NCF Nation: Ron Prince
Kyle Flood is back in Piscataway, N.J., for his second season at the helm of the program, and his ninth overall with the school. We caught up with the head coach Wednesday, with one practice in the books and the Scarlet Knights looking to leave a lasting impression as they ready for their final season in the Big East.
What are you looking for Gary Nova to improve upon this spring? What do you want to see from the guys behind him?
Kyle Flood: I think Gary's got a unique advantage coming into this spring that we haven't had a quarterback have in a long time around here, in that he got a chance to play in 13 football games last year as a starting quarterback and essentially played in the entirety of every one of them. So I think there's an experience advantage that he has that hopefully we can capitalize on. I think the fastest ways we can capitalize on it is if we can keep the highs and make them consistent, and then take some of the low points and take some of the games where maybe he wasn't as pleased with his performance and move him up a little bit, so you don't see the big swings between the really positive games and the games he wasn't happy with. So I think that in and of itself, if we can get to that point -- and I don't know if that happens in just 15 practices in the spring; I think that's the combination of everything he's done since the bowl game, spring practice and then what's going to come afterwards -- but going into next season that's hopefully what we can do.
You guys obviously have a challenge without Brandon Coleman this spring. What are you looking for from the receiving corps during these practices, and is there anyone you're looking to see rise to the occasion?
KF: I think they're all fighting to find out what their role is going to be. Guys like Miles Shuler, who has got a tremendous skill set and really has come a long way in terms of being a receiver the last year. I'm excited to see what kind of spring Miles is going to have. A guy like Quron Pratt, who has been an excellent player here — statistically maybe that hasn't shown up, but he really has done a lot of things for us over the last two years. He can now have a much bigger role. When guys like Timmy Wright and Mark Harrison graduate, it provides opportunity, and with Brandon Coleman not there this spring it'll be even more opportunity for him to showcase himself. And then you've got some younger guys also, guys like Ruhann Peele and Carlton Agudosi, who are fighting right now to show the coaching staff how big of a role they should have next year.
There's no Coleman, and we know about Savon [Huggins]. Who are some of the other playmakers you are hoping to emerge from spring?
You guys are breaking in two new coordinators this spring. Offensively with Ron Prince, do you expect this spring to be a little bit of a feeling-out period, or do you think things will go over relatively smoothly with him in charge of the offense?
KF: It'll go over smoothly from coach Prince's perspective and from mine. I think that the bumps in the road are going to be some of the young players who now are going to have a lot more on their plate than they've ever had, and that'll create -- even yesterday in our first practice, some of the young receivers and running backs not having been in the fire, so to speak, are out there and they're struggling to get lined up. They're not as quick as maybe you would like them to be or maybe the group of receivers would have been last year because they were used to doing it. Those are all going to be things that are part of the learning curve as we go forward. I think there are going to be some rougher patches this spring at every position, but generally when those things happen it's much more about the younger players being allowed and given more opportunities than anything else. When you get to the season you're really only repping your starters and your ones and one-and-a-halves, as we call them. So right now everybody's getting reps, and at times that can make it a little bit slower or a little bit more choppy than you'd like it to be, but it's a necessity because you've got to find out what they know.
Defensively, you lose an all-timer in Khaseem Greene and another really good linebacker in Steve Beauharnais. Are those players really replaceable, or do you look for a collective effort from the group?
KF: I don't think you replace players really at any position. Football is the ultimate team game, and to think that you're going to replace a Khaseem Greene or a Steve Beauharnais, that's really not the way we think about it. We've played defense at a high level here for a long time and we've done it with a lot of different pieces. And I think now what the staff is looking to see is who are the pieces going to be. And at linebacker we've got two guys in Jamal Merrell and Kevin Snyder, who, in my opinion, have already established themselves as players in our defense. We're trying to figure out who the third piece of that puzzle's going to be. Is that going to be a new Mike? Is that going to be a new Will? I'm not sure I can answer that question just yet. But I'm confident with what we have coming back that we'll be able to continue our tradition here of playing defense at a high level.
Three new starters in the secondary. Jeremy Deering is back there full-time. What do you see from him and that position group as a whole? What makes you feel more comfortable with him back there?
KF: As coaches I think we'd better always be trying to get our best athletes on the field. And if there is a guy on your team you think can be a starter on defense but he's on offense, and he has a significant role on offense but maybe it won't be showcased the way he could be on defense, I think it's our responsibility to see if that player would have an interest in it. And I approached Jeremy with that decision and he was really excited about it. And it was certainly something that we tinkered with a little bit last year trying to build some depth in our sub packages, and we weren't really able to really put it in as far as we wanted to, but now with having an offseason and needing a guy with the departures of Duron Harmon, Wayne Warren and some of the other defensive backs, it's really a position on our team that will have more new faces than any other. And we really thought that Jeremy Deering, even though he is going into his senior year, he's got the right skill set to do that. He's got the right frame of mind to do it and he has the desire to do it, and I think Jeremy's going to do very well back there for us.
Big-picture, the Big East has been going through a lot of changes. The conference welcomes in four new teams this fall. I was just curious from your standpoint if there's anything different that you have to prepare for when you're seeing fresh staffs and fresh players on your schedule this season?
KF: I think with the way the Big East was constituted in the past, we've seen a good variety of pro-style offenses, spread offenses. We have played the academies, so we've seen the option. We had West Virginia in the conference for a long time, so we played against the 3-3 defense. I don't know that there will be anything in this new collection of teams that will be significantly unique. Now I do know that each one will bring very specific challenges and they'll have strengths and weaknesses to their teams just like we do. But those will be things we'll address after spring practice. Right now we're trying to figure out what we are. We're trying to figure out who are going to be the playmakers on our team that are going to be out there. Who are going to be the people in the sub packages, and really what is our football team going to look like? And that's what I'm most concerned about, and I think that's what spring practice is for. We have the schedule, so we know who the first four games are going to be now. We'll get a little bit involved into doing some early game-planning for them, but we won't do that until after spring practice is over.
