Weekend Wrapup: Big XII Preview Edition

See inside for in-depth game-by-game breakdowns of Oklahoma's 2006 Big 12 Schedule. (Photo/SoonerPhotos.com)


Oklahoma Outlook . . .

Hopefully, OU Insiders will know far more than the media that descended on Kansas City early this week to survey the coaches and top players from the twelve conference schools. But there are always a few new wrinkles and quotes to report, so we'll concentrate on those that most effect OU.

Bob Stoops had his best Big XII event with the press. At times, Bob can be somewhat short, but this year he appeared calm and relaxed and actually in a much better mood than in previous encounters. One scribe asked Bob what he'd learned after seven years on the job.

"Oh, probably how to better handle you guys," Stoops quickly relayed with a slight smile.

An interesting comment on retirement, one goofball asked if Stoops had become tired of his job and was thinking about the day when he would quit.

"Are you kidding me? Stoops shot back. "Me retire? You know, Steve Spurrier told me that the most important thing to have a handle on before retirement is your golf game, and right now I'm not swinging the sticks at the level I think I'd need to if I retired. So no, at this time I do not see any retirement in my future."

Another asked Stoops if this was the Sooners year? "Well, I think that every year is our year," Stoops said. The journalists then said, "Well is this the year you're pointing to?" "Sure," Bob said. But if you mean do we have to win it all this year or forget it, let me say that we're still a very young team. We only have nine scholarship seniors."

Stoops was then asked about how he thought the O-Line would perform, vs last year.

"We have a chance to be really good up front. Getting a couple guys back that missed a spring will make a major difference, guys like J.D. Quinn and Jon Cooper are going to make a big difference. Those guys played and gained a lot of experience last year.

And then you throw them in with what the other guys that were competing in the spring, I believe in the end we'll have seven or eight guys we're used to having that have a chance to be really good. That will be the key to which ones are starting and playing the most. It will depend on who does the best here through two-a-days. But what I like is there's really good potential there.

Though we don't have 12 guys, in the end you can only play five at one time. I think every year we've been here maybe we've only had maybe seven or eight that we really relied on, and I believe in the end when we start we'll have seven, eight guys that we think we can be awfully good. And it's getting them in the right spots early on in two-a-days to have them, to get them to start blending and meshing together quickly. And there's great size and strength up there if those guys -- if they'll come together and we can get them as coaches to mesh in a quick way."

Stoops was then asked about 8-4 record a year ago, and in light of that, what might make the same team contenders this year.

"Your biggest plays on offense are always going to come from your quarterback and receivers. Conversely, you're going to give up the biggest plays in the secondary. All of those areas were our weakness last year, and we've improved all three a great deal since then."

And then a question about the defensive line and depth, Does Stoops now have an idea as to how he will rotate the available talent?

"Sure. I think to some degree we were always rotating those guys. We want them fresh and going hard. We always play in that front four at least eight guys. Last year we couldn't because of our injuries at defensive end. And I think that has a chance to really help us."

"Two guys that had great years, Calvin Thibodeaux and C.J. Ah You as defensive ends, now have a chance to be spelled, and I think can be more productive because they'll be more fresh. We'll play eight, nine guys up there this year for sure. And just rotate them according to how tired they are and we want to make sure they're going, you know, at full speed every snap."

The Big XII Media Circus . . .

Kansas City - as host city for this years' championship game, served as media headquarters Monday through Wednesday this week as national media descended on the Marriott at the Plaza to hear Big XII coaches and players give a preview of what's on tap this fall.

Naturally, there are no losers in July, and most every coach has glowing reports - on the surface. To get a real feel for truth vs BS - you have to dig a bit, and some common sense is also somewhat beneficial.

It's not easy to get down to an accurate assessment, but after talking with players and coaches about their teams, and having candid conversations with media members about the teams they cover, you start to get a feel for a teams' general strength.

First we'll examine each Big XII team, in the order they appear on the schedule, with the stated goal that we are only concerned with how their strengths (or weaknesses) will effect Oklahoma, and later look at a few things from the Sooner camp.

