NCF Nation: Phil Taylor

A year ago, Danny Watkins was selected fourth overall in the Canadian Football League draft by the British Columbia Lions.

After this weekend, it's clear the Lions wasted their first-round pick. Watkins stuck around Baylor for his senior year, and on Thursday night, was selected 23rd overall by the Philadelphia Eagles, one of two Bears first-rounders this year.

But according to Baylor, he's not the first player to pull the double dip.

Back in 1986, Mike Schad of Queen's University in Ontario was drafted fourth overall by Ottawa. He was also selected with the 23rd pick of the NFL draft by the Los Angeles Rams. (For our younger readers, yes, L.A. did have an NFL team once. Two of 'em, in fact. Now, they have to settle for USC being the only pro football team in town.)

Quite the coincidence that both players were selected with the same picks in both drafts: fourth in the CFL and 23rd in the NFL.

Watkins can't begin his career until the NFL lockout is lifted, but he'll do so as just the fourth Canadian NFL draft pick ever.

Schad was the first. Famed offensive line bust Tony Mandarich is still the nation's highest pick ever after being selected second overall by the Green Bay Packers in 1989.

The Carolina Panthers selected Michigan running back Tim Biakabutuka with the sixth overall pick in the 1998 draft.

Watkins, a 26-year-old British Columbia native, was pegged by some as the most NFL-ready of the draft-eligible linemen. Here's a bit more on the humorous circumstances surrounding his selection.

Before Art Briles' arrival, Baylor hadn't had a first-round pick in the Big 12 era. After Phil Taylor and Watkins were drafted this year, the Bears have had three in three years. Offensive lineman Jason Smith went No. 2 overall in the 2009 draft.
The NFL scouting combine concludes Tuesday, but the defensive line and linebackers took their turns under the microscope on Monday. We'll take a look at the defensive line here before moving on to the linebackers later this morning.

Position ranking in parentheses when available.

Defensive linemen

Sam Acho, Texas
  • 40-yard dash: 4.68 seconds (3)
  • Vertical jump: 33.5 inches (9)
  • Three-cone drill: 6.69 seconds (1)
  • 20-yard shuttle: 4.32 seconds (5)
Ugo Chinasa, Oklahoma State
  • 40-yard dash: 4.71 seconds (7)
  • Broad jump: 9-9 (7)
  • Three-cone drill: 7.07 seconds (7)
Aldon Smith, Missouri
  • 40-yard dash: 4.78 seconds (10)
  • Vertical jump: 34 inches (7)
  • Broad jump: 9-10 (6)
  • 225-pound bench press: 20 reps
Adrian Taylor, Oklahoma
  • 225-pound bench press: 34 reps (3)
Phil Taylor, Baylor
  • 225-pound bench press: 31 reps (6)

A couple of thoughts, notes and observations:
  • Acho's time in the three-cone drill (4.68 seconds) was the most head-turning number from the group. It was the best mark in the drill by a defensive lineman in six years. Best of all, it came in a drill that has a lot of applications to his position. I was pretty surprised that Acho's agility in the drill put him in that elite class. He's always been fairly light on his feet, but I didn't peg him for a guy who could change directions that skillfully.
  • One has to put measurements taken in controlled situations in perspective, but of this group, it seems likely that Acho was the only player to make a significant move on any teams' draft boards. Aldon Smith is the only player in the group extremely likely to hear his name in the first round, but it'll be based on his upside, still waiting-to-be-filled-out frame and freshman season at Missouri.

Baylor recruiting analysis

February, 3, 2011
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BAYLOR BEARS

The class

Signees: 19 (five enrolled early, four junior college)

Top prospects: The Bears got a big-time offensive tackle in Spencer Drango, the nation's No. 14 prospect at the position. Trevor Clemons-Valdez (No. 32 defensive tackle) and Johnathan Lee (No. 48 receiver) are two other highly-rated prospects in the class. Suleiman Masumbuko and Beau Blackshear add more talent on the front line of the defense.

Needs met: Baylor is set for 2011 at the skill positions; they have elite Big 12 talent at quarterback and receiver, and some talent with potential at running back. Where they needed help is on the offensive line and everywhere on defense, excluding the secondary, where they stocked up on talent in their 2010 class. The Bears got exactly what they needed. It's not a balanced class, but that's not what Art Briles wanted. He wanted big bodies up front, and nine of his 19 signees are offensive or defensive linemen. Defensive tackle Phil Taylor and offensive tackle Danny Watkins will be making big money in the NFL next year, and they need to be replaced. The Bears have done that. Jay Finley is gone, and Baylor signed three running backs in this class with a chance to replace him in 2011.

