NCF Nation: Jay Finley

Ganaway taking, delivering many punches

November, 29, 2011
Before Baylor took the field for the second half against Texas Tech on Saturday without its Heisman candidate at quarterback, there was no grandiose speech. There wasn't a frenzied huddle to go over altered strategy.

The Bears' offense simply looked around the post-kickoff, pre-drive huddle and didn't see the familiar No. 10 staring back at them.

Instead, Nick Florence quietly slid into Robert Griffin III's spot at starting quarterback for the second half and connected on a pair of touchdown passes longer than 40 yards.

[+] EnlargeTerrance Ganaway
Sarah Glenn/Getty ImagesTerrance Ganaway racked up 246 yards on 42 touches against Texas Tech -- the most he's ever had in his collegiate career.
"We trust in what Nick does, and what he brings to the table. He’s a great quarterback and he has a ton of experience in this offense," said running back Terrance Ganaway. "We’ve practiced with Nick and Nick practices at a high level, and we don’t expect him to play at anything but a high level. We all had confidence in him."

They had reason to be. Florence started nine games when Griffin tore his ACL in the 2009 season, setting the school record for passing that Griffin broke this season.

In the second half, though, one player took over: Ganaway. We should have known, really. Ganaway's flourished under waves of media attention heaped on his quarterback, the second running back in two seasons to do so.

He carried the ball 25 times in the second half for 139 yards and a touchdown. That gave him 42 carries -- more than any Big 12 back in a game this year -- for 246 yards.

"We’d run it pretty effectively the first half, also, so that gave us a little confidence going into the second half," said coach Art Briles, "and it just worked out to where that was something that was being beneficial for us, so we just kept doing it."

Said Ganaway: "We knew it was working, so we weren’t going to get away from it. We were going to keep running until they decided to make us do otherwise."

Ganaway made sure Baylor didn't need much creativity. The rest of Baylor's backfield minus Griffin carried the ball 23 times, but Baylor's 240-pound back carried the load.

With the effort, Ganaway took over the Big 12 rushing lead from injured Missouri back Henry Josey. A year ago, Baylor wondered who would replace Jay Finley's 1,218 yards.

Next year, the Bears will have to wonder who'll replace Ganaway, who now has 1,195 with two games left to play.

"He’s a very mature person. The thing that makes him unique is his agility to go with his size," Briles said. "He’s also got the mentality enough to where he’s very, very focused and very driven."

Briles would know. Ganaway was with Briles at Houston in 2007 before transferring to junior college. Once Briles left for Baylor, Ganaway followed.

Quietly, as Griffin's racked up passing yards and accolades, he's had two great backs playing alongside him that too often get overshadowed.

"Terrance isn’t concerned about any of that. He’s a great team player," Briles said. "He brings a level of mature confidence to our football team because of his focus and energy lies, and that’s within everybody, not himself."

If Ganaway's needed again this week against Texas, he'll be available.

"It was a whole lot [of carries], but I didn’t really even notice. My body felt good the next day and I’m feeling really good right now. You’re just trying to win. You’re in the zone. The adrenaline’s pumping. Your heart’s pounding, you just want to go out there and get the win," Ganaway said. "You really don’t worry about being tired or fatigued. I know I felt tired, and I got some shots, but everybody was fighting. It’s a fight, and you don’t quit until the round’s over. Then you ask, how many punches were there?"
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.


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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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?

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.

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.

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

The Big 12's top 10 one-man shows

February, 15, 2011
Each offense across the Big 12 starts 11 players on Saturday and plays 12-14 games. That's a whole lot of performances. Some are better than others.

These are the 10 best individual performances from the entire 2010 season.

If a player's team didn't win the game, he was ineligible, and this list omitted defensive performances. To add a little homogeny to this business, nonconference games were omitted as well.

1. Taylor Martinez vs. Oklahoma State. Nebraska's freshman quarterback went on the road and was unstoppable, bouncing back from one of his worst games of the year against Texas with his best. He threw for 323 yards and five touchdowns on 23-of-35 passing and ran for 112 yards on 19 carries. It earned the Huskers a much-needed 51-41 win in Stillwater.

