NCF Nation: Trent Williams

1. Former U.S. Attorney Richard Thornburgh, commissioned by the family of late Penn State football coach Joe Paterno, poked enough holes in the Freeh Report to let the air out of it. Thornburgh’s report, released Sunday, illustrated that the Freeh Report was not the last word on the Penn State scandal -- merely the first. The NCAA built its case against Penn State on the Freeh Report because the Board of Trustees vouched for it. That’s not much of a defense now that the Freeh Report appears to be a rush to judgment. Instead, it’s one more blow against what credibility the NCAA has left.

2. By accepting Kyle Whittingham’s offer to become Utah co-offensive coordinator, Dennis Erickson did more than return to the sideline one year after being fired at Arizona State. He delayed his candidacy for the College Football Hall of Fame. Erickson’s record of 179-96-1 (.650) and two national titles (Miami, 1989-91) means his entry into the Hall is a question of when, not if. And his acceptance of the job confirms him as a guy less interested in the trappings of a million-dollar job than in coaching ball -- and kids.

3. Oklahoma head coach Bob Stoops pushed offensive line coach James Patton out the door (to Indiana) after seven seasons because the Sooners’ running game has been mediocre for four years. In that time, Oklahoma hasn’t averaged more than 163 yards per game or finished higher than seventh in the Big 12. It may be a recruiting issue. The Sooners have had one All-American (tackle Trent Williams) in the last four years. Stoops will tell us the new direction of his running game by revealing Patton's replacement.
The comparisons to the upcoming 2011 season and what Oklahoma experienced in 2009 have been unmistakable.

[+] EnlargeTravis Lewis
Matthew Emmons/US PresswireThe Sooners will open the season without defensive leader Travis Lewis.
Now, after the latest news emerging from fall camp in Norman, the similarities have become a bit eerie.

The Sooners opened 2009 as a top-five team with a Heisman-winning quarterback leading a loaded offense with a defense good enough to win a national title a year after coming up short against Florida.

This year, the Sooners opened the coaches' preseason poll as the nation's No. 1 team with a Heisman favorite leading a loaded offense and a defense likely better than the 2009 team. Additionally, the Sooners are coming off a 12-win season that culminated in a BCS bowl win against Connecticut.

But before the 2009 season, just days before the opener against BYU, news leaked that senior tight end Jermaine Gresham, named an All-American after his junior season, had suffered a knee injury. The severity was unknown, but it seemed likely he could return at some point.

Gresham never played again for OU after tests revealed torn cartilage in the knee, and the Sooners suffered a season-opening loss to BYU in Cowboys Stadium. In that loss, Sooners quarterback Sam Bradford played with a shoulder injury that he never fully recovered from. He had midseason surgery and ceded control of the team to Landry Jones.

Which brings us to today. Jones is still healthy. So is the rest of the team.

But linebacker Travis Lewis' toe injury can't help but conjure up scary images of a chase for a title gone awry before it even had a chance to begin.

Unlike the loss of Gresham, the Sooners have a fit replacement for Lewis with tons of promise.

Tight end essentially became irrelevant in Oklahoma's offense, which scored more points than any team in college football history during the run to the national title game in 2008.

Lewis, the preseason Big 12 Defensive Player of the Year, leaves a void at weakside linebacker, but he's backed up by touted blue-chip recruit Corey Nelson. The only thing keeping Nelson off the field was Lewis, who chose to turn down NFL money and chase a title, just like Gresham, Bradford, Gerald McCoy and Trent Williams did in 2009.

Now is Nelson's opportunity. Fans will get a chance to see him work at his natural position instead of the nickel back spot he'd been working at during fall camp.

This isn't 2009 yet, though it certainly smells similar.

Oklahoma finished 8-5 that season, hurt further by a rash of injuries on the offensive line that at one point forced defensive tackle Stacy McGee (a backup on this year's team) to move to offensive line.

The Sooners can still rise above Lewis' injury. They're good enough everywhere else to beat ranked teams Florida State and Missouri, who have September dates with the Sooners. Lewis could return in October, and until then, weakside linebacker could still remain a strength.

There's no replacing Lewis' experience, or his on-field energy, where he's one of the most talkative players in the league and the defense's unquestioned leader. Nelson can hold things together with his talent, though.

Barring further injury, Nelson and the Sooners have a chance to rewrite the forgettable history of 2009. In September, we'll find out if they can do it.

Oklahoma running back DeMarco Murray has carried the ball 12 times in the past two Red River Rivalry games. Those 12 carries have gone for a total of 3 yards.

Oklahoma lost both games.

As a freshman, Murray ran for 128 yards on 17 carries, picking up a big block of yardage on a 65-yard go-ahead touchdown in the third quarter.

Oklahoma won that game.

[+] EnlargeDeMarco Murray
Jim Owens/Icon SMIDeMarco Murray already has seven rushing touchdowns this season.
Maybe it's not that simple. Or maybe it is. Either way, a big day from Murray certainly helps the chances of a big day for Oklahoma, especially in the Red River Rivalry, where the team with more rushing yards has won the Golden Hat on 11 consecutive occasions.

That looked more likely in the season opener against Utah State, when Murray handled a heavy load of 35 carries and turned them into 208 yards, both career highs.

"DeMarco, he honestly looks like he did as a freshman, now that he's fully healthy," said Oklahoma center Ben Habern.

But Murray's nearly six-yard average per carry in the season opener has dwindled to just 3.2 in his last three games, dipping to a season low of 2.4 on his 28 carries last week against Cincinnati. Texas entered last week as the nation's No. 1 rush defense, but when the Longhorns faced a team in UCLA that intended to run at the center of their defense, they gave up over 300 yards on the ground.

