What The Big 12 Title Game Taught Us

  • Monday, December 7, 2009 10:22 AM
  • Written By: Jonathan Crowl

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If you watched the Big 12 Championship Game on Saturday, you watched a classic. You don't see many games where both teams storm the field to celebrate victory. And amid all the excitement, confusion and disbelief the game provided, we learned a lot about both teams (and a little bit about college football). The rundown:

Ndamukong Suh is the best player in the college football. That will have to be enough to satisfy him and his fans, since he won't win the Heisman. But his incredible performance against Texas (which Brent Musburger called the greatest he'd ever seen) has at least earned him support, and a trip to the Heisman Trophy ceremony isn't out of the question.

Cincinnati was one second from playing in the national championship. They may be from the Big East, but the Bearcats get respect like they play in the MWC. Playing for the championship would have been a great opportunity to further prove the increasingly parity of college football. Instead, we got yet another awkward marriage, brought to you by the BCS.

This game's finish was a bone-chilling reincarnation of the 1994 Orange Bowl. Picture this: Nebraska scores and takes a late fourth-quarter lead against a team it has no business competing with. It drives the kickoff out-of-bounds, then pitches in another defensive penalty to set up the favored team for a game-winning field goal. Which game am I talking about? Both. The way Nebraska's 2009 loss to Texas mirrors its 18-16 loss to Florida State more than 15 years ago can mean only one thing: There is a God, and He has a sense of humor. The good news for Nebraska: After that loss, the program went 49-2 and won three national championships in four years.

Colt McCoy was about as nervous and skittish as a punted kitten. Who could blame him? He was sacked nine times and tossed three interceptions, and he very nearly lost the game for his team by extending his final snap almost until the clock expired (technically it did, but was resuscitated upon further review). He spent most of his time on the sidelines holding his head in his hands and spent most of his time in the pocket running out of it and away from Nebraska's mammoth defensive line. Was there ever a moment when McCoy's feet were planted behind center and he wasn't hurried by pressure coming at him from all directions? Ask him in 10 years: This will go down as the most flustered performance of his career.

Adi Kunalic's net contribution to Nebraska is officially and forever negative. No amount of touchbacks can make up for kicking the ball out-of-bounds on a kickoff with less than two minutes left. Without that penalty, there's no way Texas scores and wins the game. Kunalic's error gave Texas the ball at the 40-yard line, which was almost all the help Texas needed to get itself into field goal range. Why do I say almost? Well ...

Larry Asante has a one-personal-foul-per-game quota to fill. His horsecollar of Jordan Shipley after a catch moved the Longhorns another 15 yards down the field, putting them in field-goal range. Had Larry Asante simply sat on the ground and cried, another Husker defender would have grabbed Shipley after another two or three yards. "The Assassin" picked up where Kunalic left off, completing the screw job.

The Longhorns' offense is one-dimensional against formidable defenses. Colt McCoy is UT's rushing leader this season. Except for a few timely quarterback draws, that facet of offense was lacking -- and Nebraska was only bringing four defenders into the backfield on most plays. I don't see how McCoy can light it up through the air against any team that drops back six defenders, much less seven, and I don't see why Alabama would have any reason not to drop back and swarm the Texas receivers in coverage.

Nebraska will be a powerhouse soon enough. The Huskers have got all the right components, the most important being a stable, swarming defense. If you look around college football, all the great programs of the moment have great defenses. Great teams might get by with great offenses (Missouri had its moments in the past; same with Kansas; and Texas Tech has always knocked at the threshold) but great programs are built on defense. Nebraska's offense could be worse, sure, but it could be a lot better. A friend pointed out that if Nebraska's offense from 2008 had taken the field with this year's defense, that team would be in the national championship game. No truer words have been spoken.

Texas will lose to Alabama. The Horns have been far short of amazing this season, and Alabama is too strong all-around.

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Expect Texas To Claim Big 12 Title

  • Saturday, December 5, 2009 8:47 AM
  • Written By: Jonathan Crowl

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The Big 12 Championship Game is the capstone to a great day of BCS-busting games. But those expecting a blowout should think twice: Texas is the favorite, but Nebraska's defense is unlikely to let the Longhorns run up the score. Given that Texas should win this game nine times out of 10, here's a quick look at what the Huskers need to do to win:

Run the ball. Stay away from the conservative passing game that's plagued them offensively. They've won two games with time-consuming running drives that moved the ball and led to a touchdown. If they can run the ball well when teams know it's coming, they should be able to get some sort of production while controlling the game clock and limiting quarterback Zac Lee's opportunities for error.

