NCF Nation: Travis Lewis

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.
The season's over, but our look back is just beginning. Here's five things we learned this year in the Big 12.

1. In the national title debate, losses mean a lot more than wins. Oklahoma State deserved its shot at LSU. Period. It was close, yes. Making LSU beat Alabama a second time was unfair to the Tigers, who already waded through one of the most difficult schedules in college football history, dispatching the Big East and Pac-12 champions, who also won BCS bowls. It also beat the national champion and SEC East champion. But OSU deserved a shot, based on its total résumé. Voters, though, weren't willing to look beyond the one awful loss (in double overtime at Iowa State) and focus on the five wins over teams in the final BCS top 25 of the regular season (Alabama only had two). They also looked over the seven wins over bowl teams with winning records (the Crimson Tide had three). Do I think Alabama was a better team? Yes, I do. But in the current system, Oklahoma State deserved its chance, not a second chance for Alabama that rendered the Nov. 5 "Game of the Century" meaningless. It also produced a snoozer of a title game and deprived us of definitively settling the year-long conference dispute, which might be the most frustrating aspect of the entire debate.

[+] EnlargeRobert Griffin
AP Photo/Tony GutierrezQuarterback Robert Griffin brought the Baylor Bears to record-breaking levels this season.
2. A whole lot of points are a whole lot of fun to watch. Bad defense? Yeah, there was some of that. There was also a whole lot of good offense. Baylor's Robert Griffin III only accounted for one touchdown and the Bears still hung 67 points in a win over Washington -- a bowl record for all of a week before West Virginia posted 70 in the Orange Bowl. Baylor had three 100-yard rushers and Griffin wasn't one of them, even though he had arguably the most memorable run of his season, a Houdini act of slipping out of a handful of tacklers and outrunning the Washington offense to the pylon, taking a hit as he dove into the end zone. The game drew a 5.1 rating, and more than 5 million people watched, making it the fifth most-watched non-BCS bowl in history.

3. Texas looks on its way back up. The whispers were out there: Was 5-7 the beginning of the end of Mack Brown's tenure at Texas? Had he lost it? The problems were plentiful throughout the 2010 season, but the Longhorns bounced back (sort of) in 2011 and fixed many of them. The 21-10 win over Cal was mostly a four-hour advertisement for Texas' best asset: the Manny Diaz-led defense. An enormous, and biggest, void at quarterback remains, but this year the running game was much improved, and will continue to get better in 2012. Malcolm Brown will mature and Johnathan Gray will join him and Joe Bergeron in the backfield. The defense was the Big 12's best and should reclaim that title in 2012. Texas isn't back yet, but 2010 was not the beginning of the end for the burnt orange.

4. The top two teams are all that separates the Big 12 and SEC. Assume all you'd like, but compare the bowl records: The Big 12 was 6-2. The SEC was 6-3, with a win over and loss to itself in the title game. The Big 12 finished 33-5 (.868) in nonconference play, the best mark of any conference since the SEC in 1997. The SEC finished 47-8 (.855). The SEC earned all the headlines by putting LSU and Alabama in the title game, but the difference between the two leagues isn't very wide. They met on the field just twice this season: Arkansas beat both Texas A&M and Kansas State. The Big 12 beat teams like Stanford, TCU, Florida State, Washington, Northern Illinois and California along the way. The league's top five teams returning in 2012 went 19-1 in nonconference play. Four of the five losses came via expatriates-to-be Texas A&M and Missouri, as well as Iowa State and Kansas, who finished in the bottom three in the Big 12 standings. The league was deep, and unfortunately, didn't get many chances to prove it against the SEC.

5. The Big 12 is getting two really, really good teams in 2012. If you didn't watch, you should have. West Virginia put on an absolute show in the Orange Bowl, beating Clemson by a rousing 70-33 final that included 400 yards of passing from one Geno Smith (you'll get to know him better in 2012) and a 99-yard fumble return for a touchdown that featured a review that could have resulted in a touchdown for either team. TCU? All the BCS-snubbed Horned Frogs did was play an uninspired game against underrated Louisiana Tech (who beat, ahem, SEC member Ole Miss by 20) and win by a touchdown. But they're on their way in 2012, and both could win the Big 12. Next year, the league will have three conference champions, and if you include new members, went 8-2 in bowl games. Of course, if you subtract the departing members, it went 6-2, so who's counting?

Early 2012 Big 12 power rankings

January, 10, 2012
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With the season over, it's time to take a look at the Big 12 in 2012. For now, that means assuming a few things. And we all know what assuming does.

It makes us all look like geniuses.

So, for the purpose of this, I'll assume a few predictions. First, I'll assume Robert Griffin III is heading for the NFL. I'll also assume Mike Stoops lands back at Oklahoma.

That said, it's time to project what this league looks like in 2012.

