July 27, 2010

Big 12 notes: Tigers, Huskers game to be 'huge'

IRVING, Texas - Just when the Nebraska-Missouri rivalry seemed got more heated and competitive than ever before, this season will mark the final meeting between the teams as conference foes.

For the Tigers, who have won four of the past seven meetings over NU, watching one of their fiercest rivals bolt the Big 12 for the Big Ten will be a sad sight. As much disdain as each team and fan base had for one another, that all was what Missouri's players say made the rivalry so special.

"It will be very different," senior cornerback Kevin Rutland said. "We're used to seeing Nebraska every year, and for the past few years it's been the make or breaker of the Big 12 North. It will hurt to see them go, but it's the choice they made. I think watching it from now on and missing that game, it will kind of bring you down, but we'll get used to it."

Because this year will be the last time the Big 12 North could be settled by the annual battle for the Victory Bell, the Tigers say their trip to Lincoln on Oct. 30 will be one of the most important games on their schedule.

"Oh yeah, it's real huge," senior running back Derrick Washington said. "We're going there too, so it's going to be even better. The atmosphere up there is crazy. We're going to try and bring the Bell back to Mizzou. After last year, it's going to be a revenge game. We let that one go in the fourth quarter. It happened so fast, and a lot of the guys are still hurting about that. So we're going to go up there with a lot of force and a lot of drive to try and win that one."

Slimmed down Washington ready to roll

After running for 865 yards and 10 touchdowns last season, Washington was coming into this year widely regarded as one of the best returning running backs in the Big 12. Missouri coach Gary Pinkel, however, still thought Washington needed to make a big change over the offseason.

With the help of a revamped team nutrition plan and a specialized workout routine that emphasized cardio, the senior from Raymore, Mo., dropped 10 pounds of bad weight this summer, slimming down from 225 pounds to 215.

Washington was one of 12 Tigers - which were nicknamed "The Dirty Dozen" who were put on the weight plan Pinkel established after seeing so many former players come back from the NFL significantly lighter than where they were in college.

By eating right and having to meet daily weight requirements, Washington said all 12 players met their weight goals. By slimming down, Pinkel is banking on a faster, quicker and more explosive team this season.

"What kind of happened to us a little bit was a lot of the players were going to the NFL the last couple years were coming back leaner than what we had them," Pinkel said. "The NFL just leaned them up a little more than we did, so we did that with some of our players and learned from that."

Quick hits

***Junior quarterback Blaine Gabbert said he feels immeasurably better now that his injured ankle - which was inflicted by Nebraska's own Ndamukong Suh - was back to 100 percent.

Gabbert said he's regained his confidence on the field from being mobile again, and that he felt limited for much of last season while playing through pain. However, he hasn't watched much film of Suh's hit last October, and he has no plans of doing so in the future.

"Yeah, it looked pretty bad," Gabbert said. "It looked a lot worse I think than it actually was. But yeah, I haven't really watched the video of it much."

***Pinkel said the decision to play or redshirt true freshman quarterback James Franklin, a four-star recruit who was ranked as the No. 4 QB in the country by Rivals, would come down to how he fared during fall camp.

As of now, Franklin is projected to be the top backup behind Gabbert.

"He had a very good spring for a young player, but we also have a lot of competition out there," Pinkel said. "We have all of 27 practices or so before our first game, and if the competition's good, we'll see how it all works out and we'll make that decision."

- Robin Washut

OKLAHOMA STATE: Season of change for Gundy, Cowboys

It's a season of change for Oklahoma State head coach Mike Gundy.

After finishing the 2009 season with the top ranked rushing offense and returning top running back Kendall Hunter, the primary focus was about how things are changing in the passing department of the Cowboys' offensive attack.

That included a new offensive coordinator, a new quarterback, and Gundy talking about relinquishing the duties of calling the plays.

Simply put, the Dana Holgorsen will take everything learned from Mike Leach at Texas Tech and from heading the nation's top offense last year at Houston - to Stillwater.

Despite leading the league in rushing last year, look for more of the pass from Holgorsen's offense in 2010.

"Obviously we'll throw more passes than we did last year," Gundy said. "We're still going to be a spread offense and we still want to play fast, but simplify it. I think coach Holgorsen and our staff understand the importance of getting the ball in the hands of the guys that can make plays, no matter what your offense system is."

