NCF Nation: Daniel Charbonnet
Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Griffin
Here's a look at the key factor for each Big 12 team this season:
Baylor: The Bears need production from a retooled offensive line and particularly new starting tackles Danny Watkins and Phillip Blake. Their work will be critical to keep Robert Griffin protected and continue the strong running game that enabled Baylor to produce 200 or more rushing yards in four of the last five games in 2008.
Colorado: Somebody needs to step up and claim the starting quarterback job. Continually shuffling between Tyler Hansen and Cody Hawkins will rob the offense of its continuity and make both quarterbacks worry too much about their individual mistakes. Dan Hawkins should settle on one, and the quicker the better.
Iowa State: The Cyclones’ tackling techniques have been frustrating for an old-school defensive coach like Paul Rhoads. He’s broken them down to the basics to hope that they will learn his way. If they can use these fundamentals to start playing better defense, it’s the start of a massive rebuilding job.
Kansas: The Jayhawks lost three productive linebackers and will retool their defense by using more nickel coverages, seemingly conducive to shackling Big 12 aerial attacks. Will this new unit still be able be able to support a developing secondary and underrated defensive front?
Kansas State: The Wildcats’ offense won’t look anything like the explosive units that Bill Snyder was familiar with earlier in his coaching tenure. This group doesn’t have a lot of productivity or depth. A rash of injuries would be a crippler for this team and likely make Snyder wonder why ever re-entered coaching.
Missouri: Can new quarterback Blaine Gabbert help a rebuilding offense still be productive, despite the loss of several key producers who were the backbone of the Tigers' back-to-back division title teams?
Nebraska: How well will Zac Lee direct the offense? The Cornhuskers talk about his arm giving them the opportunity for more vertical strikes than when Joe Ganz was playing. Bo Pelini would just be satisfied with the same kind of consistent production that marked Ganz’s season-plus as starter.
Oklahoma: The offensive line has received some praise from Bob Stoops in the last few days because of its conditioning and versatility. The question remains if the four new starters are accomplished enough to keep the Sooners’ record-breaking offense humming, and more importantly, Sam Bradford safe from harm.
Oklahoma State: Bill Young has made a career out of cobbling together overachieving defenses. If he can get increased production from this unit that wore out late last season, he’ll cement his own legacy at his alma mater, as well as providing the Cowboys a chance for their first South title.
Texas: Vondrell McGee will get the first shot, but will somebody emerge as a featured ball carrier to help take some of the pressure from Colt McCoy? It’s asking a lot of McCoy to be his team’s leading rusher in two straight seasons.
Texas A&M: Whatever happened to the Wrecking Crew? The Aggies can’t afford the struggles that marked their defense last season. Joe Kines' unit must show immediate improvement, particularly in the trenches and in the secondary.
Texas Tech: How will the pass defense recover from the loss of key pass-rushers McKinner Dixon and Brandon Williams and starting safeties Darcel McBath and Daniel Charbonnet? In the Big 12 South, that rebuilding job in those areas could come with some lethal consequences.
Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Griffin
All questions aren't settled during the course of spring practice as teams still have much work to upgrade their weaknesses heading into the season.
Obviously, some will receive a boost from incoming freshmen who will arrive later. But here's how each team's biggest liability shakes out heading into the summer.
Baylor: The Bears are desperately looking for help at offensive tackle after losing No. 2 overall draft pick Jason Smith and Dan Gay as their starters. Former Canadian firefighter Danny Watkins has established himself at Smith's old position protecting Robert Griffin's blind side. And on the right side, junior Chris Griesenbeck and redshirt freshmen Cameron Kaufhold are competing for the starting job with Tyler Junior College's Phillip Blake and Blinn College's Marquis Franklin set the arrive later this summer.
Colorado: Wide receiver has been a question mark for the Buffaloes throughout Dan Hawkins' coaching tenure. The Buffaloes return four scholarship wide receivers and had a chance to work out several new players with Scotty McKnight injured during the spring. Josh Smith and Markques Simas are the top playmakers coming out of the spring. Non-scholarship players like Jason Espinoza and Ryan Maxwell emerged, but the Buffaloes definitely need a big upgrade at the position from their arriving freshman class.
Iowa State: The Cyclones will be facing a big hole at left tackle, where two-year starter Doug Dedrick departs. It could be filled by Matt Hulbert, who started two games last season when Dedrick was hurt. Or it could be massive 354-pound junior Hayworth Hicks or freshman Brayden Burris at the position. Whoever emerges will face a huge challenge in filling Dedrick's experience as he protects the blind side of the Iowa State quarterbacks.
Kansas: Coach Mark Mangino will be facing a few huge rebuilding job at linebacker, where the Jayhawks lose key contributors Joe Mortensen, Mike Rivera and James Holt from last season. Mangino is talking about using a two-linebacker set as his base defense with fifth-year senior Jake Schermer and senior Arist Wright getting the starting jobs leaving spring practice. Sophomore Steven Johnson and converted running back Angus Quigley were competing for playing time during the spring and another boost is expected when junior linebacker Justin Springer, who is recovering from a torn ACL last season, returns in the fall.
