NCF Nation: Brian Orakpo

Big 12 all-BCS-era team

January, 13, 2014
Jan 13
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After 16 years, the BCS era is finally over. Next season, college football will have a playoff instead.

With the BCS done, we've come up with our Big 12 all-BCS era team (1998-2013) below:

Offense

[+] EnlargeVince Young
Scott Clarke/Getty ImagesWith Vince Young at the helm, Texas won a national title and Rose Bowl.
QB: Vince Young, Texas (2003-05) -- Young led Texas to its first national title in 35 years with an unforgettable performance in the Rose Bowl against USC. The Heisman runner-up also became the first QB in college football history to throw for 3,000 yards and run for 1,000 in the same season.

RB: Ricky Williams, Texas (1998) -- Williams was part of the BCS era for only one season, but what a season it was. He rushed for 2,327 yards and won the Heisman Trophy going away. Only Wisconsin’s Ron Dayne has more career rushing yards than Williams (6,279).

RB: Adrian Peterson, Oklahoma (2004-06) -- Despite battling injuries throughout his career, Peterson still was a beast in college. After rushing for 1,925 yards while leading the Sooners to the national title game, he finished second in the ’04 Heisman voting, even though there was still a stigma then in voting for a freshman.

WR: Michael Crabtree, Texas Tech (2007-08) -- Crabtree became the first two-time winner of the Biletnikoff Award, given to the nation’s top receiver. In '08, he and QB Graham Harrell led the Red Raiders to an upset of Texas and a No. 2 ranking in the polls.

WR: Justin Blackmon, Oklahoma State (2009-11) -- Blackmon became the second and only other two-time winner of the Biletnikoff. In his final two seasons, he finished with 233 receptions, 3,304 receiving yards and 38 touchdowns, and he helped propel the Cowboys to their first Big 12 title in '11.

TE: Chase Coffman, Missouri (2005-08) -- Coffman had a monster statistical college career for a tight end with 247 catches for 2,659 receiving yards and 30 touchdowns. He won the ’08 Mackey Award, given to the nation’s top tight end. Missouri won 37 games during the four years Coffman was in the lineup.

OT: Jammal Brown, Oklahoma (2001-04) -- Brown was a unanimous All-American and a three-time All-Big 12 selection. He became the fifth Sooner to win the Outland Trophy, awarded to the nation’s top interior lineman.

OT: Russell Okung, Oklahoma State (2007-09) -- In Okung’s final two seasons, Oklahoma State led the Big 12 in rushing yards. The Cowboys were also third in the country in ’07 in fewest sacks allowed with Okung at left tackle. He was a unanimous All-American and Outland finalist in ’09 and became the sixth overall pick in the ’10 NFL draft.

OG: Cyril Richardson, Baylor (2010-13) -- Richardson became Baylor’s seventh all-time unanimous All-American. The Outland finalist was also a key piece on the nation’s highest-scoring offense this season.

OG: Justin Blalock, Texas (2003-06) -- Though a guard in the NFL, Blalock actually started 50 games for Texas, most coming at right tackle. He was a three-time, first-team All-Big 12 selection and a consensus All-American in 2006.

C: Dominic Raiola, Nebraska (1998-2000) -- Raiola was the inaugural winner of the Rimington Award, named after former Nebraska center Dave Rimington, which recognizes the best center in college football. He was an Outland finalist and a consensus All-American.

APB: Darren Sproles, Kansas State (2001-04) -- One of the most prolific all-purpose performers in college football history, Sproles finished his career with 6,812 all-purpose yards. Among his 39 consecutive starts, his most memorable performance came in the ’03 Big 12 championship, when he had 235 yards rushing and 88 receiving, as K-State upset top-ranked Oklahoma 35-7.

Defense

DE: Brian Orakpo, Texas (2005-08) -- Orakpo captured the ’08 Nagurski Award as the most outstanding defensive player in the country, and the Lombardi Award, given to the best college lineman or linebacker. He also was the Big 12 Defensive Player of the Year and a consensus All-American while piling up 11 sacks his senior year.

DE: Von Miller, Texas A&M (2007-10) -- Out of a hybrid defensive end/linebacker role, Miller led the nation with 17 sacks in ’09. He was a two-time All-American and won the Butkus Award in ’10 as the nation’s top linebacker.

DT: Ndamukong Suh, Nebraska (2005-09) -- There was no more dominant defensive player in college football during the BCS era. Suh finished fourth in the Heisman voting in ’09 and won several national awards, including the Outland, Lombardi, Nagurski (most outstanding defensive player)and Bednarik (defensive player of the year). He was also a unanimous All-American and the Big 12 Defensive Player of the Year.

DT: Tommie Harris, Oklahoma (2001-03) -- Harris was a force from the beginning as a freshman on the OU defensive line. He won the Lombardi his junior year, and he was a two-time consensus All-American, garnering unanimous honors in ’03.

LB: Derrick Johnson, Texas (2001-04) -- Johnson was a menacing linebacker for the Longhorns, earning consensus All-American honors in ’03 and unanimous honors in ’04. He was also a three-time, first-team All-Big 12 selection, and won the Butkus (best linebacker) and Nagurski awards as a senior. Johnson finished his career with 458 tackles.

LB: Rocky Calmus, Oklahoma (1998-2001) -- Calmus played a major role in OU’s resurgence under Bob Stoops. He won the Butkus in ’01 and was a finalist for the Nagurski and Bednarik. A three-time All-Big 12 pick, Calmus led the Sooners in tackles in all three of those seasons.