[+] EnlargeNebraska's Taylor Martinez
Mark D Smith/USPRESSWIRETaylor Martinez threw for 323 yards and five touchdowns to go along with his 112 rushing yards against Oklahoma State.
2. Landry Jones vs. Nebraska. Unimpressed by his numbers? (23-of-41, 342 yards, TD, INT). Consider this: They came in the Big 12 Championship against the No. 3 passing defense in the country, and the Sooners trailed 17-0 early, so the defense knew what was coming. Considering the graveyard of quarterbacks that Nebraska left in its wake, there's no question this was among the best performances of the year.

3. Justin Blackmon vs. Baylor. He just makes it look easy. Blackmon torched the Bears for 173 yards on 13 catches and a touchdown. And he dropped another easy score! He touched the ball once in the running game, too. Of course, he ran it in for a 69-yard touchdown.

4. Taylor Martinez vs. K-State. If anyone didn't know who Martinez was before this game, they did after. On a nationally televised Thursday night game, he injected himself into the Heisman race, albeit briefly, with 241 yards rushing and four touchdowns on just 15 carries. He also threw a 79-yard touchdown pass and finished with 128 yards on 5-of-7 passing to help the Huskers roll easily, 48-13.

5. Jay Finley vs. Kansas State. Finley was a workhorse, logging 26 carries for 250 yards, including an 82-yard score in the Bears' 47-42 win. He had a pair of rushing touchdowns, and any day that features nearly 10 yards a carry is impressive.

6. Roy Helu Jr. vs. Missouri. Helu wasn't exactly breaking loads of tackles, but no one else in the Big 12 came within 40 yards of his 307-yard, three-touchdown day that effectively won the Big 12 North for the Huskers. The holes were there, Helu hit them hard, and the Tigers couldn't get back in the game. In the fourth quarter, Helu clinched the game with plenty of tough yards.

7. Ryan Broyles vs. Iowa State. What made this most impressive is Broyles basically put his game together in just over a half of play. The Sooners beat the Cyclones 52-0, but Broyles caught 15 passes for 182 yards and a touchdown.

8. Robert Griffin III vs. Kansas. Griffin got help with a 94-yard catch and run by Josh Gordon, but the Bears gave a good indication of how good they could be in their conference opener by routing Kansas, 55-7. Considering the Bears won just one conference game a year ago, it was certainly a big deal. Griffin threw for 380 yards on 26-of-36 passing, three touchdowns and ran for 64 more yards and another score on eight carries.

9. Cyrus Gray vs. Texas. Gray notched his sixth consecutive game of at least 100 yards rushing in the 24-17 win, and pushed the Aggies over the edge with with a 48-yard score in the third quarter to put them up 24-14. He also opened the scoring for the Aggies with an 84-yard touchdown and finished with 223 yards, the most ever by an Aggie against hated rival, Texas.

10. Ryan Tannehill vs. Texas Tech. Only four players had higher totals in a single game than Tannehill's school-record 449 yards passing against the Red Raiders. He had four touchdowns on 36-of-50 passing, and most impressive? He did it in his first career start.

Baylor recruiting analysis

February, 3, 2011

The class

Signees: 19 (five enrolled early, four junior college)

Top prospects: The Bears got a big-time offensive tackle in Spencer Drango, the nation's No. 14 prospect at the position. Trevor Clemons-Valdez (No. 32 defensive tackle) and Johnathan Lee (No. 48 receiver) are two other highly-rated prospects in the class. Suleiman Masumbuko and Beau Blackshear add more talent on the front line of the defense.

Needs met: Baylor is set for 2011 at the skill positions; they have elite Big 12 talent at quarterback and receiver, and some talent with potential at running back. Where they needed help is on the offensive line and everywhere on defense, excluding the secondary, where they stocked up on talent in their 2010 class. The Bears got exactly what they needed. It's not a balanced class, but that's not what Art Briles wanted. He wanted big bodies up front, and nine of his 19 signees are offensive or defensive linemen. Defensive tackle Phil Taylor and offensive tackle Danny Watkins will be making big money in the NFL next year, and they need to be replaced. The Bears have done that. Jay Finley is gone, and Baylor signed three running backs in this class with a chance to replace him in 2011.

