NCF Nation: Tony Jefferson

Now that all of the early entries for this year's NFL draft are in, we decided to take a closer look at some of the players who decided to leave school early.

We're checking in on how teams were affected and who some of the winners and losers were from all of these early departures:

Biggest winners: David Ash and Texas' offense. Mike Davis committed to returning for his senior season. Then he didn't. Then he did again. For that brief period when he was headed to the NFL draft but hadn't signed with an agent -- it was less than a day -- it felt pretty close to panic time for Texas' offense. Ash is still trying to mature, and if his biggest deep threat took his talents to the NFL, the Longhorns would have had exactly one receiver with more than 10 catches in 2012. That's not conducive to Ash progressing as a passer. Texas still needs a bit more depth at the position, but Davis' decision to stick around is a huge boon for its offense, which very well may pay off in the Big 12 title race next year. Winning in this league typically requires teams to hang 30-40 points a game.

[+] EnlargeKenny Stills
Jackson Laizure/Getty ImagesWill Oklahoma's passing game suffer in 2013 without receiver Kenny Stills in the lineup?
Biggest losers: Oklahoma. The Sooners got gutted by the draft. Kenny Stills and Tony Jefferson might have been able to improve their stock with another year, but two-thirds of the Cali Trio is officially checking out of school early. New quarterback, likely Blake Bell, will have to adjust to a young group of receivers without Stills, the most consistent member of the group. Additionally, the defense has more pieces to fill. Tom Wort wasn't outstanding, but he at least had experience. He's headed to the NFL draft, too, and the Sooners lost a starting linebacker.

Headscratchers: Stansly Maponga, Tom Wort, Brandon Moore. Maponga is best suited to hear his name called pretty early in the draft, but the Frogs' best preseason standout was banged up this season and definitely could have improved his stock with a strong season in a major conference as a senior in 2013. He was overshadowed by teammate Devonte Fields, a fellow defensive lineman, and managed just 6.5 tackles for loss, the fourth-most for the Frogs. He had just four sacks after making nine a season ago. Wort, meanwhile, made the perplexing decision amidst rumors that he was unhappy with Oklahoma's new defensive scheme, which was a reason for a major production drop from him. Linebackers aren't meant to rack up tackles or make plays, but instead funnel ball carriers and plug up gaps. He runs the risk of being undrafted, and so does Moore, a Texas defensive tackle who transferred to Austin and started about half of Texas' games. Moore was basically just a member of a strong rotation up front for the Longhorns' defense, which struggled to stop the run for most of the season.

The replacements:

  • Sterling Shepard, WR, Oklahoma: Shepard definitely brings about comparisons to Ryan Broyles. He has similar size and proved to be a solid option in the passing game as a true freshman. It's doubtful he'll be able to stretch the field like Stills, but his 45 grabs for 621 yards are sure to grow next season. He'll help smooth over the quarterback transition away from Landry Jones. Shepard and Fresno State transfer Jalen Saunders will be the team's top two returning receivers.
  • Jeremy Smith/Desmond Roland, RBs, Oklahoma State: Joseph Randle is gone, but Oklahoma State is definitely prepared to fill his shoes. Neither Smith nor Roland has as much raw talent as Randle, but both are certainly capable to be very productive in Oklahoma State's pass-first offense. Smith's touches were down this year, but he ran for 646 yards in 2011. He and Roland are both more physical than Randle, but can they prove to be big-play backs? Smith's game tape against Texas in 2011 suggests the answer is yes.
  • LaDarius Brown, WR, TCU: Brown is a huge target for whoever TCU lines up at quarterback. The 6-foot-4, 220-pounder caught 27 passes for 385 yards. Brandon Carter is the more immediate option as the team's best target without Josh Boyce and Skye Dawson, but Brown's potential is sky-high. Look for him to get tons of targets in the red zone next season.
  • Malcom Brown, DT, Texas: Brown might be one big reason why Moore is leaving for the NFL. Brown fought his way into the rotation as a true freshman, which is no easy task even for the nation's best recruits. Brown was the nation's No. 12 player in the 2012 class, and everybody wanted him. He made 19 tackles and two tackles for loss.

Pregame: AT&T Cotton Bowl

January, 4, 2013
1/04/13
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No. 9 Texas A&M (10-2, 6-2 SEC) vs. No. 11 Oklahoma (10-2, 8-1 Big 12)

Who to watch: Who else? Texas A&M quarterback Johnny Manziel will attempt to put the finishing touches on his freshman season. "Johnny Football” broke Cam Newton’s SEC record for offensive yardage and accounted for 43 touchdowns while becoming the first freshman to capture the Heisman Trophy. Manziel, however, will be facing one of the better defensive backfields he’s seen all season, led by free safety Tony Jefferson and cornerback Aaron Colvin -- both All-Big 12 performers. Manziel will also have to overcome the distractions of a whirlwind month in which he not only won the Heisman, but hung out with actress Megan Fox and played golf with the Jonas Brothers.

What to watch: The Aggies boast Manziel, but the Sooners counter with one of the top wide receiving corps in the country. Kenny Stills, Justin Brown, Jalen Saunders and Sterling Shepard all have more than 500 yards receiving this season. Texas A&M is stout up front, but the Aggies have been vulnerable at times defending the pass, ranking 82nd nationally in pass defense despite competing in the run-oriented SEC. If OU quarterback Landry Jones gets rolling with his talented pass-catchers, this game could tumble into a shootout.

Why to watch: Outside the BCS National Championship, this is as good a matchup as any out there. This Cotton Bowl also features two of the top quarterbacks in the country, with the hotshot freshman in Manziel facing off against the elder statesman in Jones, who will be making his 50th career start on the same field in which his career began four years ago. There should be plenty of energy inside Cowboys Stadium, too, as the Cotton Bowl is expecting a record crowd of 90,000. This will be a BCS-caliber bowl in every way except in name.