Analysis: Baylor's location in central Texas helps so, so much in recruiting. The Bears can get in on a lot of talent that's overlooked by other programs, they don't have to worry about distance (18 of the 19 commits are from Texas) and have been able to grab an elite, top-tier recruit in recent years. Last year, it was Ahmad Dixon, a safety who was the nation's No. 15 overall prospect. Darius Jones, an ESPNU 150 prospect, signed in 2009. Kendall Wright has become one of the league's best receivers as the No. 112 overall prospect in 2008. This year, they don't have an elite prospect, but they've got a lot of quality talents to help fill what Baylor needs. They lost offensive tackle Nila Kneubuhl on signing day after the offensive tackle had been committed to the Bears for nearly a year, which has to be frustrating for Briles, but it's not a huge blow. New defensive coordinator Phil Bennett has been on the job less than a month. He'll have 11 new players with two possible ones at athlete, compared to just six offensive prospects. The class ranks eighth in the Big 12, but it's an acceptable group for the Bears, who have a lot of established talent already on campus.

ESPN recruiting grade: C-plus

2010 Big 12 All-Bowl team

January, 14, 2011
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We've spent the week wrapping up the bowls, and now that it's Friday, here's our Big 12 bowl team comprised of players who got it done individually in their bowl games.

Plenty of guys got snubbed, particularly at receiver (Sorry, Lyle Leong, Cameron Kenney and Kendall Wright!), but without further ado, here it is.

OFFENSE

QB: Landry Jones, Oklahoma
RB: Daniel Thomas, Kansas State
RB: Eric Stephens, Texas Tech
WR: Ryan Broyles, Oklahoma
WR: Justin Blackmon, Oklahoma State
WR: T.J. Moe, Missouri
OL: Zach Kendall, Kansas State
OL: Tim Barnes, Missouri
OL: Eric Mensik, Oklahoma
OL: Lonnie Edwards, Texas Tech
OL: Elvis Fisher, Missouri

DEFENSE

DL: Phil Taylor, Baylor
DL: Jeremy Beal, Oklahoma
DL: Jared Crick, Nebraska
DL: Richetti Jones, Oklahoma State
LB: Von Miller, Texas A&M
LB: Travis Lewis, Oklahoma
LB: Orie Lemon, Oklahoma State
CB: Jamell Fleming, Oklahoma
CB: Kevin Rutland, Missouri
S: Byron Landor, Baylor
S: Tysyn Hartman, Kansas State

SPECIALISTS

P: Matt Grabner, Missouri
K: Dan Bailey, Oklahoma State
KR: Coryell Judie, Texas A&M
PR: Ryan Broyles, Oklahoma

Big 12 predictions: Week 8

October, 21, 2010
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Predictions: ACC | Big 12 | Big East | Big Ten | Pac-10 | SEC | Non-AQ

I'm headed to Columbia this weekend for Missouri and Oklahoma, and I'll be milling around "College GameDay" on Saturday. Last week was another good week of picks for the Big 12 blog, even if my margins of victory were maybe the most off of any week this season. Texas' win over Nebraska was my only whiff of the week.

Texas (UCLA, Nebraska) joined Kansas (North Dakota State, Georgia Tech) and Texas Tech (Baylor, Iowa State) as the only three teams whose games I've picked incorrectly more than once this season.

Last week: 5-1 (.833)

Overall: 51-8 (.864)

No. 19 Texas 31, Iowa State 7: Iowa State hasn't looked like the improved team I thought they'd be this year, and Texas' defense looks like its back to its old ways. As for Paul Rhoads' preseason comments, we're seeing the worse record. I'm not so sure about the better team.

No. 16 Nebraska 38, No. 14 Oklahoma State 27: This is my pick of the week. Come back later today for a video of me explaining my pick.

Baylor 34, No. 22 Kansas State 21: Kansas State's defense looked pretty slow against Nebraska. Get ready for more of that when Baylor has the ball with speedsters like Kendall Wright and Robert Griffin making plenty of plays. Up front, defensive tackle Phil Taylor wins the battle on the line of scrimmage and gives way to a big game from lineback Antonio Johnson, who limits Daniel Thomas' effectiveness. Throw the Oasis' "Wonderwall" single in the tape deck and whip out your VHS of "Forrest Gump," Baylor fans. We're back in 1994 again.

Texas Tech 34, Colorado 24: I almost picked an upset special in this one, but Colorado's offense won't be able to keep up with the Red Raiders.

