NCF Nation: Shannon Woods

Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Griffin

Texas Tech coach Mike Leach is a busy man these days. The Red Raiders are in the middle of spring practice. Trying to replace record-breaking players like Michael Crabtree and Graham Harrell has made for an eventful few weeks for the Texas Tech coach.

Some might be surprised that Leach is even in Lubbock after his contract impasse with the school that was settled at the last minute. But direct negotiations between Leach and Tech chancellor Kent Hance resulted in a new deal that appears to have Tech's coach entrenched in the High Plains for the foreseeable future.

 
  Douglas Jones/US Presswire
  The idea of rebuilding is nothing new to Mike Leach.

We caught up with Leach earlier this week while he was attending his son's baseball game. Between pings of aluminum bats and cheers from surrounding parents, Leach detailed some thoughts about his team's work, quarterback Taylor Potts' development, his increased notoriety after an appearance on "60 Minutes" earlier this year and his take on the Somali pirate controversy.

How has practice looked so far for your team this spring?

Mike Leach: I think it's been good. We've got a bunch of guys who are working hard. We've had some good tempo and strong work so far. I've been pleased.

What have been your initial perceptions of Taylor Potts at quarterback?

ML: He's been pretty steady. He had one bad day and one bad period. The rest have been pretty good. He's bigger than the quarterbacks we've had and has a stronger arm than most. And like a lot of them in the past, he had several years to learn and play behind some good people.

Taylor has watched what they have done. And I think the fact that he's been behind Graham, but still didn't waste any reps as a backup. A lot of times as you are sitting and waiting their chance, guys will waste their opportunities to learn. Taylor didn't do that.

With the loss of key players like Harrell, Crabtree and Shannon Woods, is your offense going to change much this season?

ML: I don't think it will change a bunch. But what ends up is that different players and receivers will get more of a chance to emerge and play. Crabtree got so many catches, but now different players and receivers will do well. We'll have a different group of backs who do different things. But I don't think it will change that much.

How much are the Red Raiders going to miss Michael Crabtree?

ML: We've had a couple of guys in Jacoby Franks and Alex Torres who have really played so far. Last season, the second-line guy behind Crabtree was Franks and he's a year better now. I think Torres is a little better this year than last year. It means we are a little deeper than we were. Obviously, neither one is at the Crabtree level yet, but the second-level is stronger than it was last year.

After starting last season 10-0, your team finished the season with a couple of disappointing losses, including the Cotton Bowl defeat to Mississippi. Did that loss stay with you guys a little longer because of the success earlier in the season?

ML: Our guys don't think of things that way. We don't have a team that slacks in a bowl game or lingered after we lost it. We felt like we had a chance to play a little bit better, but certainly by working incredibly hard, we've got a chance to get another cohesive unit again together.

(Read full post)

Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Griffin

No. 21

Texas Tech nose tackle Colby Whitlock has some unusual talents for a nose tackle.

You can tell something is a little out of of the ordinary will be found with Whitlock, considering his uniform number is 6. He's the only Big 12 nose tackle with his uniform in single digits.

Whitlock, a former standout high-school heavyweight wrestler, is a vital cog in the Red Raiders' defensive transformation last season that carried them to a three-way share of the Big 12 South Division title.

His quickness and brute strength are his best attributes. But an underrated talent that is noticeable is his footwork.

There will be more demands on Whitlock and the Tech defense after the Red Raiders' offensive losses from last season. It will be interesting if he can improve and help take them to another level.

Player: Colby Whitlock
Team: Texas Tech
Position: Nose tackle
Vitals: 6-foot-2, 281 pounds; Jr.; Noble, Okla.

Why he was picked: Like most nose tackles, Whitlock's true value can't be judged merely by looking at statistics. While typically battling two blockers, Whitlock helped control the middle of the line of scrimmage on Tech's improving defense. He notched 26 tackles and 39 total stops, including 5½ stops for a loss, a pass deflection, a blocked kick and a sack. Those efforts enabled him to earn second-team sophomore All-America honors from College Football News. His bullish pass rush helped the Tech defense set the tone in the upset victory over Texas and continued throughout the season.

