NCF Nation: Jeff Spikes
But plenty has been resolved in camps so far. Here's the best of what we know:
1. Three quarterback battles have been won. Two (Kansas State and Nebraska) have yet to be decided, but Tyler Hansen won the job over Cody Hawkins at Colorado. Kale Pick beat out Jordan Webb at Kansas. Taylor Potts beat out Steven Sheffield in an epic duel at Texas Tech between two seniors who could start for about anyone in the conference.
3. Gill: What have you done for me lately? Turner Gill cares not about your recruiting stars, Jayhawks. Toben Opurum was the Jayhawks leading rusher as a freshman, with 554 yards. As one of the nation's best fullbacks, he came to Kansas because Mark Mangino planned to let the 6-foot-1, 240-pounder play running back. He was injured in the spring, but returned to full strength by preseason camp. Unable to crack the depth chart at running back, he's been moved to linebacker to help solve the Jayhawks' depth problems at the position. Meanwhile, two-year starter at center Jeremiah Hatch was sent to the bench in favor of senior captain Sal Capra, who played both guard positions last year.
4. Iowa State is even more huggable. The team rallied behind rookie head coach Paul Rhoads in 2009 and raced to a seven-win season after just five wins in the previous two seasons combined. This fall, one of the teams practices was canceled so the players could sandbag the athletic facility to prevent damage from a major flood in Central Iowa. To do the team's laundry, team managers had to travel nearly 20 miles to the nearest source of fresh water.
5. Robert Griffin's arm isn't rusty. The Bears sophomore quarterback has strung together two masterful scrimmages through the air, completing 33 of his 44 passes for three touchdowns and one interception. He has yet to prove he can run with the same explosiveness he showed as a freshman, but coach Art Briles isn't going to be getting Griffin hit many more times than is necessary.
6. Texas is talking up its defense. Coach Mack Brown isn't keeping quiet about his expectations for his defense in 2010. ""I do think this could be our best defense," Brown told the Dallas Morning News last week, noting health and depth as variables. "We should be really, really good on defense." The Longhorns already ranked No. 3 nationally in total defense last year, but bring back one of the nation's best secondaries and perhaps the best and deepest group of defensive ends anywhere.
2. Oklahoma: Honestly, my gut tells me to slide the Sooners above the Longhorns based on coach Bob Stoops comments at media days, but I'll give the champs their due entering the preseason. Oklahoma loses its top three blockers from a season ago, and any growth from Oklahoma's eight-win team last season will have to start on the offensive line. Stoops believes it will. If it does, look for the Sooners and Longhorns to switch positions if Oklahoma earns wins against Florida State and Cincinnati while Texas beats up on Rice and Wyoming. A convincing win at Texas Tech might keep the Longhorns on top.
3. Nebraska: The Huskers quarterback issues can't end soon enough. The Big 12 blog's pick: Zac Lee. With its offensive line and quality running backs, Nebraska will be able to run the ball. If Lee can establish himself as the best passer of the group, his skills will better serve the offense than the more athletic Cody Green and Taylor Martinez. We won't know very much about how good the defense will be again this year until the Huskers' date with Jake Locker and the Washington Huskies on Sept. 18 in Seattle.
4. Missouri: A solid contender in the North, Missouri's key to hopping over the Huskers lies in the secondary. That group returns all four starters and has another experienced player in junior Kenji Jackson entering camp as a new starter at safety. If it solidifies, Missouri will be a force that spends most of the season in the top 25. Jerrell Jackson and Wes Kemp should share the spotlight catching balls from Blaine Gabbert along with slot man T.J. Moe and tight end Michael Egnew.
5. Texas A&M: The Aggies have the conference's best player, but its worst defense. Both will need to improve for the Aggies to earn a South title. On defense, new defensive coordinator Tim DeRuyter will have to build around tackle Lucas Patterson, linebacker Von Miller and safety Trent Hunter. Three freed-up offensive line spots -- which might all be filled by freshman -- will have to be solid and consistent for the offense to remain one of the Big 12's best, despite the Aggies' talent at the skill positions.
