NCF Nation: DeMarcus Granger

Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Griffin

Being in the middle of Oklahoma's biggest question mark isn't something that Ben Habern shies away from.

In fact, the Sooners' freshman center is excited about the opportunity to prove something to the doubters who are wondering about Oklahoma's young offensive line heading into the upcoming season with four new starters.

 
  J.P. Wilson/Icon SMI
  Oklahoma's Ben Habern has some big shoes to fill as he replaces Jon Cooper at center.

It's made Habern wish his team's Sept. 5 opener against BYU was only a couple of weeks away.

"There are a lot of people who don't think we have enough talent to make it through the Big 12 or to a big bowl game," Habern said. "But a lot of people aren't here during our practices. We've seen how athletic we are."

Some of the doubt started earlier when Oklahoma coach Bob Stoops called out the unit before spring practice even began. Stoops was disappointed in the group's lack of dedication during preseason conditioning drills and didn't hesitate to make his comments known.

The words stung, particularly for a group that was looking to build some confidence before heading into practice. But Stoops' point got across and helped the group coalesce.

"We lost a lot of senior leadership and have a lot of guys to replace," Habern said. "It was a big step and a challenge to get everything settled. But I feel like we handled it pretty well."

One of the biggest reasons for the group's fast growth has been the development of Habern, who has claimed the starting job after strong work during the spring to replace Jon Cooper.

Jason Hannan, who was once considered the nation's No. 1 center prospect and Cooper's eventual replacement, couldn't beat out Habern for the job, leading Hannan to transfer earlier this spring.

"Habern has been doing a wonderful job," Oklahoma offensive line coach James Patton told the Fort Worth Star-Telegram. "He's got a chance to be a really good one. Jon was a great leader and Ben" is from "that same kind of mold."

(Read full post)

Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Griffin

MIAMI -- I just wandered briefly among the clutter of people along the Oklahoma sideline at Dolphin Stadium. The stadium is still less than half full and appears to be about 80 percent Florida fans so far.

There seems to be definite electricity surging through the stadium, no different from any of the nine previous national championship games I've covered. You can tell this one is a little extra special, though.

I got a chance to see celebrities like New England coach Bill Belichick and team owner Robert Kraft sizing up the talent on the field. I also watched Florida running back/wide receiver Percy Harvin run a couple of pass patterns without too much pain, despite pregame reports of a tweaked ankle suffered in practice earlier this week.

The Sooners look loose and prepared. There were no pregame incidents involving either team, despite some beefed-up security because of some of the things said earlier in the week.

Here are a couple of other last-minute factors to watch:

Weather: It's currently 74 degrees with 50 percent humidity and hardly any wind. I can't imagine conditions being any more ideal. Temperatures are expected to drop into the high 60s as the game continues with no chance of rain.

Injuries: The Sooners are in pretty good shape with the exception of missing two key players. Running back DeMarco Murray, the Sooners' leading breakaway threat and top kick returner, will miss the game with a torn hamstring sustained in the Big 12 championship game. It means that Chris Brown will get most of the carries with Mossis Madu filling in at times as well. Both of the backs rushed for 100 yards and scored three touchdowns against Missouri.

Backup defensive tackle Demarcus Granger will miss the game after undergoing back surgery. Granger contributed 20 tackles and will be replaced in the rotation by Cory Bennett.

Mike Balogun will be starting at middle linebacker, although Austin Box said earlier this week he is nearly 100 percent and should be ready to play. Look for Oklahoma coach Bob Stoops to play Balogun until he makes a bust. Then, it wouldn't surprise me to see Box play.

Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Griffin

Clay Horning of the Norman Transcript posed an interesting question this morning when he asked whether Oklahoma might be in better shape than most people think heading into the FedEx BCS National Championship Game Jan. 8 against Florida.

And that's even coming with the loss of two key members of the Sooners -- starting tailback DeMarco Murray and backup defensive tackle DeMarcus Granger.

