NCF Nation: Darius Darks
Here's what each team across the Big 12 needs. You'll find Texas A&M and Mizzou on the SEC blog and West Virginia on the Big East Blog.
Quarterback: This one's pretty simple. Robert Griffin III is taking his talents to the NFL early. Nick Florence is waiting to take over, and the Bears have Bryce Petty behind him, but more reinforcements at quarterback are needed. Dual-threat quarterbacks, ideally.
Defensive tackle: Baylor already was one of the nation's worst teams (102nd nationally) at stopping the run. Now it'll need to replace both its interior linemen, Nicolas Jean-Baptiste and Tracy Robertson.
Offensive linemen: Baylor's offensive line, meanwhile, has been solid. It loses junior college transfer and two-year starter Robert T. Griffin, as well as All-Big 12 center Philip Blake. John Jones, a reserve guard, also has exhausted his eligibility.
Receiver: This has been a weak spot for the team for several years, and its top overall talent, Darius Reynolds, is gone. Darius Darks is, too. Aaron Horne and Josh Lenz will be the team's best weapons in 2012, but the pair of shifty slot guys will be seniors. This position needs reinforcements.
Defensive back: The DBs have been a quiet strength for ISU, especially in 2011. Cornerback Leonard Johnson and safety Ter'Ran Benton both have exhausted their eligibility, though, and defensive backs coach Bobby Elliott left for Notre Dame. You'll see plenty of new faces in the Cyclones' secondary next year.
Defensive line: Experienced starters Stephen Ruempolhamer and Jacob Lattimer are both gone, and Iowa State has struggled to stop the run consistently the past few seasons.
Quarterback: Kansas landed high-profile transfers Dayne Crist (Notre Dame) and Jake Heaps (BYU), but this is still a huge position of need. Last year's starter, Jordan Webb, left the team. Quinn Mecham is out of eligibility. Heaps is sitting out his NCAA-mandated year after transferring. Crist is the starter, but he badly needs a backup, especially if Brock Berglund's transfer appeal allows him to leave.
Wide receiver: Kansas lacks a big threat at this position. It needs a talent upgrade in a big way. Oklahoma transfer Justin McCay is joining the team, but he's no guarantee to a) be granted immediate eligibility or b) become an impact player.
Defensive tackle: Kansas is thin here, too. Richard Johnson, Patrick Dorsey and Michael Martinovich are gone, and Kansas couldn't stop much of anything on defense. Some push up front could help make everything look better. A late addition to the 2012 class from a junior college seems like a no-brainer. The Jayhawks need physically mature players to contribute immediately.
Offensive line: K-State's offensive line was much better in 2011 and could be again in 2012. It needs help replacing All-Big 12 lineman Clyde Aufner, though. Starter Colten Freeze is also gone.
Defensive line: Kansas State is bringing back about as many starters as anyone in the Big 12, but the biggest losses are along the defensive line. Kick-blocking specialist (five in 2011) Ralph Guidry is gone, along with tackle Ray Kibble. Juco transfer Jordan Voelker exploded onto the scene this year, but he's gone, too.
Defensive backs: Cornerback David Garrett leaves a huge hole behind. Tysyn Hartman may not be as talented as teammate Ty Zimmerman, but his experience leaves a big hole. Zimmerman will have to mentor a younger safety in the near future.
Receiver: The Sooners are thin here in a big way. That was obvious late in the season when Ryan Broyles' storied college career ended a few weeks early with a knee injury. The team also lost Justin McCay (transfer) to Kansas. Jaz Reynolds and Kenny Stills are the likely top two targets, but they need help.
Tight end: This position inspired a bit of panic at the end of the season. Seniors James Hanna and Trent Ratterree are gone. Austin Haywood wasn't allowed back on the team, and two more tight ends left the team for various reasons. That left the Sooners suddenly without a scholarship player at the position returning in 2012.
Offensive line: Starting tackle Donald Stephenson must be replaced, as will guard Stephen Good, who moved in and out of the starting lineup throughout his career. The Sooners bring back a lot of talent and aren't dying for depth there, but those two will leave holes. Three more offensive line starters will be seniors in 2012.
Offensive line: The Cowboys need a whole lot of help here to fill in behind young players stepping into the starting lineup. Starters Levy Adcock, Nick Martinez and Grant Garner are gone. Backup center Casey LaBrue is gone, too. Those are two All-Big 12 linemen who leave big shoes to be filled.
Receiver: Justin Blackmon surprised no one by leaving a year early, and Josh Cooper leaves with perhaps the most underrated career of any receiver in school history. In OSU's offense, there's always room for depth here. Nine receivers had at least 19 catches in 2011. Blackmon and Cooper combined for 192, though.
Defensive ends: The pass rush was solid for Oklahoma State this year, but both starters, Jamie Blatnick and Richetti Jones, are gone. Replacing both is a necessity.
Receiver: Texas lacks a true game-changer at the position, though Jaxon Shipley and Mike Davis may develop into that role in 2012. Former blue-chip recruit Darius White left for Missouri, too.
Quarterback: David Ash and Case McCoy didn't show a ton of potential at quarterback this year, though Ash may grow with an offseason to prepare as starter. Garrett Gilbert got a big chunk of the work in the spring, summer 7-on-7 and fall preseason camp. Even if Ash does grow, the Longhorns need reinforcements at the position.
Linebacker: Two senior impact players are gone. Texas is left trying to replace Emmanuel Acho and Keenan Robinson, though Jordan Hicks may mature into a star in 2012.
Offensive line: TCU's offensive line is headed for some major turnover. OT Robert Deck, OG Kyle Dooley and OG Spencer Thompson are gone. Two more starters, OG Blaize Foltz and C James Fry, will be seniors in 2012.
Defensive linemen: TCU isn't losing a lot at this spot, but Ross Forrest and D.J. Yendrey will be seniors in 2012. The Horned Frogs would be well-served to prepare, and offer some depth next year.
Specialists: TCU will have to break in a pair of new starters on special teams next season. Kicker Ross Evans and punter Anson Kelton have exhausted their eligibility.
