NCF Nation: Demontre Hurst

ESPN.com's preseason All-Big 12 team

August, 29, 2012
8/29/12
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The season is only a few days away, and it's time to unveil our official All-Big 12 team.

The criteria for this is pretty simple: I picked the best players at every position in the game, but made room for deserving players. For this league, that meant eliminating the tight end spot and sliding a more deserving Collin Klein onto the team via an all-purpose position.

The quarterbacks are solid in this league, but I'd call the cornerbacks the best and deepest position in the league. The worst? Defensive tackle. I didn't put a single one on the All-Big 12 team, electing to name four defensive ends along the defensive line. I hate doing that, but this year, it's necessary.

Without further ado, here's our team:

OFFENSE

QB: Geno Smith, West Virginia
RB: Joseph Randle, Oklahoma State
RB: Waymon James, TCU
All-Purpose: Collin Klein, QB, Kansas State
WR: Stedman Bailey, West Virginia
WR: Kenny Stills, Oklahoma
WR: Tavon Austin, West Virginia
C: Joe Madsen, West Virginia
OL: Gabe Ikard, Oklahoma
OL: Lane Taylor, Oklahoma State
OL: Cyril Richardson, Baylor
OL: Mason Walters, Texas

DEFENSE

DL: Jackson Jeffcoat, Texas
DL: Stansly Maponga, TCU
DL: Alex Okafor, Texas
DL: Meshak Williams, Kansas State
LB: A.J. Klein, Iowa State
LB: Arthur Brown, Kansas State
LB: Jake Knott, Iowa State
CB: Carrington Byndom, Texas
CB: Brodrick Brown, Oklahoma State
S: Kenny Vaccaro, Texas
S: Tony Jefferson, Oklahoma

SPECIALISTS:

K: Quinn Sharp, Oklahoma State
P: Quinn Sharp, Oklahoma State
KR: Justin Gilbert, Oklahoma State
PR: Tavon Austin, West Virginia

Honorable mention/regrettable snubs: Landry Jones, QB, Oklahoma; Malcolm Brown, RB, Texas; Ivory Wade, C, Baylor; LaAdrian Waddle, OL, Texas Tech; Blaize Foltz, OL, TCU; Kenny Cain, LB, TCU; Shaun Lewis, LB, Oklahoma State; Jamarkus McFarland, DL, Oklahoma; Quandre Diggs, CB, Texas; Nigel Malone, CB, Kansas State; Demontre Hurst, CB, Oklahoma; Tyler Lockett, KR, Kansas State
We're moving on with our 2011 postseason position rankings. Today, it's time for cornerbacks. If you missed it, here's how I ranked them in the preseason.

Here are the other position rankings we've done so far:
Depth is somewhat of a factor here, but I weighted it heavily toward the top two starters at the position.

[+] EnlargeCarrington Byndom
John Albright/Icon SMICarrington Byndom went up against some of the Big 12's top receivers and held his own.
1. Texas — The Longhorns duo of Carrington Byndom and Quandre Diggs were by far the league's best at limiting the big play. Both are physical. Both return. Beware, Big 12 offenses. In just their first year as starters, they helped the Longhorns lead the league in pass defense. Diggs, a true freshman, led the team with four interceptions. Until the regular-season finale against Baylor, Texas and Alabama were the only teams that hadn't given up a touchdown pass longer than 20 yards. Obviously, that's way, way more impressive in the Big 12.

2. Kansas State — K-State overachieved in a lot of ways this year, and perhaps nowhere more than at cornerback. Juco transfer Nigel Malone led the league with seven interceptions. Known entity David Garrett was even more solid, making 88 tackles and 6.5 tackles for loss. I ranked this unit 10th in the Big 12 before the season. They finished second. I was wrong.

3. Oklahoma — The Sooners' corners were good, but not great, and underachieved slightly. Jamell Fleming and Demontre Hurst are supremely talented, but were susceptible to big plays this year. Granted, everybody in the Big 12 was, but the Sooners ranked fourth in pass defense. Fleming broke up 10 passes and intercepted two more. Hurst broke up 11 and had an interception.

4. Oklahoma State — At times, Oklahoma State's Brodrick Brown was a legitimate shutdown corner. Justin Gilbert turned in a solid effort in his first year as a starter, which was much more important after a season-ending injury to Devin Hedgepeth in September. Gilbert picked off five passes, second-most in the Big 12.

5. Iowa StateLeonard Johnson was quietly an NFL prospect that put together a huge year. He was a big reason for ISU's upset of No. 2 Oklahoma State, and helped shut down Justin Blackmon. He finished with 71 tackles, eight pass breakups and a pick. Jeremy Reeves added two picks and seven pass breakups.

6. MissouriE.J. Gaines led the Big 12 with 16 pass breakups, and the Tigers ranked fifth in the Big 12 in pass defense. Fellow first-year starter Kip Edwards added a pick and three pass breakups.

7. Texas A&M — The team's top corner, Coryell Judie, was hampered by a hamstring injury all season, but production is production. It wasn't there for Judie, one of the league's top corners in 2010. Terrence Frederick had a good year with 13 pass breakups and a pick, but the Aggies were susceptible through the air all year. Lionel Smith and Dustin Harris filled in well in Judie's absence, but not well enough. A&M finished eighth in pass defense and helped five QBs set career highs for passing yardage in 2011.

8. BaylorK.J. Morton played well down the stretch for Baylor, but the Bears defense left a lot to be desired almost everywhere. They finished last in the Big 12 in pass defense, giving up over 290 yards a game. Morton picked off four passes and broke up six more. All four of his picks came in the final three games of 2011. Chance Casey broke up six passes and made 48 stops.

9. Texas Tech — How's this for irony? The Red Raiders actually finished second in the Big 12 in pass defense. It doesn't matter much. Tre' Porter had the only interception for a cornerback all season, and broke up two passes. Injuries were a problem all season. Cornelius Douglas, Derrick Mays, Jarvis Phillips and Sawyer Vest filled the unit, but Tech faced 61 fewer pass attempts than Kansas and 111 fewer than the next team in the Big 12. That's what happens when you can't stop the run. Doesn't mean the corners played well.

10. KansasGreg Brown picked off two passes and broke up three more. Isiah Barfield made 35 tackles and broke up five passes. The Jayhawks ranked ninth in the Big 12 in pass defense. They didn't get much of a pass rush to help the corners, but the corners were very poor in 2011.

Does defense lead the Sooners?

October, 19, 2011
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Oklahoma boasts a Heisman trophy candidate at quarterback in Landry Jones. Last weekend, its top receiver, Ryan Broyles, became the NCAA career leader in receptions.

Running back Dominique Whaley has been one of the best stories in college football, but while others focused on his status as a former walk-on, he quietly racked up more rushing yards than all but one player in the Big 12, despite playing in a platoon backfield.

[+] EnlargeOklahoma's Frank Alexander
AP Photo/Steve CannonFrank Alexander has emerged as a top contender for Big 12 Defensive Player of the Year.
The Sooners rank fourth nationally in total offense, and its biggest names live on the offensive side of the ball, but is it possible the Sooners' best side of the ball is defense?

"Our expectation is to play hard-nosed football and be the defense that we know we can be," safety Tony Jefferson said. "We’ve got a lot of talent on this team, especially on the defensive side of the ball."

The Sooners have stymed offenses in all six games this season. Tulsa was held 15 points under its scoring average. For Florida State, 22 points below its 35-point average. Even Missouri -- Oklahoma's worst defensive performance -- scored five points fewer than its average.

The Sooners held Texas and Kansas both to 17 points, nearly two touchdowns below their average.

"There’s always some spots here or there through six games you’d like to have done better, but I feel we’re playing pretty well," said Oklahoma coach Bob Stoops.

The Sooners gave up a whopping 6 yards in the second half against Kansas last week, keeping the Jayhawks' much-improved offense from recording a first down until the game's final minutes.