Horning's point is that the departure of Florida offensive coordinator Dan Mullen for his new job at Mississippi State could rob the Gators' offense of some of its focus as it prepares for Oklahoma.

Mullen obviously has to be thinking more about his new job than his old one. It would be only human nature.

Florida coach Urban Meyer thinks that Mullen will be back for the bowl game.

"I talked to him ... and right now the plan is he's going to come back right after Christmas," Meyer said last week.

But Florida quarterback Tim Tebow isn't sure that Mullen will be calling all the plays. He thinks the Florida coaches will handle the decision-making by committee.

The Sooners have benefited and struggled in the past because of departing coordinators.

Bob Stoops' first national championship in 2000 came after Florida State's Mark Richt took the Georgia head-coaching job before the game. The results weren't pretty as the Seminoles were limited to a season-low 302 yards in a 13-2 loss to the Sooners.

The Sooners had their own problems in the 2004 Sugar Bowl, where they played LSU in a game for the national title only a few weeks after Mike Stoops had taken the head job at Arizona. LSU jumped ahead early and cruised to a 21-14 championship game victory as Mike Stoops watched from the sidelines.

Meyer can only hope that the transition goes as swimmingly for his team as it did for Bo Pelini last season in the BCS title game. Pelini remained around the LSU team and turned in a masterful job as the Tigers claimed a national championship victory over Ohio State. He left for his new gig at Nebraska the next day.

Most observers speculate it's easier to pull that off with a defense rather than an offense, where play-calling abilities are a different story than merely calling defenses.

However it turns out, it will be interesting to see how another national championship game is affected by departing assistant coaches.

Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Griffin

Here are some lunchtime links that will provide some lunchtime diversion over a trip to a  shopping mall somewhere packed with holiday shoppers.

After you finish reading these nuggets, you'll thank me.

Trust me.

  • Iowa State faces a huge dilemma if the Cyclones don't hire a coach in the next several days. Andrew Logue of the Des Moines Register reports that the NCAA's recruiting dead period -- which prohibits coaches from visiting non-signed athletes in person -- begins Monday and will continue through Jan. 1.
  • New Kansas State offensive coordinator Andy Ludwig will work with his old team at Utah through the Utes' Jan. 2 Sugar Bowl game against Alabama, the Topeka Capital-Journal's Austin Meek reports.
  • Tim Sullivan of the New York Post is picking Florida to beat Oklahoma in the FedEx BCS National Championship Game because the Gators are faster, healthier and more talented on defense than the Sooners.
  • Defensive tackle DeMarcus Granger becomes the second key Oklahoma player who missed the Sooners' bowl game last season who will also miss the BCS title game against Florida, according to the Oklahoman's Jake Trotter.
  • Dave Sittler of the Tulsa World writes that a strong performance in Oklahoma State's Dec. 30 Holiday Bowl game against Oregon could propel the Cowboys into contention for a shot at next year's Big 12 South Division title.
  • Maybe it's the economy or a bad case of "BCS blues." Whatever the reason, Texas still has 1,000 tickets remaining for the Longhorns' Jan. 5 Fiesta Bowl game against Ohio State, according to Patrick George of the Austin-American Statesman.

Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Griffin

DALLAS -- It's hard to believe that the Texas-Oklahoma rivalry could get any bigger.

But first glance inside the renovated Cotton Bowl gives the stadium an even larger big-game feeling. A new facade outside has given the storied old stadium a completely different look. The stadium is now enclosed, making it feel like a real football stadium. Something tells me it's going to rock once the spectators start arriving. A record crowd of more than 92,000 is expected for today's game.

I only saw one scuffle between Texas and Oklahoma fans and it was relatively tame compared to many of the donnybrooks I've seen on the midway over the years. Of course, it's still early and they haven't started selling beer yet. There's hardly a line at the corny dog stands, either.

Here are some of the things I'll be watching for, once the game starts.