Receiver: The Red Raiders' offense requires a lot of depth here. Tramain Swindall is the only loss at the position, but three more (Alex Torres, Cornelius Douglas, Darrin Moore) will be seniors. Douglas moved to cornerback this year after the team was racked with injury, but we'll see whether he moves back this offseason.
Offensive line: Tech has a huge need here. Four players won't be returning in 2012. Lonnie Edwards, Mickey Okafor and center Justin Keown must be replaced.
Defensive linemen: Tech's Donald Langley and Scott Smith are both out of eligibility, and juco transfer Leon Mackey will be a senior.
He's tied this week's game against Iowa at 24 with just over a minute left by making a handful of huge plays.
The first-year starter, a junior college transfer, is growing up fast and making Iowa State fans swoon.
He scrambled to throw a 45-yard touchdown pass to a wide open receiver, but it was called back for holding.
No problem, he hit Darius Reynolds for a 40-yard gain on the next play. He also converted a fourth-and-inches on a quarterback draw. Last week he scored the game-winning touchdown against Northern Iowa on a sneak at the goal line.
Facing third-and-goal, a called jump-pass failed, but Jantz ad-libbed, slipped out of a tackle and rolled right for an four-yard touchdown pass to Darius Darks that tied the game.
It's been a heck of a game, and just like Missouri last night, we're headed for bonus football.
Missouri's James Franklin, another first-year starter, showed major progress in last night's game. Jantz has done the same so far. He's proved his ability as a playmaker against a good Iowa team.
Jantz is 21-of-31 for 254 yards and three touchdowns.
Remember that depth plays a big part of these rankings. We'll be ranking the top 10 individuals at each position later on before the season begins.
Other position rankings:
2. Oklahoma State
The Cowboys boast the returning Biletnikoff Award winner and 2011 favorite, Justin Blackmon, with a great group around him, too. Slot machine Josh Cooper returns for his senior year, and fellow senior Hubert Anyiam (the team's leading receiver in 2009) is hoping to return to form after being slowed by an ankle injury in 2010. Isaiah Anderson is a shifty speedster, while Michael Harrison and Tracy Moore offer a more aerial approach to receiving.
3. Texas A&M
The Aggies have the Big 12's No. 3 receiver, Jeff Fuller, who is arguably one of the top-five in the college game. But they also have the Big 12's most experienced receiving unit, with guys who won't be surprised by anything they see in Big 12 play. Juniors Ryan Swope and Uzoma Nwachukwu are the team's second and third options, but fellow juniors Kenric McNeal and Brandal Jackson could be bigger pieces of the offense in 2011. Tight end Nehemiah Hicks should see his profile rise in his coming sophomore year.
Top target Kendall Wright will likely end his career as the Bears' leading receiver for all four of his seasons on the field, and 6-foot-4, 220-pound junior Josh Gordon looks like the new Jeff Fuller. Terrance Williams, Lanear Sampson and Tevin Reese round out the Bears' top five, who all had at least 40 catches last season, and all return.
Missouri still lacks a proven big-play threat, but has two pass-catchers who have some of the best hands in the game. Receiver T.J. Moe and tight end Michael Egnew won't drop many passes, and combined to catch 182 for 1,807 yards and 11 touchdowns. Wes Kemp and Jerrell Jackson bring a lot of experience and both had at least 39 catches last season. If Marcus Lucas or Rolandis Woodland can become a consistent downfield threat, Missouri will rise up these rankings by season's end.
6. Texas Tech
Tech's top two receivers, Lyle Leong and Detron Lewis, must be replaced, but the Red Raiders have a few solid candidates to do it. Junior Alex Torres will likely lead the group, but fellow junior Austin Zouzalik and seniors Jacoby Franks and Tramain Swindall will be counted on for more production. Dark horse/juco newcomer Marcus Kennard could blossom into a household name across the Big 12 by season's end.
Sophomore Mike Davis and redshirt freshman Darius White are loaded with potential, but two of the team's top three receivers (James Kirkendoll, John Chiles) are gone, and no Texas receiver caught more than two touchdowns last season. Malcolm Williams and Marquise Goodwin are as different as two receivers could be, but both need to break out to help whoever becomes the Longhorns quarterback next fall.
8. Kansas State
Brodrick Smith will be back this season after breaking his leg in a loss to Nebraska. But two of the team's top three receivers are gone, leaving converted quarterback Chris Harper as the leading returner, though Smith might have held that title if he'd stayed healthy. Sophomore speedster Tramaine Thompson can make plays if he gets the ball with some space.
9. Iowa State
The Cyclones will be breaking in a new quarterback this season and they will need a playmaker to step up. Tight end Collin Franklin led team in receiving last season but he is now gone. Darius Reynolds looks like a possible candidate to fill the role, although incoming slot receiver Aaron Horne might rack up a few catches in space. Darius Darks and Josh Lenz should earn some more targets too.
Converted defensive back Daymond Patterson is the team's top receiver, but the team's No. 3 receiver junior Bradley McDougald, moved to safety in the middle of the season. Tight end Tim Biere is one of the Big 12's best and led the team with four touchdowns last season. Chris Omigie and D.J. Beshears have some potential, and converted quarterback Christian Matthews keeps showing up in spring games. But all three, along with the rest of the group, would benefit from some consistency at the quarterback spot.
Spring practice starts: February 28
Spring game: April 2
What to watch:
- Big changes on defense. Baylor brought in Phil Bennett as its new defensive coordinator, and he says his scheme will be multiple, built to fit the Bears' personnel. Considering the Bears' recent recruiting successes in the secondary, look for a 4-2-5 type of look.
- Recruiting stars: time to shine. Both safeties, Tim Atchison and Byron Landor, are gone. Baylor, though, has two former ESPNU 150 recruits at safety who would be well served to start filling their potential. Prince Kent was a reserve last season and at one time, the nation's No. 51 overall recruit who originally signed with Miami. Ahmad Dixon, meanwhile, was the No. 15 overall prospect in the 2010 class. The opportunity is there. Baylor needs big talent at the position. Briles has recruited it. Can they develop into players who make Baylor a contender?