LB: Teddy Lehman, Oklahoma (2000-03) -- Lehman too won the Butkus, beating out Johnson for the award in ’03. He also was Big 12 Defensive Player of the Year, captured the Bednarik, was a unanimous All-American and played in two national championship games.

[+] EnlargeTavon Austin
Justin K. Aller/Getty ImagesWest Virginia receiver and returner Tavon Austin had a huge 2012 season.
CB: Terence Newman, Kansas State (1999-2002) -- Newman was a solid player for Bill Snyder his first three seasons, then broke out as a senior. Newman was the Big 12 Defensive Player of the Year, a unanimous All-American and the Thorpe winner, given to college football’s top defensive back.

CB: Derrick Strait, Oklahoma (2000-03) -- A four-year starter, Strait finished with a school-record 52 career pass breakups. He also won the Thorpe, and was a unanimous All-American.

S: Roy Williams, Oklahoma (1999-2001) -- Nicknamed “Superman,” Williams was the Big 12’s most dominating defensive player until Suh came along. He won the Thorpe and Nagurski in ’01, and was the Big 12 Defensive Player of the Year and a unanimous All-American the same season. He also famously skied over the Texas offensive line to force the game-clinching interception to earn his moniker.

S: Michael Huff, Texas (2002-05) -- Huff became the first Longhorn to win the Thorpe, and was the leader of the ’05 national championship defense. He was also a unanimous All-American that season.

Special teams

K: Mason Crosby, Colorado (2003-06) -- Crosby was three-time, first-team All-Big 12 selection, and twice was a consensus All-American even though he never won the Lou Groza Award, given to the nation's top kicker. He was also the Big 12 Special Teams Player of the Year as a junior, and converted 66 field goals in his career.

P: Quinn Sharp, Oklahoma State (2009-12) -- Sharp became the first three-time All-American in Oklahoma State history, and he earned All-American honors both as a punter and a kicker. He was twice named the Big 12 Special Teams Player of the Year. In his career, he made 50 of 59 field goals, averaged 45.9 yards per punt and missed only one extra point.

KR: Tavon Austin, West Virginia (2012) -- Austin was in the Big 12 only one season, but he was unstoppable that one season. On top of being one of the most dangerous kick returners in the country, Austin had 1,289 yards receiving and 643 rushing, and finished second in the country in all-purpose yards.

PR: Ryan Broyles Oklahoma (2008-11) -- On top of being a prolific punt returner, Broyles was one of the most efficient receivers in college football history. He finished his career with an FBS-record 349 receptions, and was a two-time consensus All-American before a knee injury cut his senior season short.
Jackson Jeffcoat's decision to attend Texas wasn't surprising.

Texas coach Mack Brown has rarely lost a commitment from an in-state Texas player that he really wanted. And Jeffcoat's announcement Friday morning continued that trend.

Texas' history of nurturing top pass-rushing defensive ends played a big part in Jeffcoat's decision. He only had to look at the work of Brian Orakpo and Sergio Kindle to imagine his possibilities thriving in Will Muschamp's defense.

Orakpo spent one season with Muschamp's defense and developed into a first-round pick for the Washington Redskins. He later became a Pro Bowl selection for the Redskins after his rookie NFL season.

And Kindle also is expected to be a first-round draft pick when the NFL conducts its 2010 draft in April.

At 6-foot-3 and 230 pounds, Jeffcoat will report to college with the same lanky frame that both Kindle and Orakpo had when they arrived at college. But it's not a stretch to imagine him filling out to more than 250 pounds like both of his predecessors did before they left college.

By making his decision, Jeffcoat turned his back on family relationships at finalists Oklahoma and Houston. His twin sister Jacqueline will play basketball with the Lady Sooners starting next season. And his father, former Dallas Cowboys defensive end Jim Jeffcoat, is Houston's defensive line coach on the staff of Kevin Sumlin.

Despite those strong ties at the other schools, the decision to attend Texas was what Jeffcoat thought he needed to make.

"This decision took so long because I felt comfortable at all of the schools,” Jeffcoat told the Austin American-Statesman.

In the end, he helped separate the schools by looking at which one had done the best job recently of developing players for the NFL draft at his position.

My all-Big 12 all-decade team

January, 22, 2010
1/22/10
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With all of the looking back we've done this week, I couldn't leave without picking my own All-Big 12 all-decade team.

It was a tough choice at several positions, but here's my all-decade team.

Please feel free to provide any changes you would make, and explain why you would make them.

Believe me, it's a hard choice. I spent more than an hour trying to choose between Darren Sproles and Cedric Benson and Jermaine Gresham and Chase Coffman.

OFFENSE

QB: Vince Young, Texas

RB: Adrian Peterson, Oklahoma

RB: Cedric Benson, Texas

WR: Michael Crabtree, Texas Tech

WR: Rashaun Woods, Oklahoma State

TE: Chase Coffman, Missouri

T: Russell Okung, Oklahoma State

T: Jammal Brown, Oklahoma

G: Duke Robinson, Oklahoma

G: Derrick Dockery, Texas

C: Andre Gurode, Colorado

DEFENSE

DE: Brian Orakpo, Texas

DT: Ndamukong Suh, Nebraska

DT: Tommie Harris, Oklahoma

DE: Dan Cody, Oklahoma

LB: Derrick Johnson, Texas

LB: Rocky Calmus, Oklahoma

LB: Teddy Lehman, Oklahoma

CB: Terence Newman, Kansas State

CB: Derrick Strait, Oklahoma

S: Roy Williams, Oklahoma

S: Michael Huff, Texas

K: Mason Crosby, Colorado

P: Daniel Sepulveda, Baylor

Ret: Wes Welker, Texas Tech

Texas' all-decade team

January, 21, 2010
1/21/10
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Mack Brown revived the glory at Texas in the last decade, claiming at least 10 victories in each of the last nine seasons, including a 25-2 record in the last two seasons. The Longhorns have finished in the top 10 in five of the last six seasons.