  • Whether Texas can withstand an early rush by Oklahoma's potent offense. The Sooners have outscored opponents 103-3 in the first half and will be gunning for a quick knockout. I look for Texas defensive coordinator Will Muschamp to cook up some exotic blitz packages to try to confuse Oklahoma quarterback Sam Bradford and protect Texas' young secondary.
  • Can Texas take advantage of its edge in special teams? The Sooners have been susceptible to big kickoff returns, yielding a 97-yarder for a score against Cincinnati and a 75-yard return against TCU. Texas will throw better athletes at Oklahoma than either of those teams. And it will also be interesting to watch Oklahoma redshirt freshman Jimmy Stevens, who has attempted only one field goal in his college career -- a 36-yarder against Cincinnati three games ago. How will he handle a clutch situation when the game is on the line?
  • How much Fozzy Whittaker's expected return means to Texas' offense. Whittaker is back and as healthy as he's been all season. He was counted to become Texas' breakaway threat before battling injuries earlier this season. If he's close to being at 100 percent, Colt McCoy's life just got a lot easier.
  • Who establishes the running game? Here's a statistic to chew on before watching the game: In the last 10 years of the rivalry, the team that has gained more rushing yards has won nine of them. It was even in 2006 when both teams produced 124 yards. So it will be imperative to establish the running game and establish play-action passes for either McCoy or Bradford. Oklahoma has better talent, but DeMarco Murray has been slow to return to form after his knee injury late last season.
  • Can Oklahoma protect Bradford? The battle between Oklahoma's offensive line and Texas' defensive front will determine the game. Look for Muschamp to throw a variety of blitzes to try to get around the mammoth Oklahoma front. But if Bradford remains upright he should be able to blister Texas' young secondary.

Injuries: Both teams are relatively healthy. Whittaker's return is big for Texas, looking for some balance to keep from using McCoy so much as a running threat. Oklahoma defensive tackles DeMarcus Granger (foot) and Gerald McCoy (toe) and defensive end Frank Alexander (stab wound on arm) all are expected to play and add depth to the Sooners' defensive front. Center Jon Cooper (knee) is expected to play, although the status of Oklahoma backup tackle Branndon Braxton, who missed the Baylor game with an undisclosed injury, is questionable.

Weather: It's expected to be a hot, muggy day with temperatures in the 80s at kickoff. There's a 20 percent chance of rain, but any precipitation should blow through after the game is over.

Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Griffin

Six Big 12 teams made the Associated Press Top 25 poll and the USA Today coaches' poll Sunday.

Speaking of six, here's a late-afternoon snack of six links that will keep your stomach from growling too much before dinner. Enjoy them.

Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Griffin

The remnants and reminders of Hurricane Ike can be found scattered across the Texas A&M campus.

Parking will be at a premium for the Aggies' game Saturday against Miami because many surface lots have been taken over by the arrival of refugees from the storm. Nearby Reed Arena is a government-designated emergency site. About 300 special-needs patients are being treated on the floor of the arena after being transported there from throughout the hurricane-ravaged area.

Aggies officials took down banners, goal posts and wind screens with the approach of the storm. The campus was largely untouched.

Not as fortunate was the nearby campus of Texas A&M at Galveston, which suffered some significant damage. It has led to the relocation of about 1,000 Galveston-campus students to College Station, where they could remain for the rest of the semester.

Hotel rooms, already tough to come by on a football game day, are at even more of a premium this weekend in the Bryan-College Station area because evacuees have been using them since the storm blew through. It's led the 12th Man Foundation at Texas A&M to start anorganized drive of releasing additional rooms in the area that might have been reserved for Saturday's game.

Some might wonder why the game should be played this weekend after the recent catastrophe. But in a way, having a game on Saturday will be good for the Southeast Texas area. It will give everyone a chance to forget about their recent troubles, at least for a few hours.

Here are some links from around the Big 12 this morning.

Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Griffin

It would seem that being relegated to a pay-per-view telecast would be college football's version of playing in Siberia. Less attention compared to national games on the major networks seemingly would make this an unattractive solution.