What 2009 will hold: Whitlock must help key defensive improvement in the Red Raiders. The Red Raiders' defensive growth was one of the major story lines of the Big 12 in 2008 before a late collapse against Oklahoma and Mississippi in the Cotton Bowl that led to two late losses after a 10-0 start. Without offensive weapons like Graham Harrell, Michael Crabtree and Shannon Woods this season, Whitlock and his defensive mates need to take another step. If they don't, it might be a long season in West Texas for Red Raider fans.

The countdown:

22. Kansas WR-KR Dezmon Briscoe
23. Oklahoma DE Jeremy Beal
24. Kansas S Darrell Stuckey
25. Texas Tech RB Baron Batch
26. Kansas WR-QB Kerry Meier
27. Texas T Adam Ulatoski
28. Oklahoma State S Andre Sexton
29. Missouri G Kurtis Gregory
30. Missouri RB Derrick Washington
31. Texas Tech LB Brian Duncan
32. Texas S Earl Thomas
33. Kansas State WR Brandon Banks
34. Oklahoma LB Keenan Clayton
35. Baylor S Jordan Lake
36. Oklahoma State CB/KR Perrish Cox
37. Texas C Chris Hall
38. Texas Tech DE/DT McKinner Dixon
39. Kansas State DE Brandon Harold
40. Oklahoma FB Matt Clapp

Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Griffin

NORMAN, Okla. -- DeMarco Murray's injury against Texas Tech gets overshadowed a little bit compared to that of his teammate, Oklahoma quarterback Sam Bradford.

But the sophomore tailback's season ended when he dislocated his kneecap against Texas Tech last season. And he's exacting his revenge so far in impressive fashion in Oklahoma's 42-7 halftime advantage over the Red Raiders.

A heavy dose of Murray and tight end Jermaine Gresham and an aggressive blitzing defense has enabled the Sooners to take a convincing lead in what was supposed to be an offensive shootout

Murray has already rushed for 110 yards on 14 carries and two touchdowns and added 44 more receiving yards on two receptions as Oklahoma's primary offensive weapon. Chris Brown chipped in with 82 yards and two touchdowns as the Sooners have been gashing a Tech defense that has been reeling since the opening possession.

Bradford, who missed most of last season's game against Texas Tech after sustaining a concussion, is getting his revenge, too. He's passed for two touchdowns and helped the Sooners score on six of their seven possessions in a dominant 402-yard performance. That's more yardage than Texas Tech has given up in any of their last four games.

Oklahoma's line is asserting itself in the trenches on both sides of the ball. The Sooners have rolled up 226 yards rushing and are averaging 9.3 yards per snap in a dominating, one-sided performance.

Here are some other trends I've noticed so far ...

  • Oklahoma's defense has been dominating from the opening snap. Defensive coordinator Brent Venables cooked up a blitz-heavy scheme heavy on bringing his cornerbacks and linebackers. After the barrage, Texas Tech quarterback Graham Harrell appears to be checking down in his calls on several occasions. He's looking more flummoxed than I've seen him since his first season as a starter.
  • Oklahoma freshman linebacker Travis Lewis was a record-setting running back in high school in San Antonio. He showed some good open-field running ability on a 47-yard interception return late in the first half that set up the Sooners' last TD.
  • How badly has the Sooners' blitzkrieg of offense discombulated Texas Tech? At one point late in the first half, Texas Tech coach Mike Leach frantically called for a timeout. One problem. He didn't have one to call. Even though it briefly stopped the Sooners, they still scored later in the drive.
  • I wonder if Tech's lack of consistent field-goal kicking affected how Leach approached his call on his deepest penetration. On a fourth-and-3 from the Oklahoma 15, Leach went for it and failed when Harrell's shovel pass for Shannon Woods was incomplete. Having a consistent kicker might have made him at least think about going for three.
  • The best receiver on the field has been Gresham, who has been open all night long on drag patterns down the middle. Gresham has snagged five receptions for 95 yards and already broken the school career receiving yardage mark set by Trent Smith.
  • The only notable injury so far has been Oklahoma defensive tackle Gerald McCoy, who went down with a left ankle injury early in the second quarter. McCoy limped off the field, but exhorted the crowd to make more noise as he left.

Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Griffin

LUBBOCK, Texas -- Graham Harrell had a few early jitters. But he didn't have the meltdown that many observers expected.

His early fumble and the resulting Oklahoma State touchdown sparked a few groans about how Texas Tech would respond after last week's upset over Texas.