Darrell K. Royal/Texas Memorial Stadium now has more than 100,00 seats. The Longhorns have a designated successor for Brown in place with rising star Will Muschamp. And that pesky problem with Bob Stoops has been alleviated recently with four victories in the last five seasons over the Sooners.

Times are good for Brown.

Here's a look at the Longhorns’ all-decade team during that time.

OFFENSE

QB: Vince Young

RB: Jamaal Charles

RB: Cedric Benson

WR: Jordan Shipley

WR: Roy Williams

TE: David Thomas

OL: Justin Blalock

OL: Jonathan Scott

OL: Derrick Dockery

OL: Leonard Davis

C: Lyle Sendlein

DEFENSE

DL: Brian Orakpo

DL: Cory Redding

DL: Shaun Rogers

DL: Casey Hampton

LB: Sergio Kindle

LB: Derrick Johnson

LB: Roddrick Muckelroy

DB: Earl Thomas

DB: Michael Huff

DB: Nathan Vasher

DB: Aaron Ross

P: Richmond McGee

K: Hunter Lawrence

KR: Quan Cosby

Offensive player of the decade: QB Vince Young. The most electrifying player of the decade capped his career by scoring the game-winning touchdown to lead his team to the national championship in his final drive. Brown finished with a 30-2 record, 6.040 passing yards and 3,127 rushing yards.

Defensive player of the decade: LB Derrick Johnson. He wasn’t around when the Longhorns won the national championship, but was perhaps the best player at his position at the school since Tommy Nobis. He capped his career with the Nagurski and Butkus Awards after earning All-America honors in each of his last two seasons.

Coach of the decade: Mack Brown. Remember when people used to joke about his inability to win big games or how he coddled his players. That all changed as the decade progressed. Brown got tougher and made some astute moves at defensive coordinator to help his program take the next step with the addition of coaches like Gene Chizik and Will Muschamp.

Moment of the decade: Vince Young’s run leads comeback victory to the 2005 national championship. Young’s game-winning 8-yard TD run with 19 seconds left boosted the Longhorns to a 41-38 victory over USC in the 2006 Rose Bowl, providing the margin of victory in one of the greatest college football games in history. Michael Huff’s fourth-down stop of LenDale White on the preceding drive set up Young’s heroics to snap the Trojans’ 34-game winning streak.

Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Griffin

Sometimes the spring provides a chance for personnel holes to be filled. Sometimes it doesn't.

Here are some of the notable positions around the Big 12 that picked up some assistance during the spring.

Baylor: The quick development of defensive tackle Phil Taylor, a heralded transfer from Penn State, should turn a traditional position of weakness for the Bears into a strength. Joining him at the position will be Jason Lamb, who showed some promise after moving over from defensive end before spring practice.

Colorado: The emergence of hulking 260-pound middle linebacker Marcus Burton and B.J. Beatty at outside linebacker have helped transform the Buffaloes' defense. Burton led the team in tackles and was a prime playmaker in the spring game with eight tackles, two sacks and a fumble recovery. He had eight tackles in 10 games last season.

Iowa State: Redshirt freshman quarterback Jerome Tiller outplayed starter Austen Arnaud in the spring game, passing for 210 yards and getting free for a 65-yard touchdown run. I'm not sure that Tiller will be starting come September, but he'll make Arnaud work harder to earn his job.

Kansas: The Jayhawks had questions in the defensive line before the spring, even with the return of all-Big 12 honorable mention selections Caleb Blakesley and Jake Laptad and late season starting defensive tackles Richard Johnson and Jamal Greene. The development of tackle Darius Parish and end Max Onyegbule should add to the depth. And that doesn't even account for the arrival of heralded junior college transfer Quintin Woods, who originally signed with Michigan out of high school before heading to Bakersfield (Cal.) Community College to get his grades in order.

Kansas State: The emergence of linebackers like Alex Hrebec, Ulla Pomele and John Houlik has helped turn the position into the strength of the defense, even as the Wildcats are transforming to a 4-2-5 alignment. Hrebec, a former walk-on, contributed 19 tackles in the spring game and Houlik is a huge hitter despite his 5-foot-11, 219-pound size.

Missouri: Redshirt freshman Aldon Smith has only added to the Tigers' depth at defensive end, which already featured Brian Coulter and Jacquies Smith in front of him. Smith was voted as the team's most improved player in the spring. Throw in converted offensive tackle Brad Madison and redshirt freshman Marcus Marlbrough and you'll see why Gary Pinkel considers it his best collection of defensive ends at Missouri.

Nebraska: The Cornhuskers had serious questions at quarterback, particularly after the departure of projected starting challenger Patrick Witt before spring practice and Kody Spano's knee injury. But the strong spring by Zac Lee and the surprising development of converted linebacker LaTravis Washington eased some of offensive coordinator Shawn Watson's concerns. Their strong spring work also should mean that heralded freshman Cody Green likely won't be thrown into action perhaps as quickly as Watson might have feared before the spring.

