NCF Nation: Duke Blue Demons

Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Griffin

Big 12 teams should be seldom tested before conference play begins as most teams again are opting to compete with a pillow-soft slate of opponents.

Here's the toughest and weakest of the Big 12 nonconference schedules:

1. Oklahoma: BYU (at Arlington, Texas), Idaho State, Tulsa, at Miami

The Sooners deserve props for adding the BYU game late. The nationally televised game should showcase Oklahoma's defense as it thwarts Max Hall and Harvey Unga for the Cougars. Idaho State is a bad Division I-AA team that went 1-11 last season. Tulsa and Miami both went to bowl games last season. The Golden Hurricane will be breaking in a new quarterback and a new coordinator -- not a good recipe for success for a road team at Owen Field. And although the game against Miami brings back memories of Jimmy Johnson vs. Barry Switzer, the fact is that the Hurricanes could be worn out by the time Oklahoma visits. Miami starts the season with a meat-grinder schedule of Florida State, Georgia Tech and Virginia Tech before the Sooners visit.

2. Colorado: Colorado State, at Toledo, Wyoming, at West Virginia

Coach Dan Hawkins has this team pegged for good things in the conference. The Buffaloes will be tested by four FBS opponents, including two on the road. The rivalry game against Colorado State should be decided in the trenches and the Buffaloes' offensive line will be a load for the Rams. The Toledo game might be trickier than expected considering the Buffaloes will be playing this one only five days after the Colorado State game. But Colorado still should have the talent to prevail. Something tells me that Hawkins will remember that new Wyoming coach Dave Christensen's offense hung 113 points against his defense the last two seasons when he was at Missouri. And the West Virginia trip will be a challenge, although new Mountaineers quarterback Jarrett Brown is largely untested.

3. Missouri: Illinois (at St. Louis), Bowling Green, Furman, at Nevada

The Tigers' inexperienced defense will get a huge challenge in the opener against Illinois' pass-and-catch tandem of Juice Williams and Arrelious Benn. They'll be facing another experienced quarterback in three-year Bowling Green starter Tyler Sheehan, but the Falcons' defense will be breaking in two new cornerbacks. Furman has a talented quarterback in Jordan Sorrells, but the Paladin's defense shouldn't be able to match Missouri. The trip to Nevada might be a hornet's nest. The Wolf Pack have made four straight bowl trips, multi-purpose quarterback Colin Kaepernick and the Western Athletic Conference's last two leading rushers. And, oh, yeah, the Wolf Pack probably still remember that 69-17 beatdown to the Tigers last season in Columbia.

4. Nebraska: Florida Atlantic, Arkansas State, at Virginia Tech, Louisiana-Lafayette

No truth to the rumor that the Cornhuskers are gunning for the September version of the Sun Belt championship. Their road game at Virginia Tech is the toughest game that any Big 12 team will play this season. But Bo Pelini will have two games to get his defense ready for Tyrod Taylor and Co. Florida Atlantic coach Howard Schnellenberger made his career name by beating the Cornhuskers in the 1984 Orange Bowl while at Miami. He won't be nearly as successful this time around. Arkansas State stunned Texas A&M last season, but the Red Wolves will be utilizing a new offensive line this season. And Louisiana-Lafayette's offense is very young and the Cornhuskers will be catching them the week after they have met up with LSU.

5. Oklahoma State: Georgia, Houston, Rice, Grambling

Four home games make for an ideal schedule for the Cowboys to make some national noise. The Georgia game will be arguably the biggest home nonconference game in school history. But the Cowboys grab a break as the Bulldogs try to break in new quarterback Joe Cox. Houston will have Case Keenum and a high-powered offensive attack, but the Cowboys blistered the Cougars for 56 points last year and could score more this season. Rice won't be as good this season after losing most of its offensive firepower. And Grambling has a great football history and an even better band.

6. Baylor: at Wake Forest, Connecticut, Northwestern State, Kent State

The nonconference schedule could determine whether the Bears can snap that long bowl drought. And it won't be an easy one considering that Baylor is the only Big 12 team with two opponents from "Big Six" conferences. The Wake Forest opener will be a huge test, but Robert Griffin might be able to feast on a depleted Demon Deacon defense that lost four starters to the NFL draft. The Bears nearly beat Connecticut last season on the road and the Huskies lose their starting quarterback and top rusher from that team. New coach Bradley Dale Peveto will bring new ideas for Northwestern State, but the Bears have a big edge. And Kent State will be breaking in a new quarterback for a team that has won only 19 games in the last five seasons underDoug Martin.