Test the ball deep. They've got to stretch the field, something they've struggled to do in several games. I see Nebraska's offense being successful if it puts together three scoring drives, so most of its offensive work is going to be testing the Longhorns' defense and building toward future drives. It's going to be a frustrating and slow day for Nebraska. But what they're really needing to do is slowly chip away at the Longhorns' defense so that they can unravel it and find the end zone. With their defense, the Huskers don't need to get 30 to win. They could probably do it with less than 20.

Drop seven. Colt McCoy is UT's biggest running threat, but using some heavy zones could isolate him even if he gets outside the pocket and force him to throw into a thick secondary. If he's working too well with just four coming at him, you can always blitz the long side of the field. The idea is that Nebraska's excellent defensive line will be able to win a matchup with Texas' offensive line, letting them get more bodies into the secondary.

And just to play it different this week, here's a score prediction:

17-10, Texas wins.

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McCoy, Suh Lead All-Big 12 Awards

  • Thursday, December 3, 2009 5:47 PM
  • Written By: Jonathan Crowl

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2009 ALL-BIG 12 FOOTBALL INDIVIDUAL AWARDS

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

2009 ALL-BIG 12 FOOTBALL FIRST TEAM

Offense

Pos. Player School Class

QB Colt McCoy Texas Sr.

RB Daniel Thomas Kansas State Jr.

RB Keith Toston Oklahoma State Sr.

FB Bryant Ward Oklahoma State Jr.

WR Jordan Shipley Texas Sr.

WR Danario Alexander Missouri Sr.

WR Dezmon Briscoe Kansas Jr.

TE Jeron Mastrud Kansas State Sr.

OL Russell Okung Oklahoma State Sr.

OL Trent Williams Oklahoma Sr.

OL Nick Stringer Kansas State Sr.

OL Brandon Carter Texas Tech Sr.

OL Nate Solder Colorado Jr.

PK Grant Ressel Missouri So.

KR/PR Brandon Banks Kansas State Sr.

Defense

DL Ndamukong Suh Nebraska Sr.

DL Gerald McCoy Oklahoma Jr.

DL Von Miller Texas A&M Jr.

DL Brandon Sharpe Texas Tech Sr.

DL Jared Crick Nebraska So.

LB Sean Weatherspoon Missouri Sr.

LB Jesse Smith Iowa State Sr.

LB Travis Lewis Oklahoma So.

DB Earl Thomas Texas So.

DB Perrish Cox Oklahoma State Sr.

DB Dominique Franks Oklahoma Jr.

DB Prince Amukamara Nebraska Jr.

DB Larry Asante Nebraska Sr.

P Derek Epperson Baylor Jr.

Hawkins, Mangino Safe For the Moment

  • Wednesday, December 2, 2009 6:27 PM
  • Written By: Jonathan Crowl

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What should we expect from Big 12 athletic directors this off-season? Or, better yet, will we see what we should see? Early on, it looks like most of the Big 12 offices mulling a firing of the head football coach are inclined to give it one more year; really, the two hot seats are Colorado and Kansas.

We've already heard that Colorado plans to give coach Dan Hawkins one more year. Maybe it does believe in Hawkins, and maybe there are signs of improvement. I think there might be, but I'm convinced of Colorado's fear of the buyout in Hawkins' contract more than I am its fear of ruining forward progress. In a recession, and at a school with a meager athletic fund, it's not surprising that Hawkins is coming back. Coach should be thanking the state of economics more than the grace of his athletic director, but he lives on regardless.

The verdict is still out on Mangino, but that doesn't mean Kansas isn't trying to get rid of him. It's more likely the Jayhawks are trying to find cause to fire him and save the school a boatload of money. Until the investigation of Mangino gets sorted out, you can expect him to remain head coach. The longer they wait to fire him, though, the tougher it will be to pull the trigger, knowing the potential ramifications such a move could have on the recruiting front.

This week: 4-1 overall, 4-1 Big 12

Overall: 69-26, 36-12 Big 12

Hits

Texas 49, Texas A&M 39: The Aggies made an impressive show of their battle with the Longhorns, but all it ended up doing was provide Texas QB Colt McCoy to have a signature Heisman performance.

Nebraska 28, Colorado 20: Nebraska didn't instill much faith that it can keep close to Texas in the Big 12 Championship Game this week, but it's hard to predict how the game should have gone given the pretenses leading up to it: Nebraska had won the Big 12 North, and Colorado had already solidified its losing season. Add on Colorado's decision to retain Hawkins regardless of the game result, and you have a perfect storm of disinterest.

Oklahoma 27, Oklahoma State 0: I'll tell you what, only the loosest gambler would ever make a wager in an Oklahoma State football game. Even if you picked Oklahoma to win, no one with a brain would have predicted a shutout. But hey, that's OSU football: They have no idea who they are.

Texas Tech 20, Baylor 13: Baylor kept it close with some impressive defense, and it's too bad its late drive to tie the game stalled. Both teams had impressive moments this season, but I doubt you'd find many people aligned with either school that was happy with the season results.