 
 Sam Adams/US Presswire
 Texas Tech quarterback Graham Harrell matched his career-high with six touchdown passes in a win over Oklahoma State.

"I just wanted to stay calm," Harrell said. "It was only two minutes in the game and there was no reason to worry about it. We gave them the ball and they scored. But it was no reason to panic because we still had 58 minutes of football to play."

Harrell and the Red Raiders proceeded to erupt with a vintage offensive performance that even had Mike Leach smiling at the end of the game.

"Yeah, it (the fumble) wasn't good," Leach said. "But if anything, it was beneficial. It settled us down and we had better tempo after that."

Tech charged ahead with touchdowns on seven-straight possessions as they cruised to a resounding 56-20 victory over Oklahoma State.

"Seven-straight was good," Harrell said. "That's what it's all about: putting the last drive behind as you are scoring the next one."

The length of the drives were equally impressive. Tech marched for touchdowns on drives of 80, 70, 97, 72, 48, 80 and 96 yards. Only another fumble by Harrell on his final play of the game ended the streak.

"That's probably as good of a whole game as we've put together," said Eric Morris, who led Tech with 10 catches for 97 yards and a touchdown. "We were clicking on all cylinders."

Harrell said he was inspired by many doubters who thought the Red Raiders would crumble after the victory over Texas last week.

Oklahoma State had upset Missouri and played Texas close in Austin. In both games, they had limited those opponents to more than 20 points below their yearly scoring averages.

But the Cowboys were no match for Texas Tech's offense on Saturday as the Red Raiders raced to their first 10-0 start since 1938.

"I think it says a lot about us, it's big," said Harrell, who completed 40 of 50 passes for 456 yards while matching his career high with six touchdown passes.

"A lot of people picked us to lose and thought we wouldn't be ready to play. But that's the thing about this team is we put games behind us quickly and come out ready for our next opponent."

The Red Raiders got production up and down their lineup. Harrell was barely pressured and, after being sacked twice in each of his last two games, he wasn't sacked tonight.

Eight different receivers produced at least two receptions. Baron Batch and Shannon Woods combined for 115 yards. It was the 10th straight game this season that Tech produced at least 100 rushing yards.

And Michael Crabtree had another big performance as he grabbed eight passes for 89 yards and three touchdowns.

"There wasn't anything to it," Crabtree said. "I was just doing my job and making routine plays. It came out to three touchdowns."

But the biggest offensive performance still was sweet for the Red Raiders, who proved something to many who expected them to fail.

"I feel every week we have something to prove," Crabtree said. "Week after week they seem to come up with something about us not having this or that. So every time we come out and we've got to play. That's what I put into everyone's head and that's what we've done."

Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Griffin

LUBBOCK, Texas -- Defense wasn't expected to be prominently featured tonight at Jones AT&T Stadium.

And it hasn't been, except for a couple of stops midway through the first half and another one at the end of the half that has been the difference in Texas Tech's 28-14 halftime lead over Oklahoma State.

Tech defensive coordinator Ruffin McNeill has cooked up a defensive game plan that has limited Oklahoma State standout receiver Dez Bryant to one catch. And that reception didn't come until the next-to-last play of the half.

After fumbling on his first possession, Graham Harrell rebounded to direct four-straight scoring drives to lead Texas Tech's offense in another nationally televised performance -- making Heisman Trophy voters take notice. The Red Raiders have ripped through Oklahoma State's defense on scoring drives of 80, 70, 97 and 72 yards.

Harrell's proficiency in hitting his second and third options has been profound as he finished the first half by completing 25 of 31 passes for 262 yards. Michael Crabtree has gotten off for six catches, but he's also done a good of working with his running backs as both Shannon Woods and Baron Batch have three receptions apiece.

Some of Harrell's success has been because of the miniscule pressure that Oklahoma State has been able to generate. Tech has averaged 7.6 yards per snap as it has rolled up 312 yards.

Tech's secondary has come up with several big hits in the secondary that has kept Zac Robinson from being successful on vertical routes. The Cowboys have been at their best when they've been able to lean on the running of Kendall Hunter, who has produced a game-high 72 yards.

Oklahoma State needs a fast start and an early stop defensively to jump back into the game. Cowboys have shown little since the first drive to indicate they will be able to clamp down Harrell and the Red Raiders.

Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Griffin

 
 Brendan Maloney/US Presswire
 Texas Tech receiver Edward Britton stepped up with 139 yards on seven catches as No. 7 Texas Tech upends No. 1 Texas, 39-33.

