NCF Nation: Hubert Anyiam

Big 12 spring football preview

February, 21, 2012
Spring football is already under way at Texas Tech, but in the coming weeks, the Big 12's other nine programs will join the Red Raiders in taking the field as a team for the first time since January, December or November for some.

Here's a preview of what to expect:


Spring practice start date: March 19
Spring game: April 14

What to watch:
  • Nick Florence: It's not official, but the Baylor quarterback job is Florence's to lose. That means he inherits the unenviable task of replacing the school's first Heisman winner. He replaced RG3 in 2009 with mixed results, but showed some major potential in a win over Texas Tech when RG3 took a shot to the head and sat out the second half. Can he keep the bowl streak alive at Baylor? We'll get an idea this spring.
  • The defense's progression: You didn't need to see much more than the 67-56 Alamo Bowl win over Washington to know the Bears needed some work on defense. In the month of November, Baylor became the first team in FBS history to win four consecutive games in a single season while also giving up at least 30 points in each of those games. The defense can't make Florence pick up the slack to that level. Year 2 under Phil Bennett must be better. Baylor has no excuses. The Bears have the athletes on campus necessary to be at least a decent defense.
  • The team's attitude/motivation: Baylor played with a lot of purpose the past two seasons, and made history in both, cracking a 16-year bowl drought and winning 10 games this year. Is that fire still there? Baylor has to prove it is without RG3 (and Kendall Wright) carrying the team on the field, emotionally and mentally.

Spring practice start date: March 20
Spring game: April 14

What to watch:
  • The quarterback battle: Or is it? Jared Barnett looked like the man of the future in Ames late in the season, leading the Cyclones to an historic upset of No. 2 Oklahoma State. But in the ugly Pinstripe Bowl loss to a mediocre Rutgers team, Barnett's inaccuracy posed big questions. He was benched and Steele Jantz stepped in, though he didn't play much better than Barnett. Turnovers were an issue for Jantz early on, but Barnett has to bounce back in the spring to make sure the job doesn't come open.
  • The receivers: Darius Reynolds was the big-play man for the Cyclones, but he's gone. It's going to be tough to replace him. Slot receivers Aaron Horne and Josh Lenz were productive, but did little to stretch defenses like Reynolds did. Can ISU find someone to fill the void?
  • The new man at left tackle: Iowa State had the luxury of having a future pro, Kelechi Osemele, at left tackle for the past three seasons. He earned All-Big 12 nods in each of those seasons, but he's gone now. Junior Carter Bykowski was behind Osemele on the depth chart, but will the converted tight end be the new man at tackle for the Cyclones?

Spring practice start date: March 27
Spring game: April 28

What to watch:
  • Uh, everything?: I mean, what's not to watch at KU? Charlie Weis steps in for the fired Turner Gill and tries to build KU up from nothing. The Jayhawks were one of the worst teams in Big 12 history last season, losing six games by at least 30 points. Weis will speak his mind and watching him rebuilding the Jayhawks is going to be fun. It all starts next month -- on the field, at least.
  • KU's new pass-catch combo: Dayne Crist is on campus, and so is Oklahoma transfer Justin McCay, a former blue-chip recruit who didn't quite catch on in Norman. Quarterback and receiver were arguably the two biggest positions of need for KU last year, and we'll get a preview of what could be a productive combo next season. McCay isn't officially eligible for the 2012 season yet -- he needs the NCAA to waive its mandated redshirt year after a transfer -- but the coaching staff is confident he'll have it granted.
  • The uncertainty on the depth chart: When a new staff comes in, you never know what to expect. Kansas' leading rusher in its final season under Mark Mangino, Toben Opurum, is now one of its best defensive linemen. Look for Weis to shake things up, too. Where? Who knows?

Spring practice start date: April 4
Spring game: April 28

What to watch:
  • Collin Klein's maturation: Kansas State's quarterback could be fun to watch this spring and next fall. His throwing motion isn't pretty, but his accuracy improved in a big way throughout the season. If that continues at a pace anything close to what we saw last year, K-State's going to be a load for everyone. Look out.
  • Developing depth at running back: John Hubert is back, and so is seldom-used Angelo Pease. Bryce Brown is gone, though. Klein handles a lot of the heavy lifting in the running game, but it'd be some nice insurance if K-State could establish some more depth in the backfield. Making Klein carry the ball 300 times again is tempting fate.
  • Stars becoming superstars: Kansas State brings back more starters than all but seven teams in college football, so this team is going to look remarkably similar in 2012 to the way it did last year. However, it should get better. And its two transfers could look dominant this spring. Cornerback Nigel Malone and linebacker Arthur Brown emerged as stars last year, but we could see the duo emerge as true game-changers this spring. Look out, Big 12 offenses.

Spring practice start date: March 8
Spring game: April 14

What to watch:
  • New faces on, off the field: Mike Stoops' arrival as the defensive coordinator was the biggest news this offseason in the Big 12, and Brent Venables, who had been at OU for all of Bob Stoops' tenure, left for Clemson rather than become co-defensive coordinator. Hopes are high that Stoops can revitalize Oklahoma's defense. He was in charge when the Sooners rode a dominant D to the 2000 national title, and the Sooners have the talent to win it all in 2012. Receiver Trey Metoyer joins the team this spring, and could be a major contributor immediately. Two of the team's four new tight ends are also enrolled early.
  • QB Blake Bell's role: The Belldozer is back … but so is full-time quarterback Landry Jones. How will the balance between the duo look this spring? And what new wrinkles will we see in Oklahoma's simple, yet near-unstoppable short-yardage formation that scored 13 touchdowns in the second half of 2011?
  • The battle at defensive end: Oklahoma must fill two huge holes at defensive end. Big 12 Defensive Player of the Year Frank Alexander is gone, as is possible first-round pick Ronnell Lewis. R.J. Washington contributed late and has potential, but David King filled in for Lewis in the final three games of the season. The duo could be great, but it could also be pretty pedestrian. We'll get an idea this spring, but Lewis and Alexander set a high, high bar.

Spring practice start date: March 12
Spring game: April 21

What to watch:
  • The quarterback battle: This will easily be the highest-profile, highest-quality quarterback battle in the Big 12. It won't be at the level of Texas Tech in 2010, but it won't be too far off. Clint Chelf, J.W. Walsh and Wes Lunt will go head to head. All have plenty of potential, though Lunt may have the most. The big-armed true freshman also has the least experience. Anything could happen here.
  • Which receivers rise: Justin Blackmon and Josh Cooper leave huge holes behind. It's not every day a two-time Biletnikoff Award winner walks on campus. Hubert Anyiam is gone, too. Michael Harrison is unlikely to play for the 2012 season, but the school has offered no confirmation on his status. He had the most potential, but OSU is deep at the position. Who emerges as the top target? Isaiah Anderson? Tracy Moore? Josh Stewart? Anything could happen there, too.
  • Defense needs a leader: Safety Markelle Martin has been the heart of the defense the past two seasons, but his big-hitting days are over. Who becomes the new voice of the defense? It needs to find leadership this spring heading into summer voluntary workouts.

Spring practice start date: Feb. 23
Spring game: April 1

What to watch:
  • The quarterback competition: I still think having a competition at the spot, which Texas says it will, isn't the best option, but David Ash and Case McCoy will go at it alongside early-enrolling freshman Connor Brewer. If Ash secures the job, expect an announcement heading into summer officially anointing the sophomore.
  • More sophistication on both sides of the ball: The progression is natural and likely. Offensive coordinator Bryan Harsin and defensive coordinator Manny Diaz had good first years in Austin, but this is Year 2. The spring won't be devoted to learning the playbook. It's time to master it. Both units could look markedly different, and much more refined next fall. Deny it all you like: Texas is back on its way to the top after a rough two years.
  • Maturing offensive weapons: Last season, the Longhorns relied on two true freshman running backs (Malcolm Brown/Joe Bergeron), a freshman/sophomore rotation at quarterback and its top receiver (Jaxon Shipley) was a true freshman. No. 2 (Mike Davis) was a sophomore. I hope I don't have to tell you what freshmen and sophomores do in college football. Look. Out.

