NCF Nation: Joe Ganz

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

Big 12 led nation in scoring, but stats were down

January, 27, 2010
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All season long, I heard offensive coordinators across the Big 12 talk about how much more difficult it was to move the ball in the conference last season than it was in 2008.

[+] EnlargeBradford
Tim Heitman/US PresswireInjuries to key playmakers, such as Sam Bradford, hurt the Big 12's offensive output.
The conference still leads the nation in scoring when compared to other conferences with a per-game, per-team average of 28.39 points per game.

But the Big 12's average in yards per play was down to 5.47 yards per snap. That figure ranks ninth among the 12 FBS conferences and worst among the conferences that receive automatic berths in the Bowl Championship Series.

As shown on Tuesday, most every team in the Big 12 saw a noticeable reduction in offensive production and scoring last season compared to the previous year.

That trend didn't necessarily correlate across the rest of the country, when individual conferences are analyzed.

The number of plays remained the same from 2008 to 2009, but total yards and yards per play increased across the nation. Rushing yardage and passing yardage was up a little bit across the board as well. Scoring did drop, but not by the 20.3 percent reduction that we saw in the Big 12 in 2009.

Obviously, the graduation of top players like Michael Crabtree, Chase Daniel, Jeremy Maclin, Graham Harrell, Quan Cosby, Josh Freeman and Joe Ganz had something to do with it. The conference also struggled with injuries to many of its top stars as Jermaine Gresham missed the entire season, Sam Bradford, Robert Griffin, Dez Bryant and Kendall Hunter all were gone for most of the season. Even Colt McCoy's injury came at a critical time to limit his team's offensive efficiency when it really could have used him.

Most importantly, the Big 12 had a wealth of top defensive players last season. We'll see that in the NFL draft when Ndamukong Suh is the likely first pick of the draft. Gerald McCoy should follow soon thereafter -- perhaps as quickly as the next pick. It wouldn't surprise me to see Earl Thomas and Sean Weatherspoon both as high first-round picks as well.

For a closer examination, I looked at every conference and compared offensive numbers from 2008 to 2009. The Big 12's figures were noteworthy, when compared to the rest of the nation.


It's interesting to note that the Big 12's per-team averages were down in yards per game, yards per play and scoring from 2008. The only other conferences where this trend occurred were in Conference USA and the Mid-American Conference.

And contrasting with this trend, the Southeastern Conference's figures in all three categories went up in 2009.

These figures are cyclical. But with the departure of so many dominant defensive players in 2010, along with the return of eight of 12 starting quarterbacks next season, we might see an increase from the numbers of this year.

If that happens, maybe we won't hear as much whining from the offensive coordinators, either.

Big 12 offensive production dipped in '09

January, 26, 2010
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Much was made during the past season about the Big 12 defenses had finally started catching up to the offenses across the conference.

Obviously, numbers would be expected to plummet with players like Chase Daniel, Graham Harrell, Michael Crabtree, Joe Ganz and Josh Freeman gone from last season. Toss in injuries to Sam Bradford, Kendall Hunter, Jermaine Gresham and Robert Griffin and offenses would be expected to be weaker.

But an underrated factor in the offensive decline across the Big 12 was the hard work of defensive coordinators across the conference.

Defensive coaches and players got tired of being humiliated on a weekly basis last season. It led them to come back determined to stop the offensive growth in the conference. The numbers bear out that they did a much better job in 2009 than the previous season.


Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Griffin


Here are some things I'm watching across the Big 12 this week, starting with Iowa State's season opener against North Dakota State tonight in Ames, Iowa.


1. Can Oklahoma State prove it belongs among the national powers? Oklahoma State started 8-1 before collapsing with four losses in its final six games in 2008, including struggling defensive performances against Texas Tech, Oklahoma and Oregon. The Cowboys will be depleted without MLB Orie Lemon and will be facing a Georgia team that shouldn’t be intimidated by the crowd at Boone Pickens Stadium. The Bulldogs are 30-4 on the road since Mark Richt took over in 2001 -- a better winning percentage than for their home games. Georgia is 10-2 on the road against ranked teams on the road under Richt, including 3-1 against top-10 foes. So it will be a huge challenge for the Cowboys to counter those trends, particularly with a roster that has been dotted with defections this week.


2. Oklahoma’s retooled offensive line: The Sooners’ offensive line has been the team’s biggest question coming into the season as they try for an unprecedented fourth straight Big 12 title. Four offensive line starters are gone from last season’s team, leaving only left tackle Trent Williams back to protect Heisman Trophy winner Sam Bradford. The Sooners’ line was called out before spring practice because of their lack of dedication by coach Bob Stoops, but has received recent praise after working with the Sooners’ monstrous defensive line in recent weeks. The Sooners shouldn’t be tested very much by a BYU defense that ranked 60th in rushing defense and 59th in total defense last season.


