NCF Nation: Rajon Henley
But there were still enough top producers to fill out a team of top performers from the conference's 4-4 bowl season.
Here's a look at my top performers:
QB Landry Jones, Oklahoma: Passed for career-best 418 yards and added three passing TDs to direct Sooners’ Sun Bowl victory over Stanford.
RB Alexander Robinson, Iowa State: Rushed for 137 yards -- his sixth 100-yard game of the season -- to pace Cyclones’ victory over Minnesota in the Insight Bowl.
RB Baron Batch, Texas Tech: Rushed for 100 yards, scored two TDs and produced six receptions for 85 yards in Red Raiders’ comeback victory in the Alamo Bowl over Michigan State.
WR Jordan Shipley, Texas: Overcame slow start to produce 10 catches for 122 yards and two TDs against Alabama, becoming Texas’ leading career receiver.
WR Ryan Broyles, Oklahoma: Produced career-best totals of 13 receptions, 156 receiving yards and also matched career high with three TD receptions to help beat Stanford in the Sun Bowl.
TE Trent Ratterree, Oklahoma: Grabbed three receptions for 86 yards, including pivotal 38-yard catch that was Jones’ longest pass of game in Sun Bowl victory over Stanford.
OL Ricky Henry, Nebraska: Helped Cornhuskers dominate in the trenches in biggest Cornhuskers' bowl victory since 2000.
OL Kelechi Osemele, Iowa State: Dominant effort helped Cyclones claim first bowl victory since 2004 and only third bowl victory in school history.
OL Jacob Hickman, Nebraska: Cornhuskers’ center set the tone for easy victory over Arizona.
OL Brandon Carter, Texas Tech: Colorful lineman helped Tech roll up school bowl-record 31 first downs, 579 total yards against Michigan State.
OL Trent Williams, Oklahoma: All-American moved from tackle to center and didn’t miss a beat in the Sooners’ Sun Bowl triumph.
DL Sergio Kindle, Texas: Had his best game of the season with eight tackles, 2.5 sacks and 3.5 tackles for losses against Alabama.
DL Pierre Allen, Nebraska: Set the tone for Nebraska’s pass rush with two sacks, four tackles, forced a fumble and notched a quarterback hurry in the Cornhuskers’ shutout over Arizona -- first for a Big 12 team in a bowl game in conference history.
DL Christopher Lyle, Iowa State: Insight Bowl defensive MVP produced five tackles, including two for losses and one sack to lead Cyclones’ victory over Minnesota.
DL Rajon Henley, Texas Tech: Four tackles, four quarterback hurries, one sack against Michigan State.
LB Phillip Dillard, Nebraska: Produced team-high seven stops, broke up one pass in Cornhuskers’ shutout over Arizona.
LB Ryan Reynolds, Oklahoma: Produced 12 tackles (three solo, nine assists), two quarterback hurries and one tackle for loss against Stanford.
LB Andre Sexton, Oklahoma State: Produced 10 tackles, two interceptions and one tackle for a loss in Cotton Bowl loss to Mississippi.
DB Matt O’Hanlon, Nebraska: Earned Holiday Bowl defensive MVP honors with five stops, a 37-yard interception and a pass broken up against Arizona.
DB Ter’ran Benton, Iowa State: In his first game back after recovering from mid-season broken leg, notched five tackles and game-clinching fumble recovery in Cyclones’ Insight Bowl victory over Minnesota.
DB Jamar Wall, Texas Tech: Produced six tackles, broke up two passes and one interception against Michigan State.
DB Quinton Carter, Oklahoma: Notched eight stops (five tackles, three assists) and added an interception in Sun Bowl victory over Stanford.
P Quinn Sharp, Oklahoma State: Averaged 50.2 yards per punt on his eight punts, including four punts inside 20 in Cotton Bowl.
K Alex Henery, Nebraska: Converted all four field goals of 47, 50, 43 and 22 yards to set the Holiday Bowl record. His big night gave him a Nebraska single-season record of 24 for the season.
RET Niles Paul, Nebraska: The Holiday Bowl offensive MVP amassed 94 yards in returns, including a 49-yard kickoff return and a 28-yard punt return. He also added four catches for 123 yards, including a clinching 74-yard TD grab from Zac Lee.
Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Griffin
AUSTIN, Texas -- Texas Tech could be facing a huge injury concern considering that defensive end Ra'Jon Henley and Ryan Haliburton both will not play tonight.
Henley's ankle injury kept him back in Lubbock and Haliburton also isn't expected to play.
It means that Richard Jones will switch to the starting position at defensive end or linebacker Bront Bird would move from linebacker to defensive end.
Whoever starts, it will still mean a reduced rotation against a Texas offense that will likely try to establish the tempo with its running game.
And mammoth 334-pound Texas Tech guard Brandon Carter has been twittering on his account about flu-like symptoms.
And despite the rumors to the contrary, Texas quarterback Colt McCoy looks hale and hearty while taking part in pre-game workouts. A rumor about McCoy struggling with the flu has been bouncing across the message boards today, but it appears untrue.
Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Griffin
And then there were three.
Teams, that is.
With Texas Tech starting spring practice this afternoon, only Texas A&M, Colorado and Kansas State still haven't started their spring work. And the Aggies kick off spring practice on Thursday.
With camps opening across the Midwest, it means more news.
And thankfully, more potential sources for lunchtime links from across the conference.
Here are today's offerings.
- Texas Tech defensive coordinator Ruffin McNeill plans to alternate Ra'Jon Henley and Brandon Sesay at defensive tackle and end this spring, Lubbock Avalanche-Journal beat writer Don Williams reports.
- So much for any lingering bad feelings after he was demoted as Iowa State's defensive coordinator late last year before left the school. Charles Goldberg of the Birmingham News reports that Gene Chizik has hired former ISU assistant Wayne Bolt as Auburn's director of football operations.
- New Iowa State coach Paul Rhoads avoided confusion with his team by having his players tape their names on the front of their helmets to make for easier recognition on the Cyclones' first day of spring practice, Andrew Logue of the Des Moines Register reports. And Rhoads told Chuck Schoffner of the Cedar Rapids Gazette that his first day of practice was "boring."
- Kansas coach Mark Mangino will be honored Sunday when he's inducted into the Pittsburgh chapter of the National Italian-American Sports Hall of Fame, the Topeka Capital-Journal's Tully Corcoran reports.
- Newsday's Mike Rose has Baylor ranked No. 1 among five national programs set to rise in 2009.
- Brian Christopherson of the Lincoln Journal-Star details the higher expectations that Bo Pelini has for his program as he begins his second spring as head coach.
- NCAA heavyweight champion Mark Ellis plans to join Missouri's football team after spring break as a walk-on defensive end, Terez A. Paylor of the Kansas City Star reports.
- Tulsa World beat writer Bill Haisten details how Oklahoma State will rebuild its punting game without Ray Guy Award winner Matt Fodge.
Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Griffin
LUBBOCK, Texas -- To say tonight is a big game at Jones Stadium wouldn't do justice to hyperbole.
It's so big that for the first time in recorded history, a scout from the Rose Bowl has ventured to Jones AT&T Stadium to cover the game for bowl purposes.
Texas Tech coach Mike Leach said he has been inundated with more media requests than any time during his career. And he still didn't relent and let Graham Harrell or Michael Crabtree talk to any out-of-town media members.
Texas arrives in the final game of a final stretch of four games against top 12 opponents. No team has been able to make that stretch against top teams since Notre Dame in 1943. If the Longhorns can win tonight, they would appear to have a relatively easy finish until the Big 12 championship game.
Tech's 8-0 start is its best since 1976 and has stretched a 10-game winning streak that is tied for the best in the nation. The Red Raiders will be taking a perfect record into November for the first time since 1938. But the program will still have doubters until it can topple Texas and climb into the BCS discussion.
Heading into the game, here are some things I'm looking for:
- The Heisman chase: Colt McCoy can put a hammerlock on becoming the first Texas quarterback in history to win the Heisman with a strong performance tonight. But a big outing and a victory by Harrell could throw the competition back open. Harrell needs a victory to show that he's not merely a "system quarterback" in Leach's passing offense. And he has a nice finishing schedule that will enable him to keep his profile before voters -- if he can win tonight.
- Can Tech come up with some big stops on defense?: Texas has lined up and dominated the Red Raiders in the past, particularly in the past two seasons. In those games, Texas has clicked on 17 of 27 third-down plays and 5-of-5 fourth down attempts against the Red Raiders. Getting a key third-down stop early in the game would be huge for their confidence and to get the sellout crowd into the game
- Tech's kicking game: Walk-on kicker Matt Williams was 9-for-9 kicking point after touchdowns last week, but still hasn't tried a field goal. The Red Raiders' kicking game is spotty as Donnie Carona has converted only three of eight attempts. Leach has hinted that he might be willing to try Williams on shorter attempts. But Tech's kicking will be a question and I can't see them winning a game on a tight attempt in the final minutes or overtime.
- Texas' running game: The Longhorns have pounded Tech in the trenches in recent seasons, but they don't have a feature back like Cedric Benson or Jamaal Charles to provide key carries. Mack Brown has gotten around that with a backfield-by-committee grouping that's resulted in Colt McCoy becoming Texas' leading rusher. It will also be tougher to run against Tech, which is allowing only 101 yards per game and is 14th nationally.
- Watch if Texas can dictate the clock: The best way to beat Tech is to keep their offense off the field. Nebraska nearly used that strategy in an overtime loss here earlier this season where the Cornhuskers controlled the clock for 40:12. If Texas can do that tonight, they've got a great chance to extend what might be the most significant statistic I've seen. The Longhorns are 90-2 under Brown when they've produced at least 400 yards and 62-0 when producing at least 200 rushing yards.
