NCF Nation: Jarred Salubi

What to watch in the Big 12: Week 8

October, 18, 2012
10/18/12
10:15
AM ET
Here's what I'm watching in the Big 12 this week:

1. What baseball-sized bruise? David Ash says he's playing, and he's practiced this week with a wrap on his left, non-throwing wrist. He can take snaps, too. Will we see Case McCoy start or play? And will Ash make it through the game without having to sit?

2. You want to be the Lunter, not the Lunted. Wes Lunt has been sidelined for more than a month now, and J.W. Walsh has played pretty well in his absence. Lunt is still "day-to-day" after suffering a knee injury against Louisiana-Lafayette, but is this the week he returns? Offensive coordinator Todd Monken and head coach Mike Gundy seemed to disagree on his availability last week. My guess is Lunt is back.

3. Shuffling the deck. Baylor struggled to run the ball against TCU last week, but now faces the league's worst rushing defense in Texas. Will we see a shuffle in the carry distribution, or will Jarred Salubi hang on to his status as the featured back? Lache Seastrunk and Glasco Martin will be nipping at his heels, too.

[+] EnlargeTrevone Boykin
Jerome Miron/US PresswireTCU quarterback Trevone Boykin next takes aim at Texas Tech, the Big 12's best defense.
4. Who's who, and which is which? Trevone Boykin threw three picks and fumbled in a frustrating loss to Iowa State, but last week we saw him look like a star against Baylor. The Bears' defense, though? Not strong. Texas Tech leads the Big 12 in total defense and will be a much tougher test. How much of last week's performance was Boykin, and how much was Baylor's defense's inability to cover?

5. Check your pants, sir. Meanwhile, at Kansas, Charlie Weis says he plans to play two quarterbacks against the Sooners. Michael Cummings provided a spark in a near comeback against Oklahoma State last week. Everyone saw it, including Weis. Can he do something similar in Norman, Okla., on Saturday, or was last week an aberration?

6. Running away from trouble. Iowa State's linebacker duo of Jake Knott and A.J. Klein can shut down Oklahoma State's running game, and did so last year. Kansas did the same and OSU couldn't beat the Jayhawks convincingly through the air. Iowa State's secondary is strong, led by Jacques Washington. If ISU shuts down the running game, this could be another upset in the making.

7. Accounts receiving ... losses. Texas Tech has one of the deepest receiving units in the league, but suffered major losses this week. Bradley Marquez and Javon Bell are out for the season and tight end Jace Amaro might not play after injuring his ribs against West Virginia. Can Seth Doege and the passing game still survive those hits and move on with business as usual? They'll get a tough test this week against TCU, which leads the nation with 14 interceptions.

8. Achilles' heel ... or ankle. Last week was pretty ugly for the Mountaineers, but was it just an aberration? I'm betting yes, but they'll have to prove it against a very good, very sound Kansas State defense that was shown a way to slow this offense last week when Texas Tech stuffed WVU. Star receiver Stedman Bailey missed the second half last week with an ankle injury and is "day-to-day" this week. Will he even play? And if he does, will he be healthy? When he was out, Tech was able to shut down Tavon Austin. Can K-State do the same?

9. Make sure you've got your contacts in. Oklahoma suited up for the most meaningful game of its season last week against Texas. On Oct. 27, one of college football's most storied programs comes to Norman, likely without a loss on its record. This week ... it's 1-5 Kansas, which hasn't beaten an FBS team this season. Do the Sooners keep their focus and still look sharp, avoiding a letdown ahead of Notre Dame's visit?

10. Those last plays are important, guys. Geno Smith won't throw picks to anybody these days. WVU's not fumbling all that much, either. You want to stop WVU from scoring? Getting fourth-down stops is one of your best bets. How will K-State do? Dana Holgorsen doesn't trust his kicker and loves to roll the dice on fourth down. That stat may just decide the K-State game. WVU was 5-of-5 against Texas and won. It was 2-of-7 last week against Texas Tech and got blasted by five touchdowns. A fourth-down stop isn't listed as a turnover on the stat sheet, but it's just as good.

Baylor rallies, avoids shocking FCS upset

September, 15, 2012
9/15/12
11:07
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You won't find many FCS teams better than Sam Houston State.

That's still no excuse for a Big 12 team to lose to the Bearkats. Baylor came much closer than they would have liked, but ralled to win, 48-23.

The Bears couldn't move the ball and couldn't stop Sam Houston State's offense in the first half, and went to the locker room losing 20-10.

The second half? All Bears, and both of Baylor's units led the charge.

The offense racked up 31 points and the defense held the Bearkats to three points, and Terrance Williams caught the second of his two scores on the night, finishing with 131 yards and six catches.

The running game was slowed in the first half, but like the rest of Baylor, picked up in the second. Jarred Salubi led the Bears with 83 yards on 17 carries.

Ideally, you'd like to see a much higher completion percentage from Nick Florence, who finished just 24-of-41 for 312 yards, three scores and two interceptions. The first of those two picks, however, came on a Hail Mary at the end of the first half. The second came early in the fourth quarter after the Bears retook a 24-20 lead.

Not pretty for Baylor, but the Bears survived, and have a worrisome trip ahead. Baylor travels to Louisiana-Monroe next week to face the WarHawks, who beat Arkansas a week ago and nearly knocked off Auburn this week.

Take care of business there, and the Bears will get a hyped Big 12 opening game on the road against West Virginia -- the Mountaineers' first Big 12 game.
WACO, Texas -- Where had we seen this before?

A Baylor receiver celebrating a long touchdown catch in the end zone while his quarterback sprinted toward him?

Exactly one year earlier, Robert Griffin III kicked off his Heisman-winning season with five touchdown passes in an upset of TCU.

On Sunday night, Nick Florence threw four of his own, leading to the same celebration after a 36-yard rainbow to Lanear Sampson that gave the Bears a six-touchdown lead in their 59-24 blowout win of former Southwest Conference rival SMU.

[+] EnlargeNick Florence
Cooper Neill/Getty ImagesQuarterback Nick Florence got off to a strong start Sunday night.
The only difference was Florence's bushy beard fighting to be freed from his chinstrap, versus Griffin's braids flapping out the back of his helmet.

"Nick was Nick, and that's what you are going to love about him," coach Art Briles said. "That's what we love about Nick; he's going to be that way every time he steps on the football field."

Florence earned playing time in 2009 when RG3 sat with a torn ACL and rallied the Bears for a win over Texas Tech in Cowboys Stadium last November, but in his first game as the new face of Baylor football, he finished 21-of-30 for 341 yards and no turnovers.

"He's going to continue improving," Briles said. "Honestly, for him percentage-wise [Sunday], it was a little low."

Baylor's history-making quarterback wasn't in attendance on Sunday (even if his top target a year ago, fellow first-round draft pick Kendall Wright was), but even in his absence, his presence was felt.

His toothy smile after receiving last year's Heisman Trophy adorns the western wall of Floyd Casey Stadium. Throughout Sunday's rout, the Washington Redskins' starting quarterback tweeted encouragement to his former teammates and celebrated their successes with almost as much gusto as he did his own a year ago.

"The touchdowns just keep coming," he wrote. "Ha ha gotta love this."

(Read full post)

Bears open post-RG3 era with a bang

September, 2, 2012
9/02/12
10:18
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WACO, Texas -- Baylor was missing its most famous face on Sunday (Robert Griffin III), but the Bears didn't look too gloomy with Nick Florence at the helm.

Florence sat the game's final 15 minutes after completing 21 of 30 passes for 341 yards and four touchdowns, and a 21-point third quarter helped Baylor embarrass SMU, 59-24.

The most welcome development for the Bears? What may be a stingy defense. Phil Bennett's second season in Waco had high hopes, and though SMU sustained several drives, the Bears capitalized with three turnovers, including an interception near the goal line that preserved a second-quarter, 14-3 lead.