Kansas State: Carson Coffman appeared to have claimed the starting job at quarterback -- at least for a few weeks -- after a strong effort during the latter stages of spring practice. But Coffman's late binge has to be tempered considering he is playing against the weak Kansas State secondary. So it's fair to say there are some lingering questions at the position. Coffman apparently has beaten back the challenge of challengers Collin Klein, Joseph Kassanavoid, Trey Scott and Milton McPeek. But the arrival of South Florida transfer Grant Gregory and heralded junior-college transfer Daniel Thomas will mean more competition in the summer.
Missouri: The Tigers will be facing a challenge of replacing NFL first-round draft pick Evander "Ziggy" Hood at defensive tackle to play opposite nose tackle Jaron Baston. Redshirt sophomore Terrell Resonno appeared to have claimed the job out of the spring, with Dominique Hamilton, Chris Earnhardt and converted linebacker George White perhaps earning their way into the rotation.
Nebraska: After the graduation of top receivers Todd Peterson and Nate Swift from last season, the Cornhuskers need to fill both positions. Leading returning receiver Menelik Holt appears to have a hammerlock on one position, but Niles Paul lost a chance to take a big step forward after missing the spring after he was suspended for driving under the influence. Antonio Bell was the biggest surprise, but converted I-back Marcus Mendoza, Chris Brooks, Wes Cammack and Curenski Gilleylen all showed flashes during the spring.
Oklahoma: There was concern before spring practice, considering the Sooners were replacing four-fifths of their starting offensive line with only Trent Williams back from last season's starters. And it got worse when Bob Stoops called out the young replacements because of their lack of diligence in their preseason conditioning. Williams emerged at left tackle with Brian Simmons and Stephen Good at guards, redshirt freshman Ben Habern at center and either LSU transfer Jarvis Jones or Cory Brandon at right tackle. The depth took a hit when center Jason Hannan left early in training camp and sophomore guard Alex Williams chose to leave after spring practice. The group struggled against the Sooners' talented defensive line, allowing Sam Bradford to be touch-sacked twice in three possessions in the spring game and produced only 27 rushing yards in 52 carries.
Oklahoma State: The loss of veteran center David Washington produced a huge hole in the center of the Cowboys' interior line. Andrew Lewis returns to his natural position, leaving Oklahoma State needing two new starters at guard. Noah Franklin and Jonathan Rush have staked claims to the starting positions with Anthony Morgan and Nick Martinez getting repetitions inside. This group needs to improve if it hopes to equal the standards of previous seasons, when the Cowboys led the Big 12 in rushing each of the last three seasons.
Texas: The tight end was rarely used for the Longhorns after Blaine Irby dislocated his kneecap last season against Rice. He still wasn't ready to go during the spring as Greg Smith, Ahmard Howard, Ian Harris and D.J. Grant all got work. None of them emerged. And with Irby's return remaining iffy, it means the Longhorns again could reduce the use of the tight end and utilize four-receiver sets when they want to move the ball. Don't look for the Longhorns to use the tight end much unless this production improves.
Texas A&M: The Ag
gies were wracked with injuries during the spring as projected starters Lee Grimes, Kevin Matthews and Lucas Patterson were sidelined all spring as A&M was down to only nine healthy offensive linemen for some practices. It still doesn't excuse the lack of offensive production for A&M's starting unit, which produced only 9 yards rushing on 24 carries against Texas A&M's first-string defense. Coach Mike Sherman will be counting on immediate production from an impressive group of incoming freshman at fall practice, but it's fair to characterize the Aggies' offensive line as the team's biggest spring concern -- especially after allowing 39 sacks last season and ranking last in the conference in rushing yards per game.
Texas Tech: The loss of productive starters Daniel Charbonnet and Darcel McBath left a gaping hole at safety for the Red Raiders. Junior Franklin Mitchem earned the free safety position leaving spring practice and redshirt freshman Cody Davis emerged at strong safety.Jared Flannel , Brett Dewhurst and converted linebacker Julius Howard also got some snaps at safety. It will still be a challenge to combat the explosive Big 12 defenses with such an inexperienced group at the position.
Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Griffin
Here are the choices for my All-Big 12 team for the 2008 season.
QB - Colt McCoy, Texas
RB - Kendall Hunter, Oklahoma State
RB - DeMarco Murray, Oklahoma
WR - Michael Crabtree, Texas Tech
WR - Dez Bryant, Oklahoma State
TE - Jermaine Gresham, Oklahoma
OL - Duke Robinson, Oklahoma
OL - Jason Smith, Baylor
OL - Rylan Reed, Texas Tech
OL - Russell Okung, Oklahoma State
C - Jon Cooper, Oklahoma
DL - Brian Orkapo, Texas
DL - Brandon Williams, Texas Tech
DL - Ndamukong Suh, Nebraska
DL - Jeremy Beal, Oklahoma
LB - Joe Pawelek, Baylor
LB - Sean Weatherspoon, Missouri
LB - Travis Lewis, Oklahoma
DB - Darcel McBath, Texas Tech
DB - Darrell Stuckey, Kansas
DB - Lendy Holmes, Oklahoma
DB - Daniel Charbonnet, Texas Tech
AP - Jeremy Maclin, Missouri
KR - Perrish Cox, Oklahoma State
PR - Dez Bryant, Oklahoma State
K- Jeff Wolfert, Missouri
P- Justin Brantley, Texas A&M
Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Griffin
For all of the bluster about the strength at the top of the Big 12, the conference will make history this season as it will be unable to fulfill two of its bowl obligations.
