NCF Nation: Josh Smith

SEC freshmen power rankings

September, 25, 2013
9/25/13
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We're continuing to look at the first quarter of the 2013 college football season today by checking out the effect true freshmen have had. We know that the days of freshmen sitting back and watching are over, and SEC teams have made sure to get the youngsters on the field as quickly as possible.

Who has received the best results from their freshmen through the first four weeks? Who not only has quantity but quality when it comes from the freshmen impact? Take a look:

[+] EnlargeLaquon Treadwell
Frederick Breedon/Getty ImagesTrue freshman WR Laquon Treadwell has been one of several instant-impact rookies for Ole Miss.
1. Ole Miss: The Rebels might have had the most talked about recruiting class this past spring, and boy has it delivered. Coach Hugh Freeze was concerned about the class receiving too much hype, but these kids haven't had trouble adapting to the college game. Heading into this week's Alabama game, Ole Miss has five true freshmen as starters on the depth chart. The headliners in the class have been defensive end Robert Nkemdiche, who has 10 tackles, including four for loss, and wide receiver Laquon Treadwell, who is averaging 5.3 catches per game and has 154 receiving yards. Tight end Evan Engram has also had a major impact, catching 11 passes for 175 yards and two touchdowns, while offensive tackle Laremy Tunsil will make his second straight start at left tackle. Starting nickel corner Tony Conner intercepted a pass on his first career defensive snap, while offensive lineman Austin Golson has played around 50 percent of the snaps.

2. Georgia: The Bulldogs knew they were going to have to get a lot out of their freshman class, especially on the defensive side of the ball. Through the first four weeks of the season, six of Georgia's top 15 tacklers are freshmen: safety Tray Matthews (14), linebacker Leonard Floyd (12), cornerback Brendan Langley (10), safety Quincy Mauger (five), defensive lineman John Taylor (four) and linebacker Reggie Carter (four). The Bulldogs have played 14 true freshmen this season, which ranks third nationally. Ten of them have played on the defensive side of the ball and three of them -- Matthews, Floyd and Langley -- have started. In addition, freshman receiver Reggie Davis has two catches for 134 yards, including a school-record 98-yard touchdown reception against North Texas.

3. Arkansas: The first thing you think about when you see this Razorbacks team is the running game. Alex Collins became the first freshman in SEC history to begin his career with three straight 100-yard rushing games and the first true freshman in the NCAA to record three straight 100-yard rushing games to start his career since Oklahoma’s Adrian Peterson had nine straight in 2004. Collins leads the SEC with 481 rushing yards, is averaging 120.3 yards per game and has been named the SEC Freshman of the Week twice. Tight end Hunter Henry is second on the team with eight catches for 125 yards and a touchdown. Offensive tackle Denver Kirkland grabbed a handful of snaps against Southern Miss, while fellow tackle Dan Skipper blocked a field goal against Rutgers. Cornerback D.J. Dean has received a lot of snaps this fall as well.

4. Tennessee: Fourteen true freshmen and 22 freshmen overall have played for the Vols this season. Three true freshmen have made starts this season: wide receiver Marquez North (four), defensive back Cameron Sutton (four) and wide receiver Josh Smith (two). North, who leads the team with 12 catches for 112 yards, became the first true freshman to start the season opener for Tennessee at receiver since Marsalis Teague in 2009, while Sutton is the first true freshman defensive back to start a season opener since Justin Coleman in 2011. Defensive back Malik Foreman intercepted a pass in his debut against Austin Peay, becoming the first true freshman to record a pick in his Vols debut in the season opener since Dwayne Goodrich in 1996. Defensive back Devaun Swafford recorded a pick-six in Tennessee's loss to Florida last week.

5. LSU: The Tigers have played 14 true freshmen this season, and eight of those are defensive players. Cornerback Tre'Davious White is the only freshman to make a start this year, doing so against Kent State and Auburn. White has 17 tackles on the season, including one for loss, and has also forced a fumble and broken up a pass. Kendell Beckwith has received some good snaps at linebacker and on special teams. He also lines up at defensive end to provide more of a pass-rushing threat on third downs. Defensive lineman Christian LaCouture has seen time in the rotation along the Tigers' defensive line.

Blog debate: Pac-12 championship

December, 1, 2011
12/01/11
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Rick NeuheiselRic Tapia/Icon SMIIt would take a perfect storm for UCLA to send Rick Neuheisel out a winner in the Pac-12 title game.

The Pac-12 championship game looks like a mere trifle for Oregon against UCLA. But is it?

The Pac-12 blog decided to check in with Peter Yoon of ESPN Los Angeles, who's with the Bruins on a daily basis, to get his take on a game that has a 31-point spread and little seeming intrigue.

Is there something we're not seeing here? Read on.

Ted Miller: Well, Peter looks like we’ve got an EPIC CLASH! with Oregon and UCLA. The irresistible force against milquetoast. We’ve read plenty of analysis this year on what went wrong with UCLA during Rick Neuheisel’s tenure. But let’s talk about now. You’re around the team a lot. Where are they mentally? How did Neuheisel’s firing play in the locker room? Are guys upset or do they feel change was needed? Will they be up for this game? And do they have any interest in playing in a bowl game if they lose?

Peter Yoon: I think when you have a team of 90-plus guys, the reactions are going to be scattered. No doubt some players wanted Neuheisel gone and others fully wanted him to stay. I think the uncertainty of Neuheisel's situation contributed to the team's inconsistent, win-blowout loss pattern this season. Now, it seems as though since everything is settled with Neuheisel, they've got a nothing-to-lose attitude because they really have nothing to lose. Their coach is gone and nobody gives them a snowball's chance to win. The mood around practice has been remarkable relaxed this week, but they are definitely getting work done and even the guys who might be secretly happy that Neuheisel has been fired realized that this is his last game and want to try and make it special for him. The players definitely want to play in a bowl game. They clearly realize they probably aren't going to win on Friday so they see going to a bowl as their best shot at ending the season with a win. Plus there are all kinds of perks and bowl swag.