WEATHER: It's an ideal day for football with temperatures currently in the high 70s. The temperatures are expected to drop before leveling out in the low-60s late in the game. Wind will not be a factor, as it can occasionally be in this stadium. It's expected to be from the south at 5 to 10 mph. Humidity is only 15 percent and there is no chance of any precipitation expected.
INJURIES: Texas' biggest concern is cornerback Chykie Brown, who missed last week with an ankle injury. If he can't go tonight, he'll be replaced by Curtis Brown.
Texas Tech wide receiver Michael Crabtree's sprained ankle has gotten better, but he's still not likely to be at 100 percent. Crabtree was injured returning a kickoff against Texas A&M two weeks ago. And starting defensive tackle Rajon Henley has been sidelined for the last two games with a knee injury. Junior Richard Jones would start in front of him if he can't go tonight.
LAWRENCE, Kan. -- Welcome to Memorial Stadium, where Mike Leach's grand experiment about special teams will be played out today.
Texas Tech walk-on kicker Matt Williams, who less than a month ago won an in-game kicking contest at Jones AT&T Stadium for a month of free rent, will get his shot today at an even bigger prize. Williams will start the day kicking extra points for the Red Raiders in what should be an offensive shootout.
After missing six extra points and four field goals this season, Leach decided he needed a change for today's game against Kansas. It will mark Leach's third different kicker for extra points in three weeks, as he benched scholarship kicker Donnie Carona after struggles against Nebraska two weeks ago and Cory Fowler after he had two kicks blocked last week against Texas A&M.
Leach told me earlier this week that he's confident in Williams, but still might consider going for two points after each touchdown, depending on how the Red Raiders' kicking game progresses.
"I'm thinking it might not be such a bad idea," Leach said. "I guarantee you that you would make it more than half the time if you work enough on those plays. All you are doing is getting the ball from the 3-yard line. We do that all the time."
That confidence provides Leach with assurance that his teams would convert a two-point play at least 50 percent of the time. And that would equal the points that would accrue with kicks after touchdowns.
"If you could put up with the streaks, it would be the big thing," Leach said. "You might not hit two or three in a row. But I'm thinking you'd be more successful than not. And the ultimate idea is putting more points on the board, isn't it?"
Sometimes, I'm not sure when Leach is having a stream-of-consciousness thought and when he's pulling my leg. So it will be interesting to see how the Red Raiders approach their kicking game today.
I have no idea what would happen if the Red Raiders need a crucial conversion in a potentially tight contest later this afternoon.
Here are some other things I'm watching for:
Kansas' patience running the ball: The Jayhawks had much offensive success with Jake Sharp running against Oklahoma last week. After pulling within 31-24 on a drive early in the third quarter after Sharp was featured prominently, he was pulled from the game because of his blocking deficiencies. Oklahoma blew the game open at that point. Kansas coach Mark Mangino must be more patient than that today.
Tech's running game: The Red Raiders are averaging 5.5 yards per carry and have a nice two-back rotation in Shannon Woods and Baron Batch. But Tech hasn't run against a Big 12 defense that figures to be as stout as Kansas will be, making this challenge even more pressing. The Red Raiders last five opponents have ranked 109th (SMU), 98th (Massachusetts, FBS), 100th (Kansas State), 48th (Nebraska) and 106th (Texas A&M) against the rush. So it will be much tougher for them today.
Improved Kansas tackling: The Jayhawks noticeably tired last week when they played Oklahoma. After a full week of contact in practice, Kansas players say they are better suited for what will be a similarly tough offense challenge against the Red Raiders.
Something's got to give: Tech has a nine-game winning streak that is tied for the longest in the nation along with Penn State and Utah. The Red Raiders' most recent loss came last Nov. 10 at Texas.
Kansas comes into the game with a 13-game home winning streak. That streak includes six Big 12 foes during that period, although none have been ranked. The Jayhawks' most recent home loss came on Nov. 13, 2004, when Vince Young and Texas pulled out a miraculous 27-23 triumph.
The Series: Saturday's game will match two coaching protégés of Oklahoma coach Bob Stoops. Mangino and Leach were on Stoops' first coaching staff at Oklahoma, where Leach was the passing game coordinator and Mangino directed the offensive line.
Leach is 2-0 in his previous games against Mangino. And Tech is 9-1 against Kansas in the history of the series, including all five previous games in Lawrence.
Injuries: Today's game will match two of the most secretive programs in the Big 12 in terms of releasing injuries. But a few notable players have been dinged up in recent games. The biggest concern is Tech All-American wide receiver Michael Crabtree, who sprained his ankle while returning a kickoff last week against Texas A&M. He played through the injury and is expected to play today. Starting defensive tackle Rajon Henley has missed the last two games with a knee injury and is considered questionable.
Kansas defensive tackle Caleb Blakesley is considered questionable with a leg injury.
Weather: It's an almost perfect day without a cloud in the sky. I finally felt my first cold snap coming into the stadium this season and it was great. Temperatures should be in the high 40s at kickoff and rise into the low 60s as the game progresses. Wind could be a factor with gusts of up to 20 mph from the west throughout the day. There is no chance of rain.