Spring practice start date: Feb. 25
Spring end date: April 5

What to watch:
  • Can TCU shut out the scandal? Four team members were arrested in a recent drug sting and kicked off the team. How much of a distraction will that be for a program undergoing the most monumental change in its history? Quantifying the effects of the scandal will be pretty impossible, and we've got no idea how they'll handle the change, but will it be on players' minds?
  • The offense tightens up: The Horned Frogs' offense is absolutely loaded and ready to go for 2012. Quarterback Casey Pachall returns and brings his top three weapons (Josh Boyce, Skye Dawson and Brandon Carter) with him. Running backs Waymon James, Ed Wesley and Matthew Tucker each topped 700 yards rushing in 2011 and all return. The spring will be all about fine-tuning an already stellar offense, and it'll be fun to watch.
  • Replacing departed starters: All-America linebacker Tanner Brock was among the four football players arrested and booted from the team, as was all-conference defensive tackle D.J. Yendrey and likely starting safety Devin Johnson. Those were unforeseen losses, but TCU can't feel sorry for itself. Gary Patterson has no choice but to find new faces to fill those holes.

Spring practice start date: Feb. 17
Spring game: March 24

What to watch:
  • Once again, a new defense: Texas Tech sounds like a broken record these days when it comes to defensive coordinators. This time, Art Kaufman will be stepping to the microphone as the fourth defensive coordinator in Lubbock in four years. He's bringing a 4-3, a shift back to what Ruffin McNeil ran in 2009. Chad Glasgow's 4-2-5 and James Willis' 3-4 failed miserably in 2011 and 2010, respectively, the first two years under Tommy Tuberville.
  • The battle at running back: No one knows yet if Eric Stephens will be back next season. There's still a long way to go in his rehab from a dislocated knee he suffered last season in a loss to Texas A&M. DeAndre Washington is also out this spring after tearing his ACL against Missouri. Harrison Jeffers hung up his cleats. Who will prove to be reliable this spring? Look for the Red Raiders to try to use sophomore Bradley Marquez, freshman Javares McRoy and junior SaDale Foster in a manner similar to the way Oregon uses scatback De'Anthony Thomas, with lots of short passes and bubble screens to get them the ball in space, where they can use their speed and shiftiness to make plays.
  • Team health: Tuberville said earlier this month that the team is missing 15 players this spring. It can't afford any more injuries. It's already going to be tough to get enough done this spring, but Tech can't start getting banged up.

Spring practice start date: March 11
Spring game: April 21

What to watch:
  • Dana Holgorsen's offense in Year 2: Holgorsen didn't get a chance to coach his talented offense at Oklahoma State in its second year. The results could have been crazy. They might be at West Virginia in 2012, and the beginning steps will be taken this spring as Geno Smith & Co. get more and more comfortable with the system and Holgorsen adds more wrinkles.
  • The battle at running back: Sophomore Dustin Garrison hurt his knee in practices leading up to the Mountaineers' 70-33 Orange Bowl win over Clemson, and won't be there for the spring. What does senior Shawne Alston have in store for the spring? Garrison was the featured back last season, but a big spring could help Alston earn a few carries next year.
  • Defense needs help: Najee Goode leaves a big hole at linebacker, and defensive back Eain Smith's exit means the Mountaineers enter the season without two of their top three tacklers from a year ago. Bruce Irvin and Julian Miller's talents on the defensive line will be tough to replace, and in a league that requires a great pass rush, Irvin, Goode and Miller's 19 combined sacks must be replaced somehow.

Cowboys, Justin Blackmon ready to go

October, 29, 2011
STILLWATER, Okla. -- It's a gorgeous homecoming Saturday in Stillwater that's perfect for football.

A little morning chill turned into a nice afternoon, which features a strong forecast for cloud-free sunshine and Justin Blackmon.

The Oklahoma State receiver got "dinged" in the head and sat out the majority of last week's win over Missouri, but the reigning Biletnikoff Award winner will be back on the field for the Cowboys.

It's Homecoming weekend here in Stillwater, and the house decorations were pretty high quality from what I saw on the drive into Boone Pickens Stadium in town. More than 50,000 people braved the chill last night to celebrate the occasion.

But back to football.

The Cowboys will need Blackmon today against a high-powered Baylor offense. Both of these teams can do just about anything on offense, which should make this one a fun game to watch.

Baylor's offense will be at full strength, but Oklahoma State is dealing with the loss of receiver Hubert Anyiam, who's likely to miss the rest of the season with a broken bone in his foot.

That will make life a little tougher on quarterback Brandon Weeden, but even though Anyiam will be replaced by suitable receivers Michael Harrison and Isaiah Anderson, look for slot receiver Josh Cooper to get the ball thrown his way a little more.

We'll have plenty of coverage right here throughout the day.

Cowboys faced with unfortunate reality

October, 27, 2011
Cliches don't mean much until they become personal.

"One guy goes down, you have to replace him," said Oklahoma State receiver Josh Cooper this week.

For Oklahoma State, the cliche is all too real this week after being forced to watch senior receiver Hubert Anyiam roam the sidelines in a protective boot after breaking a bone in his foot during Saturday's win over Missouri.

[+] EnlargeOklahoma State's Hubert Anyiam
Brett Davis/US PRESSWIREHubert Anyiam was Oklahoma State's No. 3 receiver, having accounted for 27 catches, 370 yards and 3 TDs this season.
"If he’s down in the dumps, he’s not showing it," Cooper said.

Anyiam led the team in receiving in 2009 before suffering through an ankle injury for the majority of 2010. This year, Anyiam was healthy and productive, racking up 370 receiving yards and three touchdowns. Now, his career is likely over.

"It really, really tore me up when we lost Hubert. He’s done such a great job for us, been such a great kid," coach Mike Gundy said. "I told him I hated it for him and that he’s still a big part of our team, and that he needs to stay focused, he needs to make sure he’s going to class and doing all the other things. He’s had a great career here. It’s unfortunate that things like this happen, but I believe everything happens for a reason, and up until he couldn’t play anymore, he gave us great effort and did everything he could to be a factor on our team. I was very proud of him."

Now, the Big 12's top offense is without one of its top weapons. And with no other choice, has to move on to the five games standing between it and the national title game.

"The other players, Josh and the other wide receivers, will have to make some more plays now," Gundy said.

Cooper has been the team's clear No. 2 receiver behind Biletnikoff Award winner Justin Blackmon.

"Running short routes, getting inside ... Making plays on third downs, and once Black gets coverage over the top, I try to come down in the middle or something and make plays. He draws those defenders off for me," Cooper said. "That’s just kind of what I do in this offense."

He'll be doing the same thing, but look for the ball to come his way a lot more without Anyiam. Isaiah Anderson and Michael Harrison will slide in to try and fill Anyiam's void.

"[Anyiam] is a great blocker and he’s made a lot of plays for us, but those guys can also make plays. Mike’s been making plays all year long, and I’m sure he can keep doing it for us," Cooper said.

What to watch in the Big 12: Week 9

October, 27, 2011
Here's what I'm watching for in the Big 12 this weekend.

1. Kansas State Snydering so hard on Oklahoma. No risky plays for big losses. No head-scratching turnovers (seven in 2011, the fewest in the Big 12). No penalties (only OU has fewer than K-State's 41) and opportunistic special teams and defense. Oklahoma's more talented, but K-State has put itself in position to win games this year ... and then won them. I'd be surprised if K-State wasn't in position to win another game via Snyderball.

