NCF Nation: Quentin Castille
Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Griffin
Here are 10 things I'm looking forward to watching across the Big 12 this weekend:
1. Taylor Potts vs. Case Keenum in the weekend’s best aerial battle. Texas Tech travels to cozy Robertson Stadium on the campus of the University of Houston to meet up with the Cougars, who at No. 17, are ranked highest in the Associated Press poll since they were No. 10 on Sept. 12, 1991. Saturday’s game should be an aerial circus featuring two of the nation’s top-four passers. Their individual battle underscores the matchup between their two teams, who will be meeting for the first time since 1995 -- the last season of Southwest Conference play.
2. Blaine Gabbert’s first true road game: Missouri’s sophomore quarterback has his first start away from Faurot Field as the Tigers travel to winless Nevada. Veteran Nevada coach Chris Ault will likely pack the box and force Gabbert to beat him with his arm. When the Tigers are balanced, Gabbert is extremely effective, leading the conference and ranking 11th nationally in passing efficiency. The Missouri defense ranks a pedestrian 86th nationally in pass defense and will be challenged by multi-talented Nevada quarterback Colin Kaepernick.
3. Kansas' stout run defense against Southern Mississippi’s Damion Fletcher: The improving Jayhawks defense will receive its biggest test of the preseason in the conference’s only battle of unbeaten teams. Kansas will be challenged by Southern Mississippi running back Damion Fletcher, who ranks 11th nationally in rushing (114.7 yards per game). The Jayhawks' defense ranks fourth nationally in sacks, sixth in scoring defense and eighth in rush defense, but will be facing its biggest challenge of the season so far.
4. Can Colt McCoy break his recent first-half slumps? Texas’ Heisman Trophy candidate has struggled through difficult first halves and has been victimized by four interceptions in his first three games after throwing only eight picks in 433 pass attempts last season. McCoy’s first halves so far this season have produced a pedestrian quarterback rating of 122.57, compared to 177.64 in the second half. He’ll be challenged by UTEP’s defense, which ranks 92nd in total defense. The game seems like a perfect salve for McCoy’s recent struggles.
5. Battle of the running attacks as Iowa State faces Army's option attack: The most consistent part of Iowa State’s offense has been its running game, which is averaging a potent 209 yards per game. Underrated Alexander Robinson has been the key with an average of 108.7 yards per game to rank second in the conference behind Roy Helu Jr. The Cyclones’ power will be countered by Army's traditional running attack, which ranks seventh nationally in rushing and features four backs who average at least 44 yards per game.
6. A Nebraska celebration of football: The Cornhuskers’ disappointing loss at Virginia Tech last week will be forgotten as the team returns for a big weekend to celebrate the school’s fanatical support. Saturday’s game will be the 300th consecutive home sellout in a remarkable streak that dates back to 1962. The Cornhuskers will be wearing some cool throwback uniforms and will be looking to win against Louisiana-Lafayette -- a team that has already notched one upset over a Big 12 team this season after beating Kansas State two weeks ago.
7. What will Uzoma Nwachukwu do for an encore? Texas A&M’s scintillating freshman wide receiver had a remarkable game last week against Utah State, touching the ball four times and scoring four touchdowns to set a school freshman one-game scoring record. With top receiver Jeff Fuller out up to six weeks with a cracked fibula, Nwachukwu will need to become a bigger part of the offense. The Aggies’ chances should be bolstered against 1-2 UAB, which has lost its last two games in a row and is allowing 333.7 passing yards a game to rank 118th nationally. Jerrod Johnson has to be excited about playing that leaky pass defense.
8. Can Brandon Banks return to Kansas State’s offense? The Wildcats have had trouble getting Banks open for the big gains that marked him last season as a junior. Banks ranks among the nation’s top 50 receivers with an average of 5.3 grabs per game. But his yard-per-catch average has dropped significantly from 15.7 last season to 8.3 this season. And he could be facing a bigger challenge than expected from FCS challenger Tennessee Tech, which is allowing only 128 yards passing per game. It's important to get Banks back and producing to balance Kansas State's offense.
9. Robert Griffin’s chance at redemption: The Baylor quarterback struggled through the worst game of his career last week, producing just 139 yards of total offense in the Bears' loss to Connecticut. If the Bears have any legitimate hopes of rebounding for a bowl trip, they need to get the production of their playmaker back. They start their comeback Saturday against Northwestern State, which has been singed in three straight losses to Houston, Grambling and North Dakota. It will also represent the return of Quentin Castille against Big 12 opponents. Castille, formerly of Nebraska, is Northwestern State’s second-leading rusher at 51.3 yards per game.
10. What Bill Young will do with Oklahoma State's struggling defense: After a strong effort in a season-opening victory over Georgia, Oklahoma State’s pass defense has disappeared in its last two games. The Cowboys have allowed their last two foes to complete an average of 30 passes for 333.5 yards per game. The slump has dropped Oklahoma State to 90th in total defense and 108th in pass defense. Grambling isn’t known for its passing attack as quarterback Greg Dillon has thrown for an average of 101.5 yards per game. But wily Oklahoma State coordinator Bill Young still needs to get the Cowboys back and productive for the beginning of conference play in two weeks.
Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Griffin
Here’s a spectator’s guide for this weekend’s games. A ranking of four stars indicates must-see football. Three-star games are definitely worth an extensive investment in time. Two-star games bear a quick glimpse or two for occasional score updates, but little more. And one-star games mean you might be better off watching your kids’ soccer games or taking care of some yardwork than hunkering down in front of the television.
Check out this list and plan your Saturday schedules accordingly. All times are for Saturday games unless otherwise noted.
Texas Tech at Houston (ESPN2, 9:15 p.m. ET): Stay up late for this offensive battle between underrated Case Keenum of Houston and Texas Tech’s Taylor Potts, who showed much moxie last week in his national coming-out party against Texas. The Cougars lead the nation in scoring and rank fourth in passing. Texas Tech leads the nation in passing.
Southern Mississippi at Kansas (noon): The streaking Jayhawks will be tested against Southern Mississippi, whose eight-game winning streak is tied with Mississippi behind only Florida’s 13-game streak. The Golden Eagles bring a lot of firepower with Damion Fletcher (11th nationally in rushing) and 6-foot-6 wide receiver DeAndre Brown, who Kansas coach Mark Mangino says will be the toughest receiver his team will face this season. Kansas will hope to continue building with a balanced offense that is the only team nationally to rank among the top 16 in rushing, scoring, passing offense and total offense.
Missouri at Nevada (ESPN, 9 p.m. Friday): The Tigers will face their first road challenge of the season against the 0-2 Wolf Pack, who have been an early disappointment after losing at Notre Dame and Colorado State. Sophomore quarterback Blaine Gabbert leads the Big 12 in passing efficiency, but will be challenged to match multitalented Nevada quarterback Colin Kaepernick. Nevada will try to dictate tempo with Vai Taua, who is tied for 21st nationally in rushing.
UTEP at Texas (3:30 p.m.): Emerging Longhorns should receive a break this week against the Miners, who lost twice at home before winning last week at New Mexico State. Texas should dictate the game against a UTEP offense that ranks 97th or worst in scoring offense, total offense and rushing and tied for 101st in sacks allowed. The Longhorns have won all three previous games in the series by a combined 92-13 margin.
Army at Iowa State (7 p.m.): Iowa State’s confidence will be tested by Army’s option-based ground attack which ranks seventh nationally with an average of 257.7 rushing yards per game. Iowa State will counter with Alexander Robinson, who ranks 15th nationally and has rushed for back-to-back 100-yard games. One item to watch will be Iowa State’s short defensive backs against 6-foot-10, 285-pound Army wide receiver Ali Villanueva, who is tied for his team's lead in receiving.
Louisiana-Lafayette at Nebraska (7 p.m.): This will be a celebration of all things Nebraska football as the Cornhuskers’ program celebrates its 300th consecutive sellout in a streak that dates to 1962. The Cornhuskers will wear throwback uniforms as they hope to rebound from last week’s disappointing loss at Virginia Tech. The Ragin’ Cajuns will be gunning for their second victory over a Big 12 school in three weeks with an offense that has not allowed a sack this season.
UAB at Texas A&M (7 p.m.): The Aggies should have another breather after easy victories over New Mexico and Utah State. Aggie linebacker Von Miller leads the nation in sacks and Jerrod Johnson is third in total offense. The Aggies shouldn’t be challenged by a Blazers team that has lost two straight and ranks 110th in total defense and 118th in pass defense.
Tennessee Tech at Kansas State (1 p.m.): Kansas State hopes to stem a two-game losing streak against the Golden Eagles, coached by Watson Brown, older brother of Texas coach Mack Brown. Tennessee Tech created three turnovers and blocked a kick last week against Eastern Kentucky. But they’ll be challenged by the Wildcats, who will be facing their second FCS challenge after beating Massachusetts in the opener. Kansas State ranks among the bottom five teams nationally in sacks (118th) and tackles for losses (116th).
Northwestern State at Baylor (7 p.m.): Coach Art Briles’ team was shaken after the upset home loss against Connecticut last week. Robert Griffin is coming off his worst college game after producing a career-low 139 total yards against Connecticut. Northwestern State has lost its first three games, including a home loss to North Dakota last week. The Demons have struggled defensively, allowing 40 points per game. And Quentin Castille, formerly of Nebraska, is averaging 51.3 yards rushing per game.
Grambling State at Oklahoma State (7 p.m.): Oklahoma State hopes for more continuity in its final nonconference game. Their struggling pass defense (108th nationally) will be challenged by Grambling State quarterback Greg Dillon. Grambling has won two straight games but will be facing its only FBS challenge of the season in this game.
Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Griffin
Here are some things I'm watching across the Big 12 this week, starting with Iowa State's season opener against North Dakota State tonight in Ames, Iowa.
1. Can Oklahoma State prove it belongs among the national powers? Oklahoma State started 8-1 before collapsing with four losses in its final six games in 2008, including struggling defensive performances against Texas Tech, Oklahoma and Oregon. The Cowboys will be depleted without MLB Orie Lemon and will be facing a Georgia team that shouldn’t be intimidated by the crowd at Boone Pickens Stadium. The Bulldogs are 30-4 on the road since Mark Richt took over in 2001 -- a better winning percentage than for their home games. Georgia is 10-2 on the road against ranked teams on the road under Richt, including 3-1 against top-10 foes. So it will be a huge challenge for the Cowboys to counter those trends, particularly with a roster that has been dotted with defections this week.