TEXAS October 7, Dallas

Previous schedule before October 7: North Texas; Ohio State; @ Rice; Iowa State; Sam Houston State.
Best possible record at kickoff on October 7: 5 - 0; Worst possible: 4 - 1; Most likely: 5 - 0.
Key stat from 2005: Fumbles 35 (lost 9).

Whether the glass is 75% full, or 25% empty, 16 returning starters are reason for optimism at Texas; while the obvious, the departure of the eight starters, including Vince Young, are the primary reasons for concern.

Everyone talks about Young, for good reason. Some say, (incorrectly), that VY won the national championship last year and Texas just came along for the ride.

Yes, last year's version of Vince Young led to one of the most dynamic seasons in college football; (1,050 yards rushing, 3,036 yards passing; 212 of 325 attempts, 10 interceptions 25 TD's). Beyond the stats, the most impressive aspect of Young's game was 'when' those big plays occurred. He had the uncanny ability to pull Texas out of almost impossible situations time after time. That, along with the gaudy stats and fear imposed on opponents' defensive coordinators - is gone.

Almost all every aspect of Vince Young has already been exhausted, and while it's imperative that we mention him, in order to get a realistic feel for UT in 2006, the focus should be own the other seven departed starters; (OG Will Allen - 32 career starts; OT Jonathon Scott - first team All American; TE David Thomas - all time best stats for TE at UT; CB Cedric Griffin - fist team Big XII; LB Aaron Harris - 3rd team All American; S Michael Huff - first team All-American & Thorpe winner; DT Rod Wright - first team All-American).

In addition to the above MIA's throw in the punter (Rich McGee), and place kicker (David Pino), and running back Ramonce Taylor, who leaves Texas on a four pound 'high' note after racking up 846 total yards and 15 TD's last year. Taylor, was the player that Brent Venables said was the single most difficult weapon on the UT roster for defenses to account for last year.

Asked how the early departure of double-threat quarterback Vince Young has affected the Longhorns' offensive game plan, Brown deadpanned:

"We probably won't have more structure, but we also won't have too many third-and-30 scrambles for first down. I called a lot of those, and they were pretty exciting."

That leaves Texas with redshirt freshman Colt McCoy and freshman Jevan Snead as Young's successors.

"We'll probably have to play both guys," he said. "Colt's just been there longer. It's been a very difficult thing for Jevan to come in in January and be pushed into the offense. It's something we will just have to put together on the run."

Translation - Colt McCoy will be the quarterback on day one, and he'll have to be gosh awful to bring in Snead. The reality though, is that unlike OU last year, UT is solid at receiver and along the O-Line. And if Jamaal Charles, (1,200 yards, 14 TD's), stays healthy, the Horns will only need their young quarterback to go through the motions with handoffs and jus enough passing attempts to keep the defenses honest.

Texas will not have the fall off that the Sooners experienced last year, unless the injury bug bites key starters as hard in Austin as it did in Norman last fall. The national championship has given Texas some much-needed confidence, perhaps too much. The potential land mine is that every Horn fan KNOWS down deep that 3rd and 30 is going to be much tougher to make than the last few years. The real question from last year is 'How did UT ever get into a 3rd and 30 with Vince Young'?

The bottom line: Oregon at Autzen Stadium will likely provide the toughest combination of talent and venue, but make no mistake; Texas will be very good this year, arguably the strongest and most balanced team OU will play all season, but not impossible to beat like last year with 'Houdini' at QB. The Sooner defense should be able to hold on - and although the UT defense will be similar to OU's, the Sooner offense - with a healthy AD and a much improved receiving corps, should be able to generate more points than the Horns on October 7, but it won't be a run-away by any means.

Any win by any margin in Dallas would almost assure the winner of punching their ticket to Kansas City for the conference championship game, as the winner would have to lose twice and the loser win out in conference play in order to reverse the participants.