6. Kansas State: Running back Daniel Thomas led the Big 12 in rushing with almost no help from the quarterback spot last season, so the competition between Carson Coffman, Collin Klein and Sammuel Lamurisn't immensely important to Kansas State's success. No doubt, they'll be a lot better with great play from one of those three, but they won't be a bad team without it. Two of the Wildcats' top four tacklers will be junior defensive backs in 2010, Emmanuel Lamur and Tysyn Hartman.
And yes, I am very proud that I'm still batting 1.000 in not mixing up Sammuel and Emmanuel Lamur. Stay tuned, though.
7. Texas Tech: The Red Raiders have a great chance to move up this poll after hosting Texas on Sept. 18. Whoever wins the quarterback competition between Taylor Potts and Steven Sheffieldshould excel, which not every team in the Big 12 with a quarterback battle can say. Tech's aggressive new defense will have to limit big plays to see success in the first year under coach Tommy Tuberville and defensive coordinator James Willis. A convincing opening-week win against SMU will look better in December than some Tech fans might think after the team's Sunday, Sept. 5 debut.
8. Oklahoma State: One of the conference's wildcards, the Cowboys bring back just eight starters from last season, and will showcase a radical new offense in Dana Holgorsen's version of the Air Raid. Oklahoma State's receiving corps, led by Hubert Anyiam and Tracy Moore, is extremely underrated and could surprise plenty of folks in 2010. Their first real test comes Sept. 30, when they'll get a chance to knock off media darling Texas A&M in Stillwater.
9. Iowa State: The Cyclones nonconference schedule has made plenty of headlines this offseason, and Iowa State isn't shying away from its dates with Northern Illinois, Iowa and Utah. The legal issues surrounding defensive star David Sims appear to be resolved with an opening-game suspension, and running back Alexander Robinson looks ready for another big season after rushing for over 1,000 yards in his 2009 breakout season. Iowa State will need to steal a few games like last season to qualify for a second consecutive bowl game.
10. Baylor: Freshman safety Ahmad Dixon is impressing early in camp with a few big hits, and is making good on his status as one of the best recruits in Baylor history. Another -- Robert Griffin -- is already dealing with the pressures of delivering a bowl game to Waco. Coach Art Briles will need more players like Dixon and Griffin to move the Bears goals past just making a bowl game.
11. Colorado: The only team to move up from its position in the post-spring power rankings, Colorado simply brings back more talent than Kansas, and added two new receivers in UCLA non-qualifier Paul Richardson and Travon Patterson, whose transfer from USC was finalized on Monday. The offensive line has a lot of talent in Nate Solder and Ryan Miller, but the other three members will have to improve if the Buffs are going to rush for more than 1,055 yards like in 2009 (11th in the Big 12) and give up fewer than 43 sacks, 11 more than any other team in the Big 12.
12. Kansas: Losing your three best players from a team that finished last in the Big 12 North a season ago -- plus implementing a new coaching philosophy -- is a recipe for a rebuilding year. That's where the Jayhawks sit to begin 2010. They've got good young talent in linebacker Huldon Tharp and receiver Johnathan Wilson, who are both sophomores, but they face major questions at quarterback with inexperienced candidates Jordan Webb and Kale Pick battling for the No. 1 spot. Last season's leading rusher, Toben Opurum, is also nowhere to be found on the depth chart after battling injuries throughout the spring. The Jayhawks were the only team in the conference to return all five starters on the offensive line, but a season-ending injury to tackle Jeff Spikeseliminated that status. Brad Thorson, who played both guard and tackle last season, is also recovering from a broken foot. A win against Southern Miss and a competitive loss to Georgia Tech would earn the Jayhawks some more respect.
Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Griffin
Here are some of the things I'll be watching for in Big 12 games tomorrow.
1. Kansas State fans' reaction to Ron Prince: The lame-duck Kansas State coach -- whose tenure will end up as the second-shortest in Big 12 history behind only Baylor's Dave Roberts -- will make his first home appearance since his dismissal last week. KSU fans seemed to have little excitement for the program during blowout home losses to Texas Tech and Oklahoma earlier this year. Will that attitude change against Nebraska, a traditionally bitter rivalry that once was the prime North Division battle? It would be hard to tell this season, considering there are still seats available for Saturday's game.