- Running back competition. Jay Finley topped 1,200 yards in 2010, but he's gone. Who steps into his void? Terrance Ganaway is a bowling ball at 5-foot-11, 235 pounds, but the shifty Jarred Salubi could get a good amount of carries, too. They could begin to share carries this spring.
Spring practice starts: March 22
Spring game: April 16
What to watch:
- Quarterback competition. It should be a good one in Ames this spring. Jerome Tiller is the name most recognize after getting lots of meaningful time and starts because of injuries to Austen Arnaud over the past two seasons. But juco transfer Steele Jantz sounds confident he can win the job. Rising sophomore James Capello and redshirt freshman Jared Barnett will compete, too.
- Paging Cyclone receivers. Iowa State had one of the most underwhelming receiving corps in the league during the past season, and three of its top five pass-catchers won't return in 2011. Of those three, however, one is a tight end (Collin Franklin) and another is a running back (Alexander Robinson). The new quarterback will need some help, and Darius Darks and Darius Reynolds will need to provide it as seniors.
- Shontrelle's time or not? Freshman Shontrelle Johnson looked like the running back with the most pop behind Robinson for most of 2010, but two other freshmen running backs jockeyed for carries, too. Paul Rhoads is hardly handing the job over to Johnson, but spring could be the time when he really separates himself from the pack.
Spring practice starts: April 1
Spring game: April 30
What to watch:
- What are they doing behind center? Kansas never got much consistent play out of the quarterback position last year, but freshman Brock Berglund is one of the 2011 class' top recruits, and enrolled early to compete in the spring with Jordan Webb and Quinn Mecham. With a building program like Kansas, there's perhaps some value in handing the program to a younger player like Webb or Berglund, but they'll have to earn it. Doing so will start in the spring, but don't expect the Jayhawks to have a set-in-stone starter by spring's end.
- Top linebacker back on the field. Huldon Tharp missed all of 2010 with a foot injury, but he says he's 100 percent and ready to get back on the field. As a freshman in 2009, he was fifth on the team in tackles, with 59, and looked like one of the league's possible budding stars. Now, he'll get his chance to join fellow linebacker Steven Johnson as one of the team's top tacklers, and he'll do it as a sophomore after redshirting in 2010.
- Toben rising? Turner Gill raised plenty of eyebrows when he moved his team's leading rusher in 2009, Toben Opurum, to linebacker in fall camp, and eventually slid him up to defensive end. But toward the end of 2010, Opurum started showing some major signs of growth at the position. We'll get a better idea this spring if he's one of the league's most unlikely new stars at defensive end.
Spring practice starts: April 6
Spring game: April 30
What to watch:
- Prodigal Kansan sons come home. There's no doubt that the Wichita native Brown brothers are the main attraction at Kansas State this spring, a season after transferring back home. Bryce Brown, the running back, was the nation's No. 8 prospect in the 2009 class. Arthur Brown, the linebacker, was the nation's No. 6 prospect in the 2008 class. Bryce transferred from Tennessee and Arthur from Miami. The Wildcats are pinning much of their hopes on the duo, and we'll get a good sense of what they can provide soon.
- Quarterback competition. Carson Coffman is gone, and two new faces will challenge for the job: juco transfer Justin Tuggle and Daniel Sams. Sammuel Lamur is also up for the gig. Collin Klein may or may not be; Bill Snyder hasn't explicitly confirmed a past comment from Sams saying Klein had moved to receiver. Don't expect a starter to be named by spring's end, but a general order could start to form.
- Can the defense show improvement? Kansas State had the Big 12's worst overall defense last year, and the worst rushing defense in college football, giving up 3,008 yards on the ground. Coordinator Chris Cosh looks like he'll still be around in 2011, and defensive backs David Garrett and Tysyn Hartman are solid pieces to try and build around. But this young maturing defense must get better to make a bowl game again with so many questions on offense. That starts in the spring.
Spring practice starts: March 8
Spring game: April 16
What to watch:
- Franklin comes alive! Blaine Gabbert bolted to the NFL early, and Missouri has a gaping hole a quarterback. The position, however, is surrounded by a lot of quality talent that likely makes the Tigers a Top 25 team. There's no understating the importance of the position for the Tigers, and that will begin to be decided in the spring. James Franklin, a rising sophomore, saw spot duty in 2010 as more of a runner, and may have the inside track on the job, but Tyler Gabbert, Blaine's younger brother, and Ashton Glaser should make it an interesting competition in the spring. If neither of them impress early, don't count out incoming freshman Corbin Berkstresser.
- Here is the new secondary. Same as the old secondary? After years of pass defense being one of the Tigers' biggest weaknesses, it became a strength in 2010 behind the leadership of senior corners Kevin Rutland and Carl Gettis. But the Tigers lose them and safety Jarrell Harrison. Rutland emerged as one of the team's most impressive players last spring, but was Missouri's success in the secondary a one-time thing or the beginning of a welcome trend?
- Time to dominate the trenches? Missouri played without likely first-round pick Aldon Smith for much of the previous season, but the defensive and offensive lines for the Tigers were as good as ever in 2010. How will they look in 2011? Impact juco transfer Sheldon Richardson won't be enrolled by the spring, but the four returning starters on the offensive line should get some solid work against Brad Madison, Jacquies Smith and Terrell Resonno.
Spring practice starts: March 21
Spring game: April 16
What to watch:
- Freshmen on display. Coach Bob Stoops hasn't been shy about saying his 2010 recruiting class was his best ever, but it could look even better after this spring. Two of his best emerging recruits, Justin McCay and Geneo Grissom, didn't even play in 2010, and could start to make an impact. The same goes for Corey Nelson, who will try to earn some more time somewhere backing up star Travis Lewis.
- Is there a golden boot in Norman? Jimmy Stevens was much more accurate in 2010, finishing 19-for-23, but his attempts outside 45 yards were sparse. The good news is he missed none of his 53 extra points. Field goals have been a bit of an adventure for the past couple years, but continuing in the spring what he started last year would be a good sign for Oklahoma. The Sooners are strong everywhere and need good special teams play to reach their lofty title goals.
