NCF Nation: Louis Vasquez
Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Griffin
Every team is green someplace. Here are the specific areas of the most inexperience for each Big 12 team.
Baylor offensive tackle: The Bears need to break in two new starters after losing Jason Smith and Dan Gay.
Colorado defensive line: Help is needed along the defensive front where the Buffaloes lose starting defensive end Maurice Lucas, starting defensive tackle George Hypolite and starting nose tackle Brandon Nicolas.
Iowa State defensive line: Coach Paul Rhoads desperately wants somebody to emerge on the defensive line where the Cyclones lose starting defensive tackle Michael Tate, starting defensive end Kurtis Taylor and top backup defensive back Travis Ferguson.
Kansas linebackers: Even as Mark Mangino is contemplating going to a two-linebacker base defense because of the Big 12's spread offenses, he still needs to find those two players. The Jayhawks lose starters James Holt, Mike Rivera and Joe Mortensen at the position from last season.
Kansas State quarterback: Josh Freeman departed for the NFL early, leaving Carson Coffman and junior college transfer Daniel Thomas to compete for the starting job. It's not a pleasant introduction back to football for returning KSU coach Bill Snyder.
Missouri skill-position players: The Tigers need a quick infusion of playmakers after losing quarterback Chase Daniel, wide receiver/kick returner Jeremy Maclin and tight end Chase Coffman. All of them arguably were the greatest players at their respective positions in Missouri history. Blake Gabbert will receive first look at quarterback and Andrew Jones will work at tight end. It could take several players to fill in for what Maclin did.
Nebraska quarterback: It will be tough for the Cornhuskers to replace all that Joe Ganz did for them, both as a playmaker and a leader at quarterback. Zac Lee will get the first shot, along with freshman Cody Green and redshirt freshman Kody Spano. Maybe the Cornhuskers really could use former Miami quarterback Robert Marve next season.
Oklahoma offensive line: The departure of starting center Jon Cooper, tackle Phil Loadholt and guards Duke Robinson and Brandon Walker means that Sam Bradford will have an inexperienced group protecting him next season. Trent Williams moves to left tackle and Bob Stoops likes his incoming talent, if not its early work habits.
Oklahoma State defensive tackles: The Cowboys ranked last in the conference in sacks last season and lost starting defensive tackles Tonga Tea and Jeray Chatham. It will mean that new defensive coordinator Bill Young will need somebody to step up in the trenches to help shore up that weakness.
Texas defensive line: The major question dogging the Longhorns' national title hopes will be rebuilding a defensive front that loses All-American defensive end Brian Orakpo, defensive tackle Roy Miller, defensive tackleAaron Lewis and defensive end Henry Melton from last season.
Texas Tech offensive line: New quarterback Taylor Potts will be relying on a retooled offensive line protecting his blind side after left tackle Rylan Reed, left guard Louis Vasquez and center Stephen Hamby all departed from last year.
Texas A&M running backs: The Aggies' offensive backfield will need to restock players: Michael Goodson left school early to declare for the NFL draft and fullbacks Jorvorskie Lane and Nick LaMantia are gone. Look for Cyrus Gray to get most of the work this spring with heralded freshman Bradley Stephens arriving in the summer.
Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Griffin
Before venturing away from the friendly confines of Owen Field, there were some lingering questions that persisted about Oklahoma.
Considering Oklahoma had notched a 1-7 record in its last eight games west of Norman, the Sooners' road struggles were well chronicled. It led Oklahoma players preparing for the upcoming road season by wearing "Built Road Tough" t-shirts in the past several weeks.
The inspiration must have worked. The Sooners delivered a masterful 55-14 thumping of Washington on Saturday that ranked as the Huskies' worst home loss since 1929. That performance had Daily Oklahoman columnist Berry Tramel writing about how the Sooners are legitimate contenders for the national championship.
It won't be easy. The Sooners' remaining opponents have a combined record of 21-3 so far this season. And DT DeMarcus Granger picked up a nasty-looking injury to his left leg when he was involved in a scrum with three Washington defenders a play after he had been flagged for a personal foul.
But Tulsa World Oklahoma beat writer John Hoover said this squad appears to be different than recent Oklahoma teams after it returned to the top two in the nation in both major polls for the first time since 2004.
Whether the Sooners can maintain that ranking through the Big 12 schedule remains to be seen. But it's about as good a start as Bob Stoops could have asked for coming into the season.
Speaking of good starts, here are some nourishing links to get Big 12 fans through a Monday morning.
- Despite rolling up 693 yards against SMU in a 43-7 victory, Texas Tech coach Mike Leach wasn't happy with his team's offensive performance. Leach kept individual standouts Graham Harrell and Michael Crabtree from postgame interviews because quarterbacks and wide receivers were "holding us back." The Red Raiders' offensive line is getting healthier with the return of G Louis Vasquez and the most extensive playing time of the season for T Rylan Reed.
- San Antonio Express-News columnist Mike Finger writes about some undetected early weaknesses in the Big 12, despite a strong early record.