Misses

Missouri 41, Kansas 39: If Mark Mangino remains the head coach at Kansas, that school doesn't deserve a good football team. Forget the Orange Bowl win a few years back. The Jayhawks just missed a bowl trip with the best quarterback in school history (Todd Reesing), two of the best receivers in school history (Desmon Briscoe and Kerry Meier) and a defense that was supposed to be revamped and respectable. There's no upside to this program. And now Mangino looks like an overweight, angry man that eats players' self-esteems for lunch (with a side of Crisco). I realize firing Mangino means you're basically saying the forward movement the program made was an illusion. But let's take the body of work for what it is. Mangino brought the Jayhawks to heaven and back to hell. Tell him thanks for the honeymoon, and send him on his way.

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Iowa State's Bowl Eligibility Surprise Storyline of Big 12 Season

  • Wednesday, November 18, 2009 6:16 AM
  • Written By: Jonathan Crowl

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Oklahoma's fallen far from where it was, and Texas could very well end the season as the consensus national champion. And let's not forget, Iowa State isn't even the sole surprise in its own division -- Kansas State had equally grim expectations and has out-performed the Cyclones to this point, including winning head-to-head (by virtue of a missed PAT). But I don't think anyone in America saw the Cyclones coming. It's bad news for the Big 12 Conference that Paul Rhoads can make a bowl game with a team of misfits, and even worse news that he's got a promising freshman quarterback who can run and throw.

In a season where Kansas and Missouri were supposed to bounce back from down years, they're playing the way Kansas State and Iowa State were supposed to. Where the Cyclones end up in the postseason is irrelevant. The fact that they've made it there is a borderline miracle. And you think I'm exaggerating, but I'm not. Rhoads inherited a team that had won five games the past two years and hadn't won six games in a season since 2005.

I would be surprised if the Cyclones weren't perennial bowl teams now, particularly considering the improvement Rhoads can be expected to make in recruiting. It's further proof that a lot of times, it's not the school or the players that can't win games, it's the coach.

This week: 5-1 overall, 5-1 Big 12

Overall: 60-24, 27-10 Big 12

Hits

Oklahoma State 24, Texas Tech 17: It played out with less insanity than I'd expected, but OSU wins, surprisingly, thanks to its defense. What I fail to understand is why Tech started Potts, and why they've ever played Potts. His performance this season hasn't compared to that of quarterback Steven Sheffield.

Oklahoma 65, Texas A&M 10: Maybe in the wake of a 55-point rout isn't the best time to bring this up, but Oklahoma definitely does not look like a team two stars from a national champion. The Sooners look more like a middling team that is great against lesser competition but doesn't know how to win when it gets hit in the mouth. Good thing the Aggies are a good half-decade removed from being able to land a punch.

Nebraska 31, Kansas 17: Maybe Nebraska's offense is starting to get back to normal. On the other side of the field, Kansas is in completely disarray, losing five straight games while a probe of coach Mark Mangino's potentially-inappropriate conduct in practice surfaces. Could things be worse in Kansas?

Iowa State 17, Colorado 10: I won't rehash it, but what a great job by Iowa State. Now, Colorado, that's a different beast. Dan Hawkins has clearly lost control of his crew. His team's talent far exceeds its results, and Hawkins has struck out in motivational tactics since coming to Colorado from Boise State. In college football, that's a fatal error.

Texas 47, Baylor 14: Colt McCoy tied the mark for most victories by a major-college quarterback, and he needed less than 200 passing yards to do it. Now he has to keep his team awake for the next month, because the Longhorns will have a rude awakening if they get caught daydreaming of the BCS Title Game.

Misses

Missouri 38, Kansas State 12: Don't think this takes MU coach Gary Pinkel off the hot seat. The Tigers still have two losable games ahead of them. Still, Missouri seemed to exorcise some demons on both sides of the ball in a win that brought bowl-eligibility weeks later than they'd hoped or expected.

Texas' McCoy Responds To Challenge

  • Thursday, November 5, 2009 9:45 AM
  • Written By: Jonathan Crowl

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There was no question whose game it was to win or lose last Saturday between Texas and Oklahoma State. Colt McCoy was the man of the hour, the one with Heisman and BCS Title hopes resting squarely on his performance. And after a 41-14 victory -- after he passed, ran, and led his team to not just a win, but a convincing one -- there's no doubt that McCoy is a Heisman front-runner entering the all-important November.

It's too early to pencil Texas into the BCS Title Game, but if any team has a clear path to an undefeated season, it's the Longhorns. Their regular-season schedule is filled with heavy underdogs, and the conference title game probably won't present much of a challenge the way it could decide the conference title game representative in the SEC. On second thought, pencils come with erasers. Go ahead and put down Texas in this year's national championship game.