Even as Oklahoma and Texas are likely headed to the BCS, the bowls at the bottom of the Big 12's pecking order, like the Texas Bowl and the Independence Bowl, will be squeezed out without Big 12 representation because of the conference's strength at the top.
It makes for a neat orderly transition for the seven Big 12 bowl teams -- the fewest bowl-eligible teams for the conference since 2004.
Here's a look at how the bowl possibilities for each of the conference's bowl-eligible schools shake out heading into the final week before bowl bids are given next Sunday.
The Jayhawks will be heading into the bowls after a strong comeback victory over Missouri that should resonate throughout the next several weeks. The extra time will also allow a banged-up team get healthy before leaving for their first back-to-back bowl trips in the 119-season history of the program.
- Possibilities: Sun Bowl, Insight Bowl.
- Prediction: Insight Bowl.
The Tigers won't have much momentum as they head into practice for the Big 12 championship this week after the late collapse against Kansas. But if they could stun Oklahoma, it would turn around the late disappointment and push them into a BCS bowl game for the first time in the history of the program.
A loss could mean they could slide all the way to the Alamo Bowl in San Antonio, where memories aren't good after last season's second-half collapse against Oklahoma there in the Big 12 title game. And bowl officials have to be wondering how much excitement the Tigers could generate for a bowl trip coming off losses to Kansas and a loss in the Big 12 Championship Game.
- Possibilities: Fiesta Bowl, Holiday Bowl, Alamo Bowl, Sun Bowl, Gator Bowl.
- Prediction: Alamo Bowl.
The late comeback against Colorado has the Cornhuskers' momentum surging with five victories in their last six games. It's been quite a turnaround for coach Bo Pelini after a midseason three-game losing streak. It means the Cornhuskers likely are headed for a New Year's Day bowl appearance for the first time since a 2006 trip to the Cotton Bowl. And it represents a nice showing of progress in Pelini's first season.
- Possibilities: Gator Bowl, Alamo Bowl, Sun Bowl.
- Prediction: Gator Bowl.
The Sooners won't complain about their good fortune from the BCS computers that pushed them into the conference's championship game. Now, they must win against Missouri in order to assure a BCS berth. A triumph on Saturday means they are likely headed to the BCS title game for a shot at either Florida or Alabama and a chance at some retribution after some recent BCS humiliations. A loss to Missouri in Saturday's Big 12 title game could mean the Sooners skid to the Cotton Bowl or even the Holiday Bowl.
- Possibilities: BCS National Championship Game, Fiesta Bowl, Cotton Bowl, Holiday Bowl.
- Prediction: BCS National Championship Game.
The 9-3 Cowboys were one of the biggest surprises in the Big 12, tying the school record for most victories in a regular season. Even with the disappointment of the Bedlam loss to Oklahoma, bowl organizers are counting on that fervor among OSU fans to fuel some enthusiasm in a bowl trip. That could mean the Cowboys would be attractive to the Holiday Bowl and a likely dream offensive matchup against Oregon. Or it could send them to San Antonio and a berth against Northwestern in the Alamo Bowl.
- Possibilities: Cotton Bowl, Holiday Bowl, Alamo Bowl, Gator Bowl.
- Prediction: Holiday Bowl.
The Longhorns can't let the disappointment of the BCS snub that kept them out of the Big 12 title game stem their momentum from an 11-1 season that turned out much better than most preseason prognostications. The Longhorns are assured of a BCS bowl berth, and their hopes of sneaking into the national championship game will rely on a Missouri upset in the Big 12 title game. A more likely scenario would have them at the Fiesta Bowl if Oklahoma wins the Big 12 title game.
- Possibilities: BCS National Championship Game, Fiesta Bowl.
- Prediction: Fiesta Bowl.
The end of the season is coming at a good time for the Red Raiders, who are nursing some significant injuries like Michael Crabtree (ankle), Graham Harrell (broken bones in left hand) and Daniel Charbonnet (concussion). The bowl rest will be welcome as they likely are headed for their second trip to the Cotton Bowl in the last four seasons. Their opponent likely will be a hot Mississippi team that has won its last five games and already stunned Florida earlier this season.
- Possibilities: Cotton Bowl, Holiday Bowl.
- Prediction: Cotton Bowl.
Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Griffin
1. Oklahoma -- Advancing to the championship after the most controversial regular-season BCS poll in Big 12 history pushed them for a shot at a history-making three-peat.
2. Texas -- Near certainty to be playing in a BCS game despite disappointments on Sunday.
4. Oklahoma State -- Explosive effort by Zac Robinson makes some wonder why he wasn't used as more of running threat throughout the season.
5. Missouri -- Defensive collapses in Border War aren't a good sign as Tigers prepare for potent Oklahoma unit.
7. Nebraska -- Cornhuskers overcame wacky coaching decisions to earn eighth victory and likely head into New Year's Day bowl.
8. Colorado -- Made some unexpected big plays against Nebraska, but just didn't have the offensive attack to stick with the Cornhuskers and earn a bowl trip.