Spring Start: Feb. 28
Spring game: April 6
What to watch:
- Quarterback: Jacob Karam returns as the starter after throwing for 1,895 yards, 14 touchdowns and three interceptions. But coach Justin Fuente says Karam will be pushed during the spring and has to win the starting job all over again.
- Bump up the physicality: Fuente has said repeatedly that he wants to see his team be more physical, especially now that it is joining the Big East. The spring is the perfect chance to improve in this area. "We will play some of the same teams we played last year, but they will be the bigger, more physical teams we played last year," he said. "We have to understand that we have a lot of ground to make up. That is not ground that is made up easily."
- Competition at defensive back: The Tigers lose two starters from their defensive backfield -- Cannon Smith and Robert Steeples -- and Fuente is excited about the competition at this position going into the spring.
Spring Start: March 26
Spring game: April 27
What to watch:
- Quarterback: Even though coach Kyle Flood says Gary Nova is his starter, you can bet there is going to be competition at this position going into the spring, especially with a new offensive coordinator in Ron Prince. That doesn't mean there will be changes, but certainly Prince is going to want to take a look at all the players he has available to evaluate what they can or cannot do.
- Defensive leaders: Rutgers lost its top defensive playmakers and needs to find guys who can step in for Scott Vallone, Khaseem Greene, Steve Beauharnais and Logan Ryan, to name four. Plus, there is a new coordinator in Dave Cohen, so there might be some adjustment period.
- Huggins stepping up: The time is now for the highly heralded local recruit to live up to the expectations that came with him when he arrived on campus. Jawan Jamison is gone off to the NFL, so all eyes have turned to Huggins to see if he has what it takes to be the next 1,000-yard rusher.
Spring Start: March 25
Spring game: April 20
What to watch:
- Replacing Zach Line: The Mustangs have to replace their top runner over the past several seasons in Line, who had three straight 1,000-yard seasons. Leading the charge this spring are junior college All-American Traylon Shead and reserve back Rishaad Wimbley, who switched from defense a few seasons ago.
- New defensive starters: The Mustangs lost the bulk of their playmakers on defense in Margus Hunt and linebackers Taylor Reed and Ja'Gared Davis. Finding guys to step up without them is a huge priority. Watch for Zach Wood at defensive end in place of Hunt; and Kevin Pope and Robert Seals at linebacker.
- More consistency at QB: June Jones' offense runs best when the quarterback is at his best. Garrett Gilbert returns as the starter, but he is going to need to find much more consistency this spring and into the fall. Two numbers that have to be improved: accuracy (53 percent in 2012) and touchdown-to-interception ratio (15-to-15 in 2012).
Spring Start: March 20
Spring game: April 13
What to watch:
- New coaches, new style: Coach Willie Taggart has promised to ratchet up the intensity and transform his team into more of a smash-mouth group. That process begins in the spring, when he has his first opportunity to really show his players what he expects out of them. You can bet he expects a lot more physicality from his offensive and defensive lines to start.
- Quarterback competition: Who will emerge as the starter? Will we even know after the spring? Matt Floyd and Bobby Eveld, the top two candidates, have plenty of work to do as they fight to win the starting job. But this competition could very well go into the fall, when freshman Mike White arrives on campus.
- Defensive back improvement: This was the worst group the Bulls had a year ago and the one in most need of immediate improvement. USF registered two interceptions in 2012, tied with Auburn for the fewest among all 120 schools in the nation. And they both came in the same game -- against UConn on Nov. 3.
Spring Start: March 22
Spring game: April 20
What to watch:
- New staff: Matt Rhule certainly has a familiarity with Temple, having served as an assistant there under both Al Golden and Steve Addazio. But anytime a new coach comes in, there is change, so the spring gives him his first chance to really start implementing his style and what he wants to get accomplished.
- Quarterbacks: You can bet this competition is going to be open this spring, with Chris Coyer, Juice Granger and Kevin Newsome all returning. Coyer and Granger both started a year ago; Newsome transferred in from Penn State a few years ago. How this shakes out is one major story to watch.
- Running backs: Montel Harris and Matt Brown are gone, taking with them 1,426 yards rushing and 16 of the team's 21 rushing touchdowns. Jamie Gilmore got more carries as the season went on when Brown was hurt; Kenny Harper also is back and certainly will be relied upon even more.
For the second straight spring, Extreme Makeover: Big East edition has gripped the conference.
Four teams enter practice with an eye toward their first Big East season. Two teams enter spring practice wondering if 2013 is their final Big East season.
The mix makes for quite the dysfunctional pairing, and most likely the only configuration featuring remaining members Cincinnati, UConn, USF and Temple, incoming members UCF, Houston, Memphis and SMU and departing members Louisville and Rutgers playing under the same conference umbrella.
Got all that?
What must be most especially difficult for the league this spring is marketing and promoting what should be a preseason top-10 team -- Louisville -- knowing the Cardinals are not long for the Big East world. It was the same scenario that unfolded back in 2011, when West Virginia represented the Big East as its highest-rated Top 25 team and Orange Bowl participant, with a move to the Big 12 just months away.
None of this is new, but it certainly is more than a little uncomfortable. Having said that, Louisville remains the biggest story to watch this spring and into the fall because of the opportunity the Cardinals have in front of them. Not only do they return nearly all of their key starters from the Sugar Bowl-winning team of a season ago, they return soon-to-be junior quarterback Teddy Bridgewater, already a preseason Heisman candidate.