Analysis: Baylor's location in central Texas helps so, so much in recruiting. The Bears can get in on a lot of talent that's overlooked by other programs, they don't have to worry about distance (18 of the 19 commits are from Texas) and have been able to grab an elite, top-tier recruit in recent years. Last year, it was Ahmad Dixon, a safety who was the nation's No. 15 overall prospect. Darius Jones, an ESPNU 150 prospect, signed in 2009. Kendall Wright has become one of the league's best receivers as the No. 112 overall prospect in 2008. This year, they don't have an elite prospect, but they've got a lot of quality talents to help fill what Baylor needs. They lost offensive tackle Nila Kneubuhl on signing day after the offensive tackle had been committed to the Bears for nearly a year, which has to be frustrating for Briles, but it's not a huge blow. New defensive coordinator Phil Bennett has been on the job less than a month. He'll have 11 new players with two possible ones at athlete, compared to just six offensive prospects. The class ranks eighth in the Big 12, but it's an acceptable group for the Bears, who have a lot of established talent already on campus.

ESPN recruiting grade: C-plus

Instant analysis: Illinois 38, Baylor 14

December, 29, 2010
A 38-14 loss is not how Baylor pictured its return to the postseason turning out, but considering the way Baylor's offense opened the game, it could have been worse. A few bounces the other way could have made this game come down to the final drive, too.

How the game was won: Baylor's offense sputtered early (missed field goal, two lost fumbles and four punts in their first seven possessions), while Illinois scored on its first four possessions and led 24-0 after opening the second half with a touchdown. The early lead was too big for a late Bears rally to overcome, thanks to Illinois' running game, which overpowered Baylor for most of the game and racked up 306 yards on the ground.

Turning point: Baylor grabbed a solid hold on the game's momentum with a 39-yard touchdown pass from Robert Griffin III to Kendall Wright that cut Illinois lead to 24-14, and the Bears followed that with a defensive stop to get the ball back down 10 early in the fourth quarter. Baylor got stuffed on a 3rd-and-1 for a three-and-out and Illinois came up with the ensuing muffed punt. Seven plays (six runs) later, Illinois was in the end zone with a 31-14 lead to put the game out of reach.

Stat of the game: Nathan Scheelhaase's completion percentage: 78. The redshirt freshman quarterback completed just under 57 percent of his passes on the year entering the Texas Bowl, ninth in the Big Ten. He was a perfect 13-of-13 for 170 yards in the first half and made Baylor respect the pass. The Bears defense has had plenty of struggles in 2010, but when Illinois can throw the ball efficiently, it's much more difficult to defend. Because of Scheelhaase's play, the Bears experienced that firsthand. He finished 18-of-23 for 241 yards.

Player of the game: Illinois' offensive line. Baylor needed to get a push up front to slow the Illini running game, and it didn't happen. That's because the Illinois big men up front paved the way for Mikel Leshoure and Jason Ford. Baylor didn't tackle particularly well, but often, no Bears defender was getting a shot at ballcarriers until they were 4-to-7 yards upfield. That's a credit to Illinois. LeShoure racked up 184 yards on his own and Scheelhaase added a late 55-yard touchdown run.

Second guessing: Baylor's decision not to try and make a 24-point deficit a three-possession game. It's a mild complaint, but Baylor has a mobile quarterback that's particularly difficult to defend in the red zone and has lots of playmaking receivers who can get open in tight spaces on two-point conversion attempts. The Bears only got to within 24-14, but if that lead had been 24-16, you wonder if it might have applied enough pressure on the Illinois offense to produce a different result. Maybe not, but it's worth considering.

Record performance: Baylor running back Jay Finley broke the single-season rushing record during the game, and Griffin broke the career passing yards record.

What it means: It's a disappointing loss for Baylor, but the Bears are a program looking to make strides year upon year. Getting to a bowl game was a big one, and it was especially good for fans to be able to make a short trip to Houston to see a program with a big opportunity, similar to the basketball team's appearance in the Houston regional back in March. With Griffin returning in 2011, the Bears figure to make another run to the postseason.

On a conference-wide scale, it's another black eye for the Big 12, who drops to 0-2 in the bowl season with a pair of losses to Big Ten teams after Missouri dropped a 27-24 game in the Insight Bowl on Tuesday night.

