Nebraska athletic director, Tom Osborne, said while in Kansas City yesterday that the Huskers would consider playing a Big 12 team at Arrowhead Stadium, the site of several conference championship games.
“I don’t know how Kansas City views us, but we’ve had a lot of good memories here, and there’s a lot of Nebraska fans here.”
“Anything is possible,” Osborne said.
Not exactly a ringing endorsement that it could actually happen, but hey:
So, you're saying there's a chance?!
Who doesn't think this would be a great thing? Nebraska might have left a bad taste in the mouths of some of their former conference mates, but nonetheless, some great rivalries were left behind with their move to the B1G.
Not to mention, Nebraska has a long history with Kansas City whether it being playing a few games at Arrowhead, the Big 8/Big 12 basketball at Kemper Arena, or even more so because they played near there for so many years against Mizzou, Kansas, and Kansas State.
That raises the question, should it ever actually happen, who should the Huskers play?
For obvious reasons, this needs to happen. The Big 12 made the fatal error of ending this rivalry when the Big 12 was formed back in the mid 90's. Don't get me wrong, it wouldn't bring back the rivalry like it used to be, but who would complain seeing the OU on Oklahoma's helmet along with Nebraska's "N" on the same field again?
Now for a reality check. From a competitive standpoint, this might not be a good idea for either team since both will already have their hands full with a tough conference slate. And the second point, each team already has a tough BCS opponent on the schedule through 2019 so it likely wouldn't happen before then. If we have to wait until then, so be it. The two schools have talked about adding the game to the schedule, but are waiting to see what happens with their prospective conference schedules before going any further.
So if Nebraska fans don't want to wait that long to get back to Kansas City, here are a couple other opportunities fill the void in the meantime.
This is a game that started to take on the form of a rivalry over the last several seasons, primarily because Mizzou started winning a few after the Huskers went on a 24 game winning streak starting in 1979. Missouri got over the hump in 2003, beating Nebraska 41-24. Including that game, it's four games apiece over the past eight seasons.
It's no secret Tiger fans aren't exactly fond of the Huskers and with Tigers coming on of late, Huskers fans weren't exactly developing fond feelings for the Tigers faithful, either. But that's a good thing. Football fans in real rivalries aren't supposed to hug and walk out of the stadium holding hands which is why it'd be cool to see these two renew the series in Kansas City.
One potential roadblock could be Missouri's scheduling philosophy. It appears Gary Pinkel has taken a page out of Bill Snyder's book in regards to loading up the nonconference schedule with creampuffs. The Tigers will play Arizona State the next two seasons (very solid Missouri, by the way) but after that, Indiana, Toledo, Memphis, and Wyoming appear on future schedules so they could no doubt fit the Huskers into the mix.
Now would Nebraska add Missouri to a future schedule that already includes UCLA, Miami (FL) and Tennessee? Great question, but a Mizzou-Nebraska game in Arrowhead would be great for both sides. If not OU, then Osborne and Mike Alden need to exchange phone numbers.
3 (tie). Kansas and/or Kansas State
Yes, it's kind of a cop out, but it would be equally cool to play either of the old Big 8 rivals near their home turf. Kansas would be great, especially if former Husker, Turner Gill, gets the Jayhawk ship heading back in the right direction.
One of the worst parts of the Huskers moving to the B1G is seeing the game between these two come to end. They played for what, 117 straight years? Yep. Arrowhead Stadium. Kansas vs. Nebraska. I'll take it.
As for Kansas State, as long as Bill Snyder is roaming the sidelines, these two should be playing. Kansas State took years of pounding from the Huskers and nothing, and I mean nothing, made Wildcats fan happier than when they started to take the upper hand (and rightfully so).
The game lost some of its luster over the Bill Callahan and Ron Prince era, but it wouldn't take much to get it heated back up again, something that would surely happen if the ever met at Arrowhead. The next time Snyder and Osborne are on the horn together talking about their Teammates Mentoring program, they should just go ahead and get this scheduled.
4. Iowa State
Whoa, who am I forgetting? Please don't take offense, Cyclones. Maybe I'm putting this one last because of how Paul Rhoad's teams have nearly knocked off the Huskers twice (succeeding once) the past two seasons. I know how Cyclone fans love to travel to Kansas City, and likewise for the Huskers, which would make for a great scene on the neutral turf.
Who knows if any of this will ever become a reality, but I think it'd be great for Nebraska and whatever program is involved. For the Huskers, they're going have to continue hitting the Kansas City area hard in recruiting so it wouldn't be a bad thing to show their face in the area once a year. And what could be bad aboug getting a couple old friends back together?
Von Miller won the Butkus Award for Texas A&M and the Big 12 last season, and a new crop of players from the conference are up for it again in 2011 which is given annually to the best linebacker in the country.
Here's who made the cut from the Big 12.
|Arthur Brown||LB||Kansas State|
|Jake Knott||LB||Iowa State|
|Garrick Williams||LB||Texas A&M|
Favorites? Going into the season it's hard not to say Travis Lewis. Don't count out one of the Texas candidates making a run if the Longhorns can get the shipped steered back in the right direction. Garrick Williams and A&M's defense should get some heavy coverage this season, as sell.
On Friday morning, the watch list for the Davey O'Brien Award was released which goes to the top quarterback in the land. In what could be classified as the least shocking list as far as the Big 12 goes, the conference had four representatives make the cut.
Take a guess who they are?
|Ryan Tannehill||QB||Texas A&M|
|Brandon Weeden||QB||Oklahoma State|
You've got to feel good about the Big 12 having a big say in this award when 2011 is finally completed. Depending on how their respective team's do, all four could find themselves in the Heisman race, as well. If you want to predict a winner here, good luck. I'm going to flip a coin. They're all good, really good.