9. Baylor -- Three close losses to Connecticut, Missouri and Texas Tech are biggest reason that the Bears aren't going bowling.
10. Kansas State -- Snyder needs to hit the ground running in recruiting and putting together a strong staff.
11. Texas A&M -- Aggies showed moxie in Texas loss but, like all season, simply didn't have the weapons to stick with the Longhorns.
12. Iowa State -- Could staff changes be looming after disappointing second season for Gene Chizik?
Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Griffin
Here are some things we learned over the Big 12's final weekend.
1. However Sunday's BCS announcement plays out, it's clear that the Big 12 should have taken a more active role in promoting transparency for the final BCS vote of the regular season. Obviously, one group of fans will be happy and the other two will be irate when the final decision comes down in a couple of hours about which South Division team will advance to Saturday night's conference championship game. It would have behooved Big 12 commissioner Dan Beebe to have pushed to make sure all of the votes of the coaches and pollsters should have become public.
As it stands now, shrouded in secrecy, all kinds of conspiracy theories will be floated after the vote is released. Everybody's vote should have been common knowledge -- just like it will be next week when the BCS bowls will be released. Because playing for a conference championship game will be just as important to those schools as playing in a BCS bowl game.
2. There's a reason why Texas athletic director DeLoss Dodds' move of hiring Will Muschamp as the Longhorns' head-coaching designate was so smart. It will be seen in his work next season with his second Texas defense. The Longhorns' defense has been one of their biggest strengths all season. Texas has limited opponents to an average of 11.5 yards rushing per game and 0.5 yards per carry in the last two games, outscoring opponents 84-16. Muschamp will have a chance to build on those concepts in his second season. He'll have to rebuild a defensive front that will lose all of its starters. Texas will return only five defensive starters. But having Muschamp back to direct the team, rather than starting his head coaching career someplace else with somebody else calling defensive signals, clearly benefits the Texas program in the short term.
3. If there was such an award as the Big 12's most improved defense player, Nebraska's Ndamukong Suh would win the honor. Before Bo Pelini arrived at Nebraska, Suh had been an underachieving disappointment. But he's blossomed this year into Nebraska's leading tackler -- an extremely rare occurrence for a defensive tackle -- and its top defensive playmaker. The work by Pelini and his brother, Nebraska defensive coordinator Carl Pelini, is seen all over Suh's transformation.
4. The best story of the final weekend in the conference played out in Kansas City, where Kansas former quarterback rivals Todd Reesing and Kerry Meier hooked up for a dramatic comeback victory over Missouri. Reesing might be the most underrated quarterback in college football and Meier persevered despite an injury that made his availability doubtful earlier in the week. Meier produced a career-best 14 receptions, showing the skill at the position that makes most NFL scouts are predict that he'll have a professional career at wide receiver for Meier. Working together, Reesing and Meier helped the Jayhawks to their first back-to-back bowl berths in school history.
5. Texas Tech coach Mike Leach provided an obvious indication Saturday why he deserves to be the Big 12's Coach of the Year this season. His team was clearly flat coming into the Baylor game, a result of their draining and emotional loss to Oklahoma last week. Tech was forced to play without likely All-Big 12 safety Daniel Charbonnet from the start. Michael Crabtree suffered an ankle injury that left him in street clothes along the sidelines for the second half. And Graham Harrell suffered a finger injury to his non-throwing hand that likely will require surgery early this week, the Lubbock Avalanche-Journal reported.
Despite those handicaps and a two-touchdown deficit, Leach kept the Red Raiders focused as they persevered for a gutsy victory over the Bears and claimed a share of their first Big 12 South Division title. It likely won't be enough to get them into a BCS bowl, but still showed why Leach is an underrated motivator to go along with his clear offensive genius.
Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Griffin
An old recruiting adage says that college football is more about the Jimmys and the Joes than the Xs and the Os.
Texas Tech's defense is confounding that notion today, taking a group of unheralded recruits and combining them into one of the Big 12's most productive units.
The Tech defense isn't dotted by four- and five-star recruits. The Red Raiders don't consider internet rankings when they are filling in players for their defense.
"We recruit to fit our system," Texas Tech defensive coordinator Ruffin McNeill said. "Coach Leach has always done that and we as a defense are doing it now, too. We go by film only and how we think guys will help in how we play defense."
Starting defensive end Jake Ratliff was an undersized tight end in high school in Lawton, Okla. Nose tackle Colby Whitlock got more notoriety as a state wrestling champion in Noble, Okla., than he did for football. Making his development even more intriguing is that Noble is only a couple of long touchdown passes away from Norman, where the Red Raiders will be playing for a shot at the Big 12 South title Saturday night against the Sooners.
And defensive end Brandon Williams, the Big 12's leader in sacks, was discovered playing defense and rebounding in a basketball game for his high school in Fort Worth.
"He must have weighed about 215 pounds at the time," McNeill said. "(Safeties coach) Carlos Mainord saw him playing basketball and thought he might be able to eventually help us."
After extensive work in college, Williams has blossomed into a 265-pound sacking specialist who has wreaked havoc on Big 12 offenses throughout his career. He's just another one of Tech's underrated defenders who came to the South Plains and got better.