That's a big disappointment for a conference favored in nearly every bowl game and had a reasonable chance to go 8-0. That's an afterthought now, and if the Big 12 can't get some wins later on in the bowl season, a league already low on prestige after being raided during this summer's conference realignment gets even more so.

Texas Bowl

December, 6, 2010
Illinois Fighting Illini (6-6) vs. Baylor Bears (7-5)

Dec. 29, 6 p.m. ET (ESPN)

Illinois take by Big Ten blogger Adam Rittenberg: After doubling its wins total from 2009, Illinois enters somewhat unfamiliar territory Dec. 29 at Houston’s Reliant Stadium.

The Illini have been the nation’s ultimate all-or-nothing program the last decade, reaching two BCS bowls -- the 2002 Sugar and the 2008 Rose -- and enduring eight losing seasons. They haven’t played in a non-BCS bowl since the 1999 Bowl, which also marked the program’s last postseason victory. Illinois can take a step toward consistency in the Texas Bowl against Baylor.

Illinois has made strides in all three phases this season, although the Illini remain prone to erratic play.

Junior Mikel Leshoure emerged as the Big Ten’s best running back this season, ranking eighth nationally in rushing (126.1 ypg). Paul Petrino’s offense is built around the run, and Illinois boasts plenty of ball-carrying options with Leshoure, classmate Jason Ford and redshirt freshman quarterback Nathan Scheelhaase.

The Illini defense surged at the start of Big Ten play but backslid down the stretch. Illinois needs standouts like defensive tackle Corey Liuget and linebackers Martez Wilson and Nate Bussey to perform at their peak against Baylor’s multitalented quarterback Robert Griffin.

The big question: Which Illinois team will show up in Houston? If it’s the one that pounded Penn State and Northwestern and beat a good Northern Illinois team, the Illini have a good shot to win. But if it’s the one we saw Friday night against Fresno State or Nov. 13 against Minnesota, it’ll be a long night.

Baylor take by Big 12 blogger David Ubben: You won't hear any complaints from Baylor on its bowl destination during the holidays. Bears fans stormed the field at Floyd Casey Stadium after a win over Kansas State in October gave the team its sixth win, officially qualifying for bowl eligibility for the first time since 1995. A three-game losing streak to end the season slowed some of the Bears' momentum after a 7-2 start, but the official announcement should serve as a jolt of energy and a reminder of the accomplishment's significance within the program.

The Bears boast an exciting set of skill position talent in quarterback Robert Griffin III, running back Jay Finley and five receivers with at least 40 catches this season. Baylor had to use that offense to outscore a handful of opponents this season, but they did it enough times to reach the team's ultimate goal when the season began: ending that infamous bowl drought.

The Bears bowl destination isn't exactly exotic -- just a short trip west to Houston -- but like I said, you won't hear them complaining.

Big 12 predictions: Week 12

November, 18, 2010
» Predictions: ACC | Big 12 | Big East | Big Ten | Pac-10 | SEC | Non-AQ

Now, that was more like it. The Big 12 Blog got back on track with picks last week, missing only Colorado's surprise win over Iowa State. Now, we'll see about this week, which contains an upset special.

Last week: 5-1 (.833)

Overall: 66-17 (.795)

No. 10 Oklahoma State 51, Kansas 17: There's no reason to think the Cowboys won't post a big number in this one, and Oklahoma State's terrifying trio of Justin Blackmon, Kendall Hunter and Brandon Weeden get it done to head to Bedlam with the Big 12 South on the line.

Kansas State 31, Colorado 27: Kansas State is a better team than Iowa State, who Colorado beat in Boulder last week. Dan Hawkins making an appearance to support his son, Cody Hawkins, is overrated as an "awkward" sideplot, but only mistakes will keep Kansas State from getting the win. The biggest mistake they could make? Not putting Collin Klein on the field as much as possible. He and Daniel Thomas carry the Wildcats to the win with a strong second half on the ground.

Texas Tech 35, Weber State 24: Texas Tech is searching for motivation, but they should be be able to handle the Wildcats in the first of two yawn-worthy nonconference games to close the season.