And finally, earlier this week the Rimington watch list was released given every year to the country's top center. The Big 12 had three candidates with Oklahoma's Ben Habern mysteriously absent from the list. He's on the Lombardi and Outland watch lists, but apparently falls short when it comes to centers only. I wouldn't be surprised to see him name pop on there sometime soon.
|Grant Garner||C||Oklahoma State|
Iowa State Cyclones 2011 Preview
2010 Record: 5-7 (3-5 in Big 12)
Returning Starters: 12 (5 on offense; 7 on defense)
Bowl Game in 2010: None
Two Key Returning Players on Offense
Kelechi Osemele, senior offensive tackle; 30 straight starts, projected as possible 1st round NFL pick.
Darius Reynolds, senior wide receiver; 25 catches for 283 yards and 2 touchdowns in 2010.
Two Key Returning Players on Defense
Jake Knott, junior linebacker; led team with 130 tackles last season.
A.J. Klein, junior linebacker; second on the team with 111 tackles and 8 TFL.
Key Losses from 2010
Alexander Robinson, running back. Totaled 3,309 yards and 27 touchdowns during Cyclone career.
Austen Arnaud, quarterback. Second in ISU history with 6,777 passing yards, three-year starter.
Collin Franklin, tight end. 54 catches and 530 yards receiving last season.
David Sims, safety. Leader of the secondary, finished with 96 tackles on the year.
In Paul Rhoads first season as the Cyclones coach in 2009, he took a team that finished 2-10 and 0-8 in the Big 12 and turned them into a bowl winning team. The second season he had the Cyclones on the brink of going to back-to-back bowl games despite playing one of the toughest schedules in the country which included nonconference games against Iowa and Utah, and road games at Oklahoma and Texas.
If Rhoads hopes to get the Cyclones back to a bowl in year number three, he'll again face an uphill climb in the realigned Big 12. The schedule won't be any easier, and he'll have to go at it while replacing a three-year starter at quarterback and the school's fourth all-time leading rusher.
Looking back at 2010, Iowa State was on the verge of getting to the necessary six wins, sitting at five with three games still remaining. An overtime loss to Nebraska and back-to-back disappoints against Colorado and Missouri had ISU staying home for the holidays, however.
Iowa State returns just 12 starters from last year's team, but don't think for a second that is tempering the optimism in Ames. Rhoads and his staff spent a good deal of time during the offseason and spring looking for playmakers at the receiver position and believe they may have a few very good options. The defense should be better. And while breaking in a new quarterback and running back can cause some heartburn, it just might inject some energy into an offense that finished 11th in the Big 12 during 2010 averaging just 21.7 points per game.
Breaking it Down: The Offense
Austen Arnaud leaves Ames as one of the most productive quarterbacks in Iowa State football history after starting most of three seasons in Ames. The battle to replace him wasn't finished after spring practice and will continue into fall workouts.
The candidates: Junior Jerome Tiller started one game for the Cyclones last year and has played in 14 games overall during his first two seasons in Ames. He knows the offense, has decent mobility, but completed only 47.6% of his passes last season in limited duty. It was Tiller that quarterbacked the Cyclones to an upset win of Nebraska in Lincoln during his redshirt freshman season in 2009.
His competition will be junior college transfer, Steele Jantz. Jantz arrived in Ames via San Francisco City College where he threw for 3,075 yards and 24 touchdowns. He is also quick on his feet and seems to possess the big-play ability that Iowa State has lacked over the past several seasons. Learning the full playbook installed by offensive coordinator, Tom Herman, may be his biggest challenge. That is one aspect that Tiller shouldn't have to worry about heading into the fall and could give him a slight advantage.
Who will it be? It's hard to say, although Tiller may be the safest play simply based on his experience. For whatever reason, I'm not convinced safe is what Rhoads and his staff is looking for, necessarily, so I wouldn't be shocked to Jantz come away with the job.
The backfield will undergo a complete makeover with running back Alexander Robinson also exhausting all of his eligibility along with Arnaud. The good news in Ames though is that the Cyclones look to have several options that look more than capable of handling the load.
The likely starter will be sophomore Shontrelle Johnson. He saw the field last year as a freshman and finished with 35 carries for 218 yards and a couple touchdowns. He was also the Cyclones primary kick returner averaging 23.4 yards on 25 returns.
Johnson will battle for carries with Jeff Woody who's a bit bigger at 230 pounds and could be used as more of short yardage back to compliment the speed of Johnson.
The third player in the race for carries could be redshirt freshman Duran Hollis. He sat out his first season after coming to Ames from Ft. Worth, Texas where he also received several offers to play Division-1 basketball.
Rhoads stated throughout spring practice they needed to get more production from the wide receiver position. It was only a scrimmage, but the Cyclones certainly looked to have found a few options during the spring game that will fit the bill.
The first is Darius Reynolds who had 25 catches in 2010 after breaking his leg during the 2009 season. The Cyclone staff never felt like Reynolds returned to his old form last season and started to see signs that his speed and confidence had returned over the course of the spring.
Another likely contender for serious playing time will be junior college transfer, Aaron Horne. He was a teammate of Jantz at CCSF and appears to be a big-time playmaker despite being only 5'9". He made an impressive showing during the spring game hauling in eight balls for 124 yards including a 50 touchdown catch while adding a 16 yard touchdown run.
The duo will also be joined by junior Josh Lenz and senior Darius Darks. Both players saw significant action last season and should be a big part of the Cyclones offense in 2011.
Overall, this group still has a ton to prove, but has the chance to be a very solid group, assuming of course, ISU finds somebody capable of getting them the ball on a consistent basis.