Texas A&M 44, Kansas 7: I've picked Kansas to lose close the last two times they've played. Not this week. The Aggies take their anger out on the Jayhawks, who don't have the talent on defense to keep up with the Aggies' weapons in every facet of the game on offense.

No. 1 Oklahoma 31, No. 11 Missouri 27: The emotion of the team and atmosphere helps the Tigers jump out to an early lead, but Oklahoma's too strong. Missouri's corners have looked good so far, but they haven't covered a receiver this year as difficult to blanket as Ryan Broyles. Breaking up passes on jump balls to Jeff Fuller is a lot different than trying to keep the league leader in receptions from getting open.
Scouts, Inc. has released its list of the top 150 NFL prospects Insider for the 2011 draft, and it's got plenty of Big 12 talent from top to bottom. You'll need an Insider account to see the whole list, but here's a bit of how it relates to the Big 12. Three Big 12 teams were among the nation's top 10 in possessing the most players on the list. Here's where they stood: T-3. Nebraska. (6) T-3. Oklahoma (6) T-10. Texas (4) North Carolina and Ohio State topped the list, with seven total prospects in the top 150. But let's take a closer look. Here's a few notes/thoughts.

  • [+] EnlargePrince Amukamara
    AP Photo/Nati HarnikPrince Amukamara (21) is the Big 12's top NFL prospect -- and No. 3 overall -- according to Scouts, Inc.
    The Big 12's top overall prospect? Nebraska cornerback Prince Amukamara, who is the No. 1 cornerback. That echoes what NFL scouts have been saying for the past few months, and it'll be interesting to see the battle between him and Aaron Williams (No. 6 cornerback) as the season moves on. They'll both see plenty of good offenses.
  • For all the talk about Nebraska's offensive struggles, they placed three players in the top 150, including Mike McNeill, who is ranked as the No. 6 tight end, despite moving to receiver in the spring. Running back Roy Helu Jr. and receiver Niles Paul both rank in the top 150, at No. 12 for their respective positions. That should prove just how important Nebraska's quarterback situation is this year. Clearly, they've got some individual talent at the skill positions and a great offensive line, but without good quarterback play, they might not be much better than they were in 2009. If Zac Lee pulls a Joe Ganz and has a nice senior year, the Huskers are almost assured a finish in the top half of the Big 12 in scoring offense.
  • Everyone wants to talk about Texas' defense, the list is a reflection of why. The Longhorns have three cornerbacks (Aaron Williams, Curtis Brown, Chykie Brown) in the top 150 and Williams and Brown are in the top 10 in their position. Sam Acho rounds out Texas' group as the No. 133 best overall prospect and No. 14 defensive end. That ranks as the best DE in the Big 12.
  • Surprising that Oklahoma's Quinton Carter is rated as the No. 2 safety and a better projected pro than teammates Jeremy Beal, Ryan Broyles, Adrian Taylor and DeMarco Murray, all in the top 10 at their positions. No other safeties in the Big 12 rank in the top 10, but the next best is Nebraska's Eric Hagg.
  • You can see how every prospect at your school is rated by Scouts, Inc. if you have Insider, but here's how the rest of the Big 12 ranked in players who made the top 150. If your school doesn't have a player in the top 150, here's a list of the top prospects for each team in the Big 12 from Mel Kiper.
4. Colorado - 2 (Nate Solder, No. 8; Jimmy Smith, No. 74) 5. Texas A&M - 1 (Von Miller, No. 20) 5. Baylor - 1 (Phil Taylor, No. 94) 6. Missouri - 1 (Blaine Gabbert, No. 39) 6. Kansas State - 1 (Daniel Thomas, No. 47) 7. Oklahoma State - 1 (Kendall Hunter, No. 147) 8. Iowa State - none 8. Kansas - none 8. Texas Tech - none
IRVING, Texas -- Baylor brought three players to Big 12 media days this week. The team's quarterback, Robert Griffin III, who missed the final nine games of the 2009 season after being named Big 12 Offensive Newcomer of the Year in 2008, wasn't one of them.

The team marketed its 2009 campaign around the star, and brought him to media days as a sophomore in 2009.

"I talked to Robert about coming today," coach Art Briles said. "You know, there's a lot of really good football players at Baylor University. Everybody knows Robert Griffin. A lot of people don't know [linebacker] Antonio Johnson -- that his nickname's 'Cuddy.' They don't know Danny Watkins, that he was a firefighter and a hockey player before he ever played football. They may not know about Phil Taylor, that he's a transfer from Penn State and that he's transformed himself into what we think he needs to be as a football player to contribute to our football team."