[+] EnlargeBill Snyder
Michael C. Johnson/US PresswireWill Kansas State coach Bill Snyder have his team in position to win another game and remain unbeaten?
2. Bounce back for the Sooners' stars. Landry Jones' accuracy was off last week against Texas Tech. Ryan Broyles had a dropped pass and an inexplicable fumble that we haven't seen from him often, if ever. Kansas State's defense will be better than Tech, but will the Sooners' offense rebound? Those two will need to make it happen.

3. RG3 on the loose. Oklahoma State fans love noting that the most-often statuesque Brandon Weeden (19 yards) outrushed the track star Robert Griffin III (15) in last year's win over Baylor. Will that be the case again? Or will RG3 go back to having success as a true dual threat?

4. Brandon Weeden's complementary threats. The Cowboys think Justin Blackmon is going to play after getting "dinged" in the head last week and undergoing concussion tests this week. If he does, he won't have Hubert Anyiam with him. Isaiah Anderson slides into his role, but does Weeden look Josh Cooper's way more without his fellow No. 2 target?

5. Which Kansas shows up? Texas is a winnable game for KU, but the Jayhawks went from showing some fight for a game and a half against OU and Kansas State to getting trounced in the second half. A win on Saturday would be the biggest for Turner Gill at Kansas, and would go a long way toward inspiring some confidence in the future. The Jayhawks are just 1-18 in their past 19 Big 12 games, dating back to the final seven games of 2009, before Gill arrived.

6. The Texas quarterback shuffle. Case McCoy and David Ash have split reps in practice this week, despite Ash playing the entirety of a loss to Oklahoma State two weeks ago. Does anyone make a case for himself as the full-time starter this week against Kansas? Or does this dance continue? My bet is the latter.

7. Texas Tech's receivers. Darrin Moore was on the field, but clearly not healthy against Oklahoma last week. Alex Torres and Eric Ward picked up the slack very nicely. Does the offense get another boost as Moore returns to being the big-play weapon he was in the first couple of games this season?

8. Jared Barnett. Iowa State's freshman quarterback is making his first start, after filling in with lots of good moments and a few bad ones against Texas A&M last week. Can Darius Reynolds help out after struggling last week, and can Josh Lenz keep making plays to help the Cyclones pull the upset?

9. Big plays, but for whom? Texas A&M might have the most fascinating defense in the country this year -- leading the nation in sacks, but giving up more passing yards than anyone. Which does Missouri quarterback James Franklin see more of on Saturday? It'll be a tough atmosphere, but these are two of the best rushing teams in the league.

10. S-E ... see? I mean, this just has to be awkward. Do Texas A&M fans and Missouri fans engage in a flirtatious S-E-C chant? Does either team begin a misguided taunt before realizing the other is coming with them? Hopefully there's some pregame conversations to discuss chanting logistics.

Pokes lose WR Anyiam for the season

October, 22, 2011
Oklahoma State receiver Hubert Anyiam will miss the rest of the season after he broke his foot in Saturday's 45-24 win over Missouri.

Anyiam caught one pass for 31 yards, but spent the second half on the sidelines in a boot after the injury.

You hate to see that for Anyiam, who played through a painful ankle injury for much of 2010. This, after leading the team in receiving in 2009 when Dez Bryant missed the season's final 10 games with an NCAA suspension.

This season, he had finally gotten going again, catching 10 passes in a game against Texas A&M and grabbing two touchdown passes against Kansas. He was third on the team with 27 catches for 370 yards and three touchdowns.

Now, the senior's career at Oklahoma is presumably over.

Oklahoma State's receiving corps is deep. Talents like Tracy Moore, Michael Harrison and Josh Stewart will have to be relied on as the next option behind Justin Blackmon and Josh Cooper. They can handle it.

Still, this is a hit for the Cowboys' offense and a tough break for Anyiam.

New coordinator, same results for OSU

September, 9, 2011
Justin BlackmonBrett Deering/Getty ImagesJustin Blackmon continued his string of 100-yard games in Oklahoma State's blow out of Arizona.
STILLWATER, Okla. -- There was no bigger question surrounding Oklahoma State's program. Yeah, last season was fun, but did your offense pack up and move to Morgantown?

Former offensive coordinator Dana Holgorsen revived an offense that a year ago looked like it was tentatively piecing together building blocks for a marginal run in years to come. But by season's end, the Cowboys were near the top of the college football world offensively -- looking up at only Oregon and Boise State. But as quickly as he came, he left for West Virginia, where he's now the head coach.

Back in what is, at least for now, Big 12 country? So far so good. Oklahoma State beat Arizona 37-14 just months after doing the same in the Alamo Bowl in Holgorsen's last hurrah while wearing orange.

"It's still the same guys blocking, catching, throwing, running," quarterback Brandon Weeden said. "I think [Dana] is one of the best playcallers in college football, but you've still got to execute. ... The transition's been really smooth."

Everyone knew that Oklahoma State returned much of last season's team, which won a school-record 11 games. But who deserved the credit for the rise with so little experience and even lower expectations?

[+] EnlargeOklahoma State's Brandon Weeden
AP Photo/Sue OgrockiOklahoma State's Brandon Weeden completed 42 of 53 passes for 397 yards and two touchdowns -- both to Justin Blackmon.
Holgorsen's offense hung 34 points on Marshall in its Morgantown opener, but it's pretty clear by now that he didn't string together a record-setting offense in Stillwater with a bunch of scrubs.

For now, 2011 looks very much like a carbon copy of 2010.

Score 60 points in the season opener? Check.

Justin Blackmon racking up 100 yards receiving? Check.

Keep Weeden above 300 yards passing in both? Check, and he didn't even do that in 2010.

Beat Arizona by four touchdowns? Check, give or take a few points.

New coordinator Todd Monken's biggest tests are on the way, but the warmups? He's aced them all.

"Todd's doing fine," said coach Mike Gundy.

Out-of-character penalties stalled a few drives that could have put even more points on the board, but Oklahoma State has shown signs that it might be even better in 2011 armed with the experience from last year's overachieving season.

Weeden broke his own school record for completions on Thursday night with his 35th, and that was before the fourth quarter even began. He finished 42-of-53 for 397 yards and two touchdowns, both on goal-line fade routes to Blackmon.

Oklahoma State's top two backs, Joseph Randle and Jeremy Smith, combined for 186 yards and three touchdowns on 26 carries.

Volume and balance, two very good words coaches like Monken want associated with their offenses.

"I was just focused from the minute I ran out of the tunnel," Weeden said. "The confidence when you get a couple short ones and you hit a long one and then a couple more short ones, you just get that confidence. You get in the flow of the game and that's kind of how it went."

Expectations were high. For now, Monken's taken a more experienced offense higher.

"I want to be somewhere where the expectations are high and there's good players. So, if you're afraid of that, you'll never go any place where they've got good players and you're afraid of following in someone's footsteps," Monken said. "I'm not really worried about that. I came here because I knew the place was different when I was here before and has got good football players that give us a chance to win every week."

Oklahoma State might do exactly that this season. Early on, at least, it looked capable. And for as much well-deserved attention as Weeden and Blackmon draw, they're far from alone.

"Last year, it was kind of like Kendall [Hunter], Blackmon and Brandon," Blackmon said. "Now, you've got Joseph and Jeremy back in the backfield. You got receivers Hubert [Anyiam] and Josh [Cooper] on one side with Tracy [Moore] on the other. And you've also got Mike Harrison out there making plays. Overall, you've just got more people out there making plays."

Weeden completed a pass to 11 receivers on Thursday. Even the punter, Quinn Sharp, had more rushing yards than any single Arizona running back. His 23-yard scamper on a third-quarter fake was more than the 22 and 19 yards Arizona's top backs finished with.

Penalties plagued Oklahoma State, in part because of confusion surrounding what a new rule stipulates receivers can and can't do on cut blocks. But Gundy's well aware of what he has.

"One concern I have with this team, is they're so experienced on offense, and they're so confident in themselves, that I don't want them to think they can just go out there and it's going to happen," Gundy said.

That didn't happen Thursday night, despite a mid-game lull with a comfortable 21-7 lead.