Oklahoma: After losing starters Nic Harris and Lendy Holmes, safety was the only position without returning starters for the Sooners on defense. Quinton Carter nailed down one starting position and Sam Proctor and Joseph Ibiloye are poised to fight for the other job beside him. Emmanuel Jones and Desmond Jackson also had strong spring efforts to challenge for playing time.

Oklahoma State: Defensive tackle was enough of a question that new coordinator Bill Young moved Derek Burton inside from defensive end to help bolster depth at the position. Burton and Swanson Miller appear to have won starting jobs with redshirt freshman Nigel Nicholas and junior Chris Donaldson providing strong depth. Their strong play helped the Cowboys rack up seven sacks in the spring game - more than half of their 2008 season total of 13.

Texas: The Longhorns were concerned about defensive end after the departure of NFL draft picks Brian Orakpo and Henry Melton from last season. Those fears appear to be assuaged after the seamless transition of Sergio Kindle to the position from linebacker and the quick assimilation by freshman Alex Okafor. Toss in Sam Acho and Russell Carter and the return injured pass-rushing threat Eddie Jones and the Longhorns appear stacked at the position.

Texas A&M: Safety was a question mark before spring camp after the loss of Devin Gregg and Alton Dixon and the move of 2008 starting free safety Jordan Peterson to cornerback. But the strong return to safety by converted cornerback Jordan Pugh and the noticeable development by Trent Hunter helped solidify the position during the spring. And the Aggies' depth at the position was improved after the move of wide receiver Chris Caflisch to the position along with strong play from DeMaurier Thompson.

Texas Tech: The departure of two-time Biletnikoff Award winner Michael Crabtree and underrated Eric Morris was supposed to cripple the Red Raiders' receiving corps. Mike Leach appears to have found several serviceable replacements after Tramain Swindall, Lyle Leong, Detron Lewis and walk-on flanker Adam Torres all emerged during the spring. And that doesn't include Edward Britton, who was in Leach's doghouse much of the spring after falling behind in the classroom but still is perhaps their most athletic force on the field.

Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Griffin

I can't give out ESPYs for monumental spring performances. But I still have a few awards for outstanding achievement during spring practices around the Big 12.

Here are some of my more notable choices:

Best spring game performance by a quarterback: Baylor quarterback Robert Griffin picked up where he left off last season by passing for 310 yards and three TDs and rushing for 41 yards and another score in the Bears' spring scrimmage.

Best spring game performance by a non-quarterback: Texas A&M wide receiver Jeff Fuller produced nine catches for 154 yards and a touchdown and was the highest points producer in coach Mike Sherman's convoluted spring scrimmage that finished with a 117-107 final score. No, it wasn't an old ABA basketball game.

Best collective performance, offense: After finally getting healthy, Colorado's offensive line dominated throughout the spring. The Buffaloes culminated their development by producing 274 rushing yards and netting nearly 5.5 yards per carry, even when five sacks were factored into the statistics.

Best spring-game defensive performance: Kansas State's Brandon Harold was a pass-rushing beast, contributing three sacks along with a tackle for loss and nine tackles in the Wildcats' Purple-White game.

Best collective performance, defense: Texas' secondary showed two-deep talent throughout the camp, but saved their last for the Longhorns' spring game. They terrorized Heisman Trophy runner-up Colt McCoy, who completed only 11 of 24 passes for 95 yards. Most importantly, they produced two interceptions after notching only six during the entire 2008 season.

"Mr. April:" What is it about spring games and Oklahoma cornerback Dominique Franks? Franks produced two interceptions, including a 42-yard return for a touchdown, in the Sooners' Red-White game. Last year, Franks had three interceptions in the Sooners' spring game.

Best unlikely spring performance: Former Kansas State walk-on linebacker Alex Hrebec thrived in new coordinator Vic Koenning's new defense by notching 19 tackles in the Wildcats' spring game.

Best position change: Missouri redshirt freshman Brad Madison's move from offensive tackle to defensive end didn't catch many eyes early in spring practice. But Madison came on with a productive finish, capped by two sacks in a late scrimmage and development that pushed him into the mix for playing time in the fall.

Best performance by a freshman: Texas is looking for a boost in its pass rush after the departure of starters Brian Orakpo and Henry Melton from last season. Early enrollee Alex Okafor was stunning in his early work. Texas coach Mack Brown has always been hesitant to play freshmen, but Okafor's quick development in Will Muschamp's defense might cause him to change his opinion.

Best spring game atmosphere: What is it they say about there being no place like Nebraska? That certainly was the case for Bo Pelini's second spring game. Even with a $5 admission charged, a Big 12 high 77,670 turned out for the Cornhuskers' spring game. The total ranked third nationally, trailing only Ohio State and Alabama.

Best story of the spring: After struggling as he recovered from a career-threatening hip injury, Oklahoma State defensive end Richetti Jones finally started living up to the form that once earned him the nickname of the "Sack Master." Jones' development into a consistent threat will be important as new OSU coordinator Bill Young tries to cook up enough consistent defensive pressure to push the Cowboys into contention for their first South Division title.

Biggest spring non-story: The Robert Marve victory tour. The former Miami quarterback kept showing up around the Big 12 trying to find his next playing situation. He appeared for a few minutes at the Nebraska spring game and also met with Texas Tech coach Mike Leach about transferring there. Earlier, he unsuccessfully tried to convince Oklahoma and Oklahoma State coaches to join their programs.

