NCF Nation: Jordan Lake

Pre-spring Big 12 Power Rankings

March, 5, 2010
3/05/10
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1. Texas

Texas has plenty of question marks, namely at receiver. Repeating as Big 12 champs would be a lot easier if one of its talented running backs emerges to flirt with 1,000 yards and takes some of the pressure off first-year starter Garrett Gilbert. Tre’ Newton is the most likely candidate, but Foswhitt Whittaker, or Fozzy Bear as I prefer to refer to the running back, wins if the tiebreaker is best name.

2. Oklahoma

The defense will be fearsome again, even after losing both starting cornerbacks and defensive tackle Gerald McCoy. DeMarco Murray looks to take on an expanded role in the run game, but the offensive line will have to improve quickly for his increased touches to translate into increased yardage.

3. Nebraska

Nebraska finally made it back to the Big 12 title game after a two-year run by Missouri representing the North. Even after Ndamukong Suh’s exit, the teeth of the Husker D should be strong, with junior defensive tackle Jared Crick and sophomore defensive tackle Baker Steinkuhler mucking up the front lines. Both will be on display during the spring. The offense had one of its best performances of the season against Arizona in the Holiday Bowl, but enters the spring with plenty to prove.

4. Missouri

Blaine Gabbert will continue to mature along with his young receivers, who lose the lanky Danario Alexander. Gabbert could put up gawdy numbers as a junior, but he’ll need the secondary to improve if the Tigers can challenge for the North.

5. Texas A&M

The Aggies looked like a trainwreck at moments in 2009, (48-point loss to Kansas State? What? 55-point loss to Oklahoma? Ouch.) but their entertaining offense will take a backseat to Tim DeRuyter’s new 3-4 defense as the main attraction for spring.

6. Kansas State

The dark horse to win the North in 2010 came within a game of matching up with Texas in Dallas in 2009. Year 2 of the Bill Snyder Reboot could be fun to watch. The Wildcats had the fewest turnovers (18) of any team in the Big 12 last season, but losing Brandon Banks removes some of K-State’s explosiveness on offense.

7. Oklahoma State

Oklahoma State hoped they could make a run at the Big 12 South last season, but got embarrassed in losses to Texas and Oklahoma. A South title in 2010 might be a stretch, but the spring could set up another solid season for Mike Gundy’s Cowboys.

8. Baylor

Finding replacements for All-Big 12 defenders Joe Pawelek and Jordan Lake should be the prime concern for the spring, but it will definitely be good to see Robert Griffin III get back on the field.

9. Texas Tech

What injustice! The Red Raiders below the Bears? Tommy Tuberville is a good coach, but the transition to Tech could be a difficult one. Don’t be surprised if the Red Raiders prove me wrong, but somebody’s got to finish last in a great South division. There won’t be an easy win for anyone against South teams this season. I mentioned this in Thursday's chat, but I’m interested to see how Tuberville’s second go-around with the spread offense (see: Tony Franklin) goes. Easing up on his trigger finger might be a good idea.

10. Kansas

Turner Gill loses a lot of offense without Todd Reesing, Kerry Meier and Dezmon Briscoe. Sophomore running back Toben Opurum could emerge as one of the conference’s young stars this spring.

11. Colorado

Tyler Hansen and Toney Clemons bring some excitement to the Buffaloes spring, but the offensive line is also a concern. Maxwell Tuioti-Mariner returns from injury to help talented lineman Nate Solder protect Hansen and pave the way for running back Rodney Stewart, one of just three scholarship backs who will practice this spring.

12. Iowa State

The Cyclones depleted defense (only four starters return) could make it tough for Austen Arnaud to produce wins no matter how well he plays. Plenty of spots up for grabs there, and linebacker Jake Knott is one to watch as a new starter. Paul Rhoads impressed with a bowl win last season, but what does it say about a team when its best win (Nebraska) came by only two points when it forced eight turnovers and committed none?

Thanks for the support the first week, fans. Enjoy the weekend.

Big 12 pre-spring power rankings

February, 10, 2010
2/10/10
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With spring practice set to begin soon -- Texas opens its camp on March 2 -- here’s a quick look at how I have the teams ranked heading into spring practice. In formulating my rankings, I took into account returning players, transfers, arriving freshmen and a teams’ schedules.

1. Texas (14 starters back: 6 offensive, 7 defensive, 1 special teams). Garrett Gilbert got a head start on replacing Colt McCoy with his considerable playing time in the national title game, an invaluable learning experience for a young player. The Longhorns return most of the defense that improved in its second season under Will Muschamp. The biggest chores will be for offensive coordinator Greg Davis, who has to boost running game production and find a replacement for record-breaking wide receiver Jordan Shipley.

2. Nebraska (18 starters back: 8 offensive, 8 defensive, 2 special teams). Bo Pelini has the Cornhuskers positioned for a potential top-10 preseason ranking. Most of the offensive weapons will be back from a unit that sputtered down the stretch before breaking out in the Holiday Bowl victory. Quarterback Zac Lee will miss some of spring practice as he recovers from postseason surgery. Cody Green and Kody Spano will get most of the work until Lee returns. Nebraska coaches think the defense can be better this season, even without the up-the-middle strength of Ndamukong Suh, Phillip Dillard, Larry Asante and Matt O’Hanlon.

3. Oklahoma (15 starters back: 9 offensive, 4 defensive, 2 special teams). The Sooners overcame a debilitating run of injuries last season to finish with a flourish, knocking Oklahoma State out of a BCS game and winning the Sun Bowl in their final two games. Landry Jones will be infinitely better in his second season as a starter and Ryan Broyles and DeMarco Murray may be the best one-two receiving/running back combination in the conference. Bob Stoops will be facing a big renovation on defense where key players like Gerald McCoy and Dominique Franks left early for the NFL draft. Look for Travis Lewis to be the key to a defense that will need to improve by the time Big 12 play begins if the Sooners are to have any hope of claiming a seventh Big 12 title this season.

4. Missouri (19 starters back: 9 offensive, 9 defensive, 1 special teams). The Tigers will miss Danario Alexander and linebacker Sean Weatherspoon, who were arguably the best players at their positions in the conference last season. But Blaine Gabbert is back for a second season as starting quarterback and some talented recruits are expected to emerge on defense. A key for the Tigers’ success will be a more productive running game and consistency from the offensive line. Improvement on both will be critical for coordinator David Yost during the spring.

5. Texas Tech (15 starters back: 7 offensive, 6 defensive, 2 special teams). New coach Tommy Tuberville immediately will have to sort through a potentially difficult decision at quarterback between Taylor Potts and fan favorite Steven Sheffield. New coordinator James Willis hopes to install a 3-4 defense that should be a haven for athletic linebackers. But the group’s success will hinge on replacing Jamar Wall at cornerback and finding some pass-rushing threats to replace Brandon Sharpe, Richard Jones and Daniel Howard along the front.

6. Texas A&M (19 starters back: 8 offensive, 9 defensive, 2 special teams). With Jerrod Johnson, Jeff Fuller, Uzoma Nwachukwu and Christine Michael back, the Aggies shouldn’t have trouble scoring points, although the line needs to do a better job of protecting Johnson. But the Aggies’ success will depend on the returning starters quickly taking to new coordinator Tim DeRuyter’s teachings. The group was blistered for at least 35 points in seven games last season and allowed at least 30 points in two other games. So needless to say that even with nine starters back, DeRuyter has his work cut out.