But as the season progresses, Weeden, Blackmon & Co. will go out there. And it probably will happen.

But trust that both will do what's necessary to make it happen. Regardless of who's up in the booth.

What's the Big 12's power position?

August, 12, 2011
The Pac-12's quarterbacks are the class of the nation.

In the SEC, 2011 looks like it will be all about the running back.

The Big 12? There's no question what the best position is. Linebacker might have made a reasonable case a few months ago, but the best and deepest position in the Big 12 is wide receiver.

No league can duplicate its talent at the top.

[+] EnlargeOklahoma State's Justin Blackmon
Mark D Smith/US PRESSWIREJustin Blackmon headlines a talented group of receivers in the Big 12 this season. Blackmon caught 111 passes for 1,782 yards and 20 TDs in 2010.
Justin Blackmon at Oklahoma State returns after winning the Biletnikoff Award a season ago as college football's best receiver.

He'll be one of the favorites for the award, and with his quarterback, Brandon Weeden, back on campus too, there's no reason to believe Blackmon can't win it again.

The league's second-best receiver? He's also arguably the nation's second-best receiver. Oklahoma's Ryan Broyles was one of three finalists for the Biletnikoff Award and holds nearly every record in Oklahoma's school record book.

The two receivers were Nos. 1 and 3 nationally in receptions, combining to haul in a staggering 242 passes in a combined 26 starts last season.

Beyond the duo in the state of Oklahoma is physical, 6-foot-4, 215-pound Jeff Fuller at Texas A&M, who became the first Texas A&M receiver to ever record a 1,000-yard season.

Like Blackmon and Broyles, he turned down NFL money for another year in the college game and, you guessed it, he returns his quarterback, too.

Ryan Tannehill is back for the Aggies, who begin the season in the top 10, the program's highest ranking since 1999. Fuller is a huge reason why.

But past the talent at the top is a stable of fantastic receivers that could be set for even bigger seasons.

Missouri's T.J. Moe was the fourth receiver in the Big 12 to record a 1,000-yard season in 2010, and his teammate Michael Egnew (more a receiver than a tight end, anyway) could get close in 2011 after catching 90 passes for 762 yards alongside him.

Ryan Swope works the slot while Fuller dominates outside at Texas A&M, and Swope caught a handful of huge touchdowns, including a fourth-quarter, game-tying TD against Oklahoma State and a game-clinching score against Oklahoma. He finished with 72 catches for 825 yards and four touchdowns.

Baylor's Robert Griffin has a solid set of receivers to find, headlined by Kendall Wright, a speedy sub-6-footer who caught 78 passes for 952 yards and seven touchdowns, his third consecutive season leading the team in receiving.

Oklahoma State's Blackmon isn't alone. Josh Cooper worked the slot for the Cowboys last year and Hubert Anyiam could be in for a big year after battling through injuries in 2010, a year after leading the team in receiving in 2009.

Broyles is great at Oklahoma, but sophomore Kenny Stills broke both of Broyles' freshman records in 2010 with 61 catches for 786 yards. Could he be after more later in the season?

It should be a good year in the Big 12 with plenty of talent. But it's deepest at receiver.
Moving on in our rankings of the top 10 at each position in the Big 12 entering 2011.

Here are the top 10s you've missed so far:
There's no question that receiver is the strongest position for the Big 12, which has the most talent at the position of any conference in America. Considering the lack of elite talents on the defensive line and at cornerback in this league, look for these guys to put up big numbers this season.

[+] EnlargeJustin Blackmon
Chuck Cook/US PresswireOklahoma State's Justin Blackmon enters the season as arguably the best receiver in the nation.
1. Justin Blackmon, Oklahoma State: Blackmon's big year met a big finish, earning him the Biletnikoff Award as the nation's top receiver. He'll be the favorite again this year thanks to his quarterback's decision to return. Last season he had 111 catches for 1,782 yards and 20 touchdowns. His touchdown and yardage numbers led the nation in 2010, and he also topped our ranking of the Big 12's top 25 players in 2010.

2. Ryan Broyles, Oklahoma: Broyles lost his spot as the Big 12's top receiver, but he's still a Biletnikoff finalist and my pick as the nation's No. 2 receiver, right behind Blackmon. Broyles led the nation with 131 catches a season ago, turning them into 1,620 yards and 14 scores as a valuable piece of the Sooners' passing game, long and short. Broyles (5-foot-10, 188 pounds) doesn't have Blackmon's size (6-foot-1, 315 pounds), but what he lacks in the ability to muscle up defenders, he possesses in a feel for space and precision route-running.

3. Jeff Fuller, Texas A&M: Fuller might get more attention if he played in another league, but he's sadly a bit overlooked in the Big 12 behind Broyles and Blackmon, doomed to difficulty earning All-Big 12 first-team honors, despite being the first Texas A&M receiver to ever record a 1,000-yard season and staking a solid claim as one of college football's top five receivers. Look for Fuller to top his 1,066 yards, 72 catches and 12 scores this year.

4. T.J. Moe, Missouri: This fourth spot is close, but I went with Moe, who lacks the physical speed and strength of Kendall Wright, but has perhaps unrivaled sense for space among any receiver in the Big 12, save Broyles. Just 19 attempts separated Missouri and Baylor's passing offenses, but Moe caught 14 more passes than Wright and accounted for almost 100 more yards, catching just one fewer touchdown. You could make a case for Wright at No. 4, but I'm going with Moe for now.

5. Kendall Wright, Baylor: He's the top target for Robert Griffin III, and if Josh Gordon's suspension carries through the season opener, the Bears will need a big game from the 5-foot-10, 190-pounder to beat TCU. He's topped 50 catches and 600 yards in each of the past three seasons with constant improvement, but 2011 might be the year he finally tops the 1,000-yard mark.

6. Kenny Stills, Oklahoma: Stills is one of two sophomores on this list, and no other freshman receivers in 2010 really came close to his production. Stills showed lots of promise in spring and fall camp after enrolling early, and finished with 786 yards and five touchdowns on 61 catches, entrenching himself as the Sooners' No. 2 target and the heir apparent to Broyles, who will be a senior in 2011. Much bigger things should be ahead for Stills.

7. Ryan Swope, Texas A&M: Swope proved a huge complement to Fuller, hauling in some of the biggest catches of the season for the Aggies, including touchdowns against Oklahoma and Oklahoma State. He finished with 825 yards and four touchdowns on 72 receptions, and should be poised for similar production in a similar role this season.

8. Josh Cooper, Oklahoma State: Cooper gets overlooked with the amount of talent in the Big 12, but he was a huge part of Oklahoma State's passing game last season, catching 68 passes for 736 yards and five touchdowns. He might have to hold off teammate Hubert Anyiam for touches in 2011 to remain on this list, but for now, Cooper gets some recognition for a job well done that not enough people saw.

9. Alex Torres, Texas Tech: Torres' numbers (39 rec, 481 yards, 3 TD) took a tumble in 2010, but I give him the benefit of the doubt and keep him on this list after battling through a frustrating back injury for the majority of his sophomore season. He's got tons of promise, and as long as he stays healthy, should get plenty of opportunities as a junior in 2011 after the Red Raiders lost both of their top two receivers from last season's team.

10. Mike Davis, Texas: Davis needs help from his offensive line and especially his quarterback (whoever it ends up being), but he was impressive enough to become one of the Longhorns' top receivers as just a freshman, catching 47 passes for 478 yards and a pair of touchdowns. If Texas' offense improves, look for Davis' numbers to skyrocket and flirt with 1,000 yards.

Just missed: Josh Gordon, Baylor; Jerrell Jackson, Missouri
Oklahoma State won a school-record 11 games last season, which only fuels fan desires for even more victories. They've tasted it, you might say, and were a few bounces away from the program's first Big 12 Championship appearance.

So what's in store for the encore?