Last spring, he was incredible, completing 70 percent of his passes in a near-flawless performance. That translated into a super sophomore season that not only has people talking Heisman now, it also has them talking about whether this is his final spring in a Cardinals uniform. Another solid spring showing from him, and Louisville should cement its standing as the preseason favorite to win the Big East, with an outside shot as a dark horse national title contender.
Louisville, however, is only one of a handful of Big East schools with quarterback certainty. UCF returns Blake Bortles, who had a 3,000-yard season in 2012 as the Knights went 10-4 in their final year in Conference USA. He is perhaps the next-best quarterback in the league, although that is probably up for debate, as Cincinnati returns Brendon Kay.
But Kay is going to face some competition this spring, with new coach Tommy Tuberville taking charge. He is not the only incumbent who is sure to be pushed. At Rutgers, coach Kyle Flood says Gary Nova remains the starter, but new offensive coordinator Ron Prince is certainly going to want to see what all his signal-callers have to offer. At Memphis, Jacob Karam must win his starting job again. At SMU, Garrett Gilbert needs to work on his consistency. So does UConn quarterback Chandler Whitmer, who is going to see some competition for his job as well.
At Houston, David Piland is in for a fight for his spot. USF and Temple need starters, too. The Bulls lose veteran B.J. Daniels and return Matt Floyd and Bobby Eveld. The Owls rotated between Chris Coyer and Clinton Granger last season, but Penn State transfer Kevin Newsome could figure into the mix as well with new coach Matt Rhule taking charge.
The quarterback position in the Big East represents the league as a whole: plenty of uncertainty this spring.
"My hope and my vision going forward, and I think is one of the things that Ron will really be able to bring to the table for us, is the ability to use all the personnel groups, the ability always to get the ball in the hands of the better playmakers in your offense," Flood said Tuesday during an introductory teleconference. "And I think you'll see more of that as we go forward."
"I wasn't a part of any of those other systems or personality changes," said Prince, who was Kansas State's head coach from 2006-08. "All I can do is try to build the best player-coach relationship that I can, and that's all I've ever done. Change is a function of our game -- players have opportunities sometimes to move on to the pro game before maybe anticipated, coaches make some changes and move around. Each team and each year the personality of the team is going to be unique and different, and so we just want to do our part to help this upcoming year and develop this team the very best we can."
Rutgers struggled last year offensively, ranking 104th nationally under coordinator Dave Brock, who moved on to become the head coach at Delaware. Flood said replacing both coordinators this year was rather easy compared to piecing most of the staff together last year when Greg Schiano jumped to the Buccaneers.
With spring practice kicking off March 26, Prince said there is no set date for having the playbook mastered, so long as all are on the same page come Aug. 29 at Fresno State.
"The way it goes now in college football, one of the most important things we'll do is integrate the talent that will come in in the fall into our training camp going forward into the first game," Prince said. "All of this is a process moving towards that, so I don't think that the looming spring date is the final date really, but the final date, the most important date is when we kick off opening week. Everything will be toward making that successful if at all possible, so that's where our mindset is. A lot of this is a process that we'll go through.
"I don't think with the veteran coaches that we have and the returning talent that we have, I don't think that we'll have a hard time trying to get everybody on the same page. Just a matter of making sure we have people in the right places and can appropriately take advantage of their skill set."
On it were the building blocks upon which Snyder started one of the greatest program turnarounds in college football history: Snyder's 16 Goals.
"You really want me to recite them?" the Wildcats quarterback junio asked.
Oh, yes. Yes, we do.
"Commitment. Unselfishness. Unity. Improve. Be tough. Self-discipline. Great effort. Enthusiasm. Eliminate mistakes. Never give up. Expect to win. No self-limitations. Don’t accept losing. Consistency. Leadership. Responsibility," Klein said. "I think that’s in order, if I’m not mistaken."
The philosophy is working. Snyder's team has become a reflection of himself: hard-working, disciplined and making the most of what it puts out on the field every Saturday.
The team didn't feel strongly one way or another about the set of largely abstract objectives when Snyder first introduced them back in 2009.
"We’ve come to see the value and the importance of their role more recently," Klein said. "The more we’re around them, the more we appreciate them, for sure."
It's no wonder. The media picked the Wildcats to finish eighth in the Big 12. Oddsmakers told Kansas State it would lose the past four weeks.
Snyder's team, though, is 6-0 and ranked No. 11. It's only 60 minutes against rival Kansas on Saturday from setting up one of the biggest games in school history, a showdown with national title contender Oklahoma at, of course, Bill Snyder Family Football Stadium.
This, despite being outgained in each of the past four games: road victories over Miami and Texas Tech and home wins over Missouri and a ranked Baylor team.
"I’m not so sure that statistics win ballgames for you. I don’t think many coaches really believe in that. I think we’ve been-- a lot of things happen. I think we’ve had good fortune. I think our youngsters have played hard," Snyder said. "We’re fortunate to be where we are. I certainly understand that, can appreciate that ... There’s not a great deal of thought given to what’s happened in the first six ballgames, other than mistakes that we’ve made and how we might improve on those and get them corrected."
You can figure by now, his team feels the same way, having long since bought into Snyder's way.
His team has the third-fewest penalties in the Big 12. No Big 12 team has turned the ball over fewer times than the Wildcats' seven.
Can't win in total yards? Win everywhere else. The Wildcats blocked two field goals against Texas Tech and returned an interception and a kickoff for touchdowns.
