NCF Nation: Jamell Fleming

We're moving on with our 2011 postseason position rankings. Today, it's time for cornerbacks. If you missed it, here's how I ranked them in the preseason.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The 2011 Big 12 All-Bowl team

January, 13, 2012
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Here's the All-Bowl team from the Big 12, recognizing the best single-game performances from this year's bowls.

QB: Brandon Weeden, Oklahoma State: Weeden threw for 399 yards and three touchdowns (it could have been four if a game-winning TD pass to Colton Chelf hadn't been overturned) on 29-of-42 passing. His first pass was intercepted, but he had an otherwise solid night and ran for his first career touchdown in the 41-38 win against Stanford.

[+] EnlargeTerrance Ganaway
AP Photo/Darren AbateBaylor's Terrance Ganaway rushed for five TDs in the Alamo Bowl.
RB: Terrance Ganaway, Baylor: The Big 12 rushing champion ran for 200 yards and five touchdowns in the Bears' 67-56 win against Washington in the Alamo Bowl.

RB: Ben Malena, Texas A&M: Malena stepped in for the injured Cyrus Gray and Christine Michael and had a solid game in the Aggies' 33-22 win against Northwestern in the Meineke Car Care Bowl of Texas. He finished with 77 yards and two touchdowns on 23 carries, showcasing his physical running style. He also caught six passes for 36 yards.

FB: Trey Millard, Oklahoma: Millard carried the ball four times for 21 yards but also helped pave the way for three Blake Bell touchdowns from the Belldozer formation.

WR: Ryan Swope, Texas A&M: Jeff Fuller had better numbers in the bowl, but it was aided by big catches late. Swope kept the Aggies offense humming for most of the game, with eight catches for 105 yards in the win against Northwestern.

WR: Justin Blackmon, Oklahoma State: Blackmon was the best offensive player in the Big 12 bowls, spearheading Oklahoma State's offense in the Fiesta Bowl win with eight catches for 186 yards and three touchdowns.

WR: Colton Chelf, Oklahoma State: Chelf made two huge catches over the middle early and a third nearly won the game, but his touchdown was overturned. Still, OSU doesn't win its first BCS bowl without Chelf's 97 yards on five catches.

TE: Michael Egnew, Missouri: By Egnew's standards, it was a quiet game, but he played well with a 25-yard grab and three catches for 39 yards in Mizzou's win.

OL: Grant Garner, Oklahoma State: Oklahoma State's offensive line is keyed by Garner, who helped the Cowboys handle Stanford's blitzes well and give Weeden plenty of time in the Fiesta Bowl win.

OL: Philip Blake, Baylor: Baylor ran for 482 yards and scored 67 points in its win against Washington in the Alamo Bowl. Blake's the man who keyed it all.

OL: Levy Adcock, Oklahoma State: Adcock's the best overall talent on OSU's line, and he showed it in the win against Stanford.

OL: Dan Hoch, Missouri: Missouri rolled over one of the nation's best rush defenses, North Carolina, for 337 yards on the ground.

OL: Luke Joeckel, Texas A&M: The Aggies' offense was potent for most of its win against Northwestern, and Joeckel was solid in run and pass blocking for the balanced attack.

DEFENSE

DL: Jackson Jeffcoat, Texas: Jeffcoat made five tackles, two sacks and 2.5 tackles for loss in the Longhorns' 21-10 win against Cal. The Texas defense dominated, and the defensive line's play was the catalyst. He did it all with a torn pectoral muscle, too. He'll miss the spring after having it surgically repaired this week.

[+] EnlargeAdam Davis
AP Photo/Matt StrasenKansas State defensive end Adam Davis, 97, had two sacks and forced this first-half fumble by Arkansas QB Tyler Wilson in the Cotton Bowl.
DL: Adam Davis, Kansas State: Davis sacked Arkansas' Tyler Wilson twice and had three tackles for loss with a forced fumble in the loss to the Razorbacks.