Three plays later, the lead ballooned to 21-3 and the Bears looked firmly in control.

Plenty more to come tonight from Waco, but Sunday was exactly what the Bears wanted to see in their season opener. No doubt about which the better team was.

Jarred Salubi finished with 91 yards and a touchdown on just 13 carries. Terrance Williams hauled in seven passes for 138 yards. Lanear Sampson caught five passes for 69 yards and two touchdowns.

What to watch in the Big 12: Week 1

August, 30, 2012
8/30/12
10:15
AM ET
Here's what I'm keeping an eye on in the Big 12 openers this weekend:

1. Close calls. It happens to somebody every weekend. You never know who, but some heavy favorite is going to get locked in a tight game. You can't really read into it too much later in the season, but you always know there's going to be drama somewhere when teams take the field after nine months off. Who's it going to be? Look out for unexpected excitement on Saturday.

[+] EnlargeDavid Ash
Matthew Emmons/US PresswireTexas will be counting on improvement from quarterback David Ash this season.
2. David Ash. No single player has more power to reshape the Big 12 preseason landscape. He might look like a whole new quarterback this season, or he might show the same old mediocrity. The odds probably favor the latter, considering how little experience Ash had in practice before starting last season. How much better will he be?

3. West Virginia's offense. The Mountaineers struggled with consistency last season, for those of you who didn't see WVU play a game before its Orange Bowl coming out party. For one, tune in to see how they look in Week 1. For two, I'm betting some of you have legitimately never seen Geno Smith, Tavon Austin or Stedman Bailey play before. Change that on Saturday. The Mountaineers are the only Big 12 game going at noon ET.

4. The youngest gun in the Big 12. Wes Lunt surprised a lot of folks when he beat out two older players to win the Oklahoma State quarterback job. He's got great running backs and should have some good targets. Few people have ever seen Lunt play in this offense. That changes this weekend.

5. Iowa State's quarterback(s). Steele Jantz has been named the starter, and he'll have a long leash, but how will he look? We didn't see much of him late in the season, and it's been a long time since this was really his team. It will be to start the season, but Iowa State's receivers need to help him out. Jantz needs to help himself out and control his turnovers, too. Nothing would put backup quarterback Jared Barnett on the field faster than turnovers.

6. Baylor's running back logjam. This one should be interesting. There's no telling just yet what Baylor will do, but it hasn't used a real committee since 2009, when it didn't have Robert Griffin III. Since then, the Bears have had a pair of 1,200-yard rushers, and Terrance Ganaway won the Big 12 rushing title last season. Will Lache Seastrunk, Jarred Salubi and Glasco Martin form a committee? Or will a featured back emerge? Ganaway broke out in a big way last season against TCU.

7. Kansas' new faces. I've got no idea what to think of Kansas this season. It's anybody's guess. Nobody's seen a complete overhaul this offseason like KU has. Charlie Weis saw a lot of work that needed to be done when he got to Lawrence and he did it. Big upgrades at quarterback and along the defensive line are the biggest change, but suspensions will keep running back Darrian Miller off the team forever, and James Sims for three games. What's Kansas look like? Here's guessing Dayne Crist holds the answer to that question.

8. Collin Klein's arm. Klein put in a lot of work this offseason to progress as a passer, and threw for 480 yards and six scores in the spring game. That's about all we've seen of Kansas State this offseason, but that was against the Wildcats' second-team defense. That said, it was more than a third of Klein's production through the air in all of last season. How much better has he gotten this offseason? We'll get a preview this weekend.

9. Oklahoma's young receivers. Kenny Stills will be the only eligible receiver on Saturday night who has ever caught a pass in a Sooners uniform. Freshman Trey Metoyer and Penn State transfer Justin Brown will start alongside Stills, and we know they'll have a good quarterback in Landry Jones. However, what can juco transfer LaColton Bester and freshmen Durron Neal and Sterling Shepard do? Shepard has already drawn comparisons to Ryan Broyles.

10. Texas Tech's health and new defense. Tech already lost one of its most talented special-teamers in camp, Aaron Fisher, but can the rest of these guys finally stay in one piece? Art Kaufman has a new defense in place, and we'll get our first look at Eric Stephens on Saturday after a horrific knee injury ended his 2011 season.
Across our little blog village here at ESPN, we're taking a look at the top newcomers in college football this year. You (probably) don't know their names yet, but here's who you need to watch this fall in the Big 12.

Will Smith, LB, Texas Tech: The Red Raiders only found Smith while recruiting another possible impact transfer, running back SaDale Foster. The California juco transfer stepped on campus this winter and by the end of spring, coach Tommy Tuberville called him the team's best linebacker. He started playing outside, but Tuberville moved the 6-foot-2, 220-pounder to starting middle linebacker in the middle of camp so he'd be on the field even during passing downs. He'll be important to Tech's new 4-3 scheme. Think K-State's Arthur Brown, a Miami transfer who's almost the exact same size.

[+] EnlargeDayne Crist
Andrew Weber/US PresswireFormer Notre Dame QB Dayne Crist brings experience as a starter to Kansas.
Dayne Crist, QB, Kansas: You probably know this name, but Crist started nine games in 2010 for Notre Dame and appeared in 17 career games. He began 2011 as the starter, but was benched and transferred to KU to play his final season of college football for Charlie Weis, the coach who recruited him to South Bend as the nation's No. 2 quarterback and No. 22 overall prospect in the 2008 class. He threw 15 touchdowns and seven interceptions in 2010.

Brandon Moore, DT, Texas: Moore is part of a changing world in Austin, thanks to a revamped coaching staff with some SEC sensibilites. He and OT Donald Hawkins were the first juco transfers to sign with Texas since 2002 and Moore may be the lynchpin of the Big 12's best defense this year. Teammates have described the "full-grown man" as "unstoppable." Such is life at 6-6 and 330 pounds. Moore has to work on his conditioning, but he's going to wreak havoc on Big 12 offensive lines when he's on the field this year. Look for him to collapse a pocket or two early and often this season.

Trey Metoyer, WR, Oklahoma: Metoyer spent a year in military school after not qualifying academically, but he's already made an impact this spring after finally arriving at Oklahoma. He was the nation's No. 8 receiver in the 2011 class and offers the Sooners some much-needed sure hands. The unit came down with the dropsies late last season, and the FBS career leader for receptions, Ryan Broyles, is NFL-bound. Metoyer is exactly what the Sooners need to keep their offense on pace with the league's best, and he'll be catching passes from a Heisman candidate in Landry Jones.

Lache Seastrunk, RB, Baylor: Seastrunk's short-lived career at Oregon was marred by a recruiting scandal, but he's back home, 30 miles north of his hometown in Temple, Texas, and ready for a fresh start. Baylor needs a replacement for Big 12 rushing champ Terrance Ganaway, and Seastrunk, the nation's No. 6 running back and No. 40 overall prospect in the 2010 class, is battling Glasco Martin and Jarred Salubi for the chance to be the man.

West Virginia and TCU: Have y'all heard about this? It's gonna be kind of crazy. After losing four teams since June 2010, the Big 12 poached the Big East and added the former Southwest Conference-dwelling Frogs and the Mountaineers, badly in need of a home away from the weakened Big East. Here's how we welcomed the Frogs and did the same for WVU earlier this year.
WACO, Texas -- Baylor practiced for about two hours in shoulder pads and shorts on Monday, and I got a chance to see the new-look Bears up close and personal.

I’ll be writing about this in detail in the coming weeks, but first things first: the quarterbacks.