LUBBOCK, Texas -- Earlier this summer, a collective "who's that" went through the assembled media corps when Texas Tech safety Daniel Charbonnet was sent to represent the Red Raiders at the Big 12 preseason media day.

Understand that Tech coach Mike Leach didn't send Biletnikoff Award winner Michael Crabtree or record-setting quarterback Graham Harrell to talk about his developing program. He chose instead to send role players, an indication he thought his team was more than those two stars.

"People wanted us to send Crab and Graham and were a little disappointed when we sent Daniel," defensive coordinator Ruffin McNeill said. "But I can tell you that Daniel and a bunch of others are good players, too."

Harrell and Crabtree had their moments Saturday night, punctuated by a wild 28-yard touchdown pass that gave Tech a dramatic 39-33 victory that still had fans buzzing in the parking lots more than two hours after the game.

But to even get to the point where Harrell and Crabtree could work their magic, the Red Raiders needed a big lift from a lot of players that most of the nation had never heard of.

The biggest came from Charbonnet, who provided an 18-yard interception return for a touchdown midway through the third quarter. It was Tech's only second-half touchdown until Crabtree's late score.

Charbonnet also broke up a pass, forced and recovered a fumble and provided four tackles.

Defensive tackle Colby Whitlock contributed a safety less than five minutes into the game that helped start a strong first-half defensive performance.

The Red Raiders limited Texas to 4 of 12 on third-downs. That number is even more impressive considering that Texas had clicked on 17 of 27 third downs and was 5-for-5 on fourth down against Tech in the last two seasons.

Wide receiver Edward Britton emerged from Crabtree's shadow to snag seven receptions for a team-high 139 yards.

Tech was able to consistently run the ball, something that they had struggled with during previous games with Texas. The backfield combination of Shannon Woods and Baron Batch produced 122 yards on 25 carries. It made the Longhorns respect the run, which is something they hadn't done during a five-game winning streak over Tech.

"These contributions show that we're a pretty good football team," McNeill said. "And we can count on each other. These guys don't want to let anybody down and they play like it. They all want to do their best and we saw that tonight."

Tech's collection of talent has pushed them into first place in the Big 12 South. They still have tough games against Oklahoma State and Oklahoma sandwiched around a game against Baylor.

"This win obviously gives us a lot of confidence," Charbonnet said. "We always felt we could play with anybody and beat anybody. But tonight proved that. We have to enjoy it, but also come back and learn from it."

Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Griffin

As Texas Tech football coach Mike Leach surveys the scene outside Jones AT&T Stadium this week, he can't help but feel a little bit rewarded by what he has been able to accomplish over the last few seasons.

  

The winding line of student tents around the stadium is tangible proof of his school's appeal heading into Saturday's game against No. 1 Texas. It's a game many are calling the biggest game in the 84-season history of Tech's football program.

And Leach has been the biggest reason, turning this once sleepy school on the fringes of the South Plains on its ear during his nine-season coaching tenure.

His entertaining passing offense and quirky musings have gained the attention of admirers as diverse as Donald Trump -- sometimes even overshadowing what the Red Raiders have been able to accomplish on the field.

"People forget we're the third-best winning record in the conference over that time," Leach said.

Ah, but that's the rub. Mainly because the two schools in front of him have been Texas and Oklahoma, one of which has every South Division championship during Leach's coaching tenure.

That's why Saturday's game is so important for the No. 7 Red Raiders.

A victory would give the Red Raiders credibility and a chance to stand with the other BCS contenders as they play out a killer schedule that still includes games against Oklahoma and Oklahoma State.

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.

To get there, Leach appears to have his best team.

The biggest area of improvement is defensively. The Red Raiders have developed depth in the trenches, which has been a significant problem in previous games against the Longhorns.

In the last four seasons, the Longhorns have never averaged fewer than 4.6 yards per carry against the Red Raiders as Texas has piled up an average of 266.5 yards per game. That has enabled them to dictate the tempo of the game, no matter how many yards Leach has been able to roll up with his passing game.

And the last two Texas-Texas Tech games have really encapsulated the Red Raiders' defensive challenges against the Longhorns.

Texas has clicked on 17 of 27 third downs against Texas Tech and a perfect 5 for 5 on fourth down plays. In essence, the Red Raiders have only produced five true stops against Texas in those two games.

