NCF Nation: Graham Harrell

Big 12 weekend rewind: Week 13

November, 26, 2012
11/26/12
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Time to pass out a few superlatives from the week that was in the Big 12.

Best offensive performance: Landry Jones, QB, Oklahoma. Jones broke his own school records for pass attempts (71) and completions (46) and threw for 500 yards, the third most in school history, in his final home start. He finished with three touchdowns and surpassed Texas Tech's Graham Harrell as the Big 12's all-time leading passer, moving to No. 3 on the NCAA all-time list.

[+] EnlargeEddie Lackey
AP Photo/LM OteroEddie Lackey's interception return gave Baylor its first lead of the game against Texas Tech.
Best defensive performance: Eddie Lackey, LB, Baylor. The Bears linebacker swung the game with an interception he returned 55 yards for a score early in the fourth quarter that gave Baylor its first lead of the game at 35-31. He also picked off Texas Tech QB Seth Doege again on a potential game-winning drive to set up a field goal at the end of regulation, which was missed. He also jumped on a Doege fumble at Baylor's 7-yard line to keep the game 21-7 late in the second quarter. The Bears took advantage with a touchdown drive to get within 21-14 at the half. He also finished with five tackles. Honorable mention: Aaron Colvin, CB, Oklahoma.

Best game: Oklahoma 51, Oklahoma State 48. Bedlam yet again lived up to its billing with tons of points and a pair of Oklahoma scores late to help force overtime. Jalen Saunders ignited Owen Field with an 82-yard punt return, followed by a game-tying two-point conversion from Jones to Justin Brown. Oklahoma State answered later with a strong seven-play, 77-yard touchdown drive to take the lead. Oklahoma didn't tie it until Blake Bell escaped a tackle in the backfield and pushed his way into the end zone for a 4-yard touchdown run on fourth down with 4 seconds to play. The Sooners held for a field goal in the first overtime before Brennan Clay bowled over a couple of defenders on the way to a game-winning 18-yard touchdown run that set off one of the biggest celebrations at Owen Field in a long time.

Second-best game: Baylor 52, Texas Tech 45. The Bears trailed by 14 late in the second quarter, but forced a turnover near the goal line that helped spark a comeback. The fourth quarter featured four lead changes and a missed field goal at the gun, but the Baylor defense won the game with a defensive stop against a Texas Tech offense that had sliced them up all game.

Best play: Tavon Austin, WR, West Virginia. The Mountaineers' offense had sputtered a bit late, but Austin provided the final blow to send WVU to a bowl game. Austin took a short touch pass in the open field and raced to the left sideline, outrunning the Iowa State defense for a 75-yard score and backed it up with a two-point conversion on the next play that provided the final score in Friday's 31-24 win in Ames.

Second-best play(s): Brennan Clay and Blake Bell, Oklahoma. Bell's game-tying, 4-yard touchdown run might have been a loss for some quarterbacks. Bell lowered his shoulder and powered his way for the score to force overtime, where Clay trucked safety Daytawion Lowe and shrugged off a few other defenders on the way to a game-winning, 18-yard score to clinch the 51-48 win over Oklahoma State.

Worst play: Seth Doege, QB, Texas Tech. The senior QB had the ball and the game in his hands. A harmless screen was a bit too low and hit his offensive lineman in the head, drifting into Lackey's hands and nearly costing Texas Tech the game. Baylor missed a game-winning field goal after the miscue, but it cost Tech a chance to win the game.

Best team performance: TCU. The Frogs replaced Texas A&M as Texas' Thanksgiving opponent and walked all over the Longhorns on national television in prime time. Welcome to the Big 12, Frogs. It was the weekend's most dominant performance, featuring 217 rushing yards against a Longhorns defense that looked to have rediscovered its mojo in recent weeks.

Worst team performance: Texas. The Longhorns flopped with a BCS bid and Big 12 title still on the table and a trip to K-State awaiting next week. Texas got worked on its home field, and though a late rally nearly made it interesting, the Longhorns suffered one of the program's most painful losses in a while.

Best stat: Oklahoma hasn't had a lead in the last 120 minutes of Bedlam. Hey, you gotta do what you gotta do. The Sooners were dominated in a 44-10 loss a year ago and never led until Clay's 18-yard score ended the 51-48 win on Saturday.

Best quote: Oklahoma CB Aaron Colvin, on the post-Bedlam celebration on the field: "I don't know how the '08 [Texas] Tech game felt but I've never experienced anything like this tonight. I wish I had a video camera after the game to record what it was like."
Thanks for all the emails this week. Here's where you can reach me if you've got more to say. Let's get to this week's mail!

Jeremy in Junction City, Kan., writes: Hey Ubbs, I got a quick question for you, and i really hope its a good enough question for you to answer, what is your view or thoughts about if Oregon cannot beat there ranked opponents as convincingly as k state has beat there's (like if they only won by 3 points as an example, and if there not in the top 15 either) do you possibly see some eye-voters changing their minds? Thanks Ubbs, or shal; I say "Ubbtimus Prime". -Jeremy-

DU: It's definitely possible, but Oregon will definitely have better wins down the stretch. It could get a big win on Saturday against USC, and if that happens, there's no way the Wildcats get the jump this week. The computers love K-State, and the Wildcats have the edge in the schedule department. Voters tend to look at the most recent results, and if Oregon State still has one loss when it faces Oregon and the Ducks win that game by 10, I doubt many voters will remember how badly K-State beat Texas Tech and West Virginia. If Tech and WVU win games down the stretch and get back into the top 10, it's definitely possible, but I'm not betting on it.

Still, it should be enough for K-State to hang on to the spot ahead of Oregon in the BCS. For my money, Notre Dame will be a much bigger problem, right or not.




Daniel Otto in Lincoln, Neb., writes: If you were a K-State fan who would you be rooting for in the Ala/LSU game?

DU: This one is all too simple, Daniel. All this bunk about a one-loss SEC team getting to the national title game ahead of an undefeated Oregon, K-State or Notre Dame? That's just insanity. It could happen to Louisville, but the idea that Bama or LSU could get in ahead of those other three is just silly.

That said, you most certainly want all the undefeated teams to lose. That means you need to be cheering hard for LSU. Additionally, if LSU wins, the SEC would all of a sudden be all but out of the national title race. If Bama or LSU is going to get back in, two of the three undefeated teams would need to lose down the stretch.

So, K-State fans, no doubt: Fire up your "Geaux Tigers" chants for Saturday night during the game against Oklahoma State.




Cyclones in Everywhere writes: Thank You Jake Knott. You mean so much to all of Cyclone Nation. You will never be forgotten.

DU: Absolutely. I saluted Knott in my Friday Four Downs today, but you can't say enough about the guy. I see you, Collin Klein. For my money, though, Knott is the toughest player in the Big 12 and one of the toughest we've seen in a long time. He's Iowa State through and through and played through so many injuries, including popping his shoulder back into place twice against Baylor last year and playing all game. The guy was unstoppable.

My favorite Knott story, though, is when he broke his arm earlier in his career during spring practice. He broke it one day, had the surgery the next morning and that afternoon, he had his mom drive him out to practice before he'd even gone home.

Not only was he tough, but he truly loved his teammates and being a Cyclone. Knott was the absolute best of what we see in college football.