3. Does Baylor deserve its early hype? The Bears started last season with a 28-point home loss to Wake Forest. This season, they are a slight underdog on the road against the Demon Deacons. Can Robert Griffin continue his mercurial development and lead the Bears to an upset against the Demon Deacons, who have qualified for three straight bowl games? The Bears have lost 13 of their last 14 road games and have never won away from Waco with Art Briles coaching them. Does an improved, senior-laden team have what it takes to win -- especially with two new tackles protecting Griffin’s flanks?


4. Blaine Gabbert’s first career start for Missouri: All the sophomore quarterback has to do is pick up the reins from Chase Daniel, who piloted the Tigers to back-to-back trips to the Big 12 title game and arguably was the best quarterback in school history. Gabbert was a higher regarded prospect coming into school than Daniel and will be able to prove those ratings, but he’ll be facing the challenge of playing in his home area against arch-rival Illinois.


5. Vondrell McGee’s chance as Texas’ featured running back: McGee took advantage of an injury to Fozzy Whittaker to claim the starting position and an opportunity to work as Texas’ featured running back in the Longhorns’ opener against Louisiana-Monroe. McGee should be able to play on most downs when the Longhorns’ starting team is in the game. How will he hold up -- particularly considering he’s had double-figure carries in only five games in his career and never rushed for more than 80 yards in any game? The opportunity to claim the role is there against a Louisiana-Monroe team that ranked 109th nationally against the run.


6. Colorado’s starting quarterback: Will Dan Hawkins opt for a quiet dinner table at home by starting backup Tyler Hansen or stick with his family ties by giving his son Cody the nod in the Buffaloes’ Sunday night opener against Colorado State? Both should play, although the Colorado coach remains adamant he’s not making the call until shortly before kickoff Sunday night.


7. Bill Snyder’s emotional return to the sideline: Is the Kansas State coach bigger than his program? Snyder will travel to the stadium Saturday on a highway named in his honor before arriving at a stadium named for him and his family as he ends a three-year sabbatical to return to coaching Saturday night against Massachusetts. The moment should be even more poignant for him and the program as the largest athletic reunion in the school’s history will coincide with the game.


8. Nebraska’s new-look offense: Bo Pelini starts his second season with the Cornhuskers facing a massive turnover as he looks for a new quarterback, two new wide receivers and help in his running game. The Cornhuskers must try to build on last season’s 9-4 record with new quarterback Zac Lee, new featured receivers and a heavy reliance on Roy Helu Jr. after Quentin Castille’s dismissal late in training camp. Nebraska players say that Lee will provide more of a vertical passing game than was featured last year with Joe Ganz. He shouldn’t face much of a challenge against a Florida Atlantic University team that ranked 81st or lower in every major team statistic, tied for 112th in sacks and returns only three defensive starters.


9. Will Kansas show much mercy against outmanned Northern Colorado? The Bears come into Lawrence coached by former Nebraska assistant Scott Downing. It will be interesting to see how much that association causes Mark Mangino to step off the accelerator if the Jayhawks jump ahead early against an opponent that was 1-10 last season and ranked among the bottom 20 FCS teams in pass defense and pass efficiency defense. I’m looking for extended target practice for Todd Reesing, Dezmon Briscoe, Kerry Meier and the rest of the Jayhawks’ talented pass-and-catch combo against the outclassed Bears.


10. The tackling of Iowa State’s defense: The Cyclones have had a total makeover defensively by new coach Paul Rhoads and defensive coordinator Wally Burnham, who have been critical of the Cyclones’ tackling techniques they inherited from the staff of former coach Gene Chizik. Rhoads even admitted that the lack of technique “frustrated” him. Iowa State shouldn’t face too many challenges tonight against South Dakota State, although the Bison have won three of their last five games against FBS teams. Rhoads and his new program can’t afford such a slow start.

Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Griffin


Here's a look at the key factor for each Big 12 team this season:


Baylor:
The Bears need production from a retooled offensive line and particularly new starting tackles Danny Watkins and Phillip Blake. Their work will be critical to keep Robert Griffin protected and continue the strong running game that enabled Baylor to produce 200 or more rushing yards in four of the last five games in 2008.


Colorado:
Somebody needs to step up and claim the starting quarterback job. Continually shuffling between Tyler Hansen and Cody Hawkins will rob the offense of its continuity and make both quarterbacks worry too much about their individual mistakes. Dan Hawkins should settle on one, and the quicker the better.