Oklahoma leads the Big 12 in total defense and ranks 22nd nationally with just over 317 yards given up each game. It ranks 11th by allowing fewer than 16 points a game.

That's even more impressive considering the Sooners have already faced offensive juggernauts. Ball State and Texas are the Sooners' only opponents this year outside the top 45 in total offense. The Cardinals scored six points.

If numbers don't do it for you, consider talent.

Frank Alexander has emerged as one of the Big 12's best defensive players, wrecking offenses up front while the Big 12's reigning freshman of the year, Tony Jefferson, states his case in the secondary.

He's flanked by arguably the two best corners in the Big 12 this season, Demontre Hurst and Jamell Fleming.

Oh yeah, and Oklahoma has done it all with its leader and the preseason favorite to win the Big 12 Defensive Player of the Year, Travis Lewis, on the mend from a broken bone in his foot.

Like the Sooners' multi-faceted offense, the defense can do it all.

"We’re not the kind of defense that runs one particular style. We have different types of defenses," Jefferson said. "If you’re an offensive team, you don’t know what we’re going to run or what we’re going to be in."

Jefferson, with the ability to play a traditional safety spot, nickel back or outside linebacker, might be the most versatile Sooner defender. The Sooners' base 4-3 defense can randomly become a three-man front. Defensive end Ronnell Lewis projects as an NFL outside linebacker, and can rush off the end or drop into coverage.

The Sooners can put four defensive ends on the field and use their speed and athleticism to further enhance a pass rush that's already managed 24 sacks this season, third-most nationally.

Oklahoma's 15 forced turnovers are more than anyone in the Big 12, save Oklahoma State.

"We’ve created a lot of pressure on quarterbacks and a lot of turnovers and gotten a lot of lost yardage plays," Stoops said of his defense, which leads the Big 12 with 48 tackles for loss, too. "That’s some of the things we’ve done the best."

Don't lose sight of the impact going up against one of the nation's best offenses every day has had. But maybe it works the other way, too?

Either way, put the two together (and Oklahoma does every Saturday), and the Sooners look like an ever-improving national title contender.

"I feel like we’ve done well, but I feel like we have a lot more to prove," Jefferson said. "We’ve still got a long way to go. We’re reaching the point in the season where there’s no more slacking off. Teams will take advantage of that. We know what we’ve got to do."

Ugly reality hits hard for Longhorns

October, 8, 2011
10/08/11
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DALLAS -- It got so bad in the second half, even Bevo had to look away.

The Longhorns' signature steer spent most of the third quarter behind the end zone with his horns pointed at the slowly draining Texas side of the 96,009 fans in the Cotton Bowl.

[+] EnlargeMack Brown
AP Photo/Mike Fuentes"Can't have five turnovers and win games," Texas coach Mack Brown said.
This was a forgettable stop on this 2011 Longhorns Revival Tour, a season-long crusade to erase the memories of a 5-7 season in 2010.

Oklahoma didn't hit 60 points, but that was about the only positive for Texas, whose 55-17 beatdown did not, at least to my knowledge, come complete with Sooner Schooner tracks along the back of the Longhorns' white pants and burnt orange uniforms.

"I thought they tried," said Texas coach Mack Brown, whose 38-point loss is the third-worst ever suffered in his tenure at Texas. The other two were delivered in 2000 and 2003 on the same field from the same team by 49 and 52 points.

As for what went wrong? Well, where to start?

Three turnovers for touchdowns seems as good a place as any to start digging into this performance, which stunk only slightly less than the gifts Bevo leaves behind on the way to his artificial turf mat behind the end zone.

"Can't have five turnovers and win games," Brown said.

No worries. They didn't.

Demontre Hurst kicked off the party in the end zone with a 55-yard interception return to put Oklahoma up 27-3 in the second quarter.

Any halftime locker room dramatics didn't follow Texas onto the field. Frank Alexander sacked Case McCoy and forced a fumble, which David King casually picked up and strolled 19 yards into the end zone to make it 41-10 early in the third quarter.

"They were just out there flying to the ball, playing faster than us," said Texas running back Fozzy Whittaker, one of the bright spots for the Longhorns on Saturday. Whittaker ran hard all day, returning a kick 100 yards for a touchdown and carrying the ball six times for 43 yards.

"It's one of those things where you just have to stand back and give them credit for doing what they do best," he said.

Saturday was 60 minutes of reality setting in for Texas: It might be better than it was last year, but Texas needs some high-quality binoculars to get a glimpse of the national elite.

The Longhorns' No. 11 ranking was gone sometime in the second quarter, at some point between one of Landry Jones' 23 completions, 305 yards and three touchdowns in the first half.

"They've got all the athletes and stats for a reason," said Texas safety Blake Gideon.

Texas' offense? The only offensive touchdown of the day came with 2:31 left to play and the Longhorns trailing 55-10.

Texas had a great opportunity with a 1st-and-10 at Oklahoma's 14-yard line late in the third quarter.

Then came a bad snap. Then David Ash got sacked by speedy Tony Jefferson, who intercepted Ash earlier, too.

Then Ash got sacked by Ronnell Lewis, who forced a fumble and ... "Hey, how'd we end up with a 4th-and-49 on our own side of the field?"

Games like this, in raucous environments against very, very good teams, expose inexperience. Texas didn't have much covered when it was all over.

[+] EnlargeDavid Ash
AP Photo/Mike FuentesRonnell Lewis sacks Texas quarterback David Ash, forcing a fumble.
"We mixed it up. We played man, we played some zone, we mixed up some man zones," said defensive coordinator Manny Diaz. "[Jones] knew where to go with the ball, he knew how to manage the play, he took what was there when it was there."

Diaz, despite Oklahoma's assertions after the game, said the youth of his cornerbacks wasn't to blame.

"Defending the run and defending the pass is an 11-man job," Diaz said.

Official numbers are sketchy, but the 11 men Texas put out on the field weren't getting much of a job done against an offense that the Longhorns couldn't compliment enough after the game.

"I can see why they're No. 1 in the country," Brown said, later noting that the coaches kept the Sooners at No. 1 while the media polls slipped the Sooners to No. 3, behind Alabama and LSU.

Wherever Texas falls in the polls after Saturday's forgettable turn at the State Fair of Texas, it'll be far, far behind Oklahoma.

And just like every Saturday, for this one, Bevo had the most enjoyable seat in the house.
DALLAS -- Oklahoma has already dished out a pair of lopsided beatings in the last decade of this rivalry, winning by 52 points and 49 in 2000 and 2003, respectively.

Chalk up another in 2011. Oklahoma 55, Texas 17.

Oklahoma jumped out to a big lead early and built on it with three defensive touchdowns throughout the game. The Longhorns won't be leaving Dallas with anything close to an upset or an idea that last year's struggles are far behind them in the rearview mirror.

How the game was won: Oklahoma won the turnover battle, the battle on the line of scrimmage and just about everything else on Saturday in a dominating win.

Turning point: Oklahoma was outplaying Texas early, but the game was still somewhat reasonable. Then Demontre Hurst scored the first of three defensive touchdowns on the day, picking off David Ash and returning it 55 yards for a touchdown. The lead was 27-3 and the rout was on.

Player of the game: Landry Jones, QB, Oklahoma. Jones threw for 305 yards and three touchdowns in the first half, then took most of the fourth quarter off as the Sooners coasted to the easy win. Jones made big plays when he had to early and the gap between him and the quarterback(s) across the sideline from him looked astronomical.

Record performance: Oklahoma's three defensive touchdowns tied a school record and were the most ever for a Bob Stoops-coached team. The loss was also the third-worst of Mack Brown's tenure at Texas. The only two worse came on this field, and Oklahoma delivered them.

What Oklahoma learned: Maybe it's the No. 1 team in the nation after all. Texas was clearly overrated at No. 11, but the Sooners were the fourth team in the past three decades to slip to No. 3 in the AP poll without suffering a loss. Saturday's dominance was a pretty strong statement and proof that when it's at its best, Oklahoma can be nothing short of dominant.

