NCF Nation: Barry Sanders

When Ameer Abdullah weighed whether to enter the NFL draft or return to Nebraska for his senior season, he didn't do much external research on comparable players.

[+] EnlargeMelvin Gordon
Reese Strickland/USA TODAY SportsLike his friend Ameer Abdullah, Wisconsin's Melvin Gordon wants to leave his mark on the Badgers.
He looked at his own family and how all eight of his older siblings had earned their college degrees (in some cases, advanced degrees, too). He considered the free education he could complete at Nebraska. He took the realistic and refreshing position that at some point, his body wouldn't allow him to play football, and he needed to fall back on his education.

The other top FBS running backs declaring for the draft early didn't enter Abdullah's mind. There was only one outside resource Abdullah consulted, a friend who played the same position with similar success at another Big Ten school, and who had faced the same decision. Wisconsin running back Melvin Gordon already had announced he would return as a fourth-year junior. As Abdullah neared his decision earlier this month, he reached out often to Gordon.

"That's one person I talk to all the time about things like this," Abdullah told ESPN.com. "Melvin, he's one of my best friends. He's a good guy, and he was in a similar situation as me. He's also coming back, and I'm glad he is.

"We get to play them next year, and it's going to be a great matchup."

Abdullah and Gordon, who first met a high school all-star game in South Carolina in 2010 and have been good friends ever since, both are returning to the Big Ten for the 2014 season. A record-setting 98 underclassmen entered the 2014 NFL draft, 25 more than last year, the previous record. The list includes 20 running backs. Although a portion of the early entries either received bad advice or made bad decisions and won't be drafted, running back has long been regarded as the position to make a jump as soon as possible because of the physical toll it takes to play the position and its typically shorter career span.

There's little doubt both Gordon and Abdullah could have turned pro. Gordon led the nation in rushing for a stretch in September and finished with 1,609 rushing yards and 12 touchdowns despite sharing carries with James White. Abdullah led the Big Ten and ranked ninth nationally in rushing yards with 1,690, which included 11 100-yard rushing performances in 13 games.

So why did the two say no to the draft?

"It just shows how much we care about our teams and how much we want to be the guy," Gordon said. "Ameer was the guy, but like I said before, it's about leaving a legacy. I'm sure that's what he wants to do as well. He wants to be considered one of the top backs, along with me, before he leaves, and that's a big thing, leaving something behind."

Gordon sought input from the NFL draft advisory board before announcing his decision to return, and he encouraged Abdullah to do the same. Although Abdullah didn't directly tell Gordon he planned to return before making a formal announcement, Gordon always had the sense Abdullah would be back at Nebraska.

"He's ambitious, just like I am," Abdullah said. "I feel like I have a lot more left in my ceiling that I have to reach. Melvin is the same way. He wants to come back and improve on his game, just like I do."

Pass blocking is undoubtedly the priority for Gordon during the offseason. It was a struggle for him at times last season, and even though he felt he improved, Wisconsin's coaches went with the more reliable White on passing downs.

"If you want to be an all-purpose back, you've got to get adjusted from the start," he said. "It didn't happen that quickly with me and that's why James was there. That's what I have to work on, just getting more comfortable in pass protection."

Gordon also hopes to bulk up a bit to 215 pounds after playing last season at around 205 (he's currently plateauing at 208-209). He wants to be Wisconsin's primary ball-carrier but expects to be pushed by Corey Clement, who had 547 rushing yards and seven touchdowns on just 67 carries as a freshman last fall -- similar numbers to Gordon's freshman campaign (62 rushes, 621 yards).

Abdullah logged 281 carries in 2013 and will again be in a featured role as a senior. Although many already consider Abdullah a team leader, he wants to enhance his vocal presence to "set the standards" for younger Huskers players.

Despite 549 career carries at Nebraska, the 5-9, 190-pound Abdullah isn't concerned about the injury risk of another year in college or the chatter from agents and others that running backs often slide in the draft if they return to school.

"It's all about your running style, really," he said. "A lot of guys run a certain way where they're vulnerable to getting hit directly. Other guys maneuver themselves so they won't take direct shots. You look at a guy like Barry Sanders. He was great at that. He never took that direct shot.

"I've always tried to change my ways or look at different technique schemes to prolong my career."

His Nebraska career will culminate with another run at an elusive league title. To do so, Abdullah and his teammates likely will have to get past Gordon and the Badgers on Nov. 15 in Madison, Wis.

Nebraska's last appearance at Camp Randall Stadium, its first league game in the Big Ten, did not go well.

"That's definitely one I circled," Gordon said. "I'm excited for it. I do compete with Ameer a lot. After every game, I'm checking to see what he got. I'm pretty sure he's doing the same thing. He definitely pushes me, and I'll push him to be great as well."

The Big Ten's top two runners are back for 2014, setting up an exciting race for the rushing title.

"The work starts now," Abdullah said, "so he better be working."

Q&A: Stanford's Mike Bloomgren

June, 19, 2013
6/19/13
11:00
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When Stanford coach David Shaw went looking for an offensive coordinator, he didn't look far, promoting Mike Bloomgren a couple of weeks after Pep Hamilton left for that role with the Indianapolis Colts. No other candidates were interviewed. Bloomgren, who was previously the Cardinal's offensive-line coach and run-game coordinator, took some time this week to chat with the Pac-12 blog about his expectations for this season (realistic or otherwise), the competition at running back and how his time in the NFL translates to the college game.

What would you like to see out of the offense in your first year as coordinator?

Mike Bloomgren: Well, probably average between eight or nine yards per carry, have zero incompletions and win every game we play.

Well played. What would you realistically like to see?

MB: I just want to see us keep getting better as a football team. I love the steps we've taken. I'm so proud of the way our guys work and how they fight and fight and fight. I want to keep seeing that mentality and hopefully they keep seeing that in the way we play. From an efficiency standpoint, protect the football and do all the things we talk about being the core of this offense.

What goes into game planning at Stanford? I know there were times when coach Shaw would call the plays and Pep would call plays and you'd call the plays. How much collaboration really goes into it?

MB: A lot. It was as segmented of a deal as I've ever been a part of when I first got here. And from what I understand, it was worse before I got here. Last year, it was segmented, but it worked out so freaking good. So much better than I thought possible. The reasons are very simple. We're experts in our field. There wasn't much that surprised me run-game-wise from the fronts and the defensive structure. I felt like I had a good beat on teams. I thought Pep and David and (running-backs coach) Mike Sanford had a good understanding for what the defense was going to do. David was all in on third down. He's so great at calling that. Pep in the red zone has been lights-out the last few years. It's great. It's a different system. The way I understand is it stems from coach Shaw working with Jon Gruden and Bill Callahan and how they did things when they came over to Oakland from Philly together. Jon was involved in calling the plays, but when he wanted to run, he asked coach Callahan. Hopefully I was able to be that for Dave the last few years.

There's so much NFL influence on this coaching staff -- you included from your time with the Jets. How much of the NFL game translates to what you guys want to do?