Iowa State:
The Cyclones’ tackling techniques have been frustrating for an old-school defensive coach like Paul Rhoads. He’s broken them down to the basics to hope that they will learn his way. If they can use these fundamentals to start playing better defense, it’s the start of a massive rebuilding job.


Kansas:
The Jayhawks lost three productive linebackers and will retool their defense by using more nickel coverages, seemingly conducive to shackling Big 12 aerial attacks. Will this new unit still be able be able to support a developing secondary and underrated defensive front?


Kansas State:
The Wildcats’ offense won’t look anything like the explosive units that Bill Snyder was familiar with earlier in his coaching tenure. This group doesn’t have a lot of productivity or depth. A rash of injuries would be a crippler for this team and likely make Snyder wonder why ever re-entered coaching.


Missouri:
Can new quarterback Blaine Gabbert help a rebuilding offense still be productive, despite the loss of several key producers who were the backbone of the Tigers' back-to-back division title teams?


Nebraska:
How well will Zac Lee direct the offense? The Cornhuskers talk about his arm giving them the opportunity for more vertical strikes than when Joe Ganz was playing. Bo Pelini would just be satisfied with the same kind of consistent production that marked Ganz’s season-plus as starter.


Oklahoma:
The offensive line has received some praise from Bob Stoops in the last few days because of its conditioning and versatility. The question remains if the four new starters are accomplished enough to keep the Sooners’ record-breaking offense humming, and more importantly, Sam Bradford safe from harm.


Oklahoma State:
Bill Young has made a career out of cobbling together overachieving defenses. If he can get increased production from this unit that wore out late last season, he’ll cement his own legacy at his alma mater, as well as providing the Cowboys a chance for their first South title.


Texas:
Vondrell McGee will get the first shot, but will somebody emerge as a featured ball carrier to help take some of the pressure from Colt McCoy? It’s asking a lot of McCoy to be his team’s leading rusher in two straight seasons.


Texas A&M:
Whatever happened to the Wrecking Crew? The Aggies can’t afford the struggles that marked their defense last season. Joe Kines' unit must show immediate improvement, particularly in the trenches and in the secondary.


Texas Tech:
How will the pass defense recover from the loss of key pass-rushers McKinner Dixon and Brandon Williams and starting safeties Darcel McBath and Daniel Charbonnet? In the Big 12 South, that rebuilding job in those areas could come with some lethal consequences.

Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Griffin

We just thought the Texas Tech-Texas A&M rivalry couldn't get any more vituperative and nasty.

Tech coach Mike Leach, who in the past has teased the Aggies with his plans of starting "Mike's Pirate School," modeled along the lines of A&M's Corps of Cadets, has added some more fire this week with his comments about A&M quarterback Stephen McGee.

Leach was angry about how his own quarterback, record-breaking Graham Harrell was not drafted while McGee was picked by Dallas in the fourth round of the draft. McGee saw action in only three games as a starter last season.

Leach's barbs at the Aggies and McGee provided much fodder for day-after draft stories across the Big 12.

Leach remained unapologetic about his remarks about McGee, Texas A&M coach Mike Sherman and McGee's draftability, Dallas Morning News reporters Brian Davis and Chuck Carlton report.

Bryan Eagle columnist Robert Cessna writes that Leach was wrong in his pointed criticisms of McGee and A&M's handling of the quarterback.

And Austin American-Statesman beat writer Randy Riggs has Sherman's response to Leach, where the A&M coach says the Tech coach is in no position to comment about his relationship with McGee.

All of this only ensures that the Oct. 24 game in Lubbock between the two bitter rivals will be that much more anticipated.

Here are some other stories from across  the conference, with a lot less indignation.

  • The Des Moines Register's Randy Peterson reports that some ticket prices to the Iowa-Iowa State game on Sept. 12 in Ames will be going down to $60 per seat.
  • Gregg Doyel of CBSSports.com wonders if Harrell was too productive for his own good.
  • Colorado's season-ticket sales are holding steady, despite a rise in some ticket prices and the declining economy, the Boulder Daily Camera's Kyle Ringo reports.
  • The Omaha World Herald's Tom Shatel weighs in on the alleged Cody Glenn ticket- scalping case and the free-agent competition between Chase Daniel and Joe Ganz for playing time with the Washington Redskins.
  • Sam Bradford and Zac Robinson shared their faith together at the Fellowship of Christian Athletes Banquet in Oklahoma City and also planned an upcoming golf game, the Daily Oklahoman reports.
  • The Columbia Tribune's Dave Matter reports that Chase Daniel went against his rooting instincts as a fan when he opted for a contract offer from the Washington Redskins.
  • Iowa State tackle Doug Dedrick had already agreed to a free-agent contract with the Houston Texans before the NFL draft was completed, Ames Tribune reporter Bobby La Gesse writes.
  • Nebraska officials told the Lincoln Journal-Star's Brian Christopherson they found no evidence to back up Cody Glenn's claims of ticket scalping.
  • It was understandable that former Kansas linebacker Mike Rivera ended up signing with the Chicago Bears, the Kansas City Star's Brady McCullough reports. Rivera has owned a jersey of Bears linebacker Brian Urlacher since high school.
  • Oklahoman columnist Berry Tramel reports that Sam Bradford is the clear No. 1 pick among quarterbacks in the 2010 draft.

Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Griffin

Every team is green someplace. Here are the specific areas of the most inexperience for each Big 12 team.

Baylor offensive tackle: The Bears need to break in two new starters after losing Jason Smith and Dan Gay.

Colorado defensive line: Help is needed along the defensive front where the Buffaloes lose starting defensive end Maurice Lucas, starting defensive tackle George Hypolite and starting nose tackle Brandon Nicolas.

Iowa State defensive line: Coach Paul Rhoads desperately wants somebody to emerge on the defensive line where the Cyclones lose starting defensive tackle Michael Tate, starting defensive end Kurtis Taylor and top backup defensive back Travis Ferguson.

Kansas linebackers: Even as Mark Mangino is contemplating going to a two-linebacker base defense because of the Big 12's spread offenses, he still needs to find those two players. The Jayhawks lose starters James Holt, Mike Rivera and Joe Mortensen at the position from last season.

Kansas State quarterback: Josh Freeman departed for the NFL early, leaving Carson Coffman and junior college transfer Daniel Thomas to compete for the starting job. It's not a pleasant introduction back to football for returning KSU coach Bill Snyder.

Missouri skill-position players: The Tigers need a quick infusion of playmakers after losing quarterback Chase Daniel, wide receiver/kick returner Jeremy Maclin and tight end Chase Coffman. All of them arguably were the greatest players at their respective positions in Missouri history. Blake Gabbert will receive first look at quarterback and Andrew Jones will work at tight end. It could take several players to fill in for what Maclin did.

Nebraska quarterback: It will be tough for the Cornhuskers to replace all that Joe Ganz did for them, both as a playmaker and a leader at quarterback. Zac Lee will get the first shot, along with freshman Cody Green and redshirt freshman Kody Spano. Maybe the Cornhuskers really could use former Miami quarterback Robert Marve next season.

Oklahoma offensive line: The departure of starting center Jon Cooper, tackle Phil Loadholt and guards Duke Robinson and Brandon Walker means that Sam Bradford will have an inexperienced group protecting him next season. Trent Williams moves to left tackle and Bob Stoops likes his incoming talent, if not its early work habits.

Oklahoma State defensive tackles: The Cowboys ranked last in the conference in sacks last season and lost starting defensive tackles Tonga Tea and Jeray Chatham. It will mean that new defensive coordinator Bill Young will need somebody to step up in the trenches to help shore up that weakness.

Texas defensive line: The major question dogging the Longhorns' national title hopes will be rebuilding a defensive front that loses All-American defensive end Brian Orakpo, defensive tackle Roy Miller, defensive tackleAaron Lewis and defensive end Henry Melton from last season.

Texas Tech offensive line: New quarterback Taylor Potts will be relying on a retooled offensive line protecting his blind side after left tackle Rylan Reed, left guard Louis Vasquez and center Stephen Hamby all departed from last year.

Texas A&M running backs: The Aggies' offensive backfield will need to restock players: Michael Goodson left school early to declare for the NFL draft and fullbacks Jorvorskie Lane and Nick LaMantia are gone. Look for Cyrus Gray to get most of the work this spring with heralded freshman Bradley Stephens arriving in the summer.

Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Griffin

Former Nebraska quarterback Joe Ganz made some interesting comments about some of the recent news around the Nebraska program.

When Ganz worked out Thursday at Nebraska's pro day, he took a couple of verbal potshots at departing quarterback Patrick Witt between running the 40-yard dash, passing for pro scouts and taking agility tests.

"It's tough to see a kid kind of waste all that time he put in," Ganz told the Omaha World-Herald of Witt, who plans to transfer at the end of the spring semester after he spent two years at Nebraska and served as the top backup last season. "Stuff is not going to be given to you here.

"Things are not going to be handed to people. People are not playing favorites. You have to work for everything you get."

Witt fired back at Ganz, according to the World-Herald, saying his former teammate's comments were based on "pure speculation."

"Joe clearly has no idea why I made the decision that I did," Witt said in a written statement, "and I don't expect him to. There is more to my life than football, and that will be evident when I decide upon my next school."

Ganz said that Witt's decision mystifies him.

