NCF Nation: Jeremy Beal

ESPN the Magazine had a fascinating feature looking back at the past 25 No. 1 high school recruits, where they are now and what the ranking meant to them. With apologies to Vince Young, there aren't a ton of Big 12 talents on the list, but there have been plenty of great recruits to come through the Big 12. We took a look on Thursday at how the All-Big 12 team stacked up as recruits, and you saw quite a mixed bag.

Well, it's the same for the recruits who came to campus with high rankings and high profiles. Going back to 2006, here's how every Big 12 commit from the ESPNU 150 turned out. We'll look at 2006 in this post before eventually reaching 2010 and the current class, 2011, by signing day.

2006

No. 6: DeMarco Murray, RB, Oklahoma. Murray set the school records for touchdowns (64) and all-purpose yards (6,498) as a Sooner. He's projected to be drafted on the first day of this year's NFL Draft.

No. 7: Sergio Kindle, OLB, Texas. Kindle was a finalist for the Butkus and Hendricks Awards and was a two-time All-Big 12 performer with 176 career tackles. He was drafted by the Baltimore Ravens in the second round last year's NFL Draft, but missed his rookie season after fracturing his skull in a fall on the stairs at his home.

No. 13: Jevan Snead, QB, Texas. Lost a quarterback battle to Colt McCoy following the 2005 season. Played sparingly as a freshman before transferring to Ole Miss. Went undrafted in 2010. Now plays for Arena League's Tampa Bay Storm.

No. 21: Gerald McCoy, DT, Oklahoma. McCoy was a Lombardi finalist, a three-time All-Big 12 performer, a two-time All-American who left Oklahoma after his junior season and was selected No. 3 overall by the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in the 2010 NFL Draft.

No. 22: Eddie Jones, DE, Texas. Jones just finished his career at Texas with an All-Big 12 honorable mention year in 2010. Finished his career with 111 tackles and 13.5 sacks.

No. 34: J'Marcus Webb, OT, Texas. Webb played one year at Texas before transferring to Navarro College and eventually West Texas A&M. He was drafted in the seventh round of the 2010 draft and spent the season with the Chicago Bears.

No. 36: Adron Tennell, WR, Oklahoma. Tennell finished his four-year career at Oklahoma with 40 catches, 505 yards and five touchdowns.

No. 42: Dustin Earnest, LB, Texas. Earnest finished his career in 2010 with 84 tackles and a sack for the Longhorns.

No. 45: Mike Goodson, RB, Texas A&M. Goodson was the Big 12 Freshman of the Year in 2006 with his career high 847 yards. He finished with 1,966 yards and 13 TDs in three seasons before being drafted in the fourth round by the Carolina Panthers.

No. 67: Phillip Payne, WR, Texas. Caught his first career pass in 2009, his third year at UT, before transferring after the season.

No. 75: Derek Burton, DE, Oklahoma State. Started 15 games in four years for the Cowboys, recording 67 career tackles.

No. 82: Ben Alexander, DT, Texas. Made four career starts, with 51 tackles and half a sack in 38 career appearances.

No. 104: Terrance Anderson, CB, Oklahoma State. Made 96 tackles in four years with the Cowboys. Had four career interceptions.

No. 110: Jonathan Nelson, CB, Oklahoma. Started all 14 games in 2010 for the Sooners after earning All-Big 12 honorable mention as a junior in 2009. Finished career with 155 tackles and five interceptions.

No. 111: Jermaine Gresham, TE, Oklahoma. Caught 111 passes for 1,629 yards and 26 touchdowns in three seasons, including an All-American season in 2008. Missed all of 2009 with knee injury. Drafted No. 21 overall in the 2010 draft by Cincinnati Bengals.

No. 137: Jeremy Beal, DE, Oklahoma. Had 224 tackles, 58.5 tackles for loss, and 29 sacks in four seasons, including three All-Big 12 seasons, an All-American season and was a Hendricks Award finalist in 2009. Projects as middle-round pick in 2011 NFL Draft.

No. 141: Josh Freeman, QB, Kansas State. Threw for 8,078 yards and 44 touchdowns and 34 interceptions in 35 career games. Also ran for 404 yards and 14 touchdowns as a junior. Drafted No. 17 overall by the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in the 2010 NFL Draft.

2010 Big 12 All-Bowl team

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

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

OFFENSE

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

DEFENSE

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

SPECIALISTS

P: Matt Grabner, Missouri
K: Dan Bailey, Oklahoma State
KR: Coryell Judie, Texas A&M
PR: Ryan Broyles, Oklahoma
GLENDALE, Ariz. -- The gap between Oklahoma and Connecticut in the history books is wide. You'll hear Connecticut and Oklahoma repeat ad nauseum that none of that matters.

They're wrong. Well, half wrong at least.

So yeah, maybe that 2000 national championship doesn't matter. Or any of those 1970s Orange Bowls, either.

But that 2009 national title game matters. So does that 2008 Fiesta Bowl. And three of the last four Big 12 Championships, with a pair of games in Cowboys Stadium.

Plenty of Oklahoma contributors -- players like DeMarco Murray, Ryan Broyles, Travis Lewis and Jeremy Beal -- played in those games. The Big Stage is nothing new to them. Don't expect any of the Sooners to squint at the bright lights.

Connecticut? Well, let's just say taking on Syracuse in a Carrier Dome with a few thousand empty seats isn't quite the same.