- Bo Pelini saw glimpses of what he thinks are the real Cornhuskers, particularly his team's strong secondary play against New Mexico State.
- Iowa State was kicking itself after pushing the ball inside the Iowa 30 six times, but only producing a field goal. But Gene Chizik was impressed with the Hawkeyes' defense.
- Baylor's convincing victory over Washington State -- the Bears' first over a nonconference BCS opponent since 1998 -- opened some eyes around the country.
- Despite having two producers with more than 10 catches against South Florida, Kansas coach Mark Mangino was peeved about his wide receivers. The Jayhawks' heralded defense was doomed by a 20-minute lull against South Florida.
- The Lawrence Journal-World's Eric Sorrentino hands out his weekly Big 12 awards.
- There was no letup in Missouri's offense against Nevada, as the Tigers made quick work of the school's record book against the Wolf Pack. And the Columbia Tribune's Dave Matter writes the Missouri offense might be the nation's best.
- Louisville FB Brock Bolin is preparing for a physical game Wednesday against Kansas State.
- Oklahoma State's sizzling offense has piled up an average of 536 yards per game in its last three contests. And it has already scored 152 points so far this season -- a standard it didn't reach until the eighth game last season.Three OSU backs reached 100 yards against Missouri State on Saturday with none playing in the fourth quarter.
- Austin American-Statesman columnist Kirk Bohls offers a tongue-in-cheek look at the proposed Longhorn Television Network.
- Dallas Morning News columnist Chuck Carlton says that USC's dominating performance against Ohio State could help the Big 12.
- Freshman WR Jeff Fuller and Ryan Tannehill have emerged as vital cogs in Texas A&M's sputtering pass offense.
- Colorado is preparing for West Virginia's unconventional swarming 3-3-5 defense.
Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Griffin
The Big 12 featured its top collection of talent last season with eight conference players selected to consensus All-America teams. It might be even more pronounced this season with another strong cast back.
Here's my list for all-conference players before the season:
QB: Chase Daniel, Missouri
RB: Marlon Lucky, Nebraska
RB: DeMarco Murray, Oklahoma
WR: Michael Crabtree, Texas Tech
WR: Jeremy Maclin, Missouri
TE: Chase Coffman, Missouri
T: Phil Loadholt, Oklahoma
T: Ryan Miller, Colorado
G: Duke Robinson, Oklahoma
G: Louis Vasquez, Texas Tech
C: Jon Cooper, Oklahoma
K: Jeff Wolfert, Missouri
KR: DeMarco Murray, Oklahoma
DE: Auston English, Oklahoma
DT: George Hypolite, Colorado
DT: Gerald McCoy, Oklahoma
DE: Ian Campbell, Kansas State
LB: Mike Rivera, Kansas
LB: Joe Mortensen, Kansas
LB: Sean Weatherspoon, Missouri
CB: Chris Harris, Kansas
CB: Jamar Wall, Texas Tech
S: William Moore, Missouri
S: Nic Harris, Oklahoma
P: Justin Brantly, Texas A&M
PR: Jeremy Maclin, Missouri
Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Griffin
|Ronald Martinez/Getty Images|
|Oklahoma's Duke Robinson is the Big 12's best offensive lineman.|
They were famously called "the big uglies" by veteran ABC-TV play-by-play announcer Keith Jackson over the years. But there's nothing unbecoming about the group of Big 12 offensive linemen who dominate in the trenches.
Here's my group of the conference's 10 best offensive linemen heading into the upcoming season.
1. Oklahoma G Duke Robinson: Could have made a lot of money by turning pro last season after grading out at 85 percent in 2007. But is poised to be a No. 1 NFL draft pick with a big senior season.
2. Oklahoma T Phil Loadholt: Dogged at times by inconsistency, but still the biggest, baddest offensive tackle in the league.
3. Texas Tech G Louis Vasquez: Started 24 games in his career. Has emerged as anchor of the Red Raiders' line that allowed only 18 sacks last season.
4. Colorado T Ryan Miller: Had bang-up season as a freshman last year and should be poised for even more after earning most-improved honors from his coaches over the spring.
5. Texas Tech T Rylan Reed: Might be ranked a tad low, although he's coming off major ankle surgery after his injury in the Gator Bowl. Former pitcher in the Chicago White Sox organization who has beaten cancer and broken the school's bench-press record.
6. Missouri T Colin Brown: Former walk-on who emerged as Tigers' most consistent blocker last season on a line with two four-year starters.
7. Texas G Derrick Dockery: Struggled at times since 2006 season, but could be poised for a monster senior season.
8. Oklahoma C Jon Cooper: Started 29 games in his career, leading Sooners with 798 plays and 136 knockdowns last season.
9. Nebraska G Matt Slauson: Most experienced Cornhusker offensive lineman started at right guard and both tackle spots last season.
10. Texas G-T-G Chris Hall: The conference's most versatile offensive lineman after starting at least one game at every interior line spot last season, including four at left guard. He's likely slated for center this season, but in a pinch could fill in almost anywhere.