Taylor was voted Big 12 preseason Newcomer of the Year in 2009, an honor given to Colorado receiver Toney Clemons before this season. Taylor proved inconsistent and overweight, but he's lost 25 pounds this offseason and Briles hopes his defensive tackle can plug the middle of the defense more efficiently.

"He really didn't do the things he needed to do," Briles said. "So I told him this year, we're going to pass judgment after six ballgames. After six games, we'll see where he's at. I think I know where he's at, but I thought I knew a year ago, too, and I found out I wasn't as smart as I thought I was."

Watkins, the Bears' starting left tackle, had to turn down an offer from the Canadian Football League's British Columbia Lions, who drafted the lineman in May.

"Quite honestly, I wasn't concerned about him going to the CFL, even though he is from Canada," Briles said. "He understands where his potential could lead him, and that's going to be in the NFL. But first of all, being a great player for Baylor this fall."

Baylor recruiting capsule

February, 4, 2010
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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.

Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Griffin


1. Texas: The Longhorns took the weekend off to prepare for Colorado. The break almost came at a bad time for Texas, considering their performance against UTEP last week. And after the Miners’ stunning upset over Houston Saturday night, how good does Texas’ beatdown victory over the Miners look now?

2. Oklahoma State: After a week off, the Cowboys will travel to Texas A&M this weekend. The break was good for Mike Gundy’s team as it gave key players like Dez Bryant, Perrish Cox, Kendall Hunter and Jeremiah Price a week to heal. But the Cowboys might have received another injury concern when learning emerging freshman running back Jeremy Smith could be undergoing season-ending shoulder surgery.

3. Kansas: Maybe the Jayhawks’ victory over Southern Mississippi doesn’t look as attractive today, after the Golden Eagles’ loss at UAB. But Kansas still heads into Big 12 play heavy with momentum after the week off. The Cyclones have a score to settle with Iowa State after the Cyclones’ near-upset last season at Ames. Figure that Kansas will be focused for this one back home.

4. Nebraska: Coach Bo Pelini begins Big 12 play with one of his toughest Big 12 games first as the Cornhuskers travel to Missouri on Thursday to start conference play -- a place where they haven’t won since 2001. The Cornhuskers’ defense has been emerging in recent weeks and will be the key for their effort on Thursday night. And, yes, the Cornhuskers might have a score to settle with new Missouri quarterback -- and former Nebraska commit -- Blaine Gabbert.

5. Oklahoma: The Sooners dropped their second one-point decision of the season, struggling without much offensive firepower when Ryan Broyles joined Jermaine Gresham and Sam Bradford on the sideline. And that lack of productivity finally bit them when the Sooner defense finally wore down late against Miami, allowing the Hurricanes to kill the clock. Bob Stoops has always excelled when his back was against wall and facing big challenges. He might be facing the biggest test of his 11-season coaching career with the Sooners in the next few weeks.

6. Missouri: The Tigers have been the biggest early surprise in the conference and take a big step forward into North title contention with a victory over Nebraska. A win would continue their recent mastery over the Cornhuskers and prove their 4-0 start was no fluke. One particular key will be running the ball against the Cornhuskers, keeping Gabbert out of long-yardage situations against Nebraska’s fearsome pass rush.

7. Texas Tech: Mike Leach might be facing a rarity as Taylor Potts attempts to overcome a concussion that idled him for much of Saturday’s victory over New Mexico. Steven Sheffield immediately juiced the Red Raider offense, scoring on his first four possessions. But as the Red Raiders get ready for Kansas State, Leach has to be concerned about Tech’s five turnovers vs. New Mexico and the five sacks allowed after yielding only six in the first three games. Tech’s defense has some improvement as well after allowing New Mexico to produce its season-high in passing and total yards last week.

8. Baylor: Impressive relief performances by Nick Florence and Jarred Salubi enabled the Bears to finish off a 3-1 nonconference record. It won’t get any easier as Baylor travels to wounded Oklahoma for its conference opener. The defense remains a concern after Kent State rolled up season-best totals of 424 total yards and 259 passing yards. But Baylor’s special teams came up big with three blocked kicks -- two by Jason Lamb and one by Phil Taylor.

9. Kansas State: Bill Snyder had a trick up his sleeve and pulled it by using transfer Grant Gregory as his starter. Gregory responded with a strong night (206 passing yards, two TD passes, one TD run) to direct a comeback that produced the tight victory over Iowa State. The triumph helps Kansas State claim its first conference game for only the second time in the past nine seasons. And KSU’s victory was preserved by a blocked extra point with 36 seconds left by Emmanuel Lamur -- Kansas State’s 36th blocked kick since 2002.