And, before we start, let me make this clear: The Big 12 from 1-6 is absolutely wide open. Last year, the league only had three legitimate title contenders: Oklahoma, Texas A&M and Oklahoma State. This year, every one of the top six teams (and maybe seven, if RG3 returns) can win the Big 12 in a realistic scenario. The difference between Nos. 2 and 6 is minuscule and could change a ton by the end of spring practice.

And for the curious: I would have Missouri behind Kansas State on this list, and I'd have Texas A&M right behind Texas.

1. Oklahoma: The Sooners moved into the familiar role of favorite after Landry Jones announced he'd return in 2012, but not nearly as heavy a favorite as they were in 2011. Injuries hurt Oklahoma late this season, and replacing Big 12 Defensive Player of the Year Frank Alexander, along with linebacker Travis Lewis and corner Jamell Fleming won't be easy. Receivers Kenny Stills and Jaz Reynolds have to play big for the Sooners to get the win.

2. Kansas State: The big question mark for this team is can it take care of business and not get stuck in close games in 2012? The Wildcats were 8-1 in games decided by a touchdown or less this season. They can't count on duplicating that in 2012. They should be better, and return most of the big pieces from this season's 10-win team, most importantly quarterback Collin Klein and linebacker Arthur Brown. Next season is the time to prove it.

3. West Virginia: Who else is excited to see Geno Smith, Dana Holgorsen and the Mountaineer Express show up in Big 12 country next season? Like I wrote last week, giving up 33 points and still winning by five touchdowns is the Big 12 way of life. The Mountaineers broke Baylor's week-old bowl scoring record with 70 points, and bring back most of a good Big East champion team in 2012. The transition won't be easy, but they've got a chance to make a big splash in their inaugural year. The Big 12 and West Virginia are both convinced that the Mountaineers will join the Big 12 in 2012 and are planning as if it will happen, though pending lawsuits with the Big East mean it's still unofficial.

4. TCU: The transition will be more difficult for TCU, methinks. Depth could be an issue. There aren't any weeks off in the Big 12. Not even Kansas. Ask Baylor about that one. New Mexico's staying behind in the Mountain West. Eventually, I think TCU has a chance to be on par with Texas and Oklahoma on the recruiting trail and on the field. Being the only team in the metroplex is a huge deal. And it'll bring back a great team with lots of offense, headlined by QB Casey Pachall and receivers Josh Boyce and Skye Dawson, along with Brandon Carter. It'll be fun to watch.

5. Oklahoma State: The Cowboys should sustain success from this year, even though they lose Brandon Weeden and Justin Blackmon. They don't have to worry about a losing season, but with a first-year starter at quarterback, the odds are against them winning the Big 12. First-year starters have only won the Big 12 twice. Look out for Joseph Randle to have a huge year in 2012. I'm also betting on Clint Chelf to grab the starting QB job, but keep an eye on early enrollee Wes Lunt.

6. Texas: The Longhorns should be better and have lots of upside, but it's looking more and more like this team will only go as far as David Ash will take it. We'll learn just how far that is during spring and summer. This offseason is paramount for Ash's development. He's got to show something big next fall. The defense should be stingy, the offensive line improved and the backfield loaded. It's up to him.

7. Baylor: Sounds like 2012 may be the Nick Florence Show in Waco. Baylor will take a step back without RG3, but we'll see just how much he had around him, which is to say, a lot. Kendall Wright and Terrance Ganaway will be gone, but Terrance Williams and Tevin Reese will get a chance to shine. Oregon transfer Lache Seastrunk will get plenty of preseason attention, too. The Bears look like a fringe bowl team with some upside without RG3.

8. Texas Tech: Tech and Oklahoma State probably have the most upside of any team in these power rankings. The Red Raiders were better than 5-7 this season, but will have to prove it in 2012, and have to stay healthy. Seth Doege, Eric Stephens and Darrin Moore could be a dynamic set of triplets in 2012, and don't rule out a top-three finish for the Red Raiders in 2012.

9. Iowa State: The Cyclones may have a bit of a quarterback controversy in the spring after Steele Jantz reclaimed the quarterback job in the second half of the Pinstripe Bowl. Paul Rhoads joked about it after the game, but he's not joking when it comes to needing one of those guys to push the other. Jared Barnett has more upside, and the Cyclones could certainly grab a third bowl bid in four years if he plays well in 2012. ISU's a good team, but it's stuck in an absurdly deep conference that could have as many as seven (six, most likely, depending on RG3) Top-25 teams to start the season.

10. Kansas: There's a new flavor at KU, and the variables will be unpredictable for this team through spring and fall. The season should be fun. Can Charlie Weis redeem himself? What about Dayne Crist? Was Notre Dame just not the right fit for either? The opportunity to do something special at Kansas is here, and the bar is very, very low after a miserable two years. The defense can't be worse, and the Jayhawks have solid, maturing running backs.