Texas 27, Florida Atlantic 17: I've said it all week, and I'll say it again: there's no guarantee that Texas wins this game. They should. I think they will. But Texas hasn't shown they can beat very many teams this year, and they'll have to play well to do it. Rack up a handful of turnovers, give up a big play or two and try to force your way back into the game and this game is UCLA all over again. That said, I'll take the Longhorns with a comfortable, but hardly convincing win.

No. 15 Missouri 38, Iowa State 20: Iowa State hasn't been able to defend the spread all season, and a renewed Missouri offense takes advantage. The Cyclones have played well at home, but they won't be able to score enough to keep up with the Tigers, who'll likely key in on Alexander Robinson and force Jerome Tiller to make difficult throws to Iowa State's underwhelming receiving corps.

No. 14 Oklahoma 35, Baylor 30: This is my pick of the week. Come back later today for a video of me explaining my pick.

No. 19 Texas A&M 27, No. 8 Nebraska 24: I'll call my shot here in an upset special. I barely missed when I picked the Aggies to beat Oklahoma State. I missed by, let's say, a wide margin, when I picked Missouri to beat the Huskers. The third time's the charm, right? Let me explain:

1) Texas A&M got a lot of practice defending the zone read against Baylor last week, with Robert Griffin III and Jay Finley. They gave up a few big plays in the first half, but played a lot better in the second half. That'll continue this week.

2) Conservative, average, punchless, whatever. Call it what you want. Mediocre has many names. That's what Nebraska's offense has been without a full-strength Taylor Martinez. I have my doubts about how healthy Martinez's ankle is, and in this game, where Nebraska will have to put points on the board, that's a big deal. Their running offense won't be as effective, and the Aggies have athletes on the edge and in the middle at linebacker in Garrick Williams, Von Miller and Michael Hodges who can make the stops necessary to keep the Huskers at bay.

3) Oklahoma State couldn't stop Nebraska's offense. Missouri couldn't move the ball against Nebraska's defense. Texas A&M, however, has a better pass rush and a better secondary than Oklahoma State, and can run downhill with power, versus Missouri's slow-developing, east-west running attack that got swallowed up by the Huskers speed on defense. Taylor Martinez isn't throwing for 300 yards against Tim DeRuyter's defense, and as long as Cyrus Gray gets 20-plus touches, the Aggies should be able to run the ball where Nebraska has been vulnerable: right in the middle of the defense. The Aggies offensive line is getting better fast, and those two freshman tackles have turned from a liability into a strength, coach Mike Sherman said this week.

4) Missouri doesn't have the talent at receiver to get open, but Texas A&M does. Jeff Fuller probably won't have a big day against Prince Amukamara, but Uzoma Nwachukwu will occupy Alfonzo Dennard, and opportunities over the middle should be there for slot men Ryan Swope and Kenric McNeal, as well as tight end Nehemiah Hicks and Gray out of the backfield. Ryan Tannehill will find them enough to help the Aggies spring the upset and finish the season strong.
Despite all the attention Robert Griffin III's running ability got as a freshman, he didn't lead the team in rushing like Taylor Martinez is doing at Nebraska these days. His 843 yards weren't enough.

As Baylor's racked up seven wins in 2010, the most in the program since the inception of the Big 12, Griffin again hasn't been the team's leading rusher.

[+] EnlargeJay Finley
AP Photo/Harry CabluckJay Finley has rushed for at least 143 yards in four of Baylor's past five games.
That title goes to senior running back Jay Finley, who rushed for 169 yards and three touchdowns against a stout Texas A&M run defense (No. 13 nationally) last week to achieve his first-ever 1,000-yard season and moved into third in the Big 12 in rushing yards.

"It's not a surprise," said coach Art Briles. "He's a back that can get it done and will get it done. We're happy that he crossed that milestone for himself personally and for our football team because it's a big deal. It is impressive that he's been able to do it against the caliber of competition that we've been playing. So that's the impressive part."

A few weeks ago, Finley looked like he'd fall well short of 1,000 yards, like he did last year while battling an ankle injury that required offseason surgery. But for the experienced, 5-foot-11, 205-pound back, a late surge in the thick of conference play has easily pushed him over the mark.

"He got healthy, that's the main thing," Briles said. "When you're healthy, you've got a chance to be good."

In Finley's last five games, he's run for 769 yards and 10 touchdowns, the bulk of his yards this season.