"That's irrelevant," Murray said. "I know they had a little hiccup last week, but I know they'll be fired up to play this game just like we will. They could be 0-5 and we could be 0-5 and we'd both be ready to play our best game of the year this week. It doesn't matter, last week."

Texas has shut down Murray the last two seasons with a handful of would-be NFL draft picks on its defensive line, such as Sergio Kindle, Lamarr Houston, Brian Orakpo, Roy Miller and Henry Melton, along with linebackers such as Roddrick Muckelroy.

"They've definitely had good players, but we've had pretty good guys, too, NFL guys like Trent [Williams], Phil [Loadholt] and Duke [Robinson]," Habern said.

Murray also suffered an ankle injury in last year's game that kept him out of the following week's game against Kansas.

"It hurt really bad, but I had to be a man and step up," Murray said. "That's one game you definitely don't want to miss."

He's not asking for excuses. All he wants is the ball, and Oklahoma feels its struggles running the ball the past few weeks are about to end.

"The last few weeks, we were only a few holes away from breaking DeMarco and Mossis [Madu] free for big runs," said quarterback Landry Jones.

On Saturday, the Sooners will work toward making sure those holes are there. Otherwise, Texas may leave the Cotton Bowl with a fifth Red River victory in six years.
Sam Bradford/Ndamukong Suh/Gerald McCoyUS PresswireSam Bradford, Ndamukong Suh and Gerald McCoy are expected to be the first three players selected in tonight's first round of the NFL draft.
We're only a few hours away from tonight's first round of the NFL draft, one that could be unprecedented for the conference.

As many as five of the first six picks could come from the Big 12.

Oklahoma's Sam Bradford is the assumed first pick. Defensive tackles Ndamukong Suh and Gerald McCoy should follow. As will offensive tackles Trent Williams (Oklahoma) and Russell Okung (Oklahoma State).

Considering where the conference has been in recent years, that's not a surprise to the coaches sending those players to the next level.

"I don’t think there’s any question it’s been excellent, evidenced by what, us and Texas in the last couple national championship games," said Oklahoma coach Bob Stoops, who was forced to play most of 2009 without Bradford, the 2008 Heisman winner. "And year in and year out we’ve been there. I’ve known that for a long time and it’s obvious the talent in this league is second to none and its throughout the league and it’s exciting."

Texas coach Mack Brown could also have a pair of Longhorns go in the first round: defensive back Earl Thomas and defensive end/linebacker Sergio Kindle. Both are Texas natives, with Thomas hailing from Orange and Kindle from Dallas.

"More of the kids are staying at home and wanting to play in the Big 12 area, where one of our schools is traditionally playing for the national championship, so we’re in the mix each year," Brown said. "And I also feel like since we’ve won in this league and we’ve been in the final game more often, that more national kids are starting to look at our schools more readily than before."

Missouri's program has reached new heights in the last few years, winning 12 games in 2007 and another 10 in 2008. Missouri's two first-round draft picks last season, receiver Jeremy Maclin and defensive tackle Ziggy Hood, helped make those seasons possible. The Tigers also had safety William Moore drafted in the second round of last year's draft.

"I remember Don James, my mentor who I worked for at Washington, he told me about three or four years ago, he says, ‘When you start getting more players drafted, a lot more high draft choices, you’re going to win a lot more games.’ And at this level, as it was at Washington, that’s the way it is," Pinkel said. "You’re not going to get six drafted every year, but certainly, if you’re going to win at this level, you’re going to get more players that go on and play in the NFL."

He could add another first-round pick, his third in two seasons, tonight in linebacker Sean Weatherspoon, giving the Big 12 as many as 10 selections among the first 32 picks.

"It shows schools are recruiting quality young men and good football players," said Oklahoma State coach Mike Gundy.

All-Big 12 bowl team dotted by seven Cornhuskers

January, 12, 2010
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It was a forgettable bowl season for much of the Big 12.

But there were still enough top producers to fill out a team of top performers from the conference's 4-4 bowl season.

Here's a look at my top performers:

OFFENSE

QB Landry Jones, Oklahoma: Passed for career-best 418 yards and added three passing TDs to direct Sooners’ Sun Bowl victory over Stanford.

RB Alexander Robinson, Iowa State: Rushed for 137 yards -- his sixth 100-yard game of the season -- to pace Cyclones’ victory over Minnesota in the Insight Bowl.

RB Baron Batch, Texas Tech: Rushed for 100 yards, scored two TDs and produced six receptions for 85 yards in Red Raiders’ comeback victory in the Alamo Bowl over Michigan State.

WR Jordan Shipley, Texas: Overcame slow start to produce 10 catches for 122 yards and two TDs against Alabama, becoming Texas’ leading career receiver.

WR Ryan Broyles, Oklahoma: Produced career-best totals of 13 receptions, 156 receiving yards and also matched career high with three TD receptions to help beat Stanford in the Sun Bowl.

TE Trent Ratterree, Oklahoma: Grabbed three receptions for 86 yards, including pivotal 38-yard catch that was Jones’ longest pass of game in Sun Bowl victory over Stanford.

OL Ricky Henry, Nebraska: Helped Cornhuskers dominate in the trenches in biggest Cornhuskers' bowl victory since 2000.

OL Kelechi Osemele, Iowa State: Dominant effort helped Cyclones claim first bowl victory since 2004 and only third bowl victory in school history.

OL Jacob Hickman, Nebraska: Cornhuskers’ center set the tone for easy victory over Arizona.

OL Brandon Carter, Texas Tech: Colorful lineman helped Tech roll up school bowl-record 31 first downs, 579 total yards against Michigan State.

OL Trent Williams, Oklahoma: All-American moved from tackle to center and didn’t miss a beat in the Sooners’ Sun Bowl triumph.

DEFENSE

DL Sergio Kindle, Texas: Had his best game of the season with eight tackles, 2.5 sacks and 3.5 tackles for losses against Alabama.