Sooners tweaking leaky secondary

December, 3, 2011
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STILLWATER, Okla. -- Oklahoma tried using defensive back Javon Harris.

Baylor quarterback Robert Griffin III and receiver Kendall Wright made it obvious that wasn't going to work earlier in the season. Apparently, neither will using experienced senior Sam Proctor.

Oklahoma's Tony Jefferson, who most often plays a nickel back position, is playing deep safety, something Bob Stoops has said a handful of times he has no intention of doing. Joseph Ibiloye replaced Jefferson underneath at the nickel back.

Jefferson might be Oklahoma's most instinctive defender outside of lineback Travis Lewis, and having him back there could help. Brandon Weeden hit Tracy Moore underneath for a 52-yard gain to set up a touchdown, but so far, Oklahoma's been solid over the top, where the Bears gave the Sooners big trouble.

It's definitely something to keep an eye on.

Bedlam foes stocked with NFL talent

December, 2, 2011
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Oklahoma and Oklahoma State will play for the Big 12 title Saturday night, and you'll see a lot of the talent on the field playing on Sundays in the future.

Steve Muench of Scouts Inc. Insider broke down a few of the matchups between NFL talents we're apt to see during Saturday's game.

You'll need ESPN Insider to see the whole thing and more on each matchup, but here's some of what Muench sees.

Oklahoma QB Landry Jones vs. Oklahoma State S Markelle Martin
It's important that Jones get his rhythm back this week, especially when throwing over the middle.

Martin reads quarterbacks' eyes, is instinctive and closes well when the ball is in the air. He's also shown above-average ball skills and he isn't afraid to jump routes.
Oklahoma State WR Justin Blackmon vs. Oklahoma CB Jamell Fleming
Fleming doesn't have shutdown cover skills, but he can also hold up in underneath coverage thanks to his speed and fluidity. However, Blackmon's strength will be a distinct advantage in this matchup.
Oklahoma State RT Levy Adcock vs. Oklahoma DE Frank Alexander
Oklahoma State's pass-heavy scheme also puts Alexander in a bit of a catch-22 against the run. He can't simply fly upfield and play the run on the way to the passer, because that will make it easy for Adcock to turn him outside when the Cowboys run the ball.

In terms of the passing game, Adcock can anchor and protect the edge working against Alexander. However, Alexander is relentless and won't give up when he doesn't win with his first move.
Oklahoma State RB Joseph Randle vs. Oklahoma WLB Travis Lewis
Lewis is an effective tackler who locates the ball quickly, takes sound pursuit angles and wraps up on contact. He doesn't stack and shed particularly well, though, so Randle must run with vision and make Lewis fight through blocks when pursuing. Lewis can't afford to start running around blocks in an effort to get to the speedy Randle, either, because he isn't explosive enough to recover if he gets caught out of position.

Good stuff from the scouts. Check out the full story.

Injuries continue to pile up in Norman

November, 5, 2011
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Add another couple names to Oklahoma's injured list.

Receiver Ryan Broyles went down with a knee injury after a 30-yard catch, and was emotional on the sidelines with a handful of coaches and trainers around him before being helped to the locker room.

He limped off the field with help after the play; a couple more later, the Sooners had another player hurt.

Linebacker Travis Lewis, who already missed a game this year and was slowed with a broken bone in his foot, was attended to on the field with a leg injury.

Texas A&M leading rusher Christine Michael went down a couple plays later and was helped off the field, putting hardly any weight on his injured leg.

It's been a rough day for both teams in Norman, but Oklahoma leads, 41-10, late in the third quarter.

Re-ranking the Big 12's top 25 players

October, 17, 2011
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It's time for a new midseason project here on the Big 12 blog.

We've ranked the Big 12's best players before the season. We've done it after the season.

Time for a midseason checkup. This list looks vastly different than the one we made before the season, with guys moving way up, way down and off the list. There will be some surprises, but I feel pretty good about it.

As usual, the list is locked away in a vault in an undisclosed location, but before we begin, a quick rundown of the criteria:
  • FIRST RULE: This list is based solely on what players have done over the past six games. I didn't factor in any other part of any player's career. Six games to rule them all. My preseason lists factor in a player's entire career. This list, and postseason lists, do not.
  • NFL Draft potential is not factored into the list.
  • The way I go about this list is as if I were drafting the best overall talents in the league. Each player's personal role or meaning to his team is irrelevant. This is not a "most valuable" list. It's the Big 12's best players.
  • Sometimes stats tell the whole story. Other times, they don't. Player X may have had more tackles or more yards or interceptions than Player Y, but that doesn't necessarily mean he'll be higher than him on the list.

All that said, let's get started.