What Texas learned: So much for being all the way back. Even during last year's 5-7 season, Texas remained competitive in a 28-20 loss to a 12-win Oklahoma team. This year? Far from it. The inexperience on offense and at cornerback showed, and the Longhorns looked hapless for most of the game. How much better is Texas than last year's team? We'll find out as the season progresses.

What it means: Oklahoma is still flying the Big 12's flag as the league's national title contender, but a Bedlam clash in Stillwater on Dec. 3 may be a pretty outstanding replacement for the defunct Big 12 championship game. Oklahoma looked just OK in a win over Missouri and made big plays late to beat what now looks like an overrated Florida State team, but Saturday was Oklahoma's best punch. Texas couldn't take it.

DALLAS -- Oklahoma has been the more experienced, more prepared and more aggressive team through the first half.

As a result, the Sooners have opened up a big lead and looked dominant while doing it. If not for early red-zone struggles, this could be even more lopsided.

Even still, at 34-10, this looks ugly for the Longhorns and it's a strong statement for Oklahoma to try and gain back some of the ground it lost in the polls in past weeks.

Turning point: Trailing 13-3, Texas quarterback David Ash threw an interception downfield to Tony Jefferson, who returned it 13 yards to the Texas 33-yard line to set up an eventual five-yard touchdown pass from Landry Jones to Ryan Broyles. That put Oklahoma up 20-3 and the game began looking out of reach for Texas. It still looks out of reach.

Stat of the half: Texas had 60 yards of offense in the first quarter. The Longhorns had 38 in the second quarter, including 18 on a pass to Mike Davis on the scoreless final drive of the half. Oklahoma's defense is playing physical, pressuring the quarterback, and making big plays. Demontre Hurst already returned David Ash's second interception of the day 55 yards for a touchdown.

Best player in the half: Jones. The Sooner signal caller has made a good Texas defense look bad for most of the first half, racking up 305 yards and three touchdowns on 23-of-35 passing and kept the Sooners offense humming throughout the half. Unbelievable stats against a pretty good, albeit inexperienced, Texas secondary.

What Oklahoma needs to do: Quit giving up big plays. Oklahoma looked like it was ready to send the Longhorns back to Austin after going up 27-3 late in the second quarter, but the Longhorns stuck around when Fozzy Whittaker took the ensuing kickoff back 100 yards for a touchdown. He also cued the Oklahoma critics crying for a special teams coordinator. Texas' offense isn't built like Oklahoma's and can't sustain consecutive systematic drives. It doesn't have the experience. Big plays are all that can keep Texas in it, and if Oklahoma prevents them, it's over.

What Texas needs to do: Petition the Big 12 to vacate the results of the first half on account of ... uh ... something. Then figure out a way to shoehorn Philadelphia Eagles backup QB Vince Young into its 2011 lineup. After that, find a way to help its young core freshmen to come out of the tunnel with another year or two of experience.

The Big 12 has released its All-Big 12 preseason team as voted on by the media, including yours truly.

Here's my ballot, for reference.

And here's the preseason team, in all its glory.

OFFENSE

QB: Landry Jones, Oklahoma
RB: Cyrus Gray, Texas A&M
RB: Bryce Brown, Kansas State
RB: Roy Finch, Oklahoma
WR: Justin Blackmon, Oklahoma State
WR: Ryan Broyles, Oklahoma
TE: Michael Egnew, Missouri
OL: Levy Adcock, Oklahoma State
OL: Kelechi Osemele, Iowa State
C: Ben Habern, Oklahoma
OL: Lonnie Edwards, Texas Tech
OL: Luke Joeckel, Texas A&M

DEFENSE

DL: Brad Madison, Missouri
DL: Ronnell Lewis, Oklahoma
DL: Kheeston Randall, Texas
DL: Frank Alexander, Oklahoma
LB: Travis Lewis, Oklahoma
LB: Jake Knott, Iowa State
LB: Keenan Robinson, Texas
DB: Coryell Judie, Texas A&M
DB: Markelle Martin, Oklahoma State
DB: Blake Gideon, Texas
DB: Demontre Hurst, Oklahoma

SPECIALISTS

K: Grant Ressel, Missouri
P: Quinn Sharp, Oklahoma State
KR: Coryell Judie, Texas A&M
PR: Ryan Broyles, Oklahoma

AWARDS

Offensive Player of the Year: Justin Blackmon, WR, OSU

Defensive Player of the Year: Travis Lewis, LB, Oklahoma

Newcomer of the Year: Malcolm Brown, RB, Texas

Selections by team: Oklahoma (9), Oklahoma State (4), Texas A&M (4), Missouri (3), Texas (3), Iowa State (2), Kansas State (1)

And a few thoughts:
  • Generally, I agree with most of the selections. Nothing was really shocking. Brandon Weeden vs. Landry Jones is pretty close to a coin flip, and let's not act surprised that the quarterback from the bigger program got the nod. Perception is reality, even if the numbers are so, so close. Jones has the Heisman hype coming into the season, certainly more than Weeden, based on little more than the possibility his team runs the table.
  • Running back is going to get a lot of attention, but let's not get riled up. This is going to sound bad, but believe me when I say I don't mean it to: Bryce Brown's selection is more an indictment of the returning talent at running back in the Big 12 than an endorsement of the hype surrounding Brown, who isn't even the clear-cut starter at K-State just yet. Here's what I wrote when I posted my ballot earlier this month. "The second running back spot is near impossible. Just about anyone might get it on the official vote when its revealed by the Big 12. You could realistically make a convincing case for James Sims, Eric Stephens, Joe Randle, Roy Finch and even newcomers like Malcolm Brown, Bryce Brown or Oklahoma's Brandon Williams. And that's the first team!" Well, there you go. For the record, I voted for Christine Michael, and still feel good about it.
  • Finch and Brown tied for votes, giving the Big 12 three running backs. There weren't three spots on the ballot. And it also explains how Malcolm Brown got Newcomer of the Year and Bryce Brown got first-team All-Big 12 running back, despite both being newcomers. It's a little confusing, I suppose, and maybe not everyone did it, but my guess is a lot of ballots had Finch as the first-team running back and Malcolm Brown as the Newcomer of the Year. Not all that surprising.
  • I originally had Luke Joeckel on my ballot, but took him off for Missouri's Elvis Fisher. I think Joeckel will end up being better, and maybe even by the end of this year, but right now, Fisher is the better lineman, and that's how I define the ballot. Perhaps others see it differently. There's no concrete rubric for this.
  • I'm not very surprised to see Ronnell Lewis and Blake Gideon grab spots on the team, though I voted for Tony Jerod-Eddie and Trent Hunter in those spots on my ballot. Second safety and defensive line were pretty tough for me to fill out. Neither spot is very deep in this league, and both Lewis and Gideon have two of the biggest names, which matters in a media vote.
  • Quite a huge gap between Oklahoma and the rest of the league. The Sooners had a lot of guys on my ballot that were close, but five more selections than anyone else in the league? That's impressive, and if ballot deadlines had been after Jamell Fleming's reinstatement, Oklahoma might have had 10 guys on the team. My ballot had Oklahoma State leading the way with seven selections, followed by Texas A&M with six and Oklahoma with five. My ballot also only had six teams represented. The media's Bryce Brown vote put Kansas State on the board, making it seven teams represented on the official team.
We'll move on to the cornerbacks today in our position rankings across the Big 12.

Here's what we've covered so far:
This group? Well, it's not very good. And considering the crazy depth in the Big 12 at receiver, it could be a long season for cornerbacks in this league. I love the upside of many of the Big 12 corners -- namely the guys at Missouri and Texas Tech (especially working with Chad Glasgow's 4-2-5 in Lubbock). Texas could also develop fast in its new defense, but outside of Texas A&M and Oklahoma, I don't see any Big 12 teams that should be completely comfortable with their cornerbacks.