IOWA STATE October 14, Norman

Previous schedule: Toledo; UNLV; @ Iowa; @ Texas; @ Northern Iowa; Nebraska.
Best possible record: 5 - 1; Worst possible: 2 - 4; Most likely: 3 - 3.
Key stat from 2005: Best turnover margin in Big XII: +14.

It's hard to believe that Dan McCarney is the 'dean' of Big XII coaches, having led the Cyclones now for 11 seasons, he also ranks as the longest tenured coach at ISU.

Last year the Cyclones schedule ranked second nationally in opponents W-L record (93-54), and it doesn't get easier this year as Texas, OU and Texas Tech replace Baylor; OSU and A&M. Oooch.

The slight ray of sunshine is that the Cyclones return all 11 offensive starters, including Junior QB Bret Meyer, who some have tabbed as the conferences top signal caller for 2006.

However if McCarney expects his team to get as close to the North title as it has the past two years, (when last second screw-ups foiled easy chances), he must find a way to replace 8 departed defensive starters, including All Big XII nose guard Nick Leaders and CB LaMarcus Hicks, (along with SS Nik Moser who was second in the Big XII with four interceptions).

The biggest defensive blow however may be the loss of linebacker Matt Robertson, who will not be allowed to play his senior season after he tested positive for a banned nutritional supplement. Robertson, who started all 12 games as a junior last season, and was tied for the team lead in tackles last season with 103, must sit out one season under NCAA rules.

Another bone headed action forced ISU to suspend redshirt freshman (DL) Stephon Dale for violating the school's student-athlete code of conduct in May. ISU has not said how long Dale would be suspended. He was expected to compete with Kurtis Taylor, Travis Ferguson and Nick Frere for a starting spot on the Cyclones' defensive line.

If Iowa State can field a defense, the Cyclones may be trouble for the mediocre North, but it's doubtful that a handful of good players can make a difference. Even if a respectable defense does emerge, don't look for the 'Clones to win the North under any circumstances, as the Big XII schedule rotation will hit the Cyclones particularly hard this year.

The bottom line: The Sooner defense is strong enough to shut down Iowa State in Norman. The ISU defense will not be able to return the favor. Look for the Sooners to win easily here.

COLORADO October 21, Norman

Previous schedule: Montana State; Colorado State (Denver); Arizona State; @ Georgia; @ Missouri; Baylor; Texas Tech.
Best possible record: 6 - 1; Worst possible: 2 - 5; Most likely: 4 - 3.
Key stat from 2005: CU held 8 of 13 opponents to under 100 yards rushing and led the Big XII in rushing defense.

The big news is new head coach Dan Hawkins, who brings everything but the blue rug down from Boise State, including a wide open offensive philosophy along with a bit of crafty craziness to Boulder, replacing Gary Barnett, an underrated coach who was better than his perception, who had landed the Buffs in the Big XII championship game four times in five years.

Hawkins is no Rick Neuheisel, but he admitted that he's done some really crazy things at practice in order to keep his team loose.

During the spring, he had the CU equipment manager don a helmet and let the football team play 'closest to the a** hole' from 50 yards out with a 9 iron. Hawkins said the team liked the equipment manager well enough, he just thought it'd be more fun with a live target.

Now if a coach will do that in practice, you can bet that Chuck Long is not the offensive coordinator.

The Buffs will rely on one of the conferences' best defenses (8 starters return), to hold off attackers until the offense can be coaxed into some kind of unit that produces points. You may remember the name from recruiting, but DE Walter Boye-Doe had four sacks in the spring game, a performance the Buffs probably found encouraging after they averaged fewer than two sacks per game last season.

Hawkins also admits that the Buffs are not quite ready for prime time when it comes to implementing the Boise State offense.

"We're a long ways away, especially coming from the place that I was where we were basically eight years in the system. (It's like) where you develop a space shuttle where there's a lot of buttons and knobs you can use to fly your ship. And we've got to continue to work to add those buttons and knobs and features on our ship."

"And, you know, the nice thing that I think about the way we do things is things can be sort of segmented. I don't know that a person has to grasp the entire play book to be functional in the offense. But we'll continue to add as we go along, and we'll continue to adapt as our players are able to handle those things and operate at a high level."