No. 21: Tony Jerod-Eddie, DL, Texas A&M: Jerod-Eddie has been a disruption up front all season, and is fourth in the Big 12 with four sacks. He has 4.5 tackles for loss and has broken up a pass and forced a fumble. The Aggies lead the nation with 26 sacks, and though TJE hasn't gotten a ton of them in the stat sheet, his play is a big reason why his teammates have.

No. 22: Emmanuel Acho, LB, Texas: Acho leads the Horns with 47 tackles, and ranks fifth in the Big 12 in stops. He has two sacks, six tackles for loss with a pass breakup.

No. 23: Collin Klein, QB, Kansas State: Klein has been a constant for Kansas State's offense. He's doing it ugly, but he's making the plays necessary to keep Kansas State undefeated. He leads the Big 12 with 10 rushing touchdowns and his 138 carries are 25 more than anyone else in the Big 12. He's turned them into 578 yards rushing, and has thrown for 739 yards with seven touchdowns and three interceptions.

No. 24: Travis Lewis, LB, Oklahoma: Lewis has been slowed by a broken bone in his foot that forced him to miss the Sooners opener, but Von Miller suffered an injury early last season before rebounding to win the Butkus Award. Will we see a similar rise from Lewis? For now, he has 40 tackles (12th in the Big 12) with two tackles for loss, a pass breakup and a forced fumble.

No. 25: Markelle Martin, S, Oklahoma State: Martin is back to his old ways laying big hits on receivers with two forced fumbles and 37 tackles. The senior safety has also broken up five passes.

Stay tuned to the Big 12 blog for the next five players in the rankings.

Big 12 weekend rewind

October, 10, 2011
10/10/11
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It's that time again. What you need to know about the last weekend in football:

Best offensive player: Landry Jones, QB, Oklahoma. Jones threw for 367 yards and three touchdowns, but 305 of his yards and all three scores were in the first half of Oklahoma's 55-17 rout of Texas. It was the junior's best game of the year and he played mistake-free football against a defense doing everything it could to rattle him.

[+] EnlargeLandry Jones
AP Photo/Mike FuentesLandry Jones topped 300 yards and threw three touchdown passes in the first half alone as the Sooners rolled the Longhorns.
Best defensive player: Frank Alexander, DE, Oklahoma. Alexander made six tackles, had three sacks and forced and recovered a fumble in Oklahoma's 55-17 win over Texas. His forced fumble was scooped up and returned for a touchdown in the third quarter, too. Alexander was named one of the Walter Camp Players of the Week for his efforts.

Best team: Oklahoma. Pretty simple here. The Sooners dominated on both sides of the ball for one of the most complete performances we've seen from a team in any game all season.

Best gesture: Travis Lewis, LB, Oklahoma. Oklahoma's tribute to Austin Box--having a different defender wear his No. 12 jersey each week--is a great idea, and some weeks will hit harder than others. After Saturday's game, Lewis was in tears and being consoled by quarterback Landry Jones. Lewis said Saturday was the kind of game Box lived to play in and the two were close friends.

Worst gesture: Vandals in Lubbock, Texas. There's no guarantee that the people who vandalized Texas A&M's bus with Texas Tech logos, spray paint and "some sort of excrement" were Texas Tech fans, but it's the scenario that makes the most sense. Either way, it was unnecessary, regardless of how you feel about the Tech-A&M rivalry coming to an end when the Aggies leave for the SEC.

Best game: Kansas State 24, Missouri 17. It was pretty slim pickings this weekend, but the Tigers stormed back from a 24-3 deficit in the fourth quarter and Kansas State secured a win with a clutch drive late that was extended by an unbelievable one-handed catch by Andre McDonald to convert a third down and keep the ball away from a hot Missouri offense.

Ugliest hit: Damontre Moore on Eric Stephens. Stephens dropped a short pass and Moore came in for a hit low on Stephens' left knee, which torqued the joint and resulted in Stephens being carted off. Moore was also shaken up on the play, but returned. I don't think you can call the hit "dirty" or malicious but it was maybe a bit reckless, and definitely late. Either way, Moore called to apologize on Sunday and Stephens says it was part of the game and "all good."

Worst quarter: Kansas' first quarter. The Jayhawks were walking into a buzzsaw on Saturday in Stillwater, but it began with promise. After six minutes, the Jayhawks led, 7-0. Then Oklahoma State ripped off 35 points in 8:45 and the Cowboys led 56-7 at the half. The half!

Best fashion sense: Oklahoma State. The Cowboys dropped one of their strongest uniform combos of the season with a matte black helmet, a black jersey and orange pants.

Best jab: An Oklahoma staffer made note of the Sooners' own uniform combination: "Today's OU uniform: white pants, white jersey, crimson helmet, Golden Hat."

Big 12 weekend rewind

September, 26, 2011
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Time for our look back at the weekend in the Big 12.