"We have been able to avoid beating ourselves in most instances. We haven’t put ourselves in extremely bad positions," Snyder said. "We’ve been a little more disciplined during the season that have allowed us not to make mistakes that put your football team in jeopardy. And I think they have the spirit, passion and belief in what they’re doing. They’re doing it and they play together very well."
If you're keeping count, Snyder, in one quote, referenced six of his 16 goals. Nine if you want to count liberally.
It's not hard to get behind Snyder, as his team has. His status as a coaching legend speaks for itself. And that's before Snyder speaks to his players.
Klein, a Colorado native, and safety Tysyn Hartman knew who Snyder was in grade school, and Hartman didn't even follow college football before he began the recruiting process.
"It was kind of one of those awe moments," Hartman says of his first in-person meeting with Snyder after the coach took over for Ron Prince.
What sticks with Klein still is how much Snyder cares about his players. Even from the first meeting, it was obvious, though Klein can't put his finger on exactly what's so attractive about it.
"I was walking into the complex, and he obviously wasn’t coaching at that time, but I met him, shook his hand. He asked how I was doing," Klein said, "but it seemed like he really cared how I was doing. He really cared about me. He obviously didn’t even know me at that time. That was pretty special. ... Once you get to talk to him, once you get to know him, you just feel it. It’s genuine, it’s sincere. It’s constant. I respect it and it's something I definitely will emulate in my own life.
Special is a perfect word for what Kansas State is doing this season. And to see the reason why, just look for that purple windbreaker and silver hair roaming the sidelines.
"Nobody really expected this out of us. We started the season and most people had us winning like four games all season," Hartman said. "It's great."
Here's his scale:
5: Consistent winner with potential to be BCS bowl contender every season
4: Potential to join the sport's elite in the near future
3: Recent mediocre results but seems to be building momentum
2: Recent success but seems to be headed in wrong direction
1: Below-average program with little success in past or future
And here's what he had to say about each team in the Big 12:
The Bears have a star quarterback (Robert Griffin III) and underrated coach (Art Briles), who guided them to their first bowl game in 16 years in 2010. Building a consistent winner will be Briles' biggest challenge.
My take: Agreed. The Bears are moving in the right direction, but still far from becoming an annual elite team.
The Cyclones can't seem to get over the hump, going 7-6 in 2009 and 5-7 in '10 in coach Paul Rhoads' first two seasons. At least Rhoads won seven more games than Gene Chizik did in his two seasons at Iowa State from 2007-08.
My take: I'd probably give the Cyclones a 3. Iowa State's fall from the postseason had more to do with its schedule, and Paul Rhoads' teams have gotten better every year. This year's team, he feels, is still his best yet, despite losing most of his offense in Austen Arnaud and Alexander Robinson.
Turner Gill's first season as the Jayhawks' coach was an unmitigated disaster, as they limped to their second straight losing record at 3-9. Gill had a lot of success at Buffalo, but competing in the Big 12 might be a different animal.
My take: Agree. There's no telling what's in store for Turner Gill at Kansas, but last year's team was one of the worst in Big 12 history. The Jayhawks should be better in 2011, but KU hasn't proved its two-year free fall in 2009 and 2010 is officially over.
Even legendary Wildcats coach Bill Snyder is having a hard time cleaning up the mess former KSU coach Ron Prince left behind. In Snyder's second go-around in Manhattan, the Wildcats are 13-12 in two seasons combined.
My take: The 'Cats are straddling 2-3, but 2011 will be a telling year. The Brown Brothers will have a big influence on if Snyder succeeds in "calming the waters" for his second successor.
Gary Pinkel has guided the Tigers to unprecedented success, winning 40 games over the last four seasons and going to six straight bowl games. The only things missing: A Big 12 championship and BCS bowl game.
My take: Agreed. Missouri and Oklahoma State are the closest two teams in the Big 12 to joining college football's elite, and the Tigers took a huge step last year by beating Oklahoma for the first time under Pinkel.
Even the sport's best teams suffer a mediocre season every once in a while (OU went 8-4 in 2005 and 8-5 in '09), but Bob Stoops has built one of the most consistent winners in the country. Under his watch, OU has won seven Big 12 titles and played in four BCS National Championship games since 2000.
My take: Eight BCS appearances and one title make anything but a 5 impossible to argue here.
The Pokes won 29 games during the last three seasons combined, including a school-best 11-2 record in 2010. Of course, in-state rival Oklahoma might be OSU's biggest obstacle in joining college football's upper crust.
My take: Oklahoma State missed a golden opportunity to get over the hump last year against Oklahoma, but there's no doubt the Cowboys are getting closer and closer under Mike Gundy, beginning with last year's historic season.
The Longhorns have more talent, money and resources at their disposal than just about every other program in the country. That's what makes last season's 5-7 finish so perplexing. With a new coaching staff in place, it shouldn't take Mack Brown long to get UT back on track.
My take: Handing out a three would be a little harsh for the Longhorns, who made it easy to forget this season that they were in the national title game 17 months ago. But is 2011 the next step towards the end, or a rebound year from a shocking 2010?
Mike Sherman led the Aggies to a 9-4 record in 2010, nearly equaling his victory total (10-15) from his first two seasons in College Station. Sherman has upgraded the Aggies' talent and has them in position to become a Big 12 challenger every season.
My take: The Aggies finally had their first winning season under Sherman in 2011, and this year's team should be even better. This game is tough to predict, but it's hard to see A&M not ending up in a BCS bowl in the very near future.
The Mike Leach fiasco seemed to suck life out of the Texas Tech program, but then former Auburn coach Tommy Tuberville produced an 8-5 record in his first season in Lubbock. At least Tuberville is teaching the Red Raiders how to play defense.