2. Kansas' beleaguered offensive line against Texas' athletic defensive front: The Jayhawks allowed five sacks against Nebraska last week and 13 in the last four weeks. Texas pass-rushing specialist Brian Orakpo is back to create havoc for starting Kansas freshman tackles Jeremiah Hatch and Jeff Spikes. But a bigger worry might be Texas defensive tackle Roy Miller against Kansas senior guard Chet Hartley, who struggled mightily against Nebraska bull-rushing nose tackle Ndamukong Suh last week. More of the same might be waiting him again this week against Miller.
3. Todd Reesing challenging his childhood favorites: The Kansas quarterback was reared in central Austin only a couple of long touchdown passes away from Royal Memorial Stadium. He grew up watching Texas games with his father, a Texas alumnus. Like most Big 12 schools, the Longhorns didn't recruit Reesing heavily in high school because of his size. He's left the state to flourish as Kansas' career passing leader. And a bigger career achievement for him personally might be knocking the Longhorns out of the BCS race.
4. Baylor in a rare position as favorite in a Big 12 favorite: The Bears will be coming into Saturday's game against Texas A&M as a favorite for only the fourth time since 2002, according to football guru Phil Steele. Their pregame point spread is also the highest for the Bears in a Big 12 game since a 1996 game against Missouri. The Bears shouldn't assume anything just because Vegas expects them to win, considering they are 1-20-1 in the last 22 games against the Aggies.
5. Missouri's trip to a traditional snake pit, Iowa State: The Tigers could have a shot to wrap up the Big 12 North if Texas beats Kansas earlier in the day. But Missouri has traditionally struggled against Iowa State, losing three of its last four games there, including a 2006 game that was the Tigers' most recent loss to a Big 12 North foe. But this matchup appears to decidedly favor the Tigers, particularly if Chase Daniel is on. A struggling Iowa State pass defense that has been blistered for an average of 358 passing yards and given up 13 touchdown passes in its last three games. The Cyclones will be supremely challenged by all of Missouri's offensive weapons.
6. Texas playing without starting center Chris Hall: The Kansas defensive front has not been a particular challenge for most teams this season. But the Longhorns' depth will be lessened after Hall suffered a knee injury in practice earlier this week that will keep him out of Saturday's game. The Longhorns' depth at the position already is depleted after Buck Burnette was kicked off the team last week for posting an inflammatory comment about President-elect Barack Obama on his personal Web page. It means freshman center David Snow will make his first career start with starting tight end Greg Smith serving as his backup. It's not the best of situations, especially if Texas has to rely on shotgun exchanges in a tight ballgame.
7. Oklahoma State's reaction to the crushing Texas Tech loss last week: The Cowboys' blowout loss in Lubbock snuffed out their BCS hopes. But they still have an opportunity for a New Year's Day bowl appearance with a strong finish. On Saturday, they must beat resurgent Colorado, which still has bowl hopes, too. It will be important for the Cowboys to use the same balanced offense that has typified their season. And it wouldn't hurt to get playmaking wide receiver Dez Bryant off to a quick start after his early struggles last week.
8. Jerrod Johnson vs. Robert Griffin: Two of the Big 12's most spectacular young players will spice up "The Battle of the Brazos" between Texas A&M and Baylor. We could be seeing this personal battle continue for the next several seasons. It will be interesting for both players on Saturday as they try to rebound from ugly performances last week.
9. The Colorado quarterback rotation: Cody Hawkins is expected to get the start Saturday night against Oklahoma State after his second-half rally helped the Buffaloes storm past Iowa State last week. Freshman Tyler Hansen is still expected to get some snaps as a change of pace against an Oklahoma State defense that has had trouble pressuring opposing passers throughout the season.