Of course, for fans who love points, this could be a welcome development. For secondary coaches and defensive coordinators? Not so much.

[+] EnlargeJamell Fleming
Mark J. Rebilas/US PresswireJamell Fleming returns as the Big 12's top cornerback.
1. Oklahoma -- Jamell Fleming is the Big 12's top returner at the position and gives the Sooners a huge boost after being reinstated last week. Fleming had withdrawn from the university because of academic problems following the season. Aaron Colvin moved to safety during the offseason, but Fleming will still have to beat out Gabe Lynn in fall camp to start opposite Demontre Hurst. Julian Wilson also adds depth.

2. Texas A&M -- Fleming's return pushed the Sooners over A&M as having the Big 12's best group of corners. But Coryell Judie and Terrence Frederick could both challenge for first team All-Big 12 honors at the position. They are ahead of reserves Dustin Harris and Lionel Smith, who will get plenty of time on the field.

3. Missouri -- Missouri loses starters Carl Gettis and Kevin Rutland, but the coaches consider Kip Edwards a returning starter because of how much he played last season. Edwards could join E.J. Gaines in eventually becoming better than both Gettis and Rutland. Trey Hobson and Robert Steeples will get time in the rotation, too.

4. Oklahoma State -- OSU has to replace the Big 12's interception leader Andrew McGee , but Brodrick Brown's development should continue. He's likely a dark horse to earn first-team All-Big 12 honors after the season. The Cowboys didn't release a post-spring depth chart, but don't be surprised if return specialist Justin Gilbert edges out Devin Hedgepeth for the starting spot before the opener. Andrae May has earned playing time on special teams in both of his first two seasons on campus, but could be counted on for a much bigger role this year as the fourth corner.

5. Texas -- The Longhorns are fairly decimated at corner after losing three to the NFL in one offseason. Curtis and Chykie Brown joined Aaron Williams for one of the most talented sets of corners we've seen in this league, but now, secondary coach Duane Akina will have to replace them. Texas' depth chart is still as in flux as any in college football, but I'd be surprised if Carrington Byndom didn't emerge with a starting spot. True freshman Quandre Diggs might swipe the other, but Eryon Barnett and A.J. White will be on the field, too.

6. Texas Tech -- The Red Raiders are likely to ascend this list by season's end, but for now, find themselves at No. 6. Injuries were costly for the defense last season, but Tre Porter and Derrick Mays should be much better, and Tech fans can be encouraged by the upside in Jarvis Phillips, Jeremy Reynolds and Eugene Neboh.

7. Iowa State -- This group might be a bit underrated, but with Iowa State's defensive problems last season, it's a bit hard to tell. Jeremy Reeves and Leonard Johnson return with loads of experience, and Anthony Young is a great additional piece as the third corner. Matthew Thomas should be in the rotation, too.

8. Baylor -- The Bears return both starters. Chance Casey has 15 career starts to Tyler Stephenson's four, but the Bears secondary struggled last season, especially the corners. Tuswani Copeland should be on the field, and Romie Blaylock offers some experience as a senior under new coordinator Phil Bennett, whose work is cut out for him at this spot.

9. Kansas -- Kansas loses Chris Harris from last season's team, but Isiah Barfield is a playmaker at the position. Greg Brown, Tyler Patmon and Anthony Davis fill out the group.

10. Kansas State -- The Wildcats have a huge talent in David Garrett, who led the team in tackles last season and was the nation's leader in tackles for loss, but he's still just one player at a position that needs lots of depth in this league. Also, his coverage leaves a bit to be desired. For now, K-State doesn't look like it has that necessary depth. Terrance Sweeney and Stephen Harrison are gone, but the Wildcats need to find more talents at the position in fall camp. Watch for Thomas Ferguson to emerge as the other starter.

Fiesta Bowl: Three keys for Oklahoma

December, 31, 2010
12/31/10
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1. Do not turn the ball over more than twice. There's no underestimating this for the Sooners since they are playing as heavy favorites. Even if Huskies running backJordan Todman runs wild on them for 200-plus yards, Oklahoma has the offense that can outscore Connecticut and score 50 points to win if necessary. What can stop that? Turnovers. Oklahoma's receivers, Ryan Broyles and Kenny Stills, should be able to get open. The Sooners should be able to run the ball with at least moderate success. But lose the ball or throw it to the guys in the wrong jerseys and Oklahoma opens up a game that it should close in the second half. Oklahoma's lost just five fumbles this year compared to 11 interceptions from Landry Jones, so picks are more likely for the sophomore passer. Jones threw three in the first half against Oklahoma State.

One or two turnovers, unless they're returned for scores, won't be enough to cost the Sooners a win. But if the turnover battle gets to 3-0 or 4-0 in favor of UConn, brace yourselves for another Big 12 bowl upset.

2. Keep Todman from busting big runs. Oklahoma gave up a 66-yard touchdown run to Nebraska's Roy Helu Jr. early in the Big 12 Championship as part of the Huskers' 17-0 spurt to open the game. That's no big surprise, the Sooners have given up 25 runs of 20 yards or longer this season. Only eight teams in FBS have surrendered more. Of those eight teams, only two are bowling. Todman will get plenty of tough yards against Oklahoma's defense. But if the Sooners keep him from getting easy ones, they'll keep him under 150 total yards, limit big gains for Connecticut, and wear Todman down.

3. Defensively, win the fight on first down. Oklahoma has to force Connecticut to throw the ball as much as possible. The best way to do that is force lots of 2nd-and-8 or 2nd-and-9s that eventually force third down passing situations. If you see Connecticut with an impressive third-down percentage, it'll be because they're converting lots of 3rd-and-2 and 3rd-and-3 situations, rather than completing tough passes against Oklahoma's underrated corner duo of Demontre Hurst and Jamell Fleming. The more times Zach Frazer has to drop back and throw it against a prepared defense, the better it will be for Oklahoma. Some teams can consistently convert long third downs. The Huskies, ranked 105th nationally in completion percentage (53.1 percent), aren't one of them.
Oklahoma coach Bob Stoops watched his new corners, Jamell Fleming and Demontre Hurst, make plays all spring and fall. He saw it when they played in spot duty last season, too. The same goes for his safeties, Quinton Carter and Jonathan Nelson, who played extensively in 2009.

Last week, he watched them give up 341 yards through the air and beat Utah State by just a touchdown, a team the Sooners beat 54-3 in 2007. Media poll voters were unimpressed enough to drop the Sooners three spots to No. 10, despite holding a 1-0 record.

He's made it clear which was a better representation of his secondary's abilities.

"As much as anything, it’s guys just playing the ball, and I’ve seen these guys do that a good number of times," Stoops said. "So I’ve got a lot of confidence they’ll be able to do that."

They'll have to with Florida State's Christian Ponder coming to Norman. Oklahoma's secondary gave up 300 yards passing just twice last season. The Sooners lost both games, against Max Hall and BYU, and Taylor Potts and Texas Tech.

In last week's season opener, Utah State quarterback Diondre Borel joined the 300 Club, but Oklahoma held on for a win. The result might be different if Ponder burns Oklahoma's secondary like Borel. But the Sooners' corners went back to work all week.

"A lot of practice and pointing out and recognizing areas and ways we could have made plays. It’s really not that difficult," Stoops said. "They just misplayed a few balls. That happens from time to time."

For all the Sooners' early struggles, Utah State got the ball four times, including three times in the fourth quarter, down 31-24. The Sooners defense held them scoreless on each drive, including a game-sealing interception by Fleming on the final drive with just over four minutes to play.

Saturday will show which Sooners secondary shows: the one that gave up two third-quarter touchdowns to let the Aggies back into the game after jumping out to a 21-0 lead, or the defense that firmed up with the game in doubt to pitch a fourth-quarter shutout and secure the win.