DL Pierre Allen, Nebraska: Set the tone for Nebraska’s pass rush with two sacks, four tackles, forced a fumble and notched a quarterback hurry in the Cornhuskers’ shutout over Arizona -- first for a Big 12 team in a bowl game in conference history.

DL Christopher Lyle, Iowa State: Insight Bowl defensive MVP produced five tackles, including two for losses and one sack to lead Cyclones’ victory over Minnesota.

DL Rajon Henley, Texas Tech: Four tackles, four quarterback hurries, one sack against Michigan State.

LB Phillip Dillard, Nebraska: Produced team-high seven stops, broke up one pass in Cornhuskers’ shutout over Arizona.

LB Ryan Reynolds, Oklahoma: Produced 12 tackles (three solo, nine assists), two quarterback hurries and one tackle for loss against Stanford.

LB Andre Sexton, Oklahoma State: Produced 10 tackles, two interceptions and one tackle for a loss in Cotton Bowl loss to Mississippi.

DB Matt O’Hanlon, Nebraska: Earned Holiday Bowl defensive MVP honors with five stops, a 37-yard interception and a pass broken up against Arizona.

DB Ter’ran Benton, Iowa State: In his first game back after recovering from mid-season broken leg, notched five tackles and game-clinching fumble recovery in Cyclones’ Insight Bowl victory over Minnesota.

DB Jamar Wall, Texas Tech: Produced six tackles, broke up two passes and one interception against Michigan State.

DB Quinton Carter, Oklahoma: Notched eight stops (five tackles, three assists) and added an interception in Sun Bowl victory over Stanford.

SPECIALISTS

P Quinn Sharp, Oklahoma State: Averaged 50.2 yards per punt on his eight punts, including four punts inside 20 in Cotton Bowl.

K Alex Henery, Nebraska: Converted all four field goals of 47, 50, 43 and 22 yards to set the Holiday Bowl record. His big night gave him a Nebraska single-season record of 24 for the season.

RET Niles Paul, Nebraska: The Holiday Bowl offensive MVP amassed 94 yards in returns, including a 49-yard kickoff return and a 28-yard punt return. He also added four catches for 123 yards, including a clinching 74-yard TD grab from Zac Lee.

McCoy, Suh head All-Big 12 team

December, 8, 2009
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Here's a look at my All-Big 12 team. There were couple of late selections that were affected by the Big 12 championship game. If you look closely enough, you probably will see where I made my switches.

Oklahoma leads the team with five selections, Texas had four and Nebraska and Missouri three picks apiece.

Offense:

QB: Colt McCoy, Texas

RB: Daniel Thomas, Kansas State

RB: Keith Toston, Oklahoma State

WR: Danario Alexander, Missouri

WR: Jordan Shipley, Texas

TE: Riar Geer, Colorado

OL: Russell Okung, Oklahoma State

OL: Brandon Carter, Texas Tech

OL: Trent Williams, Oklahoma

OL: Adam Ulatoski, Texas

C: Reggie Stephens, Iowa State

K: Grant Ressel, Missouri

KR: Brandon Banks, Kansas State

Defense:

DL: Ndamukong Suh, Nebraska

DL: Gerald McCoy, Oklahoma

DL: Jeremy Beal, Oklahoma

DL: Brandon Sharpe, Texas Tech

LB: Von Miller, Texas A&M

LB: Sean Weatherspoon, Missouri

LB: Joe Pawelek, Baylor

DB: Perrish Cox, Oklahoma State

DB: Earl Thomas, Texas

DB: Brian Jackson, Oklahoma

DB: Prince Amukamara, Nebraska

P: Alex Henery, Nebraska

PR: Ryan Broyles, Oklahoma

Brut Sun Bowl

December, 6, 2009
12/06/09
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Stanford (8-4) vs. Oklahoma (7-5)

Dec. 31, 2 p.m. (CBS)


Stanford take by Pac-10 blogger Ted Miller: Don’t be fooled by Oklahoma’s 7-5 record. This is an elite team, see its 27-0 whipping of Oklahoma State in the season-finale.

It’s just difficult -- and deflating -- when a team loses its consensus All-American quarterback and tight end for the season, as the Sooners did with Sam Bradford and Jermaine Gresham.

This should be another interesting strength-on-strength matchup, pitting Stanford’s power running attack with Toby Gerhart vs. Oklahoma’s outstanding run defense, which ranks seventh in the nation.

Stanford will have to be particularly wary of end Jeremy Beal and tackle Gerald McCoy. Those two have combined for 32.5 tackles for a loss and 16 sacks.

Balance will be the key for Stanford. Quarterback Andrew Luck can’t let the Sooners gang up on Gerhart.

The Sooners have been inconsistent on offense, but Stanford has been uneven on defense. Quarterback Landry Jones, after a slow start, has flashed potential and the Sooners offensive line features All-American Trent Williams. They average 31 points and 419 yards per game, so Oklahoma probably will expect to move the ball on a defense that gives up 26 points and 397 yards per game.

There’s another sidenote: Desire.

Stanford will be thrilled to play in the Sun Bowl. It hasn’t played in a bowl game since 2001. Oklahoma? Hard to say. The Sooners are accustomed to BCS bowls -- they played Florida for the national title last year -- so they might not be thrilled by a trip to the Sun Bowl. Or maybe they will want to make a statement for next year.


Oklahoma take by Big 12 blogger Tim Griffin: The Sooners started the season with legitimate BCS title hopes and a No. 3 preseason ranking, but were doomed when tight end Jermaine Gresham was lost in August with a season-ending knee injury and returning Heisman Trophy winner Sam Bradford lasted less than two games before he was knocked out for the season.

