NCF Nation: Jon Cooper

Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Griffin

Being in the middle of Oklahoma's biggest question mark isn't something that Ben Habern shies away from.

In fact, the Sooners' freshman center is excited about the opportunity to prove something to the doubters who are wondering about Oklahoma's young offensive line heading into the upcoming season with four new starters.

 
  J.P. Wilson/Icon SMI
  Oklahoma's Ben Habern has some big shoes to fill as he replaces Jon Cooper at center.

It's made Habern wish his team's Sept. 5 opener against BYU was only a couple of weeks away.

"There are a lot of people who don't think we have enough talent to make it through the Big 12 or to a big bowl game," Habern said. "But a lot of people aren't here during our practices. We've seen how athletic we are."

Some of the doubt started earlier when Oklahoma coach Bob Stoops called out the unit before spring practice even began. Stoops was disappointed in the group's lack of dedication during preseason conditioning drills and didn't hesitate to make his comments known.

The words stung, particularly for a group that was looking to build some confidence before heading into practice. But Stoops' point got across and helped the group coalesce.

"We lost a lot of senior leadership and have a lot of guys to replace," Habern said. "It was a big step and a challenge to get everything settled. But I feel like we handled it pretty well."

One of the biggest reasons for the group's fast growth has been the development of Habern, who has claimed the starting job after strong work during the spring to replace Jon Cooper.

Jason Hannan, who was once considered the nation's No. 1 center prospect and Cooper's eventual replacement, couldn't beat out Habern for the job, leading Hannan to transfer earlier this spring.

"Habern has been doing a wonderful job," Oklahoma offensive line coach James Patton told the Fort Worth Star-Telegram. "He's got a chance to be a really good one. Jon was a great leader and Ben" is from "that same kind of mold."

(Read full post)

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

One of the most interesting parts of spring practice will be watching potential replacements emerge in key situations across the Big 12.

Here are some of the key departures from around the conference and some of the players who will compete to try to fill those vacancies.

 
  Getty Images
  Brian Orakpo's pass-rushing skills will be missed by Texas.
  • Texas Tech wide receiver Michael Crabtree -- The Red Raiders will miss the two-time Biletnikoff winner. Lyle Leong will get the first shot and should be challenged by Jacoby Franks and 6-foot-4 Rashad Hawk. Top returning receivers Detron Lewis and Tramain Swindall will remain inside as slot receivers, meaning that other players will have to emerge at Crabtree's old featured slot.
  • Texas' pass-rushing specialist replacing Brian Orakpo -- Texas coaches are hoping that Sergio Kindle will ratchet up his play to Orakpo-like levels as he moves to a near permanent status as a pass-rushing specialist at defensive end. Sam Acho will get most of the work on the other side during the spring with Eddie Jones battling back from shoulder and ankle surgery, meaning the spotlight will be on Kindle this spring.
  • Jeremy Maclin's talents at Missouri -- It likely will take several players to cover what the multi-purpose Maclin provided as a receiver, rusher and kick return threat. Among the players who will get a look at a variety of roles include Wes Kemp, Jerrell Jackson, Gahn McGaffie and Rolandis Woodland.
  • Oklahoma fills a depleted offensive line -- Only tackle Trent Williams will be back as a starter for the Sooners' unit, which will lose key producers like guards Duke Robinson and Brandon Walker, center Jon Cooper and mammoth tackle Phil Loadholt. The four departing starters combined for 149 starts during their college careers. Replacements like tackle Cory Brandon, guards Alex Williams and Brian Simmons and center Jason Hannan are presumed to be talented, but are still very inexperienced. That's not a comforting thought for returning Oklahoma quarterback Sam Bradford -- at least until spring practice begins.
  • Kansas State replaces Ron Prince -- Sure, the Wildcats made only one bowl trip in Prince's three-season tenure before he was fired. But it will still be a huge test for legendary Kansas State coach Bill Snyder to match the success he produced earlier in his career after his sabbatical during the Prince years. It will especially be challenging this season with the loss of quarterback Josh Freeman and offensive coordinator Andy Ludwig, who went packing late last week for a similar position at California after only six weeks at Kansas State. Junior-college transfer Daniel Thomas and Carson Coffman will compete to replace Freeman. And it's anybody's guess whom Snyder will find to replace Ludwig with the start of spring practice approaching on April 6.