7. Kansas (16 starters back: 7 offensive, 7 defensive, 2 special teams). New coach Turner Gill inherits an uncertain quarterback situation, but has the framework for a strong running attack with all of his starting linemen back, along with Toben Opurum and heralded back Brandon Bourbon as running threats. The Jayhawks will need to fill in for the loss of Darrell Stuckey in the secondary, but new coordinator Carl Torbush should find the elements for a blitzing, attacking defense among the returnees. But the biggest reason the Jayhawks might be bound for a bowl game in Gill’s first season is swapping Texas, Texas Tech and Oklahoma for Texas A&M, Oklahoma State and Baylor in their cross-divisional schedule.

8. Iowa State (13 starters back: 8 offensive, 4 defensive, 1 special teams). Paul Rhoads returns most of the offensive weapons that led the Cyclones to the Insight Bowl, most notably quarterback Austen Arnaud and running back Alexander Robinson. But the team loses all of its starting linebackers; veteran coordinator Wally Burnham will be challenged to cobble together a serviceable unit. The Cyclones could actually be a better team in 2010 but post a worse record. A tougher schedule featuring nonconference games against Utah, Iowa and Northern Illinois and the addition of South Division powers Oklahoma, Texas and Texas Tech will make last season’s bowl trip much tougher to duplicate.

9. Oklahoma State (10 starters back: 4 offensive, 4 defensive, 2 special teams). The Cowboys must find replacements for key players like Zac Robinson, Keith Tosten, four offensive linemen (including Outland finalist Russell Okung) and six of their back seven on defense. New offensive coordinator Dana Holgorsen finds an uncertain quarterback situation but will lean heavily on a healthy Kendall Hunter. A manageable nonconference schedule should have them in bowl contention, but this should be a step back from Mike Gundy’s last two teams.

10. Kansas State (15 starters back: 7 offensive, 6 defensive, 2 special teams). The Wildcats missed out on a bowl trip last season only because they scheduled two FCS teams, but they surprisingly challenged for the Big 12 North title up to their last game of the season. It might be tougher to do that this season, although Daniel Thomas will provide the foundation on offense. Carson Coffman has the inside track at quarterback, but keep an eye out for Oregon transfer Chris Harper at either that position or wide receiver. Players like Jeffrey Fitzgerald and John Houlik will be missed on defense, but all four starters are back in the secondary.

11. Colorado (16 starters back: 8 offensive, 7 defensive, 1 special teams). Dan Hawkins’ seat is the hottest in the Big 12 and arguably in college football after missing a bowl for a second straight season last year. Tyler Hansen returns as the starting quarterback, but the Buffaloes need to find some help in the backfield with only three scholarship backs in spring practice. The defense was young last season and should be improved, but will miss the leadership provided by Jeff Smart and Cha’pelle Brown. A bowl trip likely will be necessary to save Hawkins’ job and a tough nonconference schedule featuring games at California and against Hawaii and Georgia will prove troublesome even before Big 12 play begins.

12. Baylor (14 starters back: 6 offensive, 6 defensive, 2 special teams). The Bears’ hopes of stopping the conference’s longest bowl drought will hinge largely on the health of Robert Griffin, who is recovering from knee surgery that forced him to miss the final nine games of the 2009 season. New offensive lineman “Big” Robert Griffin will have to protect his quarterback if coach Art Briles has any hope of making a bowl trip. Jay Finley and Kendall Wright are underrated offensive threats, but the Bears will miss key defensive leaders like Joe Pawelek and Jordan Lake who were stalwarts for several years.

Baylor recruiting capsule

February, 4, 2010
2/04/10
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Here's a look at Baylor's 2010 recruiting class.

Baylor Bears

Total class: 25

ESPNU 150: 1

By position: WR 4, DE 3, OT 3, CB 3, LB 2, DT 2, QB 2, G 2, S 2, ATH 1, RB 1

By state: Texas 20, Oklahoma 2, California 1, Florida 1, Georgia 1

Already enrolled in school: 4

The big ones: S Ahmad Dixon: The nation’s No. 3 safety is the best defensive recruit ever attracted by Art Briles. CB Prince Kent: Prep school transfer is formerly No. 5 national cornerback before spending season at Hargrave Military Academy.

Sleeper: LB Bryce Hager: Son of former Texas LB Britt Hager turned down a chance to walk on for the Longhorns to accept a scholarship offer from the Bears.

Needs met: The Bears added five defensive linemen after losing starters Jason Lamb and Trey Bryant and having Phil Taylor and Earl Patin enter their senior season. They added five players, including Dixon and Kent, in the secondary where they lost starters Jordan Lake and Jeremy Williams. And they added quarterbacks Bryce Petty and Tyrell Jenkins despite having Robert Griffin apparently for three more seasons.

Analysis: This was the best talent haul in Art Briles’ coaching tenure and arguably the best in the Bears’ Big 12 history. A massive infusion of help in the secondary should enable the Bears to better stand up against the passing barrage in the Big 12. The Bears added some much-needed depth in the trenches. The most important factor in getting the Bears into Big 12 contention will be Robert Griffin’s health. Adding the bigger second version of Robert Griffin to the program as an offensive lineman should help that in the future.

What Art Briles said: “Last year’s recruiting class was kind of about the offensive line and the receivers. This year the strength of the class is definitely the defense. Top to bottom this is a class that really fills a lot of needs for us. We feel real good about the way that the numbers fell for us this year.

Scouts Inc. grade/rankings: C-plus, sixth in Big 12.

Final 2009 Big 12 power rankings

January, 13, 2010
1/13/10
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Here's my final look at the Big 12 power rankings for this season.

1. Texas: Longhorn fans will always remember Colt McCoy’s injury in the national championship game and what could have been. Texas overcame every challenge during the regular season, but came up lacking without its leader in the biggest game of the year. The way the Alabama game played out will always haunt Texas fans. If they could have ever grabbed a touchdown lead or more over Alabama, was there any real indication that Alabama could have won with Greg McElroy and the Crimson Tide’s leaky offensive line? But it went the other way and the Longhorns were ground into submission by Alabama’s potent rushing attack to put a disappointing capper on an otherwise memorable season.

2. Nebraska: The Cornhuskers finished 10-4 and were only five or six plays removed from winning three of those games -- losses to Texas, Iowa State and Virginia Tech. If that had happened, it’s not out of the realm of possibility the Cornhuskers could have finished in the top five or six teams nationally. But the convincing victory over Arizona, especially with the unexpected offensive firepower, should build confidence and embolden Bo Pelini and his team for bigger and better things next season.

3. Texas Tech: A roller-coaster season finished with Mike Leach and Ruffin McNeill looking for work despite an impressive 9-4 record where the Red Raiders overachieved to a Top 25 finish. Tommy Tuberville’s arrival will bring changes, but Tech returns with a strong nucleus starting of quarterbacks Taylor Potts and Steven Sheffield and running back Baron Batch. If Tuberville can get the Red Raiders up and running quickly, it’s not out of the realm of possibility that his new team could challenge Texas and Oklahoma next season. But it will be tough as he tries to change the culture of the most memorable era of Tech football.

4. Oklahoma: A fast finish took some of the sting out of Bob Stoops’ most disappointing recent season. The Sooners’ hopes of a Big 12 four-peat were doomed as soon as Sam Bradford was lost for the season. And Jermaine Gresham’s injury before the season changed the way Kevin Wilson’s offense could operate. But at the end of the season, Landry Jones showed enough promise to give him a foothold for the starting position next season. The defense developed some young playmakers like David King and Demontre Hurst who showed promise in the bowl game for future growth. The Sooners will be back challenging for the Big 12 title next season if those players build on their late-season efforts.