Oklahoma has, both literally and figuratively, been here before.

We're not quite sure what to expect from the Huskies in the biggest game in the history of the program. They've played plenty of "Biggest Game Evers" before, and handled most of them well.

There's no doubt the program has come a long way. This is a bit different.

"It is really incredible," coach Randy Edsall said of the program's rise. "Twelve years ago the teams we were playing. This year we opened up with Michigan and we're finishing with Oklahoma. It is a lot different than opening up with Maine and ending with Rhode Island."

Tonight, against a dangerous Oklahoma team, if Connecticut blinks early, the Sooners opening punch might be too much to withstand. Anyone not wearing crimson-and-cream wants to see something besides an early knockout, but if the Huskies get caught starry-eyed in the game's opening minutes, it's exactly what we might get.

SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. -- Jeremy Beal will leave Oklahoma after playing his final game on Saturday as one of the program's most decorated defenders. He's thrice been named an all-conference performer, landed on an All-American team and culminated his career by being named the Big 12's Defensive Player of the Year in 2010.

He's reserved a spot as one of the best players ever to wear the crimson and cream, but just a few years ago, Oklahoma didn't think he was good enough to even suit up for the scout team.

Beal's high school coach in Carrollton, Texas, brought him to Norman for a camp and a chance to be seen by Oklahoma defensive coordinator Brent Venables, whose jaw didn't exactly drop at what was in front of him.

[+] EnlargeJeremy Beal
AP Photo/Aaron M. SprecherJeremy Beal has proved to be the model of consistency for the Oklahoma defense.
"If you saw him, he wasn’t physically imposing. He was a bigger guy, but he didn’t look -- I don’t know -- he wasn’t impressive looking," Venables said. "He didn’t move impressively."

Thanks, but no thanks, the Sooners said, saving their scholarship offer and setting their sights on a five-star defensive end elsewhere.

December arrived. Beal's coach returned. This time, he had game tape of Beal's most recent season. Having already been turned down, he wasn't badgering Venables, but the two had forged a relationship through a decade of recruiting, and his coach just wanted to know where Beal should be looking to play if Oklahoma wasn't where he belonged.

"You just watched a few plays and you were like, 'This guy is incredible,'" Venables said.

The Sooners' defensive coordinator put the tape in front of head coach Bob Stoops, who asked a simple question: "Can we get him?"

Venables called his prospective five-star recruit and said the Sooners' 2006 class of defensive ends was full.

"He goes and doesn’t have a career remotely close to what Jeremy has had, so it goes to show you," Venables said, "the tape don’t lie."

He saw one player in drills against punching-bag offensive linemen. On the field against the real thing, he saw another. Considering football isn't played with blocking sleds protecting quarterbacks, Venables made the right choice.

That inconsistency is ironic considering the one thing about Beal that coaches can't stop raving about.

"The most impressive thing about Jeremy Beal is he’s the same guy every day," Venables said. "I could count on one finger how many guys are that way on our defense. It’s him."

"Every day," Stoops added with a shake of the head.

That's showed up for the Sooners' defensive line, where Beal has started all 40 games for Oklahoma in the past three seasons and added another two as a freshman. In those past three seasons, he's had at least 8.5 sacks and 15.5 tackles for loss every year, making a name for himself as the best pure pass-rusher in the conference and one of its best linemen.

"He’s the model for consistency, and as a coach it’s easy to overlook that," Venables said. "Players certainly don’t value it, it kind of has to be who you are. He’s got a tremendous strength to him and discipline and maturity. He’s had that since the day he got here.

"That’s pretty good for a guy who initially got turned down from a scholarship-offer standpoint. It’s a tremendous reflection of the type of parenting he had growing up and the type of coaching he had, because he walked through the door that way."

That parenting has transferred from his home back in Texas to the campus in Norman.

"He’s the leader. He keeps everyone straight, making sure everyone’s being responsible on the field as well as off the field," said senior safety Quinton Carter.

Beal personifies the strong, quiet-more-than-silent type, but that consistency says plenty. At least enough for Beal to be named a team captain before the season.

"When Jeremy speaks, people listen. That model of consistency and the way he studies tape, answers questions in the meeting room, he is always locked in," Venables said.

That's not to say he isn't saying plenty when he isn't saying anything.

"It’s obvious with his work ethic. He’s a great student and never in trouble, and then it just carries over to the football field," said Carter, a member of the AFCA Good Works team himself.

Beal will have one last go wearing that uniform on Saturday. What might be in doubt is the game's outcome. What won't be is Beal's output.

"I’ve had a lot of success. I wouldn’t trade it for anything," Beal said. "When I first showed up, I always knew I belonged here."

ESPN.com's All-Big 12 team

December, 8, 2010
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There were definitely plenty of tough calls in this group, and a lot of deserving guys who got left off, but here is my All-Big 12 team for the 2010 season. For reference, here is how the media voted, and how the coaches voted.