Day-after Big 12 analysis

January, 9, 2009
1/09/09
1:47
PM ET
 
  AP Photo/Chris O'Meara
  Bob Stoops and the Oklahoma Sooners lost again in a BCS title game Thursday night and are drawing comparisons to the Buffalo Bills.

Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Griffin

FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. -- Maybe it all came too quickly for Bob Stoops.

The national championship in his second season as a coach back in 2000 and all of those early victories against top-ranked teams made Stoops appear bulletproof.

That image took another hit Thursday night with another BCS title-game loss. That's five BCS losses and counting, including three BCS title-game disappointments.

When Stoops looks back at Thursday's 24-14 loss to Florida with some perspective, he'll see that the better team won. The Sooners couldn't afford all of the red-zone problems as they left too many points on the field in the first half.

The maligned Oklahoma defense actually played pretty well before wearing down from the pressure of trying to contain Tim Tebow and all of Florida's speedy skill-position threats.

Now, the Sooners' struggles in big games are making them kind of like the Buffalo Bills of college football. And those kind of struggles could detract from the Big 12's season after the bowls finished.

Oklahoma will be underdogs next season in the South Division. The rivalry against Texas has never been more heated. It will be interesting to see how the Sooners fare in that position as they attempt to go for an unprecedented fourth-straight Big 12 title.

But I bet Stoops burns for a chance at another BCS game.

Here are some other quick thoughts that came to me this morning as I was packing up after a week in Florida.

  • There's no doubt that Sam Bradford is ready for the NFL draft, but I still think it would help his future prospects by returning for another season in college. Another year of maturity and a chance to excel against pressure defenses would make him an even more marketable product next season. But he's clearly a first-round talent now.
  • Perhaps the most telling point of Oklahoma's loss in the BCS title game came when Chris Brown was stuffed on two-straight running plays in the second quarter from the Florida 1-yard line. What surprised me most was the quick snap play that offensive coordinator Kevin Wilson opted to try on fourth down. I would have figured that the Sooners could have gained a yard running behind their vaunted left side of the offensive line. But they failed on both plays in a momentum-turning play as heralded blockers Phil Loadholt, Duke Robinson and Jon Cooper were whipped at the point of attack.
  • So much for those thoughts about Oklahoma's defense being "a joke." Brent Venables came up with a productive scheme that featured a couple of unexpected big plays against Tim Tebow before wearing down late in the game. The Sooners didn't lose Thursday night because of their defense.
  • I couldn't be happier for anybody winning a national championship than for Florida defensive line coach Dan McCarney. The Gators got a huge lift from McCarney's defensive line Thursday night.
  • What little boost in national perception the Big 12 received after a pedestrian 4-3 bowl season came from the North Division, which was was maligned all season after a 3-15 record against South teams and another championship game blowout loss.
  • A funny thing happened in the bowls. Nebraska and Missouri showed a lot of pluck in comeback bowl victories and Kansas might have played better in its bowl game than any other Big 12 team. The South was a different story. Texas earned a dramatic victory over Ohio State, but had enough struggles against the Buckeyes to be lucky to have won the Fiesta Bowl. Texas Tech looked ill-prepared and played like it in its loss to Mississippi. Oklahoma State collapsed when Dez Bryant was injured and Oklahoma lost in the national title game. The conference's best teams are in the South, even if they didn't play like it in the bowls.
  • I was a little surprised, but not shocked, that Nebraska didn't crack either the AP media top 25 or the USA Today coaches' poll. I don't think most of the country realizes the turnaround that Bo Pelini was able to accomplish late in the season with the Cornhuskers. At the end of the season and the bowls, they were playing as well as any team in the Big 12.


Here's my quick picks heading out of the season if all of the teams would return their expected players. I'll reserve my right to change these picks after the NFL draft declaration day passes next week.

But right now, here's how I have the Big 12 set for 2009:

North: 1. Nebraska; 2. Kansas; 3. Colorado; 4. Missouri; 5. Kansas State; 6. Iowa State
South: 1. Texas; 2. Oklahoma; 3. Oklahoma State; 4. Texas Tech; 5. Texas A&M; 6. Baylor.