- Are the Sooners' backs back? Roy Finch missed the Fiesta Bowl with a stress fracture, and his durability is certainly questionable entering 2011. When he's healthy, he looks like the next star in the Sooners' backfield, but they'll need some depth behind the 5-foot-8, 173-pounder. Jermie Calhoun, Jonathan Miller and Brennan Clay have all looked good at times, but there should be some good competition from newcomers Brandon Wegher, an Iowa transfer who'll be in camp this spring and eligible next season, and blue-chip recruit Brandon Williams, who enrolled early.
Spring practice starts: March 7
Spring game: April 16
What to watch:
- Every piece of the offense. The spring in Stillwater is all about keeping or improving upon the status quo. Had it kept Dana Holgorsen, there'd be little doubt that would happen, but Oklahoma State must make the most of its five returning offensive linemen, quarterback Brandon Weeden and receiver Justin Blackmon. The opportunity for a historic season is there, but they'll have to pick up the nuances of the new offense quickly in the spring like they did last year.
- What about the kicker? Dan Bailey won the Lou Groza Award as the nation's top kicker in 2010, but he's gone. Oklahoma State needs to fill that role quickly, and we'll likely know who will get the nod after the spring.
- Who steps up on the defensive line? The Cowboys lose three starters up front on defense, including All-Big 12 performer Ugo Chinasa and tackles Chris Donaldson and Shane Jarka. Can senior Richetti Jones become a star in the Big 12? We'll have a good idea if he, or any of the Cowboys' other defensive linemen, can by the end of April.
Spring practice starts: February 24
Spring game: April 3
What to watch:
- New coaches and their students/players. Texas has five new coaches. Although it's hard to get a good read early on, how they relate with the players on the field, in the film room and around the facilities will have a big impact on how the 2011 season plays out in Austin. The young-blooded coordinators could serve themselves well by relating to players and the players will need to spend plenty of extra time learning new schemes and plays.
- Quarterback competition ... or not? Mack Brown says the gig is open and it is, for now. Garrett Gilbert can close it with a strong spring. If Garrett struggles on the field or has difficulty grasping the new system, the door will be wide open for Connor Wood or Case McCoy to step in and close it. Gilbert didn't get much help, but he did very little in 2010 to inspire a lot of breathing room with McCoy and Wood clamoring for playing time.
- And you've got to defend the pass, too. Texas loses its top three cornerbacks to the NFL, and only Carrington Byndom and A.J. White got much meaningful playing time last season. Younger players can earn some rare early playing time with a strong spring. Will anyone step up?
Spring practice starts: March 22
Spring game: April 16
What to watch:
- New linebackers in the running. Spring isn't so scary when you bring back nine defensive starters, but the two Texas A&M lost were the heart of its defense. Linebackers Michael Hodges and Von Miller are gone. Kyle Mangan didn't look fantastic when forced into action during the Cotton Bowl, but the time is now for Damontre Moore and Dominique Patterson, a pair of sophomores, to make their impact.
- Tannehill's tuning things up. Quarterback Ryan Tannehill played about as well as anyone could have hoped late last season, but he'll need it to continue his performance with a solid spring nailing down the timing with his receivers, who all return. He's already got a leg up on last year's quarterback, Jerrod Johnson, who was held out of team drills last spring after shoulder surgery that eventually derailed his senior season.
- Christine's back. Christine Michael missed the second half of the season with a broken leg, giving way to Cyrus Gray's rise among Big 12 backs. It should make Texas A&M's depth at the position even more impressive, but we'll see how Michael looks coming back from the injury.
Spring practice starts: February 19
Spring game: March 26
What to watch:
- Past defending that pass defense. Texas Tech had the Big 12's worst pass defense last season, but has a pair of big potential players at cornerback in rising sophomores Tre Porter and Jarvis Phillips. Starters LaRon Moore and Franklin Mitchem are gone, but if returning starters Cody Davis and Will Ford can continue to mature, the defense should improve in the area most important for success in the Big 12.
- And they're off! There's a four-man quarterback derby set in Lubbock this spring between Seth Doege, Jacob Karam, Michael Brewer and Scotty Young. I don't expect it to be settled until midway through fall camp, similar to last season, but there should be a solid front-runner and more clarity after spring. Coach Tommy Tuberville was extremely impressed with Doege and Karam last spring after Taylor Potts and Steven Sheffield went down with injuries.
- Time to find new stars. Most of the big names on Texas Tech's defense are gone. Colby Whitlock, Bront Bird, Brian Duncan will all continue their careers elsewhere. The leaders on the defense will have to begin to emerge in the spring. Is it Scott Smith? Cody Davis? A younger, unexpected player? We'll find out. Sometimes these types of situations aren't as easy to predict as they might seem, like Missouri's strength in 2010 emerging in the secondary.
When Arnaud was good, he was very good. He succeeded in plenty of tight spots that might have been turnovers last year.
But troubling for Arnaud's night were a pair of interceptions -- something Cyclones fans might have expected from the 2009 edition of their quarterback. Arnaud threw 13 picks last season, more than all but one passer in the conference.
The first was a forced pass through the middle of a defense that could have been intercepted by two defenders. The mistake was inconsequential, after Northern Illinois failed to convert on three separate field goal attempts from 33 yards. The Huskies got three tries, courtesy of a pair of icing attempts by Rhoads in the form of late timeouts.
The second would have been a wise, comfortable checkdown to put the Cyclones in the red zone -- if Arnaud's intended target was Northern Illinois' Tyrone Clark. Arnaud dumped a pass to no one in particular and turned it over, robbing his team of a chance to to go up 24-3 in the third quarter.
On an otherwise sterling night that also featured 14 carries for 45 yards and a touchdown -- not counting a 53-yard touchdown run called back for an illegal formation -- Arnaud will likely most closely scrutinize those interceptions in the film room.
Iowa State can beat plenty of teams on its brutal schedule. They'll have a shot at beating Utah during nonconference play and only four games -- at Iowa, at Oklahoma, at Texas and Nebraska -- look like reaches for the Cyclones. A bowl game is definitely possible for a team that looked like the Big 12 North's third-best on Thursday night.
