NCF Nation: Joe Mortensen
Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Griffin
Kansas checks in at No. 22 in the preseason rankings compiled by my colleague Mark Schlabach.
The biggest concern about the Jayhawks has been their defense and specifically the loss of starting linebackers James Holt, Mike Rivera and Joe Mortensen from last season.
Any time you have to replace consistent producers like them, it's a big worry. But it might not necessarily be as troublesome for Kansas as you might expect.
First, Coach Mark Mangino is tinkering with a 4-2-5 defense that he expects he will use in most base situations. It's a good idea because of the heavy aerial attacks in the Big 12, but also because the four players he started in the final six games of the season all return. That group is keyed by a potential big-time producer in strong safety Darrell Stuckey, free safety Phillip Strozier and starting cornerbacks Justin Thornton and Daymond Patterson.
But the biggest reason I expect the Jayhawks to improve will be their depth up front along the defensive line. I really like Jake Laptad at defensive end who is one of the most underrated defensive linemen in the league. And I expect junior college transfer Quinton Woods to be an immediate force on the other side.
The Jayhawks also have a nice set of experienced tackles returning in Jamal Greene and Caleb Blakesley. Their experience will help them immeasurably in their second season together as starters.
It will be interesting to see how much the Jayhawks' statistics are altered with the losses at linebacker. Needless to say there's a lot of pressure on returnees like Dakota Lewis and Arist Wright. And I'm intrigued how much playing time that converted running back Angus Quigley will receive.
Another factor that will be interesting in the team's development will be what the addition of veteran co-defensive coordinator Bill Miller means to the group. Bill Young had all kinds of success with the defense and got much of the acclaim for the team that won the Orange Bowl two seasons ago.
When Young left, it was left to first-year coordinator Clint Bowen to start his program. There were some rocky parts along the way, considering they allowed at least 33 points in seven of their final 11 games.
Development in the defense will be the biggest key in the Jayhawks fulfilling their high preseason ranking and determining whether they will be able to contend for their first berth in the Big 12 championship game.
It won't necessarily be a surprise because Kansas' defense might not be as depleted as some might presume.
Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Griffin
All questions aren't settled during the course of spring practice as teams still have much work to upgrade their weaknesses heading into the season.
Obviously, some will receive a boost from incoming freshmen who will arrive later. But here's how each team's biggest liability shakes out heading into the summer.
Baylor: The Bears are desperately looking for help at offensive tackle after losing No. 2 overall draft pick Jason Smith and Dan Gay as their starters. Former Canadian firefighter Danny Watkins has established himself at Smith's old position protecting Robert Griffin's blind side. And on the right side, junior Chris Griesenbeck and redshirt freshmen Cameron Kaufhold are competing for the starting job with Tyler Junior College's Phillip Blake and Blinn College's Marquis Franklin set the arrive later this summer.
Colorado: Wide receiver has been a question mark for the Buffaloes throughout Dan Hawkins' coaching tenure. The Buffaloes return four scholarship wide receivers and had a chance to work out several new players with Scotty McKnight injured during the spring. Josh Smith and Markques Simas are the top playmakers coming out of the spring. Non-scholarship players like Jason Espinoza and Ryan Maxwell emerged, but the Buffaloes definitely need a big upgrade at the position from their arriving freshman class.
Iowa State: The Cyclones will be facing a big hole at left tackle, where two-year starter Doug Dedrick departs. It could be filled by Matt Hulbert, who started two games last season when Dedrick was hurt. Or it could be massive 354-pound junior Hayworth Hicks or freshman Brayden Burris at the position. Whoever emerges will face a huge challenge in filling Dedrick's experience as he protects the blind side of the Iowa State quarterbacks.
Kansas: Coach Mark Mangino will be facing a few huge rebuilding job at linebacker, where the Jayhawks lose key contributors Joe Mortensen, Mike Rivera and James Holt from last season. Mangino is talking about using a two-linebacker set as his base defense with fifth-year senior Jake Schermer and senior Arist Wright getting the starting jobs leaving spring practice. Sophomore Steven Johnson and converted running back Angus Quigley were competing for playing time during the spring and another boost is expected when junior linebacker Justin Springer, who is recovering from a torn ACL last season, returns in the fall.