10. Iowa State: The Cyclones had their chances before a disappointing loss to Kansas State that was settled on a blocked extra point in the last minute. The Cyclones played well at times without leading offensive threat Alexander Robinson, but were done in by too many defensive mistakes in critical situations and a lack of offensive rhythm. Three fourth-quarter three-and-outs on offense and two fumbles were simply too much for the Cyclones to overcome.

11. Texas A&M: After a fast start, the Aggies were exposed down the stretch by a faster and more talented Arkansas team to provide for their first loss of the season. It looked like 2008 all over again as the Aggies struggled to protect Jerrod Johnson. And after dominating early against Arkansas, Von Miller and the Aggies’ pass rush disappeared for most of the game. Those struggles mean that Mike Sherman has his work cut out as he starts facing even stronger teams in the Big 12 South.

12. Colorado: It won’t get any easier for Colorado as the Buffaloes face Texas and Kansas the next two weeks after their disappointing 1-3 record in nonconference play. They showed flashes at West Virginia, but were undone by the same problems that have vexed them all season. Their lack of productivity and defensive struggles are best indicated in this statistic: Colorado has produced only two plays of 40 or more yards in the first four games of the season, compared to allowing 11 plays of 40 yards or more on defense.

Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Griffin

Sometimes the spring provides a chance for personnel holes to be filled. Sometimes it doesn't.

Here are some of the notable positions around the Big 12 that picked up some assistance during the spring.

Baylor: The quick development of defensive tackle Phil Taylor, a heralded transfer from Penn State, should turn a traditional position of weakness for the Bears into a strength. Joining him at the position will be Jason Lamb, who showed some promise after moving over from defensive end before spring practice.

Colorado: The emergence of hulking 260-pound middle linebacker Marcus Burton and B.J. Beatty at outside linebacker have helped transform the Buffaloes' defense. Burton led the team in tackles and was a prime playmaker in the spring game with eight tackles, two sacks and a fumble recovery. He had eight tackles in 10 games last season.

Iowa State: Redshirt freshman quarterback Jerome Tiller outplayed starter Austen Arnaud in the spring game, passing for 210 yards and getting free for a 65-yard touchdown run. I'm not sure that Tiller will be starting come September, but he'll make Arnaud work harder to earn his job.

Kansas: The Jayhawks had questions in the defensive line before the spring, even with the return of all-Big 12 honorable mention selections Caleb Blakesley and Jake Laptad and late season starting defensive tackles Richard Johnson and Jamal Greene. The development of tackle Darius Parish and end Max Onyegbule should add to the depth. And that doesn't even account for the arrival of heralded junior college transfer Quintin Woods, who originally signed with Michigan out of high school before heading to Bakersfield (Cal.) Community College to get his grades in order.

Kansas State: The emergence of linebackers like Alex Hrebec, Ulla Pomele and John Houlik has helped turn the position into the strength of the defense, even as the Wildcats are transforming to a 4-2-5 alignment. Hrebec, a former walk-on, contributed 19 tackles in the spring game and Houlik is a huge hitter despite his 5-foot-11, 219-pound size.

Missouri: Redshirt freshman Aldon Smith has only added to the Tigers' depth at defensive end, which already featured Brian Coulter and Jacquies Smith in front of him. Smith was voted as the team's most improved player in the spring. Throw in converted offensive tackle Brad Madison and redshirt freshman Marcus Marlbrough and you'll see why Gary Pinkel considers it his best collection of defensive ends at Missouri.

Nebraska: The Cornhuskers had serious questions at quarterback, particularly after the departure of projected starting challenger Patrick Witt before spring practice and Kody Spano's knee injury. But the strong spring by Zac Lee and the surprising development of converted linebacker LaTravis Washington eased some of offensive coordinator Shawn Watson's concerns. Their strong spring work also should mean that heralded freshman Cody Green likely won't be thrown into action perhaps as quickly as Watson might have feared before the spring.

Oklahoma: After losing starters Nic Harris and Lendy Holmes, safety was the only position without returning starters for the Sooners on defense. Quinton Carter nailed down one starting position and Sam Proctor and Joseph Ibiloye are poised to fight for the other job beside him. Emmanuel Jones and Desmond Jackson also had strong spring efforts to challenge for playing time.

Oklahoma State: Defensive tackle was enough of a question that new coordinator Bill Young moved Derek Burton inside from defensive end to help bolster depth at the position. Burton and Swanson Miller appear to have won starting jobs with redshirt freshman Nigel Nicholas and junior Chris Donaldson providing strong depth. Their strong play helped the Cowboys rack up seven sacks in the spring game - more than half of their 2008 season total of 13.