KC Joyner says the Cowboys are one of his five teams Insider that may be headed for a significant drop-off next season. You'll need ESPN Insider access to read the whole thing, but here's what Joyner has to say about Boone's Boys.
Offensive hurdle: The Cowboys' offense will be going through more adjustments than a team that is replacing two starters normally would. Oklahoma State lost its offensive coordinator (Dana Holgorsen, now the head coach at West Virginia), an All-American running back (Kendall Hunter) and its No. 3 wideout (Bo Bowling).

Defensive hurdle: Oklahoma State's defense faced more plays from scrimmage than any other team in the Big 12 last year (1,069). Because the Cowboys' offensive game plan this season figures to be as fast-paced as the one Holgorsen called in 2010, it means that the six new starters on this side of the ball will have their endurance tested quite often.

X factor: Oklahoma State was the only Big 12 team to finish the 2010 season with a turnover margin of even or better in every conference contest. That feat will be hard to replicate.

Joyner makes plenty of interesting points that aren't quite so obvious, namely the increased impact of turnover on the defensive side of the ball for teams with high-paced offenses.

I don't see the Bowling loss as a big one; Josh Cooper can fill his role as long as he stays healthy, and I see Hubert Anyiam stepping in for a big season opposite Justin Blackmon.

The turnover advantages may make last season's accomplishments seem suspect, but Oklahoma State didn't play many close games where turnovers might have shifted the entire game, similar to what Texas experienced in 2010.

The season-defining Thursday night win over Texas A&M was the most obvious example (OSU won the turnover battle 5-3, and the game on a last-second field goal set up by, yes, a turnover), but the rest of the wins?

Oklahoma State won just one other game by single digits, an early season near disaster against Troy. The only other remotely close game was a 24-14 road win over Kansas State, but the Cowboys were forced to play without the Big 12's best player in 2010: Blackmon.

So, this isn't Michigan State in 2010 or Iowa in 2009 we're talking about, i.e. teams hanging on with late heroics to win tight games.

But what do you think? Is Oklahoma State headed for a drop-off? Vote in our poll.
The Big 12 might be weak at the top of the running back heap, but it's definitely not at receiver. The conference has at least three of the top five receivers in the country, and the top two. They highlight a very strong group of receivers across the league, and I continue our position rankings with receivers today.

Remember that depth plays a big part of these rankings. We'll be ranking the top 10 individuals at each position later on before the season begins.

Other position rankings: 1. Oklahoma

[+] EnlargeRyan Broyles
J.P. Wilson/Icon SMIRyan Broyles finished the 2010 season with 131 catches for 1,622 yards and 14 touchdowns.
The Sooners have the nation's No. 2 receiver, Ryan Broyles, but found a handful of others to surround him in 2010 and should have a couple more in 2011. Sophomore Kenny Stills broke Broyles' freshman receiving record and looks like a budding star. Dejuan Miller came on strong before a season-ending knee injury, but he's back. The Sooners lose Cameron Kenney, but Trey Franks had a strong freshman campaign, and freshmen Justin McCay (redshirt) and Trey Metoyer could provide even more playmakers.

2. Oklahoma State

The Cowboys boast the returning Biletnikoff Award winner and 2011 favorite, Justin Blackmon, with a great group around him, too. Slot machine Josh Cooper returns for his senior year, and fellow senior Hubert Anyiam (the team's leading receiver in 2009) is hoping to return to form after being slowed by an ankle injury in 2010. Isaiah Anderson is a shifty speedster, while Michael Harrison and Tracy Moore offer a more aerial approach to receiving.

3. Texas A&M

The Aggies have the Big 12's No. 3 receiver, Jeff Fuller, who is arguably one of the top-five in the college game. But they also have the Big 12's most experienced receiving unit, with guys who won't be surprised by anything they see in Big 12 play. Juniors Ryan Swope and Uzoma Nwachukwu are the team's second and third options, but fellow juniors Kenric McNeal and Brandal Jackson could be bigger pieces of the offense in 2011. Tight end Nehemiah Hicks should see his profile rise in his coming sophomore year.

4. Baylor

Top target Kendall Wright will likely end his career as the Bears' leading receiver for all four of his seasons on the field, and 6-foot-4, 220-pound junior Josh Gordon looks like the new Jeff Fuller. Terrance Williams, Lanear Sampson and Tevin Reese round out the Bears' top five, who all had at least 40 catches last season, and all return.

5. Missouri

Missouri still lacks a proven big-play threat, but has two pass-catchers who have some of the best hands in the game. Receiver T.J. Moe and tight end Michael Egnew won't drop many passes, and combined to catch 182 for 1,807 yards and 11 touchdowns. Wes Kemp and Jerrell Jackson bring a lot of experience and both had at least 39 catches last season. If Marcus Lucas or Rolandis Woodland can become a consistent downfield threat, Missouri will rise up these rankings by season's end.

6. Texas Tech

Tech's top two receivers, Lyle Leong and Detron Lewis, must be replaced, but the Red Raiders have a few solid candidates to do it. Junior Alex Torres will likely lead the group, but fellow junior Austin Zouzalik and seniors Jacoby Franks and Tramain Swindall will be counted on for more production. Dark horse/juco newcomer Marcus Kennard could blossom into a household name across the Big 12 by season's end.

7. Texas

Sophomore Mike Davis and redshirt freshman Darius White are loaded with potential, but two of the team's top three receivers (James Kirkendoll, John Chiles) are gone, and no Texas receiver caught more than two touchdowns last season. Malcolm Williams and Marquise Goodwin are as different as two receivers could be, but both need to break out to help whoever becomes the Longhorns quarterback next fall.

8. Kansas State

Brodrick Smith will be back this season after breaking his leg in a loss to Nebraska. But two of the team's top three receivers are gone, leaving converted quarterback Chris Harper as the leading returner, though Smith might have held that title if he'd stayed healthy. Sophomore speedster Tramaine Thompson can make plays if he gets the ball with some space.

9. Iowa State

The Cyclones will be breaking in a new quarterback this season and they will need a playmaker to step up. Tight end Collin Franklin led team in receiving last season but he is now gone. Darius Reynolds looks like a possible candidate to fill the role, although incoming slot receiver Aaron Horne might rack up a few catches in space. Darius Darks and Josh Lenz should earn some more targets too.

10. Kansas

Converted defensive back Daymond Patterson is the team's top receiver, but the team's No. 3 receiver junior Bradley McDougald, moved to safety in the middle of the season. Tight end Tim Biere is one of the Big 12's best and led the team with four touchdowns last season. Chris Omigie and D.J. Beshears have some potential, and converted quarterback Christian Matthews keeps showing up in spring games. But all three, along with the rest of the group, would benefit from some consistency at the quarterback spot.
The best players in football play with something to prove. But some have more to prove than others.

Tevin Elliot, DE, Baylor

Elliot is raw, but the versatile 6-foot-2, 245-pounder led the Bears in sacks as a freshman, with five. Baylor's defense held the team back from achieving much more than a bowl appearance last year, but Elliot could be a big piece of a defensive resurgence under Phil Bennett in 2011. A disruptive pass rush would be a huge help to a pass defense that struggled last season, and one player can make that happen. Can Elliot prove he's the guy to do it and help push the team further than the seven wins it reached in 2010?

Huldon Tharp, LB, Kansas

Tharp showed tons of promise as a freshman, making 59 tackles and landing on a freshman All-America team. He looked like he'd be one of the leaders on Turner Gill's first defense at Kansas, but his season cruelly ended in fall camp with a leg injury. Can he prove in 2011 that he's that leader, and that there's still reason to believe the potential he showed in 2009 is there?