OFFENSE

QB: Brandon Weeden, Oklahoma State
RB: Kendall Hunter, Oklahoma State
RB: Daniel Thomas, Kansas State
WR: Justin Blackmon, Oklahoma State
WR: Ryan Broyles, Oklahoma
TE: Michael Egnew, Missouri
C: Tim Barnes, Missouri
OL: Levy Adcock, Oklahoma State
OL: Nate Solder, Colorado
OL: Ricky Henry, Nebraska
OL: Danny Watkins, Baylor

DEFENSE

DE: Jeremy Beal, Oklahoma
DT: Jared Crick, Nebraska
DT: Lucas Patterson, Texas A&M
DE: Sam Acho, Texas
LB: Von Miller, Texas A&M
LB: Lavonte David, Nebraska
LB: Orie Lemon, Oklahoma State
CB: Prince Amukamara, Nebraska
CB: Alfonzo Dennard, Nebraska
S: Quinton Carter, Oklahoma
S: Byron Landor, Baylor

SPECIALISTS

P: Quinn Sharp, Oklahoma State
K: Alex Henery, Nebraska
KR: Coryell Judie, Texas A&M
PR: Niles Paul, Nebraska

I'll stop short of listing who I had to snub on my own team, but the easiest positions for me to pick were receiver, linebacker, kicker and tight end. The most difficult were cornerback, kick returner, safety, defensive tackle and quarterback.

Here's how it shook out by team:

1. Nebraska (7)
2. Oklahoma State (6)
3. Texas A&M (3)
3. Oklahoma (3)
5. Missouri (2)
5. Baylor (2)
7. Texas (1)
7. Kansas State (1)
7. Colorado (1)
10. Kansas (0)
10. Iowa State (0)
10. Texas Tech (0)

Wrapping up the 2010 Big 12 season

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

This was The Year of the Rising Middle Class.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Now, time to pass out some awards:

Offensive MVP: Justin Blackmon, WR, Oklahoma State:

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

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

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

Coach of the Year: Mike Gundy, Oklahoma State

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

Biggest surprise: Oklahoma State's offense

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

Biggest disappointment: Texas

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

Game of the Year: Oklahoma 47, Oklahoma State 41

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

That's a recipe for a classic, and this one fit the bill.
ARLINGTON, Texas -- The game wasn't quite over yet, but Jarvis Jones snuck away from the Oklahoma sideline. The Sooners junior offensive lineman quickly found what he was looking for.

With Oklahoma only a couple snaps in the victory formation away from its seventh Big 12 title of the decade, Jones picked up the Oklahoma flag and made his way back to his teammates. The clock hit zeroes, and Jones crossed the sideline's white barrier to wave it proudly at midfield inside Texas' finest pigskin palace, Cowboys Stadium.

On this night, he might has well have replaced the Oklahoma logo with the Big 12's signature Roman numerals.

[+] EnlargeOklahoma Sooners
AP Photo/Tony GutierrezOklahoma had reason to celebrate after rallying from a 17-0 deficit to beat Nebraska 23-20 in the Big 12 title game.
Sooners 23, Huskers 20.

"This is like Celtics-Lakers. This is Cowboys and Redskins," said Oklahoma offensive coordinator Kevin Wilson. "We needed this game for our school, for not just the program but this state. There's a lot of tradition. We put a lot of eggs in the basket."

Oklahoma won them all, climbing out of a 17-0 hole for the second largest comeback in the history of the Big 12 title game.

"We're the team that can't score in the fourth quarter. We're the team that can't come from behind, we're the team that can't win on the road," Wilson said. "So I don't know how we won."

Oklahoma did all of those things -- albeit on a neutral site -- in Saturday's win, but so many things made it seem like this was Oklahoma's night on a stage that it has owned.

The Sooners converted just one first down in 16 tries against the Big 12's best defense. Given that, who would have figured that Jeremy Beal would share a postgame pose with Big 12 commissioner Dan Beebe and the Big 12 championship trophy, rather than Nebraska's Jared Crick?

Quarterback Landry Jones, who suffered through a nightmarish five interceptions in Lincoln a year ago, threw just one on Saturday, and racked up 342 yards passing on a secondary with four All-Big 12 players trying to stop him.

"You've gotta give it to the people around me," said quarterback Landry Jones. "They got open. They beat their guy that was covering them."

Jones completed 7 of 10 passes longer than 10 yards for 192 yards and a touchdown.

That doesn't happen against the Blackshirts.

It did on Saturday. Jones completed passes of 49 and 30 yards to freshman receiver Kenny Stills and another deep ball down the left sideline to Ryan Broyles for 47 yards, three passes combining for a big chunk of Jones' yards on the night.

Without those, you can forget seeing noted Oklahoma fan Toby Keith struggling not to smile while doing a postgame interview with a local Oklahoma City TV station, and later throwing an Oklahoma Big 12 championship hat on over his red Oklahoma beanie.

It was an Oklahoma kind of night.

"It was really exciting to see the maturity of us being down 17-0, no one being rattled, just keep working it, keep playing football," Stoops said. "It's a long night."

[+] EnlargeNebraska's Bo Pelini
AP Photo/Tony GutierrezNebraska and coach Bo Pelini were unable to win a conference championship in their final year as a member of the Big 12.
It was especially long for Nebraska quarterback Taylor Martinez. The freshman, playing through a sprained right ankle and turf toe on his left foot, completed just 12 of 24 passes for 143 yards. He couldn't figure out Oklahoma's defense, and was sacked seven times. Before Saturday's game, Nebraska quarterbacks had been sacked 17 times in 12 games, tied for second-fewest in the Big 12.

It was Oklahoma's night, and no one benefited more than senior Pryce Macon. Perhaps no one who factored more in the outcome of any Big 12 championship entered the game with a more modest bio than Macon's. Entering this season, he boasted eight career tackles and didn't see the field in Oklahoma's injury-plagued 2009.

