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July 27, 2009

Big 12 notes: Okie State ready for the spotlight

The big question surrounding Oklahoma State this entire offseason has been whether this would be the year the Cowboys finally escape from under the shadow of Texas and Oklahoma and make a run at a Big 12 South title.

That was obviously one of the key topics of discussion for head coach Mike Gundy during his appearance at Media Days.

In Gundy's mind, the Cowboys have the tools offensively to be competitive with any team in the country, but they need to play at the same level in all aspects of the game to contend for a conference championship.

"Unfortunately, we're one of the few teams in the country that can be in the top-10 in most polls across the country and be third in our division," Gundy said. "But we have a goal, and our goal is to put a team on the field that has a chance to win every Saturday. We'll work hard to accomplish that, but we're going to need to play at a high level on both sides of the ball and on special teams to do it."

While Gundy tried to be as modest as possible about his team and its prospects this season, he couldn't help but show a little excitement over the group OSU will be putting on the field this year.

In fact, he even went as far as to say it could very well be the best team he's ever coached.

"It's a great year for us," Gundy said. "With the returning players, the experience and if we stay healthy - the continuity and structure of the program and where we're at would give us the best chance since I've been back here."

Other Oklahoma State notes

***While Gundy had plenty of good words for players like quarterback Zac Robinson, receiver Dez Bryant and running back Kendall Hunter, his biggest praise went to offensive tackle Russell Okung.

"He's within the few players in 20 years of coaching that I've seen that can come in and play in this league in the offensive line that had great knowledge of the game, great demeanor, very level headed, great work ethic and obviously strong and can run and all of the physical skills that you look for in a big-time offensive lineman," Gundy said.

***Gundy said this year's linebacker corps of Andre Sexton, Orie Lemon, Patrick Lavine and Donald Booker is one of the deepest and most talented units on the entire team.

***When talking about Robinson, Gundy - a former OSU quarterback himself back in the 80s - said that if given the choice, he'd recruit Robinson over himself.

***He also said that Robinson has only begun to realize his potential.

"For what we do (offensively), I would say he's as good as anybody in the country," Gundy said. "I think his best years are ahead of him, and I think he stays healthy and gets into a (NFL) camp. I think he can play for a number of years beyond college."

TEXAS A&M: Sherman seeing more chemistry

Texas A&M head coach Mike Sherman will be the first one to tell you things didn't go the way they should've in 2008.

Sherman and the Aggies are coming off a disappointing 4-8 season as the former Green Bay Packers head coach continues to search for answers on how to get things done the right way in College Station.

The biggest area of improvement Sherman said he has seen with his team is they've started to buy into his system and the players have become much closer to one another.

"I think the biggest improvement I've seen is in the most important room on campus in my mind, is our locker room," Sherman said. "I see a greater chemistry, a brotherhood, so to speak, a unity of being on a mission all together. These guys have really bonded real well with the addition of the freshmen in summer school and them coming into campus and working with our guys. They've embraced them as well."

Sherman said he told his veteran players when the freshman come on campus it will be important that they show them the way instead of intimidating them. In all, A&M brought added 45 freshman to their roster when you count walk-ons.

"I asked our guys that were coming back, I said, listen, I'm going to bring these freshmen in here. We can't be messing around with them now," Sherman said. "They've got to learn what we're doing and how we're doing it. I can't coach them in the summertime. I'm not allowed to. What has to happen, you guys have to bring them in the fold."

The result Sherman said has been "very profitable off-season."

"Are we where we need to be? Probably not in the mind of Aggies everywhere, but at this point we're working to get there," Sherman said. "I feel like last season, during the season, which was very difficult, was very trying, and a lot of adversity every single week, I thought it brought the team closer together."

Other Texas A&M notes

***Sherman came to A&M with an offensive line background, so 2008 was particularly tough for him with the way the Aggies struggled up front with their line play.

"We just lacked the depth that we needed to get through a season," Sherman said. "You know, the guys that we played with, they gave
us everything they had. I have no question about their effort, their toughness. They gave us everything they had. At times it was good enough, and other
times it wasn't."

***Sophomore Ryan Tannehill has moved from wide receiver back to his natural position of quarterback. In 2008 Tannehill caught a freshman record 55 passes for 844 yards and five touchdowns. Sherman said his move back to QB should give the Aggies some solid depth behind Jerrod Johnson and he expects Tannehill to compete for playing time.

"He's a very intelligent young man and very athletic young man," Sherman said. "I think Ryan is a quick study. I think he will compete and give this challenge everything he has. So I think we'll see his very best. He understands that it's somewhat of a challenge in regard to Jerrod Johnson having gone through last season as well as the spring under his belt. He really has to throw a knockout punch to be the guy."

IOWA STATE: Rhoads excited about no-huddle offense

Paul Rhoads plans to do things differently as Iowa State's new head coach.

He admits that ISU "has no tradition in collegiate football and in the Big 12," and that in order to establish some, the Cyclones must be unique in its approach to things.

One new approach he implemented this spring was a no-huddle spread offense.

"The biggest thing the no-huddle brings to the spread is the control of tempo." Rhoads said. "A lot of offensive success with the spread offense is just a result of wearing down a defensive football team."

Rhoads' understanding of the offense comes in part from facing it last fall in Auburn practices, and though it didn't work as well for the Tigers - offensive coordinator Tony Franklin was fired after only six games in 2008 - Rhoads did learn a thing or two about the system.

"A lot of offensive success with the spread offense is just a result of wearing down a defensive football team," Rhoads said. "And I don't know if people have figured out yet, but there's a whole different level of conditioning in how you prepare a football team year-round for what it does to you and what it creates."

The new offense was put to the test in ISU's spring game on April 18, and Cyclones quarterbacks Austen Arnaud and Jerome Tiller combined for 460 passing yards and three touchdowns.

"I love the new offense," Arnaud said. "The thing I like most about it is being in the shotgun most of the time. We're going to spread it around and give everybody touches. We've got two or three backs that'll play and I think we go seven or eight deep on our receiving corps, so I think we're definitely ready for it."

Other Iowa State notes

*** Though Rhoads comes to ISU following nine years as a defensive coordinator at Pitt and Auburn, he's tried to have a hands-off approach when dealing with the Cyclones defense.

One step towards improving upon a defense that ranked 10th in the Big 12 in total defense was to hire the man in charge of a defense that ranked 10th in the nation in 2008 - South Florida's Wally Burnham.

Rhoads said the ability to trust his coordinators was one of the main things he learned while working with former Auburn coach Tommy Tuberville.

"The arrival of Wally has enabled me to stay out of the way without thinking twice," he said. "It was in good hands from day one, and I could see that quickly from how kids responded to him. It didn't take long for the kids embrace him."

*** Rhoads said running back Bo Williams, a Florida transfer, is still rusty after sitting out for so long, but he made strides towards the end of spring ball and could challenge for playing time this fall.

"In the last couple of scrimmage situations we were in, he was very productive," Rhoads said. "Bo has very good speed and decent moves. His best asset is to drop his shoulder and run extremely hard each time he gets the ball. When he does that consistently, he might challenge beyond No. 2 and play more."

-Max Olson


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