What about Oregon, Ted? How are the Ducks approaching this week? Any chance they look past UCLA because the result is painted as a foregone conclusion? How have they handled games in which they been overwhelming favorites in the past? Are they disappointed that they have to play UCLA, which is in the title game by default? How up for this game is Oregon? And do you think they will run up the score to try and make a statement before the final BCS standings come out?

Ted Miller: The “taking an opponent lightly” deal hasn’t yet been a problem for the Ducks under Chip Kelly. All of his six losses over his first three seasons were to quality teams – five, in fact, were against teams that finished ranked in the top 10 and four in the top five. The Ducks should be expected to approach this week as they always do, employing one of Kelly’s mantras: Preparing as if every week is a Super Bowl against a nameless, faceless opponent. That said, the Ducks aren’t living in a shoebox. They know the circumstances of this game. And there’s always a first time for a coach suffering a major upset. The potential for taking the Bruins lightly is there, even if it doesn’t fit the Ducks' typical MO.

Disappointment? I suspect that the Ducks would have liked another crack at USC, but they knew that wasn’t going to happen. They also know the stakes are high: Win and they go to the Rose Bowl. Lose and they go to the Alamo Bowl. As for running up the score, that would be a graceless thing to do to Neuheisel, so I’d think Kelly would avoid trying to make the final count humiliating. And seeing that they are out of the national title hunt, there’s no reason to do it.

OK, Peter, let’s imagine the unthinkable: A UCLA win? How do the Bruins and Neuheisel pull a rabbit out of their collective hat?

Peter Yoon: Neuheisel said this week that it would take a perfect game in order for UCLA to win. I'm not exactly sure what that entails seeing as how UCLA's traditional ball-control game plan really has no impact against the quick-strike Oregon offense. Let's face it, UCLA's defense isn't going to suddenly turn into the 1976 Pittsburgh Steelers, so the only chance UCLA will have is to keep pace with Oregon. Their offense isn't really designed to put up big point totals, so UCLA will have to get points on defense and special teams as well. They've got a dangerous return man on kickoffs in Josh Smith. He doesn't have a return touchdown yet, but has been close and figures to get several opportunities. UCLA's punt-return game is basically nonexistent, but so is the possibility that Oregon will punt. Forcing a few turnovers will be crucial, as will not committing any. I guess what Neuheisel means by a perfect game is scoring every time they have the ball and a few times when they don't.

Turning that question around, Ted, is there any way possible that Oregon could throw this one away?

Ted Miller: The only way I see Oregon losing is if they play a sloppy, uninspired game and then panic at the end. Keep in mind that this is a team that was able to nearly overcome a 24-point deficit to USC. The Ducks could start slowly, fall behind by a couple of scores and then – wham! – light the Bruins up.

Oregon could only lose with a perfect storm of miscues, turnovers and big plays from UCLA. I just don’t see it happening.

Seems like we are in an accord who will win. So let’s give predictions. How do you see this one going down?

Peter Yoon: I'm sure UCLA will come out pretty fired up and might be able to stay within a touchdown or two for a the first quarter or maybe even go into halftime within striking distance, 31-17, or something like that. But Oregon will prove to be too much as the game goes on and simply wear out UCLA like they wear out everyone. I agree that they will probably ease off the gas pedal late, though, out of respect for Neuheisel. Final score: Oregon 54, UCLA 24.

Ted Miller: Similar to my thinking. Ducks may sputter early and UCLA may make some plays, but the Ducks will pop it into overdrive and run over the Bruins. My guess: 45-17.

UCLA suspends two more

October, 25, 2010
10/25/10
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The hits keep coming for UCLA.

After losing 60-13 at Oregon on Thursday, UCLA announced the suspensions of receiver Ricky Marvray and offensive tackle Sean Sheller for the Arizona game on Saturday due to violations of team rules.

Both are starters. Micah Kia likely will replace Sheller at left tackle, while junior Josh Smith -- a Colorado transfer -- figures to replace Marvray.

Smith was one of two players suspended from the Oregon game. The other was F-back Morrell Presley.

The LA Times and Orange County Register both reported that all four failed a drug test.

Losing a starting tackle isn't a good thing before playing Arizona, which has the best defensive end tandem in the Pac-10. Also, the Bruins anemic passing game might struggle to get better without it's leading receiver. On the plus side, the Bruins might get receiver Nelson Rosario back. Rosario, the team's best receiver, has missed the past two games with a sprained ankle.

Another issue: Middle linebacker Patrick Larimore, the UCLA Bruins middle linebacker, is going to miss three weeks with a dislocated left shoulder. His replacement, Steve Sloan, will be playing with loose bone fragments in his right new. After Sloan, there's freshman Jordan Zumwalt, who's moved over from strong side linebacker.

Pac-10 season predictions

August, 30, 2010
8/30/10
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We're going on record with what we think will happen this season -- team-wise and player-wise. Who will shine? Who will surprise? Who will disappoint?

And feel free to disagree and supply your thoughts.

Conference winner: Oregon

It took a while to re-warm up to the Ducks after the, er, departure of He Who Shall Not Be Named. But the Ducks have so much going for them, it's hard to go against the defending champions.

Offensive MVP: Jake Locker, QB, Washington

Huskies fans: Know all those folks who constantly take shots at Locker and call him overrated? They will either apologize or look stupid at season's end.

Defensive MVP: Akeem Ayers, LB, UCLA

Ayers gets the nod because he's the sort who's going to put up a lot of different numbers: tackles, sacks, tackles for a loss, interceptions, fumbles, etc.