Kansas State: Carson Coffman appeared to have claimed the starting job at quarterback -- at least for a few weeks -- after a strong effort during the latter stages of spring practice. But Coffman's late binge has to be tempered considering he is playing against the weak Kansas State secondary. So it's fair to say there are some lingering questions at the position. Coffman apparently has beaten back the challenge of challengers Collin Klein, Joseph Kassanavoid, Trey Scott and Milton McPeek. But the arrival of South Florida transfer Grant Gregory and heralded junior-college transfer Daniel Thomas will mean more competition in the summer.
Missouri: The Tigers will be facing a challenge of replacing NFL first-round draft pick Evander "Ziggy" Hood at defensive tackle to play opposite nose tackle Jaron Baston. Redshirt sophomore Terrell Resonno appeared to have claimed the job out of the spring, with Dominique Hamilton, Chris Earnhardt and converted linebacker George White perhaps earning their way into the rotation.
Nebraska: After the graduation of top receivers Todd Peterson and Nate Swift from last season, the Cornhuskers need to fill both positions. Leading returning receiver Menelik Holt appears to have a hammerlock on one position, but Niles Paul lost a chance to take a big step forward after missing the spring after he was suspended for driving under the influence. Antonio Bell was the biggest surprise, but converted I-back Marcus Mendoza, Chris Brooks, Wes Cammack and Curenski Gilleylen all showed flashes during the spring.
Oklahoma: There was concern before spring practice, considering the Sooners were replacing four-fifths of their starting offensive line with only Trent Williams back from last season's starters. And it got worse when Bob Stoops called out the young replacements because of their lack of diligence in their preseason conditioning. Williams emerged at left tackle with Brian Simmons and Stephen Good at guards, redshirt freshman Ben Habern at center and either LSU transfer Jarvis Jones or Cory Brandon at right tackle. The depth took a hit when center Jason Hannan left early in training camp and sophomore guard Alex Williams chose to leave after spring practice. The group struggled against the Sooners' talented defensive line, allowing Sam Bradford to be touch-sacked twice in three possessions in the spring game and produced only 27 rushing yards in 52 carries.
Oklahoma State: The loss of veteran center David Washington produced a huge hole in the center of the Cowboys' interior line. Andrew Lewis returns to his natural position, leaving Oklahoma State needing two new starters at guard. Noah Franklin and Jonathan Rush have staked claims to the starting positions with Anthony Morgan and Nick Martinez getting repetitions inside. This group needs to improve if it hopes to equal the standards of previous seasons, when the Cowboys led the Big 12 in rushing each of the last three seasons.
Texas: The tight end was rarely used for the Longhorns after Blaine Irby dislocated his kneecap last season against Rice. He still wasn't ready to go during the spring as Greg Smith, Ahmard Howard, Ian Harris and D.J. Grant all got work. None of them emerged. And with Irby's return remaining iffy, it means the Longhorns again could reduce the use of the tight end and utilize four-receiver sets when they want to move the ball. Don't look for the Longhorns to use the tight end much unless this production improves.
Texas A&M: The Ag
gies were wracked with injuries during the spring as projected starters Lee Grimes, Kevin Matthews and Lucas Patterson were sidelined all spring as A&M was down to only nine healthy offensive linemen for some practices. It still doesn't excuse the lack of offensive production for A&M's starting unit, which produced only 9 yards rushing on 24 carries against Texas A&M's first-string defense. Coach Mike Sherman will be counting on immediate production from an impressive group of incoming freshman at fall practice, but it's fair to characterize the Aggies' offensive line as the team's biggest spring concern -- especially after allowing 39 sacks last season and ranking last in the conference in rushing yards per game.
Texas Tech: The loss of productive starters Daniel Charbonnet and Darcel McBath left a gaping hole at safety for the Red Raiders. Junior Franklin Mitchem earned the free safety position leaving spring practice and redshirt freshman Cody Davis emerged at strong safety.Jared Flannel , Brett Dewhurst and converted linebacker Julius Howard also got some snaps at safety. It will still be a challenge to combat the explosive Big 12 defenses with such an inexperienced group at the position.
Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Griffin
Here's a look at the Big 12's most pressing early concerns as teams break for the summer for a couple of weeks before returning in June to begin conditioning drills to prepare for the upcoming season:
1. Can Texas find a running game? The Longhorns are still looking for a featured back after no player really emerged during the spring. Cody Johnson had the best early production before he was slowed late in training camp with a hamstring injury. Neither Vondrell McGee or Fozzy Whittaker jumped forward during the spring. Heralded freshman Chris Whaley will get his chance once fall practice begins, but likely won't be counted on early. But filling the hole is important. The Longhorns desperately need somebody as they likely can't challenge for a national championship if Colt McCoy again is their leading rusher.
2. Is Oklahoma's offensive line capable of playing at a level to win conference championships and beyond? After being called out before spring practice for its lack of diligence in conditioning, Oklahoma's offensive line had an uneven spring practice. Four new starters need to emerge along with Trent Williams, who returns and moves to left tackle to protect Sam Bradford's blind side. The unit's growth will determine much of the Sooners' offensive success -- even with the return of talented skill-position players like Bradford, Chris Brown, DeMarco Murray, Jermaine Gresham and Ryan Broyles already in place.
3. Is Oklahoma State's defense really good enough to compete for the Big 12 title? Veteran defensive coordinator Bill Young was counted on to boost production in a unit that didn't seem ready late last year after being blistered for averages of 58.5 points and 593 yards per game in late-season losses to Texas Tech and Oklahoma. The Cowboys have another season of experience and some strong individual players like Perrish Cox and Andre Sexton. But unless they find a pass rush, their hopes of challenging for their first Big 12 South title will be dubious.
4. Can Kansas find linebackers who will enable them to contain Big 12 defenses? The Jayhawks lost three capable playmaking linebackers in James Holt, Mike Rivera and Joe Mortensen from last season. Coach Mark Mangino has hinted that he's considering a 4-2-5 alignment to better combat the Big 12's spread offenses. But he still has to hope that Jake Schermer and Arist Wright prove to be capable replacements -- or it could be a long season for the Jayhawks against their tough schedule of Big 12 South power teams like Oklahoma, Texas and Texas Tech.
5. How much will Texas Tech miss Graham Harrell and Michael Crabtree? Most are thinking that the loss of Harrell and Crabtree will be too much for the Red Raiders to overcome. But Texas Tech coach Mike Leach has quietly -- at least for him -- maintained that he likes his current group of replacements. Taylor Potts will have more experience coming into the program than any of the one-year players who preceded Harrell. All that group (Sonny Cumbie, B.J. Symons and Cody Hodges) did was average nearly 4,943 yards and 38.3 touchdown passes per season in their only season starting, so maybe Leach's comments should be considered. And at wide receiver, the Red Raiders won't have the overall star power of Crabtree, but will still have capable replacements in players like Detron Lewis, Lyle Leong, Edward Britton, Alex Torres, Adrian Reese and Tramain Swindall who should be ready.
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
STILLWATER, Okla. -- Basketball fever is gripping the Big 12 today with the first day of the men's tournament at the Ford Center in Oklahoma City.
But there's still plenty of football information going around the conference. It's why I'll be at Oklahoma State later today to watch the Cowboys' second practice of the spring.
And at other places across the Big 12, spring football still is making news. Here are some of today's more notable stories.
- Columbia Daily Tribune reporter Dave Matter writes that Missouri will be facing more questions this spring than in any of Gary Pinkel's previous tenure at the school.
- Colorado's Cody Hawkins is bracing for a big challenge to retain his job as the Buffaloes' starting quarterback, Kyle Ringo of the Boulder Daily Camera reports.
- Former Kansas linebacker Joe Mortensen took a few snaps at fullback to show his versatility for NFL scouts at the Jayhawks' pro day, the Kansas City Star's Randy Covitz reports.
- Steve Sipple of the Lincoln Journal Star writes that the Nebraska program might have missed out on a prime exposure opportunity by declining to have its April 18 spring game televised. The school has already sold more than 70,000 tickets for the scrimmage.
- Oklahoma center Ben Habern received a medical redshirt after missing last season, giving him four seasons of remaining eligibility with the Sooners, Jake Trotter of the Oklahoman reports.
- Heralded Denton (Texas) Ryan quarterback Scotty Young has given an oral commitment to Texas Tech, according to Don Williams of the Lubbock Avalanche-Journal. Young came within two touchdown passes of breaking Graham Harrell's state high-school mark of 67 touchdown passes last season as a junior.
Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Griffin
The Big 12 has been dotted by several intriguing recruiting stories during its brief history. Here are some of my personal favorites.
1. Oklahoma's Jamar Mozee spurns Kansas State: Mozee, a bruising running back from Blue Springs, Mo., was an apparently solid commitment for Kansas State until late in the 1999 recruiting period. But as signing day approached, Mozee followed several of the Kansas State assistants who had been recruiting him as they joined Bob Stoops' fledgling program at Oklahoma. The late switch earned the wrath of Wildcat fans everywhere, but also provided Stoops one of his top early recruits. Mozee never materialized for the Sooners like expected, but his recruitment fueled an intense early rivalry between the two schools.
2. Kansas' underrated class of 2004: Unheralded prospects like Aqib Talib and Anthony Collins were barely recruited by most powers, but developed into All-Americans while working with coach Mark Mangino's staff by the time they left college. Defensive starters Joe Mortensen, Mike Rivera and Charlton Keith also didn't catch much recruiting attention, but also became key starters for the Jayhawks' team that made history by claiming the 2008 Orange Bowl and making back-to-back bowl trips for the first time in school history. It also made some recruiting analysts blush, considering they missed so badly with this group.
3. Ryan Perrilloux heads for home: Perrilloux committed to Texas before his senior season and was presumed to be the natural successor for Vince Young after recording a slew of records in his senior season at East St. John's High School in Reserve, La. Throughout the recruiting process, Perrilloux remained committed to Texas. But he made a late switch, signing with the first recruiting class of LSU coach Les Miles. Perrilloux's career never materialized and he was kicked off the LSU team for violating team rules after several earlier legal skirmishes. And his departure opened a place on Texas' roster for Colt McCoy, who developed into a Heisman Trophy runner-up with the opportunity.
4. Darrell Scott picks family and the Buffaloes: The nation's top running back recruit waited until the last minute before choosing Colorado and Texas, following his uncle Josh Smith, a wide receiver/kick returner who already was on the Buffaloes' roster. Scott apparently had given the Longhorns a private commitment which changed when running backs coach Ken Rucker became the team's director of high school relations and player development and was replaced by Major Applewhite. His announcement was carried live on ESPNU, where he became Colorado's highest-ranking recruit since Marcus Houston in the 2000 recruiting class.
5. Travis Lewis chooses Oklahoma: Not all of the most heated battles take place over five-star recruits. Lewis had played little linebacker in Lee High School in San Antonio and had barely even played defense. But several schools saw promise in his unique combination of speed and size, leading to a spirited recruiting battle that intensified as the 2007 signing day approached. Lewis eventually decided on Oklahoma from a fervent group of suitors that also included Oklahoma State and fast-closing Nebraska. After a redshirt season, Lewis developed into an All-Big 12 linebacker and the conference's freshman defensive player of the year in 2008.
Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Griffin
Here's a look at some tidbits from around the league that are transpiring as teams get ready for games this week.
1. Both Kansas and Oklahoma have added more playmakers to their special teams after recent struggles for both teams covering and returning kickoffs. Bob Stoops plans to add four new members to his kick coverage team that has been blistered for two TD returns, including a pivotal 96-yard return by Texas' Jordan Shipley last week that turned the game around. And Kansas coach Mark Mangino has talked about placing starters like James Holt and Joe Mortensen on his special teams as the Jayhawks rank last in the nation in kick returns. The Jayhawks are averaging 12.4 yards per kickoff -- almost three yards per return less than the next-lowest team, Kent State at 118th.
2. Iowa State has inserted freshman Jerome Tiller as its backup quarterback after Phillip Bates left school. Coach Gene Chizik hopes that he can still make it through the season using only Austen Arnaud as the quarterback and keeping the redshirts intact for Tiller and fellow freshman Bret Bueker. Early word is that Bates likely won't resurface at another Big 12 school because it would cost him an additional season in the transfer. A more likely location would be a FCS school where he could play immediately or an FBS school like Ohio University, where his family already has a strong association with coach Frank Solich. Bates' father, Phillip Bates Sr., was a running back at Nebraska who played there when Solich was his position coach under Tom Osborne.
