Huskers Win Battle Of Top Defenses

  • Tuesday, November 10, 2009 9:14 AM
  • Written By: Jonathan Crowl

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Oklahoma's visit to Nebraska represented the top two defenses in the country taking on offenses with more than their fair share of offensive struggles. The Sooners' issues are well-documented: the careers of Sam Bradford and tight end Jermaine Gresham were prematurely ended by injuries, putting a freshman quarterback behind a sub-par offensive line. Nebraska's woes are largely from a tactical point of view -- they haven't settled on a starting quarterback because neither is able to move the ball down the field, though that assignment has grown tougher as the season has progressively neutered the running game. First Quentin Castille was dismissed for failing his fifth drug test, and then Roy Helu Jr., probably their best offensive weapon, is hampered by a shoulder injury that's reduced his effectiveness and caused him to miss snaps.

So there shouldn't be much surprise that the game was low-scoring, a 10-3 Nebraska win, given their offensive reputations. Oklahoma finished first nationally in scoring last season, averaging more than 51 points per game. The Huskers scored 35.4 points per game and were ranked 25th nationally.

The game was also significant in regards to the disparity between the Big 12 North and South Divisions. Nebraska's win was the first time since 2007 a Big 12 North team beat Oklahoma, and the first Nebraska win over the Sooners since 2001, when Eric Crouch caught a touchdown pass on his way to a 20-10 win and a Heisman.

It's a down year for Oklahoma, but if the North wants to rebuild its reputation, games like this must be won. Nebraska can rest easy, now that it has a signature win under coach Bo Pelini.

This week: 3-3 overall, 2-3 Big 12

Overall: 55-23, 22-9 Big 12

Hits

Oklahoma State 34, Iowa State 8: Keith Toston is a nice storyline in the Big 12. The senior got his chance to start after running back Kendall Hunter went down injured in the second game of the season. He had his day in the sun against the Cyclones, rushing for 206 yards and three touchdowns.

Kansas State 17, Kansas 10: Manhattan and Lawrence are only a few hours apart, but they might as well be at the North and South poles. You'd think they're cashing each other's checks every weekend, with the Wildcats soaking up all the success the Jayhawks were supposed to have and KU wallowing in KSU's shoulda-been failure. Back to the same old mantra for Kansas: When does basketball start?

Texas 35, Central Florida 3: I can't help but feel that a game against Central Florida after a schedule featuring Oklahoma State, Oklahoma and Texas Tech has to feel like a vacation. I doubt Jordan Shipley would disagree. The wide receiver decimated the school record for receiving yards in a game, finishing with 273.

Misses

Nebraska 10, Oklahoma 3: How many teams can upset a ranked team with only 39 passing yards and seven first downs? About as many as can boast the top defense in the nation. Nebraska's offense was completely inept, but it took care of the ball and did what it needed to win. Best stat: The lone touchdown drive was one yard long.

Colorado 35, Texas A&M 34: There's just no telling what these teams will do. A&M had the win and was running away with it, but they tripped over themselves and let Colorado surge back for the win.

Baylor 40, Missouri 32: I can tell you Gary Pinkel's having trouble sleeping. This was supposed to be the Tigers' "let's get back on track" game. Instead, Baylor quarterback Nick Florence turned it into the "who's Robert Griffin?" show. Next up for Mizzou: Kansas State. Uh oh.

Jermaine Gresham: Unfortunate Cautionary Tale

  • Wednesday, September 9, 2009 11:20 AM
  • Written By: Jonathan Crowl

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There's a name that will mentioned often this coming spring, mostly to college football stars trying to decide between playing their games on Saturdays or Sundays. They will weigh the pros and cons, gauge opportunity versus risk. When the conversation turns to risk, agents, parents -- even coaches -- will know the name.

Remember what happened to Jermaine Gresham?

The Oklahoma tight end is the biggest loser in the Sooners' mess of early-season troubles after arthroscopic surgery determined stitches were need to repair damaged cartilage in his right knee. That ends his season for OU, one for which he spurned the NFL Draft.