Surprise team: Stanford

Stanford might not be a surprise to those in the know, but if the defense steps up -- and here's a bet it will -- then the Cardinal will be in middle of the conference race.

Team most likely to disappoint: USC

The Trojans will still trot out the most talented starting 22 in the conference. There's not a team on the Trojans' schedule that, at this juncture, rates as a "favorite" -- even Oregon because the Ducks must visit the Coliseum on Oct. 30. But with only pride to play for, USC could come apart at the seams.

Surprise player: Steven Threet, QB, Arizona State

Threet is expected to be announced as the Sun Devils starter on Monday. He's going to be good enough to make the offense respectable.

Newcomer of the year (offense): Josh Smith, WR, UCLA

If he stays healthy, Smith, a Colorado transfer, will be a big-play guy for the Bruins on offense and on special teams as a returner.

Newcomer of the year (defense): Brandon Rankin, DT, Washington State

We hate to interrupt your mocking of Washington State, but Rankin, a JC transfer who stuck with the Cougars despite an offer from Alabama, is going to be a force on a surprisingly stout D-line.

Freshman of the year (offense): Keenan Allen, WR, California

The touted true freshman won a starting job in camp. Expect him and Marvin Jones to inspire folks to start to saying, "You know that quarterback Kevin Riley ain't half-bad!"

Freshman of the year (defense): (tie) Marquis Flowers, S, Arizona & Dietrich Riley, S, UCLA

Ladies and gentlemen, meet the next two great safeties in the Pac-10. These freshmen can really play.

Coach of the year: Chip Kelly, Oregon

His Ducks should play in another Rose Bowl, even though they are replacing a quarterback who was projected to be in the Heisman Trophy hunt. If quarterback Darron Thomas shines, this one will be a gimme for Kelly to repeat. So that would be two years, two Coach of the Year trophies. One word: Raise.

Can't miss game: Civil War, Oregon at Oregon State, Dec. 4

Oregon is the conference favorite. Oregon State is a consensus No. 3 pick. USC is No. 2 but ineligible. Expect the Civil War, for a third consecutive season, to decide who goes to the Rose Bowl.

Who are the Pac-10's big-play guys?

August, 19, 2010
8/19/10
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Sure, speed kills, but this list of the Pac-10's big-play standouts isn't only about 40 times. It's about who you are often going to see hoisting the ball in the end zone while the crowd goes, "Wow!"

Some of these are proven veterans. And some are new guys we just have a feeling about.

Arizona: WR Juron Criner

Criner led the Wildcats receivers with 12.9 yards per catch and nine TDs, which tied for first in the conference. He's got good size -- 6-foot-4 -- so he can go and get a jump ball and he's athletic enough that he ran a handful of fly sweeps in 2009.

Arizona State: RB Deantre Lewis

Lewis is a true freshman, but you keep reading things like this about him in news reports: "Deantre Lewis continues to make defenders miss in a way that not many of his teammates can." The Sun Devils seem to have a better-than-you'd-think collection of skill players, but Lewis sounds like a guy that can make things happen on his own.

[+] EnlargeJames Rodgers
AP Photo/Ben MargotOregon State's James Rodgers led the Pac-10 in all-purpose yardage last year with 171.1 ypg.
California: RB Shane Vereen

He's accumulated 19 TDs over the previous two seasons as a backup. He can run with speed (see an 81-yard TD vs. Michigan State in 2008 and 61-yard TD vs. Arizona in 2009) or power (see 42 carries for 193 yards in the win over Stanford last year). Vereen is as good an all-around player -- running, receiving, return game -- as you'll find outside of Corvallis.

Oregon: RBs LaMichael James & Kenjon Barner

These two might form the nation's fastest backfield tandem. James led the nation last year with 21 carries over 20 yards, including four over 50. Barner had 420 all-purpose yards over his final two games and set a single-season school record with 1,020 yards in kickoff returns.

Oregon State: WR James Rodgers

Rodgers ranked seventh in the nation and No. 1 in the Pac-10 in all-purpose yards with 179.1 yards per game. He led the Pac-10 with 1,034 yards receiving and 91 receptions with nine touchdowns. He also rushed for 346 yards and ranked third in the conference with an average of 11.6 yards per punt return.

Stanford: WR Chris Owusu

The speedy Owusu ranked fifth in the nation with a 31.5-yard average on kickoff returns, including three taken to the house for TDs. He led the Stanford with 18.4 yards per catch, the highest average among Pac-10 receivers with 10 or more receptions.

UCLA: WR Josh Smith

If Smith can stay healthy -- a big "if" so far since he transferred from Colorado -- he is going to be a playmaker on special teams returning punts and as a receiver. He returned a punt for a 60-yard TD Wednesday, inspiring a fan to shout "don't get hurt," according to the Orange County Register.

USC: WR Ronald Johnson

Johnson's 2009 season was mostly ruined after he broke his collarbone, but his 12 career touchdown receptions average 26.3 yards. He's probably the most dangerous deep-threat receiver in the Pac-10

Washington: WR Jermaine Kearse

Among the Pac-10's top-10 receivers in 2009, Kearse's 17.3 yards per reception ranked No. 1. His eight TDs tied for second. He figures to be Jake Locker's No. 1 target this fall.

Washington State: Marquess Wilson

Wilson is a true freshman who has made numerous plays in preseason camp. He's not a burner -- Jeffrey Solomon is probably the Cougs fastest receiver -- but his 6-foot-3 frame allows him to go up and get the ball over smaller defensive backs.

1. Rep. Joe Barton (R-Tex.) again has championed a college football playoff, which may be good news for the BCS. Barton became persona non grata on Capitol Hill last week for speaking out in defense of BP after it agreed to put $20 billion in escrow for victims of its oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico. To paraphrase syndicated columnist Mark Shields, these days Barton couldn’t get a resolution passed in favor of Mother’s Day.

