, Oklahoma: All-American moved from tackle to center and didn’t miss a beat in the Sooners’ Sun Bowl triumph.


DL Sergio Kindle, Texas: Had his best game of the season with eight tackles, 2.5 sacks and 3.5 tackles for losses against Alabama.

DL Pierre Allen, Nebraska: Set the tone for Nebraska’s pass rush with two sacks, four tackles, forced a fumble and notched a quarterback hurry in the Cornhuskers’ shutout over Arizona -- first for a Big 12 team in a bowl game in conference history.

DL Christopher Lyle, Iowa State: Insight Bowl defensive MVP produced five tackles, including two for losses and one sack to lead Cyclones’ victory over Minnesota.

DL Rajon Henley, Texas Tech: Four tackles, four quarterback hurries, one sack against Michigan State.

LB Phillip Dillard, Nebraska: Produced team-high seven stops, broke up one pass in Cornhuskers’ shutout over Arizona.

LB Ryan Reynolds, Oklahoma: Produced 12 tackles (three solo, nine assists), two quarterback hurries and one tackle for loss against Stanford.

LB Andre Sexton, Oklahoma State: Produced 10 tackles, two interceptions and one tackle for a loss in Cotton Bowl loss to Mississippi.

DB Matt O’Hanlon, Nebraska: Earned Holiday Bowl defensive MVP honors with five stops, a 37-yard interception and a pass broken up against Arizona.

DB Ter’ran Benton, Iowa State: In his first game back after recovering from mid-season broken leg, notched five tackles and game-clinching fumble recovery in Cyclones’ Insight Bowl victory over Minnesota.

DB Jamar Wall, Texas Tech: Produced six tackles, broke up two passes and one interception against Michigan State.

DB Quinton Carter, Oklahoma: Notched eight stops (five tackles, three assists) and added an interception in Sun Bowl victory over Stanford.


P Quinn Sharp, Oklahoma State: Averaged 50.2 yards per punt on his eight punts, including four punts inside 20 in Cotton Bowl.

K Alex Henery, Nebraska: Converted all four field goals of 47, 50, 43 and 22 yards to set the Holiday Bowl record. His big night gave him a Nebraska single-season record of 24 for the season.

RET Niles Paul, Nebraska: The Holiday Bowl offensive MVP amassed 94 yards in returns, including a 49-yard kickoff return and a 28-yard punt return. He also added four catches for 123 yards, including a clinching 74-yard TD grab from Zac Lee.

Instant analysis: Ole Miss 21, Oklahoma State 7

January, 2, 2010
Oklahoma State’s hopes of claiming its first bowl victory since 2007 were undone by an embarrassing rash of fourth-quarter mistakes in the Cowboys’ 21-7 loss to Mississippi in the AT&T Cotton Bowl. Here’s a look at what went wrong for the Cowboys and right for the Rebels.

How the game was won: Ole Miss took advantage of six Oklahoma State turnovers on consecutive fourth-quarter possessions to blow the game open. The Rebels got the ball back via interceptions by free safety Kendrick Lewis on consecutive drives, followed by back-to-back fumble recoveries and then interceptions by Patrick Trahan and Fon Ingram during a run in which the Rebels scored the game’s final 14 points.

It’s notable: Ole Miss coach Houston Nutt becomes the first coach to win back-to-back Cotton Bowls since Lou Holtz at Notre Dame in 1993 and 1994.

Turning point: With about 9 minutes remaining in a tie game, OSU had the ball on the Ole Miss 19-yard line and appeared poised to claim the lead. Ole Miss defensive tackle Jerrell Powe looked to have obviously jumped offsides on a snap as he charged past OSU center Andrew Lewis before the snap was completed. Feeling that he had a free play, Robinson threw to the end zone, where he was intercepted by Lewis in the end zone. The Cowboys unraveled from that point in the game.

Player of the game: Oklahoma State’s defense was gearing to stop Ole Miss running back Dexter McCluster. And it still didn’t matter. McCluster rushed for 185 yards on 34 carries, including touchdown runs of 86 and 2 yards to account for both of the Rebel’s offensive touchdowns. He also produced five receptions for 45 yards, becoming the first player in Southeastern Conference history to account for 1,000 rushing yards and 500 receiving yards in the same season.

Unsung hero: Patrick Trahan capped the victory with two pivotal fourth-quarter plays. He recovered a fumble by OSU wide receiver Hubert Anyiam and returned it 34 yards for a touchdown to give the Rebels a 21-7 lead. He then provided an interception on OSU’s next possession to ice the victory.

Stat of the game: The two teams combined for 12 turnovers, but it didn't top the Cotton Bowl record of 13 that was set when Alabama claimed a 29-21 victory over Texas A&M on Jan. 1, 1942.