Kevin Vondemkamp in Rosa Linda, Calif., writes: David, Love the Aurthur Brown / Predator reference :)How does he compare stat wise against the ND LB Heisman hopeful...is he that far off?Kevin

Scott in Manhattan, Kan. writes: Explain something to me Ubbs, why is manti te'o getting so much love for Heisman contention?Is he really that much better than Arthur Brown, or Jarvis Jones?If he is then why do major draft boards have Jarvis being drafted before te'o?It's just media bias at it's finest. If ESPN wants to plug a defensive player for a Heisman contender they should actually give props to the best defender in the nation Jarvis Jones.

DU: I hear you, Scott, and I agree that Jarvis Jones is the best player of the three, but he also missed a pair of games and was slowed in one. That's enough to take you out of what's a tough, tough race.

As for Brown and Te'o, you can't compare defensive numbers across the board, but here's a look:

Arthur Brown:
  • 60 tackles (35 solo)
  • 6 tackles for loss
  • One sack
  • Two interceptions, one returned for a touchdown
  • Three pass breakups
Manti Te'o:
  • 80 tackles (39 solo)
  • 4.5 tackles for loss
  • one sack
  • Five interceptions
  • Three pass breakups
  • One fumble recovery

So, statistically, there you have it. Te'o obviously has the big plays in the passing game which I think have earned him the most recognition, but he's also been in on the mix in a lot more tackles. Twenty is a ton.




Pete in Frisco, Texas, writes: You stated that the Crabtree catch against Texas to win the game a few years ago was the best play in Big 12 football history. I think it was an awesome play, but disagree on the best in the history of the conference. While Crabtree's catch was to win a conference game, Sirr Parker from A&M caught a pass in the 98 Big 12 Championship game to win the Conference Title. That catch was in overtime and knocked Kansas State from the national championship discussion. Wouldn't you agree that would be the best play in Big 12 football history to decide a Conference champion on the last play of an OT game?

DU: It's definitely close, Pete. When you talk about the best plays in Big 12 history, those two are up there. Vince Young's fourth-down scramble to win the title in 2005 is on the list, too, but I don't know if you can really count that as a Big 12 play, considering it was in a bowl game. Still, those three are sort of the league's triumvirate.

I give the edge to Harrell and Crabtree, though, because of a) the risk. It was a tie game. Throwing that ball was a huge risk, but Crabtree made the catch and slipped out of Chykie Brown's tackle instead of going out of bounds like just about every other player might have. Additionally, what a risky play call. How many coaches besides Mike Leach throw a ball to the opposite sidelines with so little time left and no timeouts?

Additionally, beating Texas -- and that Texas team especially -- was something special. Kansas State was a great team, but everybody in the Big 12 knows there's a little something extra these days when you beat Texas or Oklahoma. Texas Tech did it at home in one of the most hyped games in school history, and did it to stay undefeated and keep its national title hopes alive. That game made people take Tech seriously as a title contender (even though Oklahoma unraveled it shortly after).

Parker's catch and run was awesome, but if he gets tackled instead of getting into the end zone, the odds are still high that A&M wins that game. Parker's play is exciting and much more memorable than, say, Iowa State's Jeff Woody scoring from a couple yards out on a zone-read to beat Oklahoma State last year.

No question: Parker and Young's plays challenge Harrell-to-Crabtree, but the skill, risk and scene give that play the edge for me.

MADISON, Wis. -- The game ended one debate and added intrigue to another.

Wisconsin's 45-7 dissection of Penn State left no doubt as to which is the best team in the Leaders division. After falling behind early, the Badgers outclassed the Nittany Lions, as they're prone to do in a building where they've now won 16 consecutive games. They earned the right to face Michigan State next week in the inaugural Big Ten championship game.

But the decisive victory only brought more uncertainty to a question Badgers players and coaches love to get asked even though few have an answer.

Who is the Big Ten's Offensive Player of the Year: quarterback Russell Wilson or running back Montee Ball?

[+] EnlargeRussell Wilson and Montee Ball
AP Photo/Morry GashWill Russell Wilson and Montee Ball end up sharing the Big Ten's top offensive player of the year honors?
"I'd split it," Wisconsin coach Bret Bielema said. "I don't know if there's ever been co-offensive MVPs off the same team. I don't know if that's ever been done, but I don't know how you can give it to one without the other."

It has happened once: Big Ten coaches voted Iowa quarterback Matt Rodgers and running back Nick Bell as co-Offensive Players of the Year in 1990. Will it happen again next week?

Wisconsin wouldn't be where it is without the contributions of Wilson and Ball, who are putting together the best combined quarterback-running back performance in a season in Big Ten history (more on that later). The senior quarterback and junior running back both sparkled again Saturday, having a hand in all six Wisconsin touchdowns against the nation's No. 8 defense. Wilson finished the game 19-of-29 passing for 186 yards and two touchdowns, while Ball recorded 156 yards and a touchdown on 25 carries.

It's rare when one NCAA record is set in a game, much less two. How about two records by two players in the same half? Wilson and Ball delivered Saturday.

Ball's second rushing score late in the second quarter gave him 12 consecutive games with multiple touchdowns, breaking Barry Sanders' NCAA record of 11 straight games. Wilson's 21-yard touchdown strike to Jared Abbrederis in the first quarter gave him 36 consecutive games with at least one touchdown pass, tying the NCAA record held by former Texas Tech star Graham Harrell.

Wilson's team single-season touchdown passes record stands at 28. Ball, meanwhile, has his sights set on a loftier mark, one thought to be unreachable. His four touchdowns Saturday give him 34 for the season, the second-most in NCAA history behind only Sanders' 39 scores in 1988.

"It's extremely rare," Wilson said of his and Ball's performances this season. "It's a once-in-a-lifetime type thing. You don't see it very often, but I think with Montee's ability to do a lot of different things, and then with my ability to throw the ball extremely well and to improvise when I have to, it's pretty dangerous."

You think?

Big Ten awards voting wraps up Sunday, and all-conference teams will be announced Monday night. The league's Offensive and Defensive Player of the Year awards are announced Wednesday afternoon, so the debate about Wilson vs. Ball will continue until then.

Don't expect much help from the Badgers.

"I'm very happy I don't have to make that decision," offensive lineman Travis Fredrick said.

"I couldn't say," added fellow offensive lineman Ryan Groy. "I'd be split between both of them."

Ball appeared to provide a definitive answer the first time I asked him.

"I'd pick myself," he said. "Of course, I'd pick myself."

But when asked during a video interview, Ball flip-flopped, saying he'd vote for "the pretty boy, Russell. Because what he brought to this team was a lot." When called out, Ball tried to backtrack, the first time all afternoon he had to.

Wilson was a bit more decisive.

"I'd definitely vote for Montee," he said.

While the debate carries on about which individual performance is superior, the combined effort from Ball and Wilson is more notable.

There's never been anything quite like it in Big Ten history. Wilson's passer rating of 192.9 this season keeps him on pace to break Colt Brennan's single-season NCAA record of 186. He should have no trouble breaking the Big Ten season record of 175.3 set by Michigan's Bob Chappuis in 1947.

Ball already has shattered the Big Ten season touchdowns mark of 26 and should finish among the league's top 10 in single-season rushing (he currently has 1,622).