"Next time, we’ll be able to play it," Stoops said. "I've seen them do it in games last year as well, so anyway, it’s something I’ve seen happen over and over, and I’m fairly certain I’ll see them play it again."
Saturday’s game between Florida State and Oklahoma will feature two programs stacked with history and tradition -- a combined nine national titles, 82 bowl appearances, and 54 conference titles. When it comes to the current college football landscape, though, there is a significant gap between them. The Sooners are just two seasons removed from their runner-up finish for the national title while Florida State enters this game under first-year coach Jimbo Fisher looking to regain national relevance. Can the Seminoles pull the upset? ACC blogger Heather Dinich and Big 12 blogger David Ubben break it down:

[+] EnlargeMark Stoops
AP Photo/Phil CoaleFSU defensive coordinator Mark Stoops will be matching wits with his brother Bob in Oklahoma.
Heather Dinich: Well, Ubben, it’s time for the unofficial Stoops Bowl, which to me is the key matchup in this game -- Oklahoma coach Bob Stoops against his little bro and first-year FSU defensive coordinator Mark Stoops. If Florida State is going to have any chance at the upset, the Seminoles’ defense has to stop DeMarco Murray first, but a young secondary that includes three starters will have to grow up quickly and adjust to Stoops’ new zone scheme, which requires discipline and communication. How do you see Oklahoma’s offense faring against a defense that was downright bad a year ago, but starting to make some progress?

David Ubben: Oklahoma definitely has the skill-position talent to give the Noles trouble, and based on Saturday's game, you're right, the offense will run through Murray, who got a career-high 35 carries against Utah State. But if Oklahoma sees a big weakness in that secondary it can exploit, look for some of those touches to go Ryan Broyles' way. There might not be a tougher guy to get a hand on in the open field in all of college football. They might use a lot of slants and bubble screens just to get the ball in his hands and dare Florida State to tackle him.

On the other side, there's been a lot of talk about how Christian Ponder's offensive line makes life easy for their Heisman candidate. How will they fare against a pair of the best defensive ends just about anywhere, Jeremy Beal and Frank Alexander, and defensive coordinator Brent Venables' blitz packages intent on putting Ponder on his back as much possible?

HD: That’s where I see the Noles having their biggest advantage, my friend. Florida State’s offensive line will get the edge, particularly in the running game against those inexperienced defensive tackles. That can also affect the pass rush, but Ponder is poised enough to sense pressure coming off the edge while keeping his eyes downfield. Senior guard Rodney Hudson and senior center Ryan McMahon are in their fourth seasons as starters, and collectively, all five starters return a combined 147 career starts. I see all of that adding up to a balanced offense for the Noles, with the Sooners biting on the play-action pass. Besides, Oklahoma’s pass defense is rather friendly. Just ask Utah State, which racked up 341 passing yards.

DU: Maybe so, and they'll be tested for sure, but Bob Stoops has faith in the plays he's seen Demontre Hurst and Jamell Fleming make when they played last season and what he saw in them through spring and fall practice. I get the sense that this will be somewhat of a high-scoring affair. Oklahoma looked invincible at home last season and has only lost twice at Owen Field under Bob Stoops.

What makes you think Jimbo's boys have the chops to be the third?

Ryan Broyles
AP Photo/Sue OgrockiThe Sooners are counting on big plays from Ryan Broyles against a young FSU secondary.
HD: The intangibles. There’s a difference at Florida State this year under Fisher. Not only in optimism, but in preparation. The Seminoles will go in there focused and ready to take care of business undaunted by the nation’s longest home winning streak at 31 games. The leadership of Ponder will also be a factor, as he’s got the poise and the brains to keep the offense calm. And don’t forget about the third phase of the game -- special teams. The Sooners need to be ready for a home run threat in punt returner Greg Reid. Word of advice? Don’t kick it his way. I say all of those things will add up to an upset, but I’ll give you the final word.

DU: Greg Reid? You mean the poor man's Ryan Broyles? Oklahoma can match the Seminoles playmaker for playmaker, but this thing's going to come down to whichever team can stop the other. I'll take the Sooners' proven defense that slipped up for one week over Florida State's, which was in a free fall for all of last season. New corners? Sure, but two guys and some inexperienced defensive tackles aren't enough to make up for 15.5 points, the difference between what Oklahoma's defense allowed last season and what Florida State allowed.
Here's a breakdown of three issues facing each program heading into the spring:

Baylor Bears
Spring practice starts: March 16
Spring game: April 10

1. Quarterback Robert Griffin III's surgically repaired right knee. Griffin hasn't played since tearing the ACL in his right knee in the third game of the '09 season. He recently said he's ahead of schedule in rehabilitation, but probably won’t do much during spring practice. He'll wear a heavy knee brace and won’t participate in contact drills.

2. New linebackers. The Bears lost strongside linebacker Antonio Jones and middle linebacker Joe Pawelek, who combined to make 190 tackles last season. Senior Earl Patin, who also has played some defensive end during his career, is poised to replace Pawelek in the middle. But Patin will have to hold off highly regarded youngsters Chris McAllister and LeQuince McCall, who redshirted in ’09. Senior Chris Francis is probably the top candidate to replace Jones on the strong side.

3. Safety. The Bears must replace both of their starting safeties, including All-Big 12 performer Jordan Lake, who started 36 games in a row. Junior college transfer Byron Landor and sophomore Mike Hicks will get the first looks in the spring. But they'll have to hold off incoming freshman Ahmad Dixon, one of the top prospects to ever sign with Baylor, after he arrives for fall camp.

Colorado Buffaloes
Spring practice starts: March 6
Spring game: April 10

1. Michigan transfer Toney Clemons. Buffaloes coach Dan Hawkins called Clemons his team's most exciting receiver while he sat out the '09 season under NCAA transfer rules. The cousin of Arizona Cardinals receiver Steve Breaston, Clemons could bring an interesting dynamic to the CU offense. His arrival couldn't come at a better time, either, after Markques Simas was suspended indefinitely for violating team rules.

2. Linebacker. The Buffaloes must replace their two most productive linebackers after losing Marcus Burton and Jeff Smart. The departed seniors combined to make 105 solo tackles and 6.5 sacks last season. Senior Michael Sipili is the top candidate to replace Burton in the middle, and sophomore Jon Major might get the first crack at replacing Smart on the weak side.

3. Offensive line. The unit's inconsistency has dogged Hawkins' offense in each of his first four seasons. Eight offensive linemen had significant playing time in '09, so the Buffs are looking for more stability up front. The return of sophomore guard Maxwell Tuioti-Mariner from a pair of knee injuries, and early arrival of junior college transfer Eric Richter might shore up the interior line.

Iowa State Cyclones
Spring practice starts: March 23
Spring game: April 17

1. Linebackers. The Cyclones lost each of their starting three linebackers: Josh Raven, Jesse Smith and Fred Garrin. Junior Jacob Lattimer is in line to replace Raven on the strong side, and two highly regarded sophomores are in line to fill the other spots. A.J. Klein, who had 17 tackles in 13 games as a freshman, might get the unenviable task of replacing Smith, who led the Big 12 in tackles in '09. Jake Knott, who had 23 tackles as a freshman, is the top candidate to start on the weak side.

2. Wide receiver. Iowa State lost leading receiver Marquis Hamilton, who had 50 catches for 606 yards with four touchdowns in '09. Tight end Derrick Catlett, another top receiving threat, also is gone. The good news: Junior Darius Reynolds returns from a broken leg that caused him to miss all but four games last season. Reynolds, who earned the moniker "Money" for his big-play potential, had 13 catches for 72 yards before he was hurt in practice in late September. Junior college tight end Ricky Howard enrolled in classes in January and will participate in spring practice.

3. Defensive line. Two starters will have to be replaced after ISU lost right end Christopher Lyle and tackle Nate Frere. Lyle led the team with five sacks in '09; Frere was a pretty good run-stopper. Sophomores Cleyon Laing and Roosevelt Maggitt will get strong looks at end, and senior Austin Alburtis and sophomore Jake McDonough will move into the tackle rotation.