DL: R.J. Washington, Oklahoma: With Ronnell Lewis ineligible, Washington showed up big in the win against Iowa. He had two sacks and made three tackles.

DL: Tony Jerod-Eddie, Texas A&M: Jerod-Eddie made eight tackles and had a sack in the win against Northwestern.

LB: Damontre Moore, Texas A&M: Moore was a monster in the season finale for the Aggies, making nine tackles and forcing a fumble on his lone sack.

LB: A.J. Klein, Iowa State: Klein flew around for the Cyclones, making 15 tackles in a physical game against Rutgers, though the Cyclones lost.

LB: Jordan Hicks, Texas: Could this be a big piece of momentum heading into 2012? Hicks starred with seven tackles, 1.5 sacks, 2.5 tackles for loss and a pass breakup in the win against Cal.

CB: Jamell Fleming, Oklahoma: Fleming was the Big 12's best defensive player of the bowls and the best player on the field in the Insight Bowl, making seven tackles, intercepting a pass and returning it 21 yards. He also broke up three passes.

CB: David Garrett, Kansas State: Garrett made 10 tackles and had two tackles for loss in the loss to Arkansas.

S: Kenny Vaccaro, Texas: He hates the nickname Machete, but Vaccaro was hacking away at Cal. He made three tackles, including two for loss and a sack.

S: Markelle Martin, Oklahoma State: Even if it was illegal (it was), Martin had the hit of the bowl season with a huge blast on Stanford's Ty Montgomery that took Montgomery's helmet off on the opening drive. He finished with nine tackles and a tackle for loss, with a fumble recovery.

SPECIALISTS

P: Tress Way, Oklahoma: Way averaged 50 yards on his six punts, including a 67-yarder.

PK: Randy Bullock, Texas A&M: Bullock made all four of his field goal attempts, including two from beyond 40 yards.

PR: Dustin Harris, Texas A&M: Harris looked the part of the Big 12's best, returning a punt 35 yards and finishing with 54 yards on his four returns.

KR: Justin Gilbert, Oklahoma State: Gilbert had a 50-yard return and returned his four kicks for a total of 136 yards.
The bowl season is over, and it's time to pass out a few awards.

Best offensive player: Justin Blackmon, WR, Oklahoma State. Blackmon went nuts against Stanford after the Cowboys were shut out in the first quarter against Stanford. His first two catches went for touchdowns, and he finished with 186 yards on eight grabs and his third three-touchdown game of his career. That was the first time he'd done that since the Tulsa game in 2010, the third game of the season.

[+] EnlargeJustin Blackmon
Doug Pensinger/Getty ImagesThree of Justin Blackmon's eight catches against Stanford in the Fiesta Bowl were for touchdowns.
Second-best offensive player: Terrance Ganaway, RB, Baylor. Ganaway ended his career in style, taking plenty of heat off his Heisman-winning quarterback, Robert Griffin III. He scored five touchdowns and ran for 200 yards, leading the way for three Bears 100-yard rushers in the 67-56 win over Washington in the Alamo Bowl.

Best defensive player: Jamell Fleming, CB, Oklahoma. Passing? I think not, Iowa. Matched up with NFL-bound, Skycam-attacked Marvin McNutt, Fleming made seven tackles, returned an interception 21 yards and broke up three passes. Well done.

Best team performance: Oklahoma State. The Cowboys got the Big 12's best win of the entire season, knocking off a solid Stanford team and handing Andrew Luck a loss in his final game as a Cardinal. Maybe they got lucky with a missed 35-yard field goal attempt to force overtime, but the Cowboys played well after a shaky first quarter and beat the nation's No. 4 team on a neutral field. Well done.

Best play: Robert Griffin III's post-Heisman "Heisman moment." He somehow backpedalled out of a handful of Washington tacklers, escaped outside and galloped to the pylon, diving into the end zone as he took a big hit before scoring. A big-time play from the Heisman winner for a 24-yard score.