Prediction: Texas A&M 34, Oklahoma 31. Coach Bob Stoops has a dominating 11-2 record against Texas A&M, including an average victory margin of three touchdowns. These, however, are not the same Aggies the Sooners faced in the Big 12. Manziel and coach Kevin Sumlin have brought a new attitude to Texas A&M, and the Aggies will be motivated to prove this on the field against their former conference foe.
IRVING, Texas -- Predictions aside, one thing tonight is guaranteed.

Both teams will be showered in a deafening chant as the final seconds tick off the clock. What's not guaranteed? Which chant it will be.

The original "S-E-C! S-E-C! S-E-C!" that would accompany the far-from-original member of the SEC, Texas A&M fans?

Or the "Big 12! Big 12! Big 12!" chant that was born after another Texas A&M loss, at home against Oklahoma State in 2011?

[+] EnlargeAaron Colvin
Matthew Emmons/USA TODAY SportsAaron Colvin said that Big 12 Conference pride will be fueling Oklahoma against SEC foe Texas A&M in the Cotton Bowl.
Deny the conference significance if you want, but this is one of just two matchups between the Big 12 and SEC all season, and the Sooners have certainly taken notice of how the league has done in the bowl season thus far.

"Especially since it’s the SEC, everybody says we’re two of the top conferences, and we want to be considered the top, so that's definitely going to add meaning to this game," Sooners cornerback Aaron Colvin said.

Safety Tony Jefferson, a San Diego native, attended last week's Holiday Bowl, where Baylor routed No. 17 UCLA as an underdog.

He's not the only one rooting on his conference mates.

"There’s so much talk about how the SEC is the best conference and nobody else can play with them, so I feel like if other teams represent the conference well and we can go out and represent, maybe we can change a few minds," receiver Kenny Stills said.

It's a small sample size, sure. Texas beat Ole Miss in Oxford in the only other matchup of the two leagues this season, but Oklahoma doesn't seem to mind that this SEC opponent bears the same name of the squad it beat easily in Norman a season ago, even if the coaching staff and win-loss record is a whole lot different.

"We’ve played essentially everyone on their defense personnel-wise," offensive lineman Gabe Ikard said. "They play a new scheme, but we’ve played all those guys, so I don’t think we’re using that as motivation, but trying to represent the Big 12 well."

The bowl season has already exposed a few cracks in the SEC's foundation. None of the SEC's bottom eight teams managed a win against one in the top six of the standings, but Clemson already knocked off LSU in the Chick-Fil-A Bowl and Louisville dominated Florida in the Sugar Bowl.

Can Oklahoma issue another blow to the SEC's spot atop the conference rankings with a win over Texas A&M, days before Alabama plays Notre Dame and tries to win the league's seventh national title?

It'll be the Big 12's final game of the season, and beating one of the nation's hottest teams, led by Heisman Trophy winner Johnny Manziel, could leave a lasting imprint for the offseason and leave more than a few wondering just how secure the SEC's spot is as the top conference entering 2013.

"It’s a big statement game, especially for our defense," Jefferson said. "The No. 1 offense in the SEC, it’s just a huge opportunity for us to showcase our ability."

Texas A&M turned heads in its old conference for walking into the SEC, known for stingy defenses that would obviously dominate any spread offense, and shaking it up with offensive playmakers and creative play calling, buoyed by a player who only gets better as the play becomes more broken.

"I’ve always been an advocate for the Big 12. I love the way we play football here, and there’s conference pride here with the SEC and Big 12 going against each other," Oklahoma linebacker Tom Wort said. "I was just proud of the way Texas A&M went into the SEC and did well. It shows that it doesn’t matter what conference you’re in -- you can still play good football. I’m proud of the way Texas A&M played."

He's not alone, though conference pride takes a backseat in game preparation, even if some players don't buy the idea that league pride is even on the line.

"People are trying to convince us that it’s an SEC versus Big 12 matchup, but when it comes down to it, it’s Oklahoma versus Texas A&M," Ikard said.

It may look that way on the scoreboard, but the postgame chants that will reign down on Cowboys Stadium will absolutely tell a different story.

Will the Big 12 like that story? Well, that's up to the Sooners.

ESPN.com's 2012 All-Big 12 team

December, 10, 2012
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Congrats to all these guys for turning in fantastic seasons. Naturally, there will be some snubs and some things that need to be explained. Check the blog later today for more thoughts.

Without further ado, here's the All-Big 12 team from ESPN.com.

OFFENSE

QB: Collin Klein, Kansas State
RB: Joseph Randle, Oklahoma State
RB: James Sims, Kansas
FB: Trey Millard, Oklahoma
WR: Stedman Bailey, West Virginia
WR: Terrance Williams, Baylor
WR: Tavon Austin, West Virginia
TE: Jace Amaro, Texas Tech
OL: Cyril Richardson, Baylor
OL: Gabe Ikard, Oklahoma
C: Joe Madsen, West Virginia
OL: Lane Taylor, Oklahoma State
OL: LaAdrian Waddle, Texas Tech

DEFENSE

DL: Devonte Fields, TCU
DL: Meshak Williams, Kansas State
DL: Calvin Barnett, Oklahoma State
DL: Alex Okafor, Texas
LB: A.J. Klein, Iowa State
LB: Arthur Brown, Kansas State
LB: Jake Knott, Iowa State
CB: Jason Verrett, TCU
CB: Aaron Colvin, Oklahoma
S: Ty Zimmerman, Kansas State
S: Tony Jefferson, Oklahoma

SPECIALISTS:

PK: Quinn Sharp, Oklahoma State
P: Quinn Sharp, Oklahoma State
KR: Tyler Lockett, Kansas State
PR: Tavon Austin, West Virginia

Honorable mention: Geno Smith, QB, West Virginia; Landry Jones, QB, Oklahoma; Anthony Cantele, K, Kansas State; Kenny Vaccaro, S, Texas; Justin Brown, PR, Oklahoma; Tanner Hawkinson, OL, Kansas; Jake McDonough, DL, Iowa State; Lane Johnson, OL, Oklahoma; John Hubert, RB, Kansas State; Travis Tannahill, TE, Kansas State; Durrell Givens, S, Iowa State; Cody Davis, S, Texas Tech

Big 12 weekend rewind: Week 14

December, 3, 2012
12/03/12
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It's time to once again hand out a few superlatives to wrap up the final weekend of the Big 12 season.