[+] EnlargeMike Bloomgren
Kyle Terada/USA TODAY SportsMike Bloomgren will have a diverse group of running backs at his disposal in his first season as Stanford's offensive coordinator.
MB: It's unbelievable how much translates, in terms of the volume of the system and that it's done in a West Coast terminology. Bill Walsh called plays in this system -- so much of it stems from what he came up with. And it's probably the same system that's used in more than half of the teams in the NFL. That's why our free agents do so well. They are plug-and-play guys. They show up to camp and already know the terminology. The NFL influence is real. It's real on who we are and the mark that's left on this system.

Having already served as the run-game coordinator, how much does that help as you transition into the offensive coordinator job?

MB: Hopefully a lot. I'll be frank with you. I'll still be really involved in the run game and I was an offensive coordinator before at Delta State. Obviously, a smaller level of football, but it's still played on a field that's 100 yards long and the football still had air in it. And then my time in New York with Bill Callahan and Brian Schottenheimer was incredible in helping me understand what goes into make a game plan and calling a game on game day. Plus coach Shaw isn't going anywhere, so we'll continue to have that great communication.

Coach Shaw -- unfairly, as I've written many times -- gets a lot of criticism for being too conservative of a playcaller. What do you bring as a playcaller?

MB: I'm not going to be great at talking about that because I don't think he's conservative at all. He's so well thought-out. People think he's emotionless on the sidelines. But he's not! I think back at some of the calls we had over the last few years. I remember my time with Jimmy Raye in New York, he used to talk about "Diet Coke calls." I asked him one day, "Jimmy, what in the heck are Diet Coke calls?" He said, "You call it, you grab your Diet Coke and take a sip. Sometimes you watch what happens. Sometimes you don't. And you can tell by the crowd whether it's good or bad." We had a bunch of those. The halfback flip against USC to basically end the game. Critical calls on fourth-and-1. The wildcat calls we do. Reverses. I don't see the conservative approach. I don't get it.

What about you?

MB: I hope I bring something that is well thought-out and gives our kids answers. So no matter what we call from the sideline, we'll have programmed the quarterback and the offensive linemen with ways to solve whatever problems they have. We have a solid system. It's more than just being a playcaller on game day. We want our kids to have answers to whatever the defense gives them.

Now that you've been through spring, what's your take on the running backs?

MB: It's an exciting group. We were just watching some of Stepfan (Taylor's) highlights and we were like, "Dang, that guy was good." We won't have a guy that carried the load like Stepfan did the last few years -- especially last season. We've got six guys who could probably start at most schools in America and they are going to share the load. They probably could be every-down backs. But they have specialties. You look at how big Gaff (Tyler Gaffney) is right now, and oh my goodness. The way (Anthony) Wilkerson ran downhill in the Rose Bowl. The zone-running gurus are Ricky Seale and Barry (Sanders) and how they run outside and read things. You see that instinctive cut. The truth is those guys have such a good feel. Remound Wright and Jackson Cummings. If Jackson went to an Ivy League school, he'd probably be the league's all-time leading rusher by now. And he had a great spring. Those guys run the gap schemes, the who-we-are-Stanford-football plays, so well. It's going to be interesting to see where they put themselves after training camp. Who has a defined role? Who is going to snatch a job and say "Hey, I'm the third-down back. I'm going to catch it out of the backfield. I'm going to hit linebackers in their face when they try to pressure our quarterback." Who is going to win that role? Who is going to be the first- and second-down back that gets the most carries that game? And will it change from game to game?

Obviously the passing game has been catered to tight ends the last few years. How much do you need the wide receivers to be more involved?

MB: An absolute ton. Because they can handle it. You watch what Ty Montgomery did this spring and he was absolutely dominant. It's what we hoped to see last year because he was great his freshman year. We need him to not try to be any more than he is. He doesn't have to press. He doesn't have to feel any pressure. Because he is big-time good. He just needs to play his game. If he does that, we could see something that we haven't seen here in a while -- at least as long as I've been here. Then there are other guys with world-class speed. Michael Rector had a great spring. Kelsey Young is dynamic. We don't know what position he plays yet. We just call him a football player.

Finally, coach Shaw didn't interview anyone else for the offensive coordinator job. Humbling and flattering, I'm sure. But is there some pressure that goes with that?

MB: I don't know. I don't feel the pressure, to be honest. But it is remarkably humbling. When things are in the works you get calls from friends wondering if you'll get the interview. For David to say what he said within the press release was absolutely humbling. I love working for him and continuing to learn this game from him. We're all just trying to get better and be as good as we can be.
Our ESPN Stats & Info crew put together 100 numbers you should know with 100 days left before the season starts, and plenty of them are taking up residence in the Big 12.

Colleague Mark Schlabach also has a fun column about the inevitable, brutal, annual summer of anticipation for every college football fan. Let's take a close look at the numbers.
13. (OU streak free): Oklahoma has gone 13 seasons without losing consecutive regular-season games. That's right, the last time the Sooners lost back-to-back regular-season games was in Bob Stoops' first season in Norman in 1999 (to Notre Dame and Texas).

What's more impressive? That stat, or the fact Stoops has never gone consecutive seasons without a Big 12 title while at Oklahoma? Crazy.
16. (Conference realignment): There will be 16 teams with new conference / independent homes entering the 2013 season.

And for the first time since 2010, none of them have any Big 12 ties? Throw a party, Big 12 fans. Stability!
25. (Barry Sanders' Heisman Trophy season): Twenty-five years ago, Barry Sanders of Oklahoma State claimed the Heisman Trophy. In his Heisman-winning campaign of 1988, Sanders rushed for an FBS record 2,628 yards.

Still 25 years later, that rushing number is unfathomable. The Big 12's leading rusher last year, Joseph Randle, had just over 1,400 yards. I really don't think we'll ever see anyone break Barry's record.
31. (New coaches): There will be 31 FBS coaches entering their first seasons at new schools.

Just one in the Big 12, but he's been a high-profile addition. The King, Kliff Kingsbury, returns to his roots in Lubbock as Texas Tech's head coach.
47. (Oklahoma's win streak): Oklahoma's NCAA-record 47-game win streak spanned 1953-57, including back-to-back national titles in 1955-56. The streak ended with a 7-0 loss to Notre Dame on Nov. 16, 1957. Those two programs will meet this season on Sept. 28 in South Bend.

Another record that's not going to be touched ... ever.
73. (Bill Snyder still going): Age of Kansas State head coach Bill Snyder, who is the oldest active FBS coach. His Wildcats are 21-5 over the past two seasons and appeared in a BCS bowl for the first time since 2003 when they fell to Oregon in the Fiesta Bowl last season.

K-State seems due for a step back this season, but are you willing to guarantee it?

Which number piques your anticipation the most?
While quarterback competitions are typically front-and-center during Pac-12 spring practices, there are always other interesting spring storylines.

Here are two.