This week: 6-0 overall, 6-0 Big 12

Overall: 52-20, 20-6 Big 12

Hits

Texas A&M 35, Iowa State 10: Texas A&M gets a win it badly needed and does so in style. The Aggies surpassed 500 offensive yards and played an efficient game that kept their punter out of the game. The Cyclones did fine for their part, given who and what they are. Both teams are just one game from bowl eligibility.

Texas Tech 42, Kansas 21: The Jayhawks tried to give Tech a run for their money, even taking a quick lead in the game, but the Red Raiders put it together with enough time to amass 42 on Kansas. Pretty good for an offense undergoing some rare struggles, even if it came against an overrated defense.

Oklahoma 42, Kansas State 30: If you're Kansas State, you've got to be happy about the way it battled, falling behind by 21 early but clawing back to within five points in the second half. If you're Oklahoma, you take the win over an upstart team that habitually plays you close, and you breathe easy. Because the way things are going in Manhattan, games against the silver-and-purple are only going to get tougher.

Texas 41, Oklahoma State 14: Texas should spend the next few games working on its running game. It's dangerously one-dimensional. As great a player as McCoy is, if he's the leading rusher with 34 yards, top teams -- say Florida or Alabama -- will find a way to neutralize the passing game, and the offense with it.

Missouri 36, Colorado 17: The Tigers got back on the right track against Colorado, and the defense continued to show improvement over last year, forcing four turnovers and collecting eight sacks. The Buffs continued to look miserable, but there's a silver lining: If they kick it into high gear and get on a win streak, they might be able to hit the 10-win mark before October 2010.

Nebraska 20, Baylor 10: Cody Green's first start for Nebraska started fast, but the final three quarters of the game showed little departure from Nebraska's offensive struggles of the past few weeks. They need a healthy Roy Helu Jr. and to utilize Green's running skills. Credit to Jarred Crick, who set a Nebraska record with five sacks.

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Friday Forecast: Texas Clears The Hurdle

  • Friday, October 30, 2009 11:21 AM
  • Written By: Jonathan Crowl

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Texas has been far from exceptional while remaining undefeated this season, producing unimpressive wins that tempt voters to drop the Longhorns in the Associated Press rankings. Part of that can be credited to Colt McCoy, who has battled the flu and nagging injuries that have held him back for much of the season. Even so, this weekend might be the most realistic shot any team has at beating Texas prior to the national championship game. Oklahoma State is down Dez Bryant and won't have a fully healed Kendall Hunter, but it has a defense that can lock down when it commits itself and an offense that's as good as any.

Personal interests aside, there aren't many more compelling matchups in the Big 12 this weekend, unless you believe upstart Kansas State has a shot against Oklahoma. You're quite the optimist, if that's the case.

The picks:

Nebraska at Baylor: If Baylor hadn't lost Robert Griffin to injury, I'd pick Nebraska to lose this game. They're starting Zac Lee again, and Baylor's defense is good enough that if the Huskers continue to play out of sync, they'll get manhandled by the Bears. However, Nebraska also has an exceptional defense that won't give up much to Baylor's offense. Husker fans with high blood pressure should still consider taking the day off.

Missouri at Colorado: Talk about two teams that both need wins. Mizzou is winless in the Big 12, and the Buffs are 2-5 with almost no reason for optimism. But unlike Colorado, we've seen Missouri can play well, despite its record. Its conference schedule this far has been Nebraska, Oklahoma State and Texas. Expect the Tigers to find Colorado much easier.

Iowa State at Texas A&M: Iowa State's offense looks positioned to improve every week. It's still putting the pieces together. Meanwhile, the defense overachieves on a daily basis. And that win against Nebraska was big, but the Aggies don't have as many offensive problems as the Huskers did. They may get slowed but Jerrod Johnson won't be stopped. I'll pick A&M, but I'm rooting for Iowa State. Did you realize they're one win from bowl eligibility?

Kansas at Texas Tech: Texas Tech clearly needs solidarity at the quarterback position, and it is struggling this season. It's interesting, because Tech so rarely has quarterback problems. It comes down to whether the Red Raiders can be stable behind center. I think they will, and I don't think Kansas will be able to keep up.

Kansas State at Oklahoma: Bob Stoops and Bill Snyder always put on a good show. For that reason, I don't think this will be a blowout. And what a win it would be if the Wildcats could pull it out. It's just too much to ask of this young, confident Kansas State team. They've done well, but Oklahoma is a different beast than they've faced thus far.

Texas at Oklahoma State: This could be McCoy's Heisman performance, and it might have to be. Texas' offense has excelled at doing just enough to win, but it won't be able to hide in this game. Oklahoma State will get its points, and Texas will have to keep up. Expect the Longhorns to do so, but remember that the spotlight's on McCoy, now more than ever. It's his team, and his play will decide who wins.