[+] EnlargeBrandon Weeden
Thomas Campbell/US PresswireOklahoma State quarterback Brandon Weeden had a record setting performance against Texas A&M.
Best offensive player: Brandon Weeden, QB, Oklahoma State. Facing a 17-point deficit, Weeden turned in an all-world second half, breaking his own school records with 47 completions and 438 passing yards and two touchdowns, which might have been three if not for an incident we'll get to later. And for all the talk of Weeden's interception count (six through three games) he didn't turn it over once against the best defense he's faced all year.

Best defensive player: Brodrick Brown, CB, Oklahoma State. Brown helped limit the effectiveness of Texas A&M receiver Jeff Fuller, and made eight tackles with an interception and two pass breakups in the Cowboys' 30-29 win over the Aggies.

Best team performance: Oklahoma State. Just like Oklahoma here. You win a road game in a tough environment against a top 10 team? You get best team performance. That's especially true if you erase a 17-point halftime deficit to do it. Runner up: Kansas State.

Best game: Oklahoma State 30, Texas A&M 29. Twists, turns and turnovers dotted some pretty sharp offensive play by Texas A&M in the first half and Oklahoma State in the second. What resulted was two really good teams playing an intensely entertaining game that came down to the final minutes.

Worst quarter: Texas A&M's third quarter. The Aggies let it all get away right here. Texas A&M's defense gave up three touchdown drives, sandwiched around a fumble on a the back end of a long catch-and-run by Kenric McNeal and a short drive that didn't cross midfield. The Aggies may look back at these 15 minutes as the ones that vastly changed their season for the worse. How quickly the game turned from 20-3 to 24-20.

Worst play: Justin Blackmon, WR, Oklahoma State. What can be said about Blackmon's fumble into the end zone and out of bounds that hasn't already been said about Jersey Shore. Unnecessary, completely mindless, but you can't look away. How did this become reality?

Best play(s): Kansas State's defense. With the game on the line, the Wildcats stuffed Miami four times on the goal line to preserve a huge 28-24 win.

Best haircut: Travis Lewis, LB, Oklahoma. Lewis paid homage to his secondary, nicknamed "The Sharks," by shaving a shark into the side of his head. Outstanding, sir. Kenny Stills' mohawk has competition.

Best gesture: Oklahoma State's players. Linebackers coach Glenn Spencer's wife died earlier in the week, and the players made rubber bracelets for the team that read "One Heart, One Team, One Family." Said coach Mike Gundy: "It's one thing when the coaches do it. The kids doing it is another."

Most supportive fans: Oklahoma State. After notching one of the biggest wins in program history, Oklahoma State's charter flight arrived back in Stillwater to a ton of fans at the airport waiting to welcome their team back home. Very nice, Cowboys.

Best proposal: Ryan Broyles, WR, Oklahoma. Broyles proposed to his long-time girlfriend on Sunday. The Sooners QB, Landry Jones, and top receiver are now officially off the market.

Most humorous fans: Oklahoma State. The few thousand OSU fans that made the trip to College Station started chanting "Big 12, Big 12, Big 12!" when the game was out of reach at Kyle Field for the SEC-bound Aggies. It may be the first time it got busted out, but no debut was more fitting, I suppose.

OSU dominated this thing today. Rest of the league has to step it up.

Big 12 Power Rankings: Week 4

September, 19, 2011
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» Power Rankings: ACC | Big 12 | Big East | Big Ten | Pac-12 | SEC

Well done across the Big 12, but still some movement after a 9-1 weekend for Big 12 teams. Bound to be some complaints for not moving up after great weeks, but look around, Big 12 fans: Everybody but the Jayhawks (and Oklahoma State's sleep cycles) had a great week.

1. Oklahoma (2-0, last week: 1): Oklahoma got Travis Lewis back, and the Sooners are on track for a national title through two weeks. The defense was tough throughout the night, and offensively, OU made plays when it had to after momentum had turned in a hostile environment. Big gut-check, and an impressive night.

2. Oklahoma State (3-0, LW: 2): OSU's offense is chugging along, but next week's trip to College Station should be a classic. OSU spent its Saturday night eating PB&J in the locker room before a 12:15 a.m. kickoff and a 3:36 a.m. finish against Tulsa. Don't expect OSU to use a 6 a.m. arrival back in Stillwater on Sunday morning as an excuse, though.

3. Texas A&M (2-0, LW: 3): The Aggies have been solid in both outings, but their first big test will be coming to Kyle Field next week. Last year's game was a classic, but A&M missed out on a chance to play for the Big 12 title with a loss. This time, Ryan Tannehill will get his shot at the Cowboys.

4. Baylor (2-0, LW: 4): I told you it was possible for Robert Griffin III to get better, and he's playing some of the best football of anyone in the country through two games. Baylor will likely be favored in its next three games before traveling to Kyle Field, but could the No. 17 Bears sneak into the top 10 by then?