[+] EnlargeLane Kiffin
Harry How/Getty ImagesUSC coach Lane Kiffin enters the spring with several new assistants, a new defensive scheme, and uncertainty at quarterback.
Ted Miller: It was a horrible, no-good, rotten, very bad 2012 season for USC coach Lane Kiffin. And the 2012-13 offseason has been no picnic either. Some Trojans fans wanted Kiffin fired. Just about all were frustrated. Justifiably so, by the way.

Lane: Welcome to spring, the season for rebirth! Time to turn the page. Or, perhaps, pick up an entirely new book.

At the very least, the situation at USC is interesting. One of the nation's premier programs is front-and-center for many of the wrong reasons, but there is enough talent on hand for Kiffin to turn things around and shut up his critics.

Interesting plot lines? Kiffin will be breaking in four new assistant coaches, including a pair of new coordinators, his defense will be transitioning from a 4-3 base to a 3-4, and he's looking for a new quarterback for the first time in his tenure.

There's a lot going on. Lots of questions. Lots of doubt, too. Yet negative momentum isn't irreversible.

What if the Trojans have an exceptional spring?

What if Clancy Pendergast shakes things up and, suddenly, the defensive guys are playing hard and fast in a sound scheme they understand? And what if the offense, nonetheless, makes plenty of plays because the quarterbacks are sharp and the line is manning up? What if the fitness level of the Trojans improves? What if offensive tackle Aundrey Walker breaks through, realizing his future NFL contract will be based on performance, not measurables? What if Devon Kennard proves a perfect fit as a 3-4 outside linebacker, as we believe he is? What if guys like Marqise Lee, Hayes Pullard, Silas Redd, Dion Bailey and Kevin Graf step up as leaders? What if receivers George Farmer and Victor Blackwell decide they don't want to be left in the dust behind Lee and Nelson Agholor? What if running back Tre Madden says, "Hey, remember me?"

What if Kiffin simultaneously refocuses and relaxes? What if he uses his capable brain to be smart, not a smart aleck, to be creative, not sneaky? What if he realizes the media is not an enemy, but just a bunch of folks trying to do their job whom he should humor with vague though sometimes amusing answers?

There are a lot of "What ifs?" with USC and Kiffin. It's not difficult, by the way, to talk yourself into believing a bounce-back is entirely possible.

That's what is interesting. Kiffin 2.0 was 2010 and 2011, when he seemed to find his rhythm as a coach after controversial stints with the Oakland Raiders and Tennessee Volunteers. Kiffin 3.0, was 2012, a complete face-plant.

This spring presents us with Kiffin 4.0. It could prove to be the most important transition of his career as a head coach.

And that is interesting.

Kevin Gemmell: Besides quarterback battles -- which I think are always the most exciting position battles there are -- I'm most curious to see how the running back battle is going to play out at Stanford.

When you look at a Stanford squad that is very heavy on upperclassmen -- on both sides of the ball -- you have to wonder if all of the pieces are in place for Stanford to make a legitimate run at the national championship.

I wasn't sure before, but with the addition of Tyler Gaffney to the running back corps, I'm warming up to the idea that the Cardinal could challenge any team in the country for a BCS championship -- if they can get out of their own conference (or division for that matter) -- which anyone will tell you is no easy task.

It's no surprise that Stanford's primary offensive weapon is the quarterback. Not because of what he does with his arm -- but because of what he does when he goes under center -- checking out of bad plays and putting the offense in the best possible play against the defense shown. This allows running backs to flourish. Andrew Luck was phenomenal at it. Kevin Hogan should get better.

So, when Hogan turns to handoff on power right or power left, who is going to be the primary ball carrier? Anthony Wilkerson has shown bursts and outstanding top-end speed. But injuries have slowed him, and playing behind Stepfan Taylor the past few years didn't allow him to really break out following his strong true freshman season. Gaffney is a rock and hard to bring down. He's the kind of guy who could carry the ball 10 times for 4.5 yards a pop.

Barry Sanders is an interesting X-factor. He obviously was a high-profile recruit because of his name -- but beyond that, he's supposedly a pretty darn good back. Maybe he ends up winning the job and can be a 15-carry type of guy.

Then you have Ricky Seale, a shifty runner with great vision who has been trapped at the bottom of the depth chart, but continues to receive praise from David Shaw. Remound Wright and hybrid Kelsey Young are also in the mix.

Whoever is Shaw's go-to back, he'll have the benefit of running behind an outstanding offensive line that is only going to get better with David Yankey -- an All-American and last year's Morris Trophy winner -- moving back to his natural position at guard. And Shaw has said he plans to keep Ryan Hewitt at fullback -- giving the running backs a cadre of blockers that rivals any other in the country.

By season's end, this could be your national championship team. The question is, which back will carry it there?
Today, there are more than 100 FBS teams with rosters that often broach around 100 players. In simplified math, the game has seen more than 500,000 players take the field over the past 50 years.

[+] EnlargeBarry Sanders
Malcolm Emmons/US PresswireOklahoma State's Barry Sanders set 25 NCAA records and rushed for over 300 yards four times during the 1988 season.
Barry Sanders' 1988 season was better than every single one of them. Nobody's really even that close.

Future NFL Hall of Famer Thurman Thomas left the program to a little-known junior who had rushed for just over 600 yards as a sophomore in 1987.

Over the next year, Sanders wrote his legacy every single week with the single greatest season of college football ever played. His 2,850 yards are more than even some of the best running backs log in a career. That NCAA record still stands, and it's one of 34 he set that season. Winning the Heisman Trophy that season is laughably far down the list of remarkable accomplishments for Sanders in a season to remember in Stillwater.

He scored 39 touchdowns, 44 if you count his five in the Holiday Bowl. The NCAA didn't begin counting bowl stats in the official record books until 2002. He rushed for 300 yards in four games during the season, and his lowest total of the entire season came against Missouri, with a paltry 154 yards and two touchdowns on 25 carries.

He scored at least two touchdowns in every game, and set the tone for the entire season by returning the opening kick against Miami (OH) 100 yards for a touchdown.

He scored at least four touchdowns in seven games that season, helping Oklahoma State go 10-2, which tied what was then the best record in school history.

Sanders' hips swiveled like no one else's, and he embarrassed defenders on what seemed like every run. He was quicker than everyone, shiftier than everyone, and when he reached the open field, proved he was faster than everyone.

Sanders saved his best for last. He was awarded the Heisman before the final game against Texas Tech in Tokyo and proceeded to carry his team to a 45-42 win over the Red Raiders with a career-high 332 yards on a career-high 44 carries. His coach, Pat Jones, loved to call the Kansas native "The Wichita Comet."

When the dust settled on a blowout win over Wyoming in the Holiday Bowl, Sanders had averaged 7.6 yards per carry on 373 carries and stood alone atop the list of the greatest seasons in college football history. He averaged just under 240 yards per game. In 2011, nine teams in college football averaged more rushing yards per game than Sanders did in 1988.