Big 12 championship game: Texas over Nebraska.

Bowl teams: Texas, Nebraska, Oklahoma, Oklahoma State, Kansas, Texas Tech, Colorado, Missouri.

Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Griffin

FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. -- Oklahoma running back Chris Brown might never been confused with DeMarco Murray as an elusive breakaway threat.

 
 Ronald Martinez/Getty Images
 Chris Brown leads the Sooners in rushing with 1,110 yards .

But the steadiness of the underrated Oklahoma rushing leader is the main reason why Oklahoma offensive coordinator Kevin Wilson expects the Sooners to overcome playing without Murray in the FedEx Bowl Championship Series National Championship without many troubles.

"The one guy [Murray] has flash and the other guy [Brown] is just a pit bulldog," Wilson said. "He's just a grinder who comes to work every single day. What you see is what you get, and from him it's pretty good."

Brown led the Sooners in rushing with 1,110 yards and ranked sixth nationally with 20 touchdowns. He will be counted on, along with backup Mossis Madu, to replace the loss of Murray, who ruptured a tendon in his left hamstring on the opening kickoff of the Big 12 championship game and will miss Thursday's game.

The loss of Murray, who rushed for 1,002 yards during the regular season, might be expected to cripple the Sooners with the loss of their top long-distance threat.

Instead, it has only inspired Brown of the opportunity he has playing against the Gators.

Brown compares his running style and Murray's with the vaunted USC rushing game of the 2004 national championship team.

"I don't really like to compare me and DeMarco because we're good friends," Brown said. "But we're two different players. You see him making flashy cuts a little bit like Reggie Bush. I'll take that I'm like LenDale White. DeMarco can make something small into a big play. But I feel I'm more patient and willing to waiting on things to develop. You could call me the conservative runner on our team. "

The ability of Brown and Madu was best shown in the Big 12 title game after Murray went down. Brown rushed for 122 yards on 27 carries and scored three touchdowns and Madu chipped with a career-best 114 yards on 15 carries and three more scores to spark a 62-21 blowout over Missouri.

 
 Jesse Beals/Icon SMI
 Mossis Madu (17) will be needed to step up after the loss of DeMarco Murray to an injury.

Center Jon Cooper said that both remaining backs have the ability to be prime producers against the Gators, who ranked 16th nationally against the rush.

"DeMarco was a little flashier and he would try to make people miss where Chris just runs through them," Cooper said. "And Mossis is a combination of both. He hits the hole about as hard as anybody we've got. I don't know how fast he is, but he's pretty fast. And he's got the balance of Chris and the flashiness of DeMarco."

Florida players have noticed the strength and depth of the Sooners' running game. It makes them concerned about stopping Oklahoma's potent attack even with Murray out of the lineup.

"I don't think not having Murray will slow them down at all," Florida safety Ahmad Black said. "They have another one who comes off the bench who's almost as good. They rotate all of them out there. I don't think they'll take a step back at all. It will be a challenge to stop them."

Heisman Trophy winning quarterback Sam Bradford knows that balance will be important for his team's hopes to claim its first national championship since the 2001 Orange Bowl. Along with Tulsa, Oklahoma is the only team to rank in the top 20 nationally in rushing, passing, total offense and scoring.

And Bradford is convinced the Sooners still can consistently move the ball against Florida with their remaining players -- even without Murray.

"Obviously, DeMarco is a big part of our offense and we're going to miss him," Bradford said. "But I think that Mossis and Chris both are very good running backs and we're not going to lose much with them being in there.

"Running the ball like we did in the Big 12 championship game gives us a lot of confidence in what they can do. We see it from Mossis every day in practice and the Big 12 championship was just the first opportunity for him to show everybody else how good he is. It didn't surprise us how he played. And we expect him and Chris to come out and play well again."

Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Griffin

FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. - One of the underrated components of Oklahoma's offense has been their success at protecting quarterback Sam Bradford.

Opposing defenses have sacked the Heisman Trophy winner only 11 times this season as the Sooners lead the Big 12 and rank fourth nationally in fewest sacks allowed.

Only one team has been able to bring consistent pressure against Oklahoma this season. It came in the second half of the Sooners' Oct. 11 loss to Texas when defensive ends Brian Orakpo and Sergio Kindle turned the game around with their speed pressure from the edges of the Longhorns' defense.