  • It was a windy day with what I’d say were easily 30-40 mph gusts, so the Bears moved inside for the second half of practice, but even in the wind, quarterback Nick Florence looked really good. Throwing into the wind, he hit Terrance Williams and Tevin Reese on consecutive deep balls down the field in one-on-one drills. Reese and Williams, by the way, looked great ... but you already knew that.
  • Bryce Petty is a step above Florence when it comes to physical skills, but Florence isn’t that far behind. Petty has a bigger arm and a bit more velocity, but both quarterbacks can definitely “make all the throws,” as they say. We’ve seen Florence do it in game action, but ultimately, it’s hard to see Florence losing this job. He’s been in this system since 2009, and it shows. He’s decisive. He’s got a quick release. He makes moving the ball in pass skeleton or 11-on-11 look effortless at times and he takes care of the ball.
  • [+] EnlargeNick Florence
    Sarah Glenn/Getty ImagesEarly indications from spring practice shows Nick Florence will be Baylor's starter this fall.
    I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: Florence will be a well above average quarterback in this league, but Petty could already start for a handful of Big 12 teams. Bottom line is I think this plays out like most think. This is Florence's team in 2012. Baylor can feel good about that. In 2013 and 2014, this is Petty's team. Baylor can feel really, really good about that. Art Briles has to sleep easy at night when it comes to worrying about quarterbacks.
  • I’ll have more on him today, too, but hyped transfer Lache Seastrunk looks like he’s bulked up a whole lot. It shows in his shoulders and calves, especially. He’s much thicker, which I have to think he understood he needed after an unproductive stop at Oregon before transferring to Baylor. His development will be fun to watch. Right now, he’s getting some reps with the first team, but Jarred Salubi was getting the majority of first-team reps. Surpassing him will be tough, but I think Seastrunk will get a decent chunk of touches this year. He’s got an explosiveness and shiftiness that’s rare; it’s easy to see why he was so highly recruited. But will that mean production? We’ll see. Late in practice, he disappeared in the pile during 11-on-11 drills, but broke outside and outran everybody down the left side for what would have been an 80-yard touchdown run.
  • That wowed the defenders on the sideline. "He’s been hanging out with one of the best backs around, LaMichael James," exclaimed defensive end Tevin Elliott on the sidelines, to no one in particular. “That must be where he gets some of his swag from."
  • That said, don’t let the hype from Seastrunk distract from what looks like a strong effort by Salubi to win this job ahead of Glasco Martin as well. He’s running hard inside the tackles and showcasing a physical style we didn’t see much of last year. Terrance Ganaway provided that all last season, and the Bears need someone to duplicate it. Salubi looks like he wants to answer the call and be known for more than shiftiness on the outside.
  • One scary thing to watch for, Bears: Replacing center Philip Blake. I don’t recall many bad snaps last year, but the first two to Florence during 11-on-11 drills on Monday were bad, and I counted at least six through the rest of the practice. Four with the first unit. There’s a lot of time to fix that, but center is one of those positions people don’t quite appreciate until they don’t have a good one.
  • A rough day for the defense. The athletes are there for the Bears, but the offense moved the ball at will in most of the team drills. Such is life going up against a high-powered set of skill players like the ones the Bears have. You couldn’t get much of a feel for the physicality, however, because players were only wearing shoulder pads.
  • Baylor’s one of the most fun teams in the league when it comes to trick plays; the Bears successfully executed quite a few in wins over TCU and Oklahoma. They’ve got some more fun ones drawn up along the goal line; plays we didn’t see in 2011 and ones I haven’t seen anyone duplicate. Detailing those is a good way to make sure you don’t ever see a practice again, but I’ll say this: They’ll be fun when Baylor busts them out.
  • With Baylor’s pro day looming on Wednesday, lots of the team’s departing seniors were on hand at Monday’s practice, back from training for the combine and pro day. Quarterback Robert Griffin III was on the field and for the first half and in the huddle for some of that period talking with Briles and various players. Receiver Kendall Wright and Ganaway were also on hand, and stuck around to watch the second half of practice indoors.
  • We’ll have some more from Griffin later today, but don’t be surprised if he busts out some bright cleats at his pro day showcase on Wednesday. He showed up Monday toting cleats reminiscent of the “Electricity” uniforms Baylor’s basketball team wore this postseason. Scott Drew would be proud.
We're continuing our look at the postseason rankings for each position in the Big 12. Here's a look back at where the running backs ranked in the preseason.

In this position, unlike quarterback, depth is a major, major factor in these rankings.

1. Texas A&M

The Aggies had the two most talented backs, and despite injuries to both, proved it through an otherwise frustrating 2011. Christine Michael suffered a torn ACL, but still managed 899 yards on just 149 carries. Cyrus Gray injured his shoulder late in the season, but secured his second consecutive 1,000-yard season and ranked third in the Big 12, despite carrying the ball just 198 times. This duo should have easily surpassed 1,000 yards, but even when they were injured, Ben Malena played well in the final two games.

[+] EnlargeChristine Michael
AP Photo/Brandon WadeChristine Michael averaged 6 yards per carry before a torn ACL ended his season.
2. Missouri

Mizzou dealt with injuries, too, first to Kendial Lawrence and De'Vion Moore. Cue Henry Josey. Josey became the best back in the Big 12 this year before suffering a major knee injury that included torn ligaments. He may not be back in 2012. His 1,168 yards were third most in the Big 12, despite carrying the ball just 145 times. Lawrence finished 12th with 566 yards.

3. Oklahoma State

Joseph Randle stole the show this year, rushing for 24 scores and ranking second in the Big 12 with 1,216 yards. Only Collin Klein ran for more touchdowns and Terrance Ganaway was the only player with more yardage. Still, Jeremy Smith had averaged more than 7 yards a carry, and he'd be able to start for anyone else in the league. Herschel Sims showed promise, too, with 242 yards on 31 carries.

4. Baylor

Ganaway led the Big 12 in rushing with huge performances late in the season, including a 200-yard, five-touchdown game in his final outing as a college athlete in the Alamo Bowl. He averaged more than 6 yards on his 250 carries and had 330 more yards than any other back in the league. Jarred Salubi added 331 yards, too.

5. Texas

Texas' Malcolm Brown and Joe Bergeron were banged-up late in the season, but Fozzy Whittaker played well until suffering a torn ACL against Missouri, too. Scatback D.J. Monroe was effective in the passing game as well. Four running backs topped 300 yards and Brown led the team with 742 yards, despite missing three games and having his carries limited early in the season.

6. Oklahoma

Oklahoma got great contributions from walk-on Dominique Whaley early on, and he proved to be the team's most effective runner and best runner between the tackles. He fractured his ankle in midseason, and finished with just 627 yards to lead the team. Roy Finch emerged late in the seasons after a quiet first half and added 605 yards.

7. Kansas

KU's James Sims led the team in rushing again with 727 yards. Darrian Miller was excellent, too, with 559 yards, though he was dismissed after the season. Freshmen Tony Pierson and Brandon Bourbon have plenty of promise, both averaging more than 5.5 yards a carry in 2011. The bad news: All their carries were limited by an awful defense that limited KU's chances to run the ball.

8. Kansas State

K-State's rushing attack centered around Klein, but John Hubert, a slippery back from Waco, Texas, had a good year. Hubert was seventh in the Big 12 with 970 yards. Bryce Brown offered basically nothing to K-State, and beyond Klein and Hubert, the Wildcats were pretty thin. Additionally, without Klein, would Hubert have duplicated his success?

9. Texas Tech

An awful knee injury derailed Eric Stephens' likely 1,000-yard season, and the rest of Texas Tech's backfield got banged-up, too. Stephens will probably return in 2012 from his dislocated knee, and finished with 565 yards, 17th in the Big 12. Aaron Crawford and DeAndre Washington both topped 300 yards.

10. Iowa State

ISU lost Shontrelle Johnson for the season early on, but James White filled in well. He finished with 743 yards, which ranked ninth in the Big 12. Jeff Woody had 380 yards and provided quality carries late, including the game-winning touchdown against Oklahoma State.

That was what we thought it would be, at least in the sense of an offensive explosion.