While the Big Ten has witnessed better individual rushing and passing performances, the combined effort from Ball and Wilson stands alone in league annals. It's the best since Penn State's Kerry Collins and Ki-Jana Carter 1994: Collins passed for 2,679 yards and had a quarterback rating of 172.8, which ranks second in Big Ten history; Carter rushed for 1,539 yards and 23 touchdowns.

Former Wisconsin coach and current athletic director Barry Alvarez brought up Iowa's Chuck Long and Ronnie Harmon in 1985. They had impressive numbers -- Long racked up 3,297 pass yards, 27 touchdowns and a rating of 153.1; Harmon had 1,166 rush yards and nine touchdowns -- but not as impressive as the Wilson-Ball tandem.

"They're both really special," Alvarez told ESPN.com. "You only have one ball, so it's hard to have two guys with numbers like that."

It wasn't hard for Ball and Wilson to mesh. They play different positions and have different responsibilities, but they're driven in the same way.

"It goes back to how hard I worked in the offseason and how hard he worked when he got here," Ball said.

When Wilson arrived July 1, he told Ball he would compete to become one of the best quarterbacks in the country.

"He gravitated to that," Wilson said. "Every day in practice, we work together and communicate extremely well. Our desire to be great and to never be afraid to excel is something we definitely have in common."

For those arguing that Wisconsin and its stars feast on inferior competition, consider this: Ball racked up 495 rush yards and seven touchdowns and added two receiving scores against three top-10 defenses (Michigan State, Penn State and Illinois). While Wilson wasn't at his best in the Michigan State game, he still rallied his team brilliantly in the fourth quarter and stepped up against an excellent Penn State defense on Saturday, completing 15 of 21 passes for 149 yards in the first half.

"Two of the most complete players at their respective positions that I've ever seen play the game," Bielema said.

Wilson and Ball could share Big Ten Offensive Player of the Year. One or both could earn an invitation to New York for the Heisman Trophy presentation.

But the two are more focused on sharing a podium in two other places -- Indianapolis and Pasadena.

Scary trip ahead for Oklahoma State

November, 9, 2011
11/09/11
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So what if Halloween was last week?

Tell that to the ghosts roaming around Texas Tech's Jones AT&T Stadium these days.

Back in 2007, there was a woozy Sam Bradford of Oklahoma sidelined with a concussion on the game's opening drive. National title hopes? Gone.

A year later? An easy interception inexplicably slid through the hands of Texas' Blake Gideon. A play later, an ill-advised, unnecessary throw by Graham Harrell somehow became one of the most famous plays in college football history.

[+] EnlargeMike Gundy
Kevin Jairaj/US PresswireMike Gundy is keeping his team's focus squarely on upset-minded Texas Tech.
Beware the winds of West Texas, Oklahoma State.

The Cowboys travel there on Saturday, to the place where two Big 12 national title runs have been buried. The Cowboys will go there with the intention of preventing a third.

Gundy's players watch the weekly BCS rankings get unveiled, and this week, they saw themselves at No. 2, higher than any team in Oklahoma State history and firmly in control of their postseason destination.

"They’re being told that they’re having a great year and everywhere you go, it’s ‘Make sure you keep it going’ and this and that," said coach Mike Gundy.

The odds say Oklahoma State will. The Cowboys enter as 17-point favorites over this particular band of Red Raiders that haven't wrecked much in recent weeks.

"There’s examples every Saturday, and just speaking for our staff, we’re able to use examples of teams that, on paper or people thought may have had a better team, but for whatever reason, they didn’t play as well that Saturday and didn’t win," Gundy said. "Because of that, you have to stay focused and understand the importance of preparation going into each game."

The Cowboys won't have to look far for inspiration. Texas Tech is just 1-4 in its past five games, and its past two losses have come by 32 and 34 points.

Its one win?

Tech made it count. The Red Raiders raced to a 31-7 lead and beat Oklahoma, who entered the game as 28-point favorites. Oh, and they hadn't lost at home since 2005 or in a home conference game since 2001, concurrent streaks of 39 and 32 games.

Oklahoma State should -- should -- win on Saturday. Last year's win in Lubbock was Oklahoma State's first since 1944.

Whether it does or doesn't do it again is likely up to the superior team.

"We just have to stay focused, absorb information in meetings and have good practices on Wednesday and Thursday," Gundy said.

So how does that happen?

"There’s not really anything other than trying to keep them in the moment and in the right frame of mind so they can stay focused on what’s important here and not get caught up in all the hype outside the program," Gundy said.

We'll find out on Saturday if the Cowboys did it. Iowa State awaits a week later, and win that one?

Bedlam.
Seth Doege had just polished off a performance that would land him national player of the week honors. He and his Texas Tech teammates rushed to the corner of the field to sing their fight song, the first visiting team to do so in victory at Oklahoma's Owen Field in more than six years.

[+] EnlargeTexas Tech's Seth Doege
AP Photo/Sue OgrockiTexas Tech quarterback Seth Doege passed for 441 yards and four touchdowns against Oklahoma.
As they got there, Doege spotted a familiar face: his dad. Their eyes met, and Randy Doege pumped a fist. No words necessary. We did it.

"I’ll always remember that," Seth Doege said.

This relationship between Doege and Texas Tech has been give-and-take forever. All of Doege's West Texas family are Texas Tech fans. He grew up watching Kliff Kingsbury, whose single-game NCAA completion percentage record Doege broke this season against New Mexico.

When Tech offered him a scholarship early in his high school career, he took it and essentially ended the recruiting process.

Doege missed his final two seasons of high school football, but Texas Tech stayed committed to him.

Doege got a chance to play for Tech back in 2009, but he was benched in his first start and didn't see any meaningful action until becoming the starter this season. Transfer? Ha.

Now as a junior, he's largely responsible for the biggest win at Texas Tech in a long time. After the win at Oklahoma, coach Tommy Tuberville told his team it may have been the best of his coaching career, which included more than a decade in the SEC at Ole Miss and Auburn.

PODCAST
Landry Locker and Trey Fallon of ESPN Dallas are joined by Chris Level of Double T 104.3 to talk about Tech's shocking win in Norman and the new outlook of the season moving forward.

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"It’s something I’ll never forget. It’s something you dream about as a kid, playing the No. 1 team in the nation and coming out with the victory," Doege said. "It’s something every kid wants to do."

A dream in the sense that he always hoped it would happen, but not that he never thought it could. Texas Tech must not have heard that it was expected to lose by four touchdowns on Saturday.

"We expected to win that game. It was special, but at the same time, we weren’t surprised," Doege said. "We felt like we were a good football team. We felt like in our two losses, we had opportunities to win those games, and we felt like if we just went in there and played really well, that we would give ourselves the opportunity to win the game, which we did. It’s just one of those things where, we were confident."

Doege especially had reason to be confident. His passing numbers were competitive with anyone in the country, and after Saturday's win, his 22 touchdown passes are fourth nationally and tied for the Big 12 lead. Only Houston's Case Keenum has topped his 2,608 passing yards.

"Seth’s had a lot of success this year, not just in that game. He’s emerged as one of the best quarterbacks in the country and he’s been consistent with it," Tuberville said. "All the hype of a game like that, going in and being able to play that well at our quarterback position is going to give him a lot of confidence. They did a lot of different things in the secondary, they gave him a lot of different looks, and he was able to handle all of them."

Doege sat on the sidelines while quarterbacks before him like Graham Harrell and Taylor Potts endured lopsided beatings in the same stadium. No Tech team had won in Norman since beating 3-8 Oklahoma under first-year coach John Blake back in 1996.