Sanders' season forecasted one of the greatest NFL careers ever, though Sanders abruptly ended it in 1999, within striking distance of Walter Payton, who held the NFL career rushing record.

Sanders was a quiet personality who kept to himself and never liked to talk about his exploits, even declining to dispute his father's contention that he wasn't the greatest running back in the history of the game. That didn't stop others from acknowledging the greatness he showcased every week of the 1988 season at Oklahoma State.

After his record-breaking season, he left Stillwater for the NFL, where he spent 10 more record-breaking seasons with the Detroit Lions.

Curtis Martin got the nod into the NFL Hall of Fame this past weekend. But the truth is, he has been a Hall of Famer for years and years.

Anybody who has had the good fortune to meet Martin would agree.

[+] EnlargeCurtis Martin
Tony Kurdzuk/The Star-Ledger via US PresswireCurtis Martin, shown at a Jets' preseason game in 2010, is one of two players to reach 1,000 yards rushing in each of his first 10 NFL seasons.
I got to know Martin as the New York Jets beat writer for The Associated Press, just in time to write about the best season of his NFL career. It was 2004, and Martin was 31. He might as well have been 61 in running back years. Martin had quietly gone about racking up one 1,000-yard season after another. Despite living and playing in the media capital of the world, there was a good chance he could walk down the street of Manhattan unrecognized.

That is the way he wanted it. Rather than revel in his football glory, he reveled in what football allowed him to do for others. Rather than hold news conferences to discuss his charity involvements, he quietly went about giving.

There was the time at his hometown church back in 2000, when he stood up next to the pastor and told the congregants sitting in the pews to put away their money. They would not have to give that particular day. Martin would give to them. He gave out house payments, car payments. Whatever folks needed.

His charity in his hometown of Pittsburgh is well known. People would come to his mother's shop and ask for money to pay a light bill, or money to help cover the rent. Most every time, Martin would give. His insistence that his mother forgive his father, who abandoned them when Martin was 3, tells you all you need to know about who Curtis Martin truly is.

Stories like these, of course, do not get a man into the NFL Hall of Fame. Seasons like 2004 do. Martin made it his quest to get to 1,700 yards that season. To prepare, he ran up and down the grueling Santa Monica steps during the spring. He changed his code to get into the Jets' building to 1700. He asked for more work during training camp. Then he began the season with 196 yards rushing against Cincinnati -- a sign of what was to come.

Martin ended that season with 1,697 yards to claim his first and only NFL rushing title -- the oldest back to lead the league in rushing. He became the second back to start his career with 10 straight 1,000-yard seasons, joining Barry Sanders. His final season, in 2005, would prove to be his toughest, as a knee injury would eventually force him to retire.

It was stunning, really, when you consider just a few months earlier he was the toast of the NFL. But seeing him limp when he was not in pads and play tenuously in the games in which he suited up made it obvious he needed to quit.

But Martin never wept for his career. He had a plan after football. Because the truth was, he never really wanted to play football. He only picked up the game to stay out of trouble in Pittsburgh.

But his one magical season in high school led him to Pitt, where he still ranks No. 8 on the school's career rushing list with 2,643 yards. He also had has one of the most dazzling days in Big East history, when he ran for 251 yards against Texas in 1994. Still, Martin never had the glitz or the fanfare as other college prospects or NFL standouts.

He quietly ran for more than 14,000 yards in his NFL career to rank No. 4 on the all-time rushing list. He did not make the Hall on his first shot, but who is counting? His addition Saturday along with Pitt defensive end Chris Doleman was well deserved, and it gave the Panthers eight Hall of Famers -- tied for third among all colleges.

But when it comes to Martin, the people closest to him would probably tick off a list of how he has helped others before going into his career highlights.

That makes a true Hall of Famer.

Were Pac-12 recruiting needs met?

February, 2, 2012
2/02/12
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Every team had needs going into 2012 national signing day. Last week, Ted Miller looked at the needs of each team in the North Division and South Division. Here’s a look at whether those needs were met.

Arizona: Either Javelle Allen or Josh Kern -- both Texans -- could be the long-term answer at quarterback. Noticeably missing is the lack of an impact linebacker. But there is some good depth to the offensive line.

Arizona State: Nice pickup with running back D.J. Foster. Richard Smith and Josiah Blandin boost the wide receiving corps. Nine JC signees? We’ll see.

Cal: QB Zach Kline (No. 2 QB) is the jewel of the class, and receiver Darius Powe could be an immediate impact player. Cal wins the award for bipolar recruiting season, but this is still a solid class.

Colorado: If Yuri Wright can keep his thumbs in check, he’s a huge addition. He and Kenny Crawley boost a secondary sorely in need of playmakers.

Oregon: Arik Armstead headlines a diverse class that, as expected, is heavy on speed and addresses depth across the board. Next to duct tape, few things are quick fixes than a juco kicker.

Oregon State: No. 1 offensive guard Isaac Seumalo and tackle Garrett Weinreich fill immediate needs on the line. A lot of unproven commits on a defense that still needs help.

Stanford: Business should be booming in the Stanford cafeteria with seven new offensive linemen. And they get to grow with and block for Barry Sanders. Noor Davis and Alex Carter are elite defensive playmakers.

UCLA: Four ESPNU 150 players, headlined by athlete Devin Fuller. Who said Jim Mora wasn't cut out for college? Keeping Ellis McCarthy in Southern California -- and out of red and gold -- is big time.

USC: Don't cry for this tiny class. It features seven ESPNU 150 players and adds speed on defense with Jabari Ruffin, size on the offensive line with Max Turek and Jordan Simmons and athleticism with wide receiver Nelson Agholor. Another great haul for Troy.

Utah: A quarterback of the future is needed, and Travis Wilson (No. 39 QB) and Chase Hansen (No. 43 QB) should have a heck of a competition in the coming years. Lots of help and depth added to the offensive line.

Washington: A shaky recruiting season was saved at the last minute by the commitment of Shaq Thompson and the ability to hold quarterback Cyler Miles. Brandon Beaver helps a secondary that was one of the worst in the conference.

Washington State: Running back Robert Lewis and receiver Alex Jackson could prove to be money in the Mike Leach offensive overhaul. A few juco transfers should be stopgaps until depth develops and Leach's plan comes together.

Q&A: Stanford's David Shaw, Part I

February, 2, 2012
2/02/12
12:00
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Stanford head coach David Shaw has a lot to smile about after hauling in a top-15 recruiting class on Wednesday. With six ESPNU 150 players -- including three of the top offensive linemen in the country and athletic playmakers on both sides of the ball -- Shaw said his team fills much-needed holes and adds depth at other spots.

Here's part one of a Q&A with the second-year head coach.

What are your first impressions of this group?

David Shaw: This group has what we're looking for. We wanted to address the offensive line and make sure we had some more playmakers at the wide receiver position. We were going to take a running back if he was a difference-maker. That's what Barry (Sanders) is. Defensively, to be able to come in with the defensive line we've put together in this class, I think is a credit to our coaches and our coaching style and our scheme that these guys are excited to come play for us. Then to get a couple of the top defensive backs at the safety and corner position in the nation is really exciting.