10. Nebraska's defense after receiving its Blackshirts: Coach Bo Pelini finally presented those coveted trinkets to his defense after it racked up five sacks against Kansas last week. The Cornhuskers might be in for a stiffer challenge than expected against quarterback Josh Freeman, a one-time Nebraska commitment who spurned the team to attend Kansas State. The Cornhuskers will be limited defensively without starting linebackers Cody Glenn (suspension for a violation of team rules) and Phillip Dillard (ankle). The backups need to pick up the slack against an underrated Kansas State offense that ranks 17th nationally in passing, 20th in scoring and 28th in total offense.
Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Griffin
Here are ten things to watch for this week in the Big 12.
1. Missouri WR Danario Alexander's return: I'll be interested to see how Alexander performs in his first game since injuring his knee in the Big 12 championship game last December. He's a tall, athletic target who will be especially important for QB Chase Daniel in red-zone possessions. Just what the Tigers need, another offensive weapon.
2. Iowa State's defensive front against Iowa's inside running game: The Cyclones struggled mightily last week against Kent State. And they'll be stepping up in class as they try to contain bullish Iowa RBs Shonn Greene and Jewel Hampton.
3. The Oklahoma State triplets and what they'll do for an encore: QB Zac Robinson, RB Kendall Hunter and WR Dez Bryant all will have their chances against Missouri State, but I'm not betting on another 200-200-300 performance like last week. The Cowboys will have the game in hand by the middle of the second quarter, limiting their chances to pad their statistics in the second half.
4. New Mexico State's first-game readiness: The Aggies, no doubt, will be at a huge disadvantage in their maiden voyage this season after their first game against Nicholls State University was postponed by Hurricane Gustav. Saturday will be Nebraska's third game. That experience should have the Cornhuskers ready for the Aggies' aerial attack keyed by QB Chase Holbrook.
5. Bob Stoops' heebie-jeebies in a Pac-10 stadium: Stoops has never won in two previous trips to the West Coast (Oregon in 2006, UCLA in 2005). That losing streak continues Oklahoma's struggles that have seen the team win only one of its last six road games against Pac-10 teams since 1988.
6. Washington State's early arrival at Baylor: Hurricane Ike pushed the kickoff up a day, making an already difficult trip more arduous for the Cougars. And they can't be feeling very confident after last week's 66-3 home blowout to California. WSU struggles defensively against the pass, so look for Robert Griffin to try to establish WR David Gettis early.
7. The trench battle between Kansas T Jeff Spikes and South Florida DE George Selvie: The Bulls have to pressure Kansas QB Todd Reesing for any chance to win. Selvie finished second nationally with 14.5 sacks, but hasn't notched one since mid-November. His slump has permeated the rest of his team as the Bulls have produced only one sack as a team this season.
8. Mike Leach's gambles: No Big 12 coach disdains punting on fourth-and-short situations as much as Leach, no matter where on the field he's positioned. After being burned twice on missed fourth-down plays deep in his own end of the field last week at Nevada, it will be interesting to see how reckless Leach will be Saturday against SMU.
9. Graham Harrell's slump: Some are wondering if Texas Tech's talented quarterback has hit a wall after struggling last week against Nevada. He had a below 50 percent completion percentage for the first time in his starting career last week. Harrell has thrown three touchdowns after the first two games of the season. He averaged 3.6 touchdown passes per game last season.
10. Nebraska's offensive discipline: The Cornhuskers struggled with self-inflicted mistakes last week against San Jose State. They were flagged eight times offensively, including false-start penalties on three consecutive snaps at one juncture. A veteran quarterback and offensive line were expected to have better communication than that.
Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Griffin
|Marc Serota/Getty Images|
|Kansas QB Todd Reesing is second in the nation in total offense.|
During its last trip to Florida, Kansas grabbed a chunk of national credibility with an impressive victory in the Orange Bowl.
Less than nine months later, the Jayhawks are back in the Sunshine State looking for more.
The Jayhawks will be facing South Florida in an early battle of top 20 teams. It will be a litmus test for both programs, but especially for a Kansas team that has received unprecedented publicity earlier this season.