Best offensive performance: Geno Smith, QB, West Virginia. Smith looked more like his early-season Heisman form in his last game at Milan Puskar Stadium, a 59-10 win over Big 12 bottom-feeder Kansas. He completed 23 of 24 passes for 407 yards and three touchdowns to lead the Mountaineers to a seventh win. Honorable mention: Lache Seastrunk, RB, Baylor.

[+] EnlargeWest Virginia's Geno Smith
Charles LeClaire/US PRESSWIREGeno Smith's final performance at Milan Puskar Field was a reason to celebrate.
Best defensive performance: Karl Joseph, S, West Virginia. Joseph was all over the field for West Virginia against Kansas. He made seven tackles, notched half a tackle for loss and intercepted a pass, returning it 22 yards. He also forced a fumble and broke up another pass. Honorable mention: Kenny Vaccaro, S, Texas; Eddie Lackey, LB, Baylor.

Best team performance: Baylor. The Bears looked dominant against an Oklahoma State team that has been beating the heck out of some good teams in the Big 12 to close the season. OSU made it interesting late, but Baylor was in control from start to finish during the 41-34 win, led by Lache Seastrunk's 178 yards on 16 carries.

Best game: Oklahoma 24, TCU 17. This was fun from start to finish. Oklahoma let TCU in the game with an 80-yard touchdown on a busted play and an interception by Landry Jones to give the Frogs a touchdown on a drive that began inside the 10-yard line, but the Sooners won a third consecutive game that came down to the final play or final seconds. Amazing stuff, and the Sooners find a way yet again.

Best play: Lache Seastrunk, RB, Baylor. Seastrunk has had cramping issues this season, and looked to suffer another one at the worst possible time -- right after clearing the Oklahoma State offense. No worries. He limped, stumbled and bumbled the last 30 yards of his 76-yard touchdown run to ice the game in the final minutes. Honorable mention: Oklahoma's offensive line on Damien Williams' untouched, 66-yard touchdown run.

Biggest bailout: Nigel Malone, CB, Kansas State. Malone was nearly a nominee for worst play, but an odd ruling earns him a special nod. Malone intercepted a wobbly ball to the sideline from Case McCoy and looked to return it for a touchdown, but pulled what's commonly known as a "DeSean Jackson," dropping the ball before he crossed the goal line. Instead of a touchback, K-State was given the ball on the half-yard line, and Collin Klein punched it in. Still. Mack Brown wasn't happy about the call, and I still don't think I understand why it wasn't a touchback.

Best quote: Tony Jefferson, S, Oklahoma, on the Sooners' shared title with Kansas State. "Hey, sharing is caring."

Worst play: Blaize Foltz, G, TCU. Trevone Boykin would have escaped the defender, but Foltz still got flagged for a game-changing holding penalty on what might have been a game-tying touchdown in the final minute of TCU's 24-17 loss to Oklahoma. Boykin had escaped the pocket and reached the end zone to set off a celebration, but it was all for naught, and the penalty backed up TCU into a near impossible situation with the game on the line.

Best quarter: Baylor's first quarter. The Bears scored a defensive touchdown and added another seven points on a 16-play, 98-yard drive to set the tone for the game. This would be Baylor's day against a team that Art Briles had never beaten, and had beaten Baylor six consecutive times. The Bears took control after falling behind 3-0 early and never looked back.

FORT WORTH, Texas -- On Thursday, Oklahoma coach Bob Stoops gathered his team and informed the players that if they beat TCU on Saturday, they would be receiving championship rings and hats, regardless of what happened later in the evening.

Stoops, fresh off coaching the Sooners to a 24-17 win to clinch at least a share of the Big 12 title, received the customary Gatorade shower as time expired.

"Man, I never won a championship anywhere!" exclaimed Fresno State transfer receiver Jalen Saunders as he jogged into the locker room to grab his shirt and hat.

"That's why you came to school here!" running backs coach Cale Gundy responded.

The Sooners gathered their shirts and hats and went back onto the field at Amon G. Carter Stadium to celebrate the school's eighth Big 12 title and 11th 10-win season since 2000 under Stoops. They snapped a team photo like they had so many times at Big 12 championship games past. They celebrated on the field and in the locker room with a crystal bowl trophy made and delivered by the Big 12.

Oklahoma's win gives the Sooners an 8-1 record in Big 12 play, which will be the same record as Kansas State if the Wildcats beat Texas later tonight. The problem? Kansas State beat Oklahoma on the Sooners' home field in September. Oklahoma State won the Big 12 title outright in 2011, the first season without a championship game. If Kansas State wins tonight, it will be the first shared title in Big 12 history, despite Kansas State having a better overall record, a higher ranking in the BCS and a win against Oklahoma in Norman.

"Big 12 champs or co-champs, either way, they're recognized as champions," Stoops said. "There seemed to be a little confusion about it, but there isn't. ... Nobody here made those rules. At the present time, that's where we're at."

I hate to be the bearer of bad news, but there is a little confusion, and you don't have to go back far to see it. A year ago, Oklahoma trekked to Stillwater with the chance to beat Oklahoma State and celebrate a shared Big 12 title with the rival Cowboys.