2. Oklahoma’s retooled offensive line: The Sooners’ offensive line has been the team’s biggest question coming into the season as they try for an unprecedented fourth straight Big 12 title. Four offensive line starters are gone from last season’s team, leaving only left tackle Trent Williams back to protect Heisman Trophy winner Sam Bradford. The Sooners’ line was called out before spring practice because of their lack of dedication by coach Bob Stoops, but has received recent praise after working with the Sooners’ monstrous defensive line in recent weeks. The Sooners shouldn’t be tested very much by a BYU defense that ranked 60th in rushing defense and 59th in total defense last season.
3. Does Baylor deserve its early hype? The Bears started last season with a 28-point home loss to Wake Forest. This season, they are a slight underdog on the road against the Demon Deacons. Can Robert Griffin continue his mercurial development and lead the Bears to an upset against the Demon Deacons, who have qualified for three straight bowl games? The Bears have lost 13 of their last 14 road games and have never won away from Waco with Art Briles coaching them. Does an improved, senior-laden team have what it takes to win -- especially with two new tackles protecting Griffin’s flanks?
4. Blaine Gabbert’s first career start for Missouri: All the sophomore quarterback has to do is pick up the reins from Chase Daniel, who piloted the Tigers to back-to-back trips to the Big 12 title game and arguably was the best quarterback in school history. Gabbert was a higher regarded prospect coming into school than Daniel and will be able to prove those ratings, but he’ll be facing the challenge of playing in his home area against arch-rival Illinois.
5. Vondrell McGee’s chance as Texas’ featured running back: McGee took advantage of an injury to Fozzy Whittaker to claim the starting position and an opportunity to work as Texas’ featured running back in the Longhorns’ opener against Louisiana-Monroe. McGee should be able to play on most downs when the Longhorns’ starting team is in the game. How will he hold up -- particularly considering he’s had double-figure carries in only five games in his career and never rushed for more than 80 yards in any game? The opportunity to claim the role is there against a Louisiana-Monroe team that ranked 109th nationally against the run.
6. Colorado’s starting quarterback: Will Dan Hawkins opt for a quiet dinner table at home by starting backup Tyler Hansen or stick with his family ties by giving his son Cody the nod in the Buffaloes’ Sunday night opener against Colorado State? Both should play, although the Colorado coach remains adamant he’s not making the call until shortly before kickoff Sunday night.
7. Bill Snyder’s emotional return to the sideline: Is the Kansas State coach bigger than his program? Snyder will travel to the stadium Saturday on a highway named in his honor before arriving at a stadium named for him and his family as he ends a three-year sabbatical to return to coaching Saturday night against Massachusetts. The moment should be even more poignant for him and the program as the largest athletic reunion in the school’s history will coincide with the game.
8. Nebraska’s new-look offense: Bo Pelini starts his second season with the Cornhuskers facing a massive turnover as he looks for a new quarterback, two new wide receivers and help in his running game. The Cornhuskers must try to build on last season’s 9-4 record with new quarterback Zac Lee, new featured receivers and a heavy reliance on Roy Helu Jr. after Quentin Castille’s dismissal late in training camp. Nebraska players say that Lee will provide more of a vertical passing game than was featured last year with Joe Ganz. He shouldn’t face much of a challenge against a Florida Atlantic University team that ranked 81st or lower in every major team statistic, tied for 112th in sacks and returns only three defensive starters.
9. Will Kansas show much mercy against outmanned Northern Colorado? The Bears come into Lawrence coached by former Nebraska assistant Scott Downing. It will be interesting to see how much that association causes Mark Mangino to step off the accelerator if the Jayhawks jump ahead early against an opponent that was 1-10 last season and ranked among the bottom 20 FCS teams in pass defense and pass efficiency defense. I’m looking for extended target practice for Todd Reesing, Dezmon Briscoe, Kerry Meier and the rest of the Jayhawks’ talented pass-and-catch combo against the outclassed Bears.
10. The tackling of Iowa State’s defense: The Cyclones have had a total makeover defensively by new coach Paul Rhoads and defensive coordinator Wally Burnham, who have been critical of the Cyclones’ tackling techniques they inherited from the staff of former coach Gene Chizik. Rhoads even admitted that the lack of technique “frustrated” him. Iowa State shouldn’t face too many challenges tonight against South Dakota State, although the Bison have won three of their last five games against FBS teams. Rhoads and his new program can’t afford such a slow start.
Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Griffin
Nebraska I-back Roy Helu Jr. already was prepared to shoulder his share of trying to make the Cornhuskers’ offense productive heading into this season.
As the Cornhuskers attempt to break in a new starting quarterback and two new wide receivers, Helu and the backfield were expected to be the integral part of the team’s offense.
But that preparation for Helu intensified Aug. 22 when Quentin Castille was dismissed from the team because of an undisclosed violation of team rules. The move means that a Cornhuskers offense that was already expected to lean on Helu will likely be depending on him even more when Nebraska starts the season Saturday against Florida Atlantic.
“As a unit, I don’t know how it will affect us,” Helu said. “I think it’s inevitable with me and the other I-backs that we’ll get more work. And absolutely, I’m ready for it.”
Helu and converted wide receiver Marcus Mendoza are the only Nebraska backs with previous college carries.