"You have to compete and win that job," Ganz said. "Coach [Bo] Pelini and [offensive coordinator] Coach [Shawn] Watson are never going to hand anybody anything. I don't know if he didn't like that. I have no idea. It's a decision between him and his family. I just don't understand it."

Pelini and Witt's family haven't commented publicly about Witt's decison, which leaves Zac Lee as the projected No. 1 quarterback going into the Cornhuskers' spring practice on March 25.

"I don't understand why a guy would want to leave," Ganz told the Lincoln Journal-Star. "All you can ask is a chance to compete for the starting quarterback job at the University of Nebraska. I don't understand why you would leave when he had such a good opportunity."

Witt's decision still resonates as one of the most shocking news stories in the Big 12 since the end of the football season. But it makes anticipation for spring practice much greater for the Cornhuskers, even after their fast 2008 finish capped by their Gator Bowl victory over Clemson.

Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Griffin

I know it's March Madness. But spring practice is continuing across the Big 12 with plenty of interesting stories. Here are some of today's most notable:

  • The Oklahoman's Jake Trotter reports that Corey Wilson has been moved out of OU Medical Center and into a rehabilitation facility. Wilson suffered a serious spinal cord injury in an automobile accident two weeks ago.
  • Colorado could be scrambling for an opponent after Miami (Ohio) appears to have two opponents scheduled on Sept. 12 -- the Buffaloes and Northwestern, the Boulder Daily Camera's Kyle Ringo reports. 
  • Jared Crick could be poised to assume a starting defensive tackle position when Nebraska begins practice on March 25, according to Brian Christopherson of the Lincoln Journal-Star.
  • Columbia Daily Tribune beat writer Dave Matter analyzes what the promotion of new coordinator Dave Steckel will mean for Missouri's defense.
  • Kansas added a late commitment at a huge position of need with the addition of linebacker Jon Watts of Oroville Butte (Calif.) Community College, according to the Lawrence Journal-World.
  • Former Oklahoma State tight end Brandon Pettigrew frustrated a group of scouts from 19 NFL teams Wednesday when he failed to run at Oklahoma State's Pro Day. Pettigrew told Tulsa World reporter John Hoover he was sidelined with a grade one strain of his right hamstring.
  • Former Nebraska quarterback Joe Ganz hopes to use the slight of not being invited to the recent NFL combine as motivation during the Cornhuskers' Pro Day on Thursday, the Omaha World-Herald's Mitch Sherman reports.

Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Griffin

The news bounced through Nebraska with the stunning shock of some kind of a natural disaster.

The surprise announcement that Patrick Witt was leaving the Nebraska program came on a couple of levels.

First, Witt was the Cornhuskers' backup in their final game last season, playing after Joe Ganz was dinged in the Gator Bowl against Clemson.

So the presumption was that Witt would get the first shot -- or at least a good one -- when the Nebraska starting quarterback job was contested at spring practice and beyond.

But his decision has ratcheted up competition and opened a three-way battle involving Zac Lee, Kody Spano and freshman Cody Green. It's left the Cornhuskers with as little depth and experience at the position as any Big 12 team.

Lee is perceived by most to be the most immediately ready, although coaches hope he will work on managing a game better in their offensive philosophy.

Spano is a long shot to earn the starting job, but does have his moments as a runner and thrower.

Green likely has the best athletic tools. It might not be a surprise to see coach Bo Pelini utilize him like Ohio State did with Terrelle Pryor last season. Green would receive work early in the season to build confidence in hopes he could be a major contributor by the end of the season.

Any thoughts that Nebraska could afford to redshirt Green likely left when Witt made his announcement. Pelini's insurance plan has suddenly gone kaput.

(Read full post)

Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Griffin

It's an inexact science trying to provide power rankings more than six months before the Big 12 season starts, but here's my best guess heading into spring practice. I've considered coaching changes, NFL draft defections, returning players, schedules and expected boost from arriving recruiting classes in determining how I think teams should be placed heading into the spring.

1. Texas -- A sense of unfinished business is present after the Longhorns came within seconds of challenging for the national championship last season. That feeling helped lure Colt McCoy and Jordan Shipley back for another year. If recruit Chris Whaley can emerge at running back and the defensive line can be rebuilt, the Longhorns should be in the hunt for a shot at the national title game at the Rose Bowl. The last time the crystal ball was awarded there, Texas upset USC for the championship. Could history repeat itself?

2. Oklahoma -- The Sooners had a strong signing day, but an even better one a couple of weeks earlier when Heisman Trophy winner Sam Bradford, Jermaine Gresham and Gerald McCoy, among others, decided to return for the 2009 season. But the Sooners still need to find some playmakers at wide receiver and rebuild their offensive line. And of a more immediate concern for Bob Stoops than his recent BCS bowl struggles is that nagging 1-3 mark against Texas over the past four seasons.