2. In the 3-Point Stance last Thursday, I wrote that the Mountain West Conference lost a step in trading Utah for Boise State. Broncos fans excoriated me in part because, they said, I underreported Boise State’s athletic budget. They are right. I was wrong. I didn’t realize my database dated back to 2005. As the Idaho Statesman reported this month, Utah’s athletic budget is $27.8 million; Boise State’s is $25.8 million. The MWC came out a lot closer to whole than I wrote.

3. Special teams play often is a source of angst in early-season games. That won’t be the case at UCLA. Kicker Kai Forbath is a machine inside of 50 yards. Thanks to punter Jeff Locke, the Bruins led the Pac-10 in net punting. Senior Christian Yount will be a four-year starter at long-snapper. And Josh Smith, expected to be ready after an April knee injury, set return records at Colorado in 2008 before transferring to Westwood. Don’t underestimate the Bruins’ early edge.

ECU works with youth on D-line

April, 1, 2010
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While much of the attention has been paid to the change in East Carolina’s offense this spring, the defense is undergoing changes, too.

Under first-year coordinator Brian Mitchell, the defense is learning to be quicker and more aggressive to the ball. The Pirates will play more man-to-man defense this year and incorporate several blitzes into the scheme.

Defense has been the strongest area for East Carolina the past couple seasons, but it took a significant hit from graduation this past year. Only two cornerback starters return -- senior Travis Simmons and junior Emanuel Davis -- and while there’s spot experience all over the defense, injuries have made it difficult for some positions to adjust.

The defensive line is playing this spring without end Josh Smith and tackle Michael Brooks, who were both on the two-deep last year. That leaves end Maurice Mercer, tackle Antonio Allison, tackle Jimmy Booth and end Matt Milner as the remaining options on the line. Those four players have combined for 27 games of experience and Booth and Milner have no experience.

It’s a far cry from the stellar defensive line the Pirates boasted a season ago, which featured Scotty Robinson, Jay Ross, Linval Joseph and C.J. Wilson. Robinson, Ross and Wilson were seniors and Joseph opted to leave early and enter the NFL draft. That group had 197 total games of experience.

Last year’s defense ranked third in Conference USA in total defense and first in scoring defense, allowing just 10.43 points per game.

First-year head coach Ruffin McNeill said while there’s a lot of youth on his defensive line, he’s eager to see how they progress throughout the rest of the spring. That progress will ultimately give the Pirates more depth when the injured players are able to work back into the fold.

"We have some young guys getting reps right now and you want them to step up and take advantage of the opportunity," McNeill said. "At our Pro Timing Day, I saw four good-looking guys running for the [NFL]. I wish we could have them back. On the other hand, I'm anxious to see what kind of progress we make. We also have a few guys who are banged up and on the MASH unit right now, so I’m looking forward to getting this whole regime together."

Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Griffin

Josh Smith apparently has decided that the career route to becoming the next Jay-Z or Fifty Cent can be furthered by attending a school other than Colorado.

Smith and tight end Ryan Wallace have announced they are leaving the school. The move snatches away one of Colorado's top receivers and a developing player in Wallace who many thought could turn into a serviceable Big 12 tight end.

Smith announced that he's leaving Colorado because he wants to pursue a musical career after producing rap demos and CDs since high school. Schools that have the music major he's interested in are Arizona State and USC.

Additionally, the Boulder Camera reported that Smith spent time in the Phoenix area with Arizona State quarterback Samson Szakacsy recording tracks. That seemingly would provide a neat entry into the Sun Devils program if Smith should choose to continue playing at his new school.

Smith's departure comes after he dropped on the team's depth chart over the spring. The Buffaloes aren't exactly loaded at the position and Smith was expected to challenge for a starting job this spring.

But he struggled at times as Markques Simas and Dustin Ebner zoomed past him at his "X" wide receiver position and Scotty McKnight and walk-on Jason Espinoza are fixtures on the other side.

The other question will be how this affects the Buffaloes' relationship with heralded running back Darrell Scott, who is Smith's nephew.

Scott had a strong spring after struggling during his freshman season last year. He reportedly tried to talk Smith out of transferring.

And Wallace was listed at fifth-string on the Buffaloes' post-spring depth chart but was thought to have a good future with the program. He becomes the third member of the heralded 2008 recruiting class to leave Colorado, joining linebacker Lynn Katoa and wide receiver Chance Blackmon.

Colorado's biggest offensive weakness is its lack of breakaway threats. Smith is the team's best deep threat and top kickoff returner.

With a heavy ground-based attack, new offensive coordinator Eric Kiesau hopes to build more of a vertical play-action passing game. He already will be making a tough choice between quarterbacks Cody Hawkins and Tyler Hansen and taking away his best deep threat won't help the offense's productivity.

The Colorado offense ranked last in the Big 12 last season in total offense and scoring. Smith was a critical element in plans for coach Dan Hawkins, who vowed his team would "win 10 games with no excuses" this season after a disappointing 5-7 record last year.

Even with Smith's drop on the depth chart, it's still not a good situation for the Buffaloes or their ability to stretch the field with Smith leaving.

Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Griffin

All questions aren't settled during the course of spring practice as teams still have much work to upgrade their weaknesses heading into the season.

Obviously, some will receive a boost from incoming freshmen who will arrive later. But here's how each team's biggest liability shakes out heading into the summer.

Baylor: The Bears are desperately looking for help at offensive tackle after losing No. 2 overall draft pick Jason Smith and Dan Gay as their starters. Former Canadian firefighter Danny Watkins has established himself at Smith's old position protecting Robert Griffin's blind side. And on the right side, junior Chris Griesenbeck and redshirt freshmen Cameron Kaufhold are competing for the starting job with Tyler Junior College's Phillip Blake and Blinn College's Marquis Franklin set the arrive later this summer.