“Practice is already a lot different now,” Helu said. “I’m excited to see what happens for us this year. It will definitely be a challenge. But I’m looking forward to it."
Helu rushed for 803 yards last season to lead the Cornhuskers, averaging 6.42 yards per carry to lead the team’s primary ball carriers.
And he really came on late in the season, producing three games with at least 100 yards in his final four regular-season games, topped with career-best totals of 25 carries and 166 yards in the Cornhuskers’ victory over Colorado.
With the 235-pound Castille, Helu was expected to contribute to a bruising running style that had earned them the nickname “Thunder and Lightning.”
Now, Helu is bracing for additional work that he had hoped for when he chose Nebraska over BYU, California and Oregon after playing high school football in Danville, Calif.
“It’s been a blessing to come to school here,” Helu said. “They have a strong appreciation for the I-back here and I thank the Lord that I’ve chosen a place where I can run the ball.”
Whether he’s still feeling that way after 30 or 35 carries every Saturday still is to be determined. But Helu is excited about the chance to help his team.
Nebraska offensive coordinator Shawn Watson vowed that Castille’s departure won’t affect his plans for the Cornhuskers’ offense.
“We have a philosophy and we just plug players in,” Watson said. “It won’t change. We’ll do what we would have done with Quentin here, but we have younger players we are developing and move on. We don’t feel sorry for ourselves. We just move forward.”
The move will be helped by having Helu, who has bulked up to about 218 pounds after playing below 200 pounds late last season, physically ready for an increased workload.
“He’s just an awesome back for us,” Watson said. “He’s one of those kids you point to and tell the others that’s what you want them to be like. The tempo he brings to our practices is incredible and he’s just a phenomenal practice player. He’s been a great example for us and we break the new backs in.”
Helu actually told reporters late in the Cornhuskers’ training camp, only a couple of days before Castille was jettisoned, that Castille was at that point the best running back on the Nebraska football team.
“He’s a better player than me right now, and he has been for awhile,” Helu said.
Helu and Castille have developed a close friendship during their time at Nebraska. Castille discussed his playing opportunities with Helu after he left the Cornhuskers until he finally landed at Northwestern State, where he will be eligible immediately and could see action in the Demons’ opener against Houston on Saturday.
“A decision was made from Quentin’s standpoint that affected our team,” Helu said. “Collectively, we as a team talked about it. It [his dismissal] was the best thing for him and for us. We have moved on and wish good things for him as well. I communicate with him nearly every day and hope he’s going to do well with his new school.”
The Cornhuskers were chosen by the Big 12 media as the preseason favorites in the North Division. But that selection obviously was made before Castille’s dismissal and led some to back off on their earlier predictions.
For his part, Helu said he doesn’t care where the Cornhuskers are picked.
“Nothing matters at all to us,” Helu said. “It’s the preseason. It doesn’t mean much one way or the other. Of course, it’s flattering, but in no means is it final or will it decide if we’ve won or lost. We just have to go out and play strong.”
The Cornhuskers are a confident bunch after last season, when they claimed their final four games, capped by the Gator Bowl to finish with a four-game winning streak. That late charge helped the Cornhuskers claim a share of the Big 12 North Division championship and catapults them into 2009 tied with Texas for the longest winning streak in the conference.
“Once we won those games, we had so much confidence and momentum to finish up,” Helu said. “It rolled right in to a great spring and we looked like a new team. Then we went out and developed in fall camp, learning as we went. It’s a process and we’re pushing to keep things going once the season starts.”
Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Griffin
Some Big 12 position groups are clearly above others as far as raw talent and athleticism. Here's a look at some of the most dominant in the conference.
Oklahoma's front seven: The Sooners go two-deep in talent in the defensive line and linebackers. Defensive tackle Gerald McCoy anchors the defensive front and is an Outland Trophy candidate. Adrian Taylor and Cordero Moore also are capable players. The Sooners have the best collection of defensive ends in college football with Frank Alexander, Jeremy Beal, R.J. Washington and Auston English. Travis Lewis could develop into one of the finest linebackers in Oklahoma history and Mike Balogun, Brandon Crow and Keenan Clayton all are expected to contribute. If heady team leader Ryan Reynolds comes back from his knee injury, this group could rival any in the country -- if it doesn't already.
Texas' secondary: After producing only six interceptions last season, Texas defensive coordinator Will Muschamp ratcheted up competition among defensive backs. The results were seen in the spring, when the group was the best defensive backfield group I saw in the conference. Aaron Williams and Chykie Brown have emerged as starters at the corners with Curtis Brown and Deon Beasley providing backup. Safeties Blake Gideon and Christian Scott both are emerging, but the key player might be sophomore safety Earl Thomas, who played the nickel position with tenacity and abandon. It's not a stretch to say that two Thorpe Award winners could emerge out of this group in the next several years.
Colorado's running backs: The Buffaloes seemingly have a back for every situation with the deepest backfield in the conference. Darrell Scott appears intent on making a comeback after a disappointing freshman season. Rodney Stewart looks recovered from a broken leg sustained last season that kept him from rushing for 1,000 yards. Sophomore Brian Lockridge appears to be the fastest back and 215-pound Demetrius Sumler is the biggest back with the best inside running ability among the group. This group will serve as the backbone for the Buffaloes' hopes of returning to a bowl game and perhaps their dark horse challenge for the Big 12 North title.