Daniel Charbonnet arrived at Lubbock as a walk-on, mainly because of his friendship with former Texas Tech wide receiver Danny Amendola. He had started his career at Duke as a freshman starting cornerback who got homesick repeatedly losing with the Blue Devils. Charbonnet wanted to come home and Tech provided him that opportunity.
"I was looking around and Tech looked like the best place for me," said Charbonnet, who has combined with free safety Darcel McBath to contribute 11 interceptions this season. "It's worked out well for me. This is a great situation for me."
The Red Raiders' group of defensive overachievers has been the underrated component of a 10-0 team that is off to the best start for Texas Tech since 1938.
The defense almost was an afterthought in some of coach Mike Leach's early teams. But the installation of McNeill has helped them develop into a cohesive unit that meets the specifications of the coach.
"I think the key is more good, solid, overall defense," Leach said. "Just to not have flaws in your defense. Understand the other guy is going to get some yards, and then just outlast them and keep making plays
The little team that could has blossomed under McNeill's tutelage.
After taking over four games into last season -- after Tech was blistered for 49 points and 610 yards in a loss to Oklahoma State -- McNeill has built a defense in his vision.
His mantra is "fast legs and clear minds" and the Red Raiders are playing like it. He jokes that he took his original playbook of concepts and then cut it in half to enable his players to have a clearer understanding of his philosophy.
Over the last nine games last season, Tech was No. 1 in the Big 12 in total defense. This season, the Red Raiders are second and have been especially effective in recent weeks holding high-powered offenses like Kansas, Texas and Oklahoma State well below their averages for scoring and total offense.
"Their defense is playing with almost an offensive style," Oklahoma State coach Mike Gundy said.
But the biggest challenge will come this week against Oklahoma, which leads the nation in scoring offense, is third in passing offense and fourth in total offense. Adding to the difficulty is that Oklahoma is 59-2 at home under Bob Stoops.
"You have a lot of confidence, but going to Norman is a tough place to play," Ratliff said. "This is a completely different team. And I wouldn't expect to see much of what they did last year. This will be two different teams going against each other."
McNeill utilizes one of the most basic philosophies in the Big 12. The Red Raiders like to sit back in a zone defense and make opposing offenses go the length of the field to beat them.
With Tech rarely making turnovers on offense and the Red Raiders' potent attack scoring a high probability of the time, it gives the Tech defense a unique advantage. If they can contribute two or three stops during the course of the game, they should be in good shape.
"It's a very good defense and very solid," Oklahoma quarterback Sam Bradford said. "There's lot of zone coverages they use. They try to force mistakes and end drives with their zone defense and don't make many mistakes. We're going to have to be disciplined and take what they give us within our system if we're going to be successful."
Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Griffin
LUBBOCK, Texas -- Welcome to Jones AT&T Stadium, where I've found a much bigger concentration of Iowa Hawkeyes and LSU Tigers fans than I ever knew existed.
Penn State's loss has already assured Texas Tech's chance of remaining in the top two if they can beat No. 9 Oklahoma State tonight. Alabama is looking pretty shaky as I write this.
Here are some trends that I'll be watching as the game progresses.
Oklahoma State's defense against Tech's passing attack: Graham Harrell torched the Cowboys for 646 yards last season and came only a dropped Michael Crabtree pass from beating them. If Oklahoma State doesn't improve its pass rush, they could be facing a similar dilemma tonight. And if they don't provide some token pressure from some blitz packages they normally don't use that much, Harrell will pick them apart.
Texas Tech's attitude: I'm curious how the Red Raiders will approach the game after last week's dramatic upset victory over No. 1 Texas last week. Their emotions have to be dragging, at least just a little.
Only one team since 1965 has beaten a No. 1 team and then rebounded to beat another top-10 team the following week. The Red Raiders do have the advantage of playing at home, which helped spur that 1984 Oklahoma to beat Oklahoma State on the rebound game.
How Texas Tech limits big plays: The Red Raiders have struggled against Oklahoma State in recent seasons, allowing six rushing touchdowns runs of at least 45 yards. And they will have to contend with big-play threat Dez Bryant, who has produced five TD receptions of 35 yards or longer and also two long punt returns for scores. Remember that Tech was burned for a 91-yard pass last week by Colt McCoy. But I still look for Tech to use its usual zone-heavy pass defense it has favored this season.
Tech's run defense: The interior of the Tech's run defense has played much better this season, ranking 10th nationally with an average of 99.7 rushing yards allowed. Colby Whitlock has been a beast inside recently and Brandon Williams has been a steady performer. But the Red Raiders haven't faced anywhere near the challenge from the veteran Oklahoma State offensive line and Big 12 rushing leader Kendall Hunter. The Red Raiders must keep out of second-and-short and third-and-short situations to give their pass rushing talents some teeth.
Can Oklahoma State develop a second receiving threat?: Texas Tech defenders will be keying on stopping Bryant. That should give them a chance to isolate 6-foot-6 tight end Brandon Pettigrew, especially if shorter safeties Daniel Charbonnet and Darcel McBath are being forced to commit to run support because of worries about Hunter and Keith Toston.