[+] EnlargeJames Franklin
Mark J. Rebilas/US PresswireThe Tigers need James Franklin to fill the void left at quarterback by Blaine Gabbert's departure.
James Franklin, QB, Missouri

The pressure is on for Franklin to continue Missouri's quarterback lineage after Tyler Gabbert transferred following the spring semester. Brad Smith started it, Chase Daniel took the Tigers to new heights and Blaine Gabbert looks like he'll make the biggest impact of the three in the NFL. Where is Franklin's place? This could be his team for the next three years, but he'll step into his new role with one of the Big 12's most complete teams surrounding him. He has sure-handed receivers, a solid running game, an experienced offensive line and one of the league's best defenses. Can he fill the void and help Missouri contend for a Big 12 title, proving that the bloodline will continue?

Hubert Anyiam, WR, Oklahoma State

Anyiam might be the guy who truly makes Oklahoma State's offense unstoppable. He led Oklahoma State in receptions during Dez Bryant's abbreviated 2009 season, catching 42 passes for 513 yards and three scores as a sophomore. Last year, though, he never got started and finished with 11 catches for 135 yards, thanks to an ankle injury similar to the one that ruined Kendall Hunter's 2009 season. The 6-foot, 198-pounder has the potential to be a second game-changing receiver in the Cowboys offense, but can he return to 2009 form and prove he's a dangerous complement to Biletnikoff Award winner Justin Blackmon?

Ryan Tannehill, QB, Texas A&M

Tannehill was a big reason for the Aggies' six-game winning streak to close the regular season, but so was Cyrus Gray's emergence, a rapidly maturing offensive line and a defense that played its best football in the second half of the season. All the pieces are there for Tannehill to lead the Aggies to the BCS, but last year it was obvious: without good quarterback play, the Aggies were not a great team. Tannehill has been on the field for three seasons, but he still has just six career starts at quarterback. And there's that nagging Texas A&M senior quarterback curse that he'll surely be asked about at least a few times next season. Can he prove that his play late last season will continue into 2011, all the way to a possible Big 12 title?

We'll tab a few more later today.
STILLWATER, Okla. -- I hope you've all enjoyed our coverage from my visit to Oklahoma State this spring. We'll have some more from Oklahoma in the next week or so, but here's what you've missed from OSU if you're not my most faithful reader.
Of course, that's not all. Here's a few more things that didn't fit in any of our previous coverage.

Based on what we saw from him last year, I came to Stillwater with the tentative belief that sophomore cornerback Justin Gilbert could be the fastest player in the Big 12 next season.

He's close, but might not even be the fastest Cowboy, according to Justin Blackmon. Look out for Isaiah Anderson, a 5-foot-10, 175-pound junior receiver.

"Isaiah might be able to beat him. I’d put my money on Isaiah."

[+] EnlargeOklahoma State's Isaiah Anderson
AP Photo/Eric GayA race between Oklahoma State speedsters Isaiah Anderson, above, and Justin Gilbert, not pictured, would be worth watching.
As a sophomore in 2010, Anderson caught 12 passes for 216 yards, but he's impressed Blackmon this spring. A race between the two hasn't gone down, but hey, Cowboys: There's time after practice. Make it happen and get back to me.

A race has already happened at least once. Running back Jeremy Smith lined up for a sprint against receiver Hubert Anyiam this summer. No shocker here. Anyiam took it home.

"I think Hubert is pretty up there when he’s at full strength, but I’d like to see Isaiah and Gilbert race," Weeden said. "[Anderson] was the Texas state sprint champion."


"He’s definitely one of the quickest, he’s just so smooth," he said.

I'll eagerly await the results of that run-off. Gilbert's been one of the standouts of spring camp, impressing just about everyone. Blackmon was reserved about taking credit for that development in making Gilbert cover him every day, but it definitely can't hurt.

"I just go out there and compete. He does the same thing. I’ll let him know when he does something good and it’s just on and on," he said. "He’s probably the most improved, the guy to look out for most next year."

Weeden and the OC selection

I was curious as to how much say either of the two stars had in coach Mike Gundy selecting Todd Monken as his offensive coordinator. The short answer: Some, but not a ton. Weeden spoke with Monken for about 45 minutes during the interview process, and after the conversation, the quarterback hung up and called Gundy right away to offer his endorsement.

"He was pretty intense," Weeden said.

Monken did most of the talking, while Weeden soaked it up.

"He was excited about the opportunity and wanted to give me a feel for the type of person he was," Weeden said. "We talked a little bit X’s and O’s but more just shooting the bull. I felt good about it."

Blackmon and Monken didn't have any contact until Monken had been hired. They first met during an offseason workout.

Early in the process, Gundy showed Weeden a long list of a few candidates, providing some brief background on each.

"I met with him probably 6-7 times about the whole process," Weeden said. "He’d say, here’s the guys I’m thinking."

Eventually, Gundy narrowed it down to two or three candidates and told Weeden to research them and tell him what he thought.

"Not that my say would have had any matter; he was going to hire who he wanted, but I think he just wanted me to be sure that we weren’t going to change anything for one, and it was going to be a guy I was going to be dealing with," Weeden said. "He wanted to hire a quarterback coach, not a guy who would go and coach receivers. I think that had more to do with [why and how often we met] more than anything."

I don't entirely agree that Weeden's say had no impact, but it's got to feel nice to even have as much say as Weeden did. I highly, highly doubt that Gundy would have hired a coach that Weeden didn't feel comfortable with or didn't feel fit the culture of the program.

Granted, I also imagine Weeden and Gundy had a similar picture of what they wanted in a new hire as well.

On the lockout

Weeden and Blackmon had big decisions to make, but even as players needing information pretty badly, they didn't know much more than the rest of us did when it came to the NFL lockout looming over the end of the season.

"All I heard was that nobody knew what was going to happen," Blackmon said.

The lockout is well past the 30-day mark now, but neither player has spent much time tracking when it will end.

"I'm not following it at all," Weeden said. "Whatever is on SportsCenter, if they say anything."

Anyiam back on track

Anyiam led the team in receiving in 2009, when Dez Bryant missed the final 10 games of the season after lying to NCAA investigators about his relationship with Deion Sanders.

Anyiam looked poised for a big year last year, but tried to play through an ankle injury. His situation was similar to the one Kendall Hunter played through in 2009, and instead of Anyiam, Blackmon emerged as the go-to receiver for the Cowboys.

This spring, though, Anyiam is back on track. Blackmon agreed that Anyiam could be a player who hauls in 60-70 receptions next season.

"I think so," he said. "His confidence is back and I think he’s full speed."

Blackmon emerged early on

Oklahoma State's practices are almost entirely closed, but Missouri's spring and fall camps are both open. As such, it was obvious pretty early that T.J. Moe, who caught two passes as a freshman in 2009, would be a much bigger part of the offense in 2010. He led the team with 92 catches and 1,045 yards.

Was the same true for Blackmon, who had just 20 catches as a freshman but finished with 111 last year in his Biletnikoff Award-winning season?

"On certain days, probably," he said.

Weeden wasn't buying it.

"I disagree. Blackmon’s always been that guy that practices harder than any other guy, even now," he said. "I’m not saying the other guys don’t practice hard, but he’s always balls to the wall. Once we knew Dez wasn’t coming back, we knew somebody had to step up, and Hubert was hurt."

Blackmon and Weeden developed an early connection

Weeden seemed to trust Blackmon enough last year to throw the ball up in plenty of situations you don't see balls being thrown often.

We had a busted play one time [against Louisiana-Lafayette], and every other receiver was on a screen. I saw him throw his hand up and I was like, 'Well, let’s see what happens,' Weeden said. "I figured either he’s going to catch it or nobody’s going to catch it."

Blackmon hauled it on for a 37-yard touchdown in the middle of three defensive backs, his second score of the game.

Weeden said that play cemented his trust, but when did Blackmon know?

"For me, it was that play," Blackmon said.

"And every play on the goal line," Weeden added.

Wrapping up the 2010 Big 12 season

December, 8, 2010
The top may not be anything new, but there was plenty of change across the rest of the league in 2010.

For the first time since 2006, the Big 12 spent most of the second half of the season as a non-factor in the national championship race. When Missouri suffered a loss to Nebraska on Oct. 30, the league lost its final undefeated team.