"It feels great. I worked hard to get this," Finley said. "One thousand yards is a lot, but I just want to keep on going."

That stretch included a 250-yard game against Kansas State and a three-touchdown performance against Texas A&M.

"It's what we expected," Briles said. "He's a good, powerful, tough back who fights hard to make yards and win. He's really just right on track with what he's been showing us for three years."

He'll need another big day to go out a winner against No. 14 Oklahoma in his last game at Floyd Casey Stadium, and one that could put an emphatic stamp on Baylor's breakout season that's been three years in the making.

Aggies defense shows up in third quarter

November, 13, 2010
Texas A&M's defense put up 21 points in the first half, but still trailed.

The Aggies needed defense. In the third quarter, they got it.

Texas A&M held Baylor to minus-11 yards in the quarter after a long drive on its opening possession of the second half ended in a missed field goal.

Running back Cyrus Gray scored twice, and Texas A&M grabbed its first lead at 35-30.

That's a good sign for Texas A&M's offense, forced to move on without leading rusher Christine Michael. Gray has shouldered the load well, running 16 times for 83 yards.

The defense plugged its holes in the running game, too. Robert Griffin III has six carries for minus-1 yard in this half after running for 100 yards in the first half. Running back Jay Finley carried nine times in the quarter for 14 yards.

Wrecking Crew goes MIA in Waco

November, 13, 2010
Texas A&M's defense left to chants of "Wrecking Crew!" a week ago, after upsetting Oklahoma and doing it with a first half shutout and three goal-line stands.

There hasn't been much of that in Waco this week. The Aggies allowed 30 points in the first half and trail 30-21 at halftime against Baylor in the Battle of the Brazos.

That's included two one-yard touchdown runs that the Aggies probably could have afforded to give up in their two-touchdown win a week ago.

Worse than the scores has been Texas A&M's run defense. Baylor already has two 100-yard rushers and all four touchdowns have come on the ground. Running back Jay Finley has 146 yards and three touchdowns on 17 carries, including a 69-yard touchdown. Quarterback Robert Griffin has 100 yards and a touchdown on 10 carries, including a 71-yard score.

Griffin is also 17-of-21 for 120 yards, completing passes to nine different receivers.

Whatever problems have surfaced for Texas A&M's defense better get fixed quickly, or Baylor's dangerous offense might hang another 30 points on the board in the second half.
STILLWATER, Okla. -- Baylor finally made a serious threat to score, but running back Jay Finley fumbled while hurdling a defender for a first down, forced by a hit from linebacker Shaun Lewis.

Officials took a few minutes to sort out the ensuing pile, but the Cowboys emerged with the ball, preserving a stunning shutout to this point, and giving the offense another opportunity to add to its growing lead.

Oklahoma State took advantage with a Justin Blackmon-driven drive. Blackmon drew a pass interference flag on a deep ball, and caught three passes for 41 yards to set up a Kendall Hunter's second one-yard touchdown run that put Oklahoma State up, 24-0 late in the first half.

Blackmon now has seven catches for 101 yards and a touchdown -- his eighth consecutive game with a touchdown catch. The spark that comes with his presence on the offense is pretty obvious, but this is what we expected from Oklahoma State's offense.

The defense is the reason for the big lead.

TCU -- the nation's No. 1 scoring and total defense -- is the only team to keep Baylor under 30 points this year.

With a pair of fumble recoveries and three other defensive stops, Oklahoma State is well ahead of pace to become the third.

What to watch in the Big 12: Week 10

November, 4, 2010
I'll be in Stillwater on Saturday checking out a big South battle between Oklahoma State and Baylor, but I'll have my eye on every game as usual. Here's what I'm watching:

1. The scoreboard at Boone Pickens Stadium. You saw it in my pick this morning, there's going to be a lot of points on the board this Saturday, featuring some of the best skill-position talent in the league. Oklahoma State's triplets -- quarterback Brandon Weeden, running back Kendall Hunter and receiver Justin Blackmon -- go head-to-head with Robert Griffin III, Jay Finley and Kendall Wright.