Craziest play: North Carolina's Bryn Renner whipped a strike to Dwight Jones, but a hit jarred it loose. Somehow, it ended up on Jones' shoulder and rolled across his back, staying there long enough for Missouri LB Zaviar Gooden to sprint over and slide in to intercept the pass before it hit the ground.

Scariest play: Marvin McNutt, WR, Iowa. McNutt was minding his own business in the Iowa huddle. Then the Skycam at Sun Devil Stadium came crashing down and sent McNutt into a panic. Fortunately, nobody was hurt, but it was memorable incident. The camera was grounded for the Fiesta Bowl later in the week.

Best out-of-nowhere performance: Colton Chelf, WR, Oklahoma State. Starter Tracy Moore was reportedly suspended, and Chelf filled the void well. He caught just 16 balls in 12 games, but hauled in five for 97 yards in the win over Stanford, including a 24-yarder in overtime that was ruled a touchdown before being reversed and giving way to a game-winning field goal.

Worst performance: Kansas State. It was shocking to see. The Wildcats made too many early mistakes that they hadn't made all year. There was a fumble to give Arkansas an easy three points, a handful of dropped passes, a wave of penalties and an ill-advised punt to Joe Adams that swung the game in favor of the Hogs. Not good, and K-State didn't give itself a chance in the 29-16 loss.

Best handling of distractions: Texas A&M had to deal with the loss of senior offensive lineman Joey Villavisencio, who died in a car crash on his way home for Christmas. It fired coach Mike Sherman earlier. Interim coach Tim DeRuyter left for Fresno State, but stayed to coach the bowl game. The team was prepping for a move to the SEC and playing its bowl game in the home of its new coach, Kevin Sumlin. The Aggies, though, played pretty well against Northwestern and controlled most of the game in the 33-22 win.

Best atmosphere: Cotton Bowl. For a second consecutive year, this bowl takes the cake. K-State and Arkansas fans absolutely packed Cowboys Stadium and cheered loudly from an hour before the game through the entire matchup. A big-time atmosphere for what should be a big-time game.

Early 2012 Big 12 power rankings

January, 10, 2012
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With the season over, it's time to take a look at the Big 12 in 2012. For now, that means assuming a few things. And we all know what assuming does.

It makes us all look like geniuses.

So, for the purpose of this, I'll assume a few predictions. First, I'll assume Robert Griffin III is heading for the NFL. I'll also assume Mike Stoops lands back at Oklahoma.

That said, it's time to project what this league looks like in 2012.

And, before we start, let me make this clear: The Big 12 from 1-6 is absolutely wide open. Last year, the league only had three legitimate title contenders: Oklahoma, Texas A&M and Oklahoma State. This year, every one of the top six teams (and maybe seven, if RG3 returns) can win the Big 12 in a realistic scenario. The difference between Nos. 2 and 6 is minuscule and could change a ton by the end of spring practice.

And for the curious: I would have Missouri behind Kansas State on this list, and I'd have Texas A&M right behind Texas.

1. Oklahoma: The Sooners moved into the familiar role of favorite after Landry Jones announced he'd return in 2012, but not nearly as heavy a favorite as they were in 2011. Injuries hurt Oklahoma late this season, and replacing Big 12 Defensive Player of the Year Frank Alexander, along with linebacker Travis Lewis and corner Jamell Fleming won't be easy. Receivers Kenny Stills and Jaz Reynolds have to play big for the Sooners to get the win.

2. Kansas State: The big question mark for this team is can it take care of business and not get stuck in close games in 2012? The Wildcats were 8-1 in games decided by a touchdown or less this season. They can't count on duplicating that in 2012. They should be better, and return most of the big pieces from this season's 10-win team, most importantly quarterback Collin Klein and linebacker Arthur Brown. Next season is the time to prove it.