Kelechi Osemele. Haven't heard that name yet? You likely will once more and more draft projections starting coming out. Several publications already are projecting the senior as a potential first round choice. The left tackle stands 6'6" and weight in at 354 pounds. He has started 30 straight games a should be in for a big season in Ames.
He'll be joined on the line by junior Hayworth Hicks at guard who started all 12 games a season ago and junior Braden Burris at right tackle who started 11 of 12 games a season ago. There's where the experience stops.
The other two spots on the line will be occupied by newcomers. At center the top two spots on the post-spring depth chart were occupied by redshirt freshman, Tom Farniok and junior college transfer Sam Tautolo. The left guard position figures to be held down by sophomore Ethan Tuftee who saw action in five games last year. Both of his backups are freshman.
What is the saying, you're only as strong as your weakest link? That might apply perfectly for the Cyclone O-Line situation this year. If the newcomers step up and play well, it has a chance to be a solid unit with Osemele leading the way.
Breaking it Down: The Defense
Take away the 68 and 52 points Utah and Oklahoma hung on Iowa State last season and the defensive numbers weren't all that bad. That's not how it works, however, and overall last year's unit gave up 28.8 points and over 400 yards per contest.
This year the focus shifts to putting more pressure on the quarterback. ISU tallied a dismal 11 sacks last year after totaling only 16 in 2009. That has to change if the Cyclones want to have more success this fall. It was stressed during spring ball and Rhoads seemed pleased following the spring scrimmage with the Cyclones totaling 13 tackles behind the line of scrimmage.
Despite some less than impressive stats, there were bright spots, however, mainly the emergence of A.J. Klein and Jake Knott at the linebacker spot.
Going into the 2010, ISU had no starting experience coming back after losing the Big 12's leading tackler, Jesse Smith, to graduation. Going into 2011, they have two very solid players in Jake Knott and A.J. Klein returning. The duo combined for an impressive 242 tackles and seven interceptions. Knott missed the spring game with a broken arm but figures to be full go when the season starts. Knott has also earned a spot on several preseason watch lists.
With Klein and Knott manning the outside spots, senior Matt Tau'fo'ou will likely line up in the middle. The senior only played in five games last year due to a broken bone in his leg. He was also arrested during the offseason but participated during spring drills and was listed as the top MLB heading into summer workouts.
If any of the starters go down, ISU will be forced to go with some young talent. All the backups are redshirt or true freshman with the exception of sophomore, Jeremiah George, who saw action in nine games a season ago.
The D-Line looks to be in decent shape with Stephen Ruempolhamer anchoring the line at the tackle position. He's started all 12 games last year and has played in 34 games during his career. The other standout among the group is converted linebacker, now defensive end, Jacob Lattimer. He lead the team with four sacks and will be a huge piece for the ISU defense this season.
Opposite Lattimer will be defensive end Roosevelt Maggit who Rhoads has said was "the most productive defensive ends we put on the field last year." He'll fight for playing time with Rony Nelson who a junior college player that redshirted last season and went through offseason surgery to remove a bone spur.
Overall, this looks like a capable unit with both some talent and experience returning. Mr. Phil Steele had this group tied for ninth in the Big 12 (last) with Kansas in his position rankings, but I'd be surprised if it didn't rank just a bit higher when 2011 is in the books.
It's no secret you need to stop the pass in the Big 12 if you want to win games. There's little doubt it starts with a pass rush which ISU is working on, but also solid secondary play.
Jim Thorpe award candidate, Leonard Johnson, will hold down one side of the field at cornerback. The senior has started since his freshman year and lead the team last season with seven pass break ups.
The other corner will be 5'7" Jeremy Reeves. He had 62 tackles and six pass break ups last season and also returned a pick 94 yards for a score. Remember the Texas Tech onside gone wrong against ISU last year? That was Reeves running the other way with it for a 42 yard score.
One safety position looks to be secure with senior Ter'Ran Benton who will be entering his seventh season at Iowa State (that's a joke, but it seems like he's been there a while). Benton has started 20 games and could be in for a nice senior run teaming with the Johnson and Reeves on the corners.
There won't be quite as much experience at the other safety position with sophomore, Jacques Washington, likely starting the season atop the depth chart. He played in nine games last season and finished with 12 tackles.
You know, the overall defense doesn't look bad on paper. With Klein and Knott at linebacker, combined with Johnson and Benton in the back four, this defense has a chance to more than respectable in 2011.
It had better be, because the schedule looks, well, brutal.
Once again, the schedule for Iowa State won't be doing them any favors. They won't have to worry about Nebraska this year, instead they'll get to play all six teams in the former South division instead of just three. And this is the year in the schedule rotation the Cyclones will have to go on the road for five of the nine conference games. Throw in a non conference road game against defending Big East Champion, Connecticut, and you begin to see the mountain facing ISU in 2011.
Let's start at the beginning and assume a win to open against Northern Iowa (far from a sure thing against a usually solid UNI squad). Next up is the intra-state rivalry with the Hawkeyes. After ISU won five in a row from '98-2002, Iowa has come back to win six of the last eight, including the last three. It's in Ames this year, but let's give the slight edge to the Hawks.
Next up is one of the bigger games of the year at UConn. It's a road game, but the Huskies appear like they're in for a down year making this definitely one the Cyclones can win. It's way too early to talking bowl games (or must wins), but if the Clones want to play in the post season, winning this one would give them a huge boost heading into the Big 12 schedule.
Next up is the Big 12 schedule that includes homes games against Texas, Kansas, Texas A&M, and Kansas. Let's chalk up a victory over the Jayhawks for one win. Can the Cyclones find another W among the remaining three?