My take: He's teaching them to play defense, but last year, the Red Raiders weren't fast or healthy enough to do it. Changing that is step one to getting Tech back to contender status.
That's not the case for junior college transfers, who could begin signing back in December and preparing to begin their careers at FBS schools.
The Birmingham News compiled the numbers on every school's juco transfers over the past four years, and the Big 12 is a major player. Of the six major conferences, the Big 12 signed the most junior college players on average over that period, with 13.8 signings per team.
The Big 12 has two outliers. Texas, who doesn't bother with junior college players, was one of 12 teams without a juco signee in the past four years. Kansas State, known for mining junior colleges under Bill Snyder and Ron Prince, signed more than any other program in college football, with 39. That's four more than anyone else in college football and 13 more than anyone else in the Big 12.
Here's how the league shook out from the 2006 to 2010 classes:
2. Iowa State - 26
3. Oklahoma State - 17
4. Baylor - 15
5. Nebraska - 14
6. Texas Tech - 12
7. Kansas - 11
7. Missouri - 11
9. Oklahoma - 8
9. Colorado - 8
11. Texas A&M - 4
12. Texas - 0
The return of Bo Pelini to Nebraska helped the Cornhuskers close the decade strongly and claim a spot just below the Big 12's "Big Two." Texas Tech has been among the nation's most consistent teams of the decade. North teams like Colorado, Kansas State and Missouri all popped up to make at least two appearances in the Big 12 title game.
But Oklahoma and Texas have been the Big 12's behemoths during the recent decade. Here's how I rank the programs ranked based on their accomplishments in the last decade.
1. Oklahoma: The Sooners earn a slight edge over Texas despite the same number of victories in the decade because Bob Stoops took them to six Big 12 titles. The earlier teams depended more on defense, while Stoops’ more recent squads have been offensive juggernauts to reflect the overall change in the Big 12.
2. Texas: A victory in the BCS title game earlier this month might have catapulted Texas into the top slot. Mack Brown has pushed his program into parity with Oklahoma after struggling with the Sooner dynasty built by Stoops earlier in the decade.
3. Nebraska: The Cornhuskers withstood more tumult in the last decade than in any era since Bob Devaney turned the program in 1962. Even with two coaching changes, Bo Pelini has the Cornhuskers steered to the top of the North Division and poised for much more heading into the new decade.
4. Texas Tech: Mike Leach took the Red Raiders to an 84-43 record during the decade, with another victory added by Ruffin McNeill in the Valero Alamo Bowl for third place among Big 12 teams in victories. They fall behind Nebraska because they still have never advanced to the Big 12 title game or claimed a BCS bowl berth. That will be Tommy Tuberville’s task to change the culture and break that ceiling for the program.
5. Kansas State: The program was at its best during the early part of the decade when Bill Snyder took the Wildcats to the last title by a North Division team in 2003. The program dipped under Ron Prince, but could be poised to make another step forward after confounding prognosticators by remaining in the North Division title hunt until the last game in 2009.
6. Missouri: Gary Pinkel has the program humming with two title-game berths, strong incoming talent and a reputation as the conference’s foremost developers of unheralded recruiting talent. Pinkel's growth has been strong, but he still needs to take them another step where they start winning conference championships and appearing in BCS bowl games.
7. Oklahoma State: The infusion of T. Boone Pickens’ money has helped make the Cowboys’ facilities as good as most in college football. That growth has helped pick up recruiting as Mike Gundy’s program has made a bowl trip in four of his five years coaching the Cowboys.
8. Colorado: Gary Barnett had the Buffaloes as the North Division’s most consistent program with four championship game appearances in five seasons, including the 2001 Big 12 title. They haven’t been nearly as successful since Dan Hawkins took over with one bowl trip, no bowl victories or trips to the championship game.
9. Texas A&M: The Aggies still have the elements that could return them to prominence with rich tradition, strong facilities and an ideal recruiting location. But it’s tougher for them to challenge in the South Division with Oklahoma and Texas at the highest levels in recent history and growing programs at Texas Tech, Oklahoma State and even Baylor.
10. Kansas: Mark Mangino has awakened football interest here, but it will be up to Turner Gill to build on that growth. The North Division looks open, but Gill will be challenged to match Mangino’s achievements early in his coaching tenure without an immediate replacement for Todd Reesing at quarterback.
11. Iowa State: Dan McCarney's turnaround of this program in the early part of the decade is one of the more underrated building projects in recent college football history after taking the Cyclones to five bowls in the first six seasons of the decade. Included in that run were two near-misses where the Cyclones legitimately could have made a championship-game appearance with more consistent kicking. Athletic director Jamie Pollard went for the sizzle when he hired Gene Chizik to replace McCarney. He now appears to have found a McCarney clone with steady Paul Rhoads in charge.
12. Baylor: The last decade will be marked by an incredible series of building projects at Baylor, but still no bowl game. The Bears appeared poised in 2009 before Robert Griffin's unfortunate season-ending knee injury. Art Briles turned down a couple of intriguing possibilities to remain at Baylor and try to stem the bowl drought, currently at 15 seasons and counting.
Revenge was sweet for the Red Raiders: Texas Tech had been waiting for its chance to “Jump Around” on Oklahoma for a year. The Red Raiders were still miffed after having that House of Pain song ring through their ears during a demoralizing whipping last season in Norman. They returned the favor with a 41-13 beatdown against the Sooners -- tied for the second-worst defeat for a Bob Stoops team in a Big 12 conference game. The Red Raiders, ranked 117th rushing in the nation before the game, punished the Sooners by gashing them for 161 rushing yards and three touchdowns. Oklahoma can salvage some of its season by ruining Oklahoma State’s BCS at-large hopes with a victory. If not, there’s the very real possibility that Stoops’ team could finish the season with a losing season record after losses to the Cowboys and in a bowl game. Few could have ever imagined those possibilities this season -- even after potential All-Americans like Sam Bradford and Jermaine Gresham were lost with season-ending injuries.