But the Cyclones won't get there if Arnaud can't prevent those bad decisions that resulted in turnovers. They'll need an Arnaud who calmly led his team and converted again and again on third down during their win against Northern Illinois.
Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Griffin
I’m hoping for some better picks this week after going 5-1 last week.
Texas A&M stung me for the second straight week.
Here are my choices in the Big 12 this week:
Texas 31, Oklahoma 24: The Red River Rivalry will be hopping like usual. The Longhorns are coming off a disappointing offensive performance against Colorado where they did just enough before a blizzard of unconventional touchdowns put the game away. And Oklahoma will be back with Sam Bradford throwing again to a group of receivers who had the dropsies in the Sooners' victory over Baylor last week. The young Sooners receivers have to come through for them to have a chance. And they can’t allow the big special teams plays that marked last season and have given Texas an edge this season with D.J. Monroe and Jordan Shipley.
Nebraska 34, Texas Tech 17: The Red Raiders will bring their quarterback controversy into Lincoln against the resurgent Cornhuskers and their suddenly stout defense. But of greater concern for Bo Pelini is an improved offensive effort after his team’s streaky performance at Missouri. Roy Helu Jr. was banged up at the end of that game and backup Rex Burkhead is out with a foot injury. Steven Sheffield threw seven touchdown passes last week and Taylor Potts threw seven earlier in the season. The Red Raiders’ offense picked up a lift with Sheffield in charge, but will be tremendously challenged by Nebraska’s front four, keyed by emerging Heisman Trophy candidate Ndamukong Suh.
Kansas 31, Colorado 28: The Jayhawks showed a leaky defense last week against Iowa State and could get a sterner test from the Buffaloes than you might expect. The Jayhawks have the conference’s foremost pitch-and-catch trio in Todd Reesing, Dezmon Briscoe and Kerry Meier. And their offense could be even more potent and balanced if and when Jake Sharp returns to the lineup. New Colorado starting quarterback Tyler Hansen will try to pump some life into a struggling lineup that was limited to 127 yards last week by Texas. The Buffaloes should find things a little smoother against the Jayhawks, who have allowed an average of 32 points in their last two games.
Iowa State 27, Baylor 24: The winner of this game should see its bowl hopes push ahead. The Cyclones have come close in their last two games, dropping a one-point loss to Kansas State on a blocked extra point and a tight six-point defeat last week to Kansas when a potential game-winning pass slid through the hands of Darius Darks late in the game. This time, the Cyclones will take advantage of their home field against Baylor, which will decide between Nick Florence and Blake Szymanski at quarterback. Something’s got to give as the Cyclones have an 11-game Big 12 losing streak and the Bears have lost 12 straight road games. I think the Cyclones are due to win a game on their home field after their near-misses the last two weeks.
Texas A&M 34, Kansas State 21: The Aggies came close against Oklahoma State, but were undone by key defensive stops and their inability in the red zone. It should be a little easier against Kansas State, which is still reeling after its 52-point loss to Texas Tech last week. Jerrod Johnson and Uzoma Nwachukwu will be a challenge for a Kansas State pass defense that was blistered for eight touchdown passes by Texas Tech quarterbacks last week.
Oklahoma State 34, Missouri 31: The Cowboys can keep their unbeaten Big 12 record going this week, although their offensive firepower again figures to be depleted without Dez Bryant or Kendall Hunter. The Cowboys’ backups played well last week against Texas A&M and could be facing a Missouri team still reeling from its collapse against Nebraska in the rain last week. These games have always been entertaining with three of the last six going to overtime. This one should similarly be close, although I like the home team to win because of quarterback Zac Robinson.
Last week: 5-1 (83.3 percent)
Season: 43-13 (76.8 percent)
Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Griffin
1. Texas: It wasn’t pretty, but the Longhorns’ 38-14 victory over Colorado was a good lesson as they prepare for the Red River Shootout. The running game struggled mightily, producing a season-low 46 yards as top backs Vondrell McGee and Tre’ Newton both were dinged up. Those absences only paved the way for a career night for Jordan Shipley, who is becoming one of the nation’s top receiving/return threats. And the Longhorns are playing some stringent defense after limiting their last three opponents to an average of 15 yards rushing per game. Colorado produced only 127 yards, giving the Longhorns two efforts of holding opponents to less than 130 yards this season for the first time since 1952.
2. Nebraska: The Cornhuskers’ defense played at a dominating level against Missouri as it gradually wore down the Tigers before their 27-12 triumph. Ndamukong Suh had a huge game to key a brutal pass rush that won the game for the Cornhuskers. Zac Lee was streaky, but still came up big during a stretch of 3 minutes, 32 seconds early in the fourth quarter when the Cornhuskers took the lead against the fading Tigers. It won’t get any easier for Nebraska this week as Texas Tech’s explosive offense comes to Lincoln. The Cornhuskers rank second nationally in scoring defense, third in pass efficiency defense, 14th in pass defense and 15th in turnover margin. But Tech has won the last three games of the series, scoring 70, 37 and 34 points against Nebraska.
3. Oklahoma State: The Cowboys had a gritty effort against Texas A&M, claiming a 36-31 victory despite not having Dez Bryant (suspension) and Kendall Hunter (ankle). Keith Toston filled in for Hunter with 204 total yards, and a group of receivers stepped up to replace Bryant in the comeback victory. Improved quarterback pressure helped Oklahoma State notch four sacks in a big step forward after its first conference game. A tough game with Missouri is up next as the Cowboys need to continue their recent balanced offensive success.
4. Kansas: A huge aerial effort by Todd Reesing, Kerry Meier and Dezmon Briscoe powered the Jayhawks to a 41-36 victory over Iowa State. It wasn’t pretty, but it was still a win. In coach Mark Mangino’s own words, the Jayhawks were exposed by Iowa State’s underrated offense. Kansas had enough offense to win the game and escape with a share of first place in the Big 12 North. Can the Jayhawks do the same against the better offenses they will be facing in the future?