5. Oklahoma State: All of the promise at the start of the season unraveled with a disappointing string of injuries and suspensions. And even with all of those struggles, the Cowboys still had a chance to play in a Bowl Championship Series game if they had beaten Oklahoma. Losses in the last two games of the season left a bad taste for what could have been Mike Gundy’s breakout season. The defense played much better than expected under new coordinator Bill Young, but the offense didn’t live up to the promise -- especially when Zac Robinson was hurt and his offensive weapons were stripped away. All things considered, a 9-4 record with everything the Cowboys overcame this season was better than could be expected.

6. Missouri: As well as the Tigers played at times during the season, their season was marked by their fourth-quarter home collapse against Nebraska and their confounding Texas Bowl upset loss to Navy. Truthfully, it was expected to be a rebuilding year after losing Chase Daniel, Jeremy Maclin and Co., but some of that was lost after a four-game winning streak to start the season. Blaine Gabbert surpassed expectations and is in line to become the conference’s best quarterback over the next couple of years. And Danario Alexander was the best receiver in the nation over the second half of the season. Defensive woes hurt them, but Gabbert’s return and some young defensive talent should have the Tigers pointed to improvement next season and maybe a challenge at the North title.

7. Iowa State: Was there a better moment in the 2009 Big 12 season than Paul Rhoads’ emotional response to his team’s upset victory over Nebraska which became a YouTube staple? Rhoads’ first season far surpassed expectations with a 7-6 record, the Insight Bowl victory over Minnesota and all of the other surprising accomplishments. Alexander Robinson was the most underrated player in the Big 12 and the gritty Iowa State defense played just like you would expect from a Rhoads-coached team. It won’t be easy for them to duplicate next year as they switch to the Texas-Texas Tech-Oklahoma gauntlet of South Division opponents. But it was a nice first step for Rhoads in building his program.

8. Kansas State: The Wildcats missed out on a bowl trip because of playing too many creampuffs during the nonconference season, but Bill Snyder’s first season was better than expected. The Wildcats received huge contributions from Grant Gregory and Daniel Thomas, who both arrived before summer practice with no real expectations coming into the season. Thomas developed into one of the conference’s best backs and should return for more next season. If Oregon transfer Chris Harper can develop into a playmaker at either quarterback or wide receiver and the defense comes together, the Wildcats might be a threat to make a bowl appearance in 2010.

9. Texas A&M: For all of their offensive weapons, the Aggies’ defense and special teams were the primary culprits in a 6-7 season capped by a disappointing Independence Bowl loss to Georgia. Jerrod Johnson posted the top statistical numbers ever produced by an A&M quarterback and he’s surrounded by a bevy of strong offensive weapons. But Mike Sherman’s new coordinator is going to need to produce more improvement from a young defense if the Aggies have any hopes of contending in the South Division next season and beyond.

10. Kansas: The Jayhawks’ leaky defense did it with mirrors against a weak early schedule, but it all caught up with them during a seven-game losing streak to close the season that precipitated Mark Mangino’s resignation. Todd Reesing, Kerry Meier and Dezmon Briscoe all finished careers that will go down among the top players in Kansas history. But the challenge for new coach Turner Gill and defensive coordinator Carl Torbush will be to rebuild a defense that allowed at least 31 points in seven of eight conference games.

11. Colorado: Dan Hawkins popped off about challenging for a Big 12 North title at the end of last season. Instead, his team’s struggling performance ended his hopes of “10 wins and no excuses” before conference play even began. The season started off badly with embarrassing nationally televised losses to Colorado State, Toledo and West Virginia and didn’t get much better once conference play began. The Buffaloes did start Kansas’ losing streak and beat Texas A&M, but sputtered offensively as they ranked in the bottom 10 teams in rushing, passing efficiency and sacks allowed and in the bottom 20 teams in total offense. Tyler Hansen emerged as the quarterback of the future. His development will be critical in Hawkins’ hopes at a contract extension.

12. Baylor: The Bears started the season with a confidence-building upset at Wake Forest, but their season for all intents and purposes ended as soon as Robert Griffin sustained a season-ending injury in the third game. Griffin should be back next season but key defensive players like Joe Pawelek and Jordan Lake won’t be. The quarterback's return will be critical in rebuilding offensive confidence that was booming heading into the season. The Bears might have the opportunity to snap the conference's longest bowl drought next season in a more balanced Big 12 South, but the key for the season will be developing a defense that can better challenge the South Division’s powers.

Texas, Nebraska top Big 12 weekly rankings

November, 30, 2009
11/30/09
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Here's how I rank them heading into the Big 12's championship game week.

1. Texas: The Longhorns are cruising to the BCS title game, although they showed some unexpected defensive struggles against Texas A&M. Fortunately for them, Colt McCoy was ready with the kind of performance that subdued their old rivalry and gave him some big Heisman Trophy traction. Their challenge beating Nebraska this week will be to stay away from mistakes and play with the confidence that befits their national title contender status.

2. Nebraska: It’s no surprise the Cornhuskers are playing for the Big 12 title. But they have overcome their share of adversity as they make their first championship game appearance since 2006. Bo Pelini's team has a puncher’s chance Saturday night against Texas mainly because of a determined defensive front and a special teams unit that has dictated field position all season long. Punter/kicker Alex Henery has been among the most valuable Cornhuskers all season and will need a big game against Texas on Saturday.

3. Oklahoma State: The Cowboys ran into a buzz saw Saturday at Oklahoma as they struggled offensively throughout the game against a determined and challenged Oklahoma defensive unit that whipped them in the trenches. With their BCS at-large hopes dead, Mike Gundy's team remains the likely choice for the Cotton Bowl and the opportunity to finish with 10 victories for the first time since 1988. But it wasn't a good sign for them that Donald Booker likely will miss a bowl game and Zac Robinson was hobbling with a sprained ankle.

4. Texas Tech: The Red Raiders dodged a bullet in a struggling offensive performance against Baylor before Taylor Potts piloted them to a second-half comeback against the plucky Bears. But the biggest story in that game and all season was a strong defensive effort down the stretch. Mike Leach has Tech pointed upward through what was expected to be a rebuilding year. Considering all of the quarterback injuries, the Red Raiders have accomplished more than what was expected in an 8-4 season.

5. Missouri: Battling out of an early hole, the Tigers showed some gumption in their comeback against Kansas. Danario Alexander again showed why he deserves to be a Biletnikoff Award finalist after producing his third 200-yard effort in the past four games. In Missouri football history, there had been three previous 200-yard receiving games before Alexander. Blaine Gabbert finished strongly, avoiding an interception over his last 161 attempts of the season. The defense struggled against Kansas, but provided a key stop at the end of the game, and Carl Gettis' two fumble recoveries helped spark the comeback.

6. Oklahoma: The Sooners came up with their defensive performance of the season, limiting Oklahoma State to 109 yards and denying them from converting on all 14 third-down plays. Ryan Broyles made a huge difference in the return game and the Sooners overcame a patchwork offensive line to play consistently. Bob Stoops punctuated his most disappointing regular season with an impressive triumph. Now, he'll attack those pesky bowl-game struggles that have dogged him the past few seasons.