Gundy didn't expect it to be smooth sailing this spring with the new offense and a starting quarterback - Brandon Weeden - a former professional baseball player chosen in the 2002 Major League Baseball draft by the New York Yankees.

Weeden, who saw action in just three games last year, didn't shy away from saying he and his teammates will still look to lean on Hunter in the rushing game. His head coach expressed confidence in his potential, but also said that after the spring heading into the fall he'd classify his overall confidence in the offense as "moderate."

"When you're going to go into a season with a quarterback that's never played other than a couple of quarters, I think there's some uncertainty," Gundy said. "So it would be hard to have more than a moderate comfort level. We've got complete faith in Brandon in his ability to perform and play well, but there is not anything that is proven to us that that will happen, so it's not like we can have a high comfort level right now."

As for giving up the play calling duties, Gundy didn't say it was easy but the choice he felt was necessary to make.

"I think it's hard to do, but I think it's the right thing to do," he said.

So what about Dez?

It wasn't a shock that Gundy was asked about his former wide receiver Dez Bryant, now in his first training camp with the Dallas Cowboys.

Of course, it wasn't just a general question to Gundy and Bryant's former teammates about how he'll do in Big D. No, the questions at Big 12 Media Days were focused on Bryant's refusal to carry veteran wide receiver Roy Williams' pads after practice - known as a rite of passage for rookies.

While Gundy didn't want to comment specifically about the incident between the two NFL receivers, he wanted to shed a little light on who Bryant is on and off the field.

"Dez has a way of gaining and gathering your attention," Gundy said. "His personality, [he's] very outgoing, his smile, and he's very serious about football. I don't think that's ever been a question with Dez Bryant - his drive to have success when he crosses the white lines.

"He is not going to be intimidated by anybody at any time. Whatever he has to do in order to have success on the field, he's going to do it."

Oklahoma State defensive end Jamie Blatnick, didn't shy away from giving his opinion on Bryant's decision.

"That doesn't surprise me at all," Blatnick said. "If you guys put Dez (Bryant) and carry Roy Williams pads in the same sentence - no. He didn't go there to carry pads and he knows that. He's a hardheaded guy, but he's a great athlete and he works hard. There are just certain things you can't ask him to do. I wouldn't ask him to do my homework and I wouldn't ask him to carry pads. He's just got too much pride."

-John Talman

Quick hit

*** Oklahoma State quarterback Brandon Weeden journey from Stillwater to Major League Baseball and back has put him a ways ahead in age compared to his current teammates. Weeden will be 27 years old this October. Still, he's trying to be just one of the guys.

"I had the quarterbacks all over for dinner, with a couple steaks, grilled out a little bit, and just kind of hung out," Weeden said. "I don't want to feel like I'm the old man, boring guy, I just want to be one of the guys. I'm 26 and will be 27 [soon] but I feel 18."

-John Talman

KANSAS STATE: Thomas and who?

The story for Kansas State heading into the fall is one of inexperience, especially on offense.

While the Wildcats return one of the league's top rushers in senior running back Daniel Thomas (1,265 yards, 247 carries, 11 TDs in 2009), he is one of just five returning starters on the offense.

Thomas made a splash in his first year at running back, after earning JUCO All-American honors as a QB. He was a First-Team All-Big 12 pick in 2009 and was named Big 12 Offensive Newcomer of the Year.

While he racked up the yards and honors, Thomas said he didn't really know what he was doing.

"I was just running (last year)," Thomas said. "I wasn't reading my blockers, my line or anything. That's the biggest thing for me is improvement from last year to this year. I know where to run. Having that year under my belt will help me a lot this year."

Under center, the Wildcats will have as many as four quarterbacks competing for the starting job, with senior Carson Coffman holding the edge in returning experience.

Coffman began the 2009 season as the starter, but played in just six games, throwing just two touchdowns, compared to four interceptions, completing 71 of 117 passes for 860 yards.

- Aaron Babcock

Will Bryce Brown transfer to Kansas State?

There's been a lot of talk and speculation about the future home of former Tennessee running back and Wichita native Bryce Brown.

Brown was the Rivals.com No. 1 ranked player in the nation in 2009, but has decided to leave Tennessee after the departure of head coach Lane Kiffin.

Brown's brother Arthur Brown will join the Wildcats in August, after spending the last two seasons at Miami. He too was a five star recruit.