3. Texas ditched using a tight end in favor of a four-wide receiver look as its base offensive formation against Oklahoma. And the unit's success -- 438 total yards and 20 combined catches from Quan Cosby and Shipley -- make it likely to be used more during the rest of the season. Starting tight end Blaine Irby's season-ending injury robbed the Longhorns of their top receiving threat at the position. The four-receiver sets have made the Longhorns lethal in terms of big-play capabilities, but a little weaker trying to consistently run the ball.
4. Considering the recent injury to Lamark Brown, it wasn't surprising that quarterback Josh Freeman emerged as a key rushing threat in the Wildcats' victory last week over Texas A&M. Freeman produced career-high totals of 18 carries, 95 yards and four rushing touchdowns against the Aggies. In the philosophy of Kansas State quarterbacks coach Warren Ruggiero and offensive coordinator Dave Brock, the quarterback is used as more of a rushing weapon. Freeman has gained positive rushing yards in each of his six starts this season. Before this season, Freeman had netted positive yards in only eight of his 20 previous career starts.
5. Texas A&M coach Mike Sherman is doing what he can to instill discipline on his team, even if it affects its performance in the short term. Key players Michael Bennett andMike Goodson weren't in the starting lineup last week against Kansas State after discipline issues, paving the way for the Wildcats to jump to an early 27-3 lead over Sherman's beleaguered team. Sherman is hoping that his struggles bottom out as he tries to make the Aggies know they've got a firm leader running the program.
Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Griffin
Here are a few items to watch for around the Big 12 this week
1. Expect a more balanced Colorado offensive attack against West Virginia with the return of TE Riar Geer, who missed the last two games with a sprained knee. His return will give the Buffaloes an intermediate receiving threat important against West Virginia's 3-3-5 defense. Don't be surprised if it also boosts the confidence of QB Cody Hawkins, who will have his favorite target from last season returning.
2. Despite being overshadowed by linebacking mates Joe Mortensen and Mike Rivera, Kansas LB James Holt is being used as the team's top blitzer in new coordinator Clint Bowen's schemes. Holt responded with a game-high 13 tackles, a sack and forced two fumbles while thriving in his new role against South Florida.
3. Junior-college transfer RB Keithen Valentine will get the majority of playing time against Louisville and not just because of his rushing abilities. Kansas State coaches think the 5-foot-8, 197-pound Valentine is the best antidote they have for Louisville's blitz tendencies.
4. Don't be surprised if Missouri opts to bench S William Moore for this week's game against Buffalo. Moore, the Tigers' inspirational leader and best defensive back, tweaked his injured ankle against Nevada. The Tigers would like to have him as near to 100 percent as possible for the start of conference play Oct. 4 at Nebraska.
5. Iowa State QB Austen Arnaud got all the snaps except for three series against Iowa. Despite that imbalance, Iowa State coach Gene Chizik remains committed to a two-quarterback system where Phillip Bates will see some playing time in every game. Chizik likes to use his quarterbacks depending on feel. He expects to use both this week against UNLV.
Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Griffin
After a miserable early trip to the Northwest, Oklahoma coach Bob Stoops promised he would never again play a Pac-10 team on the road.
Stoops' determination was fueled by the Pac-10's rules that mandate having its own officials work nonconference home games.
The Sooners were involved in a controversial onside-kick recovery at Oregon two years ago that eventually led to a comeback victory by the Ducks.
But even after another controversial Pac-10 officiating decision in Seattle last week, Stoops said his team is ready for the challenge of another tough road game Saturday at Husky Stadium.
Stoops said Monday he couldn't get out of the Washington game because it had already been scheduled before the Oregon game.
"You know how it is to try and get games. Scheduling isn't easy to do," Stoops said. "Washington had already come here. It's living up to the agreement. We're good with it and anxious to go play. It's a great stadium with a great atmosphere. You need to go meet the challenge."
Just a thought here. Maybe it would be better to let sleeping dogs lie.
And that's why Stoops hasn't made much about his earlier disappointment as he prepares for the Huskies on Saturday.
Here are some of the other stories people are talking about across the Big 12 this morning.
- Texas DT Lamarr Houston will be back in the starting lineup against Arkansas following a one-game suspension stemming from a DWI charge. Houston took responsibility for his actions as he met with the media.