3. West Virginia: Who else is excited to see Geno Smith, Dana Holgorsen and the Mountaineer Express show up in Big 12 country next season? Like I wrote last week, giving up 33 points and still winning by five touchdowns is the Big 12 way of life. The Mountaineers broke Baylor's week-old bowl scoring record with 70 points, and bring back most of a good Big East champion team in 2012. The transition won't be easy, but they've got a chance to make a big splash in their inaugural year. The Big 12 and West Virginia are both convinced that the Mountaineers will join the Big 12 in 2012 and are planning as if it will happen, though pending lawsuits with the Big East mean it's still unofficial.

4. TCU: The transition will be more difficult for TCU, methinks. Depth could be an issue. There aren't any weeks off in the Big 12. Not even Kansas. Ask Baylor about that one. New Mexico's staying behind in the Mountain West. Eventually, I think TCU has a chance to be on par with Texas and Oklahoma on the recruiting trail and on the field. Being the only team in the metroplex is a huge deal. And it'll bring back a great team with lots of offense, headlined by QB Casey Pachall and receivers Josh Boyce and Skye Dawson, along with Brandon Carter. It'll be fun to watch.

5. Oklahoma State: The Cowboys should sustain success from this year, even though they lose Brandon Weeden and Justin Blackmon. They don't have to worry about a losing season, but with a first-year starter at quarterback, the odds are against them winning the Big 12. First-year starters have only won the Big 12 twice. Look out for Joseph Randle to have a huge year in 2012. I'm also betting on Clint Chelf to grab the starting QB job, but keep an eye on early enrollee Wes Lunt.

6. Texas: The Longhorns should be better and have lots of upside, but it's looking more and more like this team will only go as far as David Ash will take it. We'll learn just how far that is during spring and summer. This offseason is paramount for Ash's development. He's got to show something big next fall. The defense should be stingy, the offensive line improved and the backfield loaded. It's up to him.

7. Baylor: Sounds like 2012 may be the Nick Florence Show in Waco. Baylor will take a step back without RG3, but we'll see just how much he had around him, which is to say, a lot. Kendall Wright and Terrance Ganaway will be gone, but Terrance Williams and Tevin Reese will get a chance to shine. Oregon transfer Lache Seastrunk will get plenty of preseason attention, too. The Bears look like a fringe bowl team with some upside without RG3.

8. Texas Tech: Tech and Oklahoma State probably have the most upside of any team in these power rankings. The Red Raiders were better than 5-7 this season, but will have to prove it in 2012, and have to stay healthy. Seth Doege, Eric Stephens and Darrin Moore could be a dynamic set of triplets in 2012, and don't rule out a top-three finish for the Red Raiders in 2012.

9. Iowa State: The Cyclones may have a bit of a quarterback controversy in the spring after Steele Jantz reclaimed the quarterback job in the second half of the Pinstripe Bowl. Paul Rhoads joked about it after the game, but he's not joking when it comes to needing one of those guys to push the other. Jared Barnett has more upside, and the Cyclones could certainly grab a third bowl bid in four years if he plays well in 2012. ISU's a good team, but it's stuck in an absurdly deep conference that could have as many as seven (six, most likely, depending on RG3) Top-25 teams to start the season.

10. Kansas: There's a new flavor at KU, and the variables will be unpredictable for this team through spring and fall. The season should be fun. Can Charlie Weis redeem himself? What about Dayne Crist? Was Notre Dame just not the right fit for either? The opportunity to do something special at Kansas is here, and the bar is very, very low after a miserable two years. The defense can't be worse, and the Jayhawks have solid, maturing running backs.


Oklahoma ended a disappointing year on a high note, winning its third consecutive bowl game to record back-to-back seasons of 10 or more victories. Iowa's bowl magic vanished despite a plucky effort as the mistake-prone Hawkeyes lost in the postseason for the first time since 2006.