5. Texas (3-0, LW: 5): Texas played its best game of the year on the road against UCLA, and just like it has every game this year, dominated the second half. Case McCoy is earning a bit more time than the more mobile David Ash, but that might fluctuate as games progress. Malcolm Brown is the real deal.

6. Missouri (2-1, LW: 6): Missouri got fewer votes in the polls than Iowa State this week, and based on the Cyclones' 3-0 record, that's probably fair, but Missouri still looks like the more complete team. Additionally, the Tigers are a 49-yard field goal from probably being in the top 15. That's telling if you ask me.

7. Iowa State (3-0, LW: 7): Iowa State has shown a flare for the dramatic, but heading into the bye week, the Cyclones are riding high. Three weeks, three fourth-quarter combacks. They've come against Northern Iowa, Iowa and UConn, but we'll learn a bit more about the Cyclones when they play Texas on Oct. 1.

8. Texas Tech (2-0, LW: 8): Tech looked good against New Mexico, but you don't move up in the power rankings by thrashing a team that's won two games in just over two seasons, no matter how accurate the quarterback is. Texas Tech might be better than Iowa State, Missouri, Texas or even Baylor. But we won't know for a few weeks. Thus, here the Red Raiders sit.

9. Kansas State (2-0, LW: 10): Kansas State looked pretty good against a weak Kent State team, much better than it did against Eastern Kentucky in the opener. But...read that sentence again. Time to strap up with a trip to Miami on the way this week.

10. Kansas (2-1, LW: 9): Welcome back. Your dreams were your ticket out (of the basement). Welcome back, to that same place you laughed about (when Kansas State was here). The defense has a long way to go.

Sooners move on without defensive leader

September, 14, 2011
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Travis Lewis was hopeful. He felt confident he could make the doctors look silly and defy his diagnosis, returning to the the field five weeks after a broken bone in his left foot was expected to sideline him for eight weeks.

On Monday, he was forced to deal with a heavy dose of reality. When Oklahoma takes on Florida State on Saturday night, it will do so without its loudest voice and biggest leader, the senior linebacker.

"Won't be playing this week . . Still another week away. Sorry sooner fans," Lewis tweeted on Monday.

Oklahoma, though, doesn't have a choice. It has to move on and try to beat the No. 5 Seminoles on their home field in Tallahassee without the player that has led the Sooners in tackles for all three of his seasons on the field.

"We’ve got to deal with challenges, but once he’s back, he’ll be welcomed," said linebacker Tom Wort.

Wort is a first-year starter, but without Lewis, he's charged with leading a young group of linebackers as the defense's quarterback.

"It was the first time I didn’t have anyone to rely on to make the calls," Wort said of Oklahoma's opener against Tulsa. "I just had to step up and make sure everyone was lined up."

[+] EnlargeTravis Lewis
Matthew Emmons/US PresswireOklahoma will be without linebacker Travis Lewis when it travels to No. 5 Florida State.
Wort, and the rest of the linebackers are still responsible for those calls, but there's never any question about who is the defense's central voice.

"It’s something that you do at linebacker ever since you show up, so it wasn't a problem," Wort said. "When he’s there, I’ve still got to make calls and communicate the defense. As linebackers, that’s our job. So my role didn't change, just the fact that I didn't have anyone else really to help me out."

Lewis won't be on the field, but he's still clawing at ways to contribute. He spent Tuesday quizzing Wort on the defense's gameplan.

Physically, hyped sophomore Corey Nelson will fill Lewis' role as the starting weakside linebacker. In the 47-14 win over Tulsa he had three tackles, but more should be on the way.

"He graded out well and he made the plays he needed to make," Wort said. "He’s still trying to gain that experience, but I thought he did a great job."

Lewis is ahead of schedule, and the Sooners may have to go through the will-he-or-won't-he questions before next week's game against Missouri.

But this week? The Sooner linebackers will have to notch a victory in one of the season's biggest games without their biggest asset.

"I definitely miss having Travis out there, and though we want him back, we can make it," Wort said.

What we learned in the Big 12: Week 1

September, 4, 2011
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[+] EnlargeLandry Jones
AP Photo/Sue OgrockiLandry Jones and Oklahoma opened the season with a strong performance against Tulsa.
1. Oklahoma is clicking, and deserves the No. 1 spot for now. Oklahoma was good everywhere and great in a few spots before racing to a 44-7 lead entering the fourth quarter against a 10-win team from a year ago. Bob Stoops is happy with all three phases of his team. Outside of Travis Lewis, the Sooners are pretty healthy and have two weeks to prepare for a showdown in Tallahassee with Florida State on Sept. 17. Life is good in Norman.