"We were physical, we weren’t scared and we were there to win the game, not play the game," Doege said. "I don’t think anybody on the team was intimidated at all. We went into that game really confident and we expected to win. I don’t think anything about OU really intimidated us. We knew this was a great football team, but we also knew that we were a great football team, too, and we’d put in as much work as anybody."

"It was a party in the locker room," Doege added.

The party's over. A special night can evolve into a special season. That continues Saturday against Iowa State.

"Now we know how good we can be," Doege said.

The Sooners have struggled in the red zone all season, and have shuffled kickers in and out of the lineup for three seasons.

Both came into play and cost Oklahoma in a shocking 41-38 loss to Texas Tech, 28-point underdogs.

Michael Hunnicut clanged a 28-yard field goal off the upright late in the fourth quarter, and Oklahoma scored just one of its three second-half touchdowns from the red zone. It settled for one field goal, and also missed a 39-yard kick earlier in the game.

With that, Oklahoma's home-game winning streak and it's national championship hopes are over.

The warning signs were there in lackluster wins over Kansas and Missouri this year. The offense sputtered for most of the game against the worst defense in the nation last week at Kansas, and the defense gave up more than 500 yards to Missouri.

Saturday night, Texas Tech did what it wanted offensively for almost the entire 60 minutes and put up 600 yards and 41 points, all season highs, against the Sooners.

Just like Texas Tech did against Texas in 2008, the Sooners' national title hopes are dashed. Seth Doege to Alex Torres may not have the same ring to it as Graham Harrell to Michael Crabtree, but the duo was almost as potent Saturday against Oklahoma's defense, which was missing top cornerback Jamell Fleming.

Torres caught four passes for 94 yards and three touchdowns, tormenting Oklahoma's secondary with big plays.

Doege threw for 441 yards and four touchdowns on 33-of-52 passing.

Oklahoma didn't play well, but Texas Tech walked in and won this game, fully intending to do so all night. Tommy Tuberville faked a punt and went for it on fourth down twice inside the 5-yard line.

Only one of those attempts worked, but it said a lot about Texas Tech's intentions and mindset. Both paid off, and Tuberville has the biggest win of his two seasons in Lubbock.

Next week's showdown with Kansas State has lost a bit of its luster, but Oklahoma State and Kansas State are the last two remaining undefeated teams in the Big 12.

Who saw that one coming?
Yesterday, you saw our college football blog staff tab one player as the conference's next household name, but what do you think? I pegged Texas A&M running back Christine Michael as the next player folks will know well, but here's a few other suggestions.

Vote in the poll for who you're expecting to see a much bigger profile this time next year:

Kenny Stills, WR, Oklahoma

Stills caught 61 passes for 786 yards last year as a true freshman, the most of any freshman in Oklahoma history, even with the nation's leader (131) in receptions, Ryan Broyles, across from him on the field. He's got one of the best quarterbacks in the league tossing him the ball, and he'll be back in 2011 with a year of experience under his belt.

James Franklin, QB, Missouri

Franklin is the key to Missouri's rise in 2011. If he plays well, the Tigers should be a strong contender for the Big 12 title, something Blaine Gabbert, Chase Daniel and Brad Smith could never win. This Tigers team might be the best under Gary Pinkel, but there's a gaping hole at quarterback where Gabbert used to be. Will Franklin fill it and become a star as the next in a long line of Missouri quarterbacks.

Joseph Randle, RB, Oklahoma State

Randle caught more passes last year than any running back in the league, other than Oklahoma's DeMarco Murray, and figured to be a big piece of the backfield set to replace Kendall Hunter, who rushed for over 1,500 yards for the second time in his career last season. Randle has the advantage of a passing game that will require tons of attention and the Big 12's best offensive line. Will he hold off Jeremy Smith and become a 1,000-yard rusher?

Seth Doege, QB, Texas Tech

Doege, a junior, hasn't been a full-time starter since his sophomore year of high school, but Texas Tech stayed committed to him through a pair of serious knee injuries, and Doege has done the same. Now, he'll get a chance to do what he grew up wanting to do, carry on the Texas Tech quarterback legacy that guys like Graham Harrell and Kliff Kingsbury helped build. He'll do it under a different coach, but can he still produce the big numbers?

Malcolm Brown, RB, Texas

Brown hasn't even gone through a practice yet, but hopes are high for the incoming freshman who was the nation's No. 7 recruit in the 2011 class. The Cibolo, Texas, native runs with big power and if Texas' offensive line can give him a few holes, should be able to punish defenders with his downhill style. A year from now, will he be the first 1,000-yard rusher at Texas since Jamaal Charles?

Anyone else deserve some consideration?
Baylor, Texas and Texas Tech already have begun spring drills., but I'm kicking off my spring tour around the Big 12 campuses on Wednesday.

Here's a wide-angle look at the Big 12, with the five biggest questions hounding the conference to begin the spring.

[+] EnlargeLandry Jones
Tim Heitman/US PresswireQuarterback Landry Jones is one reason Oklahoma will get plenty of preseason attention. But can the Sooners overcome off-the-field problems?
1. Does it have a national championship contender or not? Oklahoma is by no means uncontested at the top of the Big 12, but it is a clear notch above Texas A&M and Oklahoma State as the favorite to win the conference. Additionally, there's a good chance the Sooners will open 2011 as the No. 1 team in the country. But in the two months before spring drills began, Oklahoma's had plenty of negative headlines off the field. Their best cornerback, Jamell Fleming, won't be with the team in the spring and his future is in doubt. Starting defensive tackle Stacy McGee was cited for misdemeanor marijuana possession. Star freshman Kenny Stills, a receiver, was arrested on a DUI complaint and his close friend, freshman safety Tony Jefferson -- also a California native and the Big 12 Defensive Freshman of the Year, was booked on a complaint for interfering with the official process in the incident with Stills. That's a lot of distractions, but the Sooners will need to end that list now to have the best chance of validating their preseason hype on the field. Oklahoma has no glaring weaknesses as it stands, but if academics or discipline keeps players off the field, that could change. The hype will only grow if the Sooners stay out of the police blotter and book a solid spring camp.

2. Is Texas over its "entitlement?" Is the new staff jelling with players? This should be a fascinating spring in Austin. For the first time in perhaps a decade, the Longhorns have a long, long list of things to prove. They'll try to do it with a youth-infused staff and it all begins this spring. The defense was decent last season, the offense was awful. Both will need to be great if the Longhorns are going to compete for a Big 12 title after a last-place finish in the Big 12 South. Is Texas up to the challenge?

3. Where are the quarterbacks? Think back to 2008. The Big 12 had -- by my count -- eight quarterbacks that could play for about anybody across the country. Sam Bradford won the Heisman. Colt McCoy was one of the best in school history, winning more games than any quarterback in college history and reaching a pair of BCS bowls, including a national championship appearance. Chase Daniel, Graham Harrell, Todd Reesing, Robert Griffin III and Josh Freeman were all solid. That's eight out of 10 teams in the current Big 12 with excellence under center. This year? I count four. Griffin is still around. Oklahoma and Oklahoma State are set with Landry Jones and Brandon Weeden and Texas A&M should be fine with Ryan Tannehill. Beyond that? It's pretty slim. Will we see breakout stars at Texas Tech, Missouri or Kansas State? All three have players who could be set for breakout years in Seth Doege, James Franklin and Justin Tuggle, but they'll have to win the job first and try to make a name for themselves if they can pull that off.