5. Oklahoma: Sam Bradford is back and the Sooners appear to have things on an uptick heading into the Texas game. Bradford was outstanding in his first game back, passing for 389 yards despite having 11 passes dropped by his receivers, including three in the end zone. The Sooners allowed Baylor third-string quarterback Nick Florence to carve them up for 262 yards, so their defense is a concern heading into the Texas game. They must show more consistency in the red zone and play better defensively if they have any hopes of claiming the upset Saturday at the Cotton Bowl.
6. Missouri: What happened to the Tigers in that driving rain in Columbia last Thursday night? After dominating play for three quarters, the Tigers fell apart late as they allowed the Cornhuskers to roll up 27 points in the final quarter to steal the victory. Blaine Gabbert threw two crucial interceptions in the fourth quarter and the Tigers couldn’t run the ball consistently enough to take pressure off Gabbert. The defense played well until collapsing after all of the turnovers in the fourth quarter. And it won’t get any easier as the Tigers visit Oklahoma State.
7. Texas Tech: A big effort by Texas Tech’s first backup quarterback to start for Mike Leach should help contribute to Leach’s first QB controversy. The offense sizzled with Steven Sheffield in charge, scoring nine touchdowns on their first 10 possessions to blow open a 66-14 victory over Kansas State. The Red Raiders did a nice job of neutralizing leading KSU rusher Daniel Thomas, who was limited to a season-low 49 yards on 11 carries -- with only 15 of those yards coming after the Wildcats’ first offensive series. Leach was playing coy on who his starting quarterback will be, but the Red Raiders will face a huge challenge in Nebraska with whoever is chosen as the starter.
8. Baylor: The Bears moved the ball well in Florence’s second start, but were done in by their inability to score against Oklahoma’s stingy defense in the second half. Baylor produced only two first downs with five three-and-outs and two turnovers. The defense wasn’t bad as it limited Oklahoma to four field goals on red zone possessions to start the second half until Bradford’s late touchdown. The Sooners wore down the Bears before producing 592 yards to extend their winning streak over Baylor to 19 straight games. It was a definite step back after all of the excitement for the Bears during their 3-1 nonconference performance, showing them how much more competitive Big 12 play will be.
9. Texas A&M: After a promising 3-0 start, the Aggies have fallen apart with disappointing losses to Arkansas and Oklahoma State. The struggling trends in those losses make bowl aspirations seem like a fleeting hope. The Aggies struggled protecting Jerrod Johnson against Oklahoma State, allowing four sacks. And the Aggies' defense couldn’t make a play down the stretch to get the Cowboys off the field as they ran the clock on their final possession to wrap up a 36-31 victory. Mike Sherman can only hope these games will help build experience for his young team that featured seven freshman starters on Saturday.
10. Iowa State: Just when it seemed it couldn’t get any more excruciating for Paul Rhoads and the Cyclones, a game like Saturday’s loss to Kansas happened. After losing the previous week against Kansas State by a missed extra point, few expected the Cyclones would match up with No. 16 Kansas. The Cyclones gave the Jayhawks everything they wanted and came within an overthrown pass from Austen Arnaud to Darius Darks at the end of escaping with an upset victory. Alexander Robinson’s return helped rejuvenate the offense after he rushed for a career-best 152 yards, despite recovering from a strained groin muscle. The kicking game must improve after Grant Mahoney missed two extra points, and a 26-yard field goal never was kicked because of a low snap. The Cyclones can’t afford those kicking-game errors in close games.
11. Kansas State: The Cyclones took a huge step backward after getting blown out in a 66-14 loss at Texas Tech -- the most points ever allowed by a team coached by Bill Snyder. The KSU defense came into the game ranked seventh against the pass, but allowed eight TD passes -- most ever against a team in the school’s history. Grant Gregory started, but the broken plays that he turned into touchdowns last week against Iowa State resulted in sacks against Texas Tech. Carson Coffman may have won his starting quarterback job back, but that determination will be made in practice this week. The huge loss has made a bowl trip a virtual impossibility unless the Wildcats claim home victories in the next two weeks against Texas A&M and Colorado.
12. Colorado: It was one of the Buffaloes’ best performances this season, but still not good enough against Texas, who ran them out of the stadium late in a 38-14 victory. The Buffaloes were undone by critical mistakes on special teams and turnovers. Perhaps the most interesting development was when coach Dan Hawkins decided to play backup quarterback Tyler Hansen, effectively ending his chance to redshirt this season. Hawkins said he’s settled on Hansen as his starter. It will be interesting to see if that move settles Colorado’s offense.
Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Griffin
Here are some things we learned around the Big 12 over the past few days:
1. Texas and Oklahoma need to improve their running games -- fast. The Sooners and Longhorns both overcame sputtering starts to win their conference openers. But their key showdown next week at the Cotton Bowl could hinge on a factor that both teams struggled with in their victories on Saturday. The team that runs the ball best likely will win the Red River Rivalry -- as usual. And both teams struggled in that facet of the game Saturday. Oklahoma finished with 203 rushing yards against Baylor, but the Sooners had produced only 52 rushing yards midway through the third quarter. And the Sooners struggled in the red zone, settling for field goals on four second-half drives where they couldn't score touchdowns against the Bears. Texas was even worse, rushing 25 times for 46 yards against a Colorado defense that was allowing 4.9 yards per carry coming into the game as Vondrell McGee and Tre' Newton both were idled with injuries. Both teams will have extensive preparation for their ground games as they prepare to play against much better defenses than they struggled against on Saturday.
2. Is Kansas the nation's worst undefeated team? After Saturday, I think so. The Jayhawks needed all kinds of luck to escape with a gritty 41-36 home victory over Iowa State. A memorable offensive performance keyed by record outings by Todd Reesing, Kerry Meier and Dezmon Briscoe almost was undone by the Jayhawks' defense. Mark Mangino admitted after the game that his team had been exposed defensively. Its margin of victory over the Cyclones was the narrowly overthrown pass from Austen Arnaud to Darius Darks that if completed would have likely beaten them. And Mangino's biggest concern has to be that if Iowa State can produce 6.1 yards per snap against the Jayhawks, what will teams like Texas, Oklahoma and Texas Tech be able to do?