"There will be one [champion]. That's just how I see it," Stoops told reporters before that game. "Again, I don't know any other way to look at it. If you're all going to play each other, it pretty well sets up that way."

So pardon me if I'm confused. The Sooners celebrated their eighth Big 12 title just like the first seven, but there's no doubt that it'll be much different if Kansas State holds serve and beats Texas.

"You end the season with a championship, however controversial you want to make it. It's the conference rules," offensive lineman Gabe Ikard said.

But even Ikard admitted there was a difference between the Sooners' 2010 title, won by many of these same players, and the possibility of a shared title -- and the backlash that would come from celebrating it like any other, as the Sooners did.

"It would be better for us, and we'd probably catch less, uh, stuff for it," Ikard said of an outright title. "But when it comes down to it, we put together a season that our conference recognizes us as the champions. Whether people don't like that, it's not our fault. We came to the games and played them."

Ikard is right. It's not his fault.

"I didn't make the rules on how the league was set up, right? Nor did you. Just read what they say about the rules," Stoops said of the possibility of sharing the title.

Stoops is right. You can't blame the Sooners for celebrating a hard-earned title that came after winning eight consecutive Big 12 games in a league with nine bowl-eligible teams. That's no small accomplishment.

You can, however, blame a conference that trimmed to 10 teams, eliminated a championship game and trumpeted that it would crown "one true champion" in its new round-robin schedule.

The Big 12 did have a championship game this year. It was played Sept. 22 and Kansas State won it, as long as the Wildcats finish off the Longhorns tonight.

You can't blame Oklahoma, but you can blame the Big 12. The answer isn't bringing back the championship game. The answer is to change the rules.

Even if Kansas State coughs up a painful loss to Texas later today and the Sooners claim an outright title, having a shared title even for discussion is silly and disingenuous. In the middle of it all are coaches like Stoops, who change their argument from year to year based on how it suits their interests. He is not going to lessen what's truly an impressive accomplishment for his team, but it's impossible for Stoops to stand at a microphone this year and give his team rings when he was critical of the league recognizing an additional champion a year earlier.

Offensive coordinator Josh Heupel said his team celebrated like it had won a title in the same manner it had previously. Fellow OC Jay Norvell said his team had a record that says it has a share of the title and that the accomplishment was "extremely satisfying."

"It's a championship. It's a great feeling," safety Tony Jefferson said. "Regardless if [Kansas State] wins or not, we're still Big 12 champions."

You can't blame the Sooners for feeling that way, but you can blame the league for giving them the right to do so.

Big 12 game predictions: Week 11

November, 8, 2012
11/08/12
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I'm super excited for Saturday, folks. I'll be making my first trip to Amon G. Carter Stadium in Fort Worth, Texas, on TCU's campus. That makes it official. After my trip to West Virginia earlier this year, I've officially covered a game at every Big 12 stadium at some point in my journalism career. Gotta love a clean sweep. I never attended or covered a game at the old Amon G. Carter Stadium, so I'll have nothing to compare it to, but I'm excited to see the next step on Kansas State's hopeful march to the Big 12 title and perhaps a BCS title.

Let's get to the picks!

Last week: 3-2 (.600)
Overall: 42-16 (.724)

No. 22 Texas Tech 41, Kansas 17: The Jayhawks are dreadful on the road, and Texas Tech badly needs a win after suffering two consecutive losses. Kansas is in an unfortunate position here. Surprising Texas Tech? I think not. Another 100-yard day for James Sims, but Seth Doege and his receiving corps are too much. Tech makes this one look easy.

No. 17 Texas 27, Iowa State 20: Tough, tough pick here. I was impressed with Texas last week, and I'll give the Horns the benefit of the doubt this week. David Ash bounced back last week after regressing a bit in October following a strong start. That continues this week, and Malcolm Brown's newfound health makes the Longhorns' backfield even more potent against an ISU front seven missing Jake Knott.

West Virginia 44, Oklahoma State 42: Going with my upset alert pick here. The Mountaineers' late-game failure overshadowed their legitimate defensive improvements, and that continues against Oklahoma State this week. Geno Smith gets back in the saddle, and Tavon Austin reminds us yet again why he's the most electrifying player in the league. Huge road win for the Mountaineers, who finally reach bowl eligibility.

No. 12 Oklahoma 42, Baylor 20: Oklahoma's secondary is just too good. Aaron Colvin and Tony Jefferson are playing as well as any two defensive backs in the league. Oklahoma bruises the Baylor front seven with its running game but puts together a nice game through the air, too. The Bears' defense can't do much to slow the Sooners, but disciplined defenses have given Baylor tons of trouble.

No. 2 Kansas State 38, TCU 24: This is my pick of the week. Check out a video later Thursday for more. Collin Klein plays and plays well. The Wildcats' are consistent and experienced. The Frogs are inconsistent and inexperienced. On this day, it shows.

Big 12 weekend rewind: Week 9

October, 29, 2012
10/29/12
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Here's what I saw on a Saturday full of surprises across the Big 12 in Week 9:

Best offensive performance: Steele Jantz, QB, Iowa State. Cry about Baylor's defense all you want, but Jantz had to complete the passes. He had a huge career day, completing 36 of 53 passes for 381 yards and five touchdowns with an interception in ISU's 35-21 win over Baylor. He also ran for 54 yards on 10 carries.

[+] EnlargeSteele Jantz
AP Photo/Charlie NeibergallSteele Jantz threw five touchdown passes in the Cyclones' 35-21 victory over Baylor.
Best defensive performance: Elisha Olabode, S, TCU. The Frogs safety had a huge day with 10 tackles and a forced fumble. His biggest play, though, was an 11-yard interception return for a touchdown that put TCU up 7-0 early.