That pressure resulted in two of the three sacks in the game against Bradford and consistent disruption that the Sooners couldn't adjust in a 45-35 loss.

"Every time somebody did that it didn't feel good for us," senior tackle Phil Loadholt said. "We want to make sure it doesn't happen again and that Sam stays clean and doesn't get sacked."

The Sooners will be facing an aggressive Florida pass rush Thursday night in the FedEx BCS National Championship Game that follows the prototype of successful Southeastern Conference defenses. They are a little smaller than most that Oklahoma has faced. The Sooners will have about a 25-pound-per-man weight advantage in the game.

The Gators' defensive line is coached by former Iowa State coach Dan McCarney. His arrival has helped the Gators more than double their total in sacks this season with 32, up from 15 last season.

(Read full post)

Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Griffin

Here are the choices for my All-Big 12 team for the 2008 season.

QB - Colt McCoy, Texas
RB - Kendall Hunter, Oklahoma State
RB - DeMarco Murray, Oklahoma
WR - Michael Crabtree, Texas Tech
WR - Dez Bryant, Oklahoma State
TE - Jermaine Gresham, Oklahoma
OL - Duke Robinson, Oklahoma
OL - Jason Smith, Baylor
OL - Rylan Reed, Texas Tech
OL - Russell Okung, Oklahoma State
C - Jon Cooper, Oklahoma

DL - Brian Orkapo, Texas
DL - Brandon Williams, Texas Tech
DL - Ndamukong Suh, Nebraska
DL - Jeremy Beal, Oklahoma
LB - Joe Pawelek, Baylor
LB - Sean Weatherspoon, Missouri
LB - Travis Lewis, Oklahoma
DB - Darcel McBath, Texas Tech
DB - Darrell Stuckey, Kansas
DB - Lendy Holmes, Oklahoma
DB - Daniel Charbonnet, Texas Tech

AP - Jeremy Maclin, Missouri

KR - Perrish Cox, Oklahoma State
PR - Dez Bryant, Oklahoma State
K- Jeff Wolfert, Missouri
P- Justin Brantley, Texas A&M

Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Griffin

KANSAS CITY, Mo. -- Missouri entered the year with more preseason buzz than any season in recent history.

The return of 2007 Heisman Trophy finalist Chase Daniel and many of his offensive weapons made most think the Tigers offense would be a juggernaut this season. But the real excitement was about 10 returning defensive starters, making people think this Missouri team could evolve into a legitimate national title threat.

Mid-season losses to Oklahoma State and Texas snuffed out those dreams. And a loss to Kansas last week dropped the Tigers to 9-3.

They claimed a North Division title. But fans wanted more -- much more -- that never materialized.

Those disappointments could be changed if Missouri wins tonight. An upset tonight over Oklahoma in the Big 12 title game would catapult the Tigers into their first BCS bowl berth in history.

And that realization keeps Missouri coach Gary Pinkel from proclaiming this season was a failure despite the dashed national title hopes.

"I'm really proud of our team," Pinkel said. "You all want to win 10 or 11 games a year, and there's no question I want to do that.

"We didn't get it done. We lost to Texas, we had four straight games and lost a close one at the end after we had secured our championship. But I'm really proud of our team. You have to do the right things to win and we didn't do the right things."

Missouri wide receiver Jeremy Maclin was more succinct than that.

"You know, this is a crazy league," Maclin said. "We lost to Texas and Oklahoma State and then we beat Colorado 58-0. But I know we're where we want to be tonight. And if we can win the game tonight, we'll definitely be where we want to be."

Coming into the game, here are some notable items I'll be watching as the game unfolds.