3. It's a season of firsts for Mike Leach. Before Saturday night, the Texas Tech coach had never had a backup quarterback start a game. And after Steven Sheffield singed Kansas State for 490 yards and seven touchdowns, Leach has got something else new on his hands -- a quarterback controversy. Leach had reasons for installing Taylor Potts as his new starter earlier this summer. Potts' performance had been that much better. But Leach might have to at least consider revisiting that choice after Sheffield blistered rival defenses for 10 touchdown passes since Potts sustained a concussion last week. Sheffield said after directing a 66-24 beatdown of Kansas State that he feels he has won the starting job. But he won't be the one making the decision.
4. Shipley and Suh deserve Heisman consideration. After their performances this weekend, the Big 12 has two unconventional players who I think merit consideration for college football's most prestigious award. Nebraska defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh is the most dominant defensive player in college football. Suh has to be accounted for on every play, making game-changing statements like his interception return that sparked the Cornhuskers' wild comeback over Missouri. And Jordan Shipley is just as important for Texas, becoming one of the Longhorns' primary forces as a receiver and a returner. Shipley accounted for a career-high 273 all-purpose yards against Colorado, producing 11 catches for 147 yards and a 74-yard punt return that was his second TD return of the season. Most of the media will consider Tim Tebow, Colt McCoy and Jimmy Clausen and stop at that. But to this point of the season, it can be argued that Suh and Shipley deserve strong consideration -- and not just from voters who might be thinking of out-of-the-box ways to present the award.
5. Oklahoma State's offensive reinforcements are pretty good. The loss of Dez Bryant and Kendall Hunter was expected to cripple Oklahoma State's potent offense. But a funny thing happened on the way to a 36-31 victory over Texas A&M: The Cowboys found some productive replacement players on their bench. Keith Toston rushed for a game-high 130 yards and caught two big screen passes that sparked the Cowboys' offense early. Zac Robinson stepped up with a boatload of big offensive plays, including 11 passes of at least 13 yards against a beleaguered Texas A&M secondary. The Cowboys' offensive concerns remain present with a tough conference schedule approaching. But after one game, the Cowboys' replacements at least provided a least a temporary answer to their offensive questions.
Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Griffin
COLUMBIA, Mo. -- It was unusually busy in downtown Columbia for a Monday night after I arrived here. The Field House appeared to be rocking and other clubs and coffee houses were packed with students along Broadway.
But before I got back to my hotel room and started my work for the following day, I had to make one pilgrimage.
I'll be out at Missouri's practice later this afternoon and will deliver a report before I leave, but I wanted to provide a few lunchtime links along the way.
I'm going to enjoy my links mine with a big cold chunk of Shakespeare's finest pizza -- canadian bacon, mushroom and green pepper, thank you very much.
And for all of the Missouri expatriates out there, I'll gladly have a second piece for them, too.
Until then, here are some of today's most notable Big 12 stories.
- Nick Montana, the son of NFL Hall of Famer Joe Montana, has been offered a scholarship by Nebraska and Oklahoma is interested in him, the Atlanta Journal-Constitution's Michael Carvell reports.
- SI.com's Cory McCartney profiles Baylor quarterback Robert Griffin and lists Griffin and Texas Tech quarterback Taylor Potts among 10 players nationally who are primed for breakout seasons.
- Andrew Logue of the Des Moines Register writes that Iowa State wide receiver Darius Darks is hoping for a fresh start with new ISU coach Paul Rhoads and his staff.
- Texas Tech running back Aaron Crawford is poised to challenge for playing time after after missing most of his sophomore season last year, Lubbock Avalanche-Journal beat writer Don Williams writes.
- Brian Christopherson of the Lincoln Journal-Star reports that Bo Pelini's new 68 percent salary increase makes him the highest-paid coach in Nebraska history. But Tom Shatel of the Omaha World-Herald opines that Pelini also vigorously campaigned and received hefty salary hikes for his assistants.
- Colorado wide receivers and passing game coordinator Eric Kiseau has been promoted to associate head coach, Kyle Ringo of the Boulder Daily Camera reports.
- Standout Rock Bridge (Mo.) defensive lineman Chase Rome has selected Oklahoma State over several other Big 12 suitors including Missouri and Oklahoma, Dave Matter of the Columbia Daily Tribune reports.
- Oklahoma State coach Mike Gundy is determined to play his substitutes in scrimmages while keeping key starters out of the action to prevent injuries, the Oklahoman's Scott Wright reports.
Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Griffin
It's an inexact science trying to provide power rankings more than six months before the Big 12 season starts, but here's my best guess heading into spring practice. I've considered coaching changes, NFL draft defections, returning players, schedules and expected boost from arriving recruiting classes in determining how I think teams should be placed heading into the spring.
1. Texas -- A sense of unfinished business is present after the Longhorns came within seconds of challenging for the national championship last season. That feeling helped lure Colt McCoy and Jordan Shipley back for another year. If recruit Chris Whaley can emerge at running back and the defensive line can be rebuilt, the Longhorns should be in the hunt for a shot at the national title game at the Rose Bowl. The last time the crystal ball was awarded there, Texas upset USC for the championship. Could history repeat itself?
2. Oklahoma -- The Sooners had a strong signing day, but an even better one a couple of weeks earlier when Heisman Trophy winner Sam Bradford, Jermaine Gresham and Gerald McCoy, among others, decided to return for the 2009 season. But the Sooners still need to find some playmakers at wide receiver and rebuild their offensive line. And of a more immediate concern for Bob Stoops than his recent BCS bowl struggles is that nagging 1-3 mark against Texas over the past four seasons.
3. Oklahoma State -- Next season's Texas Tech could be Oklahoma State, which has all of its major weapons returning after Russell Okung decided to put off the NFL draft for another season. But the Cowboys' hopes of challenging for their first Big 12 South title will depend on wily veteran coordinator Bill Young's work with the defense. If it can improve like the Red Raiders did most of the 2008 season, it won't be far-fetched to think that the Cowboys can make a similar jump.