But he finally got his moment in his last game in his home state of Texas, stealing the show from more heralded defensive linemen like Frank Alexander and the AP's Big 12 Defensive Player of the Year, Jeremy Beal.

Macon finished with five tackles for loss -- erasing 24 of Nebraska's yards -- including three sacks. Only eight other players in the history of Oklahoma football have equaled Macon's efforts. He also forced a pair of fumbles.

Told of Macon's stat line, Stoops shot his senior a stare and a shocked, extended, "Whaaaat?"

"Parents wouldn't let me quit. Friends wouldn't let me quit. I just kept grinding," Macon said. "I'm just glad I stayed and stuck it out and kept fighting.

"Hey, I couldn't see this going any better than this."

Somebody had to stand underneath the red-and-white confetti shower at the end of this one. Macon helped make sure it was the Sooners. Later, freshman Roy Finch scooped some up off the turf surrounding the stage on the field and tossed it in the air, intent on keeping the dream night alive as long as possible.

It was Oklahoma's night.

"I was really pleased at how we finished last year," Stoops said of Oklahoma's convincing wins over ranked foes Oklahoma State and Stanford. "It gave you a strong feeling that this was coming, or it could come."

It did, and after a year spent at home watching the rival Longhorns celebrate on this field, the Sooners made it back to pose for a team photo on the Cowboys Stadium turf with Big 12 championship hats fresh out of the box, a scene and feeling the Sooners missed.

"This is my third Big 12 championship, and this one's definitely the sweetest," said linebacker Travis Lewis. "The fashion that we won this game in, we pride ourselves on defense wins championships."

The Sooners gave up three points over the game's final 42 minutes. Over the same period, Oklahoma's offense scored 23.

Somewhere, a box contains the last hats ever made commemorating a Nebraska Big 12 title. Most, if not all, will never be worn.

It was Oklahoma's night.

Sooners' 'Diamond' could give them edge

December, 2, 2010
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Nebraska's defense has been at its best during the final month of the season, looking more and more like the dominant 2009 version of the Blackshirts.

Kansas managed just three points, five first downs and 87 yards against them.

Texas A&M couldn't score a touchdown at home against Nebraska, settling for three field goals.

Colorado trailed 31-3 to the Huskers before adding a pair of second-half touchdowns in a 45-17 loss.

[+] EnlargeLandry Jones
AP Photo/Sue OgrockiLandry Jones and the Sooners used their "Diamond" formation effectively against Oklahoma State.
Moving the ball on the Blackshirts has been difficult. Scoring has been harder. Oklahoma will experience that on Saturday against the Huskers, but the Sooners' latest offensive wrinkle may give them an edge.

It goes by a handful of names, but "Diamond" is the most common. Oklahoma quarterback Landry Jones takes the snap with fullback Trey Millard on one side, a running back on the other and another running back behind him. Expect a combination of DeMarco Murray, Roy Finch and Mossis Madu this week, depending on how much or if Murray can play after injuring his knee against Oklahoma State.

Oklahoma used the formation often against Oklahoma State, including heavy use during an 82-yard touchdown drive that put the Sooners up 7-0 early.

That's a bit ironic, considering the Sooners poached the formation from the Cowboys, and debuted it a week earlier against Baylor. Frankly, despite its late addition to the Sooners' repertoire, they used it much more effectively than their in-state rivals.

Nebraska won't have much to see on film and study up on the formation, but defensive end Jeremy Beal has seen plenty of it during practice.

"It’s difficult at times [to stop], but if you read your keys and play it right, it’s not that difficult," Beal said.

Oklahoma State's defense certainly made it look difficult. The Sooners' collection of misdirections and quick handoffs, as well as power runs, screens and downfield passes out of the formation baffled the Cowboys, who gave up 47 points to the Sooners' offense.

A defense's unfamiliarity with a scheme, especially new ones, can make it look more difficult to stop than it actually is, but the Sooners are likely to test the Huskers' ability to do exactly that with the Big 12 title on the line.

The more teams ran the Wildcat, the less effective it became. The Sooners' Diamond package is still relatively new. Whether or not Nebraska can send it out of style early on Saturday should have a big impact on who leaves as Big 12 champions.

Burkhead gives Huskers QB play a boost

December, 2, 2010
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Nebraska's game Saturday will begin the same way its season did: with everyone in attendance waiting to see who trots out to quarterback the offense on the opening series.

Taylor Martinez broke a 46-yard run in that game on his first career carry, and ran his way into the midseason Heisman conversation before being slowed by injuries and better defenses. A gimpy right ankle and nagging turf toe on his left foot kept him out of last week's North-clinching win over Colorado, and could slow him on Saturday.

[+] EnlargeNebraska's Rex Burkhead
Eric Francis/Getty ImagesRex Burkhead rushed for 101 yards last week against Colorado, but also threw two touchdown passes.
Martinez was a full participant in practice on Wednesday, but left the field with his left foot in a protective boot.

Zac Lee and, most recently, Cody Green, have filled in for Martinez. Green has yet to top 100 yards passing in a game this year, but made his best start of the season with plenty on the line against the Buffaloes, completing 10 of 13 passes for 80 yards and a pair of touchdowns.

Martinez torched Oklahoma State for 323 yards in a 51-41 win earlier this year, but since then he Martinez topped out at 167 yards passing against Kansas -- one of just two teams in the Big 12 giving up over six yards per play on defense.