Let's take a closer look at the Insight Bowl:

How the game was won: Oklahoma's pressuring defense flustered Iowa and forced enough mistakes to buy time for Landry Jones and the offense to get going. The Sooners led 14-0 at halftime despite mounting only one productive drive, but their defense never backed down or broke down. OU made Iowa work for everything, and the Hawkeyes repeatedly shot themselves in the foot with penalties, dropped passes, poor throws, questionable play calls and other mistakes. Junior quarterback James Vandenberg and the Iowa offense established a rhythm midway through the third quarter and closed to within 21-14 with 6:56 left, but Oklahoma's power game, led by quarterback Blake Bell, responded to seal the victory.

Player of the game: Sooners cornerback Jamell Fleming. The senior set the tone early with an interception return to the Iowa 10-yard line, setting up the first of three Bell-dozer touchdown runs. Fleming also contained Iowa's All-Big Ten wide receiver Marvin McNutt, who had just four catches for 46 yards and appeared frustrated for much of the game.

Stat of the game: Oklahoma ran eight offensive plays in the first quarter, and had 12 yards and no first downs. But the Sooners led Iowa 7-0.

Candid camera: There was a scary moment late as ESPN's Skycam fell onto the field and nearly struck McNutt on a bounce. It delayed the game several minutes with 2:22 left to clear the wiring.

Second guessing: It's seems odd to question a Kirk Ferentz decision to go for a fourth-and-short situation, but Iowa really could have benefited from points following a 13-play, 68-yard drive midway through the first quarter. Down 7-0, the Hawkeyes marched to the Oklahoma 6-yard line before failing on third-and-4. Rather than kick the short field goal, Ferentz went for the touchdown and Iowa lost 3 yards on fourth down. Iowa didn't score until early in the fourth quarter.

What it means for Oklahoma: The Sooners ended on a positive note and showed they could be motivated to win a bowl despite a disappointing regular season. After being shredded by rival Oklahoma State, the Oklahoma defense responded very well against Iowa, controlling play for the first two and a half quarters. For a unit that endured inconsistent play in October and November, this was a good ending. The victory sends the Sooners into a crucial offseason, which begins with Jones' decision on whether to stay for his senior season or enter the NFL draft. Oklahoma loses some key seniors but still should enter the 2012 season as one of the top contenders for the Big 12 title.

What it means for Iowa: Hawkeyes fans can't be disappointed with the effort, but a team that repeatedly made mistakes away from its home field couldn't survive them again Friday night in Tempe, Ariz. The defense played very hard for retiring coordinator Norm Parker, but Iowa needed a cleaner performance to upset Oklahoma. Iowa sees its wins total drop for the second consecutive season, and the team now enters a critical offseason. Ferentz soon will name a new defensive coordinator, and he needs to put a stop to the revolving door at running back. Iowa loses key parts but should be more experienced at several spots. However, Hawkeyes fans expect more from their program and its well-paid coach, and they should. The Big Ten is only getting harder, and Iowa should be mirroring what Wisconsin and Michigan State have done rather than falling back into the pack. Not much has gone right for this program since the 2010 Orange Bowl victory.

Bedlam foes stocked with NFL talent

December, 2, 2011
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Oklahoma and Oklahoma State will play for the Big 12 title Saturday night, and you'll see a lot of the talent on the field playing on Sundays in the future.

Steve Muench of Scouts Inc. Insider broke down a few of the matchups between NFL talents we're apt to see during Saturday's game.

You'll need ESPN Insider to see the whole thing and more on each matchup, but here's some of what Muench sees.

Oklahoma QB Landry Jones vs. Oklahoma State S Markelle Martin
It's important that Jones get his rhythm back this week, especially when throwing over the middle.

Martin reads quarterbacks' eyes, is instinctive and closes well when the ball is in the air. He's also shown above-average ball skills and he isn't afraid to jump routes.
Oklahoma State WR Justin Blackmon vs. Oklahoma CB Jamell Fleming
Fleming doesn't have shutdown cover skills, but he can also hold up in underneath coverage thanks to his speed and fluidity. However, Blackmon's strength will be a distinct advantage in this matchup.
Oklahoma State RT Levy Adcock vs. Oklahoma DE Frank Alexander
Oklahoma State's pass-heavy scheme also puts Alexander in a bit of a catch-22 against the run. He can't simply fly upfield and play the run on the way to the passer, because that will make it easy for Adcock to turn him outside when the Cowboys run the ball.