Colorado: Wide receiver has been a question mark for the Buffaloes throughout Dan Hawkins' coaching tenure. The Buffaloes return four scholarship wide receivers and had a chance to work out several new players with Scotty McKnight injured during the spring. Josh Smith and Markques Simas are the top playmakers coming out of the spring. Non-scholarship players like Jason Espinoza and Ryan Maxwell emerged, but the Buffaloes definitely need a big upgrade at the position from their arriving freshman class.

Iowa State: The Cyclones will be facing a big hole at left tackle, where two-year starter Doug Dedrick departs. It could be filled by Matt Hulbert, who started two games last season when Dedrick was hurt. Or it could be massive 354-pound junior Hayworth Hicks or freshman Brayden Burris at the position. Whoever emerges will face a huge challenge in filling Dedrick's experience as he protects the blind side of the Iowa State quarterbacks.

Kansas: Coach Mark Mangino will be facing a few huge rebuilding job at linebacker, where the Jayhawks lose key contributors Joe Mortensen, Mike Rivera and James Holt from last season. Mangino is talking about using a two-linebacker set as his base defense with fifth-year senior Jake Schermer and senior Arist Wright getting the starting jobs leaving spring practice. Sophomore Steven Johnson and converted running back Angus Quigley were competing for playing time during the spring and another boost is expected when junior linebacker Justin Springer, who is recovering from a torn ACL last season, returns in the fall.

Kansas State: Carson Coffman appeared to have claimed the starting job at quarterback -- at least for a few weeks -- after a strong effort during the latter stages of spring practice. But Coffman's late binge has to be tempered considering he is playing against the weak Kansas State secondary. So it's fair to say there are some lingering questions at the position. Coffman apparently has beaten back the challenge of challengers Collin Klein, Joseph Kassanavoid, Trey Scott and Milton McPeek. But the arrival of South Florida transfer Grant Gregory and heralded junior-college transfer Daniel Thomas will mean more competition in the summer.

Missouri: The Tigers will be facing a challenge of replacing NFL first-round draft pick Evander "Ziggy" Hood at defensive tackle to play opposite nose tackle Jaron Baston. Redshirt sophomore Terrell Resonno appeared to have claimed the job out of the spring, with Dominique Hamilton, Chris Earnhardt and converted linebacker George White perhaps earning their way into the rotation.

Nebraska: After the graduation of top receivers Todd Peterson and Nate Swift from last season, the Cornhuskers need to fill both positions. Leading returning receiver Menelik Holt appears to have a hammerlock on one position, but Niles Paul lost a chance to take a big step forward after missing the spring after he was suspended for driving under the influence. Antonio Bell was the biggest surprise, but converted I-back Marcus Mendoza, Chris Brooks, Wes Cammack and Curenski Gilleylen all showed flashes during the spring.

Oklahoma: There was concern before spring practice, considering the Sooners were replacing four-fifths of their starting offensive line with only Trent Williams back from last season's starters. And it got worse when Bob Stoops called out the young replacements because of their lack of diligence in their preseason conditioning. Williams emerged at left tackle with Brian Simmons and Stephen Good at guards, redshirt freshman Ben Habern at center and either LSU transfer Jarvis Jones or Cory Brandon at right tackle. The depth took a hit when center Jason Hannan left early in training camp and sophomore guard Alex Williams chose to leave after spring practice. The group struggled against the Sooners' talented defensive line, allowing Sam Bradford to be touch-sacked twice in three possessions in the spring game and produced only 27 rushing yards in 52 carries.

Oklahoma State: The loss of veteran center David Washington produced a huge hole in the center of the Cowboys' interior line. Andrew Lewis returns to his natural position, leaving Oklahoma State needing two new starters at guard. Noah Franklin and Jonathan Rush have staked claims to the starting positions with Anthony Morgan and Nick Martinez getting repetitions inside. This group needs to improve if it hopes to equal the standards of previous seasons, when the Cowboys led the Big 12 in rushing each of the last three seasons.

Texas: The tight end was rarely used for the Longhorns after Blaine Irby dislocated his kneecap last season against Rice. He still wasn't ready to go during the spring as Greg Smith, Ahmard Howard, Ian Harris and D.J. Grant all got work. None of them emerged. And with Irby's return remaining iffy, it means the Longhorns again could reduce the use of the tight end and utilize four-receiver sets when they want to move the ball. Don't look for the Longhorns to use the tight end much unless this production improves.

Texas A&M: The Ag
gies were wracked with injuries during the spring as projected starters Lee Grimes, Kevin Matthews and Lucas Patterson were sidelined all spring as A&M was down to only nine healthy offensive linemen for some practices. It still doesn't excuse the lack of offensive production for A&M's starting unit, which produced only 9 yards rushing on 24 carries against Texas A&M's first-string defense. Coach Mike Sherman will be counting on immediate production from an impressive group of incoming freshman at fall practice, but it's fair to characterize the Aggies' offensive line as the team's biggest spring concern -- especially after allowing 39 sacks last season and ranking last in the conference in rushing yards per game.

Texas Tech: The loss of productive starters Daniel Charbonnet and Darcel McBath left a gaping hole at safety for the Red Raiders. Junior Franklin Mitchem earned the free safety position leaving spring practice and redshirt freshman Cody Davis emerged at strong safety.Jared Flannel , Brett Dewhurst and converted linebacker Julius Howard also got some snaps at safety. It will still be a challenge to combat the explosive Big 12 defenses with such an inexperienced group at the position.

Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Griffin

Colorado running back Darrell Scott was one of the most heralded recruits to arrive in the conference last season after a standout career at St. Bonaventure High School in Ventura, Calif.