KSU safety Tysyn Hartman grew up with the Brown brothers in Wichita and he said on Tuesday he's excited to add Arthur to the Wildcats' roster, but he'd love to add Bryce too.

"I don't know about Bryce (Brown)," Hartman said. "I've talked to Arthur (Brown), I've trained with both brothers and they are friends of the family, but from what I hear I have no idea about Bryce. They haven't really committed to anything yet, unfortunately.

"It's hard to not want a player of his caliber though that can really help the team."

-Sean Callahan

Quick hits

***Kansas State fans will have three straight Saturdays without a football game in 2010, resulting in just one Saturday contest in October.

The Wildcats are idle on Saturday, Oct. 2 by playing back-to-back Thursday night games (Oct. 7 vs. Nebraska and Oct. 14 at Kansas). Adding to the unusual schedule is the fact that Wildcats will now end the regular season by playing at North Texas on Saturday, Nov. 27.

The game was originally slated earlier in the season, but Snyder said it was moved to give K-State an off week.

***Head Coach Bill Snyder said coaches were definitely paying attention to the departure of coaches Mike Leach (Texas Tech) and Mark Mangino (Kansas) amid allegations of unfair treatment of his players.

"I think it got everybody's attention," Snyder said. "I don't think there was any coach that didn't think through what that meant to them. But I have great confidence in the people we have in our program. They will be demanding coaches, but they will do it the appropriate way.

"Young people respect those who put them in a position to become improved at whatever is important in their life."

***Snyder laughed when he was asked if he's adapted his style since returning to coaching a year ago.

"I've got a cell phone. I can text," he joked.

***Thomas confirmed it, saying players are constantly getting motivational texts from Snyder.

"He sends everybody texts" Thomas said. "No 'laugh out louds' though. We get (a motivational text) like every 20 minutes - seriously. I think somebody does it for him."

- Aaron Babcock

TEXAS TECH: Tuberville only wants to play one QB

Texas Tech head coach Tommy Tuberville faces a pretty tough decision right away during his first season at the helm in Lubbock.

Tuberville must make a decision as to who will be his starting quarterback between Steven Sheffield and Taylor Potts. Both players were brought to Big 12 Media Days to represent the Red Raiders, and Tuberville said it's going to be a pretty tough decision to decide which one will get the nod.

"They've done everything you ask them to do, they've laid it all on the line, but fortunately only one guy gets to play," Tuberville said. "It's going to be a tough situation.

"We aren't going to promise the one that's not going to play that we are going to get him in so many plays, because you can't do it that way. They then have to sit on the bench and be a team player and be positive, because that can be a terrible situation. That can be very tough in a locker room, but that won't happen with these two guys."

In 2009 Potts threw for 3,440 yards and 22 touchdowns, while Sheffield threw for 1,219 yards and 14 touchdowns.

The one thing Tuberville said he won't do this fall is run a rotating quarterback system between the two.

"You probably could (rotate quarterbacks) in an offense where you are more running than throwing, but if you are quarterback and you are throwing the ball a lot with timing to your receivers, it just doesn't start when you walk out there," Tuberville said. "The continuity is just not there when you rotate."

Tuberville brings a CEO's attitude to Lubbock

When you compared Tuberville to former Red Raider head coach Mike Leach they are night and day with the way they go about their business.

Leach had a very laid back style to running his program and conducting himself, while Tuberville has more of a professional CEO style he brings to the table.

Tech defensive end Colby Whitlock said he's enjoyed the professional approach Tuberville has brought to the Red Raiders program.

"I think it's a breath of fresh air for everybody," Whitlock said. "Change is always good no matter what you change to. The way he likes to do things and the way he likes things done has been a breath of fresh air."

Quick hits

***Tuberville made a funny joke to start the day off on Tuesday about his comments made on Rivals Radio on why the Big 12 might fall apart due to its unequal revenue sharing plan.

"In television they taught us to speak our mind and I forgot to get that out of my system a year ago," Tubberville joked.

***Leach plans to release a book with ESPN's Bruce Feldman sometime this year. Whitlock said he definitely plans to pick up a copy.

"I might read it," Whitlock said. "I'm not a big reader, but if Coach Leach is writing a book, I'll probably give it a glance over."

***Tuberville has changed the Red Raiders defense from a 4-3 to a 3-4 scheme that will be much more aggressive than Tech's defensive scheme from a year ago.

-Sean Callahan

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