2. Baylor is going to be tough to beat. Much tougher than in 2010. What part do you want to be most impressed by? Baylor's rapid-fire offense that racked up a 47-23 lead in the fourth quarter against TCU? Or the gutsiness it showed after a pair of three-and-outs and a fumble cost them that lead, and the Bears rallied? Harp on that rough fourth quarter if y0u must, but the real Baylor is a lot closer to what we saw the rest of the game, and the Bears answered a huge test. Impressive. I picked the Bears to finish fifth in the Big 12 and called them a sleeper to win 10 games. I'm still feeling good about that, and Baylor is on my top 25 ballot for Week 2.

3. James Franklin is a work in progress. Franklin doesn't have the raw skill that Chase Daniel or Blaine Gabbert had, but he's a smart player that will have to figure out what works for him as he goes along. His mechanics aren't pretty, which is a bit jarring at Missouri after watching Blaine Gabbert for two seasons, but he's got the ability to win a lot of games. For now, his decision-making and accuracy need a lot of work, but as long as he can avoid big mistakes, Missouri is good enough to go a long way with him running the show.

4. The bottom of the Big 12? Well, it's not very good. At least not yet. Goodness, Big 12 North. For facing an uncertain conference future, you're sure not playing like it. Kansas took care of business and looked good, but the Jayhawks have a historic hoops program that should keep them afloat if the Big 12 breaks up. But Iowa State and Kansas State both needed late-game heroics to beat FCS opponents. I don't know if anyone's told them yet, but it's going to get a lot tougher very quickly. All three have to be better.

5. There is hope for Texas' offense. The Longhorns racked up 506 yards of offense, including 277 through the air and 239 on the ground. Here's guessing Texas leans on more of a running identity this season, but I loved what Malcolm Brown was able to do. He might never win a Heisman, but he's heading for a solid career in Austin. Additionally, Jaxon Shipley is the real deal. The best news, though? This offense looks like it at least has a direction and knows what it wants to be, which last season's team couldn't claim at any point.
The season kicks off with a nice appetizer in Week 1, but these are the main courses that will decide how 2011 is shaped in the Big 12.

1. Dec. 3, Oklahoma at Oklahoma State: This one takes precedence only because it's the finale. Oklahoma may be in the national title hunt. Oklahoma State might be, too. Texas A&M may be waiting and watching, hoping one of these teams can knock off the other and influence their conference title hopes. Either way, plenty of eyes will be on the Dec. 3 conference finale, moved to championship weekend in lieu of a Big 12 Championship game.

2. Sept. 24, Oklahoma State at Texas A&M: Call this one a Big 12 semifinal. Loser will fight an uphill battle to a Big 12 title or a BCS bowl. Winner emerges as the lead contender to knock off reigning champ Oklahoma. There should be plenty of offense to go around, and if all goes as planned, this could be a premiere matchup of top 10 or even top 5 teams. "College GameDay" in College Station, anyone?

3. Oct. 8, Oklahoma vs. Texas in Dallas: The Big 12's premier rivalry takes a backseat here, but the atmosphere at the Cotton Bowl and State Fair of Texas should be as lively as ever. Texas wants to prove it can get back to the top? Beating Oklahoma is the quickest way to do it. And a rivalry game on a neutral site is as easy a setting as any other to have a march to the national title derailed.

4. Nov. 5, Texas A&M at Oklahoma: Count me among the folks that don't see the Aggies winning this one, or even coming within single digits, but that's only because of Oklahoma's history at Owen Field when their 36-game winning streak has looked like it was in jeopardy. The Aggies knocked off Oklahoma by two touchdowns in College Station next year. Revenge? Or sweet vindication once again on the way to a conference title before leaving for the SEC for the Aggies?

5. Nov. 24, Texas at Texas A&M: This one would have been last on the list, or perhaps not even on it, if all was well in the offices of Big 12 administrators. But alas, that's not the case. This may end up being the last chapter in one of the league's great rivalries, with the Aggies looking like they're headed to the SEC and Texas looking like it's not too concerned about keeping the series alive. Either way, this thing is ending in an S-E-C chant from somebody. Texas should expect extra special treatment from the fans in attendance. Nobody gave the Horns a chance in last season's farewell game against Nebraska in Lincoln. How will the Longhorns look three months from now?

6. Sept. 24, Missouri at Oklahoma: Those poor Tigers. Scheduling has them taking a Big 12 backseat to the biggest game of Week 4, but the Tigers could make a huge statement with a win in Norman. Does anyone see it happening? Very few outside Columbia do, which could make it even more shocking if it does. Linebacker Travis Lewis may still be sidelined, which would help Missouri's case. A win makes the Tigers immediate Big 12 title contenders and perhaps more.

Some thoughts on All-Access with OU

August, 24, 2011
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The premiere of the hour-long special following Oklahoma's fall camp, "Hard Knocks" style, was last night on ESPN. I hope you checked it out.

It was pretty fantastic.

Miss it? Here's the re-air schedule.