Scott struggled with injuries during his freshman season, rushing for 364 yards in 11 games in a disappointing debut for the Buffaloes. It was huge comedown from his senior season in high school, when he was widely considered the nation's premier back after rushing for 2,433 yards and 33 touchdowns as a senior.

 
  Icon SMI
  Darrell Scott is hoping to bounce back from a frustrating freshman season.

But a healthier, trimmer Scott has been tearing up the Buffaloes' practices so far this spring. We talked with him about his plans for the future as his team prepares for its spring game on Saturday afternoon.

Here are some of his responses.

How would you characterize your freshman season?

Darrell Scott: It was extremely disappointing, but a learning experience. I really learned a lot and did what I could to help the team. But after going through it, I'm ready to put 100 percent into this season. I feel like I'm playing fast and focusing more on the offense. My weight is at 200 and I feel ready to have a big season.

I never felt like I was in shape last season. I was a step slower and I could tell it. It was an eye-opener for me. But I'm in shape now and ready to get going.

How disappointing was last season for you -- particularly with all of the injuries you struggled through?

DS: The hardest part were the injuries. It really messed me up. I caught the pass against Texas, made a 38-yard gain on the play and twisted my ankle. It was really frustrating. And it seemed like for the rest of the season, on every play I would reinjure it. I would twist it and it just seemed to get worse.

So I went back and really rehabbed it. After all that, I'm definitely 100 percent with it now.

You chose to attend school at Colorado with wide receiver Josh Smith, who is your uncle. What did it mean for you to have a family member so close by during last season's disappointments?

DS: It really helped me to have my family around as I got back into shape. That was helpful having him close by for me.

What was the biggest change you saw between high-school football and playing in the Big 12 as a freshman?

DS: Just having the offense down and the concepts will help me. I'm learning these things every day. It's a big difference from high school, when you would go out and just try to break 20 tackles and run from there. But in college, you have to follow your assignments and take a sure 5-yard gain rather than running around on one of those big plays. That took some adjusting to.

Your coach, Dan Hawkins, made a rather celebrated boast at your team banquet after last season when he predicted that Colorado would go 10-2 this season. What was your reaction to this and how did the rest of the team respond to it?

DS: We definitely heard him. Everybody was in kind of shock when he said it, but we've grabbed it and are running with it in our preparations. It's keeping us motivated. We've got a different attitude around here than in the past. We're not going out to parties and we're trying to stay focused to our task at hand. Everybody is staying in line as we get ready and prepare for the season.

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Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Griffin

The weekend is coming. If you can't wait for the spring games, here are a few links to get you ready.  

  • Don't look for much of a statement from Texas A&M's running game at Saturday's spring game. The Aggies will have only seven scholarship offensive linemen and two running backs healthy for the workout, Robert Cessna of the Bryan Eagle reports.
  • Texas Tech defensive coordinator Ruffin McNeill worked with a retooled defensive front to accommodate the loss of McKinner Dixon, Don Williams of the Lubbock Avalanche-Journal reports.
  • Quarterback Zac Robinson's playing time will be limited at Saturday's Orange-White game, but most other starters will play in the game, Oklahoma State coach Mike Gundy told the Oklahoman's Scott Wright.
  • Missouri kicking coach Dave Yost expects a stiff three-way battle to replace Jeff Wolfert to play out throughout the summer, Matt Schiffman of the Columbia Missourian reports.
  • Hey, blame them and not me. Sporting News college football writers Matt Hayes and David Curtis will make a lot of Big 12 fans angry after both picked Tim Tebow over either Sam Bradford or Colt McCoy as the best quarterback in college football.
  • Multi-faceted Colorado standout Josh Smith had to overcome an initial fear of returning kicks, Kyle Ringo of the Boulder Daily Camera reports.
  • Tulsa World columnist Dave Sittler opines on the rock-solid Oklahoma defense.
  • Former Oklahoma State defensive back Eric Roark was among the first assistant coaches named Wednesday to Larry Coker's inaugural coaching staff at Texas-San Antonio.

Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Griffin

The Big 12 has been dotted by several intriguing recruiting stories during its brief history. Here are some of my personal favorites.

1. Oklahoma's Jamar Mozee spurns Kansas State: Mozee, a bruising running back from Blue Springs, Mo., was an apparently solid commitment for Kansas State until late in the 1999 recruiting period. But as signing day approached, Mozee followed several of the Kansas State assistants who had been recruiting him as they joined Bob Stoops' fledgling program at Oklahoma. The late switch earned the wrath of Wildcat fans everywhere, but also provided Stoops one of his top early recruits. Mozee never materialized for the Sooners like expected, but his recruitment fueled an intense early rivalry between the two schools.

2. Kansas' underrated class of 2004: Unheralded prospects like Aqib Talib and Anthony Collins were barely recruited by most powers, but developed into All-Americans while working with coach Mark Mangino's staff by the time they left college. Defensive starters Joe Mortensen, Mike Rivera and Charlton Keith also didn't catch much recruiting attention, but also became key starters for the Jayhawks' team that made history by claiming the 2008 Orange Bowl and making back-to-back bowl trips for the first time in school history. It also made some recruiting analysts blush, considering they missed so badly with this group.

3. Ryan Perrilloux heads for home: Perrilloux committed to Texas before his senior season and was presumed to be the natural successor for Vince Young after recording a slew of records in his senior season at East St. John's High School in Reserve, La. Throughout the recruiting process, Perrilloux remained committed to Texas. But he made a late switch, signing with the first recruiting class of LSU coach Les Miles. Perrilloux's career never materialized and he was kicked off the LSU team for violating team rules after several earlier legal skirmishes. And his departure opened a place on Texas' roster for Colt McCoy, who developed into a Heisman Trophy runner-up with the opportunity.