Sure, the NFL Draft will be there again next year, but so much of what was once available to Gresham is out the window. That final season with quarterback Sam Bradford -- the reason he returned to Oklahoma -- ended before it started. Even though Bradford's been knocked out of at least the next couple games, he'll return without Gresham, finish up a final season that likely won't play out as successfully as 2008's, and make a new home in the NFL.

Odds are, Gresham will, too. But while Bradford can still be a Top 10 NFL pick, Gresham's stock will undoubtedly take a hit. By the time his knee is fully recovered, he'll have just weeks to prepare for the NFL combine, making for an unimpressive showing. The draft will come more than 15 months after his last game action and a season boasting 66 receptions for 950 yards and 14 touchdowns, which won't sit well with NFL scouts. And let's not forget it was his knee that he injured. Trying selling a 6-foot-6, 258-pound guy recovering from knee problems as a first-round draft pick. He'll have to have tremendous upside to overcome those concerns.

And when spring rolls around -- assuming Gresham leaves OU, which he's almost certain to do as long the NFL shows an interest where money is concerned -- when Gresham is being projected lower in 2010 than he was in 2009, expect the parties of NFL-caliber NCAA underclassmen to notice, and put themselves in the same position and ask: is it worth the risk? For Gresham, it was -- at least at the time. Hindsight is 20/20, but Gresham was part of a considerable group or athletes -- Bradford and Colt McCoy included -- who returned to college despite assurances of big NFL paychecks. What fuels that decision? The weight of each variable is different for everyone, but for the three mentioned, championships, college degrees and potentially more lucrative NFL rookie contracts were all part of the deal.

It seems to ebb and flow, the trend of underclassmen opting early or sticking around as seniors. Even in a year when Mark Sanchez makes the hotly-debated decision to leave USC a year early and go pro, there was far more talent that stayed when it could have gone on the first day. Where Jermaine Gresham's name is mentioned, don't be surprised if that trend declines.

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Thursday hangover, Friday forecast

  • Friday, September 4, 2009 8:20 AM
  • Written By: Jonathan Crowl

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Any college football fan who tuned in last night saw Boise State humble Oregon on the Smurf Turf. What you might not have seen was the postgame aftermath, in which Oregon running back LeGarrette Blount completely lost his head -- first punching Broncos defensive lineman Byron Hout square in the jaw (a beautiful punch, for what it's worth) in front of BSU coach Chris Petersen, then attacking a group of heckling Boise State students, bringing us to this week's *cue booming voice* Big 12 Alum of the Week:

Frost, a former Nebraska quarterback, wrangled and contained Blount after he went for the kill in the stands. Not only did this former Husker more or less overpower and manhandle a young man in his athletic prime, he saved the lives of at least three BSU students, whose Krispy Kreme bodies had no shot of defending Blount's attack.

That said, it's time to look ahead to the weekend's games and make some predictions. I'll be keeping track of my overall and conference prediction record over the course of the season. I'm late getting to Iowa State, which defeated North Dakota State 34-17, and to the three of you who cared, I apologize. But really, what do you want me to say? Here's my after-the-fact prediction:

North Dakota State at Iowa State: The Cyclones will win but will offer no encouragement that they can do any better than worst in the Big 12 Conference. I expect ISU quarterback Austen Arnaud to throw for between 226 and 228 yards and think Grant Mahoney will boot a 50-yard field goal, if given the chance.

Yeah, it's a gift. Now for the real predictions:

Baylor at Wake Forest: It's a pretty tall order for Baylor to go into hostile ACC territory on opening weekend and hope to bring home a win. And I believe in Robert Griffin -- I believe he is Baylor's savior, that much like in The Beauty and the Beast he is the spellbound red rose, floating and wilting ever so precariously, the only remaining hope Baylor has of transforming into something other than the ugly football wannabe it currently is -- but I don't believe he can win this game. I think senior quarterback Brian Skinner produces just enough offense to help out the Demon Deacons' defense.

Georgia at Oklahoma State: Big 12 game of the week here. I subscribe to the school of thought that Georgia will almost always, almost surely lose a game early in the season that Bulldog fans will bemoan when the bowl bids get handed out. This is that game.