7. Texas A&M: Jerrod Johnson started his 2010 Heisman candidacy early with a career game against Texas as he accounted for 439 total yards and four touchdown passes. The Aggies had the offense to stick with Texas, but critical errors on defense and special teams were too great in the end to overcome. The upcoming bowl practice will be invaluable for a young team aiming to improve and become a potential surprise in the South Division next season.

8. Kansas State: No bowl game for the Wildcats, but Bill Snyder can take a lot of pride in the job that he did to take them within a game of the Big 12 championship game. Mike Gundy’s loss at Oklahoma opens up discussion for Snyder as the Big 12’s coach of the year. Considering the way Snyder built his team’s offense around quarterback Grant Gregory and running back Daniel Thomas -- both of whom arrived on campus shortly before fall practice -- provides evidence that he merits serious consideration for the honor.

9. Iowa State: Kansas’ loss assures the Cyclones a bowl berth and a chance to have some critical bowl practice for a young team that will grow immensely from the experience. Paul Rhoads will get his share of coach of the year votes for his four-game win/loss turnaround from last season. And how about a chance for the Cyclones to finish this season with bowl trip to Shreveport and a shot at Gene Chizik and Auburn? But ISU won't be picky about any bowl trip.

10. Kansas: For 57 minutes Saturday, Mark Mangino was providing a clinic on why he should return as the Jayhawks’ coach. But his clock management and play-calling decisions down the stretch left him open to huge questioning as Missouri charged back for the comeback victory. It still remains amazing that a team that started 5-0 and appeared ready to challenge for the Big 12 North title would fall apart like the Jayhawks did during a seven-game losing streak to finish the season. And their late performance Saturday against Missouri provides critics with ample ammunition why a coaching change is necessary.

11. Colorado: Dan Hawkins’ job was saved and he’ll enjoy the benefit of coaching a team that should be more experienced after this season’s struggles. This time around, don’t expect Hawkins to make any wild pronouncements or predictions for next season at the team’s season-ending banquet like last season. The Buffaloes showed hope for the future by gashing Nebraska for 403 yards -- the most allowed by the Cornhuskers this season. Hawkins' first task will be to work on the team’s fundamentals after the Buffaloes committed 107 penalties this season.

12. Baylor: Blake Szymanski’s return to the starting lineup looked like a masterstroke before Texas Tech charged back for the comeback victory. The Bears’ bowl hopes were in trouble as soon as Robert Griffin was out with a season-ending injury. But Art Briles' team still played tough and showed a lot of moxie as the season progressed without its standout quarterback. The Bears learned lessons from the struggles but will have to rebuild a defense that will be stripped of key playmakers like Jordan Lake and Joe Pawelek. Briles must find replacements if the Bears have any hopes of snapping their conference-worst bowl drought that dates to 1993.

What to watch for in the Big 12, Week 13

November, 24, 2009
11/24/09
4:09
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The Big 12’s final weekend of the regular season will feature several key games over a three-day period that will have serious national championship and BCS ramifications.

And we might be seeing two coaches riding off into the sunset.

Here are 10 things to look for in the Big 12’s games this week.

Can Texas' tackling problems be resolved? Will Muschamp was very angry with Texas’ missed tackles against Kansas as the Longhorns allowed 97 extra yards on nine whiffs against the Jayhawks. Some of it was because of the athleticism of Kansas players like Dezmon Briscoe and Kerry Meier. But the Longhorns will be facing a stronger unit in the Aggies with skill-position players like Christine Michael, Cyrus Gray, Uzoma Nwachukwu and Jeff Fuller. Muschamp has had his unit working before daylight this week intent on improving their tackling and swarming techniques. It will be an important exercise to get them ready for the better teams they will face during the rest of the season.

Will the Kyle Field jinx bite Texas again? The Aggies will be excited about their chance at springing an upset to ruin the Longhorns’ national title hopes. Kyle Field has been a difficult place for the Longhorns in the past as the Aggies have won eight of the last 12 games there since 1985. But after losing his first game there in the Bonfire game in 1999, Mack Brown won his next three games in College Station before losing there in 2007 in Dennis Franchione’s last game. Texas players say that the incessant noise from Aggie fans makes it difficult to run their offense. Can Colt McCoy do things differently in his second start there after his loss earlier in his career?

How Nebraska reacts to winning the Big 12 North title last week: Bo Pelini started preaching about Colorado soon after the victory over KSU pushed his team into the title game. He’s emphasized that beating the Buffaloes is the final goal his team needs to accomplish before it starts preparing for Texas and the Big 12 title game next week. Despite the coach’s pleading, it would be understandable if the Cornhuskers didn’t approach the road game on a short road week with unbridled intensity. But a veteran defense keyed by Ndamukong Suh, Phillip Dillard, Matt O’Hanlon and Larry Asante should have the Cornhuskers focused against the sputtering Buffaloes.

Dan Hawkins' possible last game in Boulder: The embattled Colorado coach’s job has been in question since a slow start after he boldly predicting his team would challenge for the Big 12 North title. Instead, the Buffaloes were the first team in the conference eliminated from bowl consideration. The Buffaloes showed some promise in last week’s narrow loss at Oklahoma State, although they repeatedly made critical mistakes and penalties that kept them from winning. Will the Colorado coach be able to circle the wagons and get his team to play one final strong performance? Or is it already too late for him to save his job after a disappointing 16-32 career record?

Will Oklahoma State turn the tables on Oklahoma? Throughout the years, the Sooners have been the team playing for championship and BCS bowl opportunities while their cross-state rivals were playing for bowl positioning and winning seasons. The roles have been reversed this season as the Cowboys play their biggest game since the start of the Big 12 in Bedlam this year. If OSU can win this game, they likely will qualify for a BCS at-large berth with a strong shot at the Fiesta Bowl. Whether the experienced Cowboys can snap the Sooners’ nation-best 29-game winning streak remains to be seen. But Mike Gundy’s chances of winning at Owen Field have never looked stronger -- even with quarterback Zac Robinson's uncertain status.

The Oklahoma defense can’t possibly be as bad as the one that showed at Texas Tech, can it? The Sooners suffered through a humbling performance in Lubbock last week, allowing their most points, yards, rushing yards and passing yards of the season. They will be challenged by a determined Oklahoma State team on the verge of its biggest team accomplishment in years. Bob Stoops and Brent Venables will appeal to the pride of their defense, the backbone of the team this season. It will be interesting to see if the Sooners respond “in a big way,” as Stoops likes to say.

Baron Batch versus the weak Baylor rush defense: The junior Texas Tech running back is coming off his best performance of his career after ripping Oklahoma for 136 yards last week. He should find an inviting opponent against Baylor, which ranks 100th nationally in rush defense and ranks last in the conference allowing an average of 185.91 yards per game. He’ll be important in dictating the Red Raiders’ offense as they play for better bowl positioning with a victory.

Baylor’s determined defensive duo plays its last game: Middle linebacker Joe Pawelek and free safety Jordan Lake will never make a bowl trip with Baylor, but both will go down in history among the greatest players in school history at their positions. It will be an emotional game at Cowboys Stadium for both senior leaders. And both will be challenged by Texas Tech’s sizzling offense in a competitive final game in college football.

Danario Alexander’s big-play exploits: Missouri wide receiver Danario Alexander has been the most explosive receiver in the Big 12 this season, ranking third nationally in receptions and average yards receiving. Alexander has two games remaining -- the regular-season finale against Kansas and a bowl game -- to reach the school career record as he needs 297 receiving yards over those two games. Considering his recent surge in Missouri last six games, he’s got a great shot after averaging 160.7 yards per game with 57 receptions for 964 yards (a 16.9 avg. per catch) and eight touchdowns during that period. And he’ll be playing a struggling Kansas secondary that ranks 88th in pass defense and was blistered for season-worst totals of 396 passing yards and four touchdown passes last week against Texas.