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Iowa State: Not the Cyclones We Know

  • Monday, October 26, 2009 2:12 PM
  • Written By: Jonathan Crowl

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Paul Rhoads probably knows his Iowa State team got lucky at Nebraska. But you can bet he doesn't care.

How bad is Iowa State? It's coming off a winless conference season in 2008, after which its touted coach left two years in, leaving an unapologetic mess in his wake.

And then comes Rhoads, who brought optimism, understanding and energy to the sideline. Suddenly, Iowa State knows how to play football.

Four games remain on the Cyclones' schedule. With one more win, they're bowl eligible and likely bowl-bound. They pushed Kansas to its limit. They beat Nebraska at its own game -- defensive fortitude. And maybe they needed a trick play to extend a drive that led to their only touchdown, and maybe Nebraska's eight turnovers were unprecedented, but it doesn't matter.

Iowa State isn't an easy place to build a program. It's got all the attraction Nebraska does, minus the program prestige -- which is to say, none. Jack Trice Stadium is small and the athletics department doesn't have much money. But when you have a good coach, you can usually get things done, at least in the short term. Right now, there's no question Rhoads is doing just that.

This week: 4-2 overall, 4-2 Big 12

Overall: 46-20, 14-6 Big 12

Hits

Texas 41, Missouri 7: Everyone's saying that Colt McCoy returned in this game after struggles with illness and injuries earlier in the season. Missouri pulled quarterback Blaine Gabbert midway through en route to its first 0-3 conference start since 2002.

Oklahoma 35, Kansas 13: How awful did Todd Reesing look? Three interceptions on the first three drives is no way to start a game against the Sooners. Of course, he didn't get much help from his offensive line, which gave up three sacks and let OU get to Reesing all day.

Oklahoma State 34, Baylor 7: No intrigue, no surprise. But OSU hosts Texas next weekend in possibly the only legitimate game standing between Texas and a BCS Title Game appearance.

Kansas State 20, Colorado 6: What a contrast of coaching jobs. Kansas State is on an absolute roll right now. Meanwhile, the Buffs have to go 3-2 to finish with a 5-7 record. It seems even my five wins prediction was above and beyond Colorado.

Misses

Texas A&M 52, Texas Tech 30: Cyrus Gray had a field day against Texas Tech, scoring four touchdowns. Texas Tech can't be feeling good about losing by 22 to the team that Kansas State railed 62-14. It was a much-needed win for Texas A&M, which is still in pretty poor shape but at least won't feel as much heat this week.

Iowa State 9, Nebraska 7: Had I waited a week to write my midseason coaching review, Bo Pelini's efforts this season would place him solidly at No. 10. Losing to Iowa State, at home, via eight turnovers, by a score ofnine to seven no less, is among the ugliest home losses in Nebraska football history. This team has struggled from the get-go with its personnel, which lacks a serious playmaker. But credit to Iowa State: it looks like it has found a quarterback, and there are a lot of reasons for that program to be optimistic.

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Every Week Matters For Suh's Heisman Hopes

  • Thursday, October 15, 2009 5:28 PM
  • Written By: Jonathan Crowl

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I read at least three new articles every day telling me that Ndamukong Suh should win the Heisman or could win the Heisman. None, of course, say that he will, since no Heisman winner has ever exclusively played defense. That's what makes this quest so compelling -- the quest taken on by the media and fans, since Suh's only a football player, not a campaign manager. The stakes and significance are not as high for Suh as they were when Jackie Robinson broke the color barrier, but the circumstances are the same: Suh is the centerpiece of an uphill battle, and today's poster boy for an under-represented side of college football. Defense wins championships, but stars play offense -- that's what the Heisman award tells us.

Robinson didn't break his barrier by being good. It took being great -- that's usually a prerequisite to changing people's minds. If Suh wants to win the Heisman, it won't be enough to be the best player in the country. He'll have to be far and away the greatest, not only of this season, but of all time.

These parameters almost demand perfection from Suh. At the very least, he'll need to ace these three circumstances:

Have a good game every week: It sounds like common sense, but think about it: Few Heisman winners performed well in every single game. For Suh, that has to happen. Nationally-televised games have to be killer outings for the big man.

Emphasize the uncharacteristic stats: Tackles, tackles for loss and sacks are traditional stats for a defensive tackle. That is, they won't get you anywhere close to the Heisman. Suh needs to continue dominating in the unusual ways that have garnered him national attention, such as interceptions and passes defended, where he ranks sixth nationally (and is the only defensive tackle in the top 97).

Ten wins for Nebraska: And only on the condition that the Huskers lose to Oklahoma despite Suh hounding Sam Bradford for a full 60 minutes. The more Nebraska wins, the more credit Suh will get. The more they lose, the more his bright star will fade, no matter how spectacular he is.