In terms of the passing game, Adcock can anchor and protect the edge working against Alexander. However, Alexander is relentless and won't give up when he doesn't win with his first move.
Oklahoma State RB Joseph Randle vs. Oklahoma WLB Travis Lewis
Lewis is an effective tackler who locates the ball quickly, takes sound pursuit angles and wraps up on contact. He doesn't stack and shed particularly well, though, so Randle must run with vision and make Lewis fight through blocks when pursuing. Lewis can't afford to start running around blocks in an effort to get to the speedy Randle, either, because he isn't explosive enough to recover if he gets caught out of position.

Good stuff from the scouts. Check out the full story.

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?

Personnel switch giving Sooners a boost

October, 23, 2011
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Gabe Lynn stepped in and started for injured Oklahoma cornerback Jamell Fleming tonight, but struggled mightily in the first half.

That didn't change in the second half, when he gave up a 40-yard pass over the top to Marcus Kennard that helped set up a Texas Tech touchdown.

Oklahoma responded. It moved former corner and starting safety Aaron Colvin back to cornerback, benched Lynn and moved senior backup Sam Proctor, who has a lot of starting experience, back to safety.

Since the switch, Oklahoma hasn't given up a touchdown or a completion over the top of the defense.

Demontre Hurst has been solid opposite Colvin and Lynn at the other corner spot.

Oklahoma trails 34-24 early in the fourth quarter, but for now, the biggest defensive hole appears to have been patched up.

Halftime Analysis: Texas Tech 24, OU 7

October, 22, 2011
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Lightning delayed the game an hour-and-a-half. The Sooners have yet to recover, on either side of the ball.

Best player in the half: Texas Tech’s Seth Doege gets overshadowed by the other top Big 12 quarterbacks. But he has shredded OU’s defense so far, completing 19 of 32 passes for 234 yards and two touchdowns to Alex Torres.

Best call: On their opening possession, the Red Raiders scored a 44-yard touchdown on a slip screen to Torres. In the second quarter, Tech offensive coordinator Neal Brown came back to the play again. The result? A 33-yard Torres touchdown.

Stat of the half: The Sooners are without three defensive starters -- defensive tackle Casey Walker (hand), linebacker Tom Wort (bruised back) and cornerback Jamell Fleming (knee) -- and does it ever show. The Red Raiders have rolled up 330 yards of total offense, already. OU has allowed more than 400 yards only once (Missouri) all season.

Does defense lead the Sooners?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

"I feel like we’ve done well, but I feel like we have a lot more to prove," Jefferson said. "We’ve still got a long way to go. We’re reaching the point in the season where there’s no more slacking off. Teams will take advantage of that. We know what we’ve got to do."
The Big 12 has released its All-Big 12 preseason team as voted on by the media, including yours truly.

Here's my ballot, for reference.

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

OFFENSE

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

DEFENSE

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

SPECIALISTS

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

AWARDS

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

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

Newcomer of the Year: Malcolm Brown, RB, Texas

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Opening spring practice: Oklahoma

March, 21, 2011
3/21/11
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Schedule: Oklahoma opens spring practice Monday at 4:40 p.m. ET and will play its spring game on April 16. The first 15 minutes of Monday's practice are open to the media, but the remainder of the practices until the spring game will be closed.

What’s new: Offensive coordinator Kevin Wilson, responsible for the highest-scoring offense in college football history in 2008, took the head coaching job at Indiana. Replacing him for the Sooners are co-coordinators Josh Heupel and Jay Norvell. Heupel has been with the program since 2006 as the quarterbacks coach, and won a national title at OU in 2000. Wilson was with the team for its Fiesta Bowl win, but Heupel called the plays for the Sooners and will do so in 2011. Norvell has coached receivers at Oklahoma since 2008.