What it means: Oklahoma State failed to tie a school record with a 10th victory. The Cowboys’ late collapse in the final two games was a disappointment, but OSU overachieved considering their injury and suspension losses over the course of the season. The Cowboys lose key players like Robinson, Russell Okung, Keith Toston, Perrish Cox and starting linebackers Andre Sexton, Donald Booker and Patrick Lavin next season. But they will try to rebuild around a retooled offense that will should be centered around running back Kendall Hunter, who looked to regain his form Saturday after struggling with injuries all season.

Ole Miss didn’t achieve its preseason goal of contending for an SEC championship, but the Rebels claimed back-to-back 10-win seasons for the first time since 1959 and 1960. And they likely will have Jevan Snead back for another season as well.

Posted by's Tim Griffin

Mike Gundy was already worried about Houston only a few minutes after notching an impressive victory over Georgia last week.

The Cowboys' conquest sent fans celebrating into the streets of Stillwater after arguably the biggest nonconference victory in school history. It pushed Oklahoma State to No. 5 in the most recent AP media poll -- their highest national ranking in nearly 25 years.
 Joe Nicholson/US Presswire
 Mike Gundy didn't spend much time savoring the program's big win over Georgia.

That accomplishment only makes the Oklahoma State coach more wary that he won’t let his team overlook the underrated Cougars, the consensus preseason favorites of Conference USA’s West Division.

“Our toughest game will be our next one," Gundy said. "This team coming in here next, they'll be ready to play. They're not going to be concerned with [OSU's victory over Georgia]."

Other Oklahoma State teams have struggled in previous situations. But Gundy hopes his senior-laden team led by players like quarterback Zac Robinson, linebacker Andre Sexton and cornerback Perrish Cox should help this team refocus after the breakthrough triumph against the Bulldogs.

“You just never know as a coach,” Gundy said. “You always worry about the next game after you had a big win. There was so much put into this last one. But we do have some (veteran) guys that should be able to help with that.”

Gundy’s concern is understandable considering the Cougars’ last trip into Stillwater last season.

Houston quarterback Case Keenum blistered the Cowboys for 468 yards of total offense -- most by an Oklahoma State opponent last season -- to boost the Cougars to an early lead. But Dez Bryant produced four touchdowns during a wild spree of 49 Oklahoma State points during the final 31:23 of the game that sparked a 56-37 triumph.

“What we had to do to beat them last year reminded us about how tough they are,” Bryant said. “It was a tough game and we’ll be ready for them.”

Coming into the season, the Cowboys were a fashionable outside pick to challenge the Texas/Oklahoma logjam that has resulted in 10 straight Big 12 title-game appearances for either the Longhorns or Sooners. Their defensive effort against Georgia is a strong indicator that the Cowboys won’t be as reliant on shootouts as they have been in previous seasons.

The opening-game victory came despite a lackluster performance by the Oklahoma State offense and special teams. Those presumed strengths sputtered as the Cowboys won because of a sterling defensive effort.

After allowing Georgia to score on its opening possession, the Bulldogs were limited to a field goal the rest of the game as they produced only 177 yards.

That effort has given the Cowboys confidence they will be ready for another shot at containing Keenum’s high-powered offensive attack. The Houston quarterback led the nation in total offense last season and picked up where he left off in the Cougars' season-0pening win over Northwestern State by accounting for five touchdowns.

"The stakes are way higher now," Oklahoma State defensive tackle Shane Jarka told the Tulsa World. "We've set a standard for the defense now, and we can only go higher. We're not going back."

The defensive performance provides Gundy with some assurance about his team, despite the challenges he expects from the Cougars on Saturday.

“Offensively, we played very sloppy,” Gundy said. “The special teams played sloppy. But we were still able to find a way to win the game which is important. Our team is starting to learn how to win.”

Posted by's Tim Griffin

We caught up with Oklahoma State linebacker Andre Sexton for a few minutes earlier this week before the Cowboys’ big opener Saturday against Georgia. Here are some of his thoughts heading into the game.

How has it been getting back to the media earlier this week after the blackout a couple of weeks ago?
 WD/Icon SMI
 Andre Sexton is well aware of the hype surrounding Saturday’s game.
AS: It’s been great. Doing all of these media interviews let me know the game is really here. As we continue leading up to the week, I’m sure it will keep getting crazy. There will be more people, more stuff on Facebook. I can’t wait.

What have you been reading on Facebook about the game? Anything interesting?

AS: I had to update my status as soon as Georgia was coming. Everybody is commenting on it. People are saying they can’t wait for the game. I can’t blame them. I’m getting great support from people all over. I’m getting excited, too.

I know you’ve never really minded the media obligations. What was it like to spend those 10 days just concentrating on football?

AS: We put a lot of work in practice during that time and everybody was relaxed and cool. It was a little difficult doing your stuff on the field and then spending the next 30 to 45 minutes doing your media stuff. With the week off, it gave us the opportunity to stay focused about our game coming up and get ready for the challenges we’ll be facing against Georgia.