And even then, the best he can expect from voters is an invitation to New York.

The picks:

Texas Tech at Nebraska: The Red Raiders only plan to put one lineman on Suh and don't seem overly concerned about him getting into the backfield, where Texas Tech leads the Big 12 in most plays per sack. But you could also argue that Suh can cause just as much disruption batting throws and complicating passing over the line. He and the Blackshirts will find a way to slow down Tech's offense and let Nebraska get ahead for the win.

Texas vs. Oklahoma: Unlike last year, Oklahoma's trying to play spoiler in this game. And while Texas has stayed out of national headlines so far this year, the Colt McCoy-Jordan Shipley combination will carry Texas past the Sooners.

Texas A&M at Kansas State: Neither of these teams have much reason for optimism this season, but A&M played well against Oklahoma State and has far too much for Kansas State to handle.

Baylor at Iowa State: Robert Griffin goes down for the season, and suddenly, this is a tough game to call, particularly given how well Iowa State played against Kansas. But Baylor's not a one-man team and still has a decent defense. I can't imagine Iowa State can feel good about itself after the letdown against the Jayhawks.

Kansas at Colorado: Does Dan Hawkins get fired before the end of the season? Kansas suffered a moral loss last week, lowering its profile. The Jayhawks take out their frustration on Colorado.

Missouri at Oklahoma State: Missouri has to be kicking itself for its letdown against Nebraska. Both these teams have similar offenses and similar inconsistency. Given the home field and more experienced starting lineups, Oklahoma State wins.

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Houston Spoils Big 12 Sweep

  • Monday, September 28, 2009 7:48 AM
  • Written By: Jonathan Crowl

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The one game I got wrong had me punching the coffee table. Hindsight makes it easy to say Houston was the right call, but wasn't the evidence there beforehand? It wasn't just Houston's upset of Oklahoma State that was convincing, it was the way they outscored the Cowboys 21-0 to rally and win. Underdog teams don't do that -- the script almost always has them running out to a lead and seeing if they can hold on. Houston got punched in the mouth, and it responded.

And that had just been its most recent big win under coach Kevin Sumlin. The man has a Mike Tomlin demeanor on the sideline, and he just doesn't lose when the spotlight's on him. Nevertheless, I bet against the Cougars, and I got burned.

That was the final game out of 10 Big 12 contests this weekend, most of which went as planned. Nebraska and Kansas State get kudos for exceptional performances after losses -- signs of great coaching.

Week 2 record: 9-1

Overall record: 31-11, 1-0 Big 12 Conference

Hits

Missouri 31, Nevada 21 (Friday): Nevada's not terrible, but if Missouri were good, they would have made the Wolfpack look terrible. Final verdict on Missouri: middling.

Texas A&M 56, UAB 19: The Aggies got off to a slow start but piled it on UAB. Then they got unexpected good news that will likely improve their standing at the end of the season (see Baylor below).

Kansas 38, Southern Miss 28: Didn't expect the Jayhawks to be tied entering the fourth, and they needed most of their 433 yards to pull out the win. Running back Jake Sharp was injured, but it was the defense that looked sluggish in KU's final nonconference game.

Kansas State 49, Tennesee Tech 7: I really, honestly thought the Wildcats would win by 10 or 15. They hadn't done much this season offensively, and Carson Coffman still isn't impressing as K-State's quarterback, but the running game was solid and Brandon Banks' two kickoff returns for touchdowns provided a spark.

Texas 64, UTEP 7: Another week, another big win rolled out by Texas. If Tim Tebow's concussion forces him out of multiple games, Colt McCoy has to be the Heisman frontrunner. Texas A&M 56, UAB 19: The Aggies got off to a slow start but piled it on. Next up is Arkansas, a border state representative in a similar rebuilding mode as TAMU.

Baylor 68, Northwestern State 13: There's no amount of points or margin of victory that could make this game good for Baylor. Robert Griffin suffered a season-ending knee injury over the weekend and is out for the season. And thus, the big jump Baylor was expected to take is stuck in the mud.

Oklahoma 56, Grambling 6: Another mindless blowout for which there is little to say except: that was expected.

Iowa State 31, Army 10: I really thought Iowa State's defense played well in this game. Army's not a good team, but they're not miserable, either, and they threw a couple different quarterbacks with different strengths at the Cyclones. Pitching a second-half shutout was a strong performance for a team that's mostly looking to improve as the season goes on.

Nebraska 55, Louisiana-Lafayette 0: Nebraska scores its first shutout since 2006 over a team that beat Kansas State earlier this season. The Huskers are currently third nationally in points per game allowed, trailing only Oklahoma and South Florida. And I think Virginia Tech's melee of Miami illustrates how good the Huskers might actually be.