At the same time, Tech has struggled running the ball, producing nine net yards in 20 carries in the two games.

Even as Graham Harrell has completed 78 of 110 passes for a staggering 985 yards in those two games alone, it hasn't been enough. And it's been the reason that Leach has had to tweak his team to stay up with the Longhorns.

Tech's defensive front is playing better than at any previous time, allowing opponents only 101 yards rushing per game, good for 14th nationally. They are also deeper, getting big performances from seven or eight players.

The Red Raiders secondary has been particularly strong in recent weeks. Darcel McBath and Daniel Charbonnet both had three-interceptions games earlier this season. And Jamar Wall's big pick against Nebraska sealed that overtime victory in Tech's biggest challenge to date.

"I hope we have enough depth," Tech defensive coordinator Ruffin McNeill said. "Texas does such a great job. Our kids aren't worried about who they are playing next. And they'll be ready to play."

But recent second-half performances against Kansas and Texas A&M have convinced McNeill that this group might be different than some he has sent on the field against Texas.

Tech's defense has allowed only 23 points in the last six quarters. During a span of 19 defensive possessions during that span, the Red Raiders have allowed only three scoring plays and forced six turnovers.

"We hope we get to the point where we're playing as well as we can," McNeill said. "But we're still far away from that point. And we better get there quick because this is a pretty good team that will be coming in this week."

Harrell appears to be a more mature leader. Texas coach Mack Brown calls him the best quarterback he's seen at Tech during his time with the Longhorns.

The Tech running game is better with Shannon Woods and Baron Batch alternating at tailback. The Red Raiders are averaging 138.5 yards per game and rank 64th nationally. They've never produced more than 107.5 yards per game in any of Leach's previous eight seasons and they've never ranked higher than 104th nationally.

Will that be enough to beat Texas?

It might be, as long as Leach doesn't have to depend on a long field goal from his struggling kicking game.

And that's another story.

Pre-game report from Lawrence

October, 25, 2008
10/25/08
11:25
AM ET
Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Griffin

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.

Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Griffin

MANHATTAN, Kan. -- The busiest people at Bill Snyder Family Stadium have been the statisticians.

As expected, both Texas Tech and Kansas State have been blistering hot offensively. Kansas State was able to pull into a 14-14 tie after Josh Freeman scored on a 1-yard TD plunge on the second play of the second quarter.

The two teams combined for 290 yards and averaged 8.3 yards per snap in an entertaining first quarter.

Tech gashed the Wildcats for 35 yards on three runs to start the game on the first three plays from scrimmage.

That early running wasn't nearly as successful later in the quarter when KSU stopped the Red Raiders on downs at the Tech 29 when Shannon Woods inexplicably ran wide after Tech's early success inside.

Graham Harrell was sizzling from the start hooking up with seven different receivers in the first quarter in a masterful early start.

But Freeman was just as hot, hitting seven of his first eight passes for 101 yards.

Brace yourself. The offenses look dominant in this one. First one to 60 points might win.

Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Griffin

MANHATTAN, Kan. -- A Big 12 matchup with a lot of tradition will take place here today when Kansas State and Texas Tech renew the first conference game in league history.

For those with a historic bent, the Wildcats and Red Raiders played the first game in Big 12 history on Aug. 31, 1996. KSU prevailed in a tight 21-14 victory as the two teams combined for 552 yards and 35 first downs.

Those totals might be eclipsed by halftime today, considering the explosive nature of both offenses.

It's almost a perfect day for football. Temperatures are expected to soar into the low 80s by kickoff. There's hardly a cloud in the sky. The atmosphere is electric in the parking lot as fans started crowding into prime tailgating spots by early this morning.

Here are a few trends I'll be watching:

How Tech's secondary handles long passes: The Red Raiders will be challenged by KSU quarterback Josh Freeman. Of Freeman's 11 touchdown passes, five have gone for 40 yards or more, which is tied for the best in the nation. The Red Raiders have allowed only one pass of more than 40 yards and opponents are averaging 10.1 yards per reception. But they assuredly will be tested today.