Kansas State was bitten by its weak nonconference schedule: No team in the Big 12 could have used the extra bowl practice as much as Kansas State, which will end up being denied a bowl trip largely because of the transition from Ron Prince to Bill Snyder. The Wildcats ended up with six wins but couldn’t make a bowl trip because two of the triumphs came over nonFBS programs and could count only one for bowl purposes. The change in leadership left the new coaching staff and the KSU program scrambling for a late addition to its schedule. The result was a victory over late addition Tennessee Tech that doesn’t count for bowl eligibility and will keep the Wildcats out of those needed December practices. In the future, look for Snyder to put aside his previous appetite for gooey scheduling treats for a more determined challenge. Too much early sugar isn’t good for a developing program.
Colt McCoy hopes his memorable "Senior Night" isn't the end: McCoy beat Big Bertha and shot off the mammoth Texas cannon after leading Texas to its first Big 12 title game appearance since 2005. But it’s still undetermined if he can produce a Heisman Trophy as his ultimate reward for this season. If McCoy becomes the first Texas quarterback in history to receive the Heisman, voters are going to have to be sold on a “career achievement” kind of spin. He started it by claiming his record-setting 43rd career victory Saturday night. Big performances against Texas A&M Thursday night and against Nebraska in the Big 12 title game will be important as McCoy tries to make a late Heisman charge. It's not out of reach, but he absolutely, positively has to produce two huge performances in his remaining games in order to win it.
"The Bear's" soft side might have emerged too late to save his job: We saw the lovable side of Mark Mangino Saturday night in Austin, not the angry one that some of his players have decried over the last week in a series of troubling revelations that have surfaced around his Kansas program. Mangino, known as "The Bear" by his coaching friends, hugged his players and even told a referee he was “a good man” during an exchange that was picked up by a sideline microphone. It has taken a determined, forceful leader like Mangino to pull the Kansas program out of the abyss that he inherited in order to get them to a BCS bowl game. It's a shame that Mangino didn’t show his compassion more often during the building process.
Unsettled Texas A&M needs more stability in the future: I can’t remember a more up-and-down team in Big 12 history than the Aggies. Their 6-5 season has qualified them for a bowl trip with one more game to play despite an amazing run of emotions this season. The Aggies won games by 35, 37, 22, 25 and 35 points -- including their 38-3 whipping of Baylor Saturday that earned them the bowl trip. Earlier this season, the Aggies lost games by 28, 48 and 55 points. The Aggies are going to a bowl game, but Mike Sherman’s biggest job over the offseason will be to build consistency so that his team won’t have the week-to-week volatility that has marked his team in 2009.
Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Griffin
Here are some items I'm interested in following in the Big 12 games this weekend.
1. Colorado handling adversity after its opening-game debacle: The Buffaloes suffered an embarrassing loss to cross-state rival Colorado State in their opener Sunday night. Coach Dan Hawkins and his team have only five days as they travel halfway across the country to try to blot those painful memories against Toledo. It will be interesting to see how much heralded Colorado tailback Darrell Scott will play against the Rockets -- particularly after his pointed criticism of his lack of playing time earlier this week.
2. Landry Jones’ first career start: Oklahoma’s replacement for Sam Bradford shouldn’t be tested by Idaho State, which was drubbed by Arizona State last week. But it will still be telling to see how much leeway Bob Stoops will give Jones, a redshirt freshman. Coaches say they like his poise and demeanor, but I expect a conservative game plan that will feature heavy use of Oklahoma’s running game that unexpectedly struggled to produce 118 yards last week against BYU.
3. What the Oklahoma State defense does for an encore: The Cowboys punched out an impressive 24-10 victory over Georgia last week. The revelation for the Cowboys was a strong defensive effort that allowed a touchdown on its opening possession and three points during the rest of the game. They showed a physical nature that had been missing in recent seasons -- particularly noticeable because starters Orie Lemon and Markelle Martin were out of the lineup. It will be even tougher this week against Houston quarterback Case Keenum, who led the nation in total yards last season and got off to a fast start with four touchdown passes against Northwestern State last week. As good as Georgia was supposed to be offensively, the Cowboys will face a bigger test this week against the Cougars.
4. Can Blaine Gabbert match his opening-game success? One game into his career, some Missouri media members are already anointing Gabbert after his scintillating 319-yard passing effort against Illinois. His big outing earned him the Big 12’s offensive player of the week. He’ll be challenged to duplicate that success against an underrated Bowling Green team that allowed 263 passing yards in a victory over Troy last week, but still notched two interceptions. Gabbert’s continued development is the critical element that can help the Tigers continue as the Big 12’s surprise early power.
5. Nebraska’s front four: The Cornhuskers’ defensive front of Ndamukong Suh, Jared Crick, Pierre Allen and Barry Turner was expected to be the team’s strength. The group struggled last week against FAU quarterback Rusty Smith, failing to notch a sack. Those struggles were part of the reason Bo Pelini rebuked his defense earlier this week, calling the Blackshirts “soft.” And it won’t be easy for them as they try to harass Arkansas State quarterback Corey Leonard, who wasn’t sacked last week.
6. Wyoming freshman cornerback Shamiel Gray continue his success against Colt McCoy: Gray had an auspicious start to his college career with three interceptions in the Cowboys’ season-opening victory over Weber State. But he’ll face a huge challenge against McCoy, who has been intercepted only six times in his last 335 attempts dating back to last season. Gray hasn’t faced the athletic collection of receivers he’ll meet from Texas, which will make continuing his turnover spree that much more difficult.