  • How will the cold weather affect Oklahoma quarterback Sam Bradford's injured left thumb? Bradford tore a ligament in his non-throwing hand last week against Oklahoma State. The injury has been stabilized with a splint and Bradford should be ready to go. A sign to watch will be if Oklahoma coaches trust him to take direct snaps from center Jon Cooper. The Sooners used shotgun formations almost exclusively in the second half last week, affecting their running game. If Bradford can take direct snaps, the Sooner running game should be more effective.
  • Daniel's chance to make history. It should be an emotional night for the Missouri quarterback, who will leave with nearly every major passing record in school history. But he still doesn't have a Big 12 title to his credit, which he could produce tonight with a major effort.
  • How long will the Sooners remain with untested starter Mike Balogun at middle linebacker? Balogun, who skipped playing high school football to make money for his family as a construction worker, will be making his first career start for the Sooners tonight. Coaches like his determination and moxie, but he's not schooled in the intricacies of pass coverage. That could be a huge liability covering Missouri tight end Chase Coffman. If Balogun should struggle early, look for Travis Lewis to switch from weakside linebacker to the middle with 230-pound safety Nic Harris taking his place.
  • Can Missouri withstand an early Oklahoma assault? It will be important for Missouri to stay in the ballgame against an Oklahoma team that has steamrolled most opponents early in the game with their no-huddle attack. An early stop or two would give the Tigers some confidence and quickly bring what should be a pro-Missouri crowd into the game.
  • How will Missouri's secondary hold up? Losing top cover cornerback Castine Bridges isn't a good sign. The Tigers will have to insert undersized senior Tru Vaughns into the lineup against Oklahoma's tall group of receivers. They'll have to combat that disadvantage, which is especially worrisome against Bradford, who averages 15.22 yards per completion and has nine completions this season for 50 yards or more.

Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Griffin

Coaching news is upstaging the Big 12's championship game coming up on Saturday night in Kansas City. It just makes the anticipation for the game that much more intense. 

Here are some stories from around the conference:

  • Texas Tech coach Mike Leach's employment options grew again as Auburn emerged as a potential suitor. But Lubbock Avalanche-Journal columnist Don Williams writes that he's hearing that Leach doesn't really want to leave the High Plains.
  • Vahe Gregorian of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch writes that staying away from turnovers will be critical if Missouri quarterback Chase Daniel hopes to cap his career with an upset over Oklahoma.
  • Colorado coach Dan Hawkins told the Boulder Daily Camera's Kyle Ringo he favors an early signing period because it would "clarify the recruiting process" for coaches and recruits.
  • The Austin American-Statesman columnist Kirk Bohls spells out the scenario where a split national championship might result this season.
  • Berry Tramel of the Oklahoma wonders how Mack Brown could be snubbed as the Big 12's coach of the year, along with wondering how center Jon Cooper didn't make the All-Big 12 team and part-time player Matt Clapp did.
  • Dave Sittler of the Tulsa World expects another heavy dose of mind games for Daniel from Oklahoma defenders Saturday night in the Big 12 title game -- just like in the two games between the teams last season.

Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Griffin

Oklahoma will go into the Big 12 Championship Game against Missouri with several key injuries, according to Oklahoma coach Bob Stoops.

Quarterback Sam Bradford suffered torn ligaments on his non-throwing hand early in the Sooners' 61-41 victory over Oklahoma State Saturday night. It left him having to take his snaps from shotgun formations for most of the game last night because he couldn't adequately handle a direct snap from center Jon Cooper.

The injury really didn't appear to both Bradford too much, considering he directed Oklahoma on nine scoring drives to finish the game -- eight touchdowns and a field goal -- in the Sooners fourth-straight game with 60 or more points.

Of more pressing concern is the status of starting middle linebacker Austin Box, who will miss Saturday's game against the Tigers with a sprained left knee. Box was forced into the lineup after starting middle linebacker Ryan Reynolds was lost for the season with a torn anterior cruciate ligament against Texas on Oct. 11.

Box's injury means that third-stringer Mike Balogun, a heralded junior-college recruit who has had trouble earning much playing time, will be the starter against Missouri.

Balogun showed flashes of promise late in the Oklahoma State game on Saturday, making three tackles.

"He was pretty good," Oklahoma defensive coordinator Brent Venables said. "It looked like he wanted to hit something to take some aggression out there on something when he was playing."

Stoops also said that English, the pre-season Big 12 defensive player of the year, is "possible" to return for the championship game. Since his departure in the Nov. 1 game against Nebraska, Frank Alexander and Jeremy Beal have played well as the Sooners' starting defensive ends.

Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Griffin

STILLWATER, Okla. -- Oklahoma center Jon Cooper had a few choice words for reporters as he trudged up the walkway after his team's impressive performance to end the regular season.