But excitement about the arrival of new Nebraska coach Bo Pelini is helping to disprove that line of thinking. The Omaha World-Herald reported that Nebraska notched impressive pay-per-view numbers in their first three telecasts, helping the school make more money than if those games had been carried by a national television network.

School officials estimate that Nebraska's first three games have generated more than $1 million in their telecasts produced in cooperation with Fox Sports Network.

"FSN has also done games with Florida, Texas, Oklahoma, and the Nebraska games we have done have performed well in comparison with those schools," Geoff Goldman, FSN Midwest's media relations manager, told the Lincoln Journal Star.

So maybe there is a method there. Hire a vibrant new coach and play a bunch of nobodies from schools outside BCS conferences. And then sit back and rake in the cash.

I wish my budgeting was that simple.

Here are some of the other stories around the conference generating some hot sports opinion this morning. 

Posted by ESPN.com's Chris Low

What percentage we've truly seen Florida's Percy Harvin at this season is anybody's guess.

 
 J. Meric/Getty Images
 Percy Harvin is looking to be more involved in the offense on Saturday.

He didn't play at all in the opener against Hawaii and was used in spots two weeks ago against Miami, although he looked good when he did get the ball.

Given an extra week to rest his heel, Harvin got some news heading into this Saturday's Tennessee game that ought to warm the hearts of Florida fans and possibly put the Tennessee defenders on alert.

Florida coach Urban Meyer told Harvin simply, "I'm ready to cut you loose."

Harvin says he feels better and stronger than he has in some time. He underwent surgery in April on his right heel. Doctors went in and shaved off some excess bone on his heel, hoping to eliminate soreness that had plagued Harvin since high school.

His recovery took a little longer than anyone anticipated, and he missed just about the entire preseason.

But now, he says he's finally healthy.

"I felt great, the few touches I did get [against Miami]," said Harvin, who ran the ball five times for 27 yards, including a 2-yard touchdown, and caught one pass for 12 yards. "I felt really good and after that game, and going into last week's practice, we had a really good practice week. I'm feeling strong and fast. I think it worked out for the best."

Harvin said the last time he remembers not playing with pain was the 10th grade. He said the worst part was the way it affected other parts of his body.

"I guess to describe it was like somebody stabbing you in the back of the foot," Harvin said. "It got to a point where I couldn't bend, so sometimes in the weight room I couldn't squat all the way down. It was causing bad tendinitis in my knees, and my hips were going crazy because I was overplanting on my other foot."

How much better can he be at 100 percent?

"I'm assuming a whole lot better," Harvin said. "I think just being stronger and feeling stronger out there running my routes ... I think I should be pretty good."

Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Griffin

Before venturing away from the friendly confines of Owen Field, there were some lingering questions that persisted about Oklahoma.

Considering Oklahoma had notched a 1-7 record in its last eight games west of Norman, the Sooners' road struggles were well chronicled. It led Oklahoma players preparing for the upcoming road season by wearing "Built Road Tough" t-shirts in the past several weeks.

The inspiration must have worked. The Sooners delivered a masterful 55-14 thumping of Washington on Saturday that ranked as the Huskies' worst home loss since 1929. That performance had Daily Oklahoman columnist Berry Tramel writing about how the Sooners are legitimate contenders for the national championship.

It won't be easy. The Sooners' remaining opponents have a combined record of 21-3 so far this season. And DT DeMarcus Granger picked up a nasty-looking injury to his left leg when he was involved in a scrum with three Washington defenders a play after he had been flagged for a personal foul.

But Tulsa World Oklahoma beat writer John Hoover said this squad appears to be different than recent Oklahoma teams after it returned to the top two in the nation in both major polls for the first time since 2004.

Whether the Sooners can maintain that ranking through the Big 12 schedule remains to be seen. But it's about as good a start as Bob Stoops could have asked for coming into the season.

Speaking of good starts, here are some nourishing links to get Big 12 fans through a Monday morning.

Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Griffin

 
 Ronald Martinez/Getty Images
 All-Big 12 defensive end Auston English is just one of several Sooners on the mend.

Coaches try to get through training camp without many distractions, hoping to prepare their teams with a relatively stable roster heading into the upcoming season.

But it's not always easy. Ask Oklahoma coach Bob Stoops, whose team has been dinged a couple of times in recent weeks to create a few questions about the Sooners' defense.

The misfortune started before training camp when returning All-Big 12 defensive end Auston English was idled after his appendix was removed. Although he's expected to return before the season begins, his conditioning will suffer because of the injury. It's anybody's guess how long it will take him to return to peak shape as the Sooners' top pass-rushing threat.

The Sooners suffered another hit when weakside linebacker Austin Box suffered a knee injury in practice and underwent arthroscopic surgery that will keep him out of action for at least the first game and perhaps longer.

His departure has opened a position for 25-year-old Mike Balogun, a converted construction worker who spent his junior and senior seasons in high school working to help his family make ends meet. After blossoming at junior college, he's now running as the Sooners' first-string linebacker with Box out of the lineup.

Balogun's story is a good one. But it doesn't necessarily promise better production for a Sooner linebacking corps that already was disappointing Sooner defensive coordinator Brent Venables before Box's injury.

How much you might ask? When asked what he thought about his linebackers' development, Venables had a graphic answer: "I'm not ready to puke yet."

If Venables was sick about that, you can imagine how he feels about the decline of defensive tackle DeMarcus Granger, who once was thought to be one of the most talented Oklahoma players.

Granger was caught shoplifting at last year's Fiesta Bowl, suspended and then sent home on a bus before the game. Scouts have raved about his talent, but griped about his conditioning and lack of consistency.

Granger got in the Sooner coaches' doghouse at the start of training camp when he reported overweight. He's been stuck on the second team ever since.

The loss or decline of any of these players wouldn't be catastrophic. But collectively, they might start triggering some questions about an Oklahoma defense that already lost key playmakers such as Reggie Smith and Curtis Lofton from last year.

Is it enough to let a team like Missouri, Texas Tech or Texas come closer to challenging the Sooners' hopes for a record-breaking three-peat of Big 12 titles?

We don't know yet. But it isn't a good sign for Bob Stoops during the dog days of August.

Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Griffin

Daily Oklahoman columnist John Rohde might have found the secret for Oklahoma State coach Mike Gundy's vigor. And it doesn't come from his excitement about being around his players.

Rohde details Gundy's three Red Bull energy drink-a-day habit in his column Tuesday. I know that Gundy has long enjoyed the drink, stocking a refrigerator in his office with the product. He even offered me one during a visit to Stillwater earlier this year.

The combination of taurine, caffeine, glucose and B12 appears to get Gundy's juices flowing -- almost as much as a negative newspaper column.

He could joke about his habit in Rohde's column. After showing up at a recent press conference, he wondered what soft drink that Oklahoma State had a sponsorship deal with.

When somebody answered "Red Bull," Gundy had a quick answer.

"You've got that right," he said.

And he later joked that he wasn't showing the signs of a Red Bull addict, despite playfully twitching his head several times in quick succession after the question.

I hope all of the Big 12 readers out there are similarly charged with the early-morning lift that these morning links are meant to provide as Gundy is with his favorite drink. 

If so, maybe I should bottle them.