On the mend: Running back Roy Finch looks like the favorite to replace DeMarco Murray as Oklahoma's featured back, but surgery to repair a stress fracture in his left foot suffered during bowl practices will keep him out during the spring. Starting fullback Trey Millard is also out for spring practices after minor surgery.

On the move: Defensive back Aaron Colvin played some in spot duty as a true freshman in 2010, but opens the spring as the Sooners' starting strong safety. He was expected to replace last season's starting corner, Jamell Fleming, who is not enrolled and won't be back until the fall semester at the earliest after reported academic misconduct. The corner job went to Gabe Lynn, who enters the spring with little on-field experience.

New faces: Running back Brandon Williams enrolled early and will start the spring at No. 2 on the depth chart at running back. Quarterback Kendal Thompson is also in camp as an early enrollee alongside Marquis Anderson, a third signee from the 2011 class.

Breaking out: Nickel back Tony Jefferson. You could make the argument that he's already broken out as the co-Big 12 Defensive Freshman of the Year in 2010, but he's hardly a household name across the country or even the conference. That could change fast for Jefferson, who looks like his sophomore year could mean dropping the "rising" from his status as a rising star.

Don’t forget about: Sophomore receiver Kenny Stills. His teammate Ryan Broyles gets all the headlines, but Stills showed plenty of potential in his first season on the field, giving Oklahoma a much-needed second option in the passing game. He started all 14 games as a true freshman and broke Broyles' freshman receiving record with 786 yards and five touchdowns on 61 receptions.

All eyes on: The defensive lines and secondary. It's a "National Championship or Bust" kind of year for the Sooners, who may well debut at No. 1 in the preseason polls next fall. If one thing stops them from winning it all, it will be a lack of experience up front or troubles defending the pass without their top corner, Fleming. Stacy McGee, Jamarkus McFarland, Daniel Noble and Casey Walker will be in the rotation at defensive tackle, and have to help collapse the pocket and stop the run. Junior Demontre Hurst played well as a sophomore, but if Fleming doesn't return, Lynn and Colvin will have to be solid alongside experienced safeties Javon Harris and Sam Proctor to slow the prolific Big 12 passing offenses.
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.

2010 Big 12 All-Bowl team

January, 14, 2011
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We've spent the week wrapping up the bowls, and now that it's Friday, here's our Big 12 bowl team comprised of players who got it done individually in their bowl games.

Plenty of guys got snubbed, particularly at receiver (Sorry, Lyle Leong, Cameron Kenney and Kendall Wright!), but without further ado, here it is.

OFFENSE

QB: Landry Jones, Oklahoma
RB: Daniel Thomas, Kansas State
RB: Eric Stephens, Texas Tech
WR: Ryan Broyles, Oklahoma
WR: Justin Blackmon, Oklahoma State
WR: T.J. Moe, Missouri
OL: Zach Kendall, Kansas State
OL: Tim Barnes, Missouri
OL: Eric Mensik, Oklahoma
OL: Lonnie Edwards, Texas Tech
OL: Elvis Fisher, Missouri

DEFENSE

DL: Phil Taylor, Baylor
DL: Jeremy Beal, Oklahoma
DL: Jared Crick, Nebraska
DL: Richetti Jones, Oklahoma State
LB: Von Miller, Texas A&M
LB: Travis Lewis, Oklahoma
LB: Orie Lemon, Oklahoma State
CB: Jamell Fleming, Oklahoma
CB: Kevin Rutland, Missouri
S: Byron Landor, Baylor
S: Tysyn Hartman, Kansas State

SPECIALISTS

P: Matt Grabner, Missouri
K: Dan Bailey, Oklahoma State
KR: Coryell Judie, Texas A&M
PR: Ryan Broyles, Oklahoma

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