Biggest looses were six offensive starters, including QB Joel Klatt, who was like a coach on the field, and TE Joe Klopfenstein, first team All Big XII. That leaves an offense with only two possible QB's, both unproven, in junior Brian White (6-5 / 235) and Bernard Jackson, (6-0 /190), and neither assumed control of the position in spring.

There have been a few bright spots on offense: At RB Mell Holliday has gained the back-up spot on the depth chart behind starter Hugh Charles, and has established himself as CU's most physical back. Meanwhile, Hawkins likes his talent and versatility of junior WR Dusty Sprague who led all receivers in the spring game with six receptions for 51 yards, and Center Mark Fenton is the acknowledged leader along the O-Line after being named a finalist last season for the Rimington Trophy.

The offensive makeover Hawkins implements will likely take time, but note that Hawkins is not used to mediocrity, as the offense he ran the past five seasons at Boise State was one of the most effective in the country.

"I'm used to scoring 40, 50, 60 points a game," Hawkins said.

Hawkins does acknowledge that the Buffs return one solid weapon in place kicker Mason Crosby, who has a field goal range of from somewhere around Denver. At CU's spring game, he made Crosby the featured performer. The senior attempted an amazing 16 field goals in swirling winds. The average distance was 50.7 yards and the longest was from 70.

The bottom line: Dan Hawkins will make a difference at CU — in time. In years to come trips to Boulder won't be a lot of fun, but for now that Sooners catch a break, as this year's Buff offense will not be potent enough to keep the outcome in doubt.

MISSOURI October 28, @ Columbia

Previous schedule: Murray State; Ole Miss; @ New Mexico; Ohio; Colorado; @ Texas Tech; @ Texas A&M; Kansas State.
Best possible record: 7 - 1; Worst possible: 3 - 5; Most likely: 5 - 3.
Key stat from 2005: CU held 8 of 13 opponents to under 100 yards rushing and led the Big XII in rushing defense.

Forget the 'hot seat' talk for Mizzou's Gary Pinkel, who is 20 - 16 overall and claims two bowl games in the last three years, including the come-from-behind 38 - 31 miracle win over Steve Spurrier's favored South Carolina team in the Independence Bowl.

That win bought Pinkel both time and credibility, but it did not swell his head with outrageous expectations. Pinkel quickly settled down the overly enthusiastic Missouri press Wednesday when he was asked about how much momentum the bowl win would have on this year's squad:

"Sure, we'll draw from it, but let's don't blow it out of proportion," he calmly said.

Of all the coaches, Pinkel along with McCarney, Stoops and surprisingly Mack Brown, were the most informative and straight forward. As an example, when asked, 'Where do you think you'll be going into conference play?' Pinkel responded with this straight shot to the reporter's eyeballs.

"We should be 4-0. We expect to be. We should beat all of those non-conference teams (Murray State, Ole Miss, New Mexico and Ohio), but in the past two years we've stubbed our toe and lost to people that we shouldn't have lost to. We'll see if this team can meet those expectations."

One of the 9 starters back on offense is sophomore QB Chase Daniel who didn't redshirt last season during his freshman year as coach Gary Pinkel was left with no other choice for a backup to fourth-year starter Brad Smith. Daniel offers another offensive dimension, a fresh approach and it could be the spark Missouri needs to emerge as a contender in the wide-open Big 12 North, especially when the Tigers are stockpiled with 17 returning starters. Mizzou should become more conventional behind Daniel, who closed spring practice by completing 11 of 12 passes in MU's annual Black-Gold scrimmage, spreading the ball to seven different receivers.

"Every quarterback is different in some ways, and I don't get into comparisons because I don't think that's fair," said MU coach Gary Pinkel. "But without question right now Chase Daniel is clearly number one - the race is certainly not over. Chase Patton and Brandon Coleman are also competing there. But Chase does what he does. He likes to throw the ball, find people downfield and get the ball down there on time. That's what he does."