Kansas' wide receivers: Dezmon Briscoe missed all of spring practice for an undisclosed violation of team rules, but is back to serve as one of the nation's most explosive deep talents. Coach Mark Mangino hopes to be able to permanently switch Kerry Meier to receiver for his senior season after a breakout season in 2008. Meier and Briscoe were two of the nation's top-15 receivers last season when they combined for 189 catches, 2,452 yards and 23 touchdown grabs. And Wilson emerged as quarterback Todd Reesing's go-to receiver in the spring when Briscoe was gone, notching six catches in the spring game. Add Rod Harris, Tertavian Ingram and Raimond Pendleton and it might be among the most potent pass-catching groups in the nation.
Nebraska's running backs: With unproven Zac Lee starting at quarterback, look for Shawn Watson to lean heavily on a pair of talented returning backs. Quentin Castille trimmed about 20 pounds to get into better shape and leading returning rusher Roy Helu Jr. boosted his weight by 24 pounds to become a more powerful rusher between the tackles. Together, it wouldn't be a stretch that the two backs could combine for 2,000 rushing yards and 20 rushing touchdowns if both can stay healthy.
Iowa State's running backs: With new offensive coordinator Tom Herman taking over with a spread offensive attack, a talented array of running backs still will have frequent opportunities to contribute. Leading returning rusher Alexander Robinson could be poised to become one of the most underrated rusher/receiver combination backs in the conference. But Robinson will have to fight for playing time with a stacked group that also includes bruising redshirt freshman Jeremiah Schwartz and heralded University of Florida transfer Bo Williams. Herman will be able to utilize all three backs in a variety of roles.
Missouri's defensive ends: The Tigers appeared loaded before spring practice with Brian Coulter and Jacquies Smith back, but redshirt freshman Aldon Smith has developed into an immediate contributor. Converted offensive tackle Brad Madison and redshirt Marcus Marlbrough also had strong springs, leading Gary Pinkel to say it was his best group of defensive ends he's ever had at Missouri.
Texas Tech's wide receivers: Even after losing two-time Biletnikoff Award winner Michael Crabtree and Eric Morris, the Red Raiders developed several potential playmakers during the spring. Edward Britton appeared to have crawled out of Mike Leach's doghouse with strong late production. New quarterback Taylor Potts should have many productive targets including Detron Lewis, Tramain Swindall, Lyle Leong, walk-on flanker Adam Torres, 6-foot-7 Adrian Reese and redshirt freshmen Austin Zouzalik and Eric Ward. The Red Raiders won't have two players grab the majority of balls like Crabtree and Morris did in recent seasons. Instead, they will feature a more balanced attack featuring eight to 10 receivers capable of thriving in a tag-team approach.
Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Griffin
The news bounced through Nebraska with the stunning shock of some kind of a natural disaster.
The surprise announcement that Patrick Witt was leaving the Nebraska program came on a couple of levels.
First, Witt was the Cornhuskers' backup in their final game last season, playing after Joe Ganz was dinged in the Gator Bowl against Clemson.
So the presumption was that Witt would get the first shot -- or at least a good one -- when the Nebraska starting quarterback job was contested at spring practice and beyond.
But his decision has ratcheted up competition and opened a three-way battle involving Zac Lee, Kody Spano and freshman Cody Green. It's left the Cornhuskers with as little depth and experience at the position as any Big 12 team.
Lee is perceived by most to be the most immediately ready, although coaches hope he will work on managing a game better in their offensive philosophy.
Spano is a long shot to earn the starting job, but does have his moments as a runner and thrower.
Green likely has the best athletic tools. It might not be a surprise to see coach Bo Pelini utilize him like Ohio State did with Terrelle Pryor last season. Green would receive work early in the season to build confidence in hopes he could be a major contributor by the end of the season.
Any thoughts that Nebraska could afford to redshirt Green likely left when Witt made his announcement. Pelini's insurance plan has suddenly gone kaput.
Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Griffin
The Big 12's 4-3 record in bowl games wasn't quite as good as the conference might have liked. But several players had performances worthy of collecting the last of this season's helmet stickers.
Texas quarterback Colt McCoy -- Passed for a career-high 414 yards and two touchdowns, including the game-winner to Quan Cosby with 16 seconds left to spark the Longhorns' 24-21 victory over Ohio State in the Tostitos Fiesta Bowl.
Missouri linebacker Sean Weatherspoon -- Contributed 17 tackles (eight solo), including 2.5 tackles for a loss and ½ of a sack in Missouri's 30-23 overtime victory over Northwestern in the Valero Alamo Bowl. Weatherspoon also notched two quarterback hurries and deflected a pass.
Kansas' passing game -- It's hard to differentiate between QB Todd Reesing (313 passing yards, four TD passes), WR Dezmon Briscoe (14 catches, 201 yards, three TD grabs) and WR Kerry Meier (10 catches, 113 yards, one TD reception). All were responsible for the Jayhawks' impressive 42-21 victory over Minnesota in the Insight Bowl -- arguably the best bowl performance by any Big 12 team.