So the offensive line was a target position this year? It didn't just work out that way. You guys were going after linemen all the way?

DS: No question. We hadn't gotten enough in the last couple of years. As well as we've played, we haven't been deep. Thankfully for our strength and conditioning program, our guys have stayed pretty healthy so we haven't had to play down to our younger guys. We needed depth, especially with two guys leaving early for the draft. We needed guys to come in and compete right away and I think we've brought some guys in that can do that.

Coach (Mike) Sanford tweeted after Andrus Peat announced: "Our staff reaction was priceless!" What does priceless mean and what was the reaction?

DS: It's something you don't feel in the NFL. You draft a guy and you know he's there and you draft him and you get excited. But to sit there waiting and not knowing for sure. Having a good feeling, but not knowing for sure that he was coming to us. Then the announcement was made and we saw the hat. Guys were jumping up and down and pumping fists and high fiving. It was pretty loud. I think it was heard pretty much around the building. Not too much longer, we had the same reaction when Kyle Murphy did his announcement. We jumped up and down and high fived and guys were yelling. It's been a special, special day for us because these guys are our type of guys. They aren't prima donnas that want to come in on a silver platter. The guys we've been recruiting, they want to come in and work and earn what we give them.

How exciting will it be to see these offensive linemen grow together?

DS: It's going to be exciting. Anytime you start with a player that does the things you can't teach -- size and athletic ability and flexibility and nastiness -- that's when it's really fun as a coach because now you are teaching the finer points of the game. The techniques and the calls. You're not trying to make up for something ability wise the player doesn't have. This group is really exciting. I think they are humble and they are hungry. The guys on our team are going to welcome them in as true competitors and teammates. It will be a fun group to work with.

You talked about having "that feeling," how confident were you leading up to the Barry Sanders announcement?

DS: Very. I think when Barry came to campus for the first time, I think it opened his eyes. I think he saw a place -- like so many guys on our team and committed to us -- the first time on campus it hit them that this is a place they are looking for. It hit them that there is a place out there that is first in academics but doesn't slight in the football category. That's what Barry saw. Barry Sanders is a famous individual. And to be able to sit down and have lunch with Andrew Luck, who is also a famous individual, for people to recognize him, but not bother him -- you're sitting in a place where there are a lot of people that are famous in their own rights in what they do and are really good at what they do. There is an environment that is very comforting to a guy like that who does have some fame and some notoriety to be around people that are just like him.

Noor Davis committed early and was so outspoken in support of the program to other recruits -- how much does it help when you have a guy who is going to sell the program for you and hasn't even signed his letter yet?

DS: I think every program in the nation always has one or two of those guys who commit early and is determined to help build the class. Noor has a lot nicknames around here for us. My favorite one is "The Senator." We're talking about a big kid who is imposing physically and extremely intelligent and very well-spoken, very thoughtful in every word that he says, but also very convincing. When you have a guy like that that can be talking to other recruits, he's an example of what we're looking for. Much like Andrew Luck before him and guys we have now that can talk to other recruits and give them an example of what a Stanford man is.

Rankings aren't the end all, be all

January, 31, 2012
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Last week we saw in an analysis by ESPN The Magazine and RecruitingNation that Stanford was the best school in the nation at getting the most production from out-of-state recruiting.

Well, there's a flipside to that coin.

As good as Stanford has been looking outside of the Golden State, it hasn't been too productive at landing California's finest. A similar analysis shows Stanford is the third-worst program at getting ESPNU 150 athletes from its own state.

From 2007 to 2011, Stanford landed just 2-of-73 ESPNU 150 athletes from California -- Anthony Wilkerson out of Tustin in 2010 and Josh Nunes from Upland in 2009.
Here's what LaRue Cook says about Stanford:

We gave Stanford props for its ability to go out of state to sign top prospects, but there's no ignoring the program's inability to create an elite pipeline in its state. (Meanwhile, UCLA has signed 12 in-state ESPNU 150 recruits over the last five years.) Sure, Cardinal fans can blame their program's struggles on academic constraints, but out of 73 players, surely more than two could qualify. In 2012, David Shaw doesn't have a single ESPNU 150 commit from California -- USC currently has four and UCLA has two -- but No. 4 OT Kyle Murphy (San Clemente) still has Stanford on his short list.

To which I say, so what? The analysis deals only with ESPNU 150 athletes. And I think we all know that whatever scouting service you trust, it isn't always bullet proof. Two-star players have gone on to greatness and five-stars have fizzled.

I say, consider some of the Stanford players who came out of California during that stretch who weren't ESPNU 150 prospects: Jonathan Martin (North Hollywood), Tyler Gaffney (San Diego), Levine Toilolo (San Diego), Zach Ertz (Danville), Delano Howell (Newhall). All remarkably productive and one who is expected to be drafted in the first round.

This type of analysis makes for great message board fodder, but read more into the results than projections -- and I think the Stanford coaching staff would agree. If you're looking strictly at the ranking numbers, then yes, Stanford hasn't been particularly successful as, say, USC, which has scored 33 ESPNU 150 recruits from California during that time span. By the way, what's Stanford's record against USC the last three years?

Stanford is a unique program that has to be examined with a different standard of criteria. The product on the field is what matters. The results are still out on Wilkerson since Stepfan Taylor has been carrying the load. And with Barry Sanders coming in, we might never know if Wilkerson could be a carry-the-load kind of running back.

It's an open quarterback competition next year, so we'll see who emerges and where Nunes lands.

This year's current crop of commits features just one player from California -- wide receiver Kodi Whitfield. So what? It also has four ESPNU 150 commits with the possibility of more.

The morale of the story: It shouldn't matter if they come from Los Angeles or Plymouth, Minn. (shout out to A.J. Tarpley), if they can play, they can play.

Like most regular readers of this blog, I live in California and was raised on Bay Area football and spent the early portions of my career covering Southern California high schools. There are only so many 6-4, 225-pound wide receivers that run 4.4 40s and only so many four- and-five stars that can be handed out. California is fertile ground, and fair game, for every school in the country.

My take: Stanford is doing just fine in California, and Texas, and Georgia and Arizona, and everywhere else they can find the athletes that fit the academic requirements, character and culture needed to be a football player at Stanford.
INDIANAPOLIS -- So much for the Big Ten championship game being a defense-driven contest.

Both offenses are moving the football very well so far tonight at Lucas Oil Stadium. A Michigan State turnover has allowed Wisconsin to take a 21-7 lead against the Spartans.