Quotes of the spring:

"Young is not in our vocabulary. There will be no excuses. We've got to go out there and we've got to play as good as any linebacker corps in the country." Nebraska linebacker coach Mike Ekeler, telling the Lincoln Journal-Star he's not satisfied with his unit's improvement during the spring.

"Have you ever seen anything as boring as that?" Kansas State coach Bill Snyder after not exactly being enthused with his team's performance at its spring game.

"This isn't a team that walks around like the Steel Curtain. They know they gave up a lot of points, they know they gave up a lot of yards and know they didn't tackle well. That's where you have to start." Iowa State coach Paul Rhoads on his team's need for defensive growth.

"It doesn't matter to me at all. I know there isn't one on ours. And I know where the trophy is." Oklahoma coach Bob Stoops, commenting to the Norman Transcript about Texas' claiming of the 2008* Big 12 title. The Longhorns briefly included last season -- with an asterisk -- among a group of team championships at the Longhorns' football training facility.

"Ed didn't like showing up and studying at places I felt like he needed to and like the academic people asked him to, so he can go study out there on the 50-yard line." Texas Tech coach Mike Leach, who explained to the Lubbock Avalanche-Journal why wide receiver Edward Britton was forced to study in the middle of the field at Jones AT&T Stadium after an early spring practice -- during the middle of a brief snowstorm.

"I challenged them. We have to do things that exceed what other people do because we need to get further faster." Texas A&M coach Mike Sherman, on his team's need for immediate improvement heading into the season.

Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Griffin

It might be a little quieter at Memorial Stadium this season, at least if a directive from the Nebraska athletic department is enforced.

Lee Barfknecht of the Omaha World-Herald reports that skybox holders at Memorial Stadium have received word that there will be stricter enforcement of the campus law that forbids alcohol possession on campus.

No beer or whiskey in those prime seats might lead to a more sedate crowd -- at least in what some Nebraska insiders refer to as "Lexus Lane."

But something tells me that if Bo Pelini's team is as good as expected, the rest of the stadium might drown them out.

We won't know about that until early September at the Cornhuskers' first game. Until then, here are some notable stories from across the conference.  

  • Mark Hasty of Fanhouse.com wonders if the Big 12 can rebound after last season's disappointing bowl performance
  • Randy Riggs of the Austin American-Statesman writes about how Texas A&M defensive coordinator Joe Kines has simplified his defensive scheme in hopes of improving the defense's production.
  • Colorado is intent on improving its ability to block kicks this spring, the Boulder Daily Camera's Kyle Ringo reports.
  • Robert Cessna of the Bryan Eagle is sticking to his 6-6 prediction for Texas A&M next season.
  • Backup Oklahoma offensive tackle Donald Stephenson turned himself into Norman police after a municipal warrant was issued for his failure to pay a previous speeding ticket, the Oklahoman's Jake Trotter reports.
  • Backup Texas Tech quarterback Steven "Sticks" Sheffield is intent on earning a scholarship to get his parents off the hook for tuition, the Lubbock Avalanche-Journal's Don Williams writes.
  • Michael Crabtree and Brian Orakpo are among players who will serve as cover athletes for different platforms of EA Sports' NCAA Football, the Business Wire reports.
  • Former Kansas State quarterback Josh Freeman tells Joshua Kinder of the Manhattan Mercury he isn't looking back at his decision to declare for the NFL draft.
  • John Whisler of the San Antonio Express-News profiles backup Iowa State quarterback Jerome Tiller, who has emerged as one of the Cyclones' biggest spring surprises.
  • Lydon Murtha and Matt Slauson hope to renew the reputation of Nebraska's offensive line as a pipeline to the NFL, the Omaha World-Herald's Rich Kaipust reports.

Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Griffin

Every team is green someplace. Here are the specific areas of the most inexperience for each Big 12 team.

Baylor offensive tackle: The Bears need to break in two new starters after losing Jason Smith and Dan Gay.

Colorado defensive line: Help is needed along the defensive front where the Buffaloes lose starting defensive end Maurice Lucas, starting defensive tackle George Hypolite and starting nose tackle Brandon Nicolas.

Iowa State defensive line: Coach Paul Rhoads desperately wants somebody to emerge on the defensive line where the Cyclones lose starting defensive tackle Michael Tate, starting defensive end Kurtis Taylor and top backup defensive back Travis Ferguson.

Kansas linebackers: Even as Mark Mangino is contemplating going to a two-linebacker base defense because of the Big 12's spread offenses, he still needs to find those two players. The Jayhawks lose starters James Holt, Mike Rivera and Joe Mortensen at the position from last season.

Kansas State quarterback: Josh Freeman departed for the NFL early, leaving Carson Coffman and junior college transfer Daniel Thomas to compete for the starting job. It's not a pleasant introduction back to football for returning KSU coach Bill Snyder.

Missouri skill-position players: The Tigers need a quick infusion of playmakers after losing quarterback Chase Daniel, wide receiver/kick returner Jeremy Maclin and tight end Chase Coffman. All of them arguably were the greatest players at their respective positions in Missouri history. Blake Gabbert will receive first look at quarterback and Andrew Jones will work at tight end. It could take several players to fill in for what Maclin did.

Nebraska quarterback: It will be tough for the Cornhuskers to replace all that Joe Ganz did for them, both as a playmaker and a leader at quarterback. Zac Lee will get the first shot, along with freshman Cody Green and redshirt freshman Kody Spano. Maybe the Cornhuskers really could use former Miami quarterback Robert Marve next season.