Nebraska defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh -- Produced eight tackles, including 3.5 for losses and two sacks in the Cornhuskers' 26-21 comeback victory over Clemson in the Konica Minolta Gator Bowl. Suh also blocked a kick and produced a quarterback hurry in Nebraska's first Jan. 1 bowl victory since 1995.
Texas wide receiver Quan Cosby -- The 26-year-old former minor-league baseball player capped his career by producing a school bowl-record and career-best 14 receptions for 171 yards, including the game-winning grab, to lead the Longhorns' comeback victory over Ohio State.
Missouri wide receiver/kick returner Jeremy Maclin -- Capped his college career in style with a game-winning 7-yard TD grab in overtime and a 75-yard punt return for another score that helped kick-start his team's dormant offense. Maclin accounted for 187 all-purpose yards in the Tigers' triumph over Northwestern.
Kansas linebacker James Holt -- Notched eight tackles, including four for losses and three sacks in the Jayhawks' victory over Minnesota in the Insight Bowl.
Nebraska quarterback Joe Ganz -- His numbers (236 passing yards, two TD passes) were surpassed by many other bowl-winning quarterbacks. But Ganz bounced back from several injuries to lead his team in a gutsy, dramatic comeback victory, charging back from a 14-3 halftime deficit.
Nebraska I-back Quentin Castille -- Rushed for 125 yards -- more than any other Big 12 back in a bowl game -- on 18 carries to spark Nebraska's comeback over Clemson in the Gator Bowl.
Texas safety Earl Thomas -- The freshman notched a team-high nine tackles and produced two pass deflections, including the game-saving one on the final play of the game, to preserve the Longhorns' Fiesta Bowl triumph.
Ultimately, a team must win to receive helmet stickers. That's why performances like those produced in the bowls by Texas Tech quarterback Graham Harrell, Oklahoma safety Nic Harris, Oklahoma running back Chris Brown, Oklahoma State wide receiver Dez Bryant and Oklahoma State quarterback Zac Robinson have gone unrewarded. All had strong performances in their bowl games, despite their teams' losses.
Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Griffin
Joe Ganz and Nebraska showed a lot of grit and determination Thursday, storming back from early misfortune to cap the season with triumph.
|Marvin Gentry/US Presswire|
|Joe Ganz overcame injuries to direct Nebraska's final scoring drive.|
Ganz overcame a shaky start to direct Nebraska to a 26-21 victory over Clemson in the Konica Minolta Gator Bowl.
The biggest reason was Ganz, who shook off a gimpy knee in the first half to throw two touchdowns and help Nebraska reclaim the lead in the third quarter. Earlier, Ganz's botched option pitch was returned for a Clemson touchdown and his interception late in first half led to another Tigers score.
But Ganz saved his biggest comeback for last after he appeared to be dazed by another hit early in the fourth quarter.
After sitting on the bench for several minutes, Ganz coolly returned to the game and directed Nebraska's final scoring drive, culminated by Alex Henery's fourth field goal.
Nebraska's defenders did the rest, playing like they deserved the Blackshirts that coach Bo Pelini gave them midway through the season to signify their emergence as a unit.
A punishing Nebraska defensive front dominated the game throughout, notching four sacks and harassing Clemson quarterback Cullen Harper from the opening snap. Nose tackle Ndamukong Suh produced two sacks and blocked a field goal and defensive tackle Ty Steinkuhler produced another sack.
The Tigers were presumed to have the advantage in speed and athleticism, but Nebraska limited them to 90 total yards in the second half and shackled Clemson's vaunted running combo of James Davis and C.J. Spiller. The Tigers also converted only 3 of 16 third-down plays, misfiring on nine straight third-down conversions at one point in the second half.
The biggest series came after Clemson had marched to the Nebraska 10-yard line with less than 2 minutes remaining. Nebraska twice gambled on cornerback blitzes by sophomore Eric Hagg, leading to an incompletion and a pivotal 16-yard sack on second down.
Two incompletions later, the Cornhuskers were jubilant and dancing after Pelini had wrapped up his second bowl victory in two tries.
The late defensive stand was clearly the shining moment for the Big 12 so far in the bowl season. It might not change many attitudes about the conference's overall defensive prowess, but was still good enough to lead to the Nebraska triumph.
The Cornhuskers (9-4) finished the season with a four-game winning streak and won six of their final seven games. They should finish the season ranked in the Top 25 and will likely enter the 2009 season as a preseason favorite in the Big 12 North.
After Marlon Lucky and Roy Helu Jr. struggled early, backup I-back Quentin Castille stepped up to provide rushing consistency that helped wrap up the victory. Castille finished with a game-high 125 rushing yards, including a key 58-yard rumble early in the third quarter.
In the process the Cornhuskers continued a tradition of comebacks in bowl games. It was the seventh time Nebraska has overcome a halftime deficit to win a bowl game. The Cornhuskers' 11-point halftime deficit was the largest the team has ever overcome in the school's 45-game bowl history.
Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Griffin
Kansas coach Mark Mangino can finally rest, not worrying about whether his words, gestures or coaching methods on the practice field will be picked apart by the prying eyes of the public.
Of course, it was nothing a little horticuture couldn't help -- or hide.
The Kansas athletic department will spend $90,000 to strategically plant 100 pine trees around the $31 million Anderson Family Football Complex with hopes of enhancing the team's privacy during its workouts.