In short, as conference play has progressed, the Huskers quarterbacks have been uninspiring through the air. Nebraska's offensive line and the Huskers third "quarterback" might make that deficiency irrelevant.

"He has an impact on the game in a lot of different ways," said Nebraska coach Bo Pelini of running back/part-time quarterback Rex Burkhead.

Burkhead saw plenty of snaps out of Nebraska's Wildcat package against Colorado, and finished with 101 yards rushing and a touchdown. Defenses are forced to respect the high school quarterback's arm, too.

Burkhead threw his first two passes of the season against the Buffaloes. Both went for touchdowns, including a 26-yard rainbow down the right sideline to Brandon Kinnie.

"Nothing he does surprises me," Pelini said. "He does so many things to make a football team better."

Most of the time, that's playing a role as a traditional running back alongside Roy Helu Jr.

"Everyone focuses on the Wildcat, but he runs the ball hard, he's efficient, he can run inside or outside," Pelini said. "He's just a tremendous football player who's continuing to develop and get better."

Running the ball got Nebraska into the Big 12 title game; with 178 yards, Burkhead could become the Huskers third 1,000-yard rusher this season. If it beats Oklahoma for the Big 12 title game, it'll probably be because of that run game.

But if Burkhead has to take snaps in lieu of ineffectiveness from Green or Martinez, it should make running the ball significantly easier.

"They’re physical. It’s going to be a real physical game. They like to run the ball," Oklahoma defensive end Jeremy Beal said, "and we’ll have to stop the run to win the game."

Blackmon, Beal are players of the year

December, 1, 2010
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Oklahoma State receiver Justin Blackmon and Oklahoma defensive end Jeremy Beal were voted Big 12 players of the year by the media, the Associated Press announced Wednesday.

Nebraska quarterback Taylor Martinez won for Offensive Newcomer of the Year and Huskers linebacker Lavonte David won Defensive Newcomer of the Year.

Blackmon, Martinez and David all won the same awards from the coaches on Tuesday, but Nebraska cornerback Prince Amukamara took home player of the year honors on defense.

Oklahoma State running back Kendall Hunter received three votes for player of the year from the 20-member media panel, and Cowboys quarterback Brandon Weeden received one vote. Blackmon, the first receiver to win the award, received the remaining 16 votes.

Big 12 midseason overview

October, 11, 2010
10/11/10
11:08
AM ET
Nebraska and Texas both find themselves in unfamiliar positions, no doubt the stories of the first half of the Big 12 season. Bo Pelini declared after the Holiday Bowl win to cap last season that Nebraska was back, and the Huskers' ascent into the top 5 for the first time since 2001 has proved him right.

Meanwhile, Texas is nowhere to be found in the top 25 for the first time since the 2000 season.

[+] EnlargeTaylor Martinez
AP Photo/Charlie RiedelQuarterback Taylor Martinez has carried the Nebraska offense with 12 rushing touchdowns.
On Saturday, the teams' paths will cross in Lincoln, Neb. This is no longer the national championship elimination game it could have been. Instead, the Longhorns are relegated to the role of spoiler, heading to Huskerland with an intent to upset, derailing Nebraska's run at a title.

The stakes are gone.

The emotion remains.

"Ever since that last game in the Big 12 championship, the whole state of Nebraska has been leading up to this game," said quarterback Taylor Martinez.

So no matter where Texas is or isn't in the polls, it'd be remiss to think Nebraska has forgotten who denied it a BCS bowl berth and the program's first Big 12 championship since 1999. Now, the road to another run at a title meets Texas. And just because the Longhorns more closely resemble a speed bump than a road block, the Huskers don't want to beat them any less badly.

And of course, there was that whole thing this summer.

Nebraska didn't leave because it was mad at Texas. It didn't leave solely because of championship game or league office locations. But give Texas this, Nebraska: Had the Big 8 not reached out to Texas & Co. in the mid-1990s after the Southwest Conference disbanded, Nebraska almost surely would not be preparing to become the 12th member of the Big Ten. Whatever that means, it's still probably a fact.

And Nebraska would like nothing more than to improve its 1-7 record against the Longhorns and take control of the bragging rights upon exiting the league, further setting up what might end up being a heavyweight fight in the Big 12 title game with an old Big 8 rival and current fellow undefeated, No. 6 Oklahoma.

Beating Texas is the next step to reaching that game. Saturday might just mean a move to 2-0 in Big 12 play for Bo Pelini and his players. But for the state of Nebraska and its beloved program, it means much, much more.

Now for some midseason awards:

Offensive MVP: Taylor Martinez, QB, Nebraska. Who would have seen this coming? Martinez broke a 46-yard touchdown on his first career carry, and he hasn't stopped running. He's the Big 12's leading rusher with 737 yards, and looks like he's only getting better. His 241 yards and four touchdowns against Kansas State were career highs, and through five games he's been the Big 12's most exciting player, with 12 touchdown runs, most in college football.

Defensive MVP: Jeremy Beal, DE, Oklahoma. He's looked the part of the Big 12's best pure pass-rusher through five games this season, leading the Big 12 with six sacks, fourth most nationally, and he's forced three fumbles. Consider also that those six sacks in five games include a game against Air Force, whose option attack has given up three sacks all year and has just 69 pass attempts. Beal also has 8.5 tackles for loss.