Oklahoma offensive line: The departure of starting center Jon Cooper, tackle Phil Loadholt and guards Duke Robinson and Brandon Walker means that Sam Bradford will have an inexperienced group protecting him next season. Trent Williams moves to left tackle and Bob Stoops likes his incoming talent, if not its early work habits.

Oklahoma State defensive tackles: The Cowboys ranked last in the conference in sacks last season and lost starting defensive tackles Tonga Tea and Jeray Chatham. It will mean that new defensive coordinator Bill Young will need somebody to step up in the trenches to help shore up that weakness.

Texas defensive line: The major question dogging the Longhorns' national title hopes will be rebuilding a defensive front that loses All-American defensive end Brian Orakpo, defensive tackle Roy Miller, defensive tackleAaron Lewis and defensive end Henry Melton from last season.

Texas Tech offensive line: New quarterback Taylor Potts will be relying on a retooled offensive line protecting his blind side after left tackle Rylan Reed, left guard Louis Vasquez and center Stephen Hamby all departed from last year.

Texas A&M running backs: The Aggies' offensive backfield will need to restock players: Michael Goodson left school early to declare for the NFL draft and fullbacks Jorvorskie Lane and Nick LaMantia are gone. Look for Cyrus Gray to get most of the work this spring with heralded freshman Bradley Stephens arriving in the summer.

Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Griffin

AUSTIN, Texas -- The reports assuredly weren't what Sergio Kindle wanted to read.

 
  Marc Piscotty/Icon SMI
  Sergio Kindle has high expectations for the 2009 season.

So when the stark prognosis from NFL evaluators came back about what Kindle's draft prospects would be if he declared early, the Texas defensive standout didn't waste much time with the rest.

"After they said I was a second- or third-round choice, I didn't even bother reading all of it," Kindle said. "I saw that and threw it away. I said, 'OK, I'm coming back.'"

If Kindle has a dramatic senior season that drastically improves his stock for the 2010 NFL draft, that balled-up NFL scouting evaluation might be the biggest piece of inspiration that got him there.

Texas coaches are using Kindle as a down lineman this spring after alternating as a defensive lineman and linebacker last season. His development as the team's major playmaker along the defensive front will be critical in settling one of the Longhorns' critical lingering questions in their hopes of challenging for the Big 12 championship.

In his first season as a starter in 2008, Kindle produced 10 sacks and ranked fifth on the team with 53 tackles.

Such a performance was remarkable considering that Kindle barely had a chance to work at defensive end before the season started. He missed last spring recovering from knee surgery and was moved to his new position for some snaps by Texas defensive coordinator Will Muschamp shortly before the season started.

"We weren't really fair to him last year putting him at a new position without repping it enough in the situations we put him in at defensive end," Muschamp said. "We really didn't know what we had until we were rolling in fall camp. We need to get ready to play by getting guys comfortable with what they are going to do."

(Read full post)

Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Griffin

One of the most interesting parts of spring practice will be watching potential replacements emerge in key situations across the Big 12.

Here are some of the key departures from around the conference and some of the players who will compete to try to fill those vacancies.

 
  Getty Images
  Brian Orakpo's pass-rushing skills will be missed by Texas.
  • Texas Tech wide receiver Michael Crabtree -- The Red Raiders will miss the two-time Biletnikoff winner. Lyle Leong will get the first shot and should be challenged by Jacoby Franks and 6-foot-4 Rashad Hawk. Top returning receivers Detron Lewis and Tramain Swindall will remain inside as slot receivers, meaning that other players will have to emerge at Crabtree's old featured slot.
  • Texas' pass-rushing specialist replacing Brian Orakpo -- Texas coaches are hoping that Sergio Kindle will ratchet up his play to Orakpo-like levels as he moves to a near permanent status as a pass-rushing specialist at defensive end. Sam Acho will get most of the work on the other side during the spring with Eddie Jones battling back from shoulder and ankle surgery, meaning the spotlight will be on Kindle this spring.
  • Jeremy Maclin's talents at Missouri -- It likely will take several players to cover what the multi-purpose Maclin provided as a receiver, rusher and kick return threat. Among the players who will get a look at a variety of roles include Wes Kemp, Jerrell Jackson, Gahn McGaffie and Rolandis Woodland.
  • Oklahoma fills a depleted offensive line -- Only tackle Trent Williams will be back as a starter for the Sooners' unit, which will lose key producers like guards Duke Robinson and Brandon Walker, center Jon Cooper and mammoth tackle Phil Loadholt. The four departing starters combined for 149 starts during their college careers. Replacements like tackle Cory Brandon, guards Alex Williams and Brian Simmons and center Jason Hannan are presumed to be talented, but are still very inexperienced. That's not a comforting thought for returning Oklahoma quarterback Sam Bradford -- at least until spring practice begins.
  • Kansas State replaces Ron Prince -- Sure, the Wildcats made only one bowl trip in Prince's three-season tenure before he was fired. But it will still be a huge test for legendary Kansas State coach Bill Snyder to match the success he produced earlier in his career after his sabbatical during the Prince years. It will especially be challenging this season with the loss of quarterback Josh Freeman and offensive coordinator Andy Ludwig, who went packing late last week for a similar position at California after only six weeks at Kansas State. Junior-college transfer Daniel Thomas and Carson Coffman will compete to replace Freeman. And it's anybody's guess whom Snyder will find to replace Ludwig with the start of spring practice approaching on April 6.

Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Griffin

FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. -- Here's how I think Thursday's FedEx BCS National Championship Game will play out.

Florida 35, Oklahoma 31 -- The biggest question remains how Oklahoma's defense responds after being repeatedly dissed by the Gators. After being trashed for the last week by several mouthy Florida players, Oklahoma should be suitably inspired.

But it still won't be enough. Both teams' offenses will have their moments and this matchup between Heisman Trophy winners Tim Tebow and Sam Bradford will be more noteworthy than the forgettable Jason White-Matt Leinart game in 2005.

The biggest edges for Florida are their special teams and their speed along the defensive front. Only one team has been able to pressure Oklahoma all season. If the Gators follow the model that Texas speed-rushers Brian Orakpo and Sergio Kindle provided for them, they should be able to make Bradford uncomfortable in the pocket.

Also, look for Florida to exploit Oklahoma's undisciplined kick coverage team for a big return by Brandon James. And if the game is close, Florida has an edge in the kicking game between senior Jonathan Phillips over redshirt freshman Jimmy Stevens for the Sooners. The Gators should be able to use those advantages to wear down Oklahoma in the second half and cruise to the victory.

And in case you might be asking, this pick might be the kiss of death for the Gators, considering I'm picking them. My record for the bowls hasn't been very good as I've been a rather pedestrian 3-3 so far. And I'll take my lumps after picking Oklahoma State, Clemson and Texas Tech to win their games. I've been right on Texas, Kansas and Missouri.

Here are my records for the season:

Record for last week: 1-2 (33.3 percent)

Record for the season: 87-16 (84.5 percent) 

Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg

 
 AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin
 Colt McCoy threw for 414 yards and the winning touchdown with 16 seconds to play Monday night against Ohio State.

GLENDALE, Ariz. -- Roy Miller sounded like an Ohio State infomercial.

Minutes after No. 3 Texas posted a dramatic Fiesta Bowl win, Miller began talking up the team his Longhorns had just beaten.

"Great team, great players, Terrelle Pryor, [Chris "Beanie" Wells] is healthy," said Miller, the Longhorns senior nose tackle who was named Defensive Player of the Game. "You've got award winners on that side. You've got future Heisman candidates, you've got a running back that'll probably be the top pick in the draft, an offensive line as big as any, a defense that's played as well as any defense.

"When you look at those things and you look that this team had an opportunity to scout us for a month and a half, I really feel like we deserve that top spot."

It will be a tough sell, but the Longhorns began campaigning for the No. 1 ranking immediately after their 24-21 win. Head coach Mack Brown on the victory podium said he planned to vote Texas at No. 1 regardless of what happens in the BCS title game Thursday night.

But there's a force working against Texas, the same force that worked in favor of Oklahoma and Florida.

The Longhorns won by only three points Monday. They showed tremendous fortitude, made key plays and rallied past an Ohio State team that finally began to play to its potential. Yet a 3-point win against the runner-up from the beleaguered Big Ten Conference won't convince many that Texas should be at the top. Neither will an offense that produced well below its season averages.

"Style points, I don't care about scoring 80 points and them scoring seven," Longhorns defensive end Brian Orakpo said. "If it's a battle between two great teams, it makes football even more fun to play. It's very unfortunate because nowadays it's all style points and who can keep their starters in the longest and keep running up the score.

"Style points shouldn't matter."

Orakpo makes an excellent point, but one that likely will fall on deaf ears when the final polls come out. Texas entered the game as a 9-point favorite, and after impressive BCS wins by both USC and Utah, the Longhorns likely needed to trounce Ohio State to open the door for a split national title.

Though Texas certainly has the best case of any team not spending the week in Miami, the Longhorns were seconds away from a loss. USC thumped a Penn State team that beat Ohio State on Oct. 25, and Utah also posted a two-touchdown victory.

"Things weren't easy tonight," Brown said.

"You can throw [margin of victory] out the window," Orakpo said.

Unfortunately for Orakpo, the voters don't.

Texas' best argument for the No. 1 spot in the polls had nothing to do with what happened at University of Phoenix Stadium.

"It's called the Red River Shootout, and 45-35 was that final score," Miller said, referring to Texas' win against Oklahoma on Oct. 11. "We have an opportunity to win the votes over, hopefully, and possibly get a national championship with the votes."

Miller spoke last week about losing confidence in the voters toward the end of the regular season, as Oklahoma moved past Texas, thanks in large part to style points. History is not on the Longhorns' side.

But after Monday's win, Miller is beginning to feel more hopeful.

"I'm optimistic," he said. "I'm hoping that since our team played so strong and showed so much heart, I'm hoping those things can come through transparent, everybody can see 'em. Especially if Oklahoma wins [Thursday night]. We beat Oklahoma. We felt like we should have been in Florida. We felt like we should have had that opportunity.

"If they beat Florida, we feel we should be No. 1."

Miller doesn't plan to sit around and fret over the final polls. But he hopes the voters will do the right thing.

"Anything can happen," he said. "We know it, and we just hope we can win a couple votes. I'm proud of my team. Being a part of this team and knowing the things that we've been through, the teams that we've beat and the situations we've been in, I personally feel this team can play with anybody in the country."

Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg

GLENDALE, Ariz. -- Once again, Ohio State has an early lead in a big game.

Can the Buckeyes hold it?