Kansas Jayhawks
Spring practice starts: March 27
Spring game: April 24

1. Quarterback. New Kansas coach Turner Gill might have one heck of a competition on his hands. Sophomore Kale Pick is a mobile option, after averaging 11.9 yards per rushing attempt in 2009. Junior college transfer Quinn Mecham, who enrolled in classes at Kansas in January, threw for 3,091 yards with 40 touchdowns and 11 interceptions at Snow College in Utah last season.

2. Wide receiver. The Jayhawks have to replace departed stars Kerry Meier and Dezmon Briscoe, which will be no easy task. The duo combined to catch 186 passes for 2,322 yards with 17 touchdowns last season. Bradley McDougald and Johnathan Wilson were proven targets last season, but younger players such as Chris Omigie and incoming freshman Keeston Terry will have to help this fall.

3. Secondary. The Kansas defense gave up too many big passing plays and didn't create enough turnovers last season. The Jayhawks will have to replace strong safety Darrell Stuckey, who led them with 93 tackles in '09. Senior Phillip Strozier will get the first crack at replacing the heart and soul of the Kansas defense.

Kansas State Wildcats
Spring practice starts: March 21
Spring game: April 24

1. Oregon transfer Chris Harper. In 2008, Harper played wide receiver and quarterback for the Ducks as a freshman. He became the first Oregon player in eight years to run, pass and catch a touchdown in the same season. Harper, a native of Wichita, Kan., might figure into Kansas State's quarterback or wide receiver plans after sitting out the '09 season under NCAA transfer rules.

2. Quarterback battle. Harper and two other players will probably battle to replace departed senior Grant Gregory. Senior Carson Coffman, who started the '09 season at quarterback, figures to be back in the mix, along with junior college transfer Sammuel Lamur.

3. Defensive line. The Wildcats have a couple of gaping holes to fill up front defensively. End Jeff Fitzgerald, who had 40 tackles and 10 tackles for loss in '09, has to be replaced, along with tackles Daniel Calvin and Chidubamu Abana. Junior college transfer Javonta Boyd, who has already enrolled in classes, could help in the interior line.

Missouri Tigers
Spring practice starts: March 9
Spring game: April 17

1. Wide receiver. The Tigers have to replace Danario Alexander, who led the country with 1,781 receiving yards in 2009. Juniors Jerrell Jackson and Wes Kemp both caught more than 20 passes last season, but younger players like T.J. Moe and Rolandis Woodland are going to have to contribute more. Incoming freshman Marcus Lucas could help in the fall.

2. Linebacker. The Tigers bring back two of their starting three linebackers, but three-time All-Big 12 selection Sean Weatherspoon is the one who left. Sophomore Donovan Bonner heads into spring camp as the top candidate to replace Weatherspoon on the weak side, and Will Ebner and Andrew Gachkar are back at the other linebacker spots.

3. Defensive line. Two starters are gone on the defensive front: end Brian Coulter and nose tackle Jaron Baston. At least the Tigers know they’re set at one side, with end Aldon Smith coming back after totaling 19 tackles for loss and 11.5 sacks in '09. Marcus Malbrough and Jacquies Smith will battle for starting end, and Terrell Resonno could move into the vacant tackle spot.

Nebraska Cornhuskers
Spring practice starts: March 24
Spring game: April 17
What to watch:

1. Will quarterback Zac Lee keep his starting job? After Lee was plagued by inconsistency throughout the '09 season, offensive coordinator Shawn Watson is expected to open the competition during spring practice. Sophomore Cody Green, senior Latravis Washington and freshman Taylor Martinez will all be given a fair chance to win the job.

2. Defensive tackle. Nebraska fans won't see All-American Ndamukong Suh commanding double-team blocks along the line of scrimmage. Even after losing one of the most decorated players in school history, the Cornhuskers figure to be pretty good up front. Jared Crick and Baker Steinkuhler will man the middle, with Pierre Allen and Cameron Meredith entering spring camp as the favorites at ends.

3. Rex Burkhead. The sophomore burst onto the scene after Roy Helu Jr. was hurt early in the Huskers' 33-0 rout of Arizona in the Pacific Life Holiday Bowl, rushing for 89 yards with one touchdown. Burkhead was very explosive running out of the Wildcat package, so look for Watson to try and utilize him even more to make the Nebraska attack less predictable.

Oklahoma Sooners
Spring practice starts: March 8
Spring game: April 17

1. Offensive line. The Sooners have a lot of questions up front on offense, after left tackle Trent Williams and right guard Brian Simmons departed. Will junior Donald Stephenson finally be ready to contribute at left tackle after being suspended for all of the ’09 season? Will center Ben Habern be ready after breaking his leg late in the ’09 season? When will Jarvis Jones return from a broken heel?

2. Linebacker Ronnell Lewis. The sophomore had a break-out game in the Sooners’ 31-27 victory over Stanford in the Sun Bowl, finishing with six tackles and a forced fumble. With starting linebackers Keenan Clayton and Ryan Reynolds departing, Lewis will assume a starting role on the strong side. Redshirt freshman Tom Wort is projected to start in the middle, with junior Travis Lewis starting on the weak side.

3. Secondary. The Sooners have shuffled their defensive backs after losing cornerbacks Dominique Franks and Brian Jackson. Sophomore Demontre Hurst is in line to replace Franks at field cornerback, and senior Jonathan Nelson has moved from strong safety to boundary cornerback. Junior Sam Proctor is expected to replace Nelson at strong safety, and senior Quinton Carter is back at free safety.

Oklahoma State Cowboys
Spring practice starts: March 8
Spring game: April 17

1. Quarterback Brandon Weeden. The 26-year-old junior is the top candidate to replace Zac Robinson, who broke nearly every OSU passing record. Weeden was a second-round choice of the New York Yankees in the 2002 amateur baseball draft. If he can grasp new offensive coordinator Dana Holgorson's spread offense quickly, the Pokes' passing game should again be potent in 2010.

2. Defense. Defensive coordinator Bill Young will have his hands full this spring trying to replace nine starters. The only returning starters are defensive end Ugo Chinasa and strong safety Markelle Martin. The Pokes have to replace three starters on the defensive line, three linebackers and three defensive backs. Three newcomers -- linebacker Caleb Lavey and defensive backs Devin Hedgepeth and Malcolm Murray -- will get early looks in spring camp.

3. Offensive line. The Cowboys will have to replace star left tackle Russell Okung, left guard Noah Franklin, center Andrew Lewis and right tackle Brady Bond. Juniors Nick Martinez, Casey LaBrue and Grant Garner will be the top candidates to fill open starting spots.

Texas Longhorns
Spring practice starts: Feb. 26
Spring game: April 4

1. Quarterback Garrett Gilbert. The sophomore was thrust into action after Colt McCoy injured his shoulder against Alabama in the Citi BCS National Championship Game and played admirably well in tough circumstances. The Longhorns might change their identity on offense with a young quarterback under center, so developing a running game to take pressure off Gilbert might be a top priority.

2. Defense. The unit is in good hands with coordinator Will Muschamp, but he'll have to replace many of the star players from 2009. End Sergio Kindle, tackle Lamarr Houston, linebacker Roddrick Muckelroy and safety Earl Thomas are all gone. Younger players such as end Alex Okafor and tackle Tyrell Higgins will have to turn it up a notch during spring practice.

3. Wide receiver. Jordan Shipley, who was McCoy's favorite target, also departed. Seniors James Kirkendoll and John Chiles, junior Malcolm Williams and sophomore Marquise Goodwin will have to be more consistent in their route running and pass catching. Other receivers such as D.J. Monroe and DeSean Hales will be trying to crack the receiver rotation during the spring, before talented freshmen like Darius White, Mike Davis and Demarco Cobbs arrive on campus.