"This year with the quarterbacks that we have, we will distribute the football. That's what this offense is about. Our quarterback has to play well. What we ask him to do in our offense. But, you know, I think he's got a lot of good players to distribute the ball to. I think we have a lot of players to make some plays. Our tailbacks, Tony Temple, Marcus Woods are right now the starters, but certainly we have all the other players, we have talented players and players can make things happen with the football.

The Tigers do have an emerging star in sophomore TE Chase Coffman, who was good enough to be included in the Missouri attack last season as a true freshman (47 receptions and 503 yards). , Coffman showed off his talent with a couple of acrobatic grabs in the spring scrimmage.

On defense the Tigers return 7 starters, including DT Ziggy Hood who caught most by surprise when he emerged in the two-deep last season as a true freshman. He enjoyed a tremendous spring camp and could be the most tenacious player on the defensive front. The defense also added two outstanding JC talents as well, LB Quran Barge and DT Tommy Chavis. And former part time starter CB Alex Woodley, (who was dismissed from the program a year ago), returned to the squad and played with the second string during spring.

Bottom line: Now that Brad Smith, the only NCAA QB to throw for over 8,000 yards and rush for 4,000, has left the building, the Tigers can look to the 21 other players on the field to make something happen. The over reliance on Smith made the Tigers easy to defend for opponents capable of pinning Smith to the pocket.

Historically, Mizzou always does better when the spotlight is focused elsewhere. But the Sooners should be able to overcome the home field advantage here and take home another win to stay undefeated in conference play.

TEXAS A&M November 4, @ College Station

Previous schedule: The Citadel; UL Lafayette; Army (San Antonio); La Tech; Texas Tech; @ Kansas; Missouri; @ OSU; @ Baylor.
Best possible record: 9 - 0; Worst possible: 5 - 4; Most likely: 8 - 1.
Key stat from 2005: Texas A&M was 2nd in the Big XII in rushing, (234 yards per game).

We've never been too kind to head Aggie Dennis Franchione, not because he's a Les Miles like dweeb, or a Bill Callahan like jerk, he's neither; he's a very nice guy - but he does have a rather over inflated reputation based on a D1 57% winning percentage, (91 wins - 73 losses), while doing well at lesser programs and, not so good against tougher competition. (A&M under Denny is a dismal 16-19 and a salty 2-9 vs. Oklahoma, Texas Tech, Nebraska, Colorado, and Texas).

Which is the only possible explanation of A&M's Okie State like non-conference schedule. No serious team, no matter how desperate, should assemble a non conference schedule this inept, with zero opponents from BCS conferences.

Laying that criticism aside, the Aggies will be better this year, with 7 offensive starters back and 6 on defense, and casting aside the multi-talented Reggie McNeal, who had roller coaster emotional highs and lows, in favor of a much more stable Stephen McGee at quarterback, plus some added firepower on offense. Super frosh Michael Goodson brings his game to College Station along with OKC Putnam City WR Kenny Brown, also a freshman. Martellus Bennett, one of the real characters in the conference, returns at tight end, and a young offensive line is a year older, returning 4 of 5 starters.

One hard to believe statement that Franchione threw out was that Sophomore QB Stephen McGee was clocked at 4.3 in the 40 a few weeks ago. As we said in our Big 12 Notebook, those Aggie stopwatches have always been fast, but 4.3 for a 6-4 throwing QB is a little hard to believe. If times like that keep coming out of College Station, particularly for tall, rangy QBs who ran a 4.7 in high school, the BALCO investigation might expand to include the Aggies.

However it was defense that doomed the Aggies last year, and to counter that, the Brown Shirts have drug in the bullet riddled body of Bill Clay, the goat of several O-State meltdowns, as well as new D-Coordinator Gary Darnell, who was forced to 'walk the plank' last year after flopping around for 8 years as head coach of Western Michigan. Admittedly, there is some valuable football knowledge stored in the collective craniums of these two fossils, if Fran will be bold enough to extract and use it.