Is this the end for Mark Mangino? Embattled Kansas coach Mark Mangino is a victim of a “witch hunt,” according to Texas Tech coach Mike Leach. But the internal investigation into the program appears to have developed enough dirt that likely will have enough substance to cost Mangino his job. The howling became louder when the Jayhawks have lost their last six games after starting the season 5-0. They can still rebound and qualify for a bowl berth by beating Missouri in Kansas City. Mangino has won four of his last six games against Missouri. And none would be sweeter than Saturday’s game if he could pull it off with his team on the mat and claim an upset over his school's biggest rival.

UT, OSU again lead Big 12's power rankings

November, 23, 2009
11/23/09
9:00
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As we had into the last week of the regular season, here’s how I rank the Big 12 teams.

1. Texas: The Longhorns are aiming squarely ahead at the BCS title game. Victories over Texas A&M on Thursday night and against Nebraska next week will get them there. Their offense has developed a variety of weapons around Colt McCoy and the defense has gotten better as the season has continued. They haven’t been tested in any Big 12 game since the Oklahoma game. Maybe that challenge comes this week at Kyle Field.

2. Oklahoma State: A dramatic comeback orchestrated by third-stringer Brandon Weeden got them past upset-minded Colorado last week and kept their BCS at-large hopes alive. Zac Robinson is still a 50-50 proposition to play Saturday at Oklahoma. This game puts the Cowboys in the position that Oklahoma always has seemed to be in previous games in the series, having to win to keep to boost their BCS hopes. One underrated factor in the Cowboys' recent charge is that the Cowboys' defense is playing with determination and tenacity. But it’s hard to believe the Cowboys can go into Norman and give Bob Stoops his third career home loss unless Robinson plays -- and plays well.

3. Nebraska: The Cornhuskers have wrapped up their fifth North Division title and first since 2006. This arguably might be the least talented Nebraska team to win a North title. But if the Blackshirts continue playing like they have down the stretch, they’ll have a puncher’s chance of stealing an upset victory from the Longhorns.

4. Texas Tech: New nicknames aside, Texas Tech quarterback Taylor “Nick” Potts might be the streakiest player in the league. When he’s on, the Red Raiders have the same kind of offense that has marked some of Mike Leach’s best teams. But when not or he’s been injured, the Red Raiders fall far behind that level. The biggest reasons the Red Raiders could soar as high as the Cotton Bowl in the conference's pecking order are because their defense has played with an edge and Baron Batch has evolved into one of the most valuable and versatile players in the conference.

5. Oklahoma: One of Bob Stoops’ biggest embarrassments in his Oklahoma coaching career took place Saturday in Lubbock when the Sooners were humbled by Texas Tech. For the first time all season, the Oklahoma defense struggled and appeared to give up on the Red Raiders' final scoring drive. Before that backbone collapsed, the Oklahoma offense crumbled along with it as the Sooners lost by 28 points. Despite the bitter disappointments that have marked the season, the Sooners can spoil Oklahoma State’s BCS bowl hopes by winning the Bedlam game. Will the Sooners’ pride enable them to defend their nation-best 29-game home winning streak? We’ll see on Saturday.

6. Missouri: The North’s second-best team down the stretch has been the Tigers, who are jelling behind the pass-and-catch combination of Blaine Gabbert and Danario Alexander. Their late run has been accentuated by the return of a running game that was dormant most of the season. If the Tigers can finish strongly, it's not out of the realm of possibility that the Tigers could end up at the Cotton Bowl. An impressive victory over Kansas might get them there.

7. Texas A&M: The Big 12’s most underrated and perhaps most productive passer down the stretch has been Jerrod Johnson, who has orchestrated the Aggies’ late charge to a bowl game. Sure, his team has been streaky and the defense hasn’t played with a pulse at times earlier in the season. Some of that can be ascribed to the number of young players playing significant roles. Escaping the Big 12 South cellar and making a bowl game has been a positive step for this team. And beating Texas on Thursday night would qualify as a huge momentum surge heading into the bowls and recruiting season.

8. Kansas State: No bowl game for this bunch, but it still doesn’t diminish the coaching job that Bill Snyder did. Considering Grant Gregory and Daniel Thomas both didn’t arrive until fall practice began speaks to the huge transformation this team made. In the end, the Wildcats were bitten by a weak nonconference schedule and their lack of productivity against the North Division’s best teams. But putting things into perspective, this group might have overachieved more than any Big 12 team this season.

9. Iowa State: The Cyclones likely now will be assured of going bowling, and the extra practice alone will make this a worthwhile endeavor for Paul Rhoads’ team. Austen Arnaud kept ISU in the game at Missouri until its pedestrian secondary wore out against Missouri's athletic receivers. The biggest challenge for Rhoads will be to start attracting the kind of recruits that will enable his team to start narrowing that talent gap with the rest of the league.

10. Kansas: Coaching questions aside, the Jayhawks still could make a bowl trip with an upset victory over Missouri Saturday in Kansas City. It’s almost the same situation as last season, when the Jayhawks stunned the Tigers when most had given up on them. Can Mark Mangino rally his troops one more time as his direction of the program has never been under such duress?

11. Baylor: All Baylor fans will likely wonder what might have happened if Robert Griffin hadn’t gotten injured in the third game of the season. That malady doomed the Bears from that point forward as they skidded to a 4-7 record. Griffin will be back next year, but the loss of key defensive players like Joe Pawelek and Jordan Lake can’t be overstated. Art Briles had Baylor’s momentum shooting upward heading into the season. It’s taken a step back now. And in the South Division it will be a tremendous challenge for him to get his program pointed in the right direction.

12. Colorado: The Buffaloes’ loss at Oklahoma State was their season in a microcosm. This group isn’t bereft of talent and might have been a bowl team with a couple of breaks. But critical mistakes with turnovers and penalties doomed them over and over again. It sounds like Dan Hawkins’ status already has been determined. And if -- or when -- a new coach is hired, he’ll have some talent to mold. He just better work on fundamentals with this group.

Battle of Brazos has rare bowl implications this season

November, 17, 2009
11/17/09
3:58
PM ET
The two schools are separated by only 84 miles as the crow flies along Texas State Highway 6.

Baylor and Texas A&M have been longtime rivals, playing a 99-game series that predated their memberships in the Southwest Conference. Both joined the Big 12 together in the continuation of a bitter rivalry that has been played yearly since 1945.

It may not seem as heated now as in the past when Grant Teaff squared off with Jackie Sherrill or later, R.C. Slocum. Even the Guy Morriss-Dennis Franchione rivalry developed into a good one with some barbs thrown from both sides on both sides.

AP Photo/Dave EinselTexas A&M head coach Mike Sherman Aggie's can gain bowl eligibility with a win over Baylor.

Saturday’s game will have some meaning unlike many recent Baylor-A&M games because both teams still have legitimate bowl hopes.

Baylor senior safety Jordan Lake grew up in a family where his father was a former Baylor student. Like all Baylor students, they reveled in the Bears’ 41-20 victory last season in Waco that ranked as their biggest triumph in the series since 1980. And they also delighted in the Bears' wild 35-34 overtime triumph in 2004 after A&M had thumped them in College Station by 63 points the year before.