"If 61 points isn't enough, I don't know what will be," Cooper said.

The Sooners made an eloquent case for their BCS worthiness down the stretch in their 61-41 victory over Oklahoma State. Oklahoma scored on its last eight possessions and even added a 28-yard touchdown run by Chris Brown with 25 seconds left to punctuate the scoring binge.

BCS style points?

Perhaps, although they did come at the end of a 557-yard effort in which the Sooners averaged 6.8 yards per snap.

That triumph pushed them into a three-way tie at 7-1 with Texas Tech and Texas in the Big 12 South Division. Oklahoma lost to Texas, which lost to Texas Tech, which lost to Oklahoma.

That conundrum will mean that the Big 12 will have to go to the fifth tiebreaker to determine which team will advance to Kansas City to play the championship game against Missouri next week.

The fate of the Big 12 now belongs to 114 voters, 64 coaches and six computers.

Oklahoma coach Bob Stoops said he expects to be preparing for Missouri in the championship game starting on Sunday.

"I think we have a really good chance," Stoops said. "We played the No. 2 team in the country and won by 44. We played the No. 12 team here tonight where nobody had beat them. Usually it's what you are doing at the end of the year. And we finished up pretty strong."

Some Texas fans wanted to remind Oklahoma fans of their earlier victory over the Sooners Oct. 11 in Dallas by flying over the stadium before and during the game with a banner that read "45-35 settled on a neutral field" prominently displayed.

Oklahoma quarterback Sam Bradford noticed and wondered if the whole BCS process hasn't gotten to be too political.

"To me, that's a little ridiculous," Bradford said. "If it comes to that and doesn't happen on what happened on the football [field], maybe we might need to start looking into another direction."

In the most recent BCS standings, Texas is second behind Alabama and is only .0084 of a point ahead of the fourth-place Sooners.

It will now mean the voters will have to decide Sunday whether the Sooners' 20-point victory against their cross-state rivals -- their largest in Stillwater since 1994 -- was impressive enough to jump the Longhorns.

Texas can claim the earlier victory, but Oklahoma can respond with some convincing arguments since that game.

The Sooners are playing their best football of the season, scoring 60 points for the fourth straight game. They were the first team to beat No. 12 Oklahoma State in Stillwater all season.

Oklahoma appears to have the best nonconference victories with triumphs over Cincinnati -- which will make a BCS bowl game -- and TCU. Texas has the best cross-division victory with a convincing home thrashing of Missouri. And Texas Tech has the only victory over Texas, a last-second comeback triumph in Lubbock.

But Texas struggled against Oklahoma State at home last month, winning only after an interception on the last play of the game. And even though Texas provided a strong 49-9 victory over Texas A&M on Thursday night, the Sooners appear to be playing better over the final month of the season.

"All we can do is hope that all we've done over the last couple of weeks has been enough," Bradford said. "If those people looked at how we've done on the road, it does nothing but help our case we should be in Kansas City. It's out of our hands and all we can do is hope it's enough to get us there."

It did not take long for spin doctors from Texas and Texas Tech to send e-mails stating their case for why their team belongs in the BCS.

Texas coach Mack Brown took to the airwaves during the television broadcast to plead his case while the Sooners were playing in the second half.

And Stoops also took the bully pulpit to plead his team's case as well.

But the uncertainty of the voters and computers left Brown with an uneasy feeling as he prepared for what will be a long, restless wait until the results are announced Sunday afternoon.

"Our plans are to be playing in Kansas City, but it's left up to the guys behind the computers," Brown said. "We'll pray that the right thing happens."

Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Griffin

 
 Jackson Laizure/US Presswire
 Sam Bradford's pass in the third quarter of Oklahoma's 61-41 victory over Oklahoma State bounced off Manny Johnson's hands to tight end Jermaine Gresham, above, for a 73-yard touchdown reception.

STILLWATER, Okla. -- Barry Switzer had a term for the luck that seemingly graced his team throughout his career.

The "Bootlegger's Boy" is long gone from the Sooners' sideline but "Sooner Magic" was alive and well for Oklahoma Saturday night at Boone Pickens Stadium.