"I think this is a good measuring stick, to some degree," Kansas coach Mark Mangino said. "But I don't think it's a game where, if we win, we feel like we're going to win all the rest, and if we lose, we're going to have a bad season."
This year's game is a huge transformation from the first game of the series in 2006. Kansas eked out a narrow 13-7 victory that featured little pregame acclaim.
"I remember playing them two years ago and it meant nothing to the mass media," Kansas safety Darrell Stuckey said. "I was hearing from fans thinking that we should beat those guys because they hadn't heard much about them. They were a very good team then and they've grown a lot since then. Now, they are a phenomenal team."
After last season, the perception of both programs has been transformed. Both teams were briefly ranked No. 2 in the nation last season. The Jayhawks won their bowl game, beating Virginia Tech in the Orange Bowl for the first program's first victory in a BCS bowl game. USF started 6-0 before losing three straight games that knocked them out of the Big East title hunt.
"It's matchup of a couple of similar programs," Kansas quarterback Todd Reesing said. "They popped up on the scene much like we did last year. They got high in the ratings and made a lot of headway with some guys that weren't highly recruited. It's something that's been the same for both of us."
Despite outscoring opponents by a combined margin of 69-10 in its first two games, the Jayhawks will enter Friday's game with several lingering questions. Kansas has struggled running the ball so far, averaging 3.7 yards per carry. It's down more than a yard per carry from last year's average.
Some of the problems have been caused by breaking in new starting tackles Jeff Spikes and Jeremiah Hatch into the lineup after losing All-American Anthony Collins and four-year starter Cesar Rodriguez from last season.
And the Jayhawks have been slow to fill the contribution of running back Brandon McAnderson, who rushed for 1,125 yards last season. The biggest disappointment has been the play of junior-college transfer Jocques Crawford, who brashly predicted before the season that he would like to run for 2,000 yards. After the first two games, Crawford is still 1,951 yards from his stated goal.
Third-stringer Angus Quigley has emerged as the most consistent Kansas running threat, piling up 131 yards. Crawford and Jake Sharp, the most experienced Kansas back, have both been inconsistent as the Jayhawks rank 10th in the Big 12 with an average of 127 rushing yards per game.
Despite the running game struggles, Mangino has been pleased in how Reesing has moved the Jayhawks through the air. He leads the nation in pass completions, is second in total offense, seventh passing yards and is eighth in passing efficiency after the first two games of the season.
"Sure, we haven't run the ball as effectively as I'd like for us to," Mangino said. "But on the other hand, we've been throwing the ball so well. We're facing a situation where it's 'Are we being patient enough for the running game?' And the second question is, 'Do we need to be patient enough for the run game?' As long as the run game can complement the passing game a little bit, we feel good about it."
Some are still questioning the Jayhawks and their national credentials. The South Florida game starts a punishing stretch of their schedule which will also include games with South Division powers Texas, Oklahoma and Texas Tech. Kansas played none of those teams during last season's 12-1 campaign.
"This game will be an opportunity for us to establish ourselves in the national mindset," Stuckey said. "This will define us as a team and show that we weren't a one-year wonder. It's an opportunity to show we really deserve to be considered as a strong contender."
Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Griffin
Few schools have the rich historical base of Texas. And that's why the recent addition at Darrell K. Royal/Texas Memorial Stadium is so neat.
School officials have installed an exhibit in the stadium's north end zone that will list and honor the five retired numbers in the school's football history. Players who have been honored include Vince Young, Ricky Williams, Bobby Layne, Earl Campbell and Tommy Nobis.
Other schools have done this. I always have a fond remembrance of the past when I see Johnny Roland's or Kellen Winslow's number at Faurot Field or Rashaan Salaam at Folsom Field. It's a great way to recall the past.
I'm still waiting for some school to erect its own version of Monument Park like I saw at Yankee Stadium. Walking up to the bronze plaques of Babe Ruth, Lou Gehrig and Mickey Mantle left me with a lump in my throat. And I don't even like the New York Yankees.