“My dad always had a dislike for A&M,” Lake said. “From the beginning, I knew there was a rivalry tension there. And the way we’ve played the last couple of years has helped it rise to where it was back in the 1970s and 1980s.”

Mike Sherman and Art Briles appear to have a respectful relationship heading into Saturday’s game that will be played for some big stakes at Kyle Field.

Both teams have simmering postseason hopes heading into the game, although both have fallen dramatically in recent weeks.

Baylor (4-6) started the season strongly with an opening-game victory at Wake Forest. But the Bears lost their home opener to Connecticut and Robert Griffin went down with a season-ending knee injury the following week as the Bears have tailed off since then.

Their 47-14 loss to Texas last was their fifth in the last six games and actually seems closer than it really was. The Longhorns jumped to a 40-0 lead before Baylor scored two late touchdowns on the Texas backup defensive unit.

A&M (5-5) has faced similar recent struggles and bottomed out in their blowout 65-10 loss at Oklahoma.

The Aggies had enough problems against the Sooners in simply cleanly fielding punts or kicks. A&M fumbled or muffed five kicks to spark Oklahoma’s 42-10 halftime lead. That run of struggles enabled the Sooners to run off 51 straight points en route to the wide margin of victory.

It marked the second time this season that an opponent has hung at least 60 points on the Aggies and the third time that they have lost by at least four touchdowns.


AP Photo/L.G. PattersonBaylor head coach Art Briles needs to beat Texas A&M to have a chance to go bowling.
Those blowout losses haven’t undermined the progress of a young team that features 27 freshmen and sophomores in its two-deep roster.

“We’re fine,” senior safety Jordan Pugh said. “We just look at it as something that we’ve got to fix. We looked forward and moved on."

A victory would push the Aggies into their first bowl game under Sherman. But A&M players have simpler thoughts about Saturday’s game.

“It’s just important for us to win, period,” Pugh said. “Getting a bowl game would be fun, but winning is our major focus now.”

To gain bowl eligibility, the Bears would have to win their first game at Kyle Field since 1984 and then defeat Texas Tech next week at the new Dallas Cowboys’ Stadium in Arlington, Texas.

Playing meaningful games in late November is new for a Baylor program that hasn’t gone bowling since 1994. But the Bears are excited about the challenges that will be facing them -- even if they are perceived to be a long shot to accomplish those goals.

“A lot of people outside this locker room have written us off for awhile. When Griff went down, so did Baylor, they thought,” Baylor senior middle linebacker Joe Pawelek said. “We still have a shot to make this a special season. It starts with A&M this week. And we’re just looking to extend the season for one more week.”

The Aggies can make a bowl trip by winning one of their last two games. And obviously, the game against Baylor looks much more winnable than their remaining game against No. 3 Texas on Thanksgiving night.

“They all know that,” Sherman said about his team's bowl hopes. “I usually don’t make a big deal about the obvious. I think they know how important these games are.”

Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Griffin

Here's a look at my preseason All-Big 12 team:

Offense

QB Colt McCoy, Texas
RB Kendall Hunter, Oklahoma State
RB DeMarco Murray Oklahoma
WR Dez Bryant, Oklahoma State
WR Dezmon Briscoe, Kansas
TE Jermaine Gresham, Oklahoma
OL Russell Okung, Oklahoma State
OL Kurtis Gregory, Missouri
OL Trent Williams, Oklahoma
OL Adam Ulatoski, Texas
C Chris Hall, Texas

Defense

DL Gerald McCoy, Oklahoma
DL Ndamukong Suh, Nebraska
DL Jeremy Beal, Oklahoma
DL Sergio Kindle, Texas
LB Travis Lewis, Oklahoma
LB Sean Weatherspoon, Missouri
LB Joe Pawelek, Baylor
DB Dominique Franks, Oklahoma
DB Darrell Stuckey, Kansas
DB Earl Thomas, Texas
DB Jordan Lake, Baylor

Special teams

K Alex Henery, Nebraska
P Derek Epperson, Baylor
KR Perrish Cox, Oklahoma State
PR Dez Bryant, Oklahoma State

Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Griffin

The Sports Nation poll that went with my Big 12 spring wrapup had a few of the bigger questions involving the conference during the upcoming season.

I've gotten a bunch of e-mails from readers wondering how I think on the questions.

Here's a look at the results and my take on whether I agree or disagree with you, the readers.

1. Which Big 12 quarterback will be tougher to slow down in 2009

SportsNation results (15,721 votes)

Sam Bradford -- 41 percent

Colt McCoy -- 40 percent 

Robert Griffin -- 10 percent

Zac Robinson -- 6 percent

Todd Reesing -- 4 percent   

My take: I agree and by roughly the same margin.

It's a close decision for me, but I would think that Bradford will be the most productive quarterback - by a slim margin over McCoy. Bradford will be playing behind a rebuilt line with a new set of wide receivers. And McCoy will largely have the same returning cast from last season - with the exception of versatile wide receiver Quan Cosby. But I think that both will have big offensive seasons. We likely could see both in New York City again in early December at the Heisman Trophy presentation.

2. Which is the team to beat in the Big 12 this season?

SportsNation results (10,118 votes)

Texas -- 52 percent

Oklahoma -- 48 percent

My take: Agree.

Again, by a slight margin I favor the readers. I think Texas should be slightly favored because of a productive two-deep secondary, McCoy, Jordan Shipley and one of the nation's best offensive lines. Oklahoma has Bradford, DeMarco Murray, Chris Brown, Ryan Broyles, Jermaine Gresham and nine starters back on defense headed by Gerald McCoy and Travis Lewis. But I think the snub of not making the national championship game, along with Oklahoma's green offensive line , ill be the biggest differences in the two teams.

3. Will Baylor make a bowl game this season?

SportsNation results (10,315 votes)

Yes -- 63 percent

No -- 37 percent

My take: Disagree.

The Bears will be better this season with Griffin back for another season, the return of top rusher Jay Finley, leading receiver Kendall Wright and the arrival of massive transfer defensive tackle Phil Taylor. The Bears have starpower on defense with linebacker Joe Pawelek and safety Jordan Lake back. But they are playing in the Big 12 South. They haven't won at Texas A&M since 1984. Their game against Texas Tech -- a likely pick 'em contest if it had been played in Waco -- has been moved to the new Dallas Cowboys' Stadium in Arlington where Tech will have more fans. They lose experienced tackles Jason Smith and Dan Gay, who combined for 71 career starts. And their non-conference schedule is a tough one with games at Wake Forest and at home against Connecticut. Baylor could be significantly better than last season and still only have a 5-7 record to show for it. So I'm guessing they don't snap a bowl drought that dates to 1994 -- tied for the longest among teams in BCS-affiliated "Big Six" conferences.  

4. Which of these teams has the best shot at moving up in the Big 12 standings?

SportsNation poll (10,060 votes)

Baylor -- 53 percent

Texas A&M -- 18 percent

Colorado -- 18 percent

Kansas State -- 11 percent

My take: Disagree.

As mentioned above Baylor will have a hard time jumping past Texas Tech if they don't beat them. My pick as the Big 12's surprise team among the four listed is Colorado, which could be just below Nebraska and Kansas among Big 12 North contenders if they can remain healthy. I'm not buying their 10-2 record that Coach Dan Hawkins predicted at the end of last season, but it wouldn't surprise me to see the Buffaloes winning seven or eight games and returning to a bowl game.