As Robert Griffin III said after the game, this had to be one of the most-watched games ever. Tons of entertainment, and Baylor gets a 67-56 win in a crazy night in San Antonio at the Valero Alamo Bowl.

How the game was won: Just when you thought defensive stops were an endangered species, Baylor dug one out of the depths of the Alamodome. With Washington facing a 4th-and-8 at the Baylor 39 with just more than three minutes to play, the Bears rushed Huskies quarterback Keith Price and forced an incompletion to get the ball back and ice the game.

Turning point: Chris Polk's fumble at the Baylor 11-yard line with 8:40 to play in the third quarter. Washington led 42-31 and forced a three-and-out, returning the punt 46 yards to Baylor's 17-yard line. On the next play, though, Polk coughed it up and Baylor recovered. The play after that, Baylor running back Terrance Ganaway ran 89 yards for a touchdown to get the Bears back in it. RG3 capped the score with a two-point conversion on a ... wait for it ... jump pass. What could have been an 18-point Washington lead became a three-point lead in a flash, and Baylor turned a possible blowout into a win.

Stat of the game: This was easily the highest scoring Alamo Bowl ever, and broke the FBS record for total offense in a bowl game, with almost 1,400 yards. A whole lot of fun to watch, too. Baylor topped 400 yards rushing and Washington topped 400 yards passing. It surpassed the 2005 Insight Bowl between Arizona State and Rutgers. It was two points short of the bowl record for points. Marshall beat East Carolina 64-61 in the 2001 GMAC Bowl.

Player of the game: Keith Price, QB, Washington. Baylor's safety play was poor, but you still have to make the throws. Price made all of them, and then some. And then ran some more. He accounted for seven touchdowns, and didn't have a turnover. He threw for 438 yards and ran for 39 more. Did we just see the beginning stages of a 2012 Heisman campaign? Don't rule it out. A huge game for the impressive first-year starter. Not a bad replacement for Jake Locker, eh?

Unsung hero of the game: Baylor's offensive line. The big uglies up front cleared the way for a huge night on the ground that powered Baylor's offense. Bears quarterback and Heisman winner Robert Griffin III was good, but the running game paced the offense on this night in a lot of different ways. The Bears had three 100-yard rushers and RG3 wasn't one of them. Ganaway had 200 yards and five touchdowns. Jarred Salubi and Tevin Reese both had 101 yards and Salubi scored twice. Not a bad night on the ground.

Jeers to: Both defenses. These were two very good offenses. Let's be clear about that. But the defenses tonight? Good grief. The effort wasn't there. Receivers ran wide open all night. Holes for running backs were enormous. The tackling for both sides was atrocious and undisciplined. This wasn't necessarily more of one than the other, but there was a ton of great offense in this game and an equal amount of awful defense. One bright side: Washington had one penalty all night for 15 yards. Hard to get penalized when nobody hits anyone.

What it means: No defense is a whole lot of fun to watch. This was the most entertaining bowl game of the season so far, even if the defense was at times laughable.

Baylor also earned the program's first bowl win since 1992. Will RG3 return in 2012 for another run? He says he's undecided, but he'll have until Jan. 15 to decide whether or not he'll return for his senior season. Whether he stays or goes, he's done amazing things. He gave Baylor the school's first Heisman winner, and won 10 games in a loaded Big 12, giving the Bears their second 10-win season in school history, and first since 1980.
COLLEGE STATION, Texas -- Weird end to the half when Robert Griffin III appeared to throw what would have been a game-changing pick-six, but the ball hit the ground before it was kicked.

Griffin delivered a big hit at the end of the play, but the Bears were fortunate and only trail 24-14 at halftime. The Bears have plenty of offense for a comeback, and we all know Texas A&M's history in the second half this season.

Now, for a little analysis:

Turning point: Ryan Tannehill hit Ryan Swope for a 68-yard touchdown pass that started a string of scoring and turned the game into a stereotypical Big 12 track meet. Baylor answered and Texas A&M did the same, and we saw three touchdowns in less than two minutes, and the Aggies had two of them to take control of the game.

Stat of the half: Baylor is averaging just over two yards per carry (20 carries, 42 yards), compared to 5.6 (18 carries, 101 yards) for Texas A&M. The Aggies have essentially reduced Baylor's offense to one with a single dimension in the first half. Running back Terrance Ganaway had 200 yards and three scores against Iowa State last week. Stopping Griffin is one of the most difficult tasks in college football, but if you're going to do it, that's a great place to start.

Best player in the half: Griffin III. I'll include a nod to Texas A&M's offensive line and Swope, but outside of one overthrown deep ball to Kendall Wright, Griffin has been outstanding. He's completed 17-of-22 passes for 223 yards and two scores. The first was a pinpoint TD with a tiny hole in the defense to Wright. The second was a 77-yard rainbow to Terrance Williams for a score.

What Baylor needs to do: Keep trying to establish the run game. The Bears offensive line is solid, and they have a pair of good backs in Ganaway and Jarred Salubi. Baylor can't let the Aggies, who had the second-most sacks (21) in FBS, tee off with their pass rushers throughout the second half. Baylor can't win this game without balance.

What Texas A&M needs to do: Don't let the foot off the gas. I don't think that approach happened or was to blame for Texas A&M's past second-half disasters, but the Aggies have to continue to open up the offense, test a suspect Bears secondary deep and give the ball to Cyrus Gray and Christine Michael. Texas A&M has used a lot of misdirection, and Gray has his spin move working. The Aggies can't go conservative on offense. Baylor is fully capable of scoring a ton of points in a hurry, just like Oklahoma State did when it erased a 17-point halftime lead before the third quarter had even ended.
Here's the next in our look at the Big 12 rankings by position: Running backs.

Last year's class was one of the best in recent history, but this year's class? Unassuming to begin the season. There are a few possible stars looming, but very, very little talent returning. Cyrus Gray ranked seventh in rushing yards last year (thanks to an insane finish), but he's the only player returning to the Big 12 from the conferences' top 10 rushers in 2010.

That's nuts.

The Aggies are the only team with a truly elite backfield tandem, though I could see Oklahoma and/or Oklahoma State joining that group by the end of the year.

The rest of the league? Every team has at least a couple of players to get excited about, and teams 5-10 are all pretty close. No one is really understaffed at the position, but obviously, they're fit to be ranked.

Here's where I have them:

1. Texas A&M

[+] EnlargeTexas A&M's Cyrus Gray
AP Photo/Eric GayCyrus Gray had at least 100 yards rushing in each of A&M's final seven games last season.
I wouldn't have been surprised if Cyrus Gray and Christine Michael were the Big 12's top leading returning rushers this year, but a midseason injury from Michael prevented it from happening. Regardless, his return gives Texas A&M by far the best tandem in the Big 12, and arguably the best in the country. When Mister Jones isn't cranking the Counting Crows on his stereo, he's a pretty good reserve, alongside Ben Malena, who impressed me on my visit to College Station this spring.

2. Oklahoma

Oklahoma will try and replace do-everything forever (or whatever) back DeMarco Murray with a platoon likely led by shifty Florida native Roy Finch. True freshman Brandon Williams made a big impact in spring camp, and Brennan Clay will likely earn a few touches, too. Health concerns raise questions about a pair of other OU backs' knees (Jermie Calhoun, Jonathan Miller), but walk-on Dominique Whaley led the team in rushing in the spring game.

3. Oklahoma State

The Cowboys have a great pair in sophomores Joseph Randle and Jeremy Smith, and a nice set of backs to spell them if needed, too. Kye Staley, once a top-flight recruit, returned this spring after quitting the team following a severe knee injury, and might earn a few touches this spring. Also, Abilene, Texas, native and 2011 ESPNU 150 signee Herschel Sims arrives this fall and may jockey for time and the opportunity to shed a redshirt.