Kansas assistant athletic director Jim Marchiony told the Lawrence Journal-World that the additions will help the campus in several ways.
"You can say we're doing it for the sake of those who use Mississippi Street so they won't feel like they're disturbing practice if they make noise," Marchiony joked. "Also, it's an effort to assist the campus in going green."
"The real reason," he added, "is just to allow for more privacy during practice with respect to how much can be seen and heard."
Mangino told the Journal-World that he didn't have a problem with the location of the practice fields and the exposure they provided.
"I'm not at all concerned about that stuff," he said. "I think it's a tempest in a teapot. Much ado about nothing."
Ah, Coach ... If I'm going to believe that, you probably have some swamp land for me just outside Olathe, right?
No matter. The Kansas practice field is shrouded and the season is only a week away.
But most importantly, here are some tasty Big 12 links for a Saturday morning.
- Bob Stoops' seldom-publicized compassion for sick children is profiled in a touching story by the Oklahoman's John Helsley. Stoops wears a gold pin of hope on his coaching visor for a special reason.
- Austen Arnaud earned the starting QB job for Iowa State's Aug. 28 opener against South Dakota State. But backup Phillip Bates will get a few snaps, Iowa State coach Gene Chizik said. "Some people will say that when you have two quarterbacks, you have none," Chizik told the Des Moines Register. "That's not our case."
- Boulder Daily Camera columnist Neill Woelk lays out the steps to an 8-4 record for Colorado this season, capped by a trip to the Alamo Bowl.
- Texas CB Deon Beasley tells the Houston Chronicle's Joseph Duarte in a video interview about the Longhorns' development in the secondary.
- Have Bartles & Jaymes come to sports journalism? Check out the Austin American-Stateman's columnists Kirk Bohls and Cedric Golden's most recent video effort and you might think so.
- The Austin American-Statesman has taken the humble depth chart one step into the future, creating an easy-to-use PDF file highlighting Texas' roster.
- Oklahoman columnist Berry Tramel blogs that Oklahoma State's home schedule isn't the most attractive for ticket buyers.
- Line of the day comes from Topeka Capital-Journal reporter Austin Meek, who had this to say about the Kansas State-Iowa State game in Kansas City next year: "A K-State-Iowa State matchup has all the sex appeal of Al Roker, with considerably less star power."
- Missouri athletic director Mike Alden told the Kansas City Star that no changes are imminent in the Tigers' annual football games in St. Louis against Missouri and in Kansas City against Kansas. Alden also denied that the Kansas State-Iowa State game announced earlier this week would affect where the Border War game ends up. "I think our game is something that's pretty special," Alden told the Star, "and it wouldn't be affected by that game."
- Sophomore CB Carl Gettis is emerging as a leader in Missouri's secondary.
- Heralded freshman Nebraska WR Khiry Cooper is off-limits to the media because of Coach Bo Pelini's media-relations rules. But Cooper's teammates say he hasn't talked much about his decision to play college football and baseball rather than accepting a huge potential baseball contract with the Los Angeles Angels.
- Bruising 245-pounder Quentin Castille is playing like the most physical of Nebraska's I-backs. "I look at Quentin as a guy who's a thumper," Nebraska offensive coordinator Shawn Watson told the Omaha World-Herald. "He's a guy who you just pound people with."
- Dust off your pom-poms. The Kansas City Star has video of a Kansas City-area pep rally where thousands turned out to watch coach Mark Mangino talk about the upcoming season. And he didn't mention his tree-planting plans anywhere.
- A hearty welcome to the Big 12 media corps to Brian "Boom Goes the Dynamite" Collins, a new sports anchor at KXXV-TV in Waco, Texas.
- Baylor's three competing quarterbacks got equal time in the Bears' final scrimmage and all had their moments.
- Lawrence Journal-World columnist Chuck Woodling looks into the Big 12's future - complete with 150,000-seat stadiums and salary caps for players.
- Manhattan Mercury columnist Mark Janssen breaks down the good and bad of Kansas State's special teams.
- Oklahoma State and Texas Tech agreed months ago to move their 2009 game to the Dallas area. Andrea Cohen of The Oklahoman reports, however, that the two schools still haven't decided where to play the game.
- Oklahoma MLB Ryan Reynolds hopes to disprove doubters who wonder if he can remain healthy for an entire season.
- Texas Tech's AaRon Moore and Brent Nickerson have emerged as the likely replacements at cornerback for L.A. Reed, who appea
red at practice with an orthopedic boot on his injured right ankle.
- Despite the arrival of heralded junior-college transfer Lucien "The Punisher" Antoine, Quinton Moore remains entrenched as Oklahoma State's top free safety.
- Punt returner Niles Paul is expecting big things from Nebraska's special teams. "It should be an explosive year as a return game," Paul told the Lincoln Journal-Star. "I know we can make a splash on returns."
- Unlike last season, Bob Stoops expects a number of freshmen to see action for the Sooners. Only one true freshman played for Oklahoma in 2007.
Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Griffin
The breathless hype is already starting around Austin. Early Longhorns practices have shown that backup QB John Chiles can pump some excitement into a Texas offense that appeared stale at times last season.
Veteran Austin American-Statesman columnist Kirk Bohls was salivating at the prospects of what formations with Colt McCoy and Chiles playing at the same time could bring, evoking memories of Tim Tebow's early use in the Florida offense or Arkansas' "Wild Hog" formation with Darren McFadden.