Illinois vs. Missouri: This has been a fun game to watch the last couple years. That may be the case this year, too, but Illinois will claim redemption over a down Missouri squad.

Florida Atlantic at Nebraska: I prefer to look at is as Nebraska v. Howard Schnellenberger, the coach at Miami when the Canes claimed their first championship after Tom Osborne's famous-but-failed two-point conversion attempt in the 1984 Orange Bowl. All-time classic game. This one's on pay-per-view. Why? Easy Nebraska win.

North Dakota at Texas Tech: What's with all these Big 12 teams scheduling sure-win games with schools from North Dakota? I swear, if Kansas State has Bismark Tech on the sked ...

New Mexico at Texas A&M: What I love about this game -- and I know, it's sick to delight in one team's pain -- but I love that this is not a sure A&M win. I'm picking them, but I'm not convinced.

Northern Colorado at Kansas: Another boring Big 12 home-opening win. I'm sorry, I wish I could be more interesting, but I'm not being given much to work with. Alright, here's something: KU hangs 50!

Massachusetts at Kansas State: The only thing coming to mind is Marcus Camby. But on a more serious note, I'd actually like to watch this game. I'm a big Bill Snyder fan, and with all that's gone on in Manhattan this offseason, even if the game's boring the commentary will pull me through. Oh, and I'm going with KSU.

Oklahoma vs. Brigham Young: That's what I'm talking about, a real game. It gets more interesting with Oklahoma tight end Jermaine Gresham out. I still think they'll win, but BYU is just good enough to scare the Sooners and expose their problems on the offensive line.

Louisiana-Monroe at Texas: This is just a stats-grab, but it matters if my Colt-for-Heisman prediction will come through. I'll say 300 total yards for McCoy, no turnovers, and he sits the fourth.

Colorado State at Colorado: The Buffs' dubious road to 10 wins starts against their in-state rival. Expect them to win this game, but don't count on double-digit victories.

Finally, for those of you who made it this far:

Creepy coincidence: Also on the Ducks' staff with Frost is a tight ends coach named Tom Osborne. I wonder how it would feel to be the second-best football coach with your own name?

Big 12 Preview | Oklahoma No. 2

  • Wednesday, September 2, 2009 3:05 PM
  • Written By: Jonathan Crowl

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2008 record: 12-2 overall, 7-1 Big 12 Conference, Big 12 Champions

2009 projection: The Sooners will be in the thick of the national title race until the very end, but they might only be the second-best team in their division.

Reason to get excited: Great coach, great program, Heisman-winning quarterback, high preseason ranking ... what's left?

Reason not to get worked up: Let's face it -- at this point in the rankings, there's no reason not to get worked up.

The gist: Sam Bradford returns as Oklahoma's quarterback, but his spot may not be as comfortable as it was last year. DeMarco Murray and Chris Brown return at running back, and Jermaine Gresham is one of the nation's best tight ends, but the offensive line loses four of its starters from last season. Tackle Trent Williams is the only returner, though he was arguably the best of the lot. None of the wide receivers is exceptional, but they're good enough. The defensive front seven is as strong as any other group on the team, led by defensive tackle Gerald McCoy. Linebackers Ryan Reynolds and Travis Lewis lead a strong second line, of defense, but pass defense remains a question mark. If teams go into four- and five-receiver sets, OU's depth at defensive back beyond Dominique Franks could be exposed.

Rallying point: Is a Heisman Trophy winner ever NOT the rallying point? It's Bradford.

Cover your eyes: At Nebraska and Kansas. Both teams have quarterbacks with arms and balanced offenses that could cause trouble in the Sooners' secondary, and both have improved defenses. Losing to either could kill OU's BCS title hopes.

For what it's worth: Making the BCS title game two years in a row is a tough order, but expecting Texas to beat Oklahoma twice in a row isn't much easier. Nebraska over OU is a trendy pick, maybe because of NU coach Bo Pelini's familiarity with OU after one season as a co-defensive coordinator in 2004. I'd expect OU to beat Texas but stumble elsewhere later in the Big 12 season.