4. Missouri

What the Tigers lack in a truly elite back, they have in depth. Missouri has four backs who are all capable of being very good in the Big 12, even though neither of the four topped 600 yards a year ago. A big reason for that was none of the four got more than 100 carries, but with the carries they did get, every back averaged more than five yards per carry. The platoon approach works for Missouri, but senior De'Vion Moore and junior Kendial Lawrence will lead the way with sophomores Henry Josey and Marcus Murphy not far behind.

5. Kansas

[+] EnlargeKansas' James Sims
John Rieger/US PRESSWIREJames Sims is the No. 2 returning rusher in the Big 12 this season.
Running back will be a strength for Kansas next year, who might have found a second back this spring that perfectly complements power runner James Sims, a rising sophomore who racked up 742 yards last year after not playing in the opener. Believe it or not, he's the Big 12's No. 2 returning rusher, behind A&M's Gray. Darrian Miller burst onto the scene this spring, and figures to be a big part of the team in the fall. I see him being the Jayhawks' biggest home-run threat. DeShaun Sands and Brandon Bourbon offer even more depth at the position.

6. Texas Tech

The Red Raiders lose backfield constant Baron Batch, but have a good group lined up for 2011. Tommy Tuberville's effort to establish a more efficient running game is a realistic possibility with Eric Stephens as the likely feature back, and Aaron Crawford, Ben McRoy and Harrison Jeffers in the mix. True freshman Ronnie Daniels' strong spring likely earned him some time, too, rather than a redshirt.

7. Baylor

Baylor loses a 1,200-yard rusher in Jay Finley, and figures to use a thunder-and-lightning approach with 6-foot, 240-pound bowling ball Terrance Ganaway and shifty, 5-foot-9, 205-pound Jarred Salubi. Glasco Martin, a more balanced back, may earn a few carries, too. Regardless of who has the ball, life is good for Baylor backs, who get a bit more room from defenses that are forced to respect Robert Griffin III's legs.

8. Kansas State

The Wildcats' top two rushers, including two-time league rushing champ Daniel Thomas, are gone. Hopes are high for Wichita native and former blue-chip back Bryce Brown, but he's still entrenched in a position battle with John Hubert and Robert Rose heading into fall camp.

9. Texas

Texas brings back a pair of seniors in Fozzy Whittaker and Cody Johnson, but if the Longhorns are going to climb up this ladder by year's end (and they might) it's likely to be on the back of hyped incoming freshman Malcolm Brown, who is on campus and set to begin fall camp. D.J. Monroe might be the fastest player in the Big 12, but he'll have to master the nuances of pass blocking to get more than a few touches every game. Jeremy Hills can offer some depth at the position, too, after Tre Newton was forced to quit the game because of concussions.

10. Iowa State

Shontrelle Johnson showed some flash last year, but he still brings just 35 career carries into his 2011 effort to replace Alexander Robinson. Jeff Woody and James White offer a bit more depth, too. Florida native DeVondrick Nealy might get into the mix if he can put together a strong fall camp.
Four digits is the benchmark for a great season among running backs and receivers, while a 3,000-yard year is the mark of the game's top passers.

Last year, the Big 12 had seven rushers top 1,000 yards, but only one -- Cyrus Gray of Texas A&M -- returns. Five graduated and another -- Rodney Stewart of Colorado -- will be in the Pac-12 next year. So in the spirit of our friends at the ACC Blog led by the fearless Heather Dinich, I'll take a crack at picking the most likely players in the Big 12 to reach 1,000 yards rushing next season.

A note: This list is not the list of the Big 12's best running backs, though clearly, that's a factor. Instead, it's a list of the players with the best opportunity in their exact situations to reach 1,000 yards.

Though the Big 12 notched seven 1,000-yard rushers last season, it had just four the previous two years and eight in 2007.

1. James Sims, Kansas -- As a true freshman in 2010, Sims didn't play in the opener, but it was clear as the season went on that he's the Jayhawks most consistent runner. Kansas is deep at the position, but Sims figures to get the biggest share of carries for a team with big questions at quarterback. The Jayhawks averaged nearly 40 rushing attempts per game last year. I don't see that number dropping this year. Sims got just 168 of those 470 carries, and he still managed 742 yards.

[+] EnlargeKansas' James Sims
John Rieger/US PRESSWIREKansas' James Sims rushed for 742 yards on 168 carries last season.
2. Cyrus Gray, Texas A&M -- Gray and his teammate in the backfield, Christine Michael, should both have very good years. I like both of them to clear 800 yards, and it's possible they both hit 1,000 yards, but there's only so much offense to go around. Ryan Tannehill and Jeff Fuller, along with the rest of the talented receiving corps, will have to get theres. Considering the way Gray closed the season, he's likely to start out with the biggest share of carries.

3. Joseph Randle, Oklahoma State -- Randle will also be in split backfield along with Jeremy Smith, but he showed plenty of pop as a true freshman last year. Only DeMarco Murray caught more passes as a running back last year, so he may clear 1,000 yards of offense without doing it on the ground. But the Cowboys run an Air Raid system with a commitment to the run, so the touches should still be there for Randle with Kendall Hunter gone to the NFL.

4. Christine Michael, Texas A&M -- Michael will be coming back from the broken leg and looked pretty good in spring practice last week, but like I said, there's only so many touches to go around. Michael will get plenty and probably clear 700-800 yards, but he'll need to average a Gray-like 5-plus yards per carry to do it, which is possible.

5. Roy Finch, Oklahoma -- Finch has the talent to do it. No doubt. But there's no getting around doubting his health. A stress fracture in his foot caused him to miss almost half his freshman season, and the Sooners are mindful of that with a good group of backs behind him that might sap a few carries. Finch will have to hit a few big runs to get to 1,000, but if he gets hurt again, perhaps true freshman Brandon Williams or Brennan Clay could step in.

6. Eric Stephens, Texas Tech -- Texas Tech never had a 1,000-yard rusher under coach Mike Leach, but it's a new day in Lubbock. The offense will be the same, but coach Tommy Tuberville has placed an emphasis on running the ball more effectively, and Stephens will likely be the beneficiary. Aaron Crawford could be a factor if Stephens gets banged up, too.

7. Jarred Salubi, Baylor -- Like Texas A&M, Baylor has a whole lot of offense in a lot of places. Salubi could hit 1,000 yards if he becomes the featured back, but he's likely to share carries with Terrance Ganaway.

8. Shontrelle Johnson, Iowa State -- Johnson needs his new quarterback, whoever wins the competition, to play well and soften up defenses a bit, but the sophomore could be due for a nice year in his first as starter. Former Cyclone Alexander Robinson had over 2,000 yards in his final two years combined, and if Johnson continues to show the explosiveness he did as a freshman, he could have a similar career.

9. Bryce Brown, Kansas State -- Kansas State has run their backs more than any team in the Big 12 the past two seasons, in part because they had one of the league's best in Daniel Thomas. Brown has a lot to prove after an underwhelming, short run at Tenneessee, but there's no clear heir outside of Brown to pick up those 1,057 carries that the Wildcats have had in the past two seasons. Thomas toted it for 545 of those -- most in the Big 12 in 2009 and 2010 -- and if Brown gets off to a nice start, he'll be next in line.

9. Malcolm Brown, Texas -- We've seen Fozzy Whittaker and Cody Johnson for quite awhile at Texas. Both can get it done in spurts, but Whittaker has problems staying healthy and Johnson lacks burst. He's also working at fullback this spring. If any Texas back is going to have a big year, I'm pointing to the possible workhorse in Brown, rather than Jeremy Hills or D.J. Monroe.

10. De'Vion Moore, Missouri -- No Missouri running back had 100 carries last year, and Moore, the team's leading rusher, had just 517 yards. The Tigers ran the ball pretty well last year, but didn't rely on one player. Look elsewhere for a 1,000-yard rusher.