For the first time since 2006, there won't be a Big 12 player at the Heisman ceremony.

Texas' freefall was one of the league's lowlights.

But none of that is enough to slap the "Down Year" tag on the Big 12 as a whole.

Nebraska and Colorado's departure was a storyline that colored the conference throughout the year, and 2010 began with three Big 12 teams in the top 10. One was Nebraska. When the Huskers decided to leave, the future of the Big 12 looked to be a two-team conference with one nationally-relevant game a year.

[+] EnlargeOklahoma's Jeremy Beal
Tom Pennington/Getty ImagesJeremy Beal and Oklahoma raised the championship trophy, but this was The Year of the Rising Middle Class in the Big 12.
Thus, a challenge, explicit or otherwise, was issued.

Everyone wants to label things the Year of the This or Year of the That, but nothing personified the Big 12 more in 2010 than that challenge being answered rather emphatically.

This was The Year of the Rising Middle Class.

Oklahoma State, Missouri and Texas A&M aren't exactly college football blue bloods. They're all in the top 20, and poised to become mainstays. That gave the Big 12 five teams in the top 20 to end the year, made even more impressive considering the league's signature program, per se, is floundering at 5-7 and searching for a new offensive coordinator rather than preparing for a bowl game.

Recognizing the rise of the middle may be hard for some to realize, especially when the Oklahoma Sooners and Nebraska Cornhuskers -- two card-carrying, blue-blood programs -- were battling it out in the Big 12 title game. In the 15-year history of the game, Oklahoma participated eight times to Nebraska's six.

But if the ball bounces differently on a couple Saturdays, it could have just as easily been Missouri against Oklahoma State or Texas A&M, with the Tigers and Cowboys chasing their first-ever Big 12 title and Texas A&M looking for its first since 1998.

2010 conference champion Oklahoma may inject itself into the national championship picture in 2011. No one would be surprised by that. But considering two programs who historically have had problems scaling their own conference, let alone all of football -- Auburn and Oregon -- have a month to prepare for a national title game, it's not impossible for any of those three rising teams to do the same in 2011. All should return key contributors from 2010 teams and at the very least, have installed a balance to the Big 12 that hasn't always been there.

Baylor made its rise in 2010 and could continue to do so under Art Briles in 2011. Only Kansas ranks outside the top 60 in the computer rankings. The Jayhawks are the only team in the league that didn't have a chance to play for six wins and bowl eligibility. That's remarkable parity.

Nebraska will be gone. That undeniably weakens the league. But thanks to Oklahoma State, Missouri and Texas A&M, the Big 12 won't be starved for nationally relevant games after Red River is decided in early October, even without a national championship contender or a Big 12 championship game.

Now, time to pass out some awards:

Offensive MVP: Justin Blackmon, WR, Oklahoma State:

No player in the Big 12 was a bigger game-breaker than Blackmon, and no player was more consistent. Even with an ankle injury late in the season that had him basically playing on one foot, he kept alive a streak of at least 100 yards and a receiving touchdown -- a streak that stands at 11 games. That's tied for an NCAA record, and the difficulty of doing so can't be underestimated. There are some great secondaries in the Big 12 -- Nebraska, Oklahoma and Texas -- and none of them could stop, or really even slow Blackmon all that much. The Cowboys weren't held below 30 points this year with Blackmon in the lineup, and the idea of an offense putting up 41 points against Nebraska's defense is absurd looking back. What happened when the Cowboys had to play the Big 12's second-worst defense, Kansas State, without Blackmon? They scored 24 points. Enough said.

[+] EnlargeTexas A&M's Von Miller
AP Photo/Dave EinselIn Big 12 play alone, no defensive player dominated like Texas A&M's Von Miller.
Defensive MVP: Von Miller, LB/DE, Texas A&M

Miller didn't win the award from the media or coaches, but he should have, and here's why: If you're handing out an award for conference player of the year, performance in conference games should be more heavily considered. In eight Big 12 games, no player was more disruptive to opposing offenses than Miller. Ask Oklahoma and Nebraska. His 8.5 sacks in those eight games are two more than any other player in the Big 12, and he tied Oklahoma's Jeremy Beal with 11.5 tackles for loss. He also tied for the conference lead with three forced fumbles, and sealed the season-ending win over Texas with his first career interception. In conference play, no defender played better, and an early-season ankle injury is the only reason Miller didn't put up equally impressive numbers in four nonconference games. Consider that his best games came in Texas A&M's biggest games. He had a combined 3.5 sacks against Oklahoma and Nebraska, with five tackles for loss in those games and also had 14 tackles with a forced fumble.

Coach of the Year: Mike Gundy, Oklahoma State

This one's pretty simple. Gundy's team didn't have very much coming back and was picked to finish fifth in the Big 12 South. Instead, they won 10 games and came within an upset loss to Oklahoma of winning the division outright for the first time. Even though they didn't, Gundy still earned a share of the Big 12 South title for the first time.

Biggest surprise: Oklahoma State's offense

This goes along with Gundy, but consider this an award for Dana Holgorsen, who should have won the Frank Broyles Award as college football's top assistant coach. The Cowboys had a first-year quarterback who hadn't started a game in nine years. They had no proven receivers, and last year's leading receiver, Hubert Anyiam, sat out most of the year with an injury. Four new offensive linemen had to learn on the job, too. But Oklahoma State led the nation in total offense and ranked third in scoring. Blackmon emerged as a new star, and running back Kendall Hunter returned to his 2008 form, when he was an All-American.

Biggest disappointment: Texas

Anybody else come close, even nationally? I say no. The Longhorns were 2-5 at home, with wins over Wyoming and Florida Atlantic. They were blown out by UCLA and Kansas State. A team that began the season in the top 5 finished 5-7 and won't be bowling for the first time since 1997.

Game of the Year: Oklahoma 47, Oklahoma State 41

Find me another game this year with four touchdowns in 92 seconds inside the final five minutes of a game. And it's between two good teams? (Sorry, Kansas 52, Colorado 45) AND the game decided the Big 12 South? AND it's an in-state rivalry?

That's a recipe for a classic, and this one fit the bill.

What to watch in the Big 12: Week 8

October, 21, 2010
Here are 10 things I'm keeping an eye on this week in the Big 12:

1. CB Prince Amukamara vs. WR Justin Blackmon. Two of the best at their position, this matchup will have a huge impact on Saturday. If Blackmon has a big day, Oklahoma State wins. If Nebraska's Amukamara holds Blackmon in check and well below his averages in yardage and receptions for the year, other receivers like Josh Cooper and Hubert Anyiam will have to pace the Cowboys' passing game.

[+] EnlargeJustin Blackmon
AP Photo/John A. BowersmithOklahoma State's Justin Blackmon leads the nation with 955 receiving yards and 12 touchdowns. Saturday he'll match up with Nebraska star Prince Amukamara.
2. Atmosphere in Columbia. Faurot Field may not have a reputation as one of the toughest Big 12 stadiums to win in, but that might change for Saturday's game against No. 1 Oklahoma. "College GameDay" is in town, the fans will be out all day leading up to the 8 p.m. ET kickoff and The Zou should be rocking with a chance to knock off the No. 1 team in the BCS.

3. The other Cowboys. The Oklahoma State receivers other than Blackmon need to play well, but a big day from running back Kendall Hunter might hold off the Huskers, too. For as much attention as the offense is getting, the defense still has to keep the Huskers' rushing attack from running wild.

4. Validating the Longhorns. The last time most figured Texas would roll at home, it got rolled, 34-12 against UCLA. Is the Texas team we saw in Lincoln last week the one we can expect for the rest of the season? A big win at home against Iowa State would be a nice step toward proving it is.