7. Kansas: Northern Colorado, at UTEP, Duke, Southern Mississippi

The Jayhawks should be able to name their margin against Northern Colorado in the opener. The trip to the Sun Bowl against UTEP the following week might be a different matter. UTEP quarterback Trevor Vittatoe could be a challenge, although the Jayhawks should have enough firepower to outscore them. A Kansas-Duke game would be a made-for-national television delight in basketball. Football, however, is a different story. And Southern Mississippi might be poised to challenge for the Conference USA title and might be a chore with leading conference rusher Damion Fletcher and all of its starting secondary back to challenge Todd Reesing and Dezmon Briscoe.

8. Texas A&M: New Mexico, Utah State, UAB, Arkansas (at Arlington, Texas)

The Aggies desperately need to build confidence and collect a few victories before the South Division gauntlet begins. After last season's opening-game loss against Arkansas State, expect coach Mike Sherman to have the Aggies focused for all of the games. They catch new New Mexico coach Mike Locksley with an uncertain quarterback in the Lobos' opener. Utah State is universally picked to finish last in the Western Athletic Conference. UAB will be rebuilding its defense and likely won't pose many problems for Jerrod Johnson. But the game against Arkansas at
the new Dallas Cowboys' stadium will be a challenge for A&M's defense. The Razorbacks should be much improved in Bobby Petrino's second season. Fans are paying premium prices and expect big things from both teams. The Aggies may catch a break considering the Razorbacks will play SEC contenders Georgia and Alabama in their previous two weeks.

9. Texas Tech: North Dakota, Rice, at Houston, New Mexico

Mike Leach's nonconference schedule won't be as bad as last season's trip to the pastry wagon, but not by much. North Dakota is transitioning into FCS status this season after ranking 137th among the 148 Division II passing teams last season. Sounds like target practice for Taylor Potts, doesn't it? Rice won't be nearly as tough as last season without James Casey, Jarrett Dillard and Chase Clement gone. The trip to Houston will be Tech's biggest challenge and Case Keenum will test Tech's rebuilt secondary in the first battle between the old Southwest Conference rivals since 1995. And New Mexico will have had several weeks to work under Locksley's system, making them a tougher challenge for the Red Raiders in early October.

10. Texas: Louisiana-Monroe, at Wyoming, UTEP, Central Florida

The Longhorns had a couple of game against Utah and Arkansas fall through in their planning. But don't expect the Longhorns to get that much sympathy for a group of opponents that won't give them much BCS bounce. Louisiana-Monroe will be breaking in a retooled offense with a new quarterback. The road trip to Wyoming doesn't resonate like some the Longhorns have made to places like Ohio State and Arkansas in recent seasons. The Cowboys will be breaking in a new quarterback, too. UTEP could contend for the Conference USA West title, but the Miners are a different team on the road. And the Nov. 7 game against Central Florida will bring the nation's worst offensive team from last season into Austin.

11. Iowa State: North Dakota State, Iowa, at Kent State, Army

Paul Rhoads doesn't want any surprises early in his first season and his nonconference schedule. North Dakota State has posed problems to FBS teams like Minnesota in the past. Iowa doesn't have Shonn Greene back, but has almost everybody else back on a stout defense that will challenge the Cyclones. Mighty mite 5-foot-5, 170-pound tailback Eugene Jarvis will test ISU's defense and the trip to Kent State won't be a gimme. And new Army coach Rich Ellerson will bring 6-10, 283-pound wide receiver Ali Villanueva along with starting quarterback Chip Bowden from a team that won three games last season.

12. Kansas State: Massachusetts, at Louisiana-Lafayette, at UCLA, Tennessee Tech

The schedule doesn't provide as many gooey treats as some that Bill Snyder's teams have feasted on in the past, but it's still nothing to write home about. Massachusetts is a contender in the CAA, which is the toughest top-to-bottom FCS conference in the nation. Louisiana-Lafayette will have to replace a lot of offensive talent, but can be troublesome at Cajun Field. UCLA struggled offensively last year and will be breaking in a new quarterback with four new offensive linemen. KSU might be able to compete in that one better than most might think. And Tennessee Tech coach Watson Brown, older brother of Texas coach Mack Brown, returns a talented pass-and-catch combination of Lee Sweeney and Tim Benford. KSU still should roll, however.