Best team performance: Kansas State. Another top-15 team, another dominant performance from the Wildcats, who rode a huge second-half surge to a head-turning 55-24 win over Texas Tech. K-State made it look easy in the second half.

Best game: Texas 21, Kansas 17. This one was unwatchable for the first three-and-a-half quarters, but you've got to love some late drama. No other Big 12 game this week had it. KU kicked a go-ahead field goal with 2:28 to play, but Case McCoy entered in relief and rallied the Longhorns to a dramatic comeback, highlighted by a fourth-down conversion to Jaxon Shipley. More on that later.

Best quote: Tony Jefferson, S, Oklahoma. "I hate this. I hate this feeling." Sometimes, a few words says all you need to know. Simple, but poignant from the Sooners' star after a frustrating 30-13 loss to Notre Dame at home.

Worst play: Kansas State's latest red zone disaster. Facing a third-and-goal and the game tied at 10, Kansas State handed the ball off to Angelo Pease, who stopped short of the line of scrimmage and attempted a jump pass. The only problem? He was hit as he threw it, and it was some sort of weird two-handed, overhead toss that fell incomplete. Ugly stuff, and this is the second time this year K-State has earned this nod for a play in the red zone. Earlier this year, Collin Klein attempted a behind-the-back jump pass for a huge loss. At least K-State made the field goal this time. It missed it after the disaster against Miami.

Dirtiest play: Cyril Richardson, OL, Baylor. There are plenty of ways to get a player off you. Kicking them in the groin should be nowhere on that list. Richardson kicked upward and connected with the groin of Iowa State's Brandon Jensen, earning himself an ejection and helping prevent the Bears from scoring on the early fourth-quarter drive.

Best play: Case McCoy x 2. The first ignited a game-winning drive that hardly even started. McCoy found Shipley over the middle for an 18-yard gain to keep the Horns alive. Later in the drive, he found Mike Davis over the top for a 39-yard gain to set up Joe Bergeron's game-winning touchdown in the Horns' 21-17 win over Kansas.

Best special-teams performance: Quinn Sharp, P/K, Oklahoma State. Sharp made five field goals and pinned TCU inside its 20-yard line on two of his five punts. Nice day.

Worst team performance: Texas. Even with the win, I can't let the Horns off the hook here. Kansas has lost 17 consecutive Big 12 games now, but outplayed the Horns and held them to just seven points over the first 3 1/2 quarters on Saturday. Texas had 60 more penalty yards and needed a dramatic rally, despite winning the turnover battle 3-1. It also made an inexplicable switch to McCoy after David Ash struggled early. Once McCoy was in the game, Texas ran seven consecutive running plays on a touchdown drive, and now may have a quarterback controversy on its hands. That said, it should just play Ash.
Oklahoma safety Tony Jefferson is one-third of the so-called "Cali Trio," a collection of signees from the 2010 class who made big impacts as freshmen and have blossomed into leaders in 2012. Teammates Kenny Stills (receiver) and Brennan Clay (runing back) have helped pave the way for a miniature recruiting pipeline between Oklahoma and California, the latest of which featured starting running back Damien Williams, a fellow San Diego native.

Jefferson leads the Sooners with 48 tackles and has two tackles for loss, an interception and a pass breakup after moving to his traditional safety spot this season. He took some time this week to talk with ESPN.com about the Sooners' mammoth top 10 showdown with Notre Dame this week, the first time the teams have met since 1999.

[+] EnlargeTony Jefferson
Rick Scuteri/AP ImagesSafety Tony Jefferson says the Sooners have refocused since losing to Kansas State.
Author's note: Portions of this interview were edited for length considerations.

What first comes to mind when you think about Notre Dame?

Tony Jefferson: Tradition. Just another school kind of like ours with a bunch of history. They've got athletic players and great coaching as well.

I have to ask. Have you seen Rudy?

TJ: (Laughs) Yes, I have.

What were your thoughts?

TJ: It just shows how much prestige and history is behind that organization in South Bend.

From what you can see, what have the Irish done to reach this point without a loss?

TJ: They find ways to win. They've got playmakers on both sides of the ball up front. On defense, they can get a push and they can get penetration on a very good offense. You've got to be aware of that. Obviously, they've got Manti Te'o, who plays with so much passion and has so much drive, just one of the most athletic linebackers you'll see across college football, and their secondary is pretty good.

Offensively, you have the tight end who's making amazing plays with his size and ability, and they're just good across the board on the offensive line.

You'll be focusing on the offense in game-planning of course, but you mentioned Te'o. What sticks out to you about what he brings to the table?

TJ: I have to say he's smart. He's a smart football player. I've watched Manti Te'o since I was in high school and I'd been watching him play. Just to see him now, how he's grown in the game and how much better he's become, it shows he's committed to what he does. I don't know him personally, but you get the feeling he's one of those hard-working type of guys who feels honored to play college football and plays every down with some heart. You've got to respect a guy who respects the game that way.

Notre Dame is obviously a big name, but when you think about the excitement of this week, how does it compare to, say, the week of the Texas game?

TJ: The OU-Texas rivalry is big and that rivalry's been going on for a long time, but I'm from California. The Oklahoma-Texas thing, that's what's been going on here. I grew up a USC fan and never really been a fan of Notre Dame too much. Once I saw we were playing Notre Dame, it definitely excited me, and I wanted to get after them a little bit, get 'em back for that game, the Reggie Bush Push.

How has this team looked so dominant the past three games, when the first three games, it looked like you were off to a bit of a slow start?

TJ: It's come down to the point where you take a loss against Kansas State and there's no more room for error. You've got to go out there and play well. Our preparation leading into games has been tremendously better. Our focus has been tremendously better. We understand what's on the table for us. We understand that it's going to be up to us to go and get that. Our mindset has changed. Not that it wasn't in the right place before, but I think there's been an added punch to it.