[+] EnlargeOklahoma State
AP Photo/Gerald HerbertPicked by the media to finish fifth in the Big 12, Oklahoma State leads the league in total offense.
Biggest surprise: Oklahoma State. The Cowboys were picked by the media to finish fifth in the Big 12 South. Through five games, they've looked like the third-best team in the Big 12. They've risen on the legs of one of the nation's best offenses and a crazy-good combination of skill-position talent in receiver Justin Blackmon, running back Kendall Hunter and quarterback Brandon Weeden. The Cowboys lead the Big 12 in total offense and scoring offense, and rank fourth and second nationally in both stats, respectively.

Biggest disappointment: Texas. No arguments here. The Longhorns offered a little foreshadowing for their fall out of the polls with underwhelming wins against Rice and Wyoming early in the season, before suffering a shocking 34-12 loss to unranked UCLA, which now sits at 3-3 and 1-2 in the Pac-10. The Texas offense has sputtered, the defense has been inconsistent, and the Longhorns look likely to fall to 3-3 with a game at Nebraska on Saturday. The schedule softens up later in the season, and my guess is the Longhorns rebound to finish in the top 25, but any team who starts the season in the top 5 and ends up unranked by Week 6 is going to be slapped with the "disappointment" label.

Best game: Oklahoma State 38, Texas A&M 35. The excitement of the game's numerous twists and momentum swings were surpassed only by Dan Bailey's game-winning field goal. Oklahoma State rebounded from a 21-7 halftime deficit to take a 35-21 lead midway through the fourth quarter on a crazy fumble return. Then Jerrod Johnson led two scoring drives to tie it at 35 in the game's final minutes. Then, after a clutch defensive stop by the Aggies, Johnson handed the game back to Oklahoma State on an ill-advised interception -- his fourth of the night -- setting up Bailey's kick.

Best coach: Mike Gundy, Oklahoma State. Gundy admitted that running his offense took too much of a physical toll on him to continue doing it. After a pair of poor offensive performances to close the 2009 season, Gundy went shopping and found Dana Holgorsen at Houston, who coordinated the most productive offense in college football a year ago. Gundy's move has paid off. Hunter has returned to form and Oklahoma State has found two new stars in Weeden and Blackmon, helping the Cowboys race to a 5-0 start and a top-20 ranking in what was supposed to be a rebuilding year after the losses of four offensive linemen, quarterback Zac Robinson and receiver Dez Bryant.
Saturday’s game between Florida State and Oklahoma will feature two programs stacked with history and tradition -- a combined nine national titles, 82 bowl appearances, and 54 conference titles. When it comes to the current college football landscape, though, there is a significant gap between them. The Sooners are just two seasons removed from their runner-up finish for the national title while Florida State enters this game under first-year coach Jimbo Fisher looking to regain national relevance. Can the Seminoles pull the upset? ACC blogger Heather Dinich and Big 12 blogger David Ubben break it down:

[+] EnlargeMark Stoops
AP Photo/Phil CoaleFSU defensive coordinator Mark Stoops will be matching wits with his brother Bob in Oklahoma.
Heather Dinich: Well, Ubben, it’s time for the unofficial Stoops Bowl, which to me is the key matchup in this game -- Oklahoma coach Bob Stoops against his little bro and first-year FSU defensive coordinator Mark Stoops. If Florida State is going to have any chance at the upset, the Seminoles’ defense has to stop DeMarco Murray first, but a young secondary that includes three starters will have to grow up quickly and adjust to Stoops’ new zone scheme, which requires discipline and communication. How do you see Oklahoma’s offense faring against a defense that was downright bad a year ago, but starting to make some progress?

David Ubben: Oklahoma definitely has the skill-position talent to give the Noles trouble, and based on Saturday's game, you're right, the offense will run through Murray, who got a career-high 35 carries against Utah State. But if Oklahoma sees a big weakness in that secondary it can exploit, look for some of those touches to go Ryan Broyles' way. There might not be a tougher guy to get a hand on in the open field in all of college football. They might use a lot of slants and bubble screens just to get the ball in his hands and dare Florida State to tackle him.

On the other side, there's been a lot of talk about how Christian Ponder's offensive line makes life easy for their Heisman candidate. How will they fare against a pair of the best defensive ends just about anywhere, Jeremy Beal and Frank Alexander, and defensive coordinator Brent Venables' blitz packages intent on putting Ponder on his back as much possible?

HD: That’s where I see the Noles having their biggest advantage, my friend. Florida State’s offensive line will get the edge, particularly in the running game against those inexperienced defensive tackles. That can also affect the pass rush, but Ponder is poised enough to sense pressure coming off the edge while keeping his eyes downfield. Senior guard Rodney Hudson and senior center Ryan McMahon are in their fourth seasons as starters, and collectively, all five starters return a combined 147 career starts. I see all of that adding up to a balanced offense for the Noles, with the Sooners biting on the play-action pass. Besides, Oklahoma’s pass defense is rather friendly. Just ask Utah State, which racked up 341 passing yards.

DU: Maybe so, and they'll be tested for sure, but Bob Stoops has faith in the plays he's seen Demontre Hurst and Jamell Fleming make when they played last season and what he saw in them through spring and fall practice. I get the sense that this will be somewhat of a high-scoring affair. Oklahoma looked invincible at home last season and has only lost twice at Owen Field under Bob Stoops.

What makes you think Jimbo's boys have the chops to be the third?