- Although WR Dez Bryant made headlines with 236 receiving yards, Oklahoma State coach Mike Gundy was pleased with the work of his other receivers in the Cowboys' victory over Houston. WR DeMarcus Conner, who didn't have a reception, delivered 12 knockdown blocks. That work appears to have the Sooners heading for the fourth time in six seasons to having a 1,000-yard rusher and receiver.
- Kansas All-Big 12 LB Joe Mortensen was set to be a Nebraska player before Bill Callahan reneged on a scholarship offer on signing day.
- A Nebraska fan has reached a settlement with the Oklahoman and Oklahoman beat writer Jake Trotter after writing a bogus article about two OU quarterbacks from earlier this summer.
- The Omaha World-Herald's Tom Shatel speculates that Nebraska's early running game struggles might be the residue of a line trained to emphasize pass blocking in the last four seasons.
- The Lincoln Journal-Star's Curt McKeever had this nugget from Colorado coach Dan Hawkins about the Big 12's unprecedented 12-0 record last week: "I guess if it's the first time ever, it's pretty hard."
- Texas A&M coach Mike Sherman isn't ready to rule out QB Stephen McGee from the Aggies' next game against Miami, despite a sprained right shoulder.
- Iowa State QB Phillip Bates remains known more for his big reception last season against Iowa than for his throwing abilities. ISU coach Gene Chizik said his team must show major defensive improvement for any hope of upsetting the Hawkeyes on Saturday.
- Colorado will spend the next 10 days trying to get a handle on the offensive changes at West Virginia, where the natives are restless after the struggling start against East Carolina.
- Lawrence Journal-World columnist Tom Keegan writes about Daymond Patterson, Kansas' new deep threat. The Jayhawks will be trying to prove something to the nation Friday night at South Florida, even as they work in new CB Phillip Strozier into the starting lineup.
- The Kansas City Star's Mike DeArmond wonders why third-string QB Blaine Gabbert's redshirt was burned in the Tigers' game against Southeast Missouri State. Meanwhile, the Tigers' struggling pass defense, which ranks 115th nationally among 118 teams, has sputtered since All-American S William Moore went down with a foot injury. And WR Danario Alexander is set to return after missing his first two games with a knee injury.
- After being found not guilty of first-degree sexual assault, Nebraska OL Andy Christiansen was reinstated on Monday. But Coach Bo Pelini is more concerned about finding a replacement for injured DE Barry Turner.
Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Griffin
The Big 12 featured its top collection of talent last season with eight conference players selected to consensus All-America teams. It might be even more pronounced this season with another strong cast back.
Here's my list for all-conference players before the season:
QB: Chase Daniel, Missouri
RB: Marlon Lucky, Nebraska
RB: DeMarco Murray, Oklahoma
WR: Michael Crabtree, Texas Tech
WR: Jeremy Maclin, Missouri
TE: Chase Coffman, Missouri
T: Phil Loadholt, Oklahoma
T: Ryan Miller, Colorado
G: Duke Robinson, Oklahoma
G: Louis Vasquez, Texas Tech
C: Jon Cooper, Oklahoma
K: Jeff Wolfert, Missouri
KR: DeMarco Murray, Oklahoma
DE: Auston English, Oklahoma
DT: George Hypolite, Colorado
DT: Gerald McCoy, Oklahoma
DE: Ian Campbell, Kansas State
LB: Mike Rivera, Kansas
LB: Joe Mortensen, Kansas
LB: Sean Weatherspoon, Missouri
CB: Chris Harris, Kansas
CB: Jamar Wall, Texas Tech
S: William Moore, Missouri
S: Nic Harris, Oklahoma
P: Justin Brantly, Texas A&M
PR: Jeremy Maclin, Missouri
Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Griffin
|Brett Davis/US Presswire|
|Kansas LB Joe Mortensen had 15 tackles for a loss last season.|
There aren't many national standout linebackers in the Big 12 this season. The conference's proud history featuring key players like Derrick Johnson, Dat Nguyen and Mark Simoneau that dominated action from the position seems a long way away.
Part of that is because of the preponderance of spread offenses that have diminished some of the effectiveness of linebackers throughout college football. And good linebackers are becoming increasingly hard to find.
But there are still a few good ones left. Here are the players I think are the Big 12's top linebackers this season.
1. Joe Mortensen, Kansas -- Thrived after moving inside to middle linebacker to key Jayhawks' defense. He led the conference with 15 tackles for losses last season.