They're all important, but three that stick out on the road slate are the trips to Baylor, Texas Tech, and Kansas State. I'm trying to get the Cyclones to six wins and for that to happen, they likely need to win two of these three away from home.
So what's it going to be?
Worst case scenario: 3-9 (wins over UNI, UConn, and Kansas). With the improvements Rhoads has made in his two seasons, it's hard to envision the Cyclones falling back to just three wins and if it happened, it would surely be disappointing for the Cyclone faithful.
Best case scenario: 8-4 (wins over UNI, Iowa, UConn, Texas, Baylor, Texas Tech, Kansas, Kansas State). Yes, a wide range between worst and best case, but that's the point here. Just as I think 3-9 is unlikely, eight wins is fairly optimistic, as well. That would include a win over Iowa, beating Texas for the second straight year, and winning three conference road games. Possible, yes. Likely, no.
The Final Prediction for 2011: 5-7
The Cyclones improvement continues under Rhoads, but a lack of solid depth on the two deep causes the Cyclone to fall just short of a bowl game for the second straight year. Combine that with a new full-time quarterback, the tough schedule and five wins feels about right when trying to slot the Cyclones against the rest of the Big 12.
Of course, don't tell Paul Rhoads that. All he does is make his team believe, does more with less, and exceeds all expectations. Would it be shocking to get Iowa State get to six wins or better? Absolutely not. But the crystal ball isn't seeing it sitting here on July 14th.
And with no time to come up and take a breath, another watch list has been released. This time it's the Lombardi Award given annually to the country's top lineman, which also happens to include linebackers.
The Big 12 has claimed two out the last three Lombardi trophies than to Brian Orakpo of Texas and Ndamukong Suh of Nebraska.
The conference has a nice showing of talent on the initial 2012 list with 15 players representing seven different schools making the cut. Here they are:
|Levy Adcock||OT||Oklahoma State|
|Lonnie Edwards||G||Texas Tech|
|Tony Jerod-Eddie||DL||Texas A&M|
|Luke Joeckel||OT||Texas A&M|
|Jake Knott||LB||Iowa State|
|Shaun Lewis||LB||Oklahoma State|
|Kelechi Osemele||OT||Iowa State|
|Garrick Williams||LB||Texas A&M|
It's tough to handicap the race, but as far as favorites from the Big 12 go, you probably have to stick with the defensive side of the ball. Unless I missed one, it looks like last offensive lineman to win the award was Orlando Pace of Ohio State back in 1996.
With that being the first criteria, Travis Lewis probably would have the best odds going into the year. After that, I'd combine the Missouri defensive ends with the Texas duo of Randle and Robinson, assuming the Longhorns bounce back to have a respectable season. If that happens, the defense is likely to be one of the big reasons why and get a bunch of credit because of it.
An offensive lineman might not win it, but there are some great players on that list, as well (probably why they're on the list, no?). Not to take anything away from the other guys, but Osemele from Iowa State just might be the best of the bunch, although Iowa State would most likely have to do something special this season for him to be in serious consideration.
All-in-all, some rock solid names to be excited about heading into the year.
This isn't exactly earth shattering news to anyone who knows anything about college football, but with the release of the Rival's Texas Top 100 recruit list yesterday, I thought it would be interesting to see exactly how dominate the Big 12 is within arguably the best state in the country to recruit. The results, while not surprising, just reaffirm that being a big-time college football team located in the state of Texas is a good thing.
Breaking down the numbers, the first thing that jumped off the page was just how many of the kids had already verbally committed somewhere. It's no joke that kids are pledging their allegiance earlier and earlier to secure a spot at the supposed top schools. Of the 100 kids on the list, 72 had already given their word to a school they'd be arriving in 2012. That leaves just 28 to make up their mind sometime before national signing day in early February.
Not only are the kids deciding earlier than ever, but that means schools are having to choose which kids they'll have to offer shortly after their junior season is complete (if not sooner). Recruiting is already a bit of a guessing game to begin with, and the margin for error only goes up the earlier you're forced to evaluate a player.
And then you have to take in the fact, as most coaches will tell you, once a kid gives you his verbal, the recruiting process really just begins since they'll spend the next 6-12 months fighting other suitors who claim to have something better to offer.
As for numbers and the state of Texas, the majority of the kids in this class are staying in state. Of the commitments already made, 52 of the 72 have said they'll play at Texas, Texas Tech, Texas A&M, Baylor, or TCU.
The Big 12 Conference has 58 of the 72 commits when you back out TCU and add the Oklahoma schools, Missouri and Iowa State.
Here is the breakdown by school of the Texas Top 100.
|Big 12 Schools||# of commits|
|Non Big 12||# of commits|
No shock the Longhorns lead the way with 16. Even more impressive is that of the 16 commits, 11 rank in the top 25 so they're cleaning up at the top of the charts. Texas A&M and Texas Tech are also taking advantage of the land of plenty, each putting together very solid classes.
It may be a little surprising that Oklahoma has only three so far, but keep in mind, there are still 28 yet to decide and Bob Stoops is still in the process of putting together a very nice class including a couple four-star players from Florida.
Where does the Texas Top 100 stand as far as the rest of the country? In comparing that to the Rivals Top 250 which includes players from all over the country, offensive line prospect, Curtis Riser, is the last Texas player listed in the top 250 at number 244 and he checks in at number 30 on the Texas top 100. So it's safe to say, of the top 250 in America, 30 fall in the state of Texas if you put any credence into the rankings. The rest, somewhere after that.