7. How Iowa’s defense will handle Iowa State’s new no-huddle offense: The Hawkeyes and veteran defensive coordinator Norm Parker have seen a variety of offenses come and go over the years at Iowa State. But they haven’t faced anything quite like Tom Herman’s no-huddle attack that seemed to work well in the Cyclones’ first game against North Dakota State. The Cyclones likely didn’t show everything and will be ready to try to continue their recent success that has enabled them to win four of their last five games against the Hawkeyes at Jack Trice Stadium.
8. Ground-bound Jayhawks: After gashing Northern Colorado for 328 yards, Kansas may have similar opportunities against the Miners, who allowed 150 yards in a loss last week to Buffalo and 199 yards per game last season. Mark Mangino has growing confidence in his ball carriers with Jake Sharp, Toben Opurum and quarterback Todd Reesing all rushing for at least 79 yards rushing last week. Dezmon Briscoe will be back with a chance to stretch the UTEP defense, but the Jayhawks have been so successful in the trenches that I look for them to at least start the game with a similar strategy against the Miners.
9. Improvement on Kansas State’s special teams: Blunders in the kicking game led to two easy touchdowns for Massachusetts, making the Wildcats’ 21-17 season-opening victory way too close for comfort. Back in the day, Bill Snyder’s teams were always renowned for their special-teams success and Ron Prince continued that strategy during his tenure. They can’t afford similar mistakes Saturday night, or it could mean a long, nightmarish visit to hot, sticky Cajun Field.
10. Texas Tech’s running game looks for a comeback: After struggling to produce only 40 yards rushing and only two rushes of at least 10 yards against FCS opponent North Dakota, the Red Raiders’ running backs, and particularly Baron Batch, were called out by coach Mike Leach. It will be noteworthy if that lights a fire under them -- especially considering that Rice was gashed for 295 rushing yards last week by UAB.
Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Griffin
MANHATTAN, Kan. -- The game-clad figure in purple and white jumps out from the billboards along the Kansas prairie, standing apart from the notices for truck stops, ice cream parlors and outlet malls.
The image of Kansas State coach Bill Snyder can be found at several locations along Interstate 70, pointing across expanses of the Sunflower State as he seemingly implores motorists to get out of their cars to hurry into game action.
|John Rieger/US Presswire|
|Bill Snyder knows he has his work cut out for him at Kansas State.|
While Snyder says he's uncomfortable with becoming such a front-and-center symbol of the school's intended resurgence, it's understandable why he has become spotlighted so much since his return.
"I'm not a big fan of that," Snyder said. "This is about a program and not Bill Snyder. But maybe I'm in a position where I can help smooth the waters. I'd like to think I could do it without my face being all over billboards. It's not appropriate, because it's never been about Bill Snyder. I'm just a part of it."
On the school's Web site, Snyder's return has been given a prominent constant presence. An advertisement for season tickets harkens that "the Hall of Fame can wait" and "the tradition continues" with Snyder's return to bring the Wildcat program back from its recent doldrums.
As fans and players exit Interstate 70 and head to Manhattan, they turn onto the Bill Snyder Highway. And when they arrive in Manhattan the focal point of the campus is where the Wildcats play their games -- the Bill Snyder Family Stadium.
But even with that exalted status after his legendary career, Snyder was restless during retirement. Those concerns led him to return to coaching after a three-year sabbatical, eager to resume coaching with another challenging rebuilding job facing him.
It won't be easy. When asked about where the Wildcat program is and where he wants it to eventually be, Snyder has a succinct answer.
"I can't see there from here." Snyder said. "It's a long ways from where I would like it to be."
Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Griffin
With several teams taking off for spring break this week and most of the Big 12's attention diverted to the basketball tournaments, it would be easy to turn away from football.
But not here, where lunchtime links are a daily obsession.
- Rich Kaipust of the Omaha World-Herald writes that Nebraska secondary coach Marvin Sanders vows to make his concepts simpler in his second season on Bo Pelini's staff.
- The Lawrence Journal-World has a video report about quarterback Todd Reesing wanting to finish his senior season strongly.
- Former Kansas State coach Ron Prince has a simple explanation for Matt Hayes of the Sporting News on why his program struggled last year. "The reality is, we didn't give Josh (former KSU quarterback Josh Freeman) a lot of help," Prince said.
- Heralded Missouri defensive end Brian Coulter talks to the Columbia Daily Tribune's Dave Matter about increased competiton for playing time among the Tigers' defensive linemen after losing three starters from last season.
- Jeremy Maclin caught the attention of NFL scouts at Missouri's pro day with a strong performance that included faster times in the 40-yard dash than he had at the NFL combine, Jim Thomas of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch reports.
- Matt Hayes and Dave Curtis of the Sporting News analyzes whether Bill Young's arrival will push Oklahoma State's defense to a championship level.
- The Lincoln Journal-Star's Steve Sipple and Brian Christopherson break down Nebraka's battles for playing time at skill positions heading into spring practice.
Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Griffin
Spring practice is only one day away from starting in the Big 12 as Texas kicks off its work Friday afternoon in Austin.
I can hardly wait.
Here are some stories from around the conference to get you primed.
- Doug Farrar of The Washington Post wonders if Texas Tech's Graham Harrell can crack the stigma dogging spread quarterbacks promulgated by NFL teams.
- Nebraska linebackers coach Mike Ekeler has turned down the opportunity to join South Florida's staff as defensive coordinator, according to Tampa Tribune reporter Brett McMurphy.