Will Tech try running the ball more against the weakness of KSU's defense?: The Wildcats have been gashed for at least 300 yards in each of their last two games and Tech has its most potent running game in coach Mike Leach's coaching tenure. Tech has averaged 179.5 yards rushing per game and has two solid producers in Shannon Woods and Baron Batch. It's hard to believe that the Red Raiders would tilt more heavily to running the ball than they already have this season, but KSU's recent struggles might give them that opportunity

Does Michael Crabtree have a couple of "wow" moments in him?: The returning Biletnikoff Award winner ranks 10th nationally in receptions and third in receiving yardage, but his season has been kind of a disappointment. He was plagued with a rash of drops earlier this season that had Leach indirectly blasting him in the press after the SMU game.

Can KSU force some turnovers?: The Wildcats' hopes of claiming an upset will depend on forcing Tech to make some mistakes. KSU hasn't forced a turnover in two games and assuredly is due. But can it happen against Tech? We'll see.

It should be a good game with a lot of offense. My, how things have changed in the Big 12 in the last 13 years.

Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Griffin

With my flight for Kansas City fast approaching, I figured this would be my best chance to provide a few Big 12 links that caught my attention. Thanks to the the free wireless at San Antonio International Airport, here they are:

 
 US Presswire/Icon SMI
 Shannon Woods, left, and Baron Batch have emerged as a prolific one-two punch to key Texas Tech's rushing game.

Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Griffin

Mike Leach delights in the unconventional.

The quirky Texas Tech coach has become a YouTube staple by doing outlandish things like providing dating tips on his television show along with an occasional weather forecast.

In another break with the ordinary, the Red Raiders are developing a consistent rushing game to go along with their typically prolific passing attack.

After four games, the Tech running game is averaging 146.5 yards per game, the most ever for a team coached by Leach. It's boosted some life into a ground game that was ranked last in the nation last season.

"It's all the better that we're running the ball as well as we are now so that it really gives some people some problems," Leach told reporters. "We don't care what [defenses] do. We just want to recognize it and be able to exploit it."

The renewed Texas Tech running game has produced at least 100 rushing yards in each game this season -- a four-game trend that's never happened before in Leach's coaching tenure. And it's enabled the Red Raiders to lead the nation in total offense when their typically potent aerial game is combined with the rushing attack.

Baron Batch and Shannon Woods have emerged as a prolific one-two punch to key Tech's rushing game. The duo has combined for 516 yards and nine touchdowns, along with 20 receptions for 278 yards.

"We have two good players who have a lot of yards on the air and on the ground," Leach said. "In our case, we're a little overdefended on the pass and that opens up our running game. And with Shannon and Baron back there, we really don't mind it. Those guys have been outstanding for us."

(Read full post)

Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Griffin

1. Oklahoma -- Sooners return from off week against a tough TCU team that was the last opponent to win at Owen Field.

2. Missouri -- Lethargic defensive performance and fumbles will give Gary Pinkel plenty of inspirational fodder during Tigers' off week -- after his trip to the ESPN campus this week.

3. Texas -- Superb defensive effort vs. Rice has Texas cruising into the Arkansas game. But Mack Brown still would have liked to have played the Razorbacks a couple of weeks earlier.

4. Texas Tech -- Could this be the most balanced offensive team that Mike Leach has ever had? If Shannon Woods keeps grinding inside, the Red Raiders might shuck some of their pass-happy tendencies.

5. Kansas -- Lack of ground game has Mangino considering big changes in the offensive line. And he wouldn't mind if one of his backs could find holes, too.

6. Oklahoma State -- Cowboys' loss to Troy last season set up Zac Robinson's promotion and Mike Gundy's infamous rant.

7. Colorado -- Look for another fierce defensive battle as offensively-challenged Buffaloes and Seminoles battle in Jacksonville, Fla.

8. Nebraska -- Cornhuskers have a statement game approaching against Virginia Tech in their most legitimate test to date this season.

9. Baylor -- Strong performance at Connecticut shows that the Bears are for real. Don't be surprised if and when they notch an upset or two once conference play begins.

10. Kansas State -- Lack of a running game and a weak run defense have buzzards lining up around Ron Prince -- despite his contract extension.

11. Iowa State -- Nice comeback from a huge halftime deficit to force overtime against UNLV, but still ended up as Cyclones' 13th straight road loss.

12. Texas A&M -- Jerrod Johnson represents the future. But to get there, the Aggies will have to flounder through a present that looks like it might produce only three or four victories this season.