Ryan Broyles
AP Photo/Sue OgrockiThe Sooners are counting on big plays from Ryan Broyles against a young FSU secondary.
HD: The intangibles. There’s a difference at Florida State this year under Fisher. Not only in optimism, but in preparation. The Seminoles will go in there focused and ready to take care of business undaunted by the nation’s longest home winning streak at 31 games. The leadership of Ponder will also be a factor, as he’s got the poise and the brains to keep the offense calm. And don’t forget about the third phase of the game -- special teams. The Sooners need to be ready for a home run threat in punt returner Greg Reid. Word of advice? Don’t kick it his way. I say all of those things will add up to an upset, but I’ll give you the final word.

DU: Greg Reid? You mean the poor man's Ryan Broyles? Oklahoma can match the Seminoles playmaker for playmaker, but this thing's going to come down to whichever team can stop the other. I'll take the Sooners' proven defense that slipped up for one week over Florida State's, which was in a free fall for all of last season. New corners? Sure, but two guys and some inexperienced defensive tackles aren't enough to make up for 15.5 points, the difference between what Oklahoma's defense allowed last season and what Florida State allowed.
Scouts, Inc. has released its list of the top 150 NFL prospects Insider for the 2011 draft, and it's got plenty of Big 12 talent from top to bottom. You'll need an Insider account to see the whole list, but here's a bit of how it relates to the Big 12. Three Big 12 teams were among the nation's top 10 in possessing the most players on the list. Here's where they stood: T-3. Nebraska. (6) T-3. Oklahoma (6) T-10. Texas (4) North Carolina and Ohio State topped the list, with seven total prospects in the top 150. But let's take a closer look. Here's a few notes/thoughts.

  • [+] EnlargePrince Amukamara
    AP Photo/Nati HarnikPrince Amukamara (21) is the Big 12's top NFL prospect -- and No. 3 overall -- according to Scouts, Inc.
    The Big 12's top overall prospect? Nebraska cornerback Prince Amukamara, who is the No. 1 cornerback. That echoes what NFL scouts have been saying for the past few months, and it'll be interesting to see the battle between him and Aaron Williams (No. 6 cornerback) as the season moves on. They'll both see plenty of good offenses.
  • For all the talk about Nebraska's offensive struggles, they placed three players in the top 150, including Mike McNeill, who is ranked as the No. 6 tight end, despite moving to receiver in the spring. Running back Roy Helu Jr. and receiver Niles Paul both rank in the top 150, at No. 12 for their respective positions. That should prove just how important Nebraska's quarterback situation is this year. Clearly, they've got some individual talent at the skill positions and a great offensive line, but without good quarterback play, they might not be much better than they were in 2009. If Zac Lee pulls a Joe Ganz and has a nice senior year, the Huskers are almost assured a finish in the top half of the Big 12 in scoring offense.
  • Everyone wants to talk about Texas' defense, the list is a reflection of why. The Longhorns have three cornerbacks (Aaron Williams, Curtis Brown, Chykie Brown) in the top 150 and Williams and Brown are in the top 10 in their position. Sam Acho rounds out Texas' group as the No. 133 best overall prospect and No. 14 defensive end. That ranks as the best DE in the Big 12.
  • Surprising that Oklahoma's Quinton Carter is rated as the No. 2 safety and a better projected pro than teammates Jeremy Beal, Ryan Broyles, Adrian Taylor and DeMarco Murray, all in the top 10 at their positions. No other safeties in the Big 12 rank in the top 10, but the next best is Nebraska's Eric Hagg.
  • You can see how every prospect at your school is rated by Scouts, Inc. if you have Insider, but here's how the rest of the Big 12 ranked in players who made the top 150. If your school doesn't have a player in the top 150, here's a list of the top prospects for each team in the Big 12 from Mel Kiper.
4. Colorado - 2 (Nate Solder, No. 8; Jimmy Smith, No. 74) 5. Texas A&M - 1 (Von Miller, No. 20) 5. Baylor - 1 (Phil Taylor, No. 94) 6. Missouri - 1 (Blaine Gabbert, No. 39) 6. Kansas State - 1 (Daniel Thomas, No. 47) 7. Oklahoma State - 1 (Kendall Hunter, No. 147) 8. Iowa State - none 8. Kansas - none 8. Texas Tech - none

Thoughts on the All-Big 12 team

July, 22, 2010
7/22/10
11:44
AM ET
The Big 12 announced its preseason award winners and All-Big 12 team Thursday. Here's who's on the list:

Offensive Player of the Year: Jerrod Johnson, QB, Texas A&M

Co-Defensive Players of the Year: Jared Crick, DT, Nebraska; and Von Miller, LB, Texas A&M

Newcomer of the Year: Toney Clemons, WR, Colorado

Offense

QB: Jerrod Johnson, Texas A&M

RB: DeMarco Murray, Oklahoma

RB: Daniel Thomas, Kansas State

WR: Ryan Broyles, Oklahoma

WR: Jeff Fuller, Texas A&M

TE: Mike McNeill, Nebraska

OL: Ryan Miller, Colorado

OL: Nate Solder, Colorado

OL: Tim Barnes, Missouri

OL: Tanner Hawkinson, Kansas

OL: Stephen Good, Oklahoma

OL: Kyle Hix, Texas

PK: Alex Henery, Nebraska

KR: Cyrus Gray, Texas A&M

DEFENSE

DL: Aldon Smith, Missouri

DL: Jared Crick, Nebraska

DL: Jeremy Beal, Oklahoma

DL: Sam Acho, Texas

LB: Travis Lewis, Oklahoma

LB: Von Miller, Texas A&M

LB: Keenan Robinson, Texas

LB: Brian Duncan, Texas Tech

DB: Prince Amukamara, Nebraska

DB: Aaron Williams, Texas

DB: Quinton Carter, Oklahoma

DB: Blake Gideon, Texas

DB: Curtis Brown, Texas

P: Derek Epperson, Baylor

PR: Ryan Broyles, Oklahoma

A few notes/thoughts from the team:

  • Only three players were unanimous selections: Jared Crick, Travis Lewis and Jeremy Beal. Other guys I'm surprised didn't earn that distinction: Ryan Broyles at receiver, Aaron Williams and Nate Solder.
  • Ties at linebacker, defensive back and offensive line forced the conference to make room for an extra spot.
  • The media's opinion of DeMarco Murray is somewhat divided, so I was a little unsure who would nab the second spot on the ballot. I'd be interested to see how close it was between him, Roy Helu, Kendall Hunter and Alexander Robinson.
  • Home run selection of Toney Clemons as Newcomer of the Year. If I'm guessing, the fact that he was the No. 1 pick in Colorado's spring game helped him earn this honor. An action like that by players speaks pretty loudly.
  • I definitely prefer football over basketball in these situations, which doesn't have to deal with freshmen on the preseason all-conference team.
  • I'm interested in how close the vote was between Missouri's Grant Ressel and Nebraska's Alex Henery. Henery's punting skills make him the clearly more valuable player, but talking strictly place-kicking, it's pretty close, and Ressel's additional accuracy is quantifiable.
Here's the list breakdown by team:

1. Oklahoma - 7

2. Texas - 6

3. Nebraska - 4

3. Texas A&M - 4

5. Missouri - 2

5. Colorado - 2

7. Baylor - 1

7. Kansas - 1

7. Kansas State - 1

7. Texas Tech - 1

11. Oklahoma State - 0

11. Iowa State - 0

Big 12 Media Days schedule

July, 14, 2010
7/14/10
11:57
AM ET
Big 12 Media Days in Irving, Texas are only a couple weeks away, and the schedule for the three-day gabfest has been released.

First thing I noticed: Nebraska (first) and Texas (last) are as far away as possible. Though I don't think the week is going to be as conducive to fireworks as some believe, it should still be plenty entertaining.

Media Days run July 26-28, and here's when to look for who on your team. (all times ET)

Monday, July 26

2:00 Nebraska: Coach Bo Pelini, WR Niles Paul, DE Pierre Allen, CB Prince Amukamara

2:45 Baylor: Coach Art Briles, LB Antonio Johnson, OT Danny Watkins

3:30 Iowa State: Coach Paul Rhoads, QB Austen Arnaud, RB Alexander Robinson, DE Rashawn Parker

4:15 Texas A&M: Coach Mike Sherman, QB Jerrod Johnson, LB Von Miller, DT Lucas Patterson

Tuesday, July 27

10:00 Missouri: Coach Gary Pinkel, QB Blaine Gabbert, RB Derrick Washington, CB Kevin Rutland

10:45 Oklahoma State: Coach Mike Gundy, QB Brandon Weeden, LB Orie Lemon, DE Jamie Blatnick

11:30 Kansas State: Coach Bill Snyder, RB Daniel Thomas, S Tysyn Hartman, OL Zach Kendall

12:15 Texas Tech: Coach Tommy Tuberville, QB Taylor Potts, QB Steven Sheffield, DL Colby Whitlock

Wednesday, July 28

10:00 Kansas: Coach Turner Gill, DE Jake Laptad, CB Chris Harris, OL Brad Thorson

10:45 Oklahoma: Coach Bob Stoops, DE Jeremy Beal, LB Travis Lewis, WR Ryan Broyles

11:30 Colorado: Coach Dan Hawkins, CB Jalil Brown, WR Scotty McKnight, OL Nate Solder

12:15 Texas: Coach Mack Brown, QB Garrett Gilbert, OT Kyle Hix, DE Sam Acho, DT Kheeston Randall

A few quick thoughts:
  • Definitely surprised that Texas' Garrett Gilbert will be making the trip. I saw firsthand how well-spoken he was this spring on my visit to Austin, but I'm still surprised Brown would trot out his first-year starting quarterback for the media horde outside Dallas. Although his presence guarantees there should be plenty to talk about with the Longhorns.
  • Tommy Tuberville probably had to bring two or none of his quarterbacks, lest he tip his undecided hand at his starter and get people talking about a nonexistent decision. He chose the former. Interesting to note that Colorado's Dan Hawkins went with the latter.
  • Not sure why DE Jamie Blatnick will be one of Oklahoma's State's representatives instead of DE Ugo Chinasa or S Markelle Martin. Chinasa is a senior two-year starter heading into his third, while Blatnick is a junior who started only part-time last season. Martin is one of the conference's rising stars.
  • Baylor is the only team in the league bringing just a three-man contingent, and in Waco, they're the closest team to Media Days. A little surprised that Robert Griffin III won't be making the short drive, but at least that forces everyone to ask questions not about Griffin's knee. For that, I thank you, Art. But throwing WR Kendall Wright in the car at the last minute wouldn't be a terrible idea.
  • Meanwhile, Texas is the only team with a five-man crew. Everything's bigger.
  • Pretty good representation elsewhere, no real complaints. What do you think?

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