By my count, this is the Big 12's best defense. That wasn't the case last year. Why have you seen so much improvement?

TJ: I think last year we had a few guys in the wrong spot. Now, we're able to put some guys where they'll succeed best. From what coach Mike (Stoops) saw from the outside look is we've got the athletes, and he wanted to let those athletes be athletes and be more aggressive. Coach Venables is a very smart football genius. He was about schemes and doing different things. Our strength is being able to go out there and play our game as a unit, and as players. I think that's helped us out.
Oklahoma hammered Kansas 52-7 at Owen Field on Saturday night to set up a top-10 battle with Notre Dame next weekend. The Sooners improved to 5-1 overall, 3-1 in the Big 12. The undefeated Fighting Irish will enter the game at 7-0 with wins over Michigan, Michigan State and Stanford.

How the game was won: With the arm of Landry Jones. The Jayhawks came out with a game plan to stop Damien Williams and OU’s running game. That left plenty of opportunities for Jones, who took advantage from the start. He found six different receivers in the win, continuing the trend of spreading the ball around after tending to try to force it during the Sooners' first three games. It’s important for Jones to continue the trend for the remainder of the season.

Turning point: When Jones found Kenny Stills with a beautiful 44-yard touchdown pass on a post route. The late first-quarter score was an early sign that Jones was on point Saturday. He was 9-of-11 for 140 yards and one touchdown in the first quarter. When OU starts quickly, especially at home, the Sooners are tough to beat.

Stat of the game: The Sooners scored touchdowns on six consecutive possessions, starting with Blake Bell’s 1-yard touchdown run with 12:29 left in the second quarter and ending with Trey Millard’s 25-yard touchdown catch. The Sooners were dominant on Saturday, playing the way you’d expect a BCS title hopeful to play against an overmatched opponent at home.

Player of the game: Jones. He finished 20-of-29 for 300 yards and three touchdowns. The Jayhawks challenged him to beat them with his arm, and he did.

Unsung hero of the game: Tony Jefferson. The junior safety was all over the field and had eight first-quarter tackles. He consistently made plays around the line of scrimmage. Jefferson continues to be one of the Big 12’s best defenders. He will be crucial when Notre Dame comes to town.

Record performance: For the first time in OU history, the Sooners returned a kickoff for a touchdown and a punt for a touchdown in the same game. Justin Brown returned a punt 90 yards for a score, and Roy Finch returned the second half kickoff 100 yards for a touchdown. The two 90-plus yards plays were also a first in OU history.

What it means: In conjunction with Notre Dame’s 17-14 win over BYU, the Sooners win sets up a huge top-10 battle in Norman next weekend. OU can gain momentum and firmly secure itself in the BCS landscape with a win, while the Fighting Irish could make their case as the nation’s top team with a road win at Owen Field.

Big 12 weekend rewind: Week 4

September, 24, 2012
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It's time to take a look at a few superlatives from the week that was across the Big 12:

Best offensive performance: Tavon Austin, WR, West Virginia. Austin gave Maryland fits on a slow day for the West Virginia offense, a 31-21 win over Maryland. He hauled in 13 catches for 179 yards and three touchdowns. Quite the day for the shifty speedster. Austin gets my runaway vote as the Big 12's quickest player, but it's a dead heat between Austin and a handful of others as the fastest.

[+] EnlargeKenny Cain
Ray Carlin/Icon SMIKenny Cain had a hand in three turnovers Saturday in TCU's win over Virginia.
Best defensive performance: Kenny Cain, LB, TCU. Cain forced three turnovers on his own in the Frogs' 27-7 win over Virginia. He picked off two passes, the second out of the hands of a receiver. He also recovered a first-half fumble to get the party started for the Frogs. A huge day at a much-needed position for Gary Patterson's defense. Honorable mention: Doug Rigg, LB, West Virginia, and Tony Jefferson, S, Oklahoma

Best team performance: Kansas State. Bill Snyder's crew did the impossible. Every time Oklahoma had been challenged at home by a ranked team, the Sooners bowed up and got the win. Most often, they got the win in emphatic fashion. Not on Saturday. The Wildcats forced mistakes from OU and made very few of their own, leaving as 24-19 winners and shooting into the top 10 with the upset.

Best freshman performance: Sterling Shepard, WR, Oklahoma. Shepard's breakout game was lost in the wreckage of an awful night in Norman, but Oklahoma found another target for Landry Jones. Shepard led all receivers on Saturday night with seven catches for 108 yards, including his first career touchdown. The true freshman really looks like he may be something special. Everything he does looks natural.

Best play: Justin Tuggle/Jarell Childs, Kansas State. Tuggle changed the entire game in Norman when he chased down Jones from Jones' blind side and stripped him deep in his own territory. Childs scooped up the ball and stepped into the end zone to put K-State up 7-3 in the eventual win. That early second-quarter play had more impact than any other all week.

Worst play: Blake Bell, QB, Oklahoma. On the possession after that fumble, Jones moved the Sooners inside the 5. Bell came in at the 1-yard line to "Belldoze" his way into the end zone but mishandled a snap. Kansas State recovered, and the Sooners wasted seven points. They lost by five. You do the math. Dishonorable mention: Casey Pachall's/Skye Dawson's turnovers inside the opponents' 5-yard line.

Worst team performance: Kansas. Oh, Jayhawks. This team really is pretty close to being 3-1, but the lack of execution late in games has them at 1-3. Another week, another blown fourth-quarter lead. This one on the road to Northern Illinois. Not pretty.

ESPN.com's preseason All-Big 12 team

August, 29, 2012
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The season is only a few days away, and it's time to unveil our official All-Big 12 team.

The criteria for this is pretty simple: I picked the best players at every position in the game, but made room for deserving players. For this league, that meant eliminating the tight end spot and sliding a more deserving Collin Klein onto the team via an all-purpose position.