Misses

Houston 29, Texas Tech 28: Case Keenum is the real deal. Houston's the real deal. If you didn't catch that last scoring drive of the game, you missed a beautiful series. Keenum threw for 435 yards but ran a quarterback draw four yards for a touchdown and the win over Houston's former Southwestern Conference foe.

Friday Forecast: W's Across The Board For Big 12

  • Friday, September 25, 2009 7:33 AM
  • Written By: Jonathan Crowl

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Maybe plan a picnic or some croquet with old friends. Or both. If you were hoping for a compelling Big 12 game to watch this weekend, you're out of luck. Not much happens this week, as almost every Big 12 team scheduled what it expects to be an easy win heading into Big 12 season. Just make sure you get back inside in time for the Texas Tech-Houston game.

My morale needs this week's predictions to go according to schedule. The picks:

Missouri at Nevada (Friday): Possibly the most compelling game, although if you had plans to watch football from the local high school's grandstands, maybe hold on to that $3 general admission ticket. If this is another Bowling Green for Mizzou, it could become a Friday night groaner. I don't expect much from Nevada, but I don't know what I'm supposed to expect from the Tigers, so it's a toss-up. Playing it safe, I'll take Missouri.

Southern Miss at Kansas: Southern Miss is undefeated and owns a win over Virginia (sidenote: how in the world is Al Groh still a Cavalier?) but I don't think its defense can handle the Jayhawks, even if its offense does look respectable early on.

Tennessee Tech at Kansas State: Both Division I football teams from Kansas are playing a school whose mascots are the Golden Eagles. I wish I had a StatBoy who could find me the last time that happened. K-State rebounds from the hard-fought loss to UCLA.

UTEP at Texas: Colt McCoy is over the flu. Even if he wasn't, UTEP would still lose handily.

Louisiana-Layfayette: The Ragin' Cajuns go for their second win over a Big 12 team this season. Nebraska uses them to get over that gut-wrenching loss to Virginia Tech (anyone else still seeing game highlights in their nightmares?).

UAB at Texas A&M: The Aggies didn't look too impressive against Utah State, but hey, when you've got a preseason schedule like A&M, you're bound to fall asleep, am I right? Hopefully they're awake Saturday, 'cuz they should stomp UAB.

Grambling at Oklahoma State: You know, I had briefly considered looking up Grambling's numbers this season, but do we care? Not really. So aside from choosing the Cowboys, here's something worth your time: Eddie Robinson was the longtime coach at the historically-black Grambling State and a legend. Nine one-loss seasons, a perfect 9-0 in 1942. Even more amazing? All nine games were shutouts.

Army at Iowa State: I've agonized over this game, since it's the most likely one to dash my dreams of perfection. But Army's got a freshman quarterback, and dual-threat as he may be, I'll respect the Cyclones for a week.

Northwestern State at Baylor: The Bears can exercise their offensive frustrations after being stifled by UConn.

Texas Tech at Houston: I suppose this could turn out to be a good game, given Houston's high hopes for this season. I'd be real surprised if Texas Tech didn't pick them apart offensively, but I'm not overly confident given Houston's soaring confidence and its two weeks of preparation for the game.

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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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Mountain West Gives It To The Big 12

  • Monday, September 7, 2009 7:52 AM
  • Written By: Jonathan Crowl

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So much for Big 12 domination, right? It fell on its face when the Mountain West Conference came to town, with two teams losing to MWC schools over the weekend. Orrin Hatch never made so much sense -- the Mountain West deserves an automatic bid. It keeps getting better despite the BCS' efforts to keep it at bay. It's at least better than the ACC, right? We'll put that conversation on hold until TCU plays Virginia next week.

In the meantime, consider this: Boise State joining the MWC, maybe Fresno State, too. Now that's a football conference. San Diego State and New Mexico would still be hanging around at the bottom, but hey: the Big 12 has dealt with Baylor as long as its existed.

Ahh, Baylor. What a great show this weekend. What, you missed it? Well, so did America. Baylor-Wake Forest isn't a big pull, but maybe the Bears will get more airtime with Robert Griffin playing quarterback. The first week is always a bit of an unknown, and it doesn't get easier when the former Heisman winner goes down in a Top 25 match-up. Here's the weekend wrap-up for the Big 12, starting with what I got right before bemoaning my errors:

Week 1 record: 7-4

Overall record: 7-4

Money Shots

Oklahoma State 24, Georgia 10: I'm proud of this prediction, and it went much the way I had expected. OSU's offense is good even against a good defense, and its defense is strong against a mediocre offense, picking up three turnovers. Dez Bryant caught for 77 yards and two touchdowns on three catches.

Nebraska 49, Florida Atlantic 3: I expected a win, but this score is a bit beyond what I thought possible. FAU doesn't have a slouch offense (and it didn't look like one against the Huskers, gaining more than 350 yards) but Nebraska locked down on defense and kept them out of the end zone. That says good things about its division title hopes.