Prediction: Sims, Gray, Finch, Randle
Springtime is almost here. And here's a look at what to expect across the Big 12 when it gets into full swing here in the next couple weeks.

BAYLOR BEARS

Spring practice starts: February 28

Spring game: April 2

What to watch:
  • Big changes on defense. Baylor brought in Phil Bennett as its new defensive coordinator, and he says his scheme will be multiple, built to fit the Bears' personnel. Considering the Bears' recent recruiting successes in the secondary, look for a 4-2-5 type of look.
  • Recruiting stars: time to shine. Both safeties, Tim Atchison and Byron Landor, are gone. Baylor, though, has two former ESPNU 150 recruits at safety who would be well served to start filling their potential. Prince Kent was a reserve last season and at one time, the nation's No. 51 overall recruit who originally signed with Miami. Ahmad Dixon, meanwhile, was the No. 15 overall prospect in the 2010 class. The opportunity is there. Baylor needs big talent at the position. Briles has recruited it. Can they develop into players who make Baylor a contender?
  • Running back competition. Jay Finley topped 1,200 yards in 2010, but he's gone. Who steps into his void? Terrance Ganaway is a bowling ball at 5-foot-11, 235 pounds, but the shifty Jarred Salubi could get a good amount of carries, too. They could begin to share carries this spring.
IOWA STATE CYCLONES

Spring practice starts: March 22

Spring game: April 16

What to watch:
  • Quarterback competition. It should be a good one in Ames this spring. Jerome Tiller is the name most recognize after getting lots of meaningful time and starts because of injuries to Austen Arnaud over the past two seasons. But juco transfer Steele Jantz sounds confident he can win the job. Rising sophomore James Capello and redshirt freshman Jared Barnett will compete, too.
  • Paging Cyclone receivers. Iowa State had one of the most underwhelming receiving corps in the league during the past season, and three of its top five pass-catchers won't return in 2011. Of those three, however, one is a tight end (Collin Franklin) and another is a running back (Alexander Robinson). The new quarterback will need some help, and Darius Darks and Darius Reynolds will need to provide it as seniors.
  • Shontrelle's time or not? Freshman Shontrelle Johnson looked like the running back with the most pop behind Robinson for most of 2010, but two other freshmen running backs jockeyed for carries, too. Paul Rhoads is hardly handing the job over to Johnson, but spring could be the time when he really separates himself from the pack.
KANSAS JAYHAWKS

Spring practice starts: April 1

Spring game: April 30

What to watch:
  • What are they doing behind center? Kansas never got much consistent play out of the quarterback position last year, but freshman Brock Berglund is one of the 2011 class' top recruits, and enrolled early to compete in the spring with Jordan Webb and Quinn Mecham. With a building program like Kansas, there's perhaps some value in handing the program to a younger player like Webb or Berglund, but they'll have to earn it. Doing so will start in the spring, but don't expect the Jayhawks to have a set-in-stone starter by spring's end.
  • Top linebacker back on the field. Huldon Tharp missed all of 2010 with a foot injury, but he says he's 100 percent and ready to get back on the field. As a freshman in 2009, he was fifth on the team in tackles, with 59, and looked like one of the league's possible budding stars. Now, he'll get his chance to join fellow linebacker Steven Johnson as one of the team's top tacklers, and he'll do it as a sophomore after redshirting in 2010.
  • Toben rising? Turner Gill raised plenty of eyebrows when he moved his team's leading rusher in 2009, Toben Opurum, to linebacker in fall camp, and eventually slid him up to defensive end. But toward the end of 2010, Opurum started showing some major signs of growth at the position. We'll get a better idea this spring if he's one of the league's most unlikely new stars at defensive end.
KANSAS STATE WILDCATS

Spring practice starts: April 6

Spring game: April 30

What to watch:
  • Prodigal Kansan sons come home. There's no doubt that the Wichita native Brown brothers are the main attraction at Kansas State this spring, a season after transferring back home. Bryce Brown, the running back, was the nation's No. 8 prospect in the 2009 class. Arthur Brown, the linebacker, was the nation's No. 6 prospect in the 2008 class. Bryce transferred from Tennessee and Arthur from Miami. The Wildcats are pinning much of their hopes on the duo, and we'll get a good sense of what they can provide soon.
  • Quarterback competition. Carson Coffman is gone, and two new faces will challenge for the job: juco transfer Justin Tuggle and Daniel Sams. Sammuel Lamur is also up for the gig. Collin Klein may or may not be; Bill Snyder hasn't explicitly confirmed a past comment from Sams saying Klein had moved to receiver. Don't expect a starter to be named by spring's end, but a general order could start to form.
  • Can the defense show improvement? Kansas State had the Big 12's worst overall defense last year, and the worst rushing defense in college football, giving up 3,008 yards on the ground. Coordinator Chris Cosh looks like he'll still be around in 2011, and defensive backs David Garrett and Tysyn Hartman are solid pieces to try and build around. But this young maturing defense must get better to make a bowl game again with so many questions on offense. That starts in the spring.
MISSOURI TIGERS

Spring practice starts: March 8

Spring game: April 16

What to watch:
  • Franklin comes alive! Blaine Gabbert bolted to the NFL early, and Missouri has a gaping hole a quarterback. The position, however, is surrounded by a lot of quality talent that likely makes the Tigers a Top 25 team. There's no understating the importance of the position for the Tigers, and that will begin to be decided in the spring. James Franklin, a rising sophomore, saw spot duty in 2010 as more of a runner, and may have the inside track on the job, but Tyler Gabbert, Blaine's younger brother, and Ashton Glaser should make it an interesting competition in the spring. If neither of them impress early, don't count out incoming freshman Corbin Berkstresser.
  • Here is the new secondary. Same as the old secondary? After years of pass defense being one of the Tigers' biggest weaknesses, it became a strength in 2010 behind the leadership of senior corners Kevin Rutland and Carl Gettis. But the Tigers lose them and safety Jarrell Harrison. Rutland emerged as one of the team's most impressive players last spring, but was Missouri's success in the secondary a one-time thing or the beginning of a welcome trend?
  • Time to dominate the trenches? Missouri played without likely first-round pick Aldon Smith for much of the previous season, but the defensive and offensive lines for the Tigers were as good as ever in 2010. How will they look in 2011? Impact juco transfer Sheldon Richardson won't be enrolled by the spring, but the four returning starters on the offensive line should get some solid work against Brad Madison, Jacquies Smith and Terrell Resonno.
OKLAHOMA SOONERS

Spring practice starts: March 21

Spring game: April 16

What to watch:
  • Freshmen on display. Coach Bob Stoops hasn't been shy about saying his 2010 recruiting class was his best ever, but it could look even better after this spring. Two of his best emerging recruits, Justin McCay and Geneo Grissom, didn't even play in 2010, and could start to make an impact. The same goes for Corey Nelson, who will try to earn some more time somewhere backing up star Travis Lewis.
  • Is there a golden boot in Norman? Jimmy Stevens was much more accurate in 2010, finishing 19-for-23, but his attempts outside 45 yards were sparse. The good news is he missed none of his 53 extra points. Field goals have been a bit of an adventure for the past couple years, but continuing in the spring what he started last year would be a good sign for Oklahoma. The Sooners are strong everywhere and need good special teams play to reach their lofty title goals.
  • Are the Sooners' backs back? Roy Finch missed the Fiesta Bowl with a stress fracture, and his durability is certainly questionable entering 2011. When he's healthy, he looks like the next star in the Sooners' backfield, but they'll need some depth behind the 5-foot-8, 173-pounder. Jermie Calhoun, Jonathan Miller and Brennan Clay have all looked good at times, but there should be some good competition from newcomers Brandon Wegher, an Iowa transfer who'll be in camp this spring and eligible next season, and blue-chip recruit Brandon Williams, who enrolled early.
OKLAHOMA STATE COWBOYS