4. Darrell Scott picks family and the Buffaloes: The nation's top running back recruit waited until the last minute before choosing Colorado and Texas, following his uncle Josh Smith, a wide receiver/kick returner who already was on the Buffaloes' roster. Scott apparently had given the Longhorns a private commitment which changed when running backs coach Ken Rucker became the team's director of high school relations and player development and was replaced by Major Applewhite. His announcement was carried live on ESPNU, where he became Colorado's highest-ranking recruit since Marcus Houston in the 2000 recruiting class.

5. Travis Lewis chooses Oklahoma: Not all of the most heated battles take place over five-star recruits. Lewis had played little linebacker in Lee High School in San Antonio and had barely even played defense. But several schools saw promise in his unique combination of speed and size, leading to a spirited recruiting battle that intensified as the 2007 signing day approached. Lewis eventually decided on Oklahoma from a fervent group of suitors that also included Oklahoma State and fast-closing Nebraska. After a redshirt season, Lewis developed into an All-Big 12 linebacker and the conference's freshman defensive player of the year in 2008.

Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Griffin

Here are some trends I'm looking forward to watching across the Big 12 on Saturday.

1. Chase Daniel's return to Texas: The record-breaking Missouri quarterback always dreamed as a boy of playing at Memorial Stadium in Austin. After he was spurned in his recruiting by the Longhorns, Daniel finally has a chance to play against his old favorites in a must-win game for his team after its loss last week to Oklahoma State. The Tigers desperately need a victory in order to keep their flickering national title hopes alive. And Daniel needs a big outing to resuscitate his Heisman hopes.

2. How Oklahoma reacts after the Texas loss: The Sooners twice blew double-digit leads before wilting in the second half last week in a loss to Texas. Coach Bob Stoops is 9-0 in weeks after Texas games, but will be facing a big challenge against Kansas. The Jayhawks have quietly crept into first place in the North Division after two straight victories and control their own destiny for their first division title after Missouri's loss. And Mark Mangino is 17-2 in his last 19 games.

3. Texas Tech rekindles its bitter rivalry with Texas A&M: There's a reason why the statue of Will Rogers and his horse Soapsuds on the Tech campus is situated with its rear pointed to College Station. Fans from these two schools don't like each other and Saturday's game should again be a spirited one, despite the Aggies' early struggles. The Red Raiders are ranked fifth nationally in the coaches poll and have their national title aspirations clearly ahead as they travel to College Station. Mike Leach has dominated the A&M series, winning six of the last seven games. The Aggies are reeling through their worst start in the Big 12 history, but will undoubtedly have a special effort waiting for their old foes.

4. Oklahoma State facing a potential trap game: The Cowboys have soared to No. 7 nationally after six wins to open the season. With memories of the Cowboys' huge upset at Missouri still fresh and a huge game looming next week in Austin against Texas, it could be understandable that they could overlook Saturday's game against Baylor. The Cowboys have dominated the series with 11 victories in the 12 games since the Big 12 was formed. Will that result in overconfidence with so much clearly still left for the Cowboys to play for? Or will the opportunity for the OSU's first 7-0 start since 1945 keep the Cowboys grounded?

5. Robert Griffin's increasing command of the Baylor offense: After Griffin carried the ball an average of 22 times in his previous two games, Baylor coaches worked on getting other players involved last week. The results were dramatic as Griffin completed 21 of 24 passes to set a school single-game completion-percentage record in a victory against Iowa State. He ran the ball only nine times. It will be interesting to see if Baylor coaches opt for similar usage against an Oklahoma State team that has struggled pressuring opposing quarterbacks.

6. Back to the basics at Nebraska: The Cornhuskers employed a simplified offensive game plan last week that almost enabled them to escape with an upset victory at Texas Tech. The return was keyed by Marlon Lucky, who provided his best all-around game of the season with 66 rushing yards and a season-best seven receptions. Having similar success Saturday against Iowa State will be critical as the Cornhuskers hope to avoid their first 0-3 conference start since 1945.

7. Bo's big plays on defense: Nebraska coach Bo Pelini once was known as an architect for opportunistic defenses that thrived on generating turnovers. But the Cornhuskers have struggled recently, producing one recovered fumble since last season's Iowa State game, a span of 13 games. Nebraska's defense has got to do a better job of producing big plays in the second half of the season if they have any bowl hopes.

8. The battle of the special teams when Colorado and Kansas State meet: No Big 12 team does as good a job blocking punts as Kansas State, which has generated four blocked punts -- all returned for touchdowns -- among its nation-leading six blocked kicks this season. The Wildcats will need big plays to counteract the big returns from Colorado return specialist Josh Smith, who has scored four of the Buffaloes' 18 touchdowns and set up five more with his long returns.

9. Can Colorado's sputtering offense get well against Kansas State's defense? The Buffaloes' patchwork offensive line figures to have some success this week against Kansas State. But the Buffaloes might find a tonic against a Kansas State team that has struggled defensively, allowing more than 500 yards in each of its last four games.

10. Kansas finally proves itself against the South Division's power elite: The Jayhawks get their first chance to play against one of the big boys from the South Division when they visit Oklahoma on Saturday. Later in the season, the Jayhawks will host Texas Tech and Texas. Kansas avoided all three teams in a school-record 12-1 season last year that was capped by an Orange Bowl victory. We'll start seeing how the Jayhawks match up with the traditional powers from the other division in Saturday's game.

Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Griffin

Texas 41, Missouri 38: The Longhorns are sizzling after claiming the No. 1 spot nationally for the first time during the regular season since 1984 after their upset win over Oklahoma. Their offense is humming and should provide a big challenge for a Missouri defense that struggled limiting big plays in their loss last week to Oklahoma State. The key will be for Texas' defensive front to get a push against the spread offense of Missouri's Chase Daniel. It will be a different challenge than last week, but the Longhorns' dominant front should have its opportunities against Missouri's wide splits along the offensive lines. Missouri needs to be steady and hope for some semblance of balance as they test the Longhorns defense. They need more out of Derrick Washington than the 11 yards he picked up against OSU after averaging 100 yards per game rushing coming into the OSU game. It wouldn't surprise me to see the Tigers bounce back strongly behind Daniel, an inspirational and gutty leader who needs a big performance to keep his Heisman hopes alive. But the Longhorns have too many weapons and will prevail in a shootout, ruining Missouri's hopes of claiming its first victory in Austin since 1896.