Kansas 49, Northern Colorado 3: Everything I just said about Nebraska you can say here. Except for: Reesing is solid out of the gates.

Texas 59, Louisiana-Monroe 20: Colt McCoy accounted for 381 yards and left the game early. But I'm more impressed by Jordan Shipley's eight passes for 180 yards and a touchdown.

Wholly uninteresting games I was right about

Texas A&M 41, New Mexico 6: Maybe Mike Sherman will put it together down there this season.

Iowa State 34, North Dakota State 17: This game gets stricken from my personal record book since I failed to make a prediction before the game.

Texas Tech 38, North Dakota 13: I remain fully committed to my stance of ignoring all football games played by schools from North Dakota. I have nothing else to say.

Kansas State 21, Massachusetts 17 I barely got this one right, after the Wildcats gave up three interceptions and a blocked punt for a touchdown.

Incompletes

Baylor 24, Wake Forest 21: Holy Mike Singletary, it's happening. Baylor is rising from the muck like Swamp Thing. I thought Griffin and coach Art Briles could put something together, but here's what I didn't expect: the Bears' defense thrice picking off the all-time ACC leader in completion percentage. Now they get two weeks to prep for UConn, and then two easy wins that could lead them to a 4-0 record when they travel to face Oklahoma -- a possibly Sam Bradford-less, weak, broken, defenseless, ripe-for-the-taking Oklahoma (more on that later). Shudder.

Missouri 37, Illinois 9: Alright, either Illinois is a mess of poor-color-schemed suckage, or criticism of Missouri's offense was premature. That did not look like the third-best team in the Big 12 Conference. That looked like a team that will be tough to beat.

BYU 14, Oklahoma 13: On the one hand, I really hate this game. To watch Heisman winner Sam Bradford go out of the game in the first half, and to see that team lose by one point playing the entire second half with a freshman quarterback who found himself in a heck of a situation, is too bad for everyone. But on the other hand, I don't know why everyone's condemning Oklahoma's season. After all, the Sooners lost to Texas last season but proceeded to win a tiebreaker for the division title and, ultimately, a spot in the national title game over Texas. They've got all season to climb the rankings, and if they win out, don't you think voters would have sympathy over the way they suffered their only loss? Of course, the key to all this is the Sooners going undefeated from this point on, which I don't think they can do. Exhibit A on why that can't happen is currently undergoing a battery of diagnostic tests.

Synonyms for "Awful" don't do this game justice

Colorado State 23, Colorado 17: Wow. Wow wow wow. Ten wins, right? That's the goal? Going off this game, I'd bet five before 10. The two-back, run-heavy offense was uglier than Oregon's last Thursday night. Just awful. Pack up and go home. It's over.

Just awful.

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 | Texas No. 1

  • Thursday, September 3, 2009 3:25 PM
  • Written By: Jonathan Crowl

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2008 record: 13-1 overall, 7-1 Big 12 Conference, co-Big 12 South champions

2009 projection: Chip or not, the Longhorns are the best team in the country, and my pick to win the BCS Title Game.

Reason to get excited: "... my pick to win the BCS Title Game."

Reason not to get worked up: High expectations leave no room for error. One loss could derail the Longhorns' season.

The gist: I wouldn't choose anyone other than Colt McCoy to be my quarterback, even though two others in the NCAA have Heismans. He's got more balance than either Sam Bradford or Tim Tebow. But he probably won't have to lead the team in rushing again this season as the running backs mature and take on a greater workload. Jordan Shipley will once again be McCoy's favorite target, and the attention he draws will create a perfect situation for sophomore wideout Malcolm Williams -- who has drawn comparisons to former Longhorn Roy Williams -- to become the star he's expected to be. The offensive line will once again be strong, let by tackles Adam Ulatoski and Kyle Hixx. Sergio Kindle leads the defense, playing both defensive end and linebacker. Lamarr Houston joins him on the line, and linebacker Roddrick Muckelroy returns after leading the team with 112 tackles. Defensive coordinator Will Muschamp's unit is solid overall but needs to improve on forcing turnovers.

Rallying point: McCoy. The senior says the right things, does the right things and could put together a memorable season if he can lead his team to a national title.

Cover your eyes: At the Red River Shootout. Losing to Oklahoma would be the ultimate suckerpunch to a team who watched the Sooners play in the BCS Title Game last year after beating them in the regular season.

For what it's worth: Texas' schedule this season is favorable, particularly the non-conference. The Longhorns have the benefit of sympathy running in their favor, this year -- expect the voters to give them an extra boost if they find themselves on the fringe of the title game. If they win the Big 12 Championship Game, McCoy will win the Heisman.

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