Spring practice starts: March 7

Spring game: April 16

What to watch:
  • Every piece of the offense. The spring in Stillwater is all about keeping or improving upon the status quo. Had it kept Dana Holgorsen, there'd be little doubt that would happen, but Oklahoma State must make the most of its five returning offensive linemen, quarterback Brandon Weeden and receiver Justin Blackmon. The opportunity for a historic season is there, but they'll have to pick up the nuances of the new offense quickly in the spring like they did last year.
  • What about the kicker? Dan Bailey won the Lou Groza Award as the nation's top kicker in 2010, but he's gone. Oklahoma State needs to fill that role quickly, and we'll likely know who will get the nod after the spring.
  • Who steps up on the defensive line? The Cowboys lose three starters up front on defense, including All-Big 12 performer Ugo Chinasa and tackles Chris Donaldson and Shane Jarka. Can senior Richetti Jones become a star in the Big 12? We'll have a good idea if he, or any of the Cowboys' other defensive linemen, can by the end of April.
TEXAS LONGHORNS

Spring practice starts: February 24

Spring game: April 3

What to watch:
  • New coaches and their students/players. Texas has five new coaches. Although it's hard to get a good read early on, how they relate with the players on the field, in the film room and around the facilities will have a big impact on how the 2011 season plays out in Austin. The young-blooded coordinators could serve themselves well by relating to players and the players will need to spend plenty of extra time learning new schemes and plays.
  • Quarterback competition ... or not? Mack Brown says the gig is open and it is, for now. Garrett Gilbert can close it with a strong spring. If Garrett struggles on the field or has difficulty grasping the new system, the door will be wide open for Connor Wood or Case McCoy to step in and close it. Gilbert didn't get much help, but he did very little in 2010 to inspire a lot of breathing room with McCoy and Wood clamoring for playing time.
  • And you've got to defend the pass, too. Texas loses its top three cornerbacks to the NFL, and only Carrington Byndom and A.J. White got much meaningful playing time last season. Younger players can earn some rare early playing time with a strong spring. Will anyone step up?
TEXAS A&M AGGIES

Spring practice starts: March 22

Spring game: April 16

What to watch:
  • New linebackers in the running. Spring isn't so scary when you bring back nine defensive starters, but the two Texas A&M lost were the heart of its defense. Linebackers Michael Hodges and Von Miller are gone. Kyle Mangan didn't look fantastic when forced into action during the Cotton Bowl, but the time is now for Damontre Moore and Dominique Patterson, a pair of sophomores, to make their impact.
  • Tannehill's tuning things up. Quarterback Ryan Tannehill played about as well as anyone could have hoped late last season, but he'll need it to continue his performance with a solid spring nailing down the timing with his receivers, who all return. He's already got a leg up on last year's quarterback, Jerrod Johnson, who was held out of team drills last spring after shoulder surgery that eventually derailed his senior season.
  • Christine's back. Christine Michael missed the second half of the season with a broken leg, giving way to Cyrus Gray's rise among Big 12 backs. It should make Texas A&M's depth at the position even more impressive, but we'll see how Michael looks coming back from the injury.
TEXAS TECH RED RAIDERS

Spring practice starts: February 19

Spring game: March 26

What to watch:
  • Past defending that pass defense. Texas Tech had the Big 12's worst pass defense last season, but has a pair of big potential players at cornerback in rising sophomores Tre Porter and Jarvis Phillips. Starters LaRon Moore and Franklin Mitchem are gone, but if returning starters Cody Davis and Will Ford can continue to mature, the defense should improve in the area most important for success in the Big 12.
  • And they're off! There's a four-man quarterback derby set in Lubbock this spring between Seth Doege, Jacob Karam, Michael Brewer and Scotty Young. I don't expect it to be settled until midway through fall camp, similar to last season, but there should be a solid front-runner and more clarity after spring. Coach Tommy Tuberville was extremely impressed with Doege and Karam last spring after Taylor Potts and Steven Sheffield went down with injuries.
  • Time to find new stars. Most of the big names on Texas Tech's defense are gone. Colby Whitlock, Bront Bird, Brian Duncan will all continue their careers elsewhere. The leaders on the defense will have to begin to emerge in the spring. Is it Scott Smith? Cody Davis? A younger, unexpected player? We'll find out. Sometimes these types of situations aren't as easy to predict as they might seem, like Missouri's strength in 2010 emerging in the secondary.
Tags:

Baylor Bears, Iowa State Cyclones, Kansas State Wildcats, Missouri Tigers, Oklahoma Sooners, Oklahoma State Cowboys, Texas Longhorns, Texas A&M Aggies, Colby Whitlock, Brennan Clay, Christine Michael, Von Miller, Alexander Robinson, Chris Cosh, Steven Sheffield, Brandon Wegher, Turner Gill, James Franklin, Tysyn Hartman, Bill Snyder, Bront Bird, Case McCoy, Brandon Williams, Dan Bailey, Justin Blackmon, Franklin Mitchem, Richetti Jones, Connor Wood, Ryan Tannehill, Terrance Ganaway, Cody Davis, Travis Lewis, Cyrus Gray, Scotty Young, Chris Donaldson, Bryce Brown, Jerome Tiller, Brian Duncan, LaRon Moore, Justin Tuggle, Darius Darks, Paul Rhoads, Brad Madison, Art Briles, Sheldon Richardson, Bob Stoops, Jerrod Johnson, Blaine Gabbert, Jay Finley, Jared Barnett, Taylor Potts, Jimmy Stevens, Arthur Brown, Mack Brown, Garrett Gilbert, Jermie Calhoun, Collin Franklin, Phil Bennett, Jacquies Smith, Jarred Salubi, Collin Klein, Carl Gettis, Seth Doege, Scott Smith, Terrell Resonno, Carson Coffman, Aldon Smith, Brandon Weeden, Toben Opurum, Shane Jarka, Tyler Gabbert, Ahmad Dixon, Corey Nelson, Prince Kent, Shontrelle Johnson, Geneo Grissom, Quinn Mecham, Damontre Moore, Byron Landor, Darius Reynolds, Ugo Chinasa, Kevin Rutland, Jacob Karam, Michael Brewer, Jordan Webb, A.J. White, Huldon Tharp, Ashton Glaser, Jarvis Phillips, Tim Atchison, Michael Hodges, Tre Porter, Kyle Mangan, Brock Berglund, David Garrett, Carrington Byndom, Justin McCay, Corbin Berkstresser, Daniel Sams, Dominique Patterson, James Capello, Jonathan Miller, Steele Jantz


Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Griffin


1. Texas: The Longhorns took the weekend off to prepare for Colorado. The break almost came at a bad time for Texas, considering their performance against UTEP last week. And after the Miners’ stunning upset over Houston Saturday night, how good does Texas’ beatdown victory over the Miners look now?

2. Oklahoma State: After a week off, the Cowboys will travel to Texas A&M this weekend. The break was good for Mike Gundy’s team as it gave key players like Dez Bryant, Perrish Cox, Kendall Hunter and Jeremiah Price a week to heal. But the Cowboys might have received another injury concern when learning emerging freshman running back Jeremy Smith could be undergoing season-ending shoulder surgery.

3. Kansas: Maybe the Jayhawks’ victory over Southern Mississippi doesn’t look as attractive today, after the Golden Eagles’ loss at UAB. But Kansas still heads into Big 12 play heavy with momentum after the week off. The Cyclones have a score to settle with Iowa State after the Cyclones’ near-upset last season at Ames. Figure that Kansas will be focused for this one back home.

4. Nebraska: Coach Bo Pelini begins Big 12 play with one of his toughest Big 12 games first as the Cornhuskers travel to Missouri on Thursday to start conference play -- a place where they haven’t won since 2001. The Cornhuskers’ defense has been emerging in recent weeks and will be the key for their effort on Thursday night. And, yes, the Cornhuskers might have a score to settle with new Missouri quarterback -- and former Nebraska commit -- Blaine Gabbert.