What do you think you’ll see from Georgia? Do you think they will try to physically pound the ball right at you?

AS: I definitely think so. With their young quarterback [Joe Cox], I think they will try to run the ball down our throats and see if we can stop them. We are going to have to be fundamentally sound and physical enough to put ourselves in good situations to see what they can do in the long-yardage situations. That will be a key for us.

A lot of people are saying this might be the biggest opening game in the history of your school and one of the biggest games ever played on your campus. Do you agree?

AS: I think everybody here is ready for the challenge. We’ve been hearing about all of this for so long. We’re ready to prove ourselves and change the way we are perceived. Everybody sees the new stuff at the stadium. All of our new surroundings have changed the way that people are looking at Oklahoma State. The next step is building our defense. We’re going to take it personally to try to do it.

Some of your teammates have vowed to be tougher after some of your struggles in the second half against Oregon in last season’s Holiday Bowl. Is this a ‘put up or shut up game’ for the program?

AS: I think it’s obvious for us to prove that we are a real program. This is a chance to try to change what people saw in that bowl game. They saw we were physically overmatched in the second half. We want to try to change that.

How much have you been thinking about this game?

AS: That’s something we’ve been working on from the first day we started our offseason work. We’re getting antsy about it.

What has the arrival of Bill Young (Oklahoma State’s new offensive coordinator) meant to your defense?

AS: He hasn’t had to talk much to the defense as a whole. Coach Young has focused on the defensive line, which is where he has done wonders. He’s simplified things to show them how to destroy blocks and create constant pressure.

The thing that hurt us last year was that we would get into the backfield and then we couldn’t finish. With the defensive line’s help this year that won’t be a problem.

He’s also talked to us about being consistent for four quarters. Coach Young being here has helped. But we also know what it takes. And we’re going to put it together on Saturday.

Posted by's Tim Griffin

Oklahoma State quarterback Zac Robinson was amazed during an outing last weekend at the excitement his team’s upcoming game with Georgia already was generating.

Ticket scalpers had set up shop on the streets of Stillwater, six full days before Saturday’s kickoff.

“This is the earliest I’ve ever seen anybody doing that,” Robinson said. “It was amazing to see that kind of interest so early in the week. I just started laughing when I saw it.”

Oklahoma State coach Mike Gundy learned about that early buzz when he took his oldest son, Gavin, to Wal-Mart late one night last week. While there, it seemed fellow customers were more interested in his football team than finding bargains at the store.

“In Stillwater, everywhere you go, that’s all everybody is talking about,” Gundy said. “Everybody that walks by, that’s all they talk about. It’s good there’s a lot of excitement in the community.”

Such attention isn’t unexpected for a game that is considered to be the biggest season-opening game in school history. A record crowd of nearly 60,000 is expected to attend the game at the recently refurbished Boone Pickens Stadium.

The Cowboys’ lofty preseason national ranking is the highest in school history. They are receiving unprecedented national attention as many perceive them a contenders for the Big 12 South title.

“I think everybody is ready for the challenge,” Oklahoma State linebacker Andre Sexton said. “We’ve been hearing about it for so long that we need to step up and show what we’ve got as a program. We’re ready to prove ourselves to the nation and how we are perceived.”

The Cowboys started turning heads last season when they started 8-1. But they fell apart late, dropping four of their last six games including a disappointing 42-31 loss to Oregon in the Holiday Bowl.

Since then, Gundy has hired veteran defensive coordinator Bill Young to retool a defense that allowed 56, 61 and 42 points in three late losses last season and ranked last in the conference in sacks. Young is revered in the Big 12 after serving as the architect of the Kansas defense that helped boost the Jayhawks into the Orange Bowl in 2007.

The return of Robinson, wide receiver Dez Bryant and Big 12 leading rusher Kendall Hunter also have helped boost excitement to a fever pitch.

"I've not been in a situation where we've had this much national attention," Gundy said. “I do worry about it. I don’t know what we can do other than practice hard and stay focused as a staff."

Gundy has also faced challenges this week after starting cornerback Perrish Cox was arrested for driving with a suspended license and tight end Jamal Mosley quit the team after he was slapped with a restraining order by a Stillwater woman.

And most significantly, middle linebacker Orie Lemon suffered a torn knee ligament in Monday’s practice that could cause him to miss the upcoming season.

Despite those issues, Gundy is eager to gauge his team in what could be a huge statement game for his program.

A victory will stamp them as a legitimate Big 12 South contender. A loss means they are just another overhyped team in the preseason.

“There’s no question [the preseason attention] affects you. It just does,” Gundy said. “There’s been more coverage, more talk and excitement than any time since I’ve been around and I go back to the mid-1980s.

“All that can factor in. But I just hope when we kick it off on Saturday, everything will settle down and the guys will go out and play hard.”