Those losses only scratched the surface in an injury-ravaged season that was the worst run of injuries ever endured by a team coached by Bob Stoops. Freshman quarterback Landry Jones emerged as a starter, but had a streaky range of performances, including six touchdowns in one game, five TD passes in another and five interceptions in another.

After the Oklahoma defense was humiliated in a late-season loss at Texas Tech, the Sooners rebounded with their best performance of the season in a 27-0 beatdown over Oklahoma State. Wide receiver Ryan Broyles emerged as the Sooners’ most versatile weapon with 76 receptions and 12 touchdown grabs. His production will be big against the explosive Cardinal, who rank 10th nationally in scoring, 11th in rushing and 13th in total offense.

Stanford is led by all-purpose running back Toby Gerhart, a Heisman candidate who has rushed for 1,736 yards and 26 touchdowns this season. But he will be tested by the Sooners’ rushing defense, which ranks seventh nationally and has limited opponents to 88.6 yards per game. Winning the Sun Bowl will be huge for Stoops, who has lost five of his last six bowl games.

Brown, McCoy, Suh are major award winners

December, 1, 2009
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Texas coach Mack Brown, Texas quarterback Colt McCoy and Nebraska defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh were announced today as the Big 12's coach of the year, offensive player of the year and defensive player of the year, respectively.

McCoy and Suh also were the only two unanimous first-team selections to the All-Big 12 team picked by coaches.

McCoy becomes the fourth Texas player to be selected as OPOY and the third Longhorn quarterback. Previous Texas selections included Ricky Williams (1997 and 1998), Major Applewhite (1999) and Vince Young (2005).

Suh becomes the second Nebraska defensive player to be honored, joining Grant Wistrom (1996 and 1997).

And Brown earns his second coach of the year honors after winning it in 2005.

One interesting note that shows the balance in the conference this season is that every team in the league was represented by at least one player on the first-team squad.

Coaches also announced their All-Big 12 teams. They were forbidden from voting for their own players.

Here's a list of the award winners, as selected by the league's coaches:

Coach of the Year: Mack Brown, Texas

Offensive Lineman of the Year: Russell Okung, Oklahoma State

Defensive Lineman of the Year: Ndamukong Suh, Nebraska

Offensive Freshman of the Year: Christine Michael, Texas A&M

Defensive Freshman of the Year: Aldon Smith, Missouri

Special Teams Player of the Year: Brandon Banks, Kansas State

Defensive Newcomer of the Year: David Sims, Iowa State

Offensive Newcomer of the Year: Daniel Thomas, Kansas State

Defensive Player of the Year: Ndamukong Suh, Nebraska

Offensive Player of the Year: Colt McCoy, Texas

And here's a look at who the coaches chose for their first-team offensive and defensive units.

OFFENSE:

QB: Colt McCoy, Texas

RB: Daniel Thomas, Kansas State

RB: Keith Toston, Oklahoma State

FB: Bryant Ward, Oklahoma State

WR: Dezmon Briscoe, Kansas

WR: Jordan Shipley, Texas

WR: Danario Alexander, Missouri

TE: Jeron Mastrud, Kansas State

OL: Russell Okung, Oklahoma State *

OL: Trent Williams, Oklahoma *

OL: Nick Stringer, Kansas State

OL: Brandon Carter, Texas Tech

OL: Nate Solder, Colorado

K: Grant Ressel, Missouri

KR/PR: Brandon Banks, Kansas State

DEFENSE

DL: Ndamukong Suh, Nebraska

DL: Gerald McCoy, Oklahoma *

DL: Von Miller, Texas A&M

DL: Brandon Sharpe, Texas Tech

DL: Jared Crick, Nebraska

LB: Sean Weatherspoon, Missouri *

LB: Jesse Smith, Iowa State

LB: Travis Lewis, Oklahoma

DB: Earl Thomas, Texas

DB: Perrish Cox, Oklahoma State

DB: Larry Asante, Nebraska

DB: Prince Amukamara, Nebraska

P: Derek Epperson, Baylor

Note: Bold notations are unanimous selections. Those selections with an asterisk are repeat choices from last season.

I was a little disappointed that the coaches can make a decision to pick a fullback as a specific positional choice and then not designate one of the picks specifically for a center. Every team in the league has a center. Not every team in the Big 12 has a true fullback that plays the majority of his snaps.

Also, it's an age-old pet peeve of mine that they don't break down the defensive choices into specific positions like ends, tackles, linebackers, cornerbacks and safeties.

Here's a link to the Big 12's Web site for a complete listing of the first-team, second-team and honorable mention choices.

Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Griffin


DALLAS -- Oklahoma has taken the field to begin its pregame warm-ups.

As the Sooners make their final preparations, here’s what they need to do to spring the upset later today.

Account for Jordan Shipley: The Sooners can’t afford to let Shipley run free like he did last season when he produced 11 receptions and turned the game around with a pivotal kickoff return for a touchdown. Shipley has been even better this season as he’s produced double-digit receptions in his last three games for the first time in school history.

Play free and loose: Bob Stoops cultivated his “Big Game Bob” reputation with big performances against the Longhorns earlier in his career, winning three straight games as underdogs from 2000-02. In those games, the Sooners gambled, took chances and were successful. It hasn’t been that easy in recent years.

    For Stoops to have success in his 11th battle against Mack Brown -- a record in coaching battles in the storied 104-game series of the history -- the Sooners need to return to that attitude where they were willing to take chances.

    Protect Sam Bradford: The Sooners’ inexperience in the offensive line was already severe with four new starters surrounding left tackle Trent Williams. And the loss of starting guard Brian Simmons in last week’s game made it a little more pressing.

      That unit will have to play its best collective game of the season in protecting Bradford, back for his second game of the season after spraining his shoulder earlier this year. Look for the Longhorns to bring the heat early to try to rattle Bradford and keep him from getting into an early comfort zone.

      Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Griffin


      It was a time of unbridled happiness and joy for Oklahoma coach Bob Stoops -- a moment he described as the “best recruiting day” he could have ever imagined earlier this year.
      AP Photo/Jeff Roberson
      Oklahoma's Bob Stoops is going to have to coach through injuries if he’s going to save the Sooners' season.

      The return of standout players like quarterback Sam Bradford, tight end Jermaine Gresham, tackle Trent Williams and defensive tackle Gerald McCoy for another college season was hailed as one of the top moments of Stoops’ coaching career. Those four key players would serve as the cornerstones of the Sooners’ charge to another Big 12 title and perhaps provide a chance at that elusive BCS title that has been the program’s albatross in recent years.

      But as injuries have wracked the Oklahoma program, that group of standout players that Stoops expected to have at his disposal have never all been available at the same time. Gresham suffered a season-ending knee injury before the season started and Bradford sprained a shoulder joint in the first game. It’s been a cruel reminder for Stoops on how football fortunes can change quickly.

      And it got worse this past weekend in the Sooners’ 21-20 loss to Miami. Top playmaking receiver Ryan Broyles, the nation’s leader in touchdown receptions, went out with a fractured shoulder that could keep him sidelined until early November. His departure robs the 2-2 Sooners of their top deep threat and one of their few receivers who can stretch the field vertically.

      That departure was evident on Oklahoma’s final drive against Miami. With no real deep threats to test a Miami defense that was missing a couple of key players in the secondary, the Sooners weren’t nearly as potent. On a pivotal drive late in the fourth quarter where the Sooners could have reclaimed the lead, offensive coordinator Kevin Wilson went conservative. Oklahoma ran on six straight plays before throwing a safe swing pass to DeMarco Murray for no yards on third down.

      The Sooners then settled for a field goal and then never got the ball back as the Hurricanes closed out the one-point victory against a tiring Oklahoma defense.

      It was a far cry from the Sooners’ offensive juggernaut of 2008. That group rolled up 60 or more points during a five-game stretch late last season to boost Oklahoma to an unprecedented third-straight Big 12 title.

      It’s expected that Bradford will return to the lineup sooner than later -- perhaps even this week against Baylor. But the symptoms that have befallen the Sooners in the Miami game won’t be magically removed as the reigning Heisman Trophy winner returns.

      The young offensive line has been a disappointment in pass protection and susceptibility to penalties. Those mistakes have kept the Sooners struggling in troublesome down-and-distance situations in their losses to BYU and Miami.

      The loss of Broyles underscores the Sooners lack of depth at wide receiver. Top recruits Dejuan Miller and Jameel Owens haven’t fulfilled their promise. Adron “Pooh” Tennell has been a bust with three catches this season. Cameron Kenney produced six receptions against Miami, but now will be relied on as the Sooners’ primary offensive receiving threat. And tight end has all but disappeared out of Wilson’s offensive arsenal after Gresham’s injury.

      The problems at wide receiver could be traced to last season, when highly-regarded recruit Josh Jarboe never joined the team after his scholarship was rescinded when he made a controversial rap video. His talent would fit this receiving corps nicely, even as channeling his behavior would have been challenging for Stoops and his staff.

      Even with all of these problems building on top of another, the Sooners’ real season starts in Saturday's conference opener.

      The Sooners won’t be playing for the BCS championship, but they can still make it to a BCS bowl game with a strong rebound. Their huge game against Texas approaches next week. They will be a heavy underdog in that game, but weird upsets always have a way of happening in the history of that bitter rivalry.

      Stoops has always been his most effective over the years when he’s had to coach with a shortened roster. Remember his 2006 team claimed the Big 12 title after Rhett Bomar was kicked off the team before fall practice started and Adrian Peterson was hurt for most of the second half of the season?

      That team overcame all of those problems and even a loss to Texas and still rebounded to win the fourth of Stoops’ Big 12 titles. He’s never said so, but I’ve always thought that had to be the most satisfying of his titles that he’s won considering all of the obstacles en route to the championship.

      He’ll have another chance this season to duplicate that success with a similarly depleted roster. And if Bradford returns healthy, Stoops will have one big advantage that he’s lacked before.

      Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Griffin


      Despite the dire straits their team is facing, Oklahoma players still can joke with new starting quarterback Landry Jones about the growing fame of he and his mustache.
      Tim Heitman/US Presswire
      If Landry Jones was nervous about taking over for Sam Bradford, he didn't show it versus BYU.

      The redshirt freshman will replace Heisman Trophy winner Sam Bradford for the foreseeable future. And the Sooners' new quarterback’s facial hair is providing some levity for his teammates following the loss of Bradford and tight end Jermaine Gresham.

      “We tease him about the mustache all the time,” Oklahoma tackle Trent Williams said. “I’m predicting before the year is over, he’ll shave that thing off.”

      His teammates have quickly gravitated to the redshirt freshman who has been pressed into duty after Bradford’s shoulder injury last week against BYU.

      Despite Bradford's absence, Jones is confident in his abilities for as long as he is needed.

      “It's very unfortunate, but right now we have to move on and I have some huge shoes to fill,” Jones told reporters earlier this week. “So I have to pick my game up as well.”

      His teammates have said that Jones reminds them of Bradford when he was younger because of his size, football acumen and his demeanor around his teammates.

      “Landry is a laid-back dude,” senior wide receiver Adron Tennell said. “He’s a very easy-going guy. And with him now, when he talks we all listen.”

      Jones’ first taste of action was a mixed mag in the Sooners’ season-opening loss to BYU, as he completed only 6 of 12 passes for 51 yards. But the Sooners didn’t turn the ball over with him in charge and he didn’t make a bad throw.

      Oklahoma coach Bob Stoops was particularly pleased with Jones’ reaction after he took over the team.