Oklahoma 38, Kansas 24: The Sooners are steaming after twice squandering double-digit leads in last week's loss to Texas. Their struggling running game will be tested by Kansas' defense which ranks 12th nationally in rush defense and 34th overall. But hardly anybody has been able to slow down Sam Bradford this season and I look for him to have a big game. Another interesting factor to watch will be Oklahoma's struggling kick coverage, which has allowed two touchdowns against Kansas' nation-worst kick return. The Sooners have won nine-straight games under Bob Stoops after the Texas game. I look for that trend to continue, although Todd Reesing and Jake Sharp could keep it close for three quarters.

Oklahoma State 44, Baylor 17: The streaking Cowboys have too much offense for Baylor and should be able to dictate the game with a balanced ball-control attack. Their biggest advantage will be the running game keyed by Big 12 rushing leader Kendall Hunter, capable backup Keith Toston and the conference's most underrated offensive line. Baylor is improving, but the Bears are catching Oklahoma State at the wrong time. Look for the Cowboys to win this one going away, keeping their undefeated record as they steam to a key game in Austin next week.

Texas Tech 52, Texas A&M 27: These two bitter foes always seem to have good games at Kyle Field. But this will be an exception because the young Aggie defense just doesn't match up very well with the Red Raiders. A&M leads the Big 12 in pass defense, mainly because opponents have gashed them for at least 215 yards rushing in every game but one this season. Tech will be willing to rely on an improved running game at times, but I look for Graham Harrell and Michael Crabtree to have a lot of success against the young A&M secondary. Tech's defensive front will provide more pressure than inexperienced A&M quarterback Jerrod Johnson is familiar with, causing him to force some turnovers.

Nebraska 27, Iowa State 24: The Cornhuskers hope to halt a three-game losing streak that is the program's longest since 1961. Iowa State's talented quarterback Austen Arnaud will be a challenge, but look for Nebraska's improving defensive front to apply enough of a pass rush to keep Arnaud honest. Joe Ganz controlled time of possession last week against Texas Tech, but was susceptible to turnovers. That's one thing he can't afford to do against the opportunistic Cyclones, who are tied for 11th nationally in turnover margin. The Cyclones have won two of the last three games in the series in Ames, but I think Nebraska has too much talent not to win this game.

Kansas State 41, Colorado 38: Both teams need this game for bowl positioning as they try to get to six wins. The Wildcats have the most explosive offense, keyed by quarterback Josh Freeman. Logan Dold produced a 100-yard rushing game, providing some balance for the Wildcats' potent aerial atack. The Wildcats have been horrid defensively, but should be less challenged against the sputtering Buffaloes and their patchwork offensive line. Look for special teams to decide this, with a nod to Kansas State's kick-blocking abilities more than Josh Smith's chance of breaking a long return for the Buffaloes.

My totals last week: 3-3 (50 percent)

My totals for the season: 53-7 (88.3 percent)

Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Griffin

No major changes at the top as Oklahoma State nosed past Kansas for fifth place on the conference list. Here are my latest rankings heading into Saturday's games.

1. Oklahoma -- No pre-Red River Rivalry swoon this time around. The top-ranked Sooners are humming heading into their biggest game of the season.

2. Missouri -- Don't pull on Chase Daniel's cape and for goodness sakes, don't spit at him. His performance against Nebraska serves as reminder why he's the most valuable player in the conference.

3. Texas -- Longhorns made Cody Hawkins miserable on almost every play and need to duplicate that against Sam Bradford for any hopes of springing an upset.

4. Texas Tech -- Workman-like 30-point road victories don't happen very often for the Red Raiders. But Graham Harrell had his best game of the season against Kansas State and has found some other receivers besides Michael Crabtree to balance his passing attack.

5. Oklahoma State -- Cowboys have scored 50 points in each of their last four games. Their hopes of springing an upset in Columbia will likely depend on hanging another half-a-hundred against Missouri.

6. Kansas -- Jake Sharp is back as the primary rushing threat, but the Jayhawks need much more production if they are going to contend for the North title.

7. Colorado -- The Buffaloes were doomed again by special-teams struggles against Texas. But that still doesn't explain why Josh Smith was taken out of the game for much of the second half. And with Cody Hawkins' struggles, could there be a quarterback controversy looming?

8. Nebraska -- The operative word around Lincoln these days isn't dirty -- it's sloppy. And even bigger concerns are the offensive line's struggles and the lack of athleticism on defense. Both trends were obvious against Missouri.

9. Iowa State -- Strong start against Kansas, but just didn't have enough to finish the job. The performance bodes well for the future, as Austen Arnaud looks like the real deal at quarterback.

10. Baylor -- Fell into an early hole against Oklahoma and couldn't get back into the game. Robert Griffin was effective running the ball (102 yards) but couldn't pass (11-of-26 for 75 passing yards) against Oklahoma's superior athletes. Baylor's game this week against Iowa State could be a track meet.

11. Kansas State -- The most telling sign I noticed Saturday at the Little Apple was apathy. The Wildcats have been gashed for more than 500 yards in three straight games. If they can't win Saturday at A&M, they might not win the rest of the season.

12. Texas A&M -- Turnovers doomed the Aggies early against Oklahoma State and it could really get bad this week if Mike Goodson isn't healthy for Kansas State. This could be Mike Sherman's most important early game, dictating how the rest of the season will play out.

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