5. Which Big 12 defender will have the biggest impact in 2009?

SportsNation results  (9,851 votes)

Nebraska DT Ndamukong Suh -- 44 percent

Oklahoma DT Gerald McCoy -- 34 percent

Texas DE Sergio Kindle -- 23 percent

My take: Agree.

I think that Suh and McCoy are virtual equals at defensive tackle and easily the two best inside players in the conference. I give Suh a slight edge because of overall production. He'll also play some offense and likely stand out more for the Cornhuskers because his surrouunding teammates on defense won't be as good as McCoy's are with the Sooners.

Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Griffin

No. 1

Now, we're finally at the top player.

After counting down the Big 12's best over the last 39 days, is there any real question who the conference's ultimate player is?

Oklahoma quarterback Sam Bradford's career has been memorable over his first two seasons. He's already become the only player in Big 12 history to lead his team to back-to-back championships.

After winning the Heisman Trophy last season, most draft observers thought he would declare for the draft, collect his millions in a pro contract and leave college behind.

The Sooners' disappointing losses in back-to-back BCS losses have stung Bradford and brought him back for more this season.

Whether his draft status will be affected is debatable. He'll be playing behind a green offensive line that will feature four new starters and he'll be throwing to a new group of wide receivers.

It likely will give him a different perspective after his first two seasons.

But if it pays off with a national championship, it will all be worth it for him.

Player: Sam Bradford
Team: Oklahoma
Position: Quarterback
Vitals: 6-foot-4, 218 pounds; Jr.; Oklahoma City, Okla. (Putnam City North)

Why he was picked: Bradford had a superlative season in winning his Heisman last season, leading the nation in touchdown passes (50) and passing efficiency (180.84). He also set the school record for single-game passing yards with 468 against Kansas and set the school career record for touchdown passes (86) Other honors he received last season included the Davey O'Brien Award, the Sammy Baugh Trophy, the Chic Harley Award and the Associated Press and Sporting News' first-team All-American. His numbers bordered on the amazing at times last season as he threw five TD passes in four different games and notched 11 300-yard passing games. But most importantly, he's led the Sooners to Big 12 championships in both of his seasons as a starter.

What 2009 will hold: Bradford unabashedly says his return was influenced by the Sooners' BCS national title game loss to Florida. He'll have a chance to become the first back-to-back Heisman Trophy winner since Archie Griffin in 1974-75. But he'll be doing it with a completely different supporting cast as the Sooners break in two new starting wide receivers and four new offensive linemen. It will give Bradford a chance to expand his leadership roles and perhaps show other facets of his game. He rarely has been pressured in Big 12 games and that will likely change this season behind the rebuilt line. He'll also have a chance to show off his arm in a different way with the new receivers. It wouldn't be a surprise if his statistics fall off a little this season - both because of the flux among his pass catchers and the return of two potent running weapons like DeMarco Murray and Chris Brown. But if the Sooners claim the national title, Bradford won't be complaining.

The countdown:

2. Texas QB Colt McCoy
3. Oklahoma State WR-KR Dez Bryant
4. Oklahoma TE Jermaine Gresham
5. Baylor QB Robert Griffin
6. Nebraska DT Ndamukong Suh
7. Oklahoma DT Gerald McCoy
8. Oklahoma State RB Kendall Hunter
9. Oklahoma LB Travis Lewis
10. Kansas QB Todd Reesing
11. Oklahoma RB-KR DeMarco Murray
12. Oklahoma State T Russell Okung
13. Texas DE-LB Sergio Kindle
14. Oklahoma T Trent Williams
15. Missouri LB Sean Weatherspoon
16. Baylor LB Joe Pawelek
17. Oklahoma State QB Zac Robinson
18. Texas WR-KR Jordan Shipley
19. Oklahoma RB Chris Brown
20. Nebraska I-back Roy Helu Jr.
21. Texas Tech DT Colby Whitlock
22. Kansas WR-KR Dezmon Briscoe
23. Oklahoma DE Jeremy Beal
24. Kansas S Darrell Stuckey
25. Texas Tech RB Baron Batch
26. Kansas QB-WR Kerry Meier
27. Texas T Adam Ulatoski
28. Oklahoma State LB Andre Sexton
29. Missouri G Kurtis Gregory
30. Missouri RB Derrick Washington
31. Texas Tech LB Brian Duncan
32. Texas S Earl Thomas
33. Kansas State WR-KR Brandon Banks
34. Oklahoma LB Keenan Clayton
35. Baylor S Jordan Lake
36. Oklahoma State CB-KR Perrish Cox
37. Texas C Chris Hall
38. Texas Tech DE-DT McKinner Dixon
39. Kansas State DE Brandon Harold
40. Oklahoma FB Matt Clapp

Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Griffin

No. 21

Texas Tech nose tackle Colby Whitlock has some unusual talents for a nose tackle.

You can tell something is a little out of of the ordinary will be found with Whitlock, considering his uniform number is 6. He's the only Big 12 nose tackle with his uniform in single digits.

Whitlock, a former standout high-school heavyweight wrestler, is a vital cog in the Red Raiders' defensive transformation last season that carried them to a three-way share of the Big 12 South Division title.

His quickness and brute strength are his best attributes. But an underrated talent that is noticeable is his footwork.

There will be more demands on Whitlock and the Tech defense after the Red Raiders' offensive losses from last season. It will be interesting if he can improve and help take them to another level.

Player: Colby Whitlock
Team: Texas Tech
Position: Nose tackle
Vitals: 6-foot-2, 281 pounds; Jr.; Noble, Okla.

Why he was picked: Like most nose tackles, Whitlock's true value can't be judged merely by looking at statistics. While typically battling two blockers, Whitlock helped control the middle of the line of scrimmage on Tech's improving defense. He notched 26 tackles and 39 total stops, including 5½ stops for a loss, a pass deflection, a blocked kick and a sack. Those efforts enabled him to earn second-team sophomore All-America honors from College Football News. His bullish pass rush helped the Tech defense set the tone in the upset victory over Texas and continued throughout the season.

What 2009 will hold: Whitlock must help key defensive improvement in the Red Raiders. The Red Raiders' defensive growth was one of the major story lines of the Big 12 in 2008 before a late collapse against Oklahoma and Mississippi in the Cotton Bowl that led to two late losses after a 10-0 start. Without offensive weapons like Graham Harrell, Michael Crabtree and Shannon Woods this season, Whitlock and his defensive mates need to take another step. If they don't, it might be a long season in West Texas for Red Raider fans.

The countdown:

22. Kansas WR-KR Dezmon Briscoe
23. Oklahoma DE Jeremy Beal
24. Kansas S Darrell Stuckey
25. Texas Tech RB Baron Batch
26. Kansas WR-QB Kerry Meier
27. Texas T Adam Ulatoski
28. Oklahoma State S Andre Sexton
29. Missouri G Kurtis Gregory
30. Missouri RB Derrick Washington
31. Texas Tech LB Brian Duncan
32. Texas S Earl Thomas
33. Kansas State WR Brandon Banks
34. Oklahoma LB Keenan Clayton
35. Baylor S Jordan Lake
36. Oklahoma State CB/KR Perrish Cox
37. Texas C Chris Hall
38. Texas Tech DE/DT McKinner Dixon
39. Kansas State DE Brandon Harold
40. Oklahoma FB Matt Clapp

Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Griffin

No. 22

In only two seasons, Dezmon Briscoe has developed into one of the most explosive players in Kansas football history.