Tags:

Barry Switzer, Nevada Wolf Pack, New Mexico Lobos, Minnesota Golden Gophers, Mike Locksley, Miami Hurricanes, Illinois Fighting Illini, Jarrett Brown, Max Hull, BYU Cougars, Toledo Rockets, Harvey Unga, Colorado State Rams, Iowa Hawkeyes, Arrelious Benn, James Casey, Nebraska Cornhuskers, Arkansas State Red Wolves, Tim Benford, Bill Snyder, Jordan Sorrells, Kent State Golden Flashes, Bradley Dale Peveto, Ali Villanueva, Baylor Bears, Wyoming Cowboys, Massachusetts Minutemen, Doug Martin, Joe Cox, Southern Mississippi Golden Eagles, Connecticut Huskies, Juice Williams, Central Florida Knights, Utah Utes, Texas Tech Red Raiders, Wake Forest Demon Deacons, Missouri Tigers, Rich Ellerson, Colorado Buffaloes, Bowling Green Falcons, Todd Reesing, Dave Christensen, Oklahoma Sooners, Georgia Bulldogs, Utah State Aggies, Chip Bowden, Dan Hawkins, Mike Leach, Robert Griffin, Duke Blue Demons, Kansas State Wildcats, Grambling Tigers, Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets, Florida State Seminoles, Rice Owls, Louisiana-Lafayette Ragin Cajuns, Furman Paladins, Northwestern State Demons, LSU Tigers, Watson Brown, Colin Kaepernick, Paul Rhoads, Kansas Jayhawks, Damion Fletcher, Idaho State Vandals, Florida Atlantic Owls, Tulsa Golden Hurricane, West Virginia Mountaineers, Tyrod Taylor, Army Black Knights, North Dakota State Bison, Jerrod Johnson, Shonn Greene, Case Keenum, Lee Sweeney, Alabama Crimson Tide, Taylor Potts, Iowa State Cyclones, Trevor Vittatoe, Mack Brown, Schedule rank 061009, UCLA Bruins, Dezmon Briscoe, UTEP Miners, Bo Pelini, Virginia Tech Hokies, Bobby Petrino, Northern Colorado Bears, Tennessee Tech Golden Eagles, Houston Cougars, Louisiana-Monroe Warhawks, Jimmy Johnson, Oklahoma State Cowboys, Eugene Jarvis, North Dakota Fighting Sioux, Texas Longhorns, Ohio State Buckeyes, Jarrett Dillard, Tyler Sheehan, UAB Blazers, Arkansas Razorbacks, Howard Schnellenberger, Chase Clement, Mike Sherman, Texas A&M Aggies

Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Griffin

The ability to sit in the studio gave me the opportunity to watch a lot more football than I usually do when I'm sitting in a stadium watching a game. Heck, even more than when I'm at home and it seems like I forever have some household chore to do.

So, being in Bristol gave me a chance to really watch football. Here are some things I noticed today.

1. Is anybody else surprised that East Carolina struggled before barely escaping New Orleans with a narrow victory over Tulane? How many times have we seen the BCS-buster du jour come up flat after a couple of wins against the big boys? And the Pirates better prepare for it every week as Conference USA play continues.

2. Who needs View-Masters to hype Missouri QB Chase Daniel for the Heisman? After three games, how about 10 touchdowns and one interception. His quarterback efficiency rating has been more than 250 in each of the last two weeks.

3. Injuries for coaches are a miserable time. But doesn't Notre Dame coach Charlie Weis look especially glum after he was leg-whipped by John Ryan along the sidelines late in the first half?

4. Seeing Randy Quaid be such a prominent part of the Syracuse game-day experience today was somehow fitting as the Orange struggled through another disappointing loss. Remember, Quaid used to be "The Grey Ghost." And Syracuse used to be a place where running backs flocked.

5. Best story of the day was the emergence of Florida State WR Corey Surrency, who never played high school football. Surrency made his start playing in flag-football tournaments before going to El Camino Community College. He's simply emerged as Christian Ponder's go-to receiver.