The quarterbacks are solid in this league, but I'd call the cornerbacks the best and deepest position in the league. The worst? Defensive tackle. I didn't put a single one on the All-Big 12 team, electing to name four defensive ends along the defensive line. I hate doing that, but this year, it's necessary.

Without further ado, here's our team:

OFFENSE

QB: Geno Smith, West Virginia
RB: Joseph Randle, Oklahoma State
RB: Waymon James, TCU
All-Purpose: Collin Klein, QB, Kansas State
WR: Stedman Bailey, West Virginia
WR: Kenny Stills, Oklahoma
WR: Tavon Austin, West Virginia
C: Joe Madsen, West Virginia
OL: Gabe Ikard, Oklahoma
OL: Lane Taylor, Oklahoma State
OL: Cyril Richardson, Baylor
OL: Mason Walters, Texas

DEFENSE

DL: Jackson Jeffcoat, Texas
DL: Stansly Maponga, TCU
DL: Alex Okafor, Texas
DL: Meshak Williams, Kansas State
LB: A.J. Klein, Iowa State
LB: Arthur Brown, Kansas State
LB: Jake Knott, Iowa State
CB: Carrington Byndom, Texas
CB: Brodrick Brown, Oklahoma State
S: Kenny Vaccaro, Texas
S: Tony Jefferson, Oklahoma

SPECIALISTS:

K: Quinn Sharp, Oklahoma State
P: Quinn Sharp, Oklahoma State
KR: Justin Gilbert, Oklahoma State
PR: Tavon Austin, West Virginia

Honorable mention/regrettable snubs: Landry Jones, QB, Oklahoma; Malcolm Brown, RB, Texas; Ivory Wade, C, Baylor; LaAdrian Waddle, OL, Texas Tech; Blaize Foltz, OL, TCU; Kenny Cain, LB, TCU; Shaun Lewis, LB, Oklahoma State; Jamarkus McFarland, DL, Oklahoma; Quandre Diggs, CB, Texas; Nigel Malone, CB, Kansas State; Demontre Hurst, CB, Oklahoma; Tyler Lockett, KR, Kansas State
Media days season has arrived, with the SEC getting us started Monday. The Big 12 won't begin until next Monday, but we're opening up a preview here Monday on ESPN.com. Here's what you can expect for the Big 12.

When: Monday, July 23 and Tuesday, July 24. TCU, Iowa State, Kansas State, Oklahoma and Texas Tech will be up on Day 1. Baylor, Kansas, Oklahoma State, Texas and West Virginia will be speaking to the media on Day 2. Here's the full player roster.

Where: Westin Galleria hotel, north Dallas. The players could wander outside the hotel and hit up the skating rink at the Galleria mall, but they'll probably be a little too busy to strap on skates or go shopping.

Big names in attendance: West Virginia quarterback Geno Smith and Oklahoma quarterback Landry Jones top the list of guys who will be hounded by media from start to finish. The same goes for Kansas State quarterback Collin Klein, last season's breakout star.

Big names not in attendance: The biggest will be Oklahoma State quarterback Wes Lunt, who's staying home per Mike Gundy's rule against first-year players speaking with the media. He'll be sticking to it, even though he named the true freshman his starting quarterback in the spring. Texas also won't be bringing either of its quarterbacks, including likely starter David Ash. West Virginia is leaving its leading receiver, Stedman Bailey, at home, and Texas star defenders Alex Okafor and Kenny Vaccaro are banned from representing the team to media after an offseason incident. Oklahoma stars and two-thirds of the California trio -- safety Tony Jefferson and wide receiver Kenny Stills -- won't be representing the Sooners, either.

What to watch for:
  • Media days are traditionally full of mostly fluffy fodder, but the TCU players in attendance will face some pressing, difficult questions. Coach Gary Patterson withheld his players from media interviews for the entirety of the spring after an offseason campus drug sting that resulted in four player arrests and removals from the team. The players haven't been asked about anything surrounding the incidents since, and they're bound to come up in the first interviews since.
  • Look out for a debate on which Big 12 quarterback is the best. You could make a case for Smith, Jones or Klein, but this blog's readers are firmly in the "Smith" camp.
  • This year expect the main topic of conversation to center around "How will TCU and WVU adjust?" It's already been talked about plenty, but for the Big 12, that's better than "Is the league really stable?" or "Will Texas A&M leave?" -- a few of the simmering topics of conversation last year.
  • Each coach gets 15 minutes at the podium before a break for lunch and a return to the breakout room. Players will be available in the afternoon, too. Last year, Art Briles stole the show on the podium, and expect him to do the same with a few one-liners this year. Texas Tech's Tommy Tuberville and Texas' Mack Brown are also usually pretty entertaining, but West Virginia coach Dana Holgorsen might have a few cracks up his sleeve too, as he looks to make a name for himself in his first Big 12 Media Days.
  • Expect Kansas' Charlie Weis to be disarmingly honest, a refreshing change from his predecessor and the majority of coaches in attendance. Expect Oklahoma's Bob Stoops to drop an "in the end" more than a few times. Kansas State's Bill Snyder will be frivolous in referring to his players as "youngsters."
  • It'll be civil. The SEC has a few coaches who love to prod each other -- mostly Steve Spurrier. The Big 12 coaching fraternity is largely a boring one when it comes to feuds. Everybody looks up to Snyder, respects Stoops and Brown, and gets along with everyone else. If anybody's going to spice it up, it'll be Tuberville or Holgorsen. There aren't many issues or opportunities, unless they want to go out of their way to stir the pot.
  • Here's hoping Paul Rhoads shows up and is so proud of a thick beard. The Big 12 doesn't have a coach with any facial hair, and Rhoads has been rolling with one of the greatest beards in existence all offseason. Please, let it live. This is my plea.
  • We may get a little talk on what the coaches think of bringing in new teams, whether it be Florida State, Notre Dame or Louisville. For now, it's a little early, but realignment is always in the back of any college football fan's mind.
NFL draft expert Mel Kiper Jr. tracks the fluctuating stock of college football's top 25 prospects throughout the year, and debuted his Big Board this week. Insider

The shocking truth? The Big 12 didn't have a single prospect in the top 25.