Here's the full list of commitments from the Top 100 and where they're headed. For the complete list, head on over to Rival's and check it out.
|1||Mario Edwards||DE||Florida State|
|4||Trey Williams||RB||Texas A&M|
|8||Kendall Sanders||ATH||Oklahoma State|
|9||Dominique Wheeler||WR||Texas Tech|
|11||John Michael McGee||OL||Oklahoma|
|19||Matt Davis||QB||Texas A&M|
|21||Michael Starts||DE||Texas Tech|
|22||Bralon Addison||WR||Texas A&M|
|24||Paul Boyette Jr.||DT||Texas|
|27||Reginald Davis||WR||Texas Tech|
|28||Trevor Knight||QB||Texas A&M|
|31||Mike Matthews||OL||Texas A&M|
|32||Jordan Richmond||LB||Texas A&M|
|35||Dominic Ramacher||ATH||Oklahoma State|
|36||Clayton Nicholas||QB||Texas Tech|
|38||Halapoulivaati Vaitai||OL||Texas Tech|
|43||La'Darius Newbold||DB||Texas Tech|
|48||Nicky Baratti||ATH||Nortre Dame|
|49||Trey Keenan||OL||Texas Tech|
|50||Michael Wilson||OL||Texas A&M|
|52||Kimo Tipoti||OL||Texas A&M|
|55||Corey Thompson||DB||Texas A&M|
|56||Ashton Lampkin||DB||Oklahoma State|
|58||Tim Hines||OL||Oklahoma State|
|59||Alex De La Torre||LB||Texas|
|60||Jeremiah Tshimanga||LB||Oklahoma State|
|65||Eric Davis||DE||Texas A&M|
|71||Ben Weaver||LB||Boise State|
|73||TJ Millweard||QB||Arizona State|
|74||Jaevon Richardson||WR||Texas A&M|
|76||Michael Richardson||LB||Texas A&M|
|77||Christian Okafor||OL||Texas Tech|
|82||Kenneth Marshall||DB||Texas A&M|
|83||Ryan Flannigan||LB||Texas Tech|
|85||Greg Brantley||OL||Oklahoma State|
|91||Preston Dewer||QB||Miami (FL)|
|93||Quan West||WR||Iowa State|
|94||Ford Childress||QB||West Virginia|
|95||Anthony Smith||DT||Texas Tech|
|98||Marcus Johnson||WWR||Texas Tech|
|100||Jared Kaster||OL||Texas Tech|
The preseason watch lists keep right on rolling it. Up yesterday were the the defensive backs as the watch list for the Jim Thorpe award was released, given annually to, yep you guessed it, the best defensive back in the country.
The Big 12 landed six players on the list which was third as far as conferences go behind the SEC (10) and ACC (7). The Big 12 nominees are:
|Leonard Johnson||CB||Iowa State|
|Coryell Judie||CB||Texas A&M|
|Markell Martin||S||Oklahoma State|
It has nothing to do with talent, but it was a little surprising to see Jamell Fleming on the list given the fact it wasn't until the end of the last week that it was announced he would be rejoining the Sooners. Fleming apparently cleared up his academic issues that caused him to miss spring practice, and school for that matter. Great news for the Sooners.
I'll go ahead and throw three names out there that aren't currently on the list , but I'm betting might be by the end of the season. And I'm not even saying they should be on the list because up to this point, they haven't had the opportunity to do much on defense. They are Justin Gilbert of Oklahoma State, and the Missouri duo of E.J. Gaines and Kip Edwards.
And what the heck, how about one more Sooner, that being Aaron Colvin. He's expected to start at safety following the move over from cornerback, and if he lives up to billing he was getting in spring practice, he's definitely another guy to keep an eye on.
If you missed any other of the watch lists up to this point, here's a recap of who's representing the Big 12 thus far:
Baylor Bears 2011 Preview
2010 Record 7-6 (4-4 in the Big 12)
Returning Starters: 14 (9 on offense; 5 on defense)
2010 Bowl Game: Texas Bowl; Lost to Illinois, 38-14
Two Key Returning Players on Offense:
Robert Griffin, junior quarterback; 3501 yards passing to go with 635 rushing yards in '10.
Kendall Wright, senior wide receiver; 194 catches, 2341 yards and 16 TD's in Baylor career.
Two Key Returning Players on Defense:
Tevin Elliott, sophomore defensive end. Led the Bears with five sacks in limited duty.
Elliot Coffey, senior linebacker. Team's leading returning tackler. Started nine games in 2010.
Key Losses from 2010:
Jay Finley, running back. Broke Baylor rushing record with 1218 yards in 2010.
Danny Watkins, tackle. Started 13 games at left tackle. All Big 12 and 1st round NFL pick.
Bryon Landor, safety. Led Bears in tackles with 127.
Phil Taylor, defensive tackle. Run stopper in the middle. First round NFL draft pick.
Antonio Johnson, linebacker. Started 35 games in his career and finished with 235 tackles.
The drought is finally over. After 15 years and no postseason, Art Briles and the Baylor Bears finally made it back to a bowl game. The 38-14 loss they suffered to Illinois in the Texas Bowl certainly wasn't the outcome they had hoped for, but it was still an important step of the resurrection process Briles currently has going in Waco.
After defeating the Longhorns for the first time since 1997 on October 30th, the Bears stood an impressive 7-2. A suspect defense gave up 189 points (47.5/game) over the last four games, however, and Baylor finished the season 7-6 after the bowl loss to Illinois. Even with poor finishe, the 4-4 record in the Big 12 was a significant sign of improvement and the Bears' best conference record since the Big 12 was formed in 1996.