      “He couldn’t have handled it better,” Stoops said. “I didn’t see him flinch once.”

      During a heralded career at Artesia (N.M.) High School, Jones led his school to two state championships and threw 89 touchdown passes in his two seasons as a starter. He was an Under Armour ESPN All-American, a Parade All-American and the New Mexico Gatorade Player of the Year.

      He’s brings a similar skill set as Bradford, without nearly the experience. His work as a redshirt gave him a slight edge over freshman Drew Allen for the backup job in training camp.

      “I have no doubt he’ll do a good job,” Tennell said. “No matter what quarterback is out there, we’ll try to make it easier for him. We’ve just got to do a better job of catching the ball.”

      The Sooners likely won’t be tested as much against Idaho State, an FCS school that started the season with a 50-3 loss at Arizona State. But it will still test Jones’ confidence, which has grown with his experience.

      “I feel really comfortable now,” Jones told reporters earlier this week. “I have a year under my belt. I kind of have all my checks down and have a feel for the tempo. So I feel really good.”

      No coach in the Big 12 has traditionally been able to circle the wagons in times of adversity like Stoops.

      The Sooners claimed the Big 12 championship in two of the last three seasons after early-season losses to Texas. In 2006, they overcame the training camp loss of Rhett Bomar after he was kicked off the team. Later that season, Stoops coached around the injury of Adrian Peterson for the second half of the season and still won the Big 12 championship.

      “Our guys know we expect whoever’s out there to do well,” Stoops said. “You have to move forward and play with the guys you have. Just like with all of the other injuries, somebody’s got to step up and play. That’s what a team does.”

      Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Griffin


      Here are some things I'm watching across the Big 12 this week, starting with Iowa State's season opener against North Dakota State tonight in Ames, Iowa.


      1. Can Oklahoma State prove it belongs among the national powers? Oklahoma State started 8-1 before collapsing with four losses in its final six games in 2008, including struggling defensive performances against Texas Tech, Oklahoma and Oregon. The Cowboys will be depleted without MLB Orie Lemon and will be facing a Georgia team that shouldn’t be intimidated by the crowd at Boone Pickens Stadium. The Bulldogs are 30-4 on the road since Mark Richt took over in 2001 -- a better winning percentage than for their home games. Georgia is 10-2 on the road against ranked teams on the road under Richt, including 3-1 against top-10 foes. So it will be a huge challenge for the Cowboys to counter those trends, particularly with a roster that has been dotted with defections this week.


      2. Oklahoma’s retooled offensive line: The Sooners’ offensive line has been the team’s biggest question coming into the season as they try for an unprecedented fourth straight Big 12 title. Four offensive line starters are gone from last season’s team, leaving only left tackle Trent Williams back to protect Heisman Trophy winner Sam Bradford. The Sooners’ line was called out before spring practice because of their lack of dedication by coach Bob Stoops, but has received recent praise after working with the Sooners’ monstrous defensive line in recent weeks. The Sooners shouldn’t be tested very much by a BYU defense that ranked 60th in rushing defense and 59th in total defense last season.


      3. Does Baylor deserve its early hype? The Bears started last season with a 28-point home loss to Wake Forest. This season, they are a slight underdog on the road against the Demon Deacons. Can Robert Griffin continue his mercurial development and lead the Bears to an upset against the Demon Deacons, who have qualified for three straight bowl games? The Bears have lost 13 of their last 14 road games and have never won away from Waco with Art Briles coaching them. Does an improved, senior-laden team have what it takes to win -- especially with two new tackles protecting Griffin’s flanks?


      4. Blaine Gabbert’s first career start for Missouri: All the sophomore quarterback has to do is pick up the reins from Chase Daniel, who piloted the Tigers to back-to-back trips to the Big 12 title game and arguably was the best quarterback in school history. Gabbert was a higher regarded prospect coming into school than Daniel and will be able to prove those ratings, but he’ll be facing the challenge of playing in his home area against arch-rival Illinois.


      5. Vondrell McGee’s chance as Texas’ featured running back: McGee took advantage of an injury to Fozzy Whittaker to claim the starting position and an opportunity to work as Texas’ featured running back in the Longhorns’ opener against Louisiana-Monroe. McGee should be able to play on most downs when the Longhorns’ starting team is in the game. How will he hold up -- particularly considering he’s had double-figure carries in only five games in his career and never rushed for more than 80 yards in any game? The opportunity to claim the role is there against a Louisiana-Monroe team that ranked 109th nationally against the run.


      6. Colorado’s starting quarterback: Will Dan Hawkins opt for a quiet dinner table at home by starting backup Tyler Hansen or stick with his family ties by giving his son Cody the nod in the Buffaloes’ Sunday night opener against Colorado State? Both should play, although the Colorado coach remains adamant he’s not making the call until shortly before kickoff Sunday night.


      7. Bill Snyder’s emotional return to the sideline: Is the Kansas State coach bigger than his program? Snyder will travel to the stadium Saturday on a highway named in his honor before arriving at a stadium named for him and his family as he ends a three-year sabbatical to return to coaching Saturday night against Massachusetts. The moment should be even more poignant for him and the program as the largest athletic reunion in the school’s history will coincide with the game.


      8. Nebraska’s new-look offense: Bo Pelini starts his second season with the Cornhuskers facing a massive turnover as he looks for a new quarterback, two new wide receivers and help in his running game. The Cornhuskers must try to build on last season’s 9-4 record with new quarterback Zac Lee, new featured receivers and a heavy reliance on Roy Helu Jr. after Quentin Castille’s dismissal late in training camp. Nebraska players say that Lee will provide more of a vertical passing game than was featured last year with Joe Ganz. He shouldn’t face much of a challenge against a Florida Atlantic University team that ranked 81st or lower in every major team statistic, tied for 112th in sacks and returns only three defensive starters.