4. Are leaky defenses with new coordinators ready to support their teams' high-powered offenses? Texas Tech and Baylor both had offenses good enough to compete for a Big 12 title, but poor defense meant both had to settle for seven-win seasons and lower-tier bowl games. Both are back this spring with new coordinators. Veteran Phil Bennett is in at Baylor, and first-time coordinator Chad Glasgow will try to extrapolate the success he had coaching TCU's secondary into Texas Tech's secondary and defense, which ranked last in the Big 12 last year.

5. Can the Cowboys keep the status quo? Dana Holgorsen was the big story in Oklahoma State's spring camp last year, and he showed why during the season, turning the Cowboys into the Big 12's best offensive team. He's gone, and Todd Monken is taking over. Can the excellence continue? Bringing back all five offensive linemen will make it a lot easier. Skill positions look a lot better when quarterbacks have time and running backs have holes. Justin Blackmon and Brandon Weeden are back, but can their talents be showcased as two of the Big 12's best in 2011. They better be. If not, the Cowboys can rule out a Big 12 title.

A little love for every Big 12 team

February, 14, 2011
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We asked you to provide a few things you love about your team last week, and you answered in a big way. It was a little difficult to pare down all the responses, but here's why you guys love your respective teams.

Eathan in Manhattan, Kan., writes: The one thing I love most about my Wildcats is the overwhelming feel of family. We are allowed the best seats for students. The school puts emphasis in alum and fan relations and makes sure they are happy. K-State is a family and you feel at home when you step on Wildcat soil.

Matt Kuhns in Lakewood, Ohio, writes: Love about the Cyclones: Being "the cyclones." Lots of bulldogs, large cats and predatory birds in sports; not many tornadoes. So at least we've got that!

mhbtiger in KC, Mo., writes: My favorite tradition is the MIZZOU to TIGERS during pregame. The band makes the transition during the Fight Song. And speaking of...I like how we have 2 songs that fit together so nicely..A close 2nd is the Missouri Waltz at the end of the 3rd Q. Go! Fight! Win! TIGERS!!!

Tanner D. in Huntsville, Ala., writes: The things I love most about Oklahoma are Bob Stoops (not our first great coach), and seeing our players wear the Golden Hat Trophy after beating Texas.

Patrick Woo in State College, Penn., writes: About my Texas Longhorns, I LOVE...the burnt orange, Bevo, the logo, the success, but most importantly how Mack Brown and others conduct themselves and the class they do with it. Those are the people in the world that you should admire.I am FIRED up for 2011 and I love absolutely love Bryan Harsin. TEXAS is my life, but I'll admit I was riding the Boise Bus in 2010 and now we have Harsin.

Matt in Texas writes: I love the way oklahoma absolutely buries everybody at home, even top 5 teams! I just wish they could do it on the road...this is an abusive relationship.

Alex in Dallas writes: I love that our school, Baylor, lets the freshmen on the field to celebrate with the team before the game! Nowhere else can say that!

Dan in Dallas writes: What's my favorite thing about Iowa State: The story of Jack Trice, who Iowa State is named after. Amazing letter he wrote to himself the night before he died from injuries at the football game the next day. Great story here.

Tommy B in Stillwater, Okla., writes: I think one of the best atmospheres is at Boone Pickens Stadium. Where else is the student section no more than a few feet away from the field with paddles banging on mats the whole game? As former Texas A&M coach Jackie Sherrill once said, "I always hated playing in Stillwater because the crowd is right on top of you. The fans sit right on top of the field. You turn around and there is a fan in your face." Better tell Landry Jones not to turn around this year....

Jesse in KC writes: I love that we have a coach the whole school can get behind now, and have faith in, even if the first year was kind of tough: Turner Gill!

Josiah in Houston writes: David, gotta say love the blog. i've been an Aggie fan since they day i was born and i gotta say the thing i love most about my team is waching the team saw varsity's horns off after a win.

Drew in Austin writes: I love the burnt orange and white, the thundering roar of the crowd, the eyes of Texas, Texas fight, cannon shots after Texas touchdowns, old friends you see every football season, the overall aura of Saturdays at the DKR, it just doesn't get any better than that. I love the Red Out Around the World video Nebraska launched, and then proceeded to get beat yet again by a Texas team that history will show was inferior. What a beautiful way to send Nebraska out of the Big 12. 9-1 in Big 12 play against Nebraska.

Brian McCandless in Manhattan, Kan., writes: My absolute favorite things about K-State are the two things that I believe are the most unique as well. First is the Wabash Cannonball. There's nothing like watching the student section perform this mind-boggling back-and-forth dance that harks back to a fire that burned down the music building. The only surviving piece of music was the Wabash Cannonball and the band played it a lot for the basketball game following the fire. Thus the dance.The other is Willie the Wildcat doing K-S-U. Not only is Willie very unique with only a head as part of his costume, but performing the letters to the chant of the crowd is one of the more spine-tingling moments for every game - especially when we beat KU or Nebraska and it feels so good.K! S! U! Wildcats! K! S! U! Wildcats! Kaaaaaay! Essssssssssss! Uuuuuuuuuu! Wildcats!Go Cats!

Patrick Jeter in College Station, Texas, writes: What isn't there to love about Texas A&M, more-so now that our football team is on the verge of being truely great this season. From the Corps of Cadets marching in, Revielle on the sidelines, and who can forget the yells (along with Yell Practice)?!I believe that is what sets us apart from almost any other school in the country, win or lose we are there until the final minute yelling our heads off, when most fans would bail.

Adam Dalby in Louisville, Ky., writes: Three thingsI love about Texas Tech: 1) Always have a winning record/in a bowl game...even during rebuilding years. 2) TTU's Under Armour deal. Unquestionably the coolest jersey's and I am definitely unsurpassed with my alma mater workout attire at the gym. 3) Gameday in the LBK.

Garrett Morgan in Austin writes: I am a Red Raider who grew up in Austin and left for Lubbock to attend Texas Tech. I never thought that I would cheer for any team other than the Longhorns growing up here, but after a year in Lubbock I was bleeding red and black. I always loved our all black uniforms and the way that the city with a small town feel rallied behind their team during the high and low times. To this day I never get more pumped than on a Red Raider football Saturday.

Russell in Norwalk, Iowa, writes: I love Paul Rhoads as head coach of the Iowa State Cyclones. I loved Mac, but Rhoads may take over as the greatest Cyclone football coach in my life.

Ben in San Antonio writes: Harrell to Crabtree......TOUCHDOWN Red Raiders!
Blaine Gabbert made the right decision by declaring for the NFL draft. ESPN's Scouts, Inc. has Gabbert as the No. 20 overall prospect in April's draft, and Gabbert received a first-round grade from the NFL draft advisory committee after he submitted his paperwork.

For every Jake Locker and Jevan Snead, there's a Sam Bradford: There's nothing wrong with sticking around another year if you're projected as a first-rounder, and the risk of injury is somewhat overrated.