Injuries: The biggest concern for Tech continues to be Crabtree, who has been hobbled since the Texas A&M game with a sprained ankle. He twice left the game last week, but still rebounded to produce a season-best 10 catches and the game-winning touchdown grab.
Leading sacker McKinner Dixon limped off the field last week with a gimpy ankle and did not return. His condition was not addressed by Leach earlier this week.
Oklahoma State comes into the game relatively healthy. Special teams standout Taylor Sokolsky will miss the game with a broken foot. And safety Lucien Antoine was lost for the season with a knee injury against Houston.
Weather: It's perfect football weather with clear, seasonably moderate weather. Temperatures are in the mid-60s with humidity of 17 percent and winds from the southeast at 10 mph. The temperature should continue dropping throughout the evening before settling in the high-40s later this evening. There is no chance of precipitation.
Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Griffin
Texas Tech 45, Oklahoma State 42 -- How about another South Plains shootout in Lubbock? It will be interesting to see how the Red Raiders respond to their dramatic victory over Texas last week -- particularly against an Oklahoma State team that still has its BCS bowl and Big 12 South titles clearly in front of it. The Cowboys will present the most balanced offensive attack that the Red Raiders will face, but I'm looking for continued improvement from the Tech defense. Keep particular note of how Texas Tech safeties Daniel Charbonnet and Darcel McBath confound top Oklahoma State receiver Dez Bryant with their coverage schemes from the back end. Special teams favor the Cowboys thanks to two key weapons in Bryant and punter Matt Fodge. But in the end, Graham Harrell and the Red Raiders' passing offense will prove to be too stout for the Cowboys. Oklahoma State ranks last in sacks in the Big 12 and will be challenged to stop Tech's array of offensive weapons.
Oklahoma 44, Texas A&M 24 -- The Sooners should have no trouble scoring against a weak Texas A&M defense. But it wouldn't surprise me if Jerrod Johnson and his group of young playmakers have enough moxie to make the game close well into the second half. Expect Sam Bradford and the Sooners' offense to muster enough production to pull away at the end, keeping the Sooners South Division title hopes alive as they seek to stretch their winning streak over the Aggies to six games.
Texas 52, Baylor 20 -- Woe for the Bears, who have the unfortunate luck to get the Longhorns after the loss at Texas Tech last week. Even though the Longhorns likely won't be healthy, it won't matter in this game. Their pass rush will get a better push and should harass Baylor freshman quarterback Robert Griffin all over the field. Texas came within one second of beating four straight top-12 teams. Look for them to take out their aggression on their up-the-road neighbors from Waco in this one. The Bears have lost 16 straight games to ranked foes by an average of 29.4 points. I expect the Longhorns to come close to that average on Saturday.
Kansas 34, Nebraska 31 -- The Jayhawks haven't won in Lincoln since 1968 and have lost 19 straight games at Memorial Stadium. This one will be close, but the running of Jake Sharp and the heady play of quarterback Todd Reesing should enable them to win a shootout. Expect one of those typical Big 12 offensive outbursts that likely will have Nebraska coach Bo Pelini yelling and screaming along the sidelines, desperately pleading for a defensive stop that likely won't come very often.
Missouri 56, Kansas State 14 -- Both teams will be coming into this game with much emotion. The Tigers' seniors will be playing their last home game. Kansas State players will be participating in their first game since head coach Ron Prince was ousted earlier this week. Look for Chase Daniel and company to jump on the Wildcats early, ripping into a Kansas State that has been blistered for 110 points in its last two games. It could get even worse on Saturday as the Tigers should roll easily.
Colorado 28, Iowa State 17 -- The Buffaloes will be playing without leading rusher Rodney "Speedy" Stewart but it shouldn't matter. Playing against the sputtering Cyclones' defense should be a tonic for the struggling Colorado offense. Who knows? Maybe Colorado's moribund passing game will be productive against a listless ISU pass defense that ranks 111th in pass defense and 116th in pass efficiency defense in the country this week.
My picks for last week: 5-1 (83.3 percent)
My picks for the season: 67-11 (85.9 percent)
Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Griffin
Here are a few tidbits from across the conference heading into this week's games.
1. A transformed Kansas secondary has been readied for the Jayhawks' late push for the North Division title. Kansas coach Mark Mangino has gradually broken in new cornerbacks Daymond Patterson and Justin Thornton and moved up former backup Darrell Stuckey to the starting job at free safety. Those moves have left early-season starting cornerbacks Kendrick Harper andChris Harris buried in Mangino's playing rotation. The change is being made to boost Kansas' athleticism before huge tests against the horde of playmaking wide receivers the Jayhawks will be facing against Texas and Missouri in upcoming weeks.
2. Oft-injured playmaking Oklahoma defensive end Auston English will be missed during the rest of the regular season, although Sooner coaches privately aren't disappointed that redshirt freshman Frank Alexander will be the player replacing him. Alexander's comeback from an early-season stabbing injury has been strong and he's shown some noticeable instinctive defensive moves. There will be a drop-off from English to Alexander, but not as much as might be expected.
3. One of the major reasons for Texas Tech's recent defensive success has been the simplification of schemes since Ruffin McNeill took over as defensive coordinator midway through last season. Two players who have particularly thrived up front have been defensive endsBrandon Williams and McKinner Dixon, who have combined for 17 sacks this season. And Tech's starting safeties, Darcel McBath and Daniel Charbonnet, merely are playing like the best pair at their position in the conference since the change.