      9. Will Kansas show much mercy against outmanned Northern Colorado? The Bears come into Lawrence coached by former Nebraska assistant Scott Downing. It will be interesting to see how much that association causes Mark Mangino to step off the accelerator if the Jayhawks jump ahead early against an opponent that was 1-10 last season and ranked among the bottom 20 FCS teams in pass defense and pass efficiency defense. I’m looking for extended target practice for Todd Reesing, Dezmon Briscoe, Kerry Meier and the rest of the Jayhawks’ talented pass-and-catch combo against the outclassed Bears.


      10. The tackling of Iowa State’s defense: The Cyclones have had a total makeover defensively by new coach Paul Rhoads and defensive coordinator Wally Burnham, who have been critical of the Cyclones’ tackling techniques they inherited from the staff of former coach Gene Chizik. Rhoads even admitted that the lack of technique “frustrated” him. Iowa State shouldn’t face too many challenges tonight against South Dakota State, although the Bison have won three of their last five games against FBS teams. Rhoads and his new program can’t afford such a slow start.

      Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Griffin

      Here's a look at my preseason All-Big 12 team:

      Offense

      QB Colt McCoy, Texas
      RB Kendall Hunter, Oklahoma State
      RB DeMarco Murray Oklahoma
      WR Dez Bryant, Oklahoma State
      WR Dezmon Briscoe, Kansas
      TE Jermaine Gresham, Oklahoma
      OL Russell Okung, Oklahoma State
      OL Kurtis Gregory, Missouri
      OL Trent Williams, Oklahoma
      OL Adam Ulatoski, Texas
      C Chris Hall, Texas

      Defense

      DL Gerald McCoy, Oklahoma
      DL Ndamukong Suh, Nebraska
      DL Jeremy Beal, Oklahoma
      DL Sergio Kindle, Texas
      LB Travis Lewis, Oklahoma
      LB Sean Weatherspoon, Missouri
      LB Joe Pawelek, Baylor
      DB Dominique Franks, Oklahoma
      DB Darrell Stuckey, Kansas
      DB Earl Thomas, Texas
      DB Jordan Lake, Baylor

      Special teams

      K Alex Henery, Nebraska
      P Derek Epperson, Baylor
      KR Perrish Cox, Oklahoma State
      PR Dez Bryant, Oklahoma State

      Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Griffin

      All questions aren't settled during the course of spring practice as teams still have much work to upgrade their weaknesses heading into the season.

      Obviously, some will receive a boost from incoming freshmen who will arrive later. But here's how each team's biggest liability shakes out heading into the summer.

      Baylor: The Bears are desperately looking for help at offensive tackle after losing No. 2 overall draft pick Jason Smith and Dan Gay as their starters. Former Canadian firefighter Danny Watkins has established himself at Smith's old position protecting Robert Griffin's blind side. And on the right side, junior Chris Griesenbeck and redshirt freshmen Cameron Kaufhold are competing for the starting job with Tyler Junior College's Phillip Blake and Blinn College's Marquis Franklin set the arrive later this summer.

      Colorado: Wide receiver has been a question mark for the Buffaloes throughout Dan Hawkins' coaching tenure. The Buffaloes return four scholarship wide receivers and had a chance to work out several new players with Scotty McKnight injured during the spring. Josh Smith and Markques Simas are the top playmakers coming out of the spring. Non-scholarship players like Jason Espinoza and Ryan Maxwell emerged, but the Buffaloes definitely need a big upgrade at the position from their arriving freshman class.

      Iowa State: The Cyclones will be facing a big hole at left tackle, where two-year starter Doug Dedrick departs. It could be filled by Matt Hulbert, who started two games last season when Dedrick was hurt. Or it could be massive 354-pound junior Hayworth Hicks or freshman Brayden Burris at the position. Whoever emerges will face a huge challenge in filling Dedrick's experience as he protects the blind side of the Iowa State quarterbacks.

      Kansas: Coach Mark Mangino will be facing a few huge rebuilding job at linebacker, where the Jayhawks lose key contributors Joe Mortensen, Mike Rivera and James Holt from last season. Mangino is talking about using a two-linebacker set as his base defense with fifth-year senior Jake Schermer and senior Arist Wright getting the starting jobs leaving spring practice. Sophomore Steven Johnson and converted running back Angus Quigley were competing for playing time during the spring and another boost is expected when junior linebacker Justin Springer, who is recovering from a torn ACL last season, returns in the fall.

      Kansas State: Carson Coffman appeared to have claimed the starting job at quarterback -- at least for a few weeks -- after a strong effort during the latter stages of spring practice. But Coffman's late binge has to be tempered considering he is playing against the weak Kansas State secondary. So it's fair to say there are some lingering questions at the position. Coffman apparently has beaten back the challenge of challengers Collin Klein, Joseph Kassanavoid, Trey Scott and Milton McPeek. But the arrival of South Florida transfer Grant Gregory and heralded junior-college transfer Daniel Thomas will mean more competition in the summer.

      Missouri: The Tigers will be facing a challenge of replacing NFL first-round draft pick Evander "Ziggy" Hood at defensive tackle to play opposite nose tackle Jaron Baston. Redshirt sophomore Terrell Resonno appeared to have claimed the job out of the spring, with Dominique Hamilton, Chris Earnhardt and converted linebacker George White perhaps earning their way into the rotation.

      Nebraska: After the graduation of top receivers Todd Peterson and Nate Swift from last season, the Cornhuskers need to fill both positions. Leading returning receiver Menelik Holt appears to have a hammerlock on one position, but Niles Paul lost a chance to take a big step forward after missing the spring after he was suspended for driving under the influence. Antonio Bell was the biggest surprise, but converted I-back Marcus Mendoza, Chris Brooks, Wes Cammack and Curenski Gilleylen all showed flashes during the spring.