[+] EnlargeBlaine Gabbert
Scott Rovak/US PresswireBlaine Gabbert is leaving Missouri to enter the NFL draft.
Gabbert is a bit different. In Missouri's spread offense, he wouldn't have been much further along as an NFL prospect this time next year, and his size (6-foot-5, 240 pounds) and arm strength (ridiculous) are exactly what NFL teams want in a prospective future starter. His capability to make NFL reads and develop footwork on dropbacks wouldn't have been much further along, and for a guy with a promising future looming like Gabbert, he might as well get a head start. Now was the time.

The lack of an elite receiver like Jeremy Maclin or Danario Alexander kept Gabbert from posting jaw-dropping numbers in 2010, but he played well and notched Missouri's fourth 10-win season in school history. To Gabbert's credit, he didn't force very many plays this year, and did what he needed to do for Missouri to win games. Missouri notched 10 wins because of it.

Gabbert is a competitive guy, and he'd surely like to achieve more than he did -- he never played in a Big 12 Championship or won a bowl game -- but he still had a great career and will go down as one of the best quarterbacks in Tigers history. He'll lack the legacy of Heisman finalist and three-year starter Chase Daniel, but don't be surprised if Gabbert is better in the NFL than in college. He's an Academic All-Big 12 performer and a smart, coachable player who made clear strides for all three of his seasons at Missouri. I'd expect that to continue in the NFL.

For the Tigers, things get a bit complicated.

The knee-jerk reaction for some will write off Missouri as a Big 12 contender in 2011, but that's not necessarily what should happen. It'll be tough for Missouri to win, but they bring back plenty of talent, especially on defense and in a more experienced receiving corps with a stable of young running backs who all got experience this year. Talk about replacing starters all you'd like, but Oklahoma State lost a "franchise" quarterback in Zac Robinson and played a first-year quarterback in Brandon Weeden who had not made a start in nine years. His last start was in high school. That worked out pretty well for them. I'd say 11 wins is a pretty good season.

Replacing Gabbert will be crucial for Missouri not just in 2011, but in retaining its stability as a winner in the Big 12. Tommy Tuberville said it last week at the TicketCity Bowl: In the SEC, you win with running backs and defense. In the Big 12, you win with quarterbacks. That's exactly how Missouri has done it.

In the last four years, Oklahoma is the only team with more Big 12 wins than Missouri.

Sam Bradford, Colt McCoy, Chase Daniel, Zac Robinson, Graham Harrell, Todd Reesing -- the bar has been set high in this league, even in just the most recent few years.

And for Missouri, any hope they have of being a legitimate Big 12 contender hinges on the guy who steps in for Gabbert. And unlike Daniel and Gabbert were, choosing the next starting quarterback won't be a formality this spring.

James Franklin played more than any of Missouri's other young quarterbacks, but he was used mostly as a runner. He was a miniature version of Brad Smith, at the risk of Missourian heresy.

He has the arm strength, but his decision making ability is a question mark. His coaches probably have only a bit more information from what they've seen in practices. That's what Missouri has to figure out when spring practice kicks off in a couple months.

The true freshman threw all of 14 passes in 2010. That's not much of a sample size.

I'd expect a fierce competition between Franklin and Gabbert's younger brother, freshman Tyler Gabbert, as well as redshirt freshman Ashton Glaser.

Franklin's experience, however limited, gives him the edge. And the Tigers have a few proven playmakers in receiver T.J. Moe, tight end Michael Egnew and receivers Wes Kemp and Jerrell Jackson.

Franklin's legs produced a valuable change of pace, especially in the red zone. He ran 23 times for 116 yards and a pair of touchdowns.

But those legs won't win him the job in 2011. He has to prove it as a passer. Maybe he's Missouri's most accurate passer. Maybe it's the younger Gabbert or Glaser.

We'll find out soon. It should be an interesting spring in Columbia.

Big 12 led nation in scoring, but stats were down

January, 27, 2010
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All season long, I heard offensive coordinators across the Big 12 talk about how much more difficult it was to move the ball in the conference last season than it was in 2008.

[+] EnlargeBradford
Tim Heitman/US PresswireInjuries to key playmakers, such as Sam Bradford, hurt the Big 12's offensive output.
The conference still leads the nation in scoring when compared to other conferences with a per-game, per-team average of 28.39 points per game.

But the Big 12's average in yards per play was down to 5.47 yards per snap. That figure ranks ninth among the 12 FBS conferences and worst among the conferences that receive automatic berths in the Bowl Championship Series.

As shown on Tuesday, most every team in the Big 12 saw a noticeable reduction in offensive production and scoring last season compared to the previous year.

That trend didn't necessarily correlate across the rest of the country, when individual conferences are analyzed.

The number of plays remained the same from 2008 to 2009, but total yards and yards per play increased across the nation. Rushing yardage and passing yardage was up a little bit across the board as well. Scoring did drop, but not by the 20.3 percent reduction that we saw in the Big 12 in 2009.

Obviously, the graduation of top players like Michael Crabtree, Chase Daniel, Jeremy Maclin, Graham Harrell, Quan Cosby, Josh Freeman and Joe Ganz had something to do with it. The conference also struggled with injuries to many of its top stars as Jermaine Gresham missed the entire season, Sam Bradford, Robert Griffin, Dez Bryant and Kendall Hunter all were gone for most of the season. Even Colt McCoy's injury came at a critical time to limit his team's offensive efficiency when it really could have used him.

Most importantly, the Big 12 had a wealth of top defensive players last season. We'll see that in the NFL draft when Ndamukong Suh is the likely first pick of the draft. Gerald McCoy should follow soon thereafter -- perhaps as quickly as the next pick. It wouldn't surprise me to see Earl Thomas and Sean Weatherspoon both as high first-round picks as well.

For a closer examination, I looked at every conference and compared offensive numbers from 2008 to 2009. The Big 12's figures were noteworthy, when compared to the rest of the nation.


It's interesting to note that the Big 12's per-team averages were down in yards per game, yards per play and scoring from 2008. The only other conferences where this trend occurred were in Conference USA and the Mid-American Conference.

And contrasting with this trend, the Southeastern Conference's figures in all three categories went up in 2009.

These figures are cyclical. But with the departure of so many dominant defensive players in 2010, along with the return of eight of 12 starting quarterbacks next season, we might see an increase from the numbers of this year.

If that happens, maybe we won't hear as much whining from the offensive coordinators, either.

Big 12 offensive production dipped in '09

January, 26, 2010
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Much was made during the past season about the Big 12 defenses had finally started catching up to the offenses across the conference.

Obviously, numbers would be expected to plummet with players like Chase Daniel, Graham Harrell, Michael Crabtree, Joe Ganz and Josh Freeman gone from last season. Toss in injuries to Sam Bradford, Kendall Hunter, Jermaine Gresham and Robert Griffin and offenses would be expected to be weaker.

But an underrated factor in the offensive decline across the Big 12 was the hard work of defensive coordinators across the conference.

Defensive coaches and players got tired of being humiliated on a weekly basis last season. It led them to come back determined to stop the offensive growth in the conference. The numbers bear out that they did a much better job in 2009 than the previous season.

Big 12 games of the decade

January, 20, 2010
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Every football fan has a different definition of what makes a game great. Some fans might prefer defensive struggles. Other enjoy torrents of points.

The Big 12 has provided a few of latter -- and more -- over the last decade with some of the most entertaining games in recent college football history.

Here are my favorite 10 games of the past decade. There are 10 to 15 other games that legitimately could have been included on this list.