Texas: The Longhorns were concerned about defensive end after the departure of NFL draft picks Brian Orakpo and Henry Melton from last season. Those fears appear to be assuaged after the seamless transition of Sergio Kindle to the position from linebacker and the quick assimilation by freshman Alex Okafor. Toss in Sam Acho and Russell Carter and the return injured pass-rushing threat Eddie Jones and the Longhorns appear stacked at the position.

Texas A&M: Safety was a question mark before spring camp after the loss of Devin Gregg and Alton Dixon and the move of 2008 starting free safety Jordan Peterson to cornerback. But the strong return to safety by converted cornerback Jordan Pugh and the noticeable development by Trent Hunter helped solidify the position during the spring. And the Aggies' depth at the position was improved after the move of wide receiver Chris Caflisch to the position along with strong play from DeMaurier Thompson.

Texas Tech: The departure of two-time Biletnikoff Award winner Michael Crabtree and underrated Eric Morris was supposed to cripple the Red Raiders' receiving corps. Mike Leach appears to have found several serviceable replacements after Tramain Swindall, Lyle Leong, Detron Lewis and walk-on flanker Adam Torres all emerged during the spring. And that doesn't include Edward Britton, who was in Leach's doghouse much of the spring after falling behind in the classroom but still is perhaps their most athletic force on the field.

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

After orchestrating organized chaos every day in his weight room, Baylor strength coach Kaz Kazadi has a unique way of relieving his own stress.

Long after his players have left the weight room, Kazadi gets his chance to work the machines late at night.

He'll stop for a few minutes as the only person in the gleaming room with floor-to-ceiling mirrors. While there, he'll practice what he preaches to the Bears -- albeit at a much more sedate pace than what he typically fosters during their workouts.

 
  Baylor Athletics
  Quarterback Robert Griffin has taken advantage of the strength program at Baylor.

"I might have some slow rhythm-and-blues, maybe crank up some Marvin Gaye or some real slow jazz while I work out to really help me unwind," Kazadi said. "It's vital to my performance and longevity to do this. I have to be ready to emulate what we're preaching."

The extra work in the weight room obviously has paid off for Kazadi, a former linebacker at Tulsa. His own career isn't that far removed after he was sixth-round draft choice who spent a season with the St. Louis Rams in 1997. Later, he played four more seasons in various professional leagues before deciding to go into strength and conditioning coaching.

Today, he looks like he could still stack up a ball carrier or two in the Oklahoma Drill. With his bald head, ripped build and intense nature, Kazadi is reminiscent of Lou Gossett in "An Officer and a Gentleman" in his role of a drill sergeant training his young troops.

Kazadi hasn't been involved in any scrapes with any recalcitrant Baylor players like Gossett when he squared off with Richard Gere in a climactic scene from the movie. But if he did, it's understandable that Kazadi could take of himself against nearly any member of his team.

"If you are selling beauty products you have to look like you've used them," Kazadi said. "The whole thing is working with 18 to 20 year old kids who look my way, they have to know that I'm practicing what I'm preaching."

(Read full post)

Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Griffin

After spring practice, there's been a little movement in my pre-spring power rankings. Here's where I think schools are slotted heading into the summer.

 
  Kenny Felt/Icon SMI
  Sergio Kindle was switched to defensive end this spring and dominated early practices.

1. Texas: Colt McCoy is back bigger and stronger than ever. But the real improvement during the spring for the Longhorns came in the secondary, where they have legitimate two-deep talent. Sergio Kindle was a natural at defensive end and incoming freshman Alex Okafor was better than advertised as a prime pass-rusher. The running game is still a question and depth at defensive tackle could be iffy. But the Longhorns still remember how 2008 played out -- at least if the asterisk-marked Big 12 championship hung in their team room is any indication. February pre-spring ranking: 1.

2. Oklahoma: Gerald McCoy talks about the Oklahoma defense being the best in the nation and they could be with nine returning starters. And the Sooners could improve even more if Auston English and Ryan Reynolds make strong comebacks from injuries. The biggest question remains the four new starters along the offensive line who will be charged with blocking for Heisman Trophy winner Sam Bradford. That turnover remains the primary question that could stymie the Sooners' hopes of an unprecedented fourth straight Big 12 title. February pre-spring ranking: 2.