Some notes from the first quarter:
  • Much like in East Lansing on Oct. 22, Wisconsin opened the game with an impressive touchdown drive. The Badgers marched 71 yards in nine plays behind Montee Ball's running, play-action passes and excellent blocking from the offensive line. They went 80 yards in 11 plays in the previous contest against Michigan State.
  • Ball is making a major statement so far tonight that he deserves serious consideration for the Heisman Trophy and other national awards. The Badgers junior already has 105 rush yards and two touchdowns -- moving him three shy of Barry Sanders' NCAA single-season record of 39 -- on 13 carries. Michigan State entered the game ranked 11th nationally in rush defense, allowing only 102.5 yards per game. It's about time Ball started to get noticed outside the Big Ten footprint.
  • Wisconsin offensive coordinator Paul Chryst is showing off his creativity so far. In addition to the steady diet of well-designed runs, Wisconsin set up its second touchdown on a halfback pass from Ball to quarterback Russell Wilson, who caught the ball in stride for a 32-yard gain. The Badgers have had Michigan State's defense off balance from the start.
  • You have to like the way Michigan State came out to establish the run first. The Spartans ran five times on a six-play, 59-yard scoring drive and once again were effective running from the shotgun formation, which they featured often down the stretch. The power-speed combination of Le'Veon Bell and Edwin Baker seems to be clicking.
  • Spartans quarterback Kirk Cousins also looks sharp so far, completing his first three pass attempts.

MADISON, Wis. -- The game ended one debate and added intrigue to another.

Wisconsin's 45-7 dissection of Penn State left no doubt as to which is the best team in the Leaders division. After falling behind early, the Badgers outclassed the Nittany Lions, as they're prone to do in a building where they've now won 16 consecutive games. They earned the right to face Michigan State next week in the inaugural Big Ten championship game.

But the decisive victory only brought more uncertainty to a question Badgers players and coaches love to get asked even though few have an answer.

Who is the Big Ten's Offensive Player of the Year: quarterback Russell Wilson or running back Montee Ball?

[+] EnlargeRussell Wilson and Montee Ball
AP Photo/Morry GashWill Russell Wilson and Montee Ball end up sharing the Big Ten's top offensive player of the year honors?
"I'd split it," Wisconsin coach Bret Bielema said. "I don't know if there's ever been co-offensive MVPs off the same team. I don't know if that's ever been done, but I don't know how you can give it to one without the other."

It has happened once: Big Ten coaches voted Iowa quarterback Matt Rodgers and running back Nick Bell as co-Offensive Players of the Year in 1990. Will it happen again next week?

Wisconsin wouldn't be where it is without the contributions of Wilson and Ball, who are putting together the best combined quarterback-running back performance in a season in Big Ten history (more on that later). The senior quarterback and junior running back both sparkled again Saturday, having a hand in all six Wisconsin touchdowns against the nation's No. 8 defense. Wilson finished the game 19-of-29 passing for 186 yards and two touchdowns, while Ball recorded 156 yards and a touchdown on 25 carries.

It's rare when one NCAA record is set in a game, much less two. How about two records by two players in the same half? Wilson and Ball delivered Saturday.

Ball's second rushing score late in the second quarter gave him 12 consecutive games with multiple touchdowns, breaking Barry Sanders' NCAA record of 11 straight games. Wilson's 21-yard touchdown strike to Jared Abbrederis in the first quarter gave him 36 consecutive games with at least one touchdown pass, tying the NCAA record held by former Texas Tech star Graham Harrell.

Wilson's team single-season touchdown passes record stands at 28. Ball, meanwhile, has his sights set on a loftier mark, one thought to be unreachable. His four touchdowns Saturday give him 34 for the season, the second-most in NCAA history behind only Sanders' 39 scores in 1988.

"It's extremely rare," Wilson said of his and Ball's performances this season. "It's a once-in-a-lifetime type thing. You don't see it very often, but I think with Montee's ability to do a lot of different things, and then with my ability to throw the ball extremely well and to improvise when I have to, it's pretty dangerous."

You think?

Big Ten awards voting wraps up Sunday, and all-conference teams will be announced Monday night. The league's Offensive and Defensive Player of the Year awards are announced Wednesday afternoon, so the debate about Wilson vs. Ball will continue until then.

Don't expect much help from the Badgers.

"I'm very happy I don't have to make that decision," offensive lineman Travis Fredrick said.

"I couldn't say," added fellow offensive lineman Ryan Groy. "I'd be split between both of them."

Ball appeared to provide a definitive answer the first time I asked him.

"I'd pick myself," he said. "Of course, I'd pick myself."

But when asked during a video interview, Ball flip-flopped, saying he'd vote for "the pretty boy, Russell. Because what he brought to this team was a lot." When called out, Ball tried to backtrack, the first time all afternoon he had to.

Wilson was a bit more decisive.

"I'd definitely vote for Montee," he said.

While the debate carries on about which individual performance is superior, the combined effort from Ball and Wilson is more notable.

There's never been anything quite like it in Big Ten history. Wilson's passer rating of 192.9 this season keeps him on pace to break Colt Brennan's single-season NCAA record of 186. He should have no trouble breaking the Big Ten season record of 175.3 set by Michigan's Bob Chappuis in 1947.

Ball already has shattered the Big Ten season touchdowns mark of 26 and should finish among the league's top 10 in single-season rushing (he currently has 1,622).

While the Big Ten has witnessed better individual rushing and passing performances, the combined effort from Ball and Wilson stands alone in league annals. It's the best since Penn State's Kerry Collins and Ki-Jana Carter 1994: Collins passed for 2,679 yards and had a quarterback rating of 172.8, which ranks second in Big Ten history; Carter rushed for 1,539 yards and 23 touchdowns.

Former Wisconsin coach and current athletic director Barry Alvarez brought up Iowa's Chuck Long and Ronnie Harmon in 1985. They had impressive numbers -- Long racked up 3,297 pass yards, 27 touchdowns and a rating of 153.1; Harmon had 1,166 rush yards and nine touchdowns -- but not as impressive as the Wilson-Ball tandem.

"They're both really special," Alvarez told ESPN.com. "You only have one ball, so it's hard to have two guys with numbers like that."

It wasn't hard for Ball and Wilson to mesh. They play different positions and have different responsibilities, but they're driven in the same way.

"It goes back to how hard I worked in the offseason and how hard he worked when he got here," Ball said.

When Wilson arrived July 1, he told Ball he would compete to become one of the best quarterbacks in the country.

"He gravitated to that," Wilson said. "Every day in practice, we work together and communicate extremely well. Our desire to be great and to never be afraid to excel is something we definitely have in common."

For those arguing that Wisconsin and its stars feast on inferior competition, consider this: Ball racked up 495 rush yards and seven touchdowns and added two receiving scores against three top-10 defenses (Michigan State, Penn State and Illinois). While Wilson wasn't at his best in the Michigan State game, he still rallied his team brilliantly in the fourth quarter and stepped up against an excellent Penn State defense on Saturday, completing 15 of 21 passes for 149 yards in the first half.

"Two of the most complete players at their respective positions that I've ever seen play the game," Bielema said.

Wilson and Ball could share Big Ten Offensive Player of the Year. One or both could earn an invitation to New York for the Heisman Trophy presentation.