Texas A&M Aggies
Spring practice starts: March 23
Spring game: April 17

1. New defensive coordinator Tim DeRuyter, who built one of the country’s best units at Air Force last season. He inherits an A&M defense that was woefully porous last season and will switch to a 3-4 scheme. Nine starters are coming back on defense, including pass-rushing specialist Von Miller. DeRuyter will spend the spring trying to install his system and getting his players comfortable with it.

2. Offensive line. The Aggies must replace three starting offensive linemen: left tackle Michael Shumard, center Kevin Matthews and right tackle Lee Grimes. Juniors Joe Villavisencio and Danny Baker and sophomore Stephen Barrera have to be ready to step up this spring.

3. Special teams. The Aggies’ special teams weren’t so special last season, as they ranked 104th in net punting, 91st in kickoff return defense and 49th in kickoff returns among FBS teams. Aggies coach Mike Sherman is putting a new emphasis on special teams, which cost his team dearly in its 44-20 loss to Georgia in the Independence Bowl.

Texas Tech Red Raiders
Spring practice starts: March 7
Spring game: April 17

1. Quarterbacks. With former Auburn coach Tommy Tuberville replacing Mike Leach at Texas Tech, senior quarterbacks Taylor Potts and Steven Sheffield figure to start spring camp on a level playing field. Potts started 10 games last season, throwing for 3,440 yards with 22 touchdowns and 13 interceptions. Sheffield started two games and threw for 1,219 yards with 14 touchdowns and four picks. New offensive coordinator Neal Brown, who was hired from Troy, runs a version of the spread offense, but Tuberville will probably incorporate more of a traditional running game into the offense.

2. Defensive line. New defensive coordinator James Willis has to replace three starters on his defensive front: ends Brandon Sharpe and Daniel Howard and tackle Richard Jones. Making matters worse, the top two reserve ends in 2009 were seniors, along with the backup nose tackle.

3. Offensive line. O-line coach Matt Moore, who was retained from Leach's staff, has to replace three starters: center Shawn Byrnes, right guard Brandon Carter and right tackle Marlon Winn. Juniors Justin Keown and Mickey Okafor and sophomore LaAdrian Waddle will probably be given first crack at replacing them. Incoming junior college transfer Scott Smith could play stand-up end in Tech's 3-4 scheme, and junior college defensive tackle Donald Langley might also have an impact in spring practice.
Tags:

Big 12, Jerrell Jackson, Danny Baker, Chris Omigie, James Kirkendoll, Ben Habern, Steven Sheffield, Nebraska Cornhuskers, Toney Clemons, Baylor Bears, Earl Patin, Malcolm Williams, Jared Crick, Texas Tech Red Raiders, Missouri Tigers, Colorado Buffaloes, Phillip Strozier, Taylor Martinez, Donald Stephenson, Travis Lewis, Chris Harper, Sam Proctor, Cody Green, Oklahoma Sooners, Kansas State Wildcats, LaTravis Washington, Kansas Jayhawks, Rolandis Woodland, Taylor Potts, Iowa State Cyclones, Alex Okafor, Garrett Gilbert, D.J. Monroe, John Chiles, Cleyon Laing, Markques Simas, Jake Knott, Nick Martinez, Jacquies Smith, Oklahoma State Cowboys, Jarvis Jones, Texas Longhorns, Donald Langley, Pierre Allen, Baker Steinkuhler, Scott Smith, Terrell Resonno, Johnathan Wilson, Carson Coffman, Michael Sipili, Aldon Smith, Brandon Weeden, Quinton Carter, Texas A&M Aggies, Rex Burkhead, Markelle Martin, Bradley McDougald, Cameron Meredith, Marquise Goodwin, Andrew Gachkar, Demontre Hurst, Tim DeRuyter, Ahmad Dixon, Keeston Terry, Quinn Mecham, Caleb Lavey, Devin Hedgepeth, Malcolm Murray, Ronnell Lewis, A.J. Klein, Austin Alburtis, Byron Landor, Casey LaBrue, Chris McAllister, Darius Reynolds, DeSean Hales, Donovan Bonner, Eric Richter, Grant Garner, Jacob Lattimer, Jake McDonough, Javonta Boyd, Jeff Fitzgerald, Joe Villavisencio, Jonathan Nelson, Justin Keown, LaAdrian Waddle, LeQuince McCall, Marcus Lucas, Marcus Malbrough, Maxwell Tuioti-Mariner, Mickey Okafor, Ricky Howard, Robert Griffin III, Roosevelt Maggitt, Sammuel Lamur, Stephen Barrera, Tyrell Higgins, Ugo Chinasa, Will Ebner

Final 2009 Big 12 power rankings

January, 13, 2010
1/13/10
10:08
AM ET
Here's my final look at the Big 12 power rankings for this season.

1. Texas: Longhorn fans will always remember Colt McCoy’s injury in the national championship game and what could have been. Texas overcame every challenge during the regular season, but came up lacking without its leader in the biggest game of the year. The way the Alabama game played out will always haunt Texas fans. If they could have ever grabbed a touchdown lead or more over Alabama, was there any real indication that Alabama could have won with Greg McElroy and the Crimson Tide’s leaky offensive line? But it went the other way and the Longhorns were ground into submission by Alabama’s potent rushing attack to put a disappointing capper on an otherwise memorable season.

2. Nebraska: The Cornhuskers finished 10-4 and were only five or six plays removed from winning three of those games -- losses to Texas, Iowa State and Virginia Tech. If that had happened, it’s not out of the realm of possibility the Cornhuskers could have finished in the top five or six teams nationally. But the convincing victory over Arizona, especially with the unexpected offensive firepower, should build confidence and embolden Bo Pelini and his team for bigger and better things next season.

3. Texas Tech: A roller-coaster season finished with Mike Leach and Ruffin McNeill looking for work despite an impressive 9-4 record where the Red Raiders overachieved to a Top 25 finish. Tommy Tuberville’s arrival will bring changes, but Tech returns with a strong nucleus starting of quarterbacks Taylor Potts and Steven Sheffield and running back Baron Batch. If Tuberville can get the Red Raiders up and running quickly, it’s not out of the realm of possibility that his new team could challenge Texas and Oklahoma next season. But it will be tough as he tries to change the culture of the most memorable era of Tech football.

4. Oklahoma: A fast finish took some of the sting out of Bob Stoops’ most disappointing recent season. The Sooners’ hopes of a Big 12 four-peat were doomed as soon as Sam Bradford was lost for the season. And Jermaine Gresham’s injury before the season changed the way Kevin Wilson’s offense could operate. But at the end of the season, Landry Jones showed enough promise to give him a foothold for the starting position next season. The defense developed some young playmakers like David King and Demontre Hurst who showed promise in the bowl game for future growth. The Sooners will be back challenging for the Big 12 title next season if those players build on their late-season efforts.

5. Oklahoma State: All of the promise at the start of the season unraveled with a disappointing string of injuries and suspensions. And even with all of those struggles, the Cowboys still had a chance to play in a Bowl Championship Series game if they had beaten Oklahoma. Losses in the last two games of the season left a bad taste for what could have been Mike Gundy’s breakout season. The defense played much better than expected under new coordinator Bill Young, but the offense didn’t live up to the promise -- especially when Zac Robinson was hurt and his offensive weapons were stripped away. All things considered, a 9-4 record with everything the Cowboys overcame this season was better than could be expected.

6. Missouri: As well as the Tigers played at times during the season, their season was marked by their fourth-quarter home collapse against Nebraska and their confounding Texas Bowl upset loss to Navy. Truthfully, it was expected to be a rebuilding year after losing Chase Daniel, Jeremy Maclin and Co., but some of that was lost after a four-game winning streak to start the season. Blaine Gabbert surpassed expectations and is in line to become the conference’s best quarterback over the next couple of years. And Danario Alexander was the best receiver in the nation over the second half of the season. Defensive woes hurt them, but Gabbert’s return and some young defensive talent should have the Tigers pointed to improvement next season and maybe a challenge at the North title.