      Oklahoma: There was concern before spring practice, considering the Sooners were replacing four-fifths of their starting offensive line with only Trent Williams back from last season's starters. And it got worse when Bob Stoops called out the young replacements because of their lack of diligence in their preseason conditioning. Williams emerged at left tackle with Brian Simmons and Stephen Good at guards, redshirt freshman Ben Habern at center and either LSU transfer Jarvis Jones or Cory Brandon at right tackle. The depth took a hit when center Jason Hannan left early in training camp and sophomore guard Alex Williams chose to leave after spring practice. The group struggled against the Sooners' talented defensive line, allowing Sam Bradford to be touch-sacked twice in three possessions in the spring game and produced only 27 rushing yards in 52 carries.

      Oklahoma State: The loss of veteran center David Washington produced a huge hole in the center of the Cowboys' interior line. Andrew Lewis returns to his natural position, leaving Oklahoma State needing two new starters at guard. Noah Franklin and Jonathan Rush have staked claims to the starting positions with Anthony Morgan and Nick Martinez getting repetitions inside. This group needs to improve if it hopes to equal the standards of previous seasons, when the Cowboys led the Big 12 in rushing each of the last three seasons.

      Texas: The tight end was rarely used for the Longhorns after Blaine Irby dislocated his kneecap last season against Rice. He still wasn't ready to go during the spring as Greg Smith, Ahmard Howard, Ian Harris and D.J. Grant all got work. None of them emerged. And with Irby's return remaining iffy, it means the Longhorns again could reduce the use of the tight end and utilize four-receiver sets when they want to move the ball. Don't look for the Longhorns to use the tight end much unless this production improves.

      Texas A&M: The Ag
      gies were wracked with injuries during the spring as projected starters Lee Grimes, Kevin Matthews and Lucas Patterson were sidelined all spring as A&M was down to only nine healthy offensive linemen for some practices. It still doesn't excuse the lack of offensive production for A&M's starting unit, which produced only 9 yards rushing on 24 carries against Texas A&M's first-string defense. Coach Mike Sherman will be counting on immediate production from an impressive group of incoming freshman at fall practice, but it's fair to characterize the Aggies' offensive line as the team's biggest spring concern -- especially after allowing 39 sacks last season and ranking last in the conference in rushing yards per game.

      Texas Tech: The loss of productive starters Daniel Charbonnet and Darcel McBath left a gaping hole at safety for the Red Raiders. Junior Franklin Mitchem earned the free safety position leaving spring practice and redshirt freshman Cody Davis emerged at strong safety.Jared Flannel , Brett Dewhurst and converted linebacker Julius Howard also got some snaps at safety. It will still be a challenge to combat the explosive Big 12 defenses with such an inexperienced group at the position.

      Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Griffin

      Here's a look at the Big 12's most pressing early concerns as teams break for the summer for a couple of weeks before returning in June to begin conditioning drills to prepare for the upcoming season:

      1. Can Texas find a running game? The Longhorns are still looking for a featured back after no player really emerged during the spring. Cody Johnson had the best early production before he was slowed late in training camp with a hamstring injury. Neither Vondrell McGee or Fozzy Whittaker jumped forward during the spring. Heralded freshman Chris Whaley will get his chance once fall practice begins, but likely won't be counted on early. But filling the hole is important. The Longhorns desperately need somebody as they likely can't challenge for a national championship if Colt McCoy again is their leading rusher.

      2. Is Oklahoma's offensive line capable of playing at a level to win conference championships and beyond? After being called out before spring practice for its lack of diligence in conditioning, Oklahoma's offensive line had an uneven spring practice. Four new starters need to emerge along with Trent Williams, who returns and moves to left tackle to protect Sam Bradford's blind side. The unit's growth will determine much of the Sooners' offensive success -- even with the return of talented skill-position players like Bradford, Chris Brown, DeMarco Murray, Jermaine Gresham and Ryan Broyles already in place.

      3. Is Oklahoma State's defense really good enough to compete for the Big 12 title? Veteran defensive coordinator Bill Young was counted on to boost production in a unit that didn't seem ready late last year after being blistered for averages of 58.5 points and 593 yards per game in late-season losses to Texas Tech and Oklahoma. The Cowboys have another season of experience and some strong individual players like Perrish Cox and Andre Sexton. But unless they find a pass rush, their hopes of challenging for their first Big 12 South title will be dubious.

      4. Can Kansas find linebackers who will enable them to contain Big 12 defenses? The Jayhawks lost three capable playmaking linebackers in James Holt, Mike Rivera and Joe Mortensen from last season. Coach Mark Mangino has hinted that he's considering a 4-2-5 alignment to better combat the Big 12's spread offenses. But he still has to hope that Jake Schermer and Arist Wright prove to be capable replacements -- or it could be a long season for the Jayhawks against their tough schedule of Big 12 South power teams like Oklahoma, Texas and Texas Tech.

      5. How much will Texas Tech miss Graham Harrell and Michael Crabtree? Most are thinking that the loss of Harrell and Crabtree will be too much for the Red Raiders to overcome. But Texas Tech coach Mike Leach has quietly -- at least for him -- maintained that he likes his current group of replacements. Taylor Potts will have more experience coming into the program than any of the one-year players who preceded Harrell. All that group (Sonny Cumbie, B.J. Symons and Cody Hodges) did was average nearly 4,943 yards and 38.3 touchdown passes per season in their only season starting, so maybe Leach's comments should be considered. And at wide receiver, the Red Raiders won't have the overall star power of Crabtree, but will still have capable replacements in players like Detron Lewis, Lyle Leong, Edward Britton, Alex Torres, Adrian Reese and Tramain Swindall who should be ready.

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