1. Texas 41, USC 38 (Jan. 1, 2006): The Longhorns claimed the 2005 national title with a dramatic comeback capped by Vince Young’s game-winning 8-yard TD run with 19 seconds left. Michael Huff’s critical fourth-down stop of LenDale White set the stage on the preceding drive. And many observers still think that Pete Carroll could have gone for a game-tying field goal attempt on the final play of the game if he hadn't squandered a timeout before a two-point try after Young's TD run.

2. Texas Tech 39, Texas 33 (Nov. 1, 2008): Michael Crabtree’s 28-yard touchdown reception from Graham Harrell with one second remaining capped the wildest victory in Tech history -- made even more improbable after Blake Gideon dropped an interception on the play before Crabtree’s game-winning touchdown.

3. Boise State 43, Oklahoma 42 (Jan. 1, 2007): The Broncos won the 2007 Fiesta Bowl by fooling Bob Stoops’ team with three gadget plays: a game-tying hook and ladder play in regulation, an option pass from wide receiver Vinny Perretta to Derek Schouman in overtime to pull within one point and a game-winning two-point conversion by Ian Johnson on a Statue of Liberty play. Johnson proposed to his girlfriend, Chrissy Popadics, on the field after the play. After all the excitement, of course, she accepted.

4. Oklahoma State 49, Texas Tech 45 (Sept. 22, 2007): This classic offensive battle produced 62 first downs and 1,328 yards and wasn’t settled until Michael Crabtree dropped a potential game-winning touchdown pass in the end zone in the final minute of play. And we all still remember it more for the fireworks in the press conferences with Mike Leach and Mike Gundy than for what happened on the field, don’t we?

5. Oklahoma 35, Texas A&M 31 (Nov. 11, 2000): Torrance Marshall’s game-winning 41-yard interception return with 7:42 left enabled the Sooners to continue their charge to the 2000 national championship. Oklahoma overcame an 11-point deficit heading into the fourth quarter and a 10-point hole with less than 9 minutes remaining. Marshall’s heroics gave the Sooners the lead and the Oklahoma defense did the rest, turning away the Aggies twice deep in Oklahoma territory late in the game.

6. Kansas 40, Missouri 37 (Nov. 29, 2008): Four lead changes in the final 6:52 made this game memorable, even though Missouri had already clinched the North title coming into the game. Todd Reesing and Kerry Meier hooked up five times on the game-winning drive, capped by a 26-yard touchdown pass with 27 seconds left. Missouri had one last hope, but Jeff Wolfert’s 54-yard field goal attempt on the final play of the game was partially blocked by Phillip Strozier.

7. Texas 13, Nebraska 12 (Dec. 5, 2009) : In a conference that made its national reputation with wild offensive battles, it was refreshing to see a defensive struggle in the 2009 Big 12 title game. Nebraska, keyed by a ferocious defense that forced three interceptions and sacked Colt McCoy nine times, appeared to have taken control on a 42-yard field goal by Alex Henery with 1:44 left. Ndamukong Suh sacked McCoy a championship-game record 4.5 times. But McCoy withstood the rush and drove the Longhorns for the game-winning field goal after a controversial officiating decision put extra time back on the clock after it appeared the Longhorns had squandered their chance to win. Hunter Lawrence’s 46-yard field goal as time expired gave Texas the victory.

8. Texas 56, Oklahoma State 35 (Nov. 6, 2004): The Longhorns were in a 35-7 hole late in the second quarter before Vince Young hooked up on a 4-yard TD pass to Bo Scaife shortly before halftime. That opened the floodgates, as the Longhorns scored touchdowns on six straight drives. Cedric Benson rushed for 141 yards and five touchdowns and Vince Young rushed for 123 yards and completed 12 straight passes at one point en route to a then career-high 278 passing yards. The Longhorns piled up 600 yards of total offense in the wild comeback, outgaining the Cowboys 266-to-minus-5 in the third quarter of the comeback.

9. Nebraska 40, Colorado 31 (Nov. 28, 2008): Alex Henery’s school-record 57-yard field goal with 1:43 left gave the Cornhuskers the lead for good in this classic that Colorado needed to win to qualify for a bowl game. And Ndamukong Suh foreshadowed his monster season to come by icing the victory with a 30-yard interception return for a touchdown with 55 seconds left.

10. Baylor 35, Texas A&M 34 (Oct. 30, 2004): The Bears had been waiting for a long time for a chance to beat Texas A&M -- particularly after losing 73-10 to the Aggies in College Station the previous season. So it was understandable that Guy Morriss didn’t hesitate to go for the win after pulling within one point in overtime on Shawn Bell’s pass to Dominique Ziegler. Bell and Ziegler then hooked up again for the two-point conversion, snapping an 18-game winless streak to the Aggies.

Legendary Leach built Tech's program

December, 30, 2009
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Mike Leach’s firing wasn’t a surprise on Wednesday.

His attorney had predicted to several reporters earlier this week that his client would be let go by Texas Tech officials -- probably sooner rather than later.

[+] EnlargeMike Leach
Douglas Jones/US PresswireMike Leach led Texas Tech to 10 straight bowl appearances.
But it was still a cataclysmic shock in Lubbock and West Texas when Leach was let go earlier this morning. For a period after his firing was announced, the Lubbock Avalanche-Journal's Web site crashed due to interest in the story.

That firing speaks to a larger controversy than what happened over Adam James' concussion and “The Shed.”

Leach and Tech athletic director Gerald Myers always had a contentious relationship from the very beginning of his tenure there. It’s understandable when you consider the turf wars that sometimes develop in athletic departments when a headstrong former basketball coach is the athletic director and makes decisions over a similarly headstrong football coach.

It all started in 2002, when rumors about Leach’s off-field activities led to an investigation by the athletic department.

Leach was cleared, but the schism between him and his boss started at that time. At one point, Myers stopped Leach’s outgoing mail in a dispute about postage stamps.

It simmered early in Leach’s time when the Red Raiders played the toughest nonconference schedule in the Big 12 as a way to make money for the athletic department. During the 2002 season, for example, Tech played Ohio State, Mississippi and NC State in addition to the Big 12 South gauntlet.

That chapped Leach and he let Myers know about his concerns. The two always seemed to be better off if they were an arms-length away from the other.

Tech officials weren’t happy when news surfaced of Leach shopping himself for a number of major coaching openings over the past several years.

And it continued when he went through an extremely contentious negotiation with school officials before he was given a three-year extension on what was a five-year, $12.7 million contract. To get the deal done, Leach went over Myers’ head and personally negotiated with Tech chancellor Kent Hance.

Under terms of the contract, Leach was due an $800,000 bonus if he was still the Red Raiders’ coach on Thursday.

Now, it appears he won’t receive that bonus, although I’m sure the contract is headed for litigation between Leach and the school.

Even with the firing, Leach will be considered one of Tech’s top football coaches ever, leaving the school with a program he helped boost into contention in the extremely difficult Big 12 South Division. It’s not a stretch to say that he was one of the seminal figures in Big 12 history, helping transform the way offense was played from the ground-based philosophies of the old Southwest and Big Eight conferences into today’s high-powered aerial attacks that have become the national rage recently.

Leach built a program out of castoffs like Wes Welker, Michael Crabtree, Graham Harrell and Brandon Williams and turned them into a team that could consistently compete with teams like Texas and Oklahoma. The Red Raiders were ranked No. 2 in the nation for a three-week period during last year's 11-2 season, which was a national breakthrough for the school.