Franchione is painfully aware that the wrecking crew was the reeking crew last season, unable to stop a slow leak, much less a potent offense:

"Obviously defense is where we've got to make some improvements and we've kind of changed schemes a little bit, (going to a 4-2-5). We're fairly solid on the defensive line with Red Bryant, Michael Bennett, Cyril Obiozor, and Chris Harrington and Bryce Reed."

If the linebackers don't scare opponents, the names surely will: Misi Tupe, Nurahda Manning, Anthony Lewis, Matt Featherston sound more like a casting call for South Pacific, but could come on and play well be the time OU hits College Station.

Bottom Line: This could be the strongest Aggie team in some time, and they should jump Tech for third in the South based on offensive talent alone. If Franchione can't win with this weak schedule and talented lineup he needs to reconsider his future, unless of course it will have already been decided by affluent Aggies that have had too much 'National Champions' smack seeping out of Austin daily for the past eight months.

Kyle Field will be Oklahoma's most challenging venue of the regular season, and the Sooners will be lucky to escape with anything over a TD difference.

TEXAS TECH November 11, Norman

Previous schedule: SMU; @UTEP; @TCU; SE Louisiana; @ Texas A&M; Missouri; @ Colorado; @ Iowa State; Texas; Baylor.
Best possible record: 8 - 2; Worst possible: 5 - 5; Most likely: 6 - 4.
Key stat from 2005: Tech led the NCAA in passing offense for the 4th straight year, (388 yards per game), and the Big XII for the 6th, despite that fact that TT has replaced the starting QB for 4 consecutive years.

The Raiders return 13 starters, (about the norm for college football), 8 on offense and 5 on defense, plus two kickers, both serviceable, but neither one outstanding. Of the departed main ingredients to the 9-3 '05 season, QB Cody Hodges, RB Taurean Henderson, (the little midget with the huge 'Mr. Potato' head), and FS Dwayne Slay, (who led the Big XII with 114 of the hardest hits ever recorded), will be missed the most.

With no fifth-year senior available to compete for the open quarterback position, Mike Leach is in no hurry to name a starter.

"I wasn't even attempting to get closer," Leach said after spring ball. "I just wanted to go out there and try to give them (snaps), allow them to improve, do what they could do. Obviously, there will be a long work period between now and fall."

"It's going to be a competitive deal no matter what (at quarterback). In the past, I've had deals where maybe a guy distinguishes himself, or between your guys there's a little more space. I like the fact the competition right now is pretty stiff."

"Them" that Leach refers to are redshirt freshman Chris Todd, (6-2 / 203),who probably faces longer odds than sophomore Graham Harrell. But Todd engineered a 61-yard march on his first possession with the first string in the Red Raiders' annual spring game, resulting in a field goal. When fall arrives, however, sophomore Graham Harrell (6-2 / 190), is expected to win out at quarterback. While the position is most instrumental on any football team, its importance is especially key in the high-octane spread offense Texas Tech runs.

The Red Raiders regularly lead the nation in passing yardage and Leach has been uncanny inserting new starters at quarterback. The 2006 starter will be the fifth in as many years at Tech, where only Kliff Kingsbury held the position longer than one year. The last three starters were all fifth-year seniors.

Although it's easy to assume the Red Raiders could struggle some with a younger quarterback and a new running back, an assortment of experienced receivers should keep the offense from falling flat. This years likely stars at WR are: Joel Filani, who proved he could make the tough grab last season when he led the Red Raiders with a 16.1-yard average; Jarrett Hicks, who had 10 touchdown receptions and has logged the best career of the talented receivers in this system; and Robert Johnson, the most gifted athlete among the Tech receivers. His 67 receptions last season tied for team-high honors.

As long as the Tech defense continues to build on the improvement it's enjoyed in recent seasons, the Raiders should not slip far in the Big 12 South. The big question, made huge by the loss of 6 defensive starters is - 'have they'?

Bottom Line: "We owe you one." It's as simple as that.