Posted by's Tim Griffin

IRVING, Texas -- Watching the video of the Holiday Bowl isn't a very pleasant for Oklahoma State linebacker Andre Sexton or many of his teammates.

The Cowboys still cringe when they watch Oregon charge through them in the second half to claim a 42-31 comeback victory, ripping though their defense for 307 rushing yards and 7.7 yards per carry as the Ducks charged back from a 10-point halftime deficit.  

"It really was embarrasing," Oklahoma State linebacker Andre Sexton said. "It really was embarrasing because that quarterback (Oregon's Jeremiah Masoli) made our players look like they had never made a tackle before. That was pretty sad."

But that disappointment helped spur a tougher attitude for the Cowboys all spring. Sexton said that late collapse has spurred them throughout their workouts.  

"You get back to the fundamentals of tackling," Sexton said. "You've got to take away what you can and continue to grow and get motivated for the next season. It's been emphasized every day during spring ball. We've gotten back to smash-mouth football -- the roots of good hard-nosed football."

OSU coach Mike Gundy said that having another team dominate his team late in the game brought a significant attitude change for his team.

"What happened to us against Oregon is they hit harder than we did and were tougher than we were in the fourth quarter," Gundy said. "Up front they beat us on both sides of the ball. As a staff we were very disappointed in ourselves in our preparation. And our players were disappointed they outhit us in the fourth quarter."

That game has sparked a point of emphasis for the Cowboys over the last several months.

"I was a quarterback, but I always played with Pat Jones," Gundy said. "Toughness and discipline and structure and being hard-nosed is important to me. That's not been an issue of us being outhit most times. We've been a tough football team, but we weren't in that football game."

One OSU player who Gundy can't fault in that game was OSU quarterback Zac Robinson, who sustained a separated shoulder early in the third quarter but remained in the game.

"I threw about 50 in the game and probably 20 of them came after the injury," Robinson said. "It hurt every time and I had no arm strength. My arm was done after that. I could throw it 35 yards, but it didn't have much zip on it."

Despite the injury, Robinson was determined to remain in the game and was there until the end as he threw a career-high 50 passes.

"I just kept struggling through it and telling them I was fine," Robinson said, chuckling.

Posted by's Tim Griffin

Here's a look at the Big 12's most pressing early concerns as teams break for the summer for a couple of weeks before returning in June to begin conditioning drills to prepare for the upcoming season:

1. Can Texas find a running game? The Longhorns are still looking for a featured back after no player really emerged during the spring. Cody Johnson had the best early production before he was slowed late in training camp with a hamstring injury. Neither Vondrell McGee or Fozzy Whittaker jumped forward during the spring. Heralded freshman Chris Whaley will get his chance once fall practice begins, but likely won't be counted on early. But filling the hole is important. The Longhorns desperately need somebody as they likely can't challenge for a national championship if Colt McCoy again is their leading rusher.

2. Is Oklahoma's offensive line capable of playing at a level to win conference championships and beyond? After being called out before spring practice for its lack of diligence in conditioning, Oklahoma's offensive line had an uneven spring practice. Four new starters need to emerge along with Trent Williams, who returns and moves to left tackle to protect Sam Bradford's blind side. The unit's growth will determine much of the Sooners' offensive success -- even with the return of talented skill-position players like Bradford, Chris Brown, DeMarco Murray, Jermaine Gresham and Ryan Broyles already in place.

3. Is Oklahoma State's defense really good enough to compete for the Big 12 title? Veteran defensive coordinator Bill Young was counted on to boost production in a unit that didn't seem ready late last year after being blistered for averages of 58.5 points and 593 yards per game in late-season losses to Texas Tech and Oklahoma. The Cowboys have another season of experience and some strong individual players like Perrish Cox and Andre Sexton. But unless they find a pass rush, their hopes of challenging for their first Big 12 South title will be dubious.

4. Can Kansas find linebackers who will enable them to contain Big 12 defenses? The Jayhawks lost three capable playmaking linebackers in James Holt, Mike Rivera and Joe Mortensen from last season. Coach Mark Mangino has hinted that he's considering a 4-2-5 alignment to better combat the Big 12's spread offenses. But he still has to hope that Jake Schermer and Arist Wright prove to be capable replacements -- or it could be a long season for the Jayhawks against their tough schedule of Big 12 South power teams like Oklahoma, Texas and Texas Tech.

5. How much will Texas Tech miss Graham Harrell and Michael Crabtree? Most are thinking that the loss of Harrell and Crabtree will be too much for the Red Raiders to overcome. But Texas Tech coach Mike Leach has quietly -- at least for him -- maintained that he likes his current group of replacements. Taylor Potts will have more experience coming into the program than any of the one-year players who preceded Harrell. All that group (Sonny Cumbie, B.J. Symons and Cody Hodges) did was average nearly 4,943 yards and 38.3 touchdown passes per season in their only season starting, so maybe Leach's comments should be considered. And at wide receiver, the Red Raiders won't have the overall star power of Crabtree, but will still have capable replacements in players like Detron Lewis, Lyle Leong, Edward Britton, Alex Torres, Adrian Reese and Tramain Swindall who should be ready.