Off to a few thoughts:
  • I really enjoyed all the segments regarding Austin Box, a senior linebacker who died back on May 19. There's no doubt how much he meant to this team. It was written all over each player's face during the scene in the team chapel during camp when they players were re-shown the video that was first shown at Box's funeral back in his hometown in Enid. I was at the church on that emotional day, and 50 of Box's teammates were, too.
  • In a lot of those segments, you got a sense of what this team means to Travis Lewis, and what Box meant to Lewis. One of Box's teammates that wasn't at his funeral was Lewis, who told me at Big 12 Media Days last month that he just couldn't do it. Lewis, of course, isn't going to delve into what exactly that means with the media, but with his teammates? You saw part of it in his speech when he took the podium in front of the team, and Lewis showed exactly why he's this team's leader. That kind of presence? You just can't replace it. Lewis will be around, but he won't be on the field for awhile for Oklahoma. The show gave fans a look at what that means. Being a good leader and isn't about being the loudest or the funniest. Lewis is often both. But being a true leader is about competing and setting an example, and communicating to your teammates. Lewis does both, and you saw just how easily it came to him when he injected meaning into the team's new tradition of breaking down huddles with a "12" chant. All Lewis did was speak from his heart, and the result was a short, profoundly powerful words. "When Travis speaks, people listen," linebacker Corey Nelson said. Now you know why.
  • On to less serious things: Kenny Stills' hair needs its own show. Outstanding. Just when you thought there was no trail left to blaze on the Mohawk front, Stills takes it a step further. Keep that mane flowing all season, sir.
  • True freshman offensive lineman Nila Kasitati stole the show early with his Haka dance. His hometown of Euless, Texas, a suburb of Dallas, has a high Pacific Islander population, and Kasitati brought some of that flavor to Norman. Pretty awesome. The Sooners say they're not perfecting it, but I'd love to see them bust it out before a big game this fall.
  • Small thing here, but take note: The cold tubs early in the show that Oklahoma has? Chalk that up to great facilities. I've seen other programs across the league that simply use big metal tubs filled with ice. The Sooners' setup looked quite a bit more high tech.
  • Great stuff from Stoops, throughout. He's got a personality, but us media types rarely get to see it. If the cameras are around long enough, I suppose it comes out eventually. Stoops introducing us to his dogs and talking about his kids' relationships with his players showed one facet of his personality, contrasted with the fiery personality he shows with his players on the practice field. We don't get to see either of those very often. A nice look inside. His tour around his office was good, too.
  • Lane Johnson: Take that Bob Stoops impression on the road. You'll make millions. Stoops peeking his head in to ask "What's going on over here?" was by far the funniest part of the show.
  • Outside of lots of contact scored by speed metal, it was tough to tell who was doing what in the Oklahoma drill, but Corey Nelson looked like he was eating up a few running backs.
We'll cap our Big 12 preview today with five predictions for the year.

1. The Big 12 will have two teams in BCS bowls. The Big 12 did it in 2007 and 2008, but hadn't done it since the 2004 season before that. This year, the Big 12 is in perfect position to land two teams on college football's grandest stage. Oklahoma, tied with Ohio State at eight appearances for the most in the nation, is the league's surest thing, but there are three quality teams below the Sooners that can get it done. The winner of the Sept. 24 matchup between Oklahoma State and Texas A&M in College Station will lose only to Oklahoma and reach a BCS bowl.

2. Texas Tech and Missouri will have a 1,000-yard rusher. Oklahoma will not. Hop aboard the Eric Stephens and Kendial Lawrence buses. They're going a long ways. For Tech, it'll be the first 1,000-yard rusher since Ricky Williams (no, not that one) in 1998. Both players have strong offensive lines and first-year starters at quarterback. Each is fully capable of handling a big load, and will do it. Meanwhile, Oklahoma will ride its experience at quarterback and receiver while a platoon of running backs split the duty.

3. Oklahoma will go undefeated and play for a national title. The injury to Travis Lewis, possible ineligibility of Ronnell Lewis and a trip to Tallahassee in Week 3 won't deter the Sooners. The offensive firepower is enough to push the Sooners through a rough Big 12 slate unscathed. What happens in that national title game? Well, we'll find out in January, won't we?

4. Texas will not finish in the top half of the Big 12. The Big 12 has too many quality teams with too many quality offenses. Texas reaches a bowl game, but finishes behind Missouri and Baylor, setting for a sixth-place finish heading into a strong spring.

5. Justin Blackmon will become the second player to ever repeat as Biletnikoff Award winner. Believe it or not, but only Texas Tech's Michael Crabtree has won the 17-year-old award twice. That changes this year. Blackmon is the nation's best receiver and he proves it for a second year. His numbers dip to around 1,600 yards and 17 touchdowns, but it's still enough to be the clear winner.

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