Two key plays that provided touchdowns probably had Switzer smiling Saturday as his old team claimed a wild 61-41 victory over rival Oklahoma State.

The Sooners watched a tipped pass slip through Manny Johnson's hands and between three Oklahoma State defenders to a sprinting Jermaine Gresham for a 73-yard touchdown reception. The score helped the Sooners reclaim momentum after Oklahoma State pulled within four points early in the third quarter.

"I guess I've been living right because I've been going to church a lot recently," Gresham said. "I'm blessed it happened in this game."

Later, quarterback Sam Bradford botched a exchange from center Jon Cooper on fourth down. The Oklahoma State defense froze for a millisecond -- long enough for Bradford to pick up the ball and still scoot into the end zone.

"You definitely need a little luck to win," Bradford said. "There were a couple of plays like that, but we played well overall tonight."

The tipped pass was the wildest. Johnson said he thought the ball was going to be intercepted because the Oklahoma State defenders were so closely bunched around him.

"I saw it go through my hands and then all those other guys were around it," Johnson said. "I was relieved when it bounced through them and landed in Jermaine's hands. And then when he was running at full stride to the goal line, it was a big play for us."

Even Bob Stoops was thankful for the good fortune -- or luck -- that graced his team at key moments.

"You always feel fortunate when you get a play like that," Stoops said. "And I feel fortunate tonight."

Bradford's dad played for Switzer in the 1970s and sometimes heard about the Sooners' propensity for big plays in clutch situations. But "Sooner Magic" has been with him since he arrived at college.

"I've heard more about it since I've been at OU since I grew up," Bradford said. "I guess you could say we had a little bit tonight."

The Sooners need any kind of bounce they can get considering the BCS ramifications of the victory. And they were happiest when the good fortune came when they really needed it.

Both came during a wild spurt of eight-straight scoring possessions that began in the second quarter and lasted until the end of the game. The Sooners erupted for 54 points during that 45-minute period.

"If you want it call it 'Sooner Magic' you can," Oklahoma tailback Chris Brown said. "It's being in the right spot at the right times. Some of those players could have been disasters. But we got two touchdowns on them. It was like 'Sooner Magic' was with us."

Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Griffin

DALLAS -- It's hard to believe that the Texas-Oklahoma rivalry could get any bigger.

But first glance inside the renovated Cotton Bowl gives the stadium an even larger big-game feeling. A new facade outside has given the storied old stadium a completely different look. The stadium is now enclosed, making it feel like a real football stadium. Something tells me it's going to rock once the spectators start arriving. A record crowd of more than 92,000 is expected for today's game.

I only saw one scuffle between Texas and Oklahoma fans and it was relatively tame compared to many of the donnybrooks I've seen on the midway over the years. Of course, it's still early and they haven't started selling beer yet. There's hardly a line at the corny dog stands, either.

Here are some of the things I'll be watching for, once the game starts.

  • Whether Texas can withstand an early rush by Oklahoma's potent offense. The Sooners have outscored opponents 103-3 in the first half and will be gunning for a quick knockout. I look for Texas defensive coordinator Will Muschamp to cook up some exotic blitz packages to try to confuse Oklahoma quarterback Sam Bradford and protect Texas' young secondary.
  • Can Texas take advantage of its edge in special teams? The Sooners have been susceptible to big kickoff returns, yielding a 97-yarder for a score against Cincinnati and a 75-yard return against TCU. Texas will throw better athletes at Oklahoma than either of those teams. And it will also be interesting to watch Oklahoma redshirt freshman Jimmy Stevens, who has attempted only one field goal in his college career -- a 36-yarder against Cincinnati three games ago. How will he handle a clutch situation when the game is on the line?
  • How much Fozzy Whittaker's expected return means to Texas' offense. Whittaker is back and as healthy as he's been all season. He was counted to become Texas' breakaway threat before battling injuries earlier this season. If he's close to being at 100 percent, Colt McCoy's life just got a lot easier.
  • Who establishes the running game? Here's a statistic to chew on before watching the game: In the last 10 years of the rivalry, the team that has gained more rushing yards has won nine of them. It was even in 2006 when both teams produced 124 yards. So it will be imperative to establish the running game and establish play-action passes for either McCoy or Bradford. Oklahoma has better talent, but DeMarco Murray has been slow to return to form after his knee injury late last season.
  • Can Oklahoma protect Bradford? The battle between Oklahoma's offensive line and Texas' defensive front will determine the game. Look for Muschamp to throw a variety of blitzes to try to get around the mammoth Oklahoma front. But if Bradford remains upright he should be able to blister Texas' young secondary.