3. Oklahoma State -- Next season's Texas Tech could be Oklahoma State, which has all of its major weapons returning after Russell Okung decided to put off the NFL draft for another season. But the Cowboys' hopes of challenging for their first Big 12 South title will depend on wily veteran coordinator Bill Young's work with the defense. If it can improve like the Red Raiders did most of the 2008 season, it won't be far-fetched to think that the Cowboys can make a similar jump.

4. Nebraska -- The Cornhuskers got a big shot of momentum after their impressive comeback victory in the Gator Bowl. Ndamukong Suh will be back, but the Cornhuskers have to find a replacement for Joe Ganz at quarterback. Offensive coordinator Shawn Watson's work in turning out serviceable players at the position at Colorado and Nebraska lessens some of those concerns. But it still wouldn't surprise me to be seeing heralded incoming freshman Cody Green to be starting at the position by early November -- maybe even with the North Division title on the line.

5. Kansas -- The Jayhawks made history last season by making back-to-back bowl trips. With most of their major offensive weapons back, can they make similar history with their first undisputed Big 12 North title? Todd Reesing and Dezmon Briscoe will pile up passing yardage, along with increased talent from their past two recruiting classes. But the Jayhawks still face the same challenging Texas-Oklahoma-Texas Tech rotation among South opponents, making for the toughest challenge of any North team in their out-of-division contests.

6. Texas Tech -- Michael Crabtree and Graham Harrell are gone. Mike Leach is angry after a prolonged contract dispute with school officials. It will mean that Taylor Potts will face a huge challenge stepping in at quarterback. And defensive coordinator Ruffin McNeill hopes that some of the strong talent in the trenches can step forward immediately after his team's late collapse against Oklahoma and Mississippi last season.

7. Missouri -- The Tigers' offense will take a big step back with Chase Daniel, Chase Coffman and Jeremy Maclin all gone from last season's Alamo Bowl team. Sean Weatherspoon will anchor a defense that will have to rebuild after losing Ziggy Hood, Stryker Sulak and William Moore. Too many key Tiger players are leaving to think they can make a three-peat of North Division titles, although Missouri should again be in the hunt for a bowl game.

8. Colorado -- Dan Hawkins is already sold on this team, proclaiming it capable of a 10-2 record shortly after his team's disappointing finish last season. I'm not thinking Colorado will be that good, but I do expect a bowl trip if the Buffs can stay away from injuries, Cody Hawkins or Tyler Hansen emerges at quarterback and Darrell Scott fulfills the promise he arrived at college with.

9. Baylor -- Art Briles' unexpectedly solid recruiting class should provide Robert Griffin with a lot of weapons. Most notable might be Terrance Ganaway, a bullish 220-pound transfer from Houston who will give Jay Finley a nice balance at running back. The Bears' hopes of making their first bowl appearance since the Big 12 was formed will depend on playing better in close games -- they were 0-3 in games settled by a touchdown or less in 2008.

10. Kansas State -- Bill Snyder's return to college coaching didn't wow recruits, but it's a start. The Wildcats do have 15 returning starters, but have to hope that new coordinator Andy Ludwig can make some offensive magic with either Carson Coffman or junior college transfer Daniel Thomas. And they have to hope that some offensive linemen emerge to protect whoever is starting.

11. Texas A&M -- Mike Sherman added speed and playmaking ability to his defense, but the Aggies really needed it. And all of the heralded recruits still will be facing a steep learning curve against all of the other heralded offenses in the South Division. But Christine Michael will be arriving as the most heralded playmaker for the Aggies in more than decade, ensuring there will be some excitement when he's surrounded by players like Jerrod Johnson and Jeff Fuller.

12. Iowa State -- Paul Rhoads is back at Iowa State, and he'll think it's kind of li
ke 1995, when he started coaching there on Dan McCarney's staff. The challenges in the Big 12 might be even more imposing than they were then, meaning Rhoads will be facing a steep climb to respectability. Austen Arnaud, Alexander Robinson and Darius Darks provide an offensive foundation, but Rhoads' biggest talents have always been developing a defense. He'll definitely have his work cut out at his new job.

Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Griffin

Happy Monday. Here are some fresh links to get your through the weekend leftovers that were probably brought from home.