5. Oklahoma: The Sooners dropped their second one-point decision of the season, struggling without much offensive firepower when Ryan Broyles joined Jermaine Gresham and Sam Bradford on the sideline. And that lack of productivity finally bit them when the Sooner defense finally wore down late against Miami, allowing the Hurricanes to kill the clock. Bob Stoops has always excelled when his back was against wall and facing big challenges. He might be facing the biggest test of his 11-season coaching career with the Sooners in the next few weeks.

6. Missouri: The Tigers have been the biggest early surprise in the conference and take a big step forward into North title contention with a victory over Nebraska. A win would continue their recent mastery over the Cornhuskers and prove their 4-0 start was no fluke. One particular key will be running the ball against the Cornhuskers, keeping Gabbert out of long-yardage situations against Nebraska’s fearsome pass rush.

7. Texas Tech: Mike Leach might be facing a rarity as Taylor Potts attempts to overcome a concussion that idled him for much of Saturday’s victory over New Mexico. Steven Sheffield immediately juiced the Red Raider offense, scoring on his first four possessions. But as the Red Raiders get ready for Kansas State, Leach has to be concerned about Tech’s five turnovers vs. New Mexico and the five sacks allowed after yielding only six in the first three games. Tech’s defense has some improvement as well after allowing New Mexico to produce its season-high in passing and total yards last week.

8. Baylor: Impressive relief performances by Nick Florence and Jarred Salubi enabled the Bears to finish off a 3-1 nonconference record. It won’t get any easier as Baylor travels to wounded Oklahoma for its conference opener. The defense remains a concern after Kent State rolled up season-best totals of 424 total yards and 259 passing yards. But Baylor’s special teams came up big with three blocked kicks -- two by Jason Lamb and one by Phil Taylor.

9. Kansas State: Bill Snyder had a trick up his sleeve and pulled it by using transfer Grant Gregory as his starter. Gregory responded with a strong night (206 passing yards, two TD passes, one TD run) to direct a comeback that produced the tight victory over Iowa State. The triumph helps Kansas State claim its first conference game for only the second time in the past nine seasons. And KSU’s victory was preserved by a blocked extra point with 36 seconds left by Emmanuel Lamur -- Kansas State’s 36th blocked kick since 2002.

10. Iowa State: The Cyclones had their chances before a disappointing loss to Kansas State that was settled on a blocked extra point in the last minute. The Cyclones played well at times without leading offensive threat Alexander Robinson, but were done in by too many defensive mistakes in critical situations and a lack of offensive rhythm. Three fourth-quarter three-and-outs on offense and two fumbles were simply too much for the Cyclones to overcome.

11. Texas A&M: After a fast start, the Aggies were exposed down the stretch by a faster and more talented Arkansas team to provide for their first loss of the season. It looked like 2008 all over again as the Aggies struggled to protect Jerrod Johnson. And after dominating early against Arkansas, Von Miller and the Aggies’ pass rush disappeared for most of the game. Those struggles mean that Mike Sherman has his work cut out as he starts facing even stronger teams in the Big 12 South.

12. Colorado: It won’t get any easier for Colorado as the Buffaloes face Texas and Kansas the next two weeks after their disappointing 1-3 record in nonconference play. They showed flashes at West Virginia, but were undone by the same problems that have vexed them all season. Their lack of productivity and defensive struggles are best indicated in this statistic: Colorado has produced only two plays of 40 or more yards in the first four games of the season, compared to allowing 11 plays of 40 yards or more on defense.

Big 12 predictions, Week 5

October, 1, 2009
10/01/09
8:59
AM ET

Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Griffin


Oh, so close to perfection last week.

I came close to my first perfect week of the season, missing only on Texas Tech’s late collapse at Houston.

I’m hoping for better luck this time around with an abbreviated schedule of six games that will only feature seven Big 12 teams in action.

Here are my picks:

West Virginia 34, Colorado 17: The Mountaineers will be intent on gaining revenge for their loss last season in Boulder, along with bouncing back from their recent loss at Auburn. The Buffaloes should have Darrell Scott and Rodney Stewart close to 100 percent, although they should struggle against West Virginia’s imposing run defense. West Virginia quarterback Jarrett Brown is looking for some retribution after he was knocked out of the Auburn game after earlier contributing five turnovers. Look for the Mountaineers to try to dictate tempo by running Noel Devine (16th nationally in rushing) against a weak Colorado rush defense (103rd nationally). West Virginia has too many weapons to keep this from being very competitive.

Iowa State 27, Kansas State 24: The winner of "Farmageddon" at Arrowhead Stadium will take an early step to staying out of the Big 12 North cellar and perhaps contending for a bowl berth. Austen Arnaud has played better in recent games and Alexander Robinson's cutback style has emerged in Tom Herman’s running attack. The Cyclones will face an underrated Kansas State defense that ranks among the top 26 teams in each of the major statistical categories of rush defense, pass defense, total defense and scoring defense. In order to be successful, Arnaud will have to make some plays and stay away from turnovers. But in the end, this game will be settled in the special teams. Kansas State needs to get Brandon Banks involved and Iowa State hopes that Mike Brandtner’s directional punting keeps the Wildcats bottled up. I like Iowa State by a small margin because it has better kicking with Grant Mahoney over Josh Cherry.

Texas Tech 56, New Mexico 20: “The Dysfunctional Bowl” will feature two programs that have been featured in the headlines for reasons off the football field. New Mexico coach Mike Locksley scuffled with his assistant J.B. Gerald while Mike Leach banned Twitter usage among his players after some critical comments were made about him by players after their tough loss at Houston last week. The Red Raiders have way too much offense in this one. Taylor Potts and the Tech offense should be able to pile up the points and yards -- particularly if the Red Raiders’ running game emerges again. The weak New Mexico defense ranks 111th on the ground and 107th or worse in the other three major defensive categories. Everything will be peachy for the Red Raiders after a big win in this one.

Baylor 34, Kent State 14: It will be interesting to see how the Bears approach this game after losing quarterback Robert Griffin to a season-ending knee injury and backup Blake Szymanski’s uncertain status with a bruised shoulder. The Bears still have enough offensive weapons to win, particularly against a Kent State defense that allowed 552 yards last week, but produced five turnovers in a 29-19 victory over Miami (Ohio). I’m expecting Baylor to lean on its rushing attack keyed by Jarred Salubi and Terrance Ganaway to dictate the game for the Bears. The loss of Griffin will hurt, but Baylor still has too many weapons to worry in this one.

Texas A&M 35, Arkansas 34: Texas A&M hasn’t faced a top-notch defense and has posted some monster offensive and defensive numbers attributable to its weak competition. That won’t be the case in this one as the Aggies will face a potent Arkansas passing offense keyed by Ryan Mallett and Greg Childs. In the end, Jerrod Johnson, Ryan Tannehill and Uzoma Nwachukwu should be able to exploit a weak Arkansas pass defense that has played better teams, but still ranks 119th nationally in pass efficiency defense.

Oklahoma 24, Miami 14: The big question all week is whether we will see Sam Bradford back in the lineup. The Sooners likely don’t need him -- particularly if backup Landry Jones shows the form he employed in his record-breaking start against Tulsa. And he has a playmaking Oklahoma defense that has been responsible for 12 sacks and nine takeaways primed for the challenge. Miami is coming to the end of the nation’s toughest four-game scheduling gauntlet to start the season. Virginia Tech's defense showed some cracks in Miami's offense as Jacory Harris struggled through a miserable game. And it won’t be any easier this week when the Sooners bring one of the nation’s best defenses to Land Shark Stadium.

Last Week: 9-1 (90 percent)

Season: 35-9 (77.3 percent)

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