2. Sean Weatherspoon, Missouri -- Lightly regarded product from Jasper, Texas, has blossomed into one of conference's most consistent defensive playmakers. His 127 tackles led all of the Big 12's returning defensive players.
3. Mike Rivera, Kansas -- Produced three sacks, 7.5 tackles for a loss last season in first as starter outside.
4. Ryan Reynolds, Oklahoma -- If he's healthy, he could blossom into one of OU's dominating middle linebackers like Curtis Lofton and Rufus Alexander before him.
5. Patrick Lavine, Oklahoma State -- Consistent producer who leads all Oklahoma State returnees with 81 tackles from last season. Oklahoma State defensive coordinator Tim Beckman hopes he will emerge as the Cowboys' key defender this season.
6. Marlon Williams, Texas Tech -- It will be interesting to see if his tackle numbers remain strong with the increasing defensive talent around him.
7. Joe Pawelek, Baylor -- Most valuable player on Bears' defensive team will be starting for his third-straight season.
8. James Holt, Kansas -- Underrated because he's sometimes overshadowed by Mortensen and Rivera on his own team.
9. Brock Christopher, Missouri -- Space-eating MLB who always seems to be around the ball.
10. Rashad Bobino, Texas -- Bruising 238-pounder will be counted for senior leadership and his hitting ability by new coordinator Will Muschamp.
Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Griffin
LAWRENCE, Kan. -- What a difference one good season can make.
Expectations are shooting through the roof this season at Kansas, where only a few years ago there were none.
"It used to make me angry," senior linebacker Joe Mortensen said. "We would get behind and people would start chanting 'There's always basketball.' We've changed that around."
But after last year's stunning 12-1 record and a victory over Virginia Tech in the Orange Bowl, the Jayhawks are brimming with confidence about the upcoming season. Even if the Jayhawks' basketball team one-upped them by bringing home the national championship.
Amazingly, Kansas has never made bowl trips in back-to-back seasons in the 119-year history of the program. That challenge and becoming a factor for their first North Division title will be the most pressing challenges goal for this team, which returns six offensive and nine defensive starters from last year.
"I would say the kids' confidence level is very high, much higher than it could have been," Kansas coach Mark Mangino said. "And I think that the confidence factor has been a big part of the windfall of being a BCS team last season."
Mangino remembers how far down the Kansas program has come since he arrived in 2002 after a successful run as Oklahoma's offensive coordinator.
"We should be excited and embrace the high expectations we have," Mangino said. "When I came here there were none. That was a terrible feeling. When nobody expects you to be successful it's not a good feeling."
To get there, the Jayhawks will have to navigate a significantly more difficult schedule.
Kansas trades Baylor, Texas A&M and Oklahoma State from the South for a cross-division group that will include Texas Tech, Texas and Oklahoma. The Jayhawks are a combined 1-11 against those schools in the last eight seasons, allowing an average of 39.3 points in those games.
"We still feel like we're underdogs, even though we supposedly came out of last year as the top dog," wide receiver Marcus Herford said. "We had a lot of battles and talk because of our 'so-called' weak schedule. We're still considered a lower team, and we're going to continue to thrive off that."
Wide receiver/quarterback Kerry Meier said that doubt will help fuel the team this season.
"We had a great season and went 12-1, but we have to prove ourselves again," Meier said. "People around the nation are probably looking at us as the same ol' Jayhawks. We're going to have a big chip on our shoulders to prove ourselves otherwise."
Last season's transformation has excited Mortensen about the possibilities against a tougher slate -- even if most observers aren't giving the Jayhawks much hope for a repeat challenge at the North title.
"I'm excited to play the teams we're playing this year," Mortensen said. "Last year, people said we didn't play anybody, but nobody can discount that we're going against the best of the best. With teams like Oklahoma and Texas it's definitely going to be a great year. I like the challenge of playing teams like that."
Even if doubters are saying otherwise, Kansas players said last year's surprising run makes them expect something similar again.
"That's what I came here to do was to win games," Meier said. "Last year will be something that will be hard to follow, but we're up for the challenge. We want to go out and show it wasn't a fluke."
Mangino smiles when he thinks about that transformation from his arrival.
"I would say these kids confidence level is very high," Mangino said. "Last year's team became more and more confident as the year went on. This year's team showed up that way."