5. Can Kansas stay competitive? Kansas has lost its previous two games by a combined 100 points to two teams -- Baylor and Kansas State -- who probably have a little less talent than its opponent this week, Texas A&M. The Aggies have a lot of offense and a much-improved defense that doesn't let teams do what Kansas does best, run the ball. Texas A&M ranks No. 2 nationally in run defense. Are the Jayhawks going to step up like they did against Georgia Tech, or can we expect another 50-point loss?

6. Letdown or ecstasy at Baylor? Quarterback Robert Griffin described a bowl game as the team's "primary goal" this season. If it wins on Saturday, it'll have achieved it. If it doesn't, it must beat one of three top 25 opponents or Texas A&M to qualify for a bowl. Miss out on a win this weekend, and the Bears probably have to start sweating a bit.

7. The return of T-Magic. Oklahoma State doesn't have the type of defensive talent Texas has, but did the Longhorns provide a blueprint for putting a hex on Taylor Martinez? We'll find out soon. If T-Magic turns in another clunker in this one, Oklahoma State wins.

8. Texas Tech defense cannot rest. The Red Raiders are giving up over 41 points a game in their past three outings (1-2 in that stretch), and let two players reach 100 yards rushing against Iowa State earlier this year. Colorado's rushed for more than 200 yards twice in home wins this season, and will try to add a third at Folsom Field on Saturday.

9. Preseason Offensive Player of the Year to look like it. If there ever was a time for Texas A&M quarterback Jerrod Johnson to have a big game, it would be now. Kansas has sacked the quarterback just three times this season, and none of those sacks have come from a defensive lineman, meaning if Johnson's under pressure, somebody's probably open. Only Minnesota and New Mexico State have fewer sacks, and those teams have one win combined. This same defense let Kansas State's Carson Coffman complete 15 of 16 passes last week and score five touchdowns. Another alliterative quarterback will try to have a big day.

10. Sack party in Columbia. Missouri leads the league with 20 sacks. Oklahoma is tied for second, with 18. Whichever team can keep that trend going and put the other's quarterback on his back more will have a huge advantage in the Big 12's biggest game of the week.

Big 12 preseason power rankings

August, 10, 2010
1. Texas: Texas' big-time freshmen receiving recruits Darius White and Mike Davis are on campus to compete with the remainder of the Longhorns receivers after the departures of Jordan Shipley and Dan Buckner. Whoever develops solid chemistry with quarterback Garrett Gilbert first should have a nice advantage heading into the season. Very few questions surround the Longhorns on defense, who also have exciting freshman Jordan Hicks competing for playing time at linebacker.

2. Oklahoma: Honestly, my gut tells me to slide the Sooners above the Longhorns based on coach Bob Stoops comments at media days, but I'll give the champs their due entering the preseason. Oklahoma loses its top three blockers from a season ago, and any growth from Oklahoma's eight-win team last season will have to start on the offensive line. Stoops believes it will. If it does, look for the Sooners and Longhorns to switch positions if Oklahoma earns wins against Florida State and Cincinnati while Texas beats up on Rice and Wyoming. A convincing win at Texas Tech might keep the Longhorns on top.

3. Nebraska: The Huskers quarterback issues can't end soon enough. The Big 12 blog's pick: Zac Lee. With its offensive line and quality running backs, Nebraska will be able to run the ball. If Lee can establish himself as the best passer of the group, his skills will better serve the offense than the more athletic Cody Green and Taylor Martinez. We won't know very much about how good the defense will be again this year until the Huskers' date with Jake Locker and the Washington Huskies on Sept. 18 in Seattle.

4. Missouri: A solid contender in the North, Missouri's key to hopping over the Huskers lies in the secondary. That group returns all four starters and has another experienced player in junior Kenji Jackson entering camp as a new starter at safety. If it solidifies, Missouri will be a force that spends most of the season in the top 25. Jerrell Jackson and Wes Kemp should share the spotlight catching balls from Blaine Gabbert along with slot man T.J. Moe and tight end Michael Egnew.

5. Texas A&M: The Aggies have the conference's best player, but its worst defense. Both will need to improve for the Aggies to earn a South title. On defense, new defensive coordinator Tim DeRuyter will have to build around tackle Lucas Patterson, linebacker Von Miller and safety Trent Hunter. Three freed-up offensive line spots -- which might all be filled by freshman -- will have to be solid and consistent for the offense to remain one of the Big 12's best, despite the Aggies' talent at the skill positions.

6. Kansas State: Running back Daniel Thomas led the Big 12 in rushing with almost no help from the quarterback spot last season, so the competition between Carson Coffman, Collin Klein and Sammuel Lamurisn't immensely important to Kansas State's success. No doubt, they'll be a lot better with great play from one of those three, but they won't be a bad team without it. Two of the Wildcats' top four tacklers will be junior defensive backs in 2010, Emmanuel Lamur and Tysyn Hartman.

And yes, I am very proud that I'm still batting 1.000 in not mixing up Sammuel and Emmanuel Lamur. Stay tuned, though.

7. Texas Tech: The Red Raiders have a great chance to move up this poll after hosting Texas on Sept. 18. Whoever wins the quarterback competition between Taylor Potts and Steven Sheffieldshould excel, which not every team in the Big 12 with a quarterback battle can say. Tech's aggressive new defense will have to limit big plays to see success in the first year under coach Tommy Tuberville and defensive coordinator James Willis. A convincing opening-week win against SMU will look better in December than some Tech fans might think after the team's Sunday, Sept. 5 debut.

8. Oklahoma State: One of the conference's wildcards, the Cowboys bring back just eight starters from last season, and will showcase a radical new offense in Dana Holgorsen's version of the Air Raid. Oklahoma State's receiving corps, led by Hubert Anyiam and Tracy Moore, is extremely underrated and could surprise plenty of folks in 2010. Their first real test comes Sept. 30, when they'll get a chance to knock off media darling Texas A&M in Stillwater.

9. Iowa State: The Cyclones nonconference schedule has made plenty of headlines this offseason, and Iowa State isn't shying away from its dates with Northern Illinois, Iowa and Utah. The legal issues surrounding defensive star David Sims appear to be resolved with an opening-game suspension, and running back Alexander Robinson looks ready for another big season after rushing for over 1,000 yards in his 2009 breakout season. Iowa State will need to steal a few games like last season to qualify for a second consecutive bowl game.

10. Baylor: Freshman safety Ahmad Dixon is impressing early in camp with a few big hits, and is making good on his status as one of the best recruits in Baylor history. Another -- Robert Griffin -- is already dealing with the pressures of delivering a bowl game to Waco. Coach Art Briles will need more players like Dixon and Griffin to move the Bears goals past just making a bowl game.

11. Colorado: The only team to move up from its position in the post-spring power rankings, Colorado simply brings back more talent than Kansas, and added two new receivers in UCLA non-qualifier Paul Richardson and Travon Patterson, whose transfer from USC was finalized on Monday. The offensive line has a lot of talent in Nate Solder and Ryan Miller, but the other three members will have to improve if the Buffs are going to rush for more than 1,055 yards like in 2009 (11th in the Big 12) and give up fewer than 43 sacks, 11 more than any other team in the Big 12.

12. Kansas: Losing your three best players from a team that finished last in the Big 12 North a season ago -- plus implementing a new coaching philosophy -- is a recipe for a rebuilding year. That's where the Jayhawks sit to begin 2010. They've got good young talent in linebacker Huldon Tharp and receiver Johnathan Wilson, who are both sophomores, but they face major questions at quarterback with inexperienced candidates Jordan Webb and Kale Pick battling for the No. 1 spot. Last season's leading rusher, Toben Opurum, is also nowhere to be found on the depth chart after battling injuries throughout the spring. The Jayhawks were the only team in the conference to return all five starters on the offensive line, but a season-ending injury to tackle Jeff Spikeseliminated that status. Brad Thorson, who played both guard and tackle last season, is also recovering from a broken foot. A win against Southern Miss and a competitive loss to Georgia Tech would earn the Jayhawks some more respect.