Here's hoping that the Texas architects have arranged for these retired numbers to be prominently displayed where it will occasionally be noticeable on television broadcasts and be clear enough for people in the stadium. Because schools need to remember great players and their history.
And hopefully, these links will be as similarly cherished in 50 years.
- Colorado G Devin Head has adopted a scruffy, unkempt look. He's done it to honor the wife of his former high school coach, who recently died from breast cancer.
- Iowa State will generate more than $2.4 million in new revenue after the addition of new luxury boxes and club seating at Jack Trice Stadium. Only one of the 47 new suites remains unsold.
- Kansas coach Mark Mangino announced that redshirt freshmen Jeff Spikes and Jeremiah Hatch will be his starting offensive tackles for the Jayhawks Aug. 30 opener against Florida International. Spikes, who will replace Outland Trophy finalist Anthony Collins, might be the most adept 300-pound-plus saxophonist this side of Clarence Clemons.
- Veteran Lawrence Journal-World sports columnist Tom Keegan writes that Kansas QB Todd Reesing throws the most accurate ball in practice he's seen since he watched Troy Aikman at UCLA.
- "Mad" Mike DeArmond of the Kansas City Star takes a clue from Alfred E. Neuman in his most recent video log as he breaks down several recent calamities that have hit Missouri.
- Heralded RB Jocques Crawford took most of his repetitions Friday with Kansas' first-string offensive unit. And Mangino isn't bemoaning his depth although he's working with only four scholarship running backs.
- Missouri coach Gary Pinkel tells the Columbia Daily Tribune's Dave Matter he can tell a difference in his team's attitude after watching the end of another intense practice. "About six years ago, hardly anyone would have cared who won those things," Pinkel told Matter. "Now it's like venom. They're in attack mode."
- After producing a Big 12-worst 13 sacks last season, new Nebraska defensive coordinator Carl Pelini is intent on juicing production in his pass rush.
- The Oklahoman reports that former Oklahoma WR Josh Jarboe isn't currently eligible at Troy. Oklahoma officials said they didn't refuse Jarboe admission, meaning that Jarboe now is being treated as a transfer student, Troy coach Larry Blakeney said.
- WR William Cole will miss the upcoming season after tearing the anterior cruciate ligament in his right knee. The Oklahoman's Scott Wright analyzes the Cowboys' options after his injury.
- Tulsa World beat writer John Hoover reports that Oklahoma TE junior Jermaine Gresham isn't giving much consideration to jumping to the NFL after this season. That would be good news for Bob Stoops, after losing four players early to the NFL in his last two seasons.
- Missouri QB Chase Daniel tells Terrance Harris of the Houston Chronicle that unfinished business brought him back to Missouri for his senior season.
- Dallas Morning News columnist Chuck Carlton had a great line describing Texas high school relations and player development director Ken Rucker, calling him Jiminy Cricket in burnt orange.
- Speaking of mirth and whimsy, Texas Tech's new "Elf" formation has been developed to get the ball in diminutive WR Eric Morris' hands more often.
- Texas A&M DT Lucas Patterson might be unassuming, but he's emerging as his team's most underrated player. "Lucas is quiet, and so people tend to overlook him," A&M defensive line coach Buddy Wyatt told Brent Zwerneman of the San Antonio Express-News. "That's a mistake."
- Texas A&M coach Mike Sherman is remembering his roots, reaching out to 50 retired high school coaches and retired college assistants he invited to practices this weekend.
- Missouri K Jeff Wolfert, who has a streak of 16 consecutive field goals, is getting some rest in training camp. Coaches are limiting his kickoff duties to keep him fresh for the Tigers' Aug. 30 opener against Illiniois in St. Louis.
- Freshman WR Kendall Wright is making a successful transition after a stellar career as a high school quarterback. And he tells the Waco Tribune Herald's John Werner he plans to join the Baylor basketball team after the football season ends.
- Kansas announced its 2009 football schedule, with non-conference home games against Southern Mississippi, D
uke and Northern Colorado and a road game at UTEP. Site for the "Border War" game against Missouri remains undetermined, although it's slated to be a home game for the Jayhawks.