  • Kirk Bohls of the Austin American-Statesman provided the scoop that former Texas A&M coach Dennis Franchione will be doing color for ESPN Radio broadcasts this season. His first game will be Alabama-Clemson from Atlanta on Aug. 30. Let's hope the Tide fans don't taunt the former coach with those once-popular cutouts that were defacing as he left for the A&M job.
  • Blast-furnace conditions greeted Missouri on its first day of practice. But even with the heat index climbing to 110 degrees, 56-year-old coach Gary Pinkel joined the Tigers in a run before starting practice.
  • Texas A&M QB Stephen McGee will be pushed by backups Jarrod Johnson and Ryan Tannehill for the starting job in fall camp. "These three could all be starters in the Big 12, in my opinion," A&M quarterbacks coach Tom Rossley told Randy Riggs of the Austin American-Statesman.
  • Texas coach Mack Brown said that the school will be seeking a sixth season of eligibility for injury-plagued WR Jordan Shipley.
  • Biletnikoff winner Michael Crabtree will be featured more in Texas Tech's return game. Interesting that Tech coach Mike Leach would willingly risk potential injury for his All-American by playing him in those situations.
  • The Lubbock Avalanche-Journal's Don Williams says it's been a long time between truly memorable seasons for Texas Tech. Williams, the little brother of a Tech Saddle Tramp, said he turned 12 in 1976 -- the year the Red Raiders were ranked in the top 5 in early November. Now, he says he's sometimes mistaken for a grandfather.
  • Colorado will begin fall camp without designated captains. Coach Dan Hawkins wants to see how the leadership will develop for his team without them in training camp.
  • Lincoln Journal-Star columnist Steve Sipple said that selflessness should keep the close competition for the starting I-back from becoming a distraction. I'm still surprised that coach Bo Pelini listed Marlon Lucky, the conference's only returning 1,000-yard back, as co-No. 1 with Roy Helu Jr. Nebraska QB Joe Ganz thinks it won't hurt the team. "Marlon and Roy are really good friends," Ganz told Sipple. "Marlon knows he's not going to get every carry in the fall anyway. In the Big 12, you need at least two running backs."
  • Omaha World-Herald columnist Tom Shatel says that "Bo Law" doesn't leave much gray area for interpretation after the Nebraska coach's decision to dismiss DT Kevin Dixon. Of course, it's easier to make those kind of calls when a coach is new and expectations for his team aren't at title levels -- yet.
  • Oklahoman beat writer Jake Trotter spells out the options for former Oklahoma WR Josh Jarboe after he was kicked off the Sooners' roster late last week. Trotter speculates that Jarboe could end up at a Football Championship Subdivision school like Savannah State or Georgia Southern, or perhaps Central Florida. I still think that coach Bob Stoops' decision to kick off Jarboe will hurt the Sooners more next year than this season. And it's placed finding a tall, rangy receiver at a priority during the Sooners' upcoming recruiting class.
  • Texas' student newspaper is throwing some brickbats at Stoops on his decision to dismiss Jarboe. Daily Texan columnist David R. Henry says that Stoops showed a double-standard by purging himself of Jarboe and keeping players like DeMarcus Granger on his roster.
  • Texas A&M coach Mike Sherman told the San Antonio Express-News' Brent Zwerneman that FB Jorvorskie Lane needs to lose about 25-30 pounds to get where he wants him to be. Sherman said after Monday's practice that Lane weighs in the "290 category." As someone who is fighting a "battle of the bulge," I can only suggest that nagging wives serve a similarly inspirational role for sportswriters as coaches do for football players.
  • The Oklahoman wonders if the stars are falling in line for Oklahoma's first national championship since 2000?
  • Iowa State coach Gene Chizik said competition for the Cyclones' starting quarterback job between Austen Arnaud and Phillip Bates is very close. "It's 50-50," Chizik told the Ames Tribune. "May the best man win."
  • Starting Colorado TE Riar Geer has been reinstated to the team after he was suspended over the spring for his role in an off-campus scuffle. "It feels good to have this all behind me," Geer told the Boulder Daily Camera. "It was a great lesson, and hopefully everybody else can learn from my mistake."
  • A pair of players converted from other positions h
    ave emerged atop Baylor's depth chart as the Bears' starting cornerbacks. Former WR Krys Buerck and former starting S Dwain Crawford both are showing strong instincts at the new position. "It was a matter of need," Baylor coach Art Briles told the Waco Tribune-Herald. "One of the first meetings I had with the cornerbacks in my office, I saw we had two guys on scholarship. At any university, much less a Big 12 university, you need more players than that in the room."

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