4. Kansas State coach Ron Prince took over the play-calling responsibilities in the second half of the Wildcats' 52-21 loss last week at Kansas, helping spark a late offensive charge after the Wildcats had fallen into an early 31-0 hole at the half. While Prince was careful to say he hasn't lost confidence in offensive coordinator Dave Brock's calls from the press box, he wanted to provide his team immediate feedback from the sideline by taking a more active play-calling role.
5. Missouri tight end Chase Coffman has been listed as questionable for Saturday's game against Kansas State because of a sprained toe. But Coffman has a little extra inspiration to return to the lineup quicker. It's not only his final home game at Missouri, but he'll be playing against the old college team of his father, former NFL tight end Paul Coffman. And his little brother, Carson, is a backup quarterback for the Wildcats. If Chase Coffman can't go, freshman Andrew Jones would get the start, but expect him to at least to try to play early in the game.
Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Griffin
Before packing up and leaving Lubbock earlier today, I was amazed at how quiet the city appeared to be.
Most of the fans staying at my hotel were mostly still sleeping. And with good reason, considering the wild game at Jones AT&T Stadium that many of them witnessed the night before.
But after I'm returned back home, I'm still struck by several things about the game.
- Texas Tech is the only team in the Big 12 that controls its destiny. If the Red Raiders win the rest of their games, I have to believe they will jump past an undefeated Alabama or Penn State into the national title game. The strength of the Big 12 Conference would enable the Red Raiders to rocket into the Orange Bowl for a shot at the national championship. All they have to do is when their next four games.
But that's a big if, considering the Red Raiders upcoming schedule, which I will pick apart in detail later.
- Tech coach Mike Leach was pleased with the lift his team received from the record crowd of 56,333 at Jones AT&T Stadium.
"I can't say enough about our fans," Leach said. "As I've said, I think that Jones Stadium is the best place to play. Tonight, even more so. It was just an incredible crowd."
Leach didn't even have a rebuke after the crowd charged the field, earning two unsportsmanlike penalties. It forced Tech to kick off after Michael Crabtree's game-winning touchdown from its own 7 ½ yard line. After a couple of laterals, Daniel Charbonnet recovered a fumble on the final play of the game to wrap up Tech's victory.
"You've got to give a little, too," Leach said. "How about up until then. The 7-yard line, you've got to like a crowd that plays on the edge."
But Tech quarterback Graham Harrell wasn't quite as forgiving.
"That wasn't real great when we had to kick from the 7," he said. "The fans were great all night. We can't hold that against them."
- An underrated reason for Tech's ability to win was the Red Raiders' running game. The Red Raiders netted 105 yards on 28 carries for a 3.8 yard per carry average Saturday night.
That might not sound like much but consider how Texas has stuffed the Red Raiders' running game in recent seasons. Tech produced only 10 yards in seven carries as a team rushing last season against the Longhorns and negative yardage in two of the three previous seasons. In the last four games before Saturday's game against Texas, Tech had produced only 79 total yards on 61 carries, an average of 1.3 yards per carry.
"I thought it was good," Leach said. "I thought it was a point where we set up a couple of touchdowns where we really moving the ball well."
- Did you notice that at the end of last night's game, Texas coach Mack Brown and Leach didn't shake hands? But it didn't have anything to do with animosity based with either coach. The wild scene at the post-game moshpit that was was Jones AT&T Stadium didn't allow the two coaches to congratulate each other.
"I never did find Mack, which I regret," Leach said. "Nationally, please let him know I have the upmost respect for him as a coach. He's the dean of our conference and has done a tremendous job for years and has been an example for years, especially for us younger guys."
Brown also said he regretted not meeting with Leach after the game.
"I'd also like to apologize to Coach Leach for not finding him after the game," Brown said. "I think this is the first time I haven't been able to get to a coach and shake his hand because he sure deserved it. They did a great job with his team and they played really well."
Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Griffin
Tough choice as usual. But these players stood above everybody else.
Texas Tech QB Graham Harrell and WR Michael Crabtree -- I couldn't separate these players after their late-game heroics in Tech's 39-33 victory over Texas. Harrell and Crabtree hooked up on a game-winning 28-yard touchdown pass with one second left to provide the margin of victory. Harrell finished with 474 yards and two touchdowns, while Crabtree produced a season-best 10 receptions for 127 yards and a touchdown.
Kansas RB Jake Sharp -- Rushed for 181 yards and four touchdowns and added team-best totals of five receptions and 76 receiving yards to pace the Jayhawks' 52-21 victory over Kansas State.
Kansas LB James Holt -- Notched five tackles, including three tackles for losses, forced two fumbles, recovered one, broke up a pass and notched two sacks in the Jayhawks' win over Kansas State.
Oklahoma State WR Dez Bryant -- Produced nine receptions for 171 yards and four TDs to lead the Cowboys' 59-21 victory over Iowa State.
Texas Tech S Daniel Charbonnet -- Produced four tackles, including one for a loss, forced and recovered a fumble, broke up a pass and provided an 18-yard interception return for a touchdown in the Red Raiders' victory over Texas.
Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Griffin
|Brendan Maloney/US Presswire|
|Texas Tech receiver Edward Britton stepped up with 139 yards on seven catches as No. 7 Texas Tech upends No. 1 Texas, 39-33.|
LUBBOCK, Texas -- Earlier this summer, a collective "who's that" went through the assembled media corps when Texas Tech safety Daniel Charbonnet was sent to represent the Red Raiders at the Big 12 preseason media day.
Understand that Tech coach Mike Leach didn't send Biletnikoff Award winner Michael Crabtree or record-setting quarterback Graham Harrell to talk about his developing program. He chose instead to send role players, an indication he thought his team was more than those two stars.
"People wanted us to send Crab and Graham and were a little disappointed when we sent Daniel," defensive coordinator Ruffin McNeill said. "But I can tell you that Daniel and a bunch of others are good players, too."
Harrell and Crabtree had their moments Saturday night, punctuated by a wild 28-yard touchdown pass that gave Tech a dramatic 39-33 victory that still had fans buzzing in the parking lots more than two hours after the game.
But to even get to the point where Harrell and Crabtree could work their magic, the Red Raiders needed a big lift from a lot of players that most of the nation had never heard of.
The biggest came from Charbonnet, who provided an 18-yard interception return for a touchdown midway through the third quarter. It was Tech's only second-half touchdown until Crabtree's late score.
Charbonnet also broke up a pass, forced and recovered a fumble and provided four tackles.
Defensive tackle Colby Whitlock contributed a safety less than five minutes into the game that helped start a strong first-half defensive performance.
The Red Raiders limited Texas to 4 of 12 on third-downs. That number is even more impressive considering that Texas had clicked on 17 of 27 third downs and was 5-for-5 on fourth down against Tech in the last two seasons.
Wide receiver Edward Britton emerged from Crabtree's shadow to snag seven receptions for a team-high 139 yards.
Tech was able to consistently run the ball, something that they had struggled with during previous games with Texas. The backfield combination of Shannon Woods and Baron Batch produced 122 yards on 25 carries. It made the Longhorns respect the run, which is something they hadn't done during a five-game winning streak over Tech.
"These contributions show that we're a pretty good football team," McNeill said. "And we can count on each other. These guys don't want to let anybody down and they play like it. They all want to do their best and we saw that tonight."
Tech's collection of talent has pushed them into first place in the Big 12 South. They still have tough games against Oklahoma State and Oklahoma sandwiched around a game against Baylor.
"This win obviously gives us a lot of confidence," Charbonnet said. "We always felt we could play with anybody and beat anybody. But tonight proved that. We have to enjoy it, but also come back and learn from it."
Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Griffin
LUBBOCK, Texas -- Texas quarterback Colt McCoy is in a position where he can cement the Heisman Trophy and help his team keep its No. 1 ranking.
But it's not going to be easy as he'll be facing his biggest challenge this season. Tech has done a good job of bottling up McCoy through three quarters with surprising pressure. The Red Raiders have dropped him for four sacks and sent him to the sidelines after one possession earlier in the third quarter.
McCoy hooked up with Malcolm Williams on a 37-yard touchdown pass on the next-to-last play of the third quarter to pull the Longhorns within 29-19. A pass interference play on the two-point conversion was overruled when the ball was tipped at the line of scrimmage by Brandon Williams.
That was the only offensive touchdown of the third quarter as both defenses rose up. Texas Tech safety Daniel Charbonnet's 18-yard interception return for a touchdown accounted for the only Red Raider points of the quarter.
Texas' defense did a good job containing Tech's offense, allowing them only 73 yards in the third quarter. The Red Raiders struggled with poor field position and some uncharacteristic conservatism as coach Mike Leach has chosen to run the ball extensively close to his own end zone.
McCoy's Heisman hopes and Texas' BCS top positioning will be depending on the next 15 minutes. It should be interesting.
Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Griffin
LUBBOCK, Texas -- It's hard for Mack Brown to feel fortunate trailing by 16 points at the half.
Considering the way his team played for most of the half Saturday night at Jones AT&T Stadium, the Texas coach has to be happy the Red Raiders' 22-6 halftime advantage isn't much greater.
Tech has dominated in the first half, piling up a 326-108 edge in total offense and a 17-5 advantage in first downs.
Tech's defense has limited No. 1 Texas to a pair of field goals. The Longhorns needed a couple of big plays -- a fumble by Tech wide receiver Michael Crabtree and a leaping 44-yard reception by redshirt freshman Malcolm Williams -- to help account for the points.
The Red Raiders have been able to pressure Colt McCoy and keep the Texas offense bottled up for most of the half. Of Texas' first 20 snaps of the first half, seven of them went for no yardage or worse.
Texas still appears to be in the game after driving 72 yards, setting up a 25-yard field goal by Hunter Lawrence on the final play. Williams' big catch helped extend the drive, coming on a third-and-25 play.
Tech strong safety Daniel Charbonnet has been all over the field, making two deflections and almost picking up an interception earlier in the second quarter. The Red Raiders also got surprising push against McCoy, sacking him three times during the first half.
And although Crabtree is clearly favoring his sprained ankle, he's still contributed a game-high seven receptions for 73 yards.