Posted by's Tim Griffin

No. 1

Now, we're finally at the top player.

After counting down the Big 12's best over the last 39 days, is there any real question who the conference's ultimate player is?

Oklahoma quarterback Sam Bradford's career has been memorable over his first two seasons. He's already become the only player in Big 12 history to lead his team to back-to-back championships.

After winning the Heisman Trophy last season, most draft observers thought he would declare for the draft, collect his millions in a pro contract and leave college behind.

The Sooners' disappointing losses in back-to-back BCS losses have stung Bradford and brought him back for more this season.

Whether his draft status will be affected is debatable. He'll be playing behind a green offensive line that will feature four new starters and he'll be throwing to a new group of wide receivers.

It likely will give him a different perspective after his first two seasons.

But if it pays off with a national championship, it will all be worth it for him.

Player: Sam Bradford
Team: Oklahoma
Position: Quarterback
Vitals: 6-foot-4, 218 pounds; Jr.; Oklahoma City, Okla. (Putnam City North)

Why he was picked: Bradford had a superlative season in winning his Heisman last season, leading the nation in touchdown passes (50) and passing efficiency (180.84). He also set the school record for single-game passing yards with 468 against Kansas and set the school career record for touchdown passes (86) Other honors he received last season included the Davey O'Brien Award, the Sammy Baugh Trophy, the Chic Harley Award and the Associated Press and Sporting News' first-team All-American. His numbers bordered on the amazing at times last season as he threw five TD passes in four different games and notched 11 300-yard passing games. But most importantly, he's led the Sooners to Big 12 championships in both of his seasons as a starter.

What 2009 will hold: Bradford unabashedly says his return was influenced by the Sooners' BCS national title game loss to Florida. He'll have a chance to become the first back-to-back Heisman Trophy winner since Archie Griffin in 1974-75. But he'll be doing it with a completely different supporting cast as the Sooners break in two new starting wide receivers and four new offensive linemen. It will give Bradford a chance to expand his leadership roles and perhaps show other facets of his game. He rarely has been pressured in Big 12 games and that will likely change this season behind the rebuilt line. He'll also have a chance to show off his arm in a different way with the new receivers. It wouldn't be a surprise if his statistics fall off a little this season - both because of the flux among his pass catchers and the return of two potent running weapons like DeMarco Murray and Chris Brown. But if the Sooners claim the national title, Bradford won't be complaining.

The countdown:

2. Texas QB Colt McCoy
3. Oklahoma State WR-KR Dez Bryant
4. Oklahoma TE Jermaine Gresham
5. Baylor QB Robert Griffin
6. Nebraska DT Ndamukong Suh
7. Oklahoma DT Gerald McCoy
8. Oklahoma State RB Kendall Hunter
9. Oklahoma LB Travis Lewis
10. Kansas QB Todd Reesing
11. Oklahoma RB-KR DeMarco Murray
12. Oklahoma State T Russell Okung
13. Texas DE-LB Sergio Kindle
14. Oklahoma T Trent Williams
15. Missouri LB Sean Weatherspoon
16. Baylor LB Joe Pawelek
17. Oklahoma State QB Zac Robinson
18. Texas WR-KR Jordan Shipley
19. Oklahoma RB Chris Brown
20. Nebraska I-back Roy Helu Jr.
21. Texas Tech DT Colby Whitlock
22. Kansas WR-KR Dezmon Briscoe
23. Oklahoma DE Jeremy Beal
24. Kansas S Darrell Stuckey
25. Texas Tech RB Baron Batch
26. Kansas QB-WR Kerry Meier
27. Texas T Adam Ulatoski
28. Oklahoma State LB Andre Sexton
29. Missouri G Kurtis Gregory
30. Missouri RB Derrick Washington
31. Texas Tech LB Brian Duncan
32. Texas S Earl Thomas
33. Kansas State WR-KR Brandon Banks
34. Oklahoma LB Keenan Clayton
35. Baylor S Jordan Lake
36. Oklahoma State CB-KR Perrish Cox
37. Texas C Chris Hall
38. Texas Tech DE-DT McKinner Dixon
39. Kansas State DE Brandon Harold
40. Oklahoma FB Matt Clapp

Posted by's Tim Griffin

No. 21

Texas Tech nose tackle Colby Whitlock has some unusual talents for a nose tackle.

You can tell something is a little out of of the ordinary will be found with Whitlock, considering his uniform number is 6. He's the only Big 12 nose tackle with his uniform in single digits.