The aforementioned Baylor defense was a focus of Briles during the offseason and he was able to lure former Pitt defensive coordinator, Phil Bennett to Waco following Dave Wannstedt's removal as Pitt's head man. Bennett had been the head coach at SMU for six seasons prior to going to Pitt and has also served as a coordinator in the Big 12 at Kansas State and Texas A&M during his career, as well.
The 2011 season begins with plenty of reason for optimism with a lot of firepower returning on offense and the addition of Bennett leading the defense. Let's get to the good stuff.....
Breaking it down: The Offense
Landry Jones and Brandon Weeden get a lot of the headlines as far as Big 12 quarterbacks go, but Baylor's trigger man, Robert Griffin, takes a backseat to no one when the conversation turns to the best quarterbacks in the conference, or the country, for that matter.
Griffin's completion percentage has risen from 59.9% in 2008 to 67% last season and during his career he has thrown 41 touchdowns against just 11 interceptions. And when talking about Griffin, you can't not talk about the damage he can do with his legs. For his career, he's rushed for 1555 yards and 23 touchdowns. When the pocket breaks down in most cases, the play is close to over. When Robert Griffin is your quarterback, the play is just starting.
Behind Griffin is junior Nick Florence who played a good portion of the season in 2009 when Griffin tore his ACL. Redshirt freshman, Bryce Petty, is currently listed as the third string guy who Baylor coaches are very high on.
So to sum it up, as long as Griffin stays healthy, the Bears will feature one of the best quarterbacks in the country. If he goes down as he did in 2009, all bets are off, even with the improved talent across Baylor's roster.
If there's one big question mark on the offensive side of the ball, it's in the backfield. Last year's leading rusher, Jay Finley, graduated and they've yet to find a definite replacement. Briles said following the spring game, “Nobody’s jumped out. It’s good and bad. They’re all good, but we need somebody to really step forward and make a play every time they get an opportunity to make a play.”
Junior Jarred Salubi, senior Terrance Ganaway, and sophomore Glasco Martin appear to be the three main contenders for the job heading into fall camp. Ganaway is the bruiser of the bunch of at 240 pounds while Salubi and Martin are the more elusive runners. My best guess is you'll see all three to start the season and they'll ride whoever has the hot hand.
In 2010, the Bears had five receivers with 40 or more receptions and every single one of them returns in 2011 which means Griffin will have more than a few weapons he's comfortable throwing to.
The leader of the group is Kendall Wright who led the team with 78 receptions and has 194 for his career to go with 2341 yards and 16 touchdown catches. Wright isn't a big receiver at 5'10" but he's helped out by his 42 inch vertical and has been a favorite of Griffin during their careers in Waco.
The most explosive player of the group may be 6'4" Josh Gordon. He showed that explosiveness last season when he took a screen from Griffin 94 yards for a score against Kansas. He led the team with a 17 yard per catch average and should be in for an even better season with another year of experience under his belt.
The remaining trio is a talented group that has the potential to have breakout game should the defense slide the coverage in hope of shutting down one of the other guys. It includes return man, Terrance Williams, maybe the fastest of the five, Lanear Sampson, and 160 pound Tevin Reese. Go ahead, take a spin around the conference and study the rosters of the other nine teams and you'll be hard pressed to find more talented and experienced set of receivers in the Big 12 or even the country.
The Offensive Line
If the Bears offensive line can stay healthy, it's going to be good, plain and simple. I'd go as far to say it might turn out to be the best the Big 12 has to offer by season's end. The projected starting five of Philip Blake, Robert T. Griffin, Cameron Kaufhold, Ivory Wade, and Cyril Richardson averages 314 pounds per man.
Blake has 25 career starts, followed by Wade with 20, Kaufhold with 13, Griffin with 10 and the guy who may turn out to be the best of the bunch is Richardson who started four games last year as a freshman. He'll be the man taking over at left tackle for Danny Watkins who was selected in the first round of the NFL Draft by the Philadelphia Eagles.
If any of the starters go down at some point in 2011, the second string is much less experienced and in some cases, quite a bit smaller, so depth could be a concern. But it doesn't get much better than the first five for Baylor's O-Line in 2011.
Breaking it Down: The Defense
Most everyone knows with the talent returning on offense, scoring points won't be an issue. Keeping other teams from doing the same, however, is completely another story. Baylor finished 2010 giving up 30.5 points per game, good for ninth in the Big 12, but absolutely fell apart the second half of the season. Over the Bears last six games, Baylor surrendered 42 points per game on average and lost four of those six games.
Last year's defensive coordinator, Brian Norwood, is now the associate head coach as Briles restructured his defensive staff to make room for the new coordinator, Phil Bennett. Bennett comes back to the state of Texas after serving on Dave Wanndstedt's staff at Pitt for the past three seasons. His style will likely be much more pressure oriented than we've seen from Baylor the last several seasons. There are no doubt still big questions marks on defense, but having someone with the credentials of Bennett calling the shots could make a world of difference. Now onto the position groupings.....
Take a look at Baylor's post-spring depth chart and you'll see only two linebackers listed, sophomore Brody Trahan at the weak side linebacker position and senior middle linebacker, Elliot Coffey. The third spot normally reserved for a strong side linebacker goes to nickleback Ahmad Dixon (more on him in a minute) with Baylor expected to play only two linebackers to go along with five defensive backs to combat many of the spread type offenses they'll face in the Big 12.
As for Trahan, should he hold onto the starting spot, he'll be making his first collegiate start when the Bears open against TCU. As a redshirt freshman in 2010, he played primarily as a special teams player and while also serving as the third-string quarterback.
Moving over to the middle, Baylor will rely on Coffey who is the team's top returning tackler after totaling 61 stops a season ago. He started 10 of 13 games missing three starts because of an ankle injury.