But the two are more focused on sharing a podium in two other places -- Indianapolis and Pasadena.

What to watch in the Big Ten: Week 13

November, 23, 2011
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Coming at you a little early during this holiday week, here are 10 items to track in the Big Ten this weekend.

[+] EnlargeWilson
Jeff Hanisch/US PresswireRussell Wilson and the No. 16 Badgers face No. 19 Penn State on Saturday at 3:30 p.m. ET.
1. Leaders of the pack: Before getting to the main course next week in Indianapolis, we're treated to a delicious championship appetizer Saturday afternoon in Madison. The Leaders Division title and a trip to Naptown are on the line as No. 19 Penn State visits No. 15 Wisconsin. The winner improves to 10-2 and moves one step closer to Pasadena. Wisconsin has been unshakable on its home field the past two and a half seasons, and the Badgers are averaging 52.3 points at Camp Randall Stadium this year. Penn State is 4-0 on the road this season and has allowed more than 14 points away from State College just once.

2. Michigan's mission: Michigan has exceeded outside expectations in its first season under coach Brady Hoke. But it won't matter much unless the Wolverines get over the hump against their archrival Ohio State -- or "Ohio," as Hoke and his players now call the Buckeyes. After dropping seven consecutive games in the series, Michigan has a golden opportunity to beat Ohio State. In fact, if the favored Wolverines can't beat Ohio State this year, when the 6-5 Buckeyes are sputtering, will they ever? It'll be interesting to see how a Michigan senior class that has been through a lot performs in its final home game. By the way, a Wolverines win puts the team in a great spot for a BCS at-large berth.

3.The Bucket Bowl: After a mistake-filled loss to Iowa, Purdue has backed itself into a corner for postseason play. The Boilers must beat rival Indiana on Saturday in the Bucket game to reach six wins and become bowl-eligible. A loss would ensure Purdue stays home for the holidays for the fourth consecutive season -- a troubling stretch for a program that reached bowls in 10 of Joe Tiller's first 11 seasons as coach. Another bowl-less winter and a second consecutive loss to IU, especially a 1-10 Hoosiers team, would turn up the heat on Purdue's third-year coach Danny Hope.

4. Different incentives for Wildcats, Spartans: Northwestern likely has locked up a bowl spot, but Pat Fitzgerald and his players are taking nothing for granted entering their final regular-season game. A victory gives Northwestern seven wins, a five-game win streak and most likely a decent bowl destination in the Big Ten's lineup. The Wildcats should have no problem gearing up for Senior Day. Michigan State, meanwhile, already has clinched the Legends Division and will head to Indianapolis next week. Spartans coach Mark Dantonio plans to keep the pedal down and play his starters, but it will be interesting how his players respond in a game they really don't need to win. With one exception, Michigan State has brought the right emotion to every game this season.

5. Zook's last stand: Illinois hasn't won a game since Oct. 8, and the clock is ticking for embattled seventh-year coach Ron Zook. The Illini have dropped five straight games heading into their regular-season finale at Minnesota. Some believe that, win or lose, Illinois will dump Zook -- but the Illini will be playing for their coach as they head to Minneapolis. A win moves Illinois to 7-5 and ensures the Illini of a second consecutive bowl appearance for the first time since 1991-92. It also could make the decision on Zook a bit more difficult for first-year athletic director Mike Thomas. Minnesota is the worst team Illinois has faced since its last Big Ten win against Indiana.

6. Devon Still vs. Wisconsin's offensive line: Penn State's defense must play its best game of the season to slow down Wisconsin at Camp Randall, and for the Lions, it all begins with Devon Still. The senior DT is a finalist for both the Bednarik Award and the Outland Trophy, and he's the frontrunner for Big Ten Defensive Player of the Year. Still dealt with the flu last week and his play suffered at Ohio State, but he's healthy now and faces a Wisconsin offensive line playing without star center Peter Konz. The Badgers struggled to rush the ball between the tackles for chunks of the Illinois game before Montee Ball broke through. It will be interesting to see how Travis Fredrick or Ryan Groy handles Still and an improved Penn State front four.

7. A rivalry reborn: Nebraska and Iowa last played in 2000, but all the ingredients are in place for a terrific new Big Ten rivalry. The teams kick off rivalry weekend in the Big Ten on Black Friday, as the Hawkeyes visit Lincoln for the inaugural Heroes Game. While the game has no bearing on the Legends Division title race, both teams are fighting for bragging rights and a better bowl destination. It's a big game for Iowa CB Shaun Prater, an Omaha native, while the game's top individual matchup features Iowa WR Marvin McNutt going up against Nebraska CB Alfonzo Dennard. McNutt needs 12 receptions to become Iowa's all-time leader.

8. Swan song for Ohio State's seniors, possibly coaches: Ohio State's senior class has a complicated legacy, but one thing that can't be disputed is their ability to dominate Michigan. The Buckeyes have thumped Michigan by a combined score of 100-24 in the past three years. Although this has been no ordinary year for Ohio State, which sits at 6-5, the seniors still can produce the standard result against Michigan and salvage a bit of their final season. Maintaining The Streak in The Game also resonates for the coaches, whose futures at Ohio State are very much in doubt as the Urban Meyer talk heats up. Head coach Luke Fickell can earn a lot of points with Buckeye Nation by beating a favored Michigan squad in Ann Arbor.

9. WildLion and MoneyBall: Penn State added an effective new wrinkle to its offense for the Ohio State game, as the coaches emphasized the Wildcat, or WildLion formation, with former high school quarterbacks Curtis Drake and Bill Belton calling signals. It will be interesting to see how much Penn State uses the WildLion against the high-powered Badgers, or whether a suddenly intrepid coaching staff has a few more tricks up its sleeve. Wisconsin will have no such mystery in how it attacks Penn State. The Badgers will rely on Montee "MoneyBall" Ball, arguably the nation's most productive running back in the past year and a half. Ball has scored 30 touchdowns this season -- at least two in every game -- and needs nine more to tie Barry Sanders' record.

10. Looking for positives: Minnesota and Indiana are the only Big Ten teams guaranteed to end their seasons Saturday afternoon. There haven't been many positives for either squad, but the Gophers and Hoosiers can end on a good note, spoil some bowl plans for others and enter a critical offseason on a good note. First-year Minnesota coach Jerry Kill has seen "a different group of kids" since halftime of the Nebraska game on Oct. 22. "We're taking baby steps," he said. Beating Illinois for the second straight year would represent another step. Indiana, meanwhile, can ensure Purdue doesn't go to a bowl with a win Saturday; it would be Indiana's first victory this season against an FBS opponent. "With the way our season has went," Hoosiers first-year coach Kevin Wilson said, "we're using this week to try and find some positive motivation for our seniors to try and end it on a high note."
All the pieces were in place. Zac Robinson was the senior franchise quarterback who would eventually leave as the program's all-time leader in total offense. Kendall Hunter was the running back coming off the All-American season and ready to run past his 1,555 yards as a sophomore. Receiver Dez Bryant was the playmaker like no other, one that would eventually leave as a first-round pick in the NFL Draft.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Pac-10 rewind and look ahead

November, 8, 2010
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A look back on the week that was.