Everyone outside of Lubbock, including the national media, (and people many who live there), realizes that last years' game was not exactly on the level. You can bet that Stoops and company have not forgotten the first down; the phantom TD, and the last second call made by a local Lubbock insurance salesman at the goal line which gave TT the game; and although they remain fond of Mike Leach, it may be one game where they let the Sooners run unchecked.

BAYLOR November 18, @ Waco

Previous schedule: TCU; NW Louisiana; @ Washington State (Seattle); Army; Kansas State; @ Colorado; @ Texas; Kansas; Texas A&M; @ Texas Tech; @ OSU.
Best possible record: 7 - 4; Worst possible: 3 - 8; Most likely: 5 - 6.
Key stat from 2005: Five win season was the most since 1995 (7 wins).

As we said in our Big XII Notes Monday night, the biggest news of the week was probably Baylor's decision to sell out 100 percent to the spread offense. It was no secret that they experimented with it in spring, but few people actually thought they'd go to it and, quite frankly, copy Texas Tech all the way.

Morriss, who along with Mike Leach, was one of the co-conspirators of the offense, explained how and why he decided to switch the Bears to a spread.

I wanted to implement a system that I knew and I wanted to get more involved in our offense and this was it. Back in the early '90s - when Coach Mumme went to Valdosta, Coach Leach and I went with him as assistant coaches. And that's where this whole system got put together. The original system came from LaVelle Edwards and BYU, the two-back throw the football over the yard kind of thinking. So Coach Mumme, myself and Coach Leach came up with our little version of it and that's how it got started.

Mike has obviously gone to the one back pretty much exclusively. I like the two-back version because I think two of our better play makers are tailbacks want to keep them on the field at the same time. I think it gives you better pass protection if you need it. Better running game when you want to doubt it. We'll start off with the two-back and we will dabble with the one back stuff - but not as exclusively as Mike does.

A very candid Morriss said that this would tend to level the playing field between everyone in the Big XII South — except for Texas and Oklahoma. When asked how it would be an advantage for the Bears over OSU and Tech, who also run versions of the spread, Morriss said that many Texas players want to stay in Texas (vs. OSU), and he said that Waco was geographically closer to the more top Texas talent than TT.

About A&M, he said that he doubted they would make the switch, (Too risky an offense), so he thinks it may open up more doors for Baylor and close a few for TT and OSU.

Morriss did not shy away from predictions, as Callahan and Franchione were prone to do after spreading their optimism. Morriss was first asked about the non conference schedule and the TCU game, which has already become kind of a verbal sparing war in Central Texas.

"We'll be 4-0 when we start the conference. That's what I think. You can't win four if you don't win the first one, (TCU). That's our goal right now, just to make sure we win the first one and then the rest of them will take care of themselves. Morriss also said that there was 'no way' the Bears be in the South cellar this year. When asked who would, Morris grinned, then whispered 'do the math.'

The Bears return 8 offensive starters, including senior QB Shawn Bell (6-1 / 219), 4 defensive starters and 2 specialists, including All-America punter Daniel Sepulveda, who was third nationally last year with a 46.2-yard average. He is Baylor's career leader at 44.9 yards per punt and was the 2004 Ray Guy Award winner as the nation's top punter. Sepulveda had ACL surgery in April, but is expected to be ready by September.

Bottom Line: Morriss is talking some serious smack - and he's far too smart to write checks with his mouth that his a** can't cash. He's one confident hombre concerning his ability to get the Bear's to a winning season, and on to a bowl, if not this year then certainly next. The Sooners should win this one in the second half, as depth at DE and in the DB is twice what it was last year when the defense was gassed as the Bear's mounted a furious fourth quarter comeback to send the game into overtime.

OKLAHOMA STATE November 25, @ Stillwater

Previous schedule: Missouri State; @ Arkansas State; Florida Atlantic; @ Houston; @ K-State;@ Kansas; Texas A&M; Nebraska; @ Texas; Baylor; @ Texas Tech.
Best possible record: 7 - 4; Worst possible: 3 - 8; Most likely: 4 - 7.
Key stat