Whitlock, a former standout high-school heavyweight wrestler, is a vital cog in the Red Raiders' defensive transformation last season that carried them to a three-way share of the Big 12 South Division title.

His quickness and brute strength are his best attributes. But an underrated talent that is noticeable is his footwork.

There will be more demands on Whitlock and the Tech defense after the Red Raiders' offensive losses from last season. It will be interesting if he can improve and help take them to another level.

Player: Colby Whitlock
Team: Texas Tech
Position: Nose tackle
Vitals: 6-foot-2, 281 pounds; Jr.; Noble, Okla.

Why he was picked: Like most nose tackles, Whitlock's true value can't be judged merely by looking at statistics. While typically battling two blockers, Whitlock helped control the middle of the line of scrimmage on Tech's improving defense. He notched 26 tackles and 39 total stops, including 5½ stops for a loss, a pass deflection, a blocked kick and a sack. Those efforts enabled him to earn second-team sophomore All-America honors from College Football News. His bullish pass rush helped the Tech defense set the tone in the upset victory over Texas and continued throughout the season.

What 2009 will hold: Whitlock must help key defensive improvement in the Red Raiders. The Red Raiders' defensive growth was one of the major story lines of the Big 12 in 2008 before a late collapse against Oklahoma and Mississippi in the Cotton Bowl that led to two late losses after a 10-0 start. Without offensive weapons like Graham Harrell, Michael Crabtree and Shannon Woods this season, Whitlock and his defensive mates need to take another step. If they don't, it might be a long season in West Texas for Red Raider fans.

The countdown:

22. Kansas WR-KR Dezmon Briscoe
23. Oklahoma DE Jeremy Beal
24. Kansas S Darrell Stuckey
25. Texas Tech RB Baron Batch
26. Kansas WR-QB Kerry Meier
27. Texas T Adam Ulatoski
28. Oklahoma State S Andre Sexton
29. Missouri G Kurtis Gregory
30. Missouri RB Derrick Washington
31. Texas Tech LB Brian Duncan
32. Texas S Earl Thomas
33. Kansas State WR Brandon Banks
34. Oklahoma LB Keenan Clayton
35. Baylor S Jordan Lake
36. Oklahoma State CB/KR Perrish Cox
37. Texas C Chris Hall
38. Texas Tech DE/DT McKinner Dixon
39. Kansas State DE Brandon Harold
40. Oklahoma FB Matt Clapp

Posted by's Tim Griffin

No. 22

In only two seasons, Dezmon Briscoe has developed into one of the most explosive players in Kansas football history.

Now, if the Jayhawks could be absolutely sure he'll be playing for them this fall.

Earlier this spring, Kansas coach Mark Mangino suspended Briscoe for all of their practices so far for an undisclosed violation of team rules. He still isn't back yet heading into the Jayhawks' spring game Saturday afternoon.

It's hard to imagine the Jayhawks being able to contend for the North Division championship if Briscoe isn't a big part. It would be hard to fathom if Briscoe doesn't fulfill whatever demands that Mangino has for him to rejoin the team.

Player: Dezmon Briscoe
Team: Kansas
Position: Wide receiver/kick returner
Vitals: 6-foot-3, 200 pounds; Jr.; Dallas (Cedar Hill)

Why he was picked: Briscoe blossomed into one of the Big 12's most explosive players last season, snagging 92 passes for team-high totals for 1,407 yards and 15 touchdown receptions. He also set the school's single-game record with 269 receiving yards against Oklahoma - a total that was the nation's single-game high last season for FBS teams. He also and tied the single-game record with 14 catches in the Jayhawks' Insight Bowl triumph over Minnesota.

Briscoe already has broken the school career mark for touchdown receptions after only two seasons. And he showed flashes of being able to counteract one of Kansas' biggest weaknesses when he produced 195 yards in kickoff returns in Kansas' final regular-season game to spark the upset over Missouri.

What 2009 will hold: First, he's got to get back in Mangino's good graces. But if he does that, it's not unimaginable that Briscoe could develop into one of the nation's most explosive players. Considering he has another season of experience in coordinator Ed Warinner's offense and Todd Reesing back throwing passes, it wouldn't be out of the question that Briscoe could grab more than 100 passes and produce 1,600 receiving yards. And if he continues his late-season success running back kicks, he might emerge as one of the biggest keys in the Jayhawks' Big 12 title hopes.

The countdown: 

23. Oklahoma DE Jeremy Beal
24. Kansas S Darrell Stuckey
25. Texas Tech RB Baron Batch
26. Kansas WR-QB Kerry Meier
27. Texas T Adam Ulatoski
28. Oklahoma State S Andre Sexton
29. Missouri G Kurtis Gregory
30. Missouri RB Derrick Washington
31. Texas Tech LB Brian Duncan
32. Texas S Earl Thomas
33. Kansas State WR Brandon Banks
34. Oklahoma LB Keenan Clayton
35. Baylor S Jordan Lake
36. Oklahoma State CB/KR Perrish Cox
37. Texas C Chris Hall
38. Texas Tech DE/DT McKinner Dixon
39. Kansas State DE Brandon Harold
40. Oklahoma FB Matt Clapp

Posted by's Tim Griffin

STILLWATER, Okla. -- Bill Young feels like he's finally back home again.