3. Oklahoma State: Mike Gundy looks to have the conference's most balanced offense -- even as Dez Bryant recovered from knee surgery this spring. The big question remains the defense. New coordinator Bill Young started work on the defensive line as his first order of business before branching out to the rest of the unit. The Cowboys can score with anybody, but Young's work improving the defense will determine whether OSU can contend for its first Big 12 South title and be a legitimate factor in the BCS race. February pre-spring ranking: 3.

4. Nebraska: Quarterback Zac Lee's early grasp of the offense looked impressive this spring, but he'll have to build on that quick study if the Cornhuskers are to contend for Bo Pelini's first North title. There are still some holes at wide receiver and along the right side of the offensive line, but the Cornhuskers are improving their talent level -- particularly on defense. I make them a slight favorite in the North Division, mainly because of a more favorable schedule of cross-division rivals. February pre-spring ranking: 4.

5. Kansas: Anticipation is soaring for the Jayhawks, who finish the spring with legitimate hopes of their first undisputed Big 12 North title. Todd Reesing is the North's best quarterback and the return of Dezmon Briscoe from his suspension would give Reesing his best offensive weapon. The line will have less experience than any team in the conference, but has some heralded talent in place. The biggest defensive question will be replacing three starting linebackers who were the heart of last season's defense. Mark Mangino has hinted at a 4-2-5 defense that may be better suited for combating the Big 12's explosive offenses. Their hopes will depend on navigating the North's toughest stretch of South Division opponents. February pre-spring ranking: 5.

6. Texas Tech: Coach Mike Leach has a new five-year contract but will be facing some heavy lifting. This will be his most significant offensive rebuilding job during his coaching tenure as he replaces the prime weapons of last season's South Division tri-champion. Taylor Potts won't be as productive as Graham Harrell, but he has more experience coming into the position than most of Leach's previous starting quarterbacks. The star power at wide receiver will be lacking without Michael Crabtree, but the spring showed the Red Raiders still have much talent and should be deeper throughout the receiver rotation. McKinner Dixon's spring suspension, coupled with Brandon Williams' defection to the NFL, makes pass rushing iffy. And the Red Raiders are looking for two new safeties from an inexperienced group. It all adds up to a challenging rebuilding job for Leach. February pre-spring ranking: 6.

7. Colorado: The Buffaloes remain the Big 12's mystery team and Tyler Hansen's thumb injury only accentuates that uncertainty. New offensive coordinator Eric Kiesau will be taking over this summer. And while he's been around the program for three years, it's still a concern taking the top job. The offense looked fine in the spring game, particularly a bruising rushing game keyed by Darrell Scott and Rodney Stewart. The defensive line remains the biggest question on the other side of the ball and we won't know how that group will play until the season begins. Dan Hawkins confidently picked the Buffaloes to go 10-2 after last season. They'll be better than last season's 5-7, but I'm not sure they will live up to their coach's optimism. February pre-spring ranking: 8.

8. Missouri: It was tough to get a handle on the Tigers during the spring. Blaine Gabbert had some moments, but his numbers weren't that impressive. But those struggles were understandable considering he was throwing to some inexperienced receivers while Danario Alexander and Jared Perry recovered from injuries. The turnover in both coordinators from last season will be interesting to watch. And with all of the thoughts about the huge personnel losses on offense, the Tigers also will lose a lot on defense. I still think the Tigers will go bowling this year, but will be better suited for a run at the 2010 North title than this season. February pre-spring ranking: 7.

9. Baylor: Optimism is flowing along the Brazos with Bears backers -- with good reason if Robert Griffin can duplicate his freshman success. The biggest offensive question remains his protection with two new offensive tackles. On defense, the Bears have a lot of talent returning and Phil Taylor looks like the real deal at
defensive tackle -- their biggest defensive need. Art Briles is changing the culture at Baylor, but it will be interesting to see if he can really push them into bowl contention -- not an easy task in the Big 12 South. February pre-spring ranking: 9.

10. Texas A&M: Credit Mike Sherman for thinking outside the box. The idea to move Von Miller to the "jack" position on defense was a master stroke -- if Miller can hold up to the pounding he'll face in the trenches. It was hard to get a gauge on A&M's running game with so many injuries in their offensive line. When healthy -- and with the arrival of heralded freshman Christine Michael -- the Aggies should be much better than last season. Same for a secondary that appeared overmatched in the spring, but was crippled by injuries at cornerback. It will be a long road back to Big 12 contention, but look for A&M to be more respectable this season. February pre-spring ranking: 11.