  • Iowa State coach Paul Rhoads says he's "in no hurry" to hire a defensive coordinator, Des Moines Register columnist Sean Keeler reports.
  • New Oklahoma State defensive coordinator Bill Young is talking about planting trees, signaling the 62-year-old veteran coach is thinking about staying at his new school longer than some other stops, the Oklahoman's Scott Wright writes. Wright also notes that Young is determined to have the Cowboys playing a fast, physical defense.
  • David Flores of the San Antonio Express-News reports that former Baylor coach Grant Teaff and former Texas A&M coach R.C. Slocum are serving as unofficial advisers to Texas-San Antonio athletic director Lynn Hickey as she searches for the school's first football coach.
  • Mike Huguenin of Rivals.com predicts that Colorado will crack the top 25 next season.
  • Oklahoma State coach Mike Gundy is expected to delineate the exact roles of the new members of his staff sometime after National Signing Day next week, the Oklahoman's Scott Wright reports.
  • Steve Sipple of the Lincoln Journal-Star and hundreds of the newspaper's readers are wondering why Nebraska quarterback Joe Ganz didn't get invited to any postseason all-star games or the NFL combine.

Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Griffin

Here's some lunchtime fodder from across the Big 12 this afternoon.

Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Griffin

Life has gotten a lot better for Bob Stoops over the last week.

 
  J. Meric/Getty Images
  Sooners quarterback Sam Bradford announced Wednesday he will be returning to Oklahoma for another season.
The gloom of another BCS bowl loss for the Oklahoma coach was brightened considerably Wednesday when Heisman Trophy winning quarterback Sam Bradford and three other key Oklahoma players announced they are returning to school after considering declaring for the NFL draft.

Bradford clearly is the biggest catch, although the returns to school of tackle Trent Williams, tight end Jermaine Gresham and defensive tackle Gerald McCoy all should bolster the Sooners' bid to continue their recent dynasty of three-straight Big 12 championships.

In a way, I'm a little surprised that Bradford will be coming back to college. He was projected to be a first-round selection in the NFL draft and among the first two or three quarterbacks selected.

But he made it clear Wednesday that he's having too much fun to give up on his college career yet.

The Oklahoma announcements suddenly will transform the Sooners into a viable contender for the Big 12 South title. Texas still will be the favorite heading into the season, but Oklahoma will be able to contest the Longhorns.

The Red River Rivalry, already bitter after the Sooners jumped the Longhorns for the Big 12 South championship game berth this season, has just gotten even more interesting.

It should be another exciting season in the Big 12 with eight of the conference's starting quarterbacks returning after the most explosive offensive season in the conference's brief history. Only Kansas State's Josh Freeman, Missouri's Chase Daniel, Nebraska's Joe Ganz and Texas Tech's Graham Harrell will depart among the Big 12's starting quarterbacks.

Bradford will be operating behind a retooled offensive line that will feature four new starters. But he said he relishes the challenge of returning to school for another season.

I've also got to think that Bradford realizes the potential of a third-straight matchup with Colt McCoy in the Red River Rivalry game in October might be a reason to come back. He also will attempt to become the first player since Archie Griffin to claim back-to-back Heismans.

And his chances will only improve with the return of Gresham, who played like the nation's best tight end down the stretch.

Gresham was the Sooners' top receiver late in the season, producing two touchdown grabs against Florida in the BCS National Championship Game among his 14 touchdown receptions for the season. That total led all of the nation's tight ends and tied for sixth nationally.

Bradford's return also should heighten anticipation for next season. The top three finishers in the Heisman Trophy balloting from this season -- Bradford, McCoy and Florida's Tim Tebow -- all will return to college next season. It will mark only the second time in history and the first time since 1946 that all top three Heisman finishers will return to college for another season.

In 1945, Army's Doc Blanchard won the trophy with his teammate Glenn Davis finishing second and Oklahoma A&M's Bob Fenimore third.

All came back the following season. Davis won the trophy with Blanchard finishing fourth and Fenimore not placing among the top five because of injuries.

Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Griffin

After watching or listening to every play of every Big 12's bowl game, here are 10 observations gleaned from this bowl season.

 
  Sam Greenwood/Getty Images
  Nebraska quarterback Joe Ganz turned in the performance of his career in a Gator Bowl win over Clemson.
1. No Ordinary Joe: Nebraska quarterback Joe Ganz's career could be encapsulated in his Gator Bowl performance directing the Cornhuskers' triumph over Clemson. Ganz's career hasn't always been pretty -- just like his struggles against the Tigers. He was knocked around and even left the game with a bum shoulder that looked like it had knocked him out. But the resilient Ganz rebounded to direct a comeback and finish his career like he has this season -- with unexpected success.

2. Surging Jayhawks: Kansas provided the best overall performance by a Big 12 team with an impressive 42-21 victory over Minnesota in the Insight Bowl. Ed Warriner's offense was as strong as ever with Todd Reesing passing for 313 yards and Dezmon Briscoe and Kerry Meier combining for 24 catches and 314 yards and three touchdowns. But the biggest revelation was the play of the Kansas defense. After allowing touchdowns on the first two drives, the Jayhawks allowed only one scoring possession on Minnesota's final nine drives as Kansas allowed only 331 yards en route to the victory.