- Considering the Virginia staff is already stacked with an offensive coordinator, defensive coordinator and offensive line coach, Accsports.com figures out what former Kansas State coach Ron Prince will be doing on Al Groh's staff.
- Dallas Morning News columnist Kevin Sherrington wonders if Texas Tech coach Mike Leach really wanted to use the word "extort" to describe his contract negotiations last week -- especially considering the nation's struggling economy.
- Former Nebraska fullback Willie Miller is in court on a charge of road rage after allegedly ramming an off-duty Omaha policeman with his automobile after a high-speed chase last April, Todd Cooper of the Omaha World-Herald reports.
- Kansas is hoping that the atmosphere at the school's basketball victory over Nebraska helped convince several key junior recruits to attend the school, Stephen Montemayor of the University Daily Kansan writes. Most notable among the attendees was Wichita, Kan., quarterback Blake Bell, who is also considering a group of suitors including Notre Dame, Oklahoma, LSU, Georgia and Nebraska.
Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Griffin
One of the most interesting parts of spring practice will be watching potential replacements emerge in key situations across the Big 12.
Here are some of the key departures from around the conference and some of the players who will compete to try to fill those vacancies.
|Brian Orakpo's pass-rushing skills will be missed by Texas.|
- Texas Tech wide receiver Michael Crabtree -- The Red Raiders will miss the two-time Biletnikoff winner. Lyle Leong will get the first shot and should be challenged by Jacoby Franks and 6-foot-4 Rashad Hawk. Top returning receivers Detron Lewis and Tramain Swindall will remain inside as slot receivers, meaning that other players will have to emerge at Crabtree's old featured slot.
- Texas' pass-rushing specialist replacing Brian Orakpo -- Texas coaches are hoping that Sergio Kindle will ratchet up his play to Orakpo-like levels as he moves to a near permanent status as a pass-rushing specialist at defensive end. Sam Acho will get most of the work on the other side during the spring with Eddie Jones battling back from shoulder and ankle surgery, meaning the spotlight will be on Kindle this spring.
- Jeremy Maclin's talents at Missouri -- It likely will take several players to cover what the multi-purpose Maclin provided as a receiver, rusher and kick return threat. Among the players who will get a look at a variety of roles include Wes Kemp, Jerrell Jackson, Gahn McGaffie and Rolandis Woodland.
- Oklahoma fills a depleted offensive line -- Only tackle Trent Williams will be back as a starter for the Sooners' unit, which will lose key producers like guards Duke Robinson and Brandon Walker, center Jon Cooper and mammoth tackle Phil Loadholt. The four departing starters combined for 149 starts during their college careers. Replacements like tackle Cory Brandon, guards Alex Williams and Brian Simmons and center Jason Hannan are presumed to be talented, but are still very inexperienced. That's not a comforting thought for returning Oklahoma quarterback Sam Bradford -- at least until spring practice begins.
- Kansas State replaces Ron Prince -- Sure, the Wildcats made only one bowl trip in Prince's three-season tenure before he was fired. But it will still be a huge test for legendary Kansas State coach Bill Snyder to match the success he produced earlier in his career after his sabbatical during the Prince years. It will especially be challenging this season with the loss of quarterback Josh Freeman and offensive coordinator Andy Ludwig, who went packing late last week for a similar position at California after only six weeks at Kansas State. Junior-college transfer Daniel Thomas and Carson Coffman will compete to replace Freeman. And it's anybody's guess whom Snyder will find to replace Ludwig with the start of spring practice approaching on April 6.
Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Griffin
Apparently one McCoy isn't enough for Texas. The Longhorns will add another member of the family after Colt McCoy's younger brother Case arrives in Austin after the older brother finishes his senior season.
Alan Trubow of the Austin American-Statesman reports that senior-to-be Case McCoy will be the next McCoy to arrive in Austin, arriving after he finishes his career at Graham, Texas.
In a way, it's surprising that the younger McCoy chose the Longhorns, considering the presence of heralded quarterback Garrett Gilbert in the recruiting class of 2009. The younger McCoy also was considering Florida, Texas A&M and Oklahoma.
But he decided the chance to play at Texas for two years after Gilbert leaves was worth it.
So it wouldn't be surprising to see two McCoys end up starting for the Longhorns. It will be interesting to see how the younger brother develops and if he's as good a player and leader as his older brother.
Here are some other stories from across the Big 12 Tuesday:
- Top remaining national running back recruit Bryce Brown is still considering at least two Big 12 schools, according to the Web site potentialplayers.com. The Web site reports that Brown is expected to make his announcement on March 12. He's already visited Missouri and still may take a trip to Kansas State among others potential suitors.
- In order to get more playmakers on the field, Oklahoma coach Bob Stoops plans to use Mossis Madu as a slot receiver during the spring, Jake Trotter of the Oklahoman reports.
- Agents representing Mike Leach dispute charges that the Texas Tech coach has repeatedly shopped himself to other schools for jobs. The Dallas Morning News' Brandon George writes that representatives from International Marketing Group indicate that Leach has interviewed for only one other job in the last nine seasons.
- For agreeing to move their Nebraska game to the night of Thursday, Oct. 8, Missouri has been promised two other games will be televised this season, the Kansas City Star's Mike DeArmond reports.
- Kansas State assistant coach Dave Brock has accepted a new job as an assistant at Boston College, according to the Topeka Capital-Journal. Brock had been offensive coordinator at Kansas State last season under Ron Prince, but was demoted to a new role on Bill Snyder's staff.
- Robert Cessna of the Bryan Eagle analyzes the Texas A&M roster and sees that more than half of the Aggies' 2009 roster will be freshmen or sophomores.