Now, if the Jayhawks could be absolutely sure he'll be playing for them this fall.

Earlier this spring, Kansas coach Mark Mangino suspended Briscoe for all of their practices so far for an undisclosed violation of team rules. He still isn't back yet heading into the Jayhawks' spring game Saturday afternoon.

It's hard to imagine the Jayhawks being able to contend for the North Division championship if Briscoe isn't a big part. It would be hard to fathom if Briscoe doesn't fulfill whatever demands that Mangino has for him to rejoin the team.

Player: Dezmon Briscoe
Team: Kansas
Position: Wide receiver/kick returner
Vitals: 6-foot-3, 200 pounds; Jr.; Dallas (Cedar Hill)

Why he was picked: Briscoe blossomed into one of the Big 12's most explosive players last season, snagging 92 passes for team-high totals for 1,407 yards and 15 touchdown receptions. He also set the school's single-game record with 269 receiving yards against Oklahoma - a total that was the nation's single-game high last season for FBS teams. He also and tied the single-game record with 14 catches in the Jayhawks' Insight Bowl triumph over Minnesota.

Briscoe already has broken the school career mark for touchdown receptions after only two seasons. And he showed flashes of being able to counteract one of Kansas' biggest weaknesses when he produced 195 yards in kickoff returns in Kansas' final regular-season game to spark the upset over Missouri.


What 2009 will hold: First, he's got to get back in Mangino's good graces. But if he does that, it's not unimaginable that Briscoe could develop into one of the nation's most explosive players. Considering he has another season of experience in coordinator Ed Warinner's offense and Todd Reesing back throwing passes, it wouldn't be out of the question that Briscoe could grab more than 100 passes and produce 1,600 receiving yards. And if he continues his late-season success running back kicks, he might emerge as one of the biggest keys in the Jayhawks' Big 12 title hopes.

The countdown: 

23. Oklahoma DE Jeremy Beal
24. Kansas S Darrell Stuckey
25. Texas Tech RB Baron Batch
26. Kansas WR-QB Kerry Meier
27. Texas T Adam Ulatoski
28. Oklahoma State S Andre Sexton
29. Missouri G Kurtis Gregory
30. Missouri RB Derrick Washington
31. Texas Tech LB Brian Duncan
32. Texas S Earl Thomas
33. Kansas State WR Brandon Banks
34. Oklahoma LB Keenan Clayton
35. Baylor S Jordan Lake
36. Oklahoma State CB/KR Perrish Cox
37. Texas C Chris Hall
38. Texas Tech DE/DT McKinner Dixon
39. Kansas State DE Brandon Harold
40. Oklahoma FB Matt Clapp

Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Griffin

Oklahoma State and Texas will renew a fierce rivalry Saturday involving two of the top six teams in the country. An entire nation will be watching a game with Bowl Championship Series and Big 12 title ramifications.

And even though the competition between the two schools will be fierce, there's a connection between the two schools that goes much deeper than any football game.

San Antonio Express-News columnist David Flores writes about how Texas coach Mack Brown and his wife, Sally, helped start the Rise School of Stillwater, a school for special-needs children. The idea came after Oklahoma State director of football operations Jimmy Gonzales' daughter, Mya, was born with Down Syndrome in 2005.

Gonzales was the director of football operations at Texas under John Mackovic. And although Brown brought his own person to fill the job after the coaching change, he has maintained a close relationship with Gonzales over the years.

Soon after their daughter was born, Gonzales told Brown about Mya's diagnosis. Brown told him about his family's work in starting the Rise School of Austin, a school modeled along the lines of the Rise School, a nationally recognized early childhood program at the University of Alabama for children with disabilities.

The University of Alabama Rise School-Tuscaloosa is housed in the Stallings Center, named after the late Johnny Stallings, the son of former Alabama football coach Gene Stallings.

The Browns, along with the Gonzales family, have played active roles in the start of the Stillwater center that opened last October.

The facility celebrated its grand opening the following week, coinciding with last season's Texas-OSU football game. Sally Brown came early to attend the festivities.

"I went to the airport to pick her up," Gonzales told the Express-News. "Even though we had a big game with Texas the next day, it was neat to have her share that occasion with us because we found out about the Rise School through her and Mack."

The following day, Gonzales met with Brown on the field before the game between the Cowboys and Longhorns.

"Mack shook my hand and gave me a hug, and then he said, 'How's Mya?'" Gonzales told Flores.

That's why tomorrow's game between the Cowboys and Longhorns would be special, even if the attention for the game wasn't nearly as high as it is.

More information about the Mya Gonzales Foundation, a non-profit organization created for families of children with Down Syndrome and other special needs, can be obtained here.

And here are some other links from across the Big 12 for your edification. Enjoy them.

  • The Denver Post's John Henderson isn't buying the Big 12 as the nation's best for one main reason -- lack of defense. Henderson determined that all but one team that made the BCS title game in its history had a defense ranked 23rd or better nationally. Nine of the top 24 teams in the country are from the SEC. And the Big 12's best defense this season is Oklahoma at No. 34.
  • The Des Moines Register's Andrew Logue profiles Texas A&M freshman wide receiver Ryan Tannehill, who has emerged as the Aggies' top receiver despite starting the season as a backup quarterback.
  • With Missouri struggling and Kansas facing a difficult upcoming schedule, the Lincoln Journal-Star's Brian Christopherson says that Nebraska could be poised to win the North Division with a few breaks.
  • The Dallas Morning News' Kate Hairopoulos writes a touching story about how Texas running back Chris Ogbonnoya has overcome several family tragedies to emerge as one of the Longhorns' key players this season.
  • Oklahoma State will bring a roster heavily stacked with Texas natives to meet the Longhorns, Scott Wright of the Oklahoman writes.
  • With his red-tinted contact lenses and Mohawk hairstyle, the Waco Tribune-Herald's John Werner says Baylor free safety Jordan Lake looks like a crazy man in cleats. Lake's father says his son watches a DVD "The NFL's 100 Hardest Hits" to psyche himself up before games.

Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Griffin

Considering the spread passing offenses in the Big 12, the conference's defensive backs should receive an extensive workout this season. The Big 12 has some productive players. Here is my choice for the 10 best.

  1. William Moore, Missouri: Unquestioned heart and soul of Tigers' defense after leading conference with eight interceptions last season.
  2. Nic Harris, Oklahoma: Physical safety has knack for making big plays and delivering shivering hits.
  3. Jamar Wall, Texas Tech: Closest thing that the Big 12 has to a lockdown cornerback.
  4. Jordan Lake, Baylor: Counted on for too many tackles in Baylor's sieve-like defense, produced 120 stops last season -- 30 more than any Big 12 secondary players.
  5. Darrell Stuckey, Kansas: Hard-hitting strong safety who led Kansas secondary in tackles; broke up six passes last season.
  6. Chris Harris, Kansas: Big 12 newcomer of the year last season after producing 65 tackles, two interceptions in 2007.
  7. Devin Gregg, Texas A&M: Workmanlike player who has started 32 straight games for the Aggies.
  8. Larry Asante, Nebraska: Once a special-teams tackling machine, he now is a disciplined pass defender after working with Bo Pelini.
  9. Chris Carney, Kansas State: Produced 64 tackles and four interceptions last season and should be even better with infusion of junior college talent around him.
  10. Lendy Holmes, Oklahoma: Can be torched deep occasionally, but Sooners have opted to move him around the secondary to help plug holes.

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