  Sean Meyers/Icon SMI
  Bill Young is excited about returning to his alma mater.

The veteran defensive coach remembers when attending Oklahoma State more than 40 years ago that Stillwater was "pretty barren." It was long before the chain restaurants starting flocking there and even before venerable local institution Eskimo Joe's opened for business.

But coming back to his old stomping grounds has other benefits for the 62-year-old Young other than reconnecting with his past. His wife has family in the area. Young says he's long felt most comfortable here after a nomadic experience that has taken him to nine programs and one NFL franchise since starting his college coaching career with the Cowboys in 1976.

"This is a great opportunity to come back," said Young, who was hired after a year as defensive coordinator on Randy Shannon's staff at Miami. "There were a lot of reasons I considered, but one of them is that this program looks like it's really ready to explode."

Young saw the recent improvements to facilities at his alma mater as a big attraction. And OSU's impressive 9-4 record last season caught his eye, too.

"When you win nine games, that's a fantastic season," Young said. "And after having played them over the years, I always thought it was a heck of place with a lot of potential. It was a no-brainer for me."

The wily veteran coordinator will have his work cut out as he attempts to transform a defensive unit that allowed at least 400 yards in eight games last season and ranked 93rd nationally in total defense and 109th in pass defense.

With a strong returning offensive nucleus, it will be up to Young's defense to provide the improvement that could boost the Cowboys into contention for the program's first Big 12 South title and first BCS bowl berth.

"I don't think there's any question we have the talent to win here," Young said. "We've got a tremendous offense and we're much better on defense that people want to give us credit for. I've only been here a couple of months, but as an outsider coming it, it's a neat situation."

(Read full post)

Posted by's Tim Griffin

Here are my helmet stickers for Saturday.

Texas wide receiver Jordan Shipley - Produced a career-best 11 receptions for 112 yards and a touchdown and also added a 96-yard kickoff return for another score to spark Texas' 45-35 victory over Oklahoma.

Texas defensive end Brian Orakpo - Notched six tackles, including four for losses, forced a fumble and produced two sacks in the Longhorns' upset over Oklahoma.

Oklahoma State safety/linebacker Andre Sexton - Amassed 13 tackles and an interception leading the Cowboys' 28-23 upset over Missouri.

Texas Tech safety Jamar Wall - Produced a game-saving interception, seven tackles and broke up a pass to help the Red Raiders escape with a 37-31 overtime victory over Nebraska.

Kansas State quarterback Josh Freeman - Rushed for 95 yards and four touchdowns and passed for 234 yards to lead the Wildcats' 44-30 victory over Texas A&M.

It was a tough choice as always. Honorable mention goes to Kansas running back Jake Sharp, Baylor quarterback Robert Griffin and Texas quarterback Colt McCoy.

Posted by's Tim Griffin

Most observers are expecting a lot of points Saturday night at Faurot Field -- a game that could resemble an Arena Football League shootout considering the explosive offenses of Missouri and Oklahoma State.

It's understandable why, considering some of the numbers coming into the game. The Tigers rank second in scoring and the Cowboys are third. Missouri's defense is 83rd overall in total defense and 114th in pass defense. Oklahoma State's is 114th in sacks and 116th in tackles for losses.

Even with those daunting indicators, OSU linebacker Patrick Lavine says he doesn't care what dire defensive predictions are floating around days before the game.

"That doesn't bother us. The defense is going to go out there and play as hard as we can regardless of what is being said," Lavine said. "We've progressed so much from day 1 to where we are now. We're building some confidence and I think we'll show it when we get our chance."

The Cowboys' improved defensive work has been one of the biggest surprises in OSU's 5-0 start that's its best since 2004.

The OSU defense went into a feeding frenzy in its 56-28 victory over Texas A&M, providing five first-half turnovers and three three-and-outs to spark the early knockout.

"Our staff has really done a good job in the last nine months of building on the success we had in the bowl game and bringing the team together and really making [sure] they understood what we were trying to accomplish Xs and Os wise," OSU coach Mike Gundy said. "The players have rallied together in running to the football."

(Read full post)

Posted by's Tim Griffin

New Nebraska coach Bo Pelini's attitude is all about swagger. But it's hard to build that kind of confidence playing some of the weak sisters that will dot his future nonconference schedules.

It seems that Pelini isn't exactly excited about the schedule he inherited from former athletic director Steve Pederson and former coach Bill Callahan.