3. Pinkel erupts: Missouri coach Gary Pinkel had the fieriest in-game reaction when he verbally berated a Missouri fan who was expressing his displeasure at Chase Daniel as the Tigers left the field after struggling in the first-half against Northwestern in the Valero Alamo Bowl. The coach's response helped stoke the Tigers' overtime victory, which came despite a off-night by Daniel. After the game, it was revealed that Daniel sprained a ligament at the base of his right thumb the previous game against Oklahoma and had gamely played through the injury.

4. OSU can't overcome loss of Bryant: The most significant game-changing injury occurred when Oklahoma State wide receiver Dez Bryant sustained a knee injury against Oregon in the Cowboys' 42-31 Holiday Bowl loss. Oregon's leaky secondary didn't have an answer early as Bryant ripped them for seven first-quarter catches as the Cowboys jumped to an early lead. But after Bryant's injury, things certainly got easier for Oregon defensive coordinator Nick Aliotti. No Big 12 team was as dependent on a single receiver as the Cowboys were on Bryant. And his loss enabled the Ducks to zero in and eventually tee off on OSU quarterback Zac Robinson, who could no longer utilize Bryant on the quick routes that were blistering the Ducks earlier in the game. Robinson was the victim of several huge hits, sustaining a separated shoulder as the game continued. And it might not have happened if Bryant hadn't gotten injured in the first place.

5. Yes, Suh: Nebraska defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh provided the Big 12's best individual defensive game, helping stake the Cornhuskers' victory over Clemson with dominant inside play. Suh accounted for eight tackles, including 3.5 for losses and two sacks. For good measure, he provided a blocked field goal and a quarterback hurry and even played a little offense as a short-yardage blocking back. Suh is poised for an All-American season as a senior after his national coming-out party in the bowl game.

6. Maclin saves the Tigers: Jeremy Maclin's 75-yard punt return was not only the longest scoring play in a Big 12 bowl game, but also one of the most significant. Northwestern inexplicably kicked to Maclin despite dominating most of the first half while nursing a 10-3 lead in the Alamo Bowl. The Tigers had been limited to two interceptions and two punts in their first five drives to that point, gaining only 136 yards to that point of the game. But with 1:00 left in the first half, Maclin's TD return resuscitated his team after struggling early. Missouri overcame a sputtering offense for a 30-23 victory capped by Maclin's 7-yard touchdown grab from Chase Daniel in overtime. But his return earlier in the game was an even bigger play.

7. Colt does it again: The Big 12's most dramatic comeback came from Colt McCoy of Texas, directing the Longhorns' late victory over Ohio State in the Tostitos Fiesta Bowl. McCoy's 26-yard touchdown pass to Quan Cosby was a fitting conclusion to the former minor-league baseball player's career and capped a career-best 414-yard passing game for McCoy as well. But Cosby's late heroics on his touchdown grab never would have happened without the crucial fourth-down catch by sophomore James Kirkendoll two plays before.

8. Oklahoma's red-zone blues: The most surprising in-game trend in the FedEx BCS National Championship Game was the way that Oklahoma struggled in the red zone against Florida. Coming into the game, the Sooners were the one of the nation's most proficient teams inside opponents' 20-yard line, scoring on 76 of 80 drives with 69 touchdowns. But two huge stops inside the Florida 6 in the first half helped turn around momentum in the Gators' 24-14 victory. The Sooners never could recover from their self-inflicted mistakes, paving the way for their fifth-straight BCS bowl loss.

9. Tech's Cotton Bowl nightmare: The Big 12's worst collapse came from Texas Tech, which was unable to maintain its early success against Mississippi in the Cotton Bowl. The Red Raiders jumped to an early 14-point lead against the Rebels, but couldn't sustain that momentum as Jevan Snead's passing and a sure-tackling Mississippi defense gradually took control in Mississippi's 47-34 victory. It was a masterful in-game performance by Mississippi coach Houston Nutt, who thoroughly outcoached Mike Leach.

10. Harrell's ill-advised QB sneak: The worst single decision in a Big 12 bowl game came with Texas Tech's fourth-and-4 quarterback sneak by Graham Harrell early in the third quarter. Trailing 31-21, the Red Raiders had snatched momentum away from the Rebels after a missed field goal. But on fourth down, Harrell inexplicably tried a quarterback sneak that fell more than a yard short of the first down. Brandon Bolden scored on a 17-y
ard run for Mississippi three plays later and Tech would come no closer than 10 points during the rest of the game.

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