Leach was Texas Tech football. He was as much a part of Lubbock as dust storms, Buddy Holly’s statue and the blueberry muffins at the legendary Fifty-Yard Line Restaurant.

And no matter who follows Leach, he will face a mammoth chore of replacing a legend who directed the Red Raiders to 10 consecutive bowl appearances and more bowl victories in his tenure than the rest of the school’s 85-season football history combined.

The football program upstaged Myers’ basketball program and his hand-picked coach of choice, Bob Knight. Even with the legendary career leader in victories along the sidelines, the Red Raiders’ basketball team had trouble filling the United Spirit Arena or selling the personal-seat licenses that were intended to help build the facility.

But that wasn’t the case for the football program, which became a national phenomenon under their quirky coach. Tech’s success led to him being a cover story in the New York Times magazine and the subject of a fawning piece on CBS-TV’s "60 Minutes" late last season.

Leach gained notoriety for his fascination with pirates, mobsters and Indian chiefs. His stint as a weatherman on a Lubbock television station -- memorable because of his explanation of the local occurrence of “raining mud” -- became a YouTube staple with hundreds of thousands of hits.

He could coach a little, too. During what was expected to be a rebuilding job this season, Leach juggled three starting quarterbacks en route to an 8-4 mark and a berth in Saturday night’s Valero Alamo Bowl.

He’ll be gone from the sidelines in that game. The Red Raiders likely have the perfect solution to settle the upheaval with unassuming defensive coordinator Ruffin McNeill. He’s familiar with the players because of his recruiting and will give them the best opportunity to keep their program together against Michigan State on Saturday night.

But after that, it will be a different story.

Myers needs to mobilize quickly to salvage what had been the best recruiting season for Tech in recent years. Whether those recruits will be willing to stay firm on their commitments to the far-flung West Texas locale that is still one of the toughest recruiting destinations in the Big 12 will be interesting to see.

Leach carved an identity that made Tech one of the top 25 or 30 programs in the country over the past 10 years.

Now, we’ll see if his replacement can keep it there.

video
Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Griffin

Here are some trends I'll be watching across the Big 12 in Saturday's games:

1. Bowl eligibility beckons: Six Big 12 teams can earn bowl eligibility by winning on Saturday. Kansas State needs a victory to get to seven wins because the Wildcats played two FCS schools in nonconference play. They can get there by beating Missouri, which also become bowl eligible with a win. Iowa State and Kansas can similarly earn their sixth wins of the season. And the winner of the Oklahoma-Texas A&M game will get their sixth win and a likely chance to go bowling. It would be the latest point of the season that Bob Stoops has ever earned his way into bowl eligibility and the first time for Mike Sherman.

2. Can Baylor’s surprising recent passing surge continue against Texas’ strong secondary? Baylor quarterback Nick Florence set a school record by passing for 427 yards last week and blistering Missouri for three touchdown passes -- more than the two TD passes he had thrown in his previous 147 pass attempts of his career. Can his burgeoning confidence continue against an emerging Texas pass defense that has limited opponents to an average of 106 passing yards in the last three weeks, including two touchdown passes and six interceptions?

3. Can Cody Johnson emerge in his first start at running back for Texas? All signs point to the bullish 240-pound sophomore getting his first starting opportunity against the Bears. He’s already emerged as the Longhorns’ most consistent running threat among those in their struggling backfield. Will that carry over from the start of the game against a Baylor unit that ranks 82nd nationally in rush defense but is coming off a season-best performance after limiting Missouri to 10 yards rushing last week?

4. Kansas redshirt freshman starting guard Trevor Marrongelli: He’ll get his second career start against Nebraska defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh. It will be a tall order against Suh, who had 12 tackles, three tackles for losses and 2.5 sacks last season against a blocker with far more experience for Kansas. Suh even added a rushing touchdown late in the game last year to punctuate his breakout game. His candidacy for the Outland Trophy, other individual awards and maybe even the Heisman Trophy might hit overdrive Saturday competing against such a novice opponent.

5. Which Nebraska quarterback emerges against Kansas? Cody Green struggled in five three-and-out possessions against Oklahoma before he was pulled by Bo Pelini. Zac Lee wasn’t much better, but the Cornhuskers moved the ball well enough to score 10 points with him in control to claim the gritty victory. Will Pelini go back to Lee after starting Green for the last two games? Or will he continue to start the more athletic Green, who should be able to run better against the less-imposing Kansas defense than against the Sooners. Whoever starts will be vital as the Cornhuskers attempt to claim their fourth straight conference road game for the first time since 1999-2000 and take another step to their first Big 12 North title since 2006.

6. How much has Oklahoma State’s pass defense improved since last season? The Cowboys were singed for 516 passing yards and seven touchdown passes by Graham Harrell and Taylor Potts last season in Texas Tech’s 56-20 victory in Lubbock. But Harrell is gone and the Cowboys are much improved with an 11-to-11 touchdown pass to interception ratio and the nation’s 33rd ranked team in pass efficiency defense. Mike Leach isn’t saying who his starter will be, but whoever emerges will have a more difficult time against Bill Young’s retooled defense than last season.

7. Who will start and play for Texas Tech at quarterback? Leach has thrown out some not-so-subtle hints that Steven Sheffield might be ready to return to action after recovering from a broken foot in the Red Raiders’ Oct. 17 victory at Nebraska that originally was expected to sideline him for up to six weeks. Potts has received the majority of snaps this week at quarterback, making him appear to be the likely starter. But would Leach have a quick hook to replace him with Sheffield or Seth Doege if the Red Raiders sputter offensively?

8. Can Iowa State get its running game back against Colorado? The Cyclones were leading the league in rushing before producing a season-low 54 yards against Oklahoma State last week. They shouldn’t be as challenged against a Colorado defense that ranks 72nd nationally and ninth in the conference against the run. The Cyclones desperately need to get Alexander Robinson involved early to help boost a struggling offense that has produced only three touchdowns in its last 13 quarters. Bowl hopes might be riding on it.

9. How will Missouri contain Brandon Banks on kickoffs? The Tigers have struggled all season covering kickoffs, allowing 24.33 yards per return to rank 104th nationally. They will be supremely challenged against Kansas State’s Banks, who ranks sixth nationally with a 31.4 yard-per-return average and has already returned a Big 12-record four kicks for touchdowns this season. Banks is within one kick return for a touchdown of tying the NCAA single-season record of five, set by Tulsa’s Ashlan Davis in 2004. He also needs one more kick return for a TD to tie the national career record of six set by USC’s Anthony Davis from 1972-74 and Davis in 2004-05. Missouri has to do a better job against Banks, or it could be a long day for the Tigers -- especially as KSU coach Bill Snyder will be gunning for his 14th straight victory over the Tigers.

10. How will the makeshift Oklahoma offensive line play against Texas A&M? The loss of Brody Eldridge and Jarvis Jones to season-ending injuries further exacerbated the Sooners’ lack of depth along the offensive front. Oklahoma will likely have a rotation of only eight offensive linemen against the Aggies, who notched eight sacks against Colorado last week, are tied for third nationally in sacks and feature the nation’s sack leader in Von Miller. The Sooners’ line must do a better job of protecting Landry Jones, as well as staying away from the sloppy penalties that marked their loss to Nebraska last week.

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