Big 12 Week 4 helmet stickers

September, 21, 2008
9/21/08
9:57
AM ET

Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Griffin

A nice representative class this week on both offense and defense:

Missouri QB Chase Daniel -- Passed for a career-high 439 yards and set the Big 12 record with 20 straight completions to lead the Tigers' 42-21 dismantling of Buffalo. Daniel completed 36 of 43 passes with two touchdowns.

Texas QB Colt McCoy -- Became Texas' career leader in touchdowns after throwing four in the Longhorns' 52-10 triumph over Rice. McCoy passed for 329 yards and added a team-high 83 yards rushing and another TD.

Texas Tech RB Shannon Woods -- Climbed out of Mike Leach's doghouse by rushing for 108 yards and three TDs and also added three receptions for 53 yards to lead the Red Raiders' 56-14 beat-down of Massachusetts.

Colorado RB Rodney Stewart -- Rushed for a game-high 166 yards on 28 carries to help boost the Buffaloes to a 17-14 overtime over West Virginia.

Missouri LB Sean Weatherspoon -- Produced 20 tackles, including five solos to key Missouri's defensive effort against Buffalo. Weatherspoon produced three tackles for losses, broke up a pass and was credited with half a sack.

Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Griffin

I was struck looking at some pictures on the Oklahoman's web site of Bob Stoops and how he has changed as he begins his 10th season coaching the Sooners.

I recalled interviewing Stoops soon after he took over the Sooners' job. His reputation preceded him after a strong run as Steve Spurrier's defensive coordinator at Florida. But I will still struck at how young Stoops appeared to be back then -- barely older it seemed than some of his players.

His career has provided for much of the juice in the Big 12. He led the Sooners to a bowl game his first season and to the national championship the next -- the first time a Big 12 team ever claimed an undisputed football national championship.

Since Stoops started, 13 Big 12 coaches have come and gone and every job in the conference has turned over with the exception of Texas.

All of those coaches were fired except for Kansas State coach Bill Snyder, who helped give Stoops his start.

Today, three Big 12 coaches -- Kansas' Mark Mangino, Texas Tech's Mike Leach and Nebraska's Bo Pelini -- once worked for Stoops. And another, Baylor coach Art Briles, is a second-generation descendant of the Stoops' coaching tree after earlier working with Leach at Texas Tech.

The beginning of Stoops' 10th season has prompted a week-long series of stories this week in the Oklahoman. The first two days were compelling reads and I'm expecting the rest to be as similarly strong.

Oklahoman sports columnist Berry Tramel started the series Sunday with a definitive analysis of Stoops' place in Oklahoma's storied football history.

Today's group of anecdotes about Stoops gave an interesting picture about him from those who know him best. My favorites included how Stoops demanded a practice field with no more chicken bones; his fastidious nature he inherited from his father: how he once stood up to Spurrier; and how he got his point across to the 2000 championship team to eat their breakfasts before practice. Good stuff.

Stoops' place in Big 12 history is secure. But looking at those pictures sure did make me think about how quickly time slips away.

Here are today's links. I can only hope they can have the staying power of Stoops.