6. Wonder how much moving Houston's game against Air Force to Dallas hurt the Cougars? Air Force jumped to a 31-7 lead before Houston stormed back to pull within 31-28 late. The Cougars have piled up 749 passing yards and 1,017 yards in their last two games. All they have to show for the offensive explosion are two losses.

7. Worst weekend this year goes to the Pac-10 for enduring humiliating losses (Baylor over Washington State, Maryland over California, TCU over Stanford, BYU over UCLA and Oregon's struggles with Purdue). But just like they've said over the last few years, thank goodness for USC.

8. Best finish of the day came at UB Stadium in Buffalo, where the Bulls eked out a narrow 30-28 victory over Temple thanks to a 35-yard pass from Drew Willy to Naaman Roosevelt with no time left. If I'm an athletic director at a struggling BCS school, I'm thinking about giving Buffalo coach Turner Gill a chance.

9. Seeing Michigan State RB Javon Ringer pick up a career-high 43 carries en route to 282 yards brings back memories of when Lorenzo White was toting the rock that much for the Spartans.

10. Sure, Northwestern has only beaten Syracuse, Duke and Southern Illinois this season. But coach Pat Fitzgerald's team has quietly fashioned a 3-0 record and is halfway to bowl eligibility.

Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Griffin

Todd Reesing has been proving his doubters wrong for a long time.

 
 AP Photo/Charlie Riedel
 Todd Reesing's passing has accounted for 72 percent of KU's offense in the early part of the 2008 season.

Coming out of high school, the Kansas quarterback didn't have a load of scholarship offers from major powers. Most programs shied away from Reesing because of his size, which was generously listed at 6-foot and 180 pounds. He ended up accepting an offer from the Jayhawks over one from Duke among schools in BCS-affiliated conferences.

So much for the power of modern recruiting -- Reesing has blossomed into one of the nation's top passers as he's led the Jayhawks' startling renaissance that has resulted in them winning 17 of their last 19 games.

"I don't have a personal vendetta or anything like that, but at the same time, we have a lot of guys who weren't all that highly recruited," Reesing said. "There is a certain level of satisfaction they we have 22 guys who people might not have known all that much about. We've proved you don't necessarily have to have high-profile guys in recruiting to be successful."

The best example has been Reesing, who has blossomed as one of the nation's top passers after his first two games. Heading into the Jayhawks' game against South Florida on Friday night, Reesing leads the nation in pass completions and ranks second in total offense. He needs four touchdown passes to move past Bill Whittemore for the school record.

Even as Kansas has unexpectedly struggled running the ball this season, Reesing has emerged as the focal point of the Jayhawks' offense. His passing has accounted for 72 percent of KU's offense and has been the only antidote to run-stacking ways by opponents.

"A lot of that has had to do with the teams we played," Reesing said. "We have seen an abnormal amount of blitzes so far this season. And because of that, they've often had six or seven guys around the box."

That defensive attention has been the major reason that the Jayhawks have averaged 127 yards and 3.7 yards per carry so far this season. Last year, the Jayhawks averaged 188.8 yards and 4.8 yards per carry.

It's almost as if defenses have been daring Reesing to beat them. And after his first two games, he hasn't hesitated.

"You're taking some chances with our pass game when you do that," Kansas coach Mark Mangino told reporters after the Jayhawks' victory over Louisiana Tech. "You might do a good job against our run game and that's fine.

"But if I was playing us, I would be trying to defend the pass. Because it's proven that it can hurt you. With us, we like to throw the football and I think we've got a very good trigger guy in Todd to do that. So when people come in with that philosophy, we can be successful on offense throwing the ball."

Reesing's improvement as a passer has been noticeable to Mangino this season. His leadership ability also is brimming after leading the Jayhawks to a 4-0 record on the road last season, capped with a victory over Virginia Tech in the Orange Bowl.

Despite that success, he returned driven to accomplish even more this season.

"Todd worked at his game hard in the offseason," Mangino said. "I think he's getting rid of the ball quicker than he was a year ago. He is doing a better job of keeping his eyes down field when he leaves the pocket. And he's even more confident than he was a year ago because he experienced an entire season and he knows what to expect. I wouldn't trade him for anyone, anywhere."

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