That takes us to Dixon who should see the field a lot in 2011. Dixon was a former Texas Longhorn commit before changing his minding and coming to Baylor. He was one of the top rated safeties in the country coming out high school and figures to make a name for himself in Bennett's new attacking style defense. Maybe this is the first you've heard his name, but if he lives up to expectations, it won't be the last.
The Baylor defense has plenty of holes to fill this fall, one of those being nose tackle, Phil Taylor, who was selected 21st overall by the Cleveland Browns in this past April's NFL draft. Despite Taylor's loss, Baylor does have players with experience to fill the gap. Nicolas Jean-Baptiste has played in 37 of 38 career games and Tracy Robertson started nine games last year playing both defensive end and tackle.
On the ends, Gary Mason Jr. started 11 games as a sophomore and finished the season with 21 tackles and had one sack on the year. Their figures to be a battle at the other end spot between Terrance Lloyd and last year's sack leader, Tevin Elliott. Lloyd started the season and played in the first four games before injuring his knee making room for Elliott. He took full advantage of the opportunity finishing the season with five sacks and making several All-Freshman teams in addition to being named honorable mention All-Big 12.
Overall, the defensive line has a chance to be good even with the loss of Taylor. But as most will tell you, if you want to have a really good defense, you'd better have a solid front four so this is an important area for the Bears to improve upon as they look to climb the ladder in the Big 12.
Even though this is the 2011 Baylor preview, it's hard not talk about the Bears lost when talking about the secondary. Gone are last year's leading tacklers, safeties Tim Atchinson and Bryon Landor. The duo combined for 199 tackles and 13 pass break-ups. Atchinson started the final 28 games of his career while Landor started all 13 games in 2010 and tallied 127 of the duos tackles.
The two likely candidates to start in 2011 are sophomore Sam Holl and junior Mike Hicks. Neither has started a game during their careers, although Hicks played in all 13 games last season as a reserve safety and special teams player. Hull has spent the majority of his time during his true freshman season playing special teams. They both have big shoes to fill and will need to pick up Bennett's schemes quickly in the pass happy Big 12.
The cornerback spots will be manned by Chance Casey and Tyler Stephenson, both who have starting experience. Stephenson started four games last year as a true freshman and looks to have the talent to be a good one while Casey has started 15 games the past two seasons.
The pass defense was suspect at best last year and it looks to be issue number one for the Bears heading into 2011. Bennett figures to help this inexperienced group out by devising new ways to get more pressure on the quarterback. That will no doubt help, but this group needs to prove they can cover some of the high powered receivers they'll be facing in the Big 12. If they can do it a higher rate than in 2010, the Bears defense overall will be much improved over last year's unit. If not, well, Baylor may once again have to outscore teams to find their way back to a bowl.
|9/17/2011||Stephen F. Austin|
|10/1/2011||@ Kansas State|
|11/26/2011||Texas Tech (Arlington)|
It's always tough to judge a team after only one game, but we will likely learn a lot about what type of Baylor team we will see in 2011. The Bears got hammered by TCU last season (45-10) who went on to an undefeated season and a Rose Bowl victory. The Horned Frogs lost a ton of talent off that team but still figure to start the year in the top 15, if not higher. They'll provide a huge test but Baylor who will have the advantage of getting them on their home field this time around. Win that, and the Bears will get a huge boost of confidence that could carry over to the rest of the season.
The other thing that stands out about their schedule is that four of their six toughest games are at home. Including TCU, Oklahoma, Missouri, and Texas all have to come to Waco. The Bears will have to pay visits to Oklahoma State and College Station.
So what does it all mean? Let's look at a best case scenario which I'll say is 8-4 (wins over TCU, SFA, Rice, Kansas State, Iowa State, Kansas, Texas Tech, Texas). The Bears have all the tools on offense but are still a year away on defense, in my opinion, to get to the nine win or higher mark.
How about the worst case scenario? Well, if the wheels completely fall off due to injuries or the defense just doesn't come around, 4-8 could be a possibility (wins over SFA, Rice, Iowa State, and Kansas).
The Final Prediction for 2011: 7-5
The Bears truly have all the pieces to have one of the best offenses in the conference which is saying something in the Big 12. But do they have the horsepower to slow down the other top teams in the conference? It did not go well in 2010 against the best teams on their schedule with the Bears best win coming against a 5-7 Texas team in disarray. Against TCU, Oklahoma State, Texas A&M, Oklahoma, and Illinois, Baylor was outscored 234-105. Bennett will make a huge difference on defense but not enough to close that gap in one season.
When it all shakes out, Baylor will be bowling for the second straight year after finishing 7-5. I'm going to go out and predict a season opening upset over TCU followed by wins SFA, Rice, Kansas State, Iowa State, Kansas and then their seventh win against either Texas Tech of Texas to finish the season.
With Baylor finishing 7-6 (including the bowl loss) last season, it might not seem like that's much improvement, but there's little question Art Briles has things headed in the right direction in Waco. Baylor now has the talent to pull an upset and beat anyone in the league and that's something you never could have said only a few seasons ago. Now the next step is doing it, and then doing it on a consistent basis. Baylor is getting closer and closer to it becoming a reality.
While I was spending a few days up in northern Minnesota, the watch lists for the post season awards kept right on rolling out. These have been out a few days, but in the spirit on getting caught back up, here's how the Big 12 shook out on the Groza, Outland, and Nagurski lists.
I'm not sure whether this is a good or bad thing, but the Big 12 leads the country in the number of Lou Groza candidates on the initial watch list, given annually to the country's best kicker. Five of the Big 12's ten kickers made the first cut, impressive considering the conference's best two kickers last year, Alex Henery and Dan Bailey (last year's winner) both graduated.