[+] EnlargeBrandon Weeden and Kendall Hunter
John Rieger/US PresswireOklahoma State's Brandon Weeden (3) and Kendall Hunter (24) -- along with receiver Justin Blackmon -- have been tough to stop this season.
2. Big hits. This should be something to keep an eye on for the rest of the season, really. I had it on last week's what to watch, but I'm interested to see if receivers over the middle go unjacked-up, or if there's any noticeable difference with how defenders hit. Oklahoma safety Quinton Carter, one of the league's hardest hitters, says his style is changing because of the crackdown. Nebraska's defense says it won't change the way it plays after linebacker Eric Martin was suspended. Courtney Osborne's hit on Blaine Gabbert (clean in my book) went unpunished after Missouri's Gary Pinkel sent it to the league for review in hopes of educating his players on which hits were legal and which hits weren’t.

3. Texas' defense. It completely shut down the league's best rushing offense earlier in the season in a marquee 20-13 victory at Nebraska. Now, it takes on the Big 12's No. 2 rushing team, Kansas State, in Manhattan. What's in store for running backs Daniel Thomas and William Powell?

4. Texas Tech's receivers. Jacoby Franks and last year's leader, Alex Torres, are out. They the are Red Raiders' Nos. 3 and 4 targets. Franks is gone for the year, and Torres could be too, but arthroscopic surgery earlier this week provided hope he could return in a few weeks. Those who will be playing, namely seniors Lyle Leong and Detron Lewis, will need to play well to keep up with Missouri's offense. Younger players like Austin Zouzalik and Tramain Swindall have to elevate their play.

5. Blaine Gabbert. Gabbert actually played pretty well for what was available last week, running when he needed to and throwing without any real misses on the rare occasion when a receiver was open. This week should be much easier against a Texas Tech secondary that is the worst in the league and one of the worst in the nation. Is he due for a big week? His targets will be back open, and he won't get hit nearly as much. The Red Raiders gave up 449 yards to Ryan Tannehill, 274 yards to Cody Hawkins and 356 to Brandon Weeden in the past three weeks. Not a sparkling résumé.

6. Oklahoma on the road. Bob Stoops says it's not a real problem. The Sooners' win-loss margin at home is 22.7 points higher than away from Owen Field, by far the highest of any other elite program. This year, the Sooners have a loss to Missouri and a two-point win over Cincinnati, the last-place team in the Big East at 3-5, on their record. Texas A&M is a renewed team with Ryan Tannehill at quarterback. Is an upset in store?

7. Tannehill's next test. Like we mentioned above, Texas Tech's secondary ranks last in the league, giving up 45 more yards per game through the air than any other team. That ranks 119 out of 120 teams nationally. Oklahoma isn't way, way better (sixth in Big 12, No. 83 nationally), but they'll be tougher than Texas Tech. What does Tannehill have in store for his encore after a school-record 449 yards and four touchdowns in his first start last week?

8. Quarterback controversies. Texas Tech has reopened the competition between Steven Sheffield and Taylor Potts, and hasn't officially announced a starter. Kansas' top two passers may be back this week, but their status is in doubt as No. 3 Quinn Mecham hopes to make his second career start. Texas A&M coach Mike Sherman hasn't explicitly said Tannehill will start on Saturday, but it would be hard to imagine he wouldn't after last week. Keep an eye on how all this shakes out on Saturday.

9. Kansas climbing. The Jayhawks led at halftime last week at Iowa State. Now, they host the next-worst team in the league, Colorado, the Big 12's only other 0-4 team. There's no doubt this is the best chance for either team to get their first -- and maybe only -- conference win of the year.

10. Huskers taking care of the ball. I'm not 100 percent sure, but I think the definition of a football nightmare is finishing a game with more turnovers than points. That's what Nebraska did last year, turning the ball over eight times in a 9-7 home loss to an Iowa State team missing its two best players, running back Alexander Robinson and quarterback Austen Arnaud. They'll face a full-strength Iowa State team in Ames on Saturday for control of the North. The Huskers have an incredible 26 fumbles in eight games, but have lost only nine of them. What are the odds history repeats itself?