What's that mean? Not much, beyond the fact the Big 12 doesn't have many big-time individual talents.

It still has plenty more solid teams.

Kiper also took a look at a few players who just missed the list.
Landry Jones, QB, Oklahoma
Based on talent alone, Jones has the potential to be a top-10 pick. He struggled down the stretch last year (the absence of the great Ryan Broyles certainly didn't help) and looked like a player who was really trying to carry his team. He forced things, lost his mechanics a little and probably made the right decision to return for another year. I know he's working hard this offseason, and he could bounce back in a big way in 2012.

Kiper's on the money with that one. I talked about it a little earlier this offseason, but Jones probably has the most volatile draft stock of anyone in the league. Depending on how 2012 goes, he could progress into the top 10 or even fall out of the top three rounds or worse.
Tony Jefferson, S, Oklahoma
Out of place at linebacker last year, Jefferson actually played pretty well. Back to his more natural position at safety, I expect him to be a force in 2012. The former high school quarterback is a superior athlete and should thrive.

It's been a little frustrating lately for Jefferson. He's a freak athlete, but his lack of a true position kept him off All-Big 12 teams in 2011, even though he's clearly one of the most gifted defenders in the Big 12. That'll change pretty quick if he spends all year playing traditional safety.
Jackson Jeffcoat, DE, Texas
A star coming out of high school, this could be the year Jeffcoat really comes into his own. He played pretty stiff in his first season-plus in Austin, but he had 7.5 sacks in his last seven games last year. Watch out.

Todd McShay is higher on Jeffcoat than Kiper, but his production will tell the story of how his stock moves in 2012. Like Jones, he could be a top 5-10 pick, but Jeffcoat's floor is probably much higher because of his eye-popping physical attributes.
We're moving on with our postseason position rankings. Today, it's time for linebackers. If you missed it, here's how I ranked them in the preseason.

At this position, depth is a major factor in these rankings. Additionally, I included nickelbacks in this grouping. Hybrid defensive end/linebackers will be grouped with defensive lines.

[+] EnlargeJake Knott
Matthew Emmons/US PresswireIowa State linebackers Jake Knott, 20, and A.J. Klein combined for 231 tackles in 2011.
More postseason position rankings: 1. Iowa State: The Cyclones top the list after a huge year from their outstanding duo, Jake Knott and A.J. Klein. They combined for 231 tackles in 2011, both finishing among the top four in the Big 12 in tackles. They had 241 together in 2010, but this season Knott played through injuries and Klein was awarded co-Defensive Player of the Year honors from the league's coaches.

2. Texas: The Longhorns will sorely miss an outstanding duo of their own with tons of experience. Keenan Robinson and Emmanuel Acho are both NFL-bound after combining for 215 tackles.

3. Oklahoma: The Sooners weren't quite as good as expected in 2011, but part of that was because of a Travis Lewis preseason toe injury that slowed him for much of the season. Lewis, Tony Jefferson and Tom Wort all topped 70 tackles in 2011, and are a solid group.

4. Kansas State: Arthur Brown reinvigorated this group, finishing eighth in the Big 12 with 101 tackles, but the Wildcats linebackers were more than just Brown. Tre Walker and converted safety Emmanuel Lamur combined for 135 stops and helped lead one of the league's most underrated units and a much-improved run defense.

5. Texas A&M: The Aggies' backers were big pass-rushers, though they struggled in coverage this season. Sean Porter was the Big 12's sack champion with 9.5, and Caleb Russell and Jonathan Stewart combined for six more. Damontre Moore is the rawest talent of the bunch, but built on that in 2011, making 72 tackles.

6. Oklahoma State: OSU's group was good, but not great. Alex Elkins' crazy story came to an end with 90 stops in 2011. He showed up everywhere for the Cowboys, but reigning Big 12 Freshman of the Year Shaun Lewis didn't quite have the sophomore season some had hoped. Caleb Lavey added some solid play for the turnover-hungry unit, producing 74 tackles and five tackles for loss.

7. Missouri: Zaviar Gooden wasn't quite the impact player Mizzou had hoped, but he was solid alongside a group that's been injury prone over the past two years. Sophomore Andrew Wilson emerged as the team's top tackler with 98 stops, and Luke Lambert added 82 more. A high ankle sprain in the season opener kept Will Ebner off the field, but he'll be back in 2012 after the NCAA granted him a fifth year of eligibility.

8. Kansas: Steven Johnson led the Big 12 with 119 tackles, but the rest of the unit left a lot to be desired. Darius Willis has some potential, but the rest of the team's linebackers have their work cut out for them in 2012. Tunde Bakare also returns from a unit that ranked ninth in the Big 12 in rushing defense.

9. Baylor: The Bears needed help just about everywhere. Elliot Coffey was solid, and finished tied for fourth with 114 stops, but Baylor was eighth in the Big 12 in rush defense. Baylor has solid athlete in the secondary and on the defensive line, but at linebacker, Rodney Chadwick and Brody Trahan leave a bit to be desired. Ahmad Dixon was better in 2011, but still has a lot of potential that needs to be filled.

10. Texas Tech: The Red Raiders are looking for a new defensive coordinator and the 4-2-5 made a short stop in Lubbock. The Red Raiders were awful everywhere on defense, but especially up front. Nobody in college football was worse at stopping the run, and D.J. Johnson, Daniel Cobb and Cqulin Hubert turned in forgettable performances. Time to get better for 2012.

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