Lou Groza Award Watch List; Big 12
|Randy Bullock||K||Texas A&M|
The Outland Trophy list was released on Friday and the Big 12 has seven representatives of the 65 total players listed. While I'm not going to profess to being an expert at interior line play, I was a little surprised not to see either of the Baylor's duo of center Phillip Blake or tackle Robert T. Griffin on the list. It's also worth noting the Big 12 has only one, I repeat one, defensive tackle on the list, Texas' Kheeston Randle.
Outland Trophy Watch List; Big 12
|Levi Adcock||OT||Oklahoma State|
|Lonnie Edwards||G||Texas Tech|
|Kelechi Osemele||DT||Iowa State|
|Lane Taylor||G||Oklahoma State|
And finally, nine players from the Big 12 made the Bronco Nargurski watch list, going to the best defensive player in the country.
Nagurski Watch List; Big 12
|Arthur Brown||LB||Kansas State|
|Coryell Judie||CB||Texas A&M|
|Jake Knott||LB||Iowa State|
|Markell Martin||S||Oklahoma State|
In comparing this list with the Bednarik, also given to the country's best defender, the Nagurski included three additional players (A. Brown - KSU, B. Madison - Mizz, M. Martin - OSU) to the six that were included on the Bednarik list. Of course, these lists are going to remain fluid until the final weeks of the season as players play their way on and off each of the lists for consideration.
Just a quick update since I may be away for a couple days (actually, there's no may about it. I'll be away, just unsure of how much, if any, time I'll have to devote to the site). It was my full intention to have the Baylor and Iowa State previews up on the site today and Saturday. Rest assured, each is nearing completion and will be up either Sunday night or Monday. But we'll get caught back up after the weekend and then we can get back to our regulary scheduled programing.
In the meantime, I hope everyone is enjoying their summer and here are a few links worth checking out over the weekend.
The Big 12's website is rehashing the conference nearly evaporting into thin air last June in a four part series with some of what was happening behind the scenes. There's not a ton of new information that wasn't already out there, but it's still interesting to look back at it all.
Part I sets up some the events and history that lead to it all. Part II, Threat from East and West, talks about the Big Ten and Pac-10 starting to look around. Part III looks at the critical ten day stretch when the Big 12 nearly died before being brought back to life. Part IV will be released on Friday and it's entitled, Looking to the Future. Wonder what that's about? Check out Big12sports.com for the latest.
You should get a good laugh out of this from the guys at Cowboys Ride For Free. The Oklahoma, or is Oklahoma State, house divided license plates.
If you're looking for a detailed, and I mean detailed, look at the 2011 Nebraska Cornhuskers, SBNation has you covered.
Mark Wahlberg presents the Big 12 from the ISU Blog, Wide Right and Natty Light.
For those of you following the NFL lockout (or even if you're not), I'll leave with a video you need to see, Field of Dreams 2, The Lockout.
It goes without saying, the Big 12 has a few pretty good wide receivers so it was no surprise to see 11 of the league's top wide outs selected to the preseason watch list for the Biletnikoff Award, given annually to the nations' best wide receiver.
Here's a rundown of who made was selected from the Big 12 and you can also see the full list here.
|Justin Blackmon||Jr.||Oklahoma State|
|Josh Cooper||Sr.||Oklahoma State|
|Jeff Fuller||Sr.||Texas A&M|
|Ryan Swope||Jr.||Texas A&M|
|Alex Torres||Jr.||Texas Tech|
Players can be added to the list during the season so this is basically a starting point before the finalists are announced toward season's end. And let's not forget, even though these types of lists might not have a lot of value now, it's July and we're all in need of a little something to talk about.
As for the Big 12 selections, no huge surprises. The usual suspects are obviously there; Blackmon, Broyles, and Fuller. Maybe it was slightly surprising to see Josh Cooper and Alex Torres on the initial list given the fact they didn't have didn't have big statistical seasons in 2010. Both guys, however, play in offenses where they should put up some nice numbers this season.
So did they miss anyone? The first name that comes to mind is Josh Gordon from Baylor. So long as Robert Griffin stays healthy, I wouldn't be shocked to see Gordon double his catches from last year (42) this season. I'd also make a strong case for Jerrell Jackson from Missouri. He had a solid season in 2010, although he'll be playing with a new quarterback this fall so the jury is still out on what type of season the Mizzou wide outs will have.
The Mackey watch list was also revealed on Wednesday, an award given to the country's top tight end. This won't take long as it relates to the Big 12 since Missouri's Michael Egnew and KU's Tim Biere were the only players to make the cut.
They might not get much early season recognition, but the Big 12 does have a couple other guys at the position to keep an eye on. Oklahoma's James Hanna is a favorite target of Landry Jones in the red zone, hauling in seven touchdown catches even though he only totaled 18 receptions in 2010.
Travis Tannehill at Kansas State is another guy that has some potential. And keep an eye on two newcomers to the conference this season who each could make some noise at the position. Baylor has 6'6" Stanford transfer, Jordan Najvar ready to roll. And Texas Tech has one of the top tight ends in the country from the 2011 recruiting class, Jace Amaro, arriving on campus this summer and the early expectations are that he could see significant playing time.
The Big 12 has a great shot at winning both of the awards when its finally time to hand out the post season hardware. Any number of the receivers will have a decent shot at the Biletnikoff (Blackmon won the award already in 2010), and Egnew has to be considered the favorite for the Mackey Award coming off of first team All-American honors.
General College Football
Saturday Down South (SEC)
Holy Turf (Big 12 and SEC)
Pacific Takes (Pac-12)
Big 12 team sites are on the team specific pages