7. Iowa State: Was there a better moment in the 2009 Big 12 season than Paul Rhoads’ emotional response to his team’s upset victory over Nebraska which became a YouTube staple? Rhoads’ first season far surpassed expectations with a 7-6 record, the Insight Bowl victory over Minnesota and all of the other surprising accomplishments. Alexander Robinson was the most underrated player in the Big 12 and the gritty Iowa State defense played just like you would expect from a Rhoads-coached team. It won’t be easy for them to duplicate next year as they switch to the Texas-Texas Tech-Oklahoma gauntlet of South Division opponents. But it was a nice first step for Rhoads in building his program.

8. Kansas State: The Wildcats missed out on a bowl trip because of playing too many creampuffs during the nonconference season, but Bill Snyder’s first season was better than expected. The Wildcats received huge contributions from Grant Gregory and Daniel Thomas, who both arrived before summer practice with no real expectations coming into the season. Thomas developed into one of the conference’s best backs and should return for more next season. If Oregon transfer Chris Harper can develop into a playmaker at either quarterback or wide receiver and the defense comes together, the Wildcats might be a threat to make a bowl appearance in 2010.

9. Texas A&M: For all of their offensive weapons, the Aggies’ defense and special teams were the primary culprits in a 6-7 season capped by a disappointing Independence Bowl loss to Georgia. Jerrod Johnson posted the top statistical numbers ever produced by an A&M quarterback and he’s surrounded by a bevy of strong offensive weapons. But Mike Sherman’s new coordinator is going to need to produce more improvement from a young defense if the Aggies have any hopes of contending in the South Division next season and beyond.

10. Kansas: The Jayhawks’ leaky defense did it with mirrors against a weak early schedule, but it all caught up with them during a seven-game losing streak to close the season that precipitated Mark Mangino’s resignation. Todd Reesing, Kerry Meier and Dezmon Briscoe all finished careers that will go down among the top players in Kansas history. But the challenge for new coach Turner Gill and defensive coordinator Carl Torbush will be to rebuild a defense that allowed at least 31 points in seven of eight conference games.

11. Colorado: Dan Hawkins popped off about challenging for a Big 12 North title at the end of last season. Instead, his team’s struggling performance ended his hopes of “10 wins and no excuses” before conference play even began. The season started off badly with embarrassing nationally televised losses to Colorado State, Toledo and West Virginia and didn’t get much better once conference play began. The Buffaloes did start Kansas’ losing streak and beat Texas A&M, but sputtered offensively as they ranked in the bottom 10 teams in rushing, passing efficiency and sacks allowed and in the bottom 20 teams in total offense. Tyler Hansen emerged as the quarterback of the future. His development will be critical in Hawkins’ hopes at a contract extension.

12. Baylor: The Bears started the season with a confidence-building upset at Wake Forest, but their season for all intents and purposes ended as soon as Robert Griffin sustained a season-ending injury in the third game. Griffin should be back next season but key defensive players like Joe Pawelek and Jordan Lake won’t be. The quarterback's return will be critical in rebuilding offensive confidence that was booming heading into the season. The Bears might have the opportunity to snap the conference's longest bowl drought next season in a more balanced Big 12 South, but the key for the season will be developing a defense that can better challenge the South Division’s powers.

Best and worst of the Big 12's bowl games

January, 11, 2010
1/11/10
1:05
PM ET
Here a look back at some of the highs and lows of the Big 12's bowl games.

Best game: In the grand scheme of things, Iowa State’s 14-13 triumph over Minnesota in the Insight Bowl was a matchup of two 6-6 teams. But the Cyclones’ pulsating victory still provided much excitement for the Cyclones. Alexander Robinson rushed for 137 yards in the victory that was settled by a late fumble recovery by ISU cornerback Ter’ran Benton, who was playing in his first game since breaking his leg on Oct. 24. Benton pounced on the turnover by Minnesota’s MarQueis Gray and the ISU did the rest with a clock-killing drive that provided an unexpected bowl victory for coach Paul Rhoads. Yes, that’s the same team that was expected to struggle to stay out of the North Division cellar before the season.

Best relief performance: Texas Tech starting quarterback Taylor Potts had a strong game in the Valero Alamo Bowl, but the Red Raiders needed a spark as they trailed Michigan State 31-27 early in the fourth quarter. Backup quarterback Steven Sheffield responded by completing his first six passes after relieving Potts, driving for two touchdowns to claim the victory. Potts earned the game’s most valuable player honors, but Sheffield finished by completing 9-for-11 passes for 88 yards as he directed the comeback.

Best use of bowl practice: Nebraska’s maligned offense showed some unexpected punch against Arizona in the Pacific Life Holiday Bowl. Nebraska offensive coordinator Shawn Watson took advantage of bowl preparations to rebuild quarterback Zac Lee’s confidence and incorporate freshman Rex Burkhead into the Wildcat formation. The result was a 33-0 victory over the Wildcats with 223 yards of rushing -- most for the Cornhuskers since the first game of the season.

Best bow to youth: Injuries forced Oklahoma to employ freshmen defenders including defensive linemen David King, defensive tackle Jamarkus McFarland and cornerback Demontre Hurst against Stanford in the Brut Sun Bowl. The trio came up big throughout the game to spark the Sooners’ 31-27 victory over the Cardinal. “The future’s bright,” Oklahoma defensive ends coach Chris Wilson understated to the Oklahoman after the game.

Most significant injury: Texas moved the ball smartly against Alabama, gaining 26 yards on five plays with Colt McCoy in charge. But McCoy went down with nerve damage to his right shoulder, the Longhorns’ offense unraveled during the rest of the half with backup Garrett Gilbert at quarterback. Alabama took advantage to charge a 24-6 halftime and take control of the Citi BCS National Championship Game.

Worst reaction to a defensive formation: Navy defensive coordinator Buddy Green dared Missouri to run the ball by using an alignment with two down linemen. Even with Derrick Washington in the backfield, the Tigers could produce only 65 yards rushing as they repeatedly passed and sputtered in a 35-13 loss to the Midshipmen.

Worst finish: Mississippi’s defense took over down the stretch, forcing turnovers on the Cowboys’ final six turnovers. Zac Robinson’s offense contributed four interceptions and his team lost two fumbles as the Rebels claimed a 21-7 victory over Oklahoma State in the AT&T Cotton Bowl.

Worst play call: Texas could have gone to halftime trailing by only 11 points. But Texas coach Mack Brown elected to have Garrett Gilbert attempt a seemingly safe shovel pass to D.J. Monroe. The ball was batted around and finally ended up in the arms of Alabama defensive lineman Marcell Dareus, who then stiff-armed Gilbert to the ground and pirouetted around Kyle Hix en route to a 28-yard touchdown return.

Worst officiating call: With about nine minutes remaining in a tie game, Oklahoma State had the ball on the Ole Miss 19-yard line and appeared poised to claim the lead. Ole Miss defensive tackle Jerrell Powe looked to have obviously jumped offsides on a snap as he charged past center Andrew Lewis before the snap was completed. Feeling that he had a free play, Oklahoma State quarterback Zac Robinson threw to the end zone, where he was intercepted by Ole Miss free safety Kendrick Lewis in the end zone. Robinson begged to have the call overturned, but the officials didn’t do it. The Cowboys unraveled from that point in the game.

Worst special teams: Texas A&M’s struggles on special teams were the biggest reason the Aggies dropped a 44-20 loss to Georgia in the AdvoCare V100 Independence Bowl. The Bulldogs blocked a field-goal attempt, returned a kick for a touchdown and blocked a punt in the first half. The Aggies capped the debacle by snapping the ball over A&M punter Ryan Epperson's head in the third quarter, leading to another Georgia touchdown. The special-teams meltdown was the major reason the Aggies dropped their 11th game in their last 13 bowl games.

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