Team of the week: Stanford rolled up 510 yards of offense against one of the nation's best defenses in a 42-17 win against Arizona. The Cardinal defense wasn't too shabby either while holding the Wildcats to 15.6 points less than their season scoring average. A Facebook page has been set up to promote the Cardinal's potential availability for an at-large BCS bowl berth.

[+] EnlargeKiffin
AP Photo/Mark J. TerrillLane Kiffin and USC emerged from a wild game against Arizona State with a 34-33 win.
Best game: USC's entertaining 34-33 win against Arizona State included: 1. Two long interception returns for TDs; 2. A 100-yard kickoff return for a score; 3. A blocked PAT returned for a critical 2-points for USC; 4. 46 second-half points after a rather slow first half; 5. A missed potential game-winning field goal by slumping Arizona State kicker Thomas Weber, a former Groza Award winner; and, 6. A personal foul penalty from linebacker Vontaze Burfict (again) that helped set up the Trojans game-winning field goal.

Biggest play: Call this the biggest "replay." With four seconds left in the UCLA-Oregon State game, Bruins quarterback Richard Brehaut completed a 12-yard pass to Randall Carroll to put the Bruins in position for a 51-yard field goal. But it appeared the play clock had expired, as the field officials ruled. But the Bruins challenged the call and won, getting 1 more second to play, and kicker Kai Forbath connected for a 17-14 win.

Offensive standout: Stanford quarterback Andrew Luck dominated a good Arizona defense, completing 23 of 32 for 293 yards with two TDs in the Cardinal's 42-17 win. He also ran for 25 yards on three carries and avoided getting sacked even once by a defense that led the Pac-10 in taking down quarterbacks.

Defensive standout: USC linebacker Malcolm Smith, who's missed two games with a knee injury, recorded seven tackles and a sack against Arizona State and he also returned an interception 74 yards for a TD in the Trojans' victory.

Special teams standout: Arizona State's LeQuan Lewis had a 100-yard kickoff return against USC. The return cut the Sun Devils deficit at USC to 29-21 and seemed to ignite a comeback that ultimately fell short.

Smiley face: California, UCLA and USC each have had their heart questioned this year. All three showed heart this weekend while winning games many thought they'd lose.

Frowny face: Arizona State and Oregon State. The Sun Devils mounted a nice comeback but (again) let a game slip away. Lots of what ifs (again). And we are as baffled as coach Mike Riley about the Beavers' spiritless performance at UCLA.

Thought of the week: If Stanford and Oregon keep winning, it seems likely that both Cardinal quarterback Andrew Luck and Ducks running back LaMichael James will get invited to the Heisman Trophy ceremony. The Pac-10 sent two to New York in 2005 (USC's Matt Leinart and Reggie Bush), but the last time two different conference schools produced finalists was 1988 (USC's Rodney Peete finished second to Barry Sanders; UCLA's Troy Aikman was third).

Questions for the week: Is the Pac-1o going to end up top-heavy? It seems like there's a solid chance that Oregon and Stanford will win the rest of their games. But what about everyone else? Arizona is the only other ranked team, and it's got some tough games ahead (USC, at Oregon, Arizona State). It's possible the final rankings will feature two top-five Pac-10 teams and no one else. And could there really be five teams with losing records?

Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Griffin

STILLWATER, Okla. -- After four years as head coach at Oklahoma State, coach Mike Gundy is pleased with what he's seen.

After Oklahoma State's 9-4 season in 2008, the team finished the season ranked 16th in the AP poll after the bowls. It represented the first time the Cowboys finished the season ranked since 1997 and their highest overall finish since 1988 -- when Gundy was the team's starting quarterback and Barry Sanders won the Heisman Trophy.

 
  Paul Jasienski/Getty Images
  Mike Gundy is proud of OSU's success, but is wary of trying to build the program too quickly.

The Cowboys are poised to continue that success during the upcoming season with most of their primary weapons coming back. But Gundy said that one of his biggest quests will be to keep from building the program too quickly.

"We finished in the top 16 last season and we hadn't done that in 20 years," Gundy said. "There's a lot of excitement around here. We've worked hard. We just have to keep pushing and be patient and try not to do too much."

Gundy said the Cowboys still need to build across-the-board depth that will enable his team to challenge the nation's powers. It's been something he's been aiming for since taking over the job.

Now, the Cowboys are less reliant on quick fixes from junior college players when they recruit.

"You can't build a Division I program at a school like this overnight," Gundy said. "You have to be patient and do things the right way. We're now getting the talent where we can lessen our junior-college offers and continue to get high school players and develop when they get there.

"We have to stay with the system, stay the course and keep moving."

Oklahoma State's recent success has helped them pick up their national recruiting. In their most recruiting class, the Cowboys attracted 16 of their 23 players from out-of-state. Included in the list were three players from Georgia and one from Indiana. Both of those areas had never been heavily recruited by Oklahoma State in the past.

"We were on television more so people saw us. And we also had coaches who had ties in those area and were able to get those players," Gundy said. "The kid from Indiana (linebacker Jordan Barnes) saw us on television and wanted to check us out after we played Missouri."

That buzz has helped Gundy and his assistants sell Oklahoma State. And with new facilities and an expanded stadium opening, the future looks bright for his program.

"It's an exciting game and that helps our ticket sales," Gundy said. "It also helps our confidence because these are just kids and they see something and want to be a part of a program that's fun and exciting."

Gundy also told the Atlanta Journal-Constitution that his infamous 2007 rant when he defended quarterback Bobby Reid has seemed to help his recruiting -- particularly in areas outside the Cowboys' normal areas of Oklahoma and Texas.   

"No, I didn't expect it, in any way, shape, form or fashion," Gundy told the Journal-Constitution. "It's interesting since that day, which happened on impulse in my opinion, to protect and take care of one of our players, I didn't have any idea that it would take off like this. From that point on, for good or bad, I've become very recognizable across the country."

That has also resulted in the expansion of the Oklahoma State "brand" and made the school more nationally recognizable, Gundy said.  

"In turn, what has happened in the last couple of years in recruiting, it has helped us tremendously," Gundy said. "I think the parents of these young men understand that 'If my son goes to play at Oklahoma State, the coach is going to do whatever he can to take care of him.'

"No, we didn't know that [recruiting benefits] would happen. But it certainly has been a huge impact. It's name recognition. Moms and dads want to know wherever their son goes to school, that those coaches are going to take care of them. And when they go to Oklahoma State. They know that's going to happen."

While Gundy sees the positives in his infamous rant, it's also interesting to remember what Reid had to say several months later after transferring away from the school for Texas Southern, where he finished his college football career.

Reid told ESPN the Magazine that Gundy's rant "basically ended my life."

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