Injuries: Both teams are relatively healthy. Whittaker's return is big for Texas, looking for some balance to keep from using McCoy so much as a running threat. Oklahoma defensive tackles DeMarcus Granger (foot) and Gerald McCoy (toe) and defensive end Frank Alexander (stab wound on arm) all are expected to play and add depth to the Sooners' defensive front. Center Jon Cooper (knee) is expected to play, although the status of Oklahoma backup tackle Branndon Braxton, who missed the Baylor game with an undisclosed injury, is questionable.

Weather: It's expected to be a hot, muggy day with temperatures in the 80s at kickoff. There's a 20 percent chance of rain, but any precipitation should blow through after the game is over.

Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Griffin

Oklahoma offensive linemen remember their struggles two weeks ago against TCU with a mixture of embarrassment and disgust.

 
 J.P Wilson/Icon SMI
 Oklahoma's offensive line will have its hands full with Texas on Saturday.

The Sooners' talented and experienced offensive line was counted as one of the team's biggest strengths and perhaps the best collective group in the country. But it still didn't explain a clunker that saw it produce only 25 rushing yards and allow four sacks against the Horned Frogs.

"They had a good scheme and just outworked us," Oklahoma guard Brandon Walker said. "There's not much more than you can say about it than that. We didn't feel good about it and I can assure you we heard about it the whole next week."

Fortunately for the Sooners, Sam Bradford's passing skills enabled them to blister the Horned Frogs with a 35-10 victory that day that boosted them to the No. 1 position in the national polls.

But it still doesn't give them much solace as they prepare for Saturday's game against Texas, which is judged to be one of the nation's top defensive lines. Saturday's game at the Cotton Bowl should be the most significant challenge in the trenches this season for the Sooners.

The Longhorns lead the nation in sacks and lead the Big 12 and are third nationally in rush defense. Senior defensive end Brian Orakpo has played like an All-American during his first five games, ranking third nationally in average sacks per game (1.1 spg).

Orakpo is capably supported by mammoth 295-pound senior nose tackle Roy Miller, converted running back Henry Melton at defensive end and Lamarr Houston andAaron Lewis who share time at the other defensive tackle slot.

"They are a really talented front with a great combination of speed and power," Walker said. "But we see a fast defense play every day. This will be like going through our practices. It's a great challenge and one that both teams have been looking forward to for a long time."

(Read full post)

Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Griffin

Let the hype begin.

The Texas-Oklahoma football game -- or the Oklahoma-Texas game depending on your slant in the rivalry -- is the bedrock of Big 12 football.

And this season's game Saturday will be as big as any of them. Two top five teams will be battling at the renovated Cotton Bowl, with all of the frills of the nearby State Fair of Texas swirling nearby.

It will be the fourth time this decade that the Longhorns and Sooners both are ranked in the top five for the game, although the first time any team was ranked No. 1. Oklahoma has won all three previous games.

The ESPN Game Day crew will be there with more of an immediate rush, considering that kickoff will take place immediately after they leave the air.

"It is always exciting, the tradition and history," Oklahoma coach Bob Stoops said of the Red River Rivalry.

And Texas coach Mack Brown is excited about what appears to be an even matchup. The Sooners are favored by a touchdown, but it wouldn't surprise anybody if the Longhorns escaped with an upset after an impressive 5-0 start.

"It's fun," Brown told reporters shortly after his team's victory at Colorado Saturday night. "It's what Texas and OU have wanted forever. We've had it most of the time, and we have it back -- 90,000-some fans, plus [ESPN's] GameDay, plus everybody in America watching the game at 11 o'clock.

"They're real good. They are very deserving of No. 1. And we're getting better."

But before I get too excited about my thoughts of consuming my first turkey leg, Fletcher's Corny Dog or fried Twinkie before 10 a.m. on Saturday, here are some links from across the conference to keep me grounded today -- while I hopefully eat a salad to get ready for the weekend.

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