As Bohls correctly states, all of the talk about trick plays doesn't mean much if they are being used against teams like Rice and Florida International where Texas seemingly has a huge competitive advantage. These plays and formations need to be employed against Oklahoma, Texas A&M and Missouri.
Chiles threw a couple of interceptions during a Thursday workout. And he told Bohls that his 1-for-9 passing struggles last season -- similar to some of Tebow's early passing missteps as a freshman with the Gators -- weren't unexpected because of his inexperience.
"It wasn't too embarrassing," Chiles told Bohls. "I might should have redshirted, looking back. Quarterback is a tough position."
The use of two quarterbacks would be a "walk on the wild side" for Texas coach Mack Brown -- and a refreshing one at that.
Much like these Big 12 links this morning. Take a deep breath and enjoy.
- It's hard for Oklahoma coach Bob Stoops not to get excited this summer. He told the Oklahoman's Berry Tramel that he's seeing flashes in DeMarco Murray that makes him think he could develop into his most talented tailback ever. Didn't he coach that guy named Peterson once upon a time?
- Texas Tech DE McKinner Dixon will likely be ineligible for the upcoming season, Tech coach Mike Leach told the Lubbock Avalanche-Journal. But heralded junior-college transfer DE Brandon Sesay appears to have made his grades and will be able to play.
- Returning Colorado players are noticeably bigger and stronger than previous seasons, the Boulder Daily Camera's Neill Woelk says. One of the most striking transformations was QB Cody Hawkins, who showed up with noticeably bigger biceps and about five pounds heavier, the Denver Post's Tom Kensler says.
- It will take three or four players to replace the contributions of leading Colorado tackler Jordon Dizon, Buffaloes linebackers coach Brian Cabral told B.G. Brooks of the Rocky Mountain News.
- Iowa State returns all four starters in the secondary this season. Despite that experience, the group is bracing for heat as every Big 12 team it will face returns its starting quarterback.
- NFL Hall of Famer Mike McCormack will be the next former Kansas player to be included in the school's Ring of Honor at Memorial Stadium. School officials better save room up there for Todd Reesing one of these days.
- Missouri wide receivers coach Andy Hill has a quaint way of describing how he teaches young players to "drink from the fire hose" in their early preparation. The Columbia Daily Tribune's Dave Matter says that Tigers are learning to open wide, because here comes a big mouthful of football preparations.
- Missouri LB Sean Weatherspoon isn't worried about a Sports Illustrated cover jinx after he, QB Chase Daniel and WR Jeremy Maclin will be pictured on one of the regional covers highlighting the upcoming season. "Nobody else from my hometown (Jasper, Texas) can say they've ever been on the cover of Sports Illustrated," Weatherspoon told Matter. "Even though it's just a regional cover ... it's a great accomplishment. It just shows what type of things are going on at Mizzou."
- Forget about all the talk about the competition between Marlon Lucky and Roy Helu Jr. Slimmer TB Quentin Castille also is in the mix for playing time at Nebraska, Brian Rosenthal of the Lincoln Journal-Star writes.
- Bo Pelini likes his team's progress after its first four days of practice this summer. But then again, I've never heard a coach speak otherwise at this time of year.
- Oklahoma State coach Mike Gundy is toying with the idea of giving backup QBs Alex Cate and Brandon Weedon most of the snaps at Saturday's scrimmage. If Gundy is as concerned about finding a backup for Zac Robinson as he has continually maintained, it's a great idea.
- Birthday candles for esteemed Omaha World-Herald columnist Tom Shatel, who writes of turning 50 today. I have a lot of admiration for Shatel in more ways than one. He's got me beat in this late dad thing. He's got three little ones and I only have one.
- Sooner practices are closed, but OU coach Bob Stoops told fans at the Sooner Caravan Thursday night that competition has been spirited at his team's early practices. "You can't believe the battles we've had at practice," Stoops said. "That's really fun for me as a coach." But with no chance to watch his team scrimmage, we'll all have to wait until the Aug. 30 opener against Chattanooga. The scrimmages sound more competitive to me.
- The San Antonio Express-News' Brent Zwerneman's "Aggie Insider" highlights Hunter Goodwin, a former Texas A&M lineman who helped roust his school's lethargic performances in other sports with some colorful comments a few years back. Zwerneman also had a couple of other A&M camp nuggets about A&M TB Mike Goodson's slight groin injury and DT Kellen Heard's dramatic weight loss over the offseason.
- The Austin American-Statesman reports that LB Sergio Kimble and DE Brian Orakpo were reversing roles at Thursday's practice. Kimble was experimenting with rush from a three-point stance and Orakpo was being used as a stand-up defender.
- Rocky Balboa in shoulder pads? The Tulsa World's Jimmie Tramel has a great story about Oklahoma junior college transfer LB Mike Balogun, who didn'
t play high school football his last two seasons and became a construction worker after high school to support his family. Oklahoma defensive coordinator Brent Venables said Balogun could be in the mix to challenge for a starting job.
- Stoops told the Tulsa World's Dave Sittler that he has dropped out of voting in the USA Today coaches' poll this season. "I have my reasons," Stoops told Sittler. But he was guarded about his rationale as much as his scrimmage plans.