11. Kansas State: I wonder if Bill Snyder has ever had second thoughts since returning to coaching. His rebuilding job with this team pales next to what he originally faced back in 1989, but the Big 12 is a more difficult challenge than that old Big Eight was. Carson Coffman claimed the starting job with a late push in the spring, but will be challenged by Grant Gregory and Daniel Thomas later in the summer. The running game needs somebody to emerge as Keithen Valentine and Jarell Childs alternated spring work. The defense has a long way to go, although Vic Koenning's 4-2-5 appears to better suit the talent on hand. Snyder's acumen should help them in some close games, but it still will be a huge challenge to get them back into bowl contention. February pre-spring ranking: 10.

12. Iowa State: Paul Rhoads is a realist. It's hard not to be after he took a look at his defensive players and realized how far the Cyclones have to come in order to be a force in the North. Look for them to make steps this season thanks to his enthusiasm, but still facing a huge climb in order to be competitive with all of the explosive Big 12 offenses. The Cyclones should be productive on offense with new coordinator Tom Herman. Backup quarterback Jerome Tiller looks like he's ready to push Austen Arnaud after a strong spring game. And Alexander Robinson could emerge as one of the Big 12's most underrated players as a versatile run-catch option. February pre-spring ranking: 12.

Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Griffin

Happy opening day for baseball.

The cool thing about this is that by the time baseball season ends, college football season will be in full swing.

That day can't come soon enough for me. And I'm sure it's that way for more than a few of you out there, as well.

Until then, here are some lunchtime links to help tide you over.

  • The late Sal Aunese's legacy still lives on in the Colorado program, Boulder Daily Camera beat writer Kyle Ringo writes.
  • Kirk Bohls of the Austin American-Statesman opines on the development of the Texas secondary that was on display at Sunday's spring game.
  • Tough Nebraska guard Ricky Henry is earning the nickname "The Finisher" because of his ability to put opponents on their backs, Omaha World-Herald columnist Tom Shatel writes.
  • Physical safety Quinton Carter has toned down his hitting at Oklahoma's practices, but not during games, the Oklahoman's Jake Trotter reports.
  • John Hillman of Realfootball365.com reports that the development of offensive lineman Danny Watkins and defensive tackle Phil Taylor will be keys for Baylor to develop into a bowl team.
  • Missouri coach Gary Pinkel is allowing his quarterback to take and give a few shots in practice this spring, the Kansas City Star's Mike DeArmond reports.
  • With Oklahoma State's numbers depleted at receiver by Dez Bryant's injury and Bo Bowling's suspension, Justin Blackmon is emerging as one of the top producers of the spring, the Oklahoman's Scott Wright reports.
  • Denver Post beat writer Tom Kensler writes that after five surgeries during an eight-month period in 2008, Colorado cornerback Benjamin Burney earned the nickname of "Joystick" because of one of his frequent medical procedures.
  • Lubbock Avalanche-Journal beat writer Don Williams reports on converted high-school quarterback Austin Zouzalik, who is making the transition to wide receiver at Texas Tech this spring.

Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Griffin

Several key players are poised to earn their shot at playing time after sitting out last season. Here are some of the more notable newcomers who will start practicing with their teams during the spring with hopes of winning starting jobs.

Texas RB Tre' Newton -- The son of former Dallas Cowboys offensive lineman Nate Newton didn't fall too far from the tree as far as his blocking skills, even if he is more than 100 pounds lighter than his father was during his playing career. Texas coaches visualize him as the ideal replacement for Chris Ogbonnaya as a third-down specialist because of his receiving and pass-blocking skills.

Baylor DT Phil Taylor -- You may remember him after he played two seasons as a starter at Penn State before his dismissal from the Nittany Lions squad for his role in an on-campus fight. The 6-foot-4, 340-pounder practiced with the Bears and turned heads throughout practice last season. He arrived at Baylor because of his association with defensive coordinator Brian Norwood, a former Penn State assistant. And the best example of Baylor coaches' expectations for him can be seen in this nugget: Of Baylor's 29 recruits in its most recent recruiting class, none were defensive tackles.

Missouri WR Rolandis Woodland -- Missouri coaches likely could have used him last season, but preserved his redshirt because of the depth at the position. Some observers are reminded of Jeremy Maclin when they watch Woodland's receiving and kick-returning skills.

Nebraska DT Baker Steinkuhler -- How about this for a neat family twist? Steinkuhler has a good chance to slide into playing time opposite Ndamukong Suh at the same position his older brother, Ty, played for the Cornhuskers last season.

Kansas State DE Jeffrey Fitzgerald - -A two-year starter at Virginia who earned Freshman All-American honors in 2006 should immediately boost the Wildcats' dormant pass rush. Fitzgerald produced 12 sacks and four interceptions in two seasons as a starter with the Cavaliers before leaving school because of academic issues.

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