Big 12 predictions: Week 9

October, 28, 2010
» Predictions: ACC | Big 12 | Big East | Big Ten | Pac-10 | SEC | Non-AQ

Last week was OK, but my string of 5-1 weeks was broken by Texas and Missouri. Sometimes erring on the side of history doesn't pay off. That gave me my first miss on Missouri this season, but I've now missed the Longhorns three times this season (UCLA, Nebraska, Iowa State). It seems like the only person having a harder time figuring them out than me is Mack Brown. Doesn't look like an easy task for either of us, with a tough game for the Longhorns on Saturday and a tough pick for me.

I'll be in Lincoln this weekend taking in the de facto Big 12 North championship game between the Huskers and Missouri. Should be a great one.

This is the most difficult week of picks we've had this season, but that's what you get in conference play. Three of the six games look like toss-ups, and I went against my gut on two of them.

Last week: 4-2 (.667)

Overall: 55-10

No. 17 Oklahoma State 41, Kansas State 24: Justin Blackmon's absence will be felt, but the Cowboys still have plenty of power on offense that Kansas State can't account for. This already looked like a pretty bad matchup for the Wildcats, and only slightly less so without Blackmon. Kendall Hunter will get loose a lot in this one. Look for 200-plus yards from him once again.

Iowa State 31, Kansas 17: Kansas gets a little closer against the Cyclones, but Collin Franklin and Alexander Robinson have good days in a solid win for Iowa State.

No. 6 Missouri 31, No. 14 Nebraska 27: Count this as me going against my gut No. 1. Check back later today for a video of me explaining my pick.

Texas A&M 27, Texas Tech 24: The Aggies buck the trend of road teams winning two in a row in the series, start Jerrod Johnson and eventually go with Ryan Tannehill, who engineers a couple touchdown drives for the win.

Texas 21, No. 25 Baylor 20: Going against my gut here, too. I picked against an angry Texas team in Nebraska, but you have to think it'll only be more intense this week. Nebraska's offense is better than Baylor's, and the Horns shut it down. They've got the corners in the back to slow Kendall Wright and Josh Gordon through the air, and Sam Acho and Keenan Robinson play well up front to keep Robert Griffin III and Jay Finley from having the kind of days they enjoyed last week against Kansas State. And D.J. Monroe gets more than one carry!

No. 9 Oklahoma 45, Colorado 10: This one's not close. Roy Finch makes Sooners fans drool yet again, making a few late highlights in the fourth quarter. He'll be a good one real soon.

3-point stance: A week for upsets

October, 25, 2010
1. The nature of offense and the diffusion of talent typically means that teams excel in passing or rushing but not both. The rare team that does both well rarely does it in the same game. Defenses will take the pass away to force an offense to run, or vice-versa. All of that was true until Saturday, when Baylor quarterback Robert Griffin III threw for 404 yards and Bears tailback Jay Finley rushed for 250 yards in the same game at Kansas State. Conventional wisdom gets sacked again.

2. That’s one way to stop a streak. The BCS moved Auburn to No. 1 this week instead of No. 2 Oregon. Extending the streak of three No. 1s who have lost on the road now depends upon Ole Miss (3-4) defeating the Tigers (8-0) instead of USC (5-2) defeating the Ducks (7-0). Ole Miss has held only one opponent (Tulane) to fewer than 23 points. Auburn has scored at least 24 points against every opponent but one (Mississippi State) has scored 386 points in seven games this season.

3. At first glance, the schedule of games this week promises little. Only two games match teams in the BCS top-25 (No. 5 Michigan State at No. 18 Iowa; No. 6 Missouri at No. 14 Nebraska). But five other top-10 teams have road games. If seven of the top 10 are playing on the road, then it’s likely that someone is going to get upset. And that doesn’t count No. 7 Alabama, which is idle. Don’t let this week lull you to sleep.
Kansas State and Baylor are both a game away from bowl eligibility. Both teams are playing like it but the Bears lead 31-21, at halftime.

Bears quarterback Robert Griffin has thrown for 263 yards and three scores at the break.

Kansas State running back Daniel Thomas has 94 yards rushing and a pair of touchdowns.

Baylor running back Jay Finley has already topped 100 yards on just 13 carries, with a touchdown, and receiver Kendall Wright has four catches for 72 yards and a score.

In short, about every key player is turning in a major contribution, but the Bears are clearly the more versatile team, and the versatility has given them the lead. Baylor has also out gained the Wildcats 387-186 yards at the half.