The second quarter has doomed Ohio State in recent showcase games and will be crucial against Texas, which is showing some life on offense. Colt McCoy and the Longhorns have accelerated their pace on offense and marched inside Buckeyes' territory after two punts.

Ohio State has controlled the tempo so far, though the Buckeyes don't have much to show for it.

They didn't waste any time unveiling their much-discussed two quarterback plan.

Senior Todd Boeckman took the game's first snap with Terrelle Pryor lined up wide and found Brian Robiskie for a 17-yard gain. Boeckman left the field but re-entered three plays later and threw a beautiful deep fade that Robiskie dropped. The veteran seems on his game and could be a weapon later in the game.

Ohio State has moved the ball decently, but pass-protection problems are already surfacing. Texas All-American rush end Brian Orakpo is schooling Buckeyes left tackle Alex Boone, and Pryor took a sack that nearly took the team out field-goal range.

Pryor looks decent so far, though twice he has curiously run out of bounds when he easily could have gained more yards.

Ohio State was outscored 55-7 in the second quarter in its two national championship game losses and a Sept. 13 setback at USC.

Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg

GLENDALE, Ariz. -- University of Phoenix Stadium is just as cavernous as it looks on TV, and it will serve as an appropriate setting as two college football giants clash tonight in the Tostitos Fiesta Bowl (FOX, 8 p.m.).

Media members received a police escort from our resort to the stadium, which was pretty cool until we hit traffic in downtown Phoenix and the cops didn't help much. It was pretty funny to see the reactions from fans, who thought the buses carried Ohio State and Texas players rather than out-of-shape reporters. Sorry to disappoint.

I didn't get much of a chance to walk around, but the parking lots around the stadium are already buzzing with fans of both teams. The highlight was seeing a massive one-piece Jim Cordle jersey worn by four young women, presumably Cordle's friends or family members. If Cordle and his fellow linemen look that big on the field tonight, Texas could be in trouble.

No. 3 Texas enters its first Fiesta Bowl at 11-1, looking to restate its case as a national title contender after getting snubbed from the championship game last month. The Longhorns were a play away from reaching Miami and should be keyed up for this one. No. 10 Ohio State also has plenty to prove after flopping in the last two BCS title games. The Buckeyes are no strangers to Arizona, having won the Fiesta Bowl in 2003, 2004 and 2006. Their last trip inside this stadium ended in defeat, however, as they fell to Florida in the 2007 championship game.

On the health front, Texas has no reported injuries. Ohio State likely will be without third-string running back Brandon Saine, and reserve offensive tackle J.B. Shugarts won't play much if at all. Buckeyes starting wide receiver Brian Hartline might miss a series or two after reportedly committing a team rules violation last week.

Tonight's officiating crew is from the Big East Conference.

Here are three keys for each team heading into tonight's matchup.

TEXAS

  • Get Colt McCoy on the move to establish an early offensive rhythm. Ohio State's defensive line has improved in the second half of the season, but the Buckeyes haven't seen a quarterback as dangerous as McCoy. If he performs anything like he did during the regular season, Texas shouldn't have trouble putting up points.
  • Clog the middle and force Terrelle Pryor to win the game. The pre-game talk has centered on Longhorns All-American defensive end Brian Orakpo, but defensive tackle Roy Miller could be a more important player tonight. Ohio State wants to establish the power run game with Chris "Beanie" Wells. It's up to Miller and his linemates to slow him down.
  • Guard against the big play. Ohio State has been too reliant on big plays this season, but Pryor and his receivers are capable of stretching the field at any time. Texas' secondary is vulnerable, but if the Longhorns keep the wide receivers in front of them, they should be OK.

OHIO STATE

  • Establish Wells and the run game right away. Wells needs to have a huge night for Ohio State to keep pace with Texas. Though the junior thrives in big games, Texas defends the run well and Ohio State's offensive line has underperformed for most of the season. If Wells can wear down the Texas defensive front, Pryor will have opportunities to get creative.
  • Don't be afraid to test the Texas secondary. If there's a weakness for the Longhorns, it's the back four, and while the Buckeyes want to run the ball, they can't shy away from passing on first down. There's been some buzz about using Pryor and fellow quarterback Todd Boeckman on the field together. Sounds like a good idea for an offense that gets stale at times.
  • Defensive stars have to make plays. Linebacker James Laurinaitis and cornerback Malcolm Jenkins will graduate as two of the most decorated Ohio State defenders in team history. As they take the field for their final collegiate game, both men must be major factors in trying to disrupt McCoy and the Longhorns offense.

Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg

Here's your final in-season edition of links. Enjoy. 

"You look at it and ask: Did the players play hard, and were they prepared?" Delany asked. "Yes and yes. You know what? SC's a better football team. In all of the [bowl] games I've watched, I'm seeing us get beat by better teams. Then you say: Why is that? I don't have a great answer other than to say that these things tend to be cyclical."
  • After an up-and-down season, Ohio State left tackle Alex Boone enters the spotlight one last time tonight as he tries to keep All-American Brian Orakpo from digesting Terrelle Pryor, Doug Lesmerises writes in The Cleveland Plain Dealer.  
  • Both Ohio State and Texas have something to prove tonight, Ken Gordon writes in The Columbus Dispatch. 
  • His argument seems a bit extreme, but the Detroit Free Press' Drew Sharp recaps the Big Ten's bowl struggles and squashes the lame excuse about the location of postseason games.
"Everybody's grown tired of the standard Big Ten lament that its 24-37 bowl record this decade is reflective of an unfair travel disadvantage."
I know I have.

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