Nebraska assistant athletic director for football Jeff Jamrog told the Omaha World-Herald that he's actively seeking upcoming games -- and only against Division I opponents.

The Cornhuskers will be playing Florida Atlantic, Louisiana-Lafayette and Arkansas State next season, and Western Kentucky, Idaho and Football Championship Subdivision power South Dakota State in 2010.

"It looks like they wanted to schedule a bunch of wins," Jamrog said. "We can't do anything about it. We can't do anything about the guarantees that were set, unless you want to cancel the contracts. But we aren't interested in doing that."

Pelini is in favor of taking on all comers in the future.

"That's what the fans want to see," Pelini said. "That's the shame of the BCS. Fans aren't seeing the games they used to see in September. We want to play those games. I don't want to shy away from anyone."

Assuredly, this is very refreshing attitude for a new football coaching staff to have. But something tells me that Pelini will prefer his schedule of Western Michigan, New Mexico State and San Jose State this season before facing Virginia Tech than if he had switched to a tougher one.

Hope that Pelini is up to the challenge of tackling a few morning links, too.

  • Versatile WR Quan Cosby has had to argue to convince Texas coach Mack Brown to use him as a punt returner in the past. But his role looks assured heading into this season.
  • Converted QB Jeremy Sanders has thrived at his new position at RB, Waco Tribune-Herald reporter John Werner writes.
  • Colorado LB Jon Major, one of the top two in-state recruits for Colorado last season, has been lost for the season after tearing his anterior cruciate ligament.
  • One of the real treats of covering the Big 12 each week is Kansas City Star beat writer Mike DeArmond's priceless Vlog from Missouri's camp. But how come I always think of "Sex, Lies and Videotape" when I watch his sometimes brutal weekly assessments of the Tigers?
  • Kansas State DE Ian Campbell is back at his original position after an abortive stab at linebacker last season. I wonder what took KSU coaches so long to move him back, comparing his performance last season to the previous one.
  • Texas Tech QB Graham Harrell showed quick dexterity with the new clock rules, running a no-huddle offense during all of his snaps in the Red Raiders' first scrimmage. Harrell needed only 14 plays to produce three 60-yard scoring drives, the Lubbock Avalanche-Journal reported.
  • Converted RB Cody Glenn is getting a few extra tips in his conversion to linebacker from a long-lost relative, legendary former Nebraska LB Broderick "The Sandman" Thomas.
  • Joe Kines, a 64-year-old coaching veteran with 40 years of experience, is facing an ultimate challenge of trying to resuscitate Texas A&M's "Wrecking Crew" defense, Brent Zwerneman of the San Antonio Express-News reports. 
  • It seems Oklahoma coach Bob Stoops is a big fan of the Olympics. "All of them, I like watching all of it," Stoops told the Oklahoman.  "What's so neat about it is you get that one moment to be at your best. That's what I love about boxing as well. You get that one shot. And if you happen to have over-trained, or you don't hit it just right..." Sounds a bit like playing in a bowl game, doesn't it?
  • Oklahoma State WR Jeremy Broadway appears to be making the most of his last chance with the Cowboys after his suspension last November.
  • Tulsa World reporter John Hoover wonders if Oklahoma WR Juaquin Iglesias is the most underappreciated player in the Sooners' football history. Hoover's statistics make a good case.
  • Veteran Nebraska offensive line coach Barney Cotton told Lincoln Journal-Star that his current group might be the deepest in talent he's ever coached.
  • Brandon George of the Dallas Morning News profiles Oklahoma's defense. Buried deep in the story is the quote of the day from Oklahoma defensive coordinator Brent Venables, who isn't exactly enthusiastic about the development of his young linebacking corps. I'm not ready to puke yet," Venables said.
  • Tulsa World columnist Dave Sittler said Kansas' rapid ascension last year is providing hope to Oklahoma State players. "After what Kansas did last year, everybody realizes just how close the Big 12 [race] is and no games are given to you anymore," Oklahoma LB/S Andre Sexton said. "We're pretty much in the same situation now as they [the Jayhawks] were in last season."
  • Construction-worker-turned OLB Mike Balogun has been thrust into the mix as Oklahoma scrambles for a replacement for injured Austin Box.
  • If new Troy WR Josh Jarboe is declared immediately eligible at Troy, he still might play in the state of Oklahoma this season. The Trojans will face Oklahoma State Sept. 27 in Stillwater.
  • Tom Timmerman of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch breaks down the battle to replace Tony Temple in the Missouri backfield. Sophomore Derrick Washington from the strangely-named hometown of Peculiar, Mo., appears to have nailed down the starting job -- mainly because of his receiving skills. "
  • 5-foot-6 freshman RB Rodney Stewart is t
    urning heads
    at Colorado's practice -- despite his diminutive size and the presence of heralded RB Darrell Scott in the Buffaloes' camp. And along with fellow freshman Ray Polk, all apparently will receive playing time this season.