4. Nebraska -- The Cornhuskers got a big shot of momentum after their impressive comeback victory in the Gator Bowl. Ndamukong Suh will be back, but the Cornhuskers have to find a replacement for Joe Ganz at quarterback. Offensive coordinator Shawn Watson's work in turning out serviceable players at the position at Colorado and Nebraska lessens some of those concerns. But it still wouldn't surprise me to be seeing heralded incoming freshman Cody Green to be starting at the position by early November -- maybe even with the North Division title on the line.
5. Kansas -- The Jayhawks made history last season by making back-to-back bowl trips. With most of their major offensive weapons back, can they make similar history with their first undisputed Big 12 North title? Todd Reesing and Dezmon Briscoe will pile up passing yardage, along with increased talent from their past two recruiting classes. But the Jayhawks still face the same challenging Texas-Oklahoma-Texas Tech rotation among South opponents, making for the toughest challenge of any North team in their out-of-division contests.
6. Texas Tech -- Michael Crabtree and Graham Harrell are gone. Mike Leach is angry after a prolonged contract dispute with school officials. It will mean that Taylor Potts will face a huge challenge stepping in at quarterback. And defensive coordinator Ruffin McNeill hopes that some of the strong talent in the trenches can step forward immediately after his team's late collapse against Oklahoma and Mississippi last season.
7. Missouri -- The Tigers' offense will take a big step back with Chase Daniel, Chase Coffman and Jeremy Maclin all gone from last season's Alamo Bowl team. Sean Weatherspoon will anchor a defense that will have to rebuild after losing Ziggy Hood, Stryker Sulak and William Moore. Too many key Tiger players are leaving to think they can make a three-peat of North Division titles, although Missouri should again be in the hunt for a bowl game.
8. Colorado -- Dan Hawkins is already sold on this team, proclaiming it capable of a 10-2 record shortly after his team's disappointing finish last season. I'm not thinking Colorado will be that good, but I do expect a bowl trip if the Buffs can stay away from injuries, Cody Hawkins or Tyler Hansen emerges at quarterback and Darrell Scott fulfills the promise he arrived at college with.
9. Baylor -- Art Briles' unexpectedly solid recruiting class should provide Robert Griffin with a lot of weapons. Most notable might be Terrance Ganaway, a bullish 220-pound transfer from Houston who will give Jay Finley a nice balance at running back. The Bears' hopes of making their first bowl appearance since the Big 12 was formed will depend on playing better in close games -- they were 0-3 in games settled by a touchdown or less in 2008.
10. Kansas State -- Bill Snyder's return to college coaching didn't wow recruits, but it's a start. The Wildcats do have 15 returning starters, but have to hope that new coordinator Andy Ludwig can make some offensive magic with either Carson Coffman or junior college transfer Daniel Thomas. And they have to hope that some offensive linemen emerge to protect whoever is starting.
11. Texas A&M -- Mike Sherman added speed and playmaking ability to his defense, but the Aggies really needed it. And all of the heralded recruits still will be facing a steep learning curve against all of the other heralded offenses in the South Division. But Christine Michael will be arriving as the most heralded playmaker for the Aggies in more than decade, ensuring there will be some excitement when he's surrounded by players like Jerrod Johnson and Jeff Fuller.
12. Iowa State -- Paul Rhoads is back at Iowa State, and he'll think it's kind of li
ke 1995, when he started coaching there on Dan McCarney's staff. The challenges in the Big 12 might be even more imposing than they were then, meaning Rhoads will be facing a steep climb to respectability. Austen Arnaud, Alexander Robinson and Darius Darks provide an offensive foundation, but Rhoads' biggest talents have always been developing a defense. He'll definitely have his work cut out at his new job.
Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Griffin
Here are a few tidbits from around the Big 12 this week.
The biggest change in recent weeks is that Nebraska coach Bo Pelini is trusting in his scheme and the players who are operating it. Earlier this season, Pelini crafted a gimmick defense when he played Missouri. Now, he's more willing to let his talent play. Of course, the recent surge by the Nebraska front four is helping him feel that way, too. The Cornhuskers have notched nine sacks in their last two games after producing only five in the first five Big 12 conference games.
Two recent losses to Texas A&M has Texas coach Mack Brown searching for ways to better prepare for his traditional rival. One change that will help will be enthusiasm from his young players. Brown has been pleased with the contribution of young players in recent weeks. The list includes safety Christian Scott, center David Snow, defensive tackle Kheeston Randall and defensive ends Sam Acho and Eddie Jones. All had big games in the Longhorns' 35-7 triumph over Kansas last week. And the excitement of playing next week for a possible BCS berth should do the trick, too.
Oklahoma will be scrambling against Texas Tech's massive offensive line without two key pass rushers this week as defensive ends Auston English and Alan Davis both will be out with knee sprains. To build depth at the position, Oklahoma coach Bob Stoops has moved converted linebacker J.R. Bryant to one backup spot and seldom-used Pryce Macon will serve at the other position behind starters Frank Alexander and Jeremy Beal. The Sooners are also bracing to use the nickel formation as their base against Tech's collection of wide receivers. That would mean extensive use for backup safety Quinton Carter, who made his first career start against Kansas last month. And Nic Harris will likely remain at safety with redshirt freshman Austin Box continuing to start at middle linebacker for Ryan Reynolds, out for the season with a knee injury.
Chase Coffman is unquestionably one of the most valuable receivers in the conference, but does the Missouri system play just a little part in his success? Freshman backup Andrew Jones produced seven catches last week against Iowa State as the Cyclones hardly missed Coffman, who was out with a sprained toe.
Iowa State has gotten to the final game without quarterback Austen Arnaud sustaining an injury, with only freshmen Jerome Tiller and Brett Bueker behind him as backups. If Arnaud should become injured against Kansas State, coach Gene Chizik has a plan. Chizik said he would insert freshman wide receiver Darius Darks, a converted high school quarterback and the team's leading receiver last week against Missouri, into the quarterback position. Chizik also said that the Cyclones have worked on an emergency package that includes direct snaps to the tailback. He remains adamant about saving the redshirts for both Tiller and Bueker after not playing either of them this season after the midseason departure of former backup quarterback Phillip Bates.