  • Texas Tech running backs coach Seth Littrell hasn't set a timetable for settling on a starting tailback. Shannon Woods, Aaron Crawford and Baron Batch are hooked up in a tight battle for the job.
  • Bryan-College Station Eagle columnist Robert Cessna liked what he saw from Texas A&M's offense at their most recent scrimmage. TB Mike Goodson looked recovered from a tweaked groin muscle after scoring on an 80-yard screen pass from Stephen McGee.
  • Baylor struggled through a turnover-fest at its most recent scrimmage, upsetting new coach Art Briles. "It (the turnovers) just makes you sick to your stomach," Briles told the Waco Tribune-Herald. said. "I'm not sure if we were as mentally prepared as we needed to be ... We've got to perform better, but I'd rather this happen now than on Aug. 28."
  • Colorado sophomore TB Demetrius Sumler has emerged as the Buffaloes' likely starter against Colorado State in their season opener with heralded freshman Darrell Scott set for goal-line and short yardage duty.
  • Scott and his uncle, Colorado WR/PR Josh Smith, still flashed some big-play potential at the Buffaloes' most recent scrimmage. Scott contributed kickoff returns of 50 and 47 yards, while his uncle, Josh Smith, returned a punt 44 yards for a score and added a 62- yard kickoff return.
  • Iowa State coach Gene Chizik has beefed up his secondary with the realization that every Big 12 North opponent will be playing a spread offense this season.
  • Sign of the times? Lawrence Journal-World columnist Tom Keegan predicts that Kansas' football team will be better than its defending national championship men's basketball team.
  • Check out the Kansas City Star's video log of a recent Kansas practice to see how Coach Mark Mangino doesn't like to be crowded during a media scrum. Ah, coach, that's what happens when you start having a winning team.
  • Kansas State coach Ron Prince doesn't know what to think about his team's top 25 ranking in Playboy Magazine -- its only top 25 preseason ranking this season. "I'm not even going to try to say anything clever regarding that," Prince told the Topeka Capital-Journal. There are six Big 12 teams ranked in the magazine's preseason issue, or so I've been told. Oklahoma is No. 1, with Missouri fourth, Kansas 10th, Texas Tech 11th and Texas 13th among the top 25 heading into the 2008 campaign.
  • No catchy nicknames yet for the package where Texas QB Colt McCoy and QB John Chiles both are in the lineup for the Longhorns. Coaches, for now, are referring to it as the "Q Package."
  • So much for all of the talk about open football practices at USC. Texas baseball coach Augie Garrido recently got booted from a Trojan workout at the L.A. Coliseum.
  • Nebraska athletic director Tom Osborne recently made a trip to the Omaha World-Herald offices to chat up members of the Fourth Estate. Osborne had an interesting comment to World-Herald columnist Tom Shatel. "There are some places where they have a Boone Pickens -- they are always going to be OK," Osborne said. "I think we'll be in good shape, as long as that football stadium stays filled. If that goes south, it could be a problem." Interesting comments from the leader of a school that had a near 100 percent renewal rate in season tickets.
  • Andrew Hartsock of the Lawrence Journal-World analyzes Kansas' options in replacing Brandon McAnderson at tailback. Heralded 2007 national junior-college rushing leader Jocques Crawford had an interesting take: "It puts a lot of pressure on me," Crawford said. "You look at the status of the numbers he put up, how he helped the team, I've got big shoes to fill. But everyone's replaceable."
  • Missouri coach Gary Pinkel was perturbed with his team's performance after a sloppy, turnover-filled second scrimmage. I told our football team, 'We've got to get better.' It was sloppy in a lot of ways
    ," Pinkel told the Kansas City Star. And offensive coordinator Dave Christensen was even madder. "I can understand having some type of those errors with the twos, threes and fours, but it's intolerable with the No. 1 offense," Christensen told the Star.
  • Natalie England of the San Antonio Express-News has an interesting retrospective of Mack Brown's first 10 years coaching at Texas.
  • The defensive effort by Missouri was a little brighter. The Tigers' first-team defense held its opponents out of the end zone for the second-straight scrimmage. And All-Big 12 LB Sean Weatherspoon provided a pair of interceptions, including one to punctuate the scrimmage.
  • The Kansas City Star serves up a passel of position ratings. Most interesting findings included Kansas State's Josh Freeman ahead of Texas' Colt McCoy at quarterback and Texas A&M's Stephen McGee ranked 10th, behind Colorado's Cody Hawkins and Nebraska's Joe Ganz.
  • Mike Finger of the San Antonio Express-News analyzes the preponderance of top quarterbacks in the Big 12.
  • Oklahoma RB Chris Brown says he's finally healthy after struggling with a right knee injury that requred microfracture surgery after the season.
  • The Des Moines Register's Andrew Logue suggests that Coach Gene Chizik play both Austen Arnaud and Phillip Bates in the Cyclones' Aug. 28 opener against South Dakota State.
  • Nebraska coach Bo Pelini went through a box of Sharpies as he pressed the flesh at the Cornhuskers' annual Fan Day. Attendance was 8,125.
  • Logan Dold and Keithen Valentine have emerged as Kansas State's top two running backs for the Wildcats Aug. 30 opener against North Texas.
  • Texas coach Mack Brown refuses to get in a war of words with Florida Atlantic coach Howard Schnellenberger, who reportedly called the Longhorns soft last week. "I haven't called anybody out in 56 years,'' he said. "And I'm not about to start now." But give Schnellenberger credit for one thing. His team will be earning $900,000 for the Aug. 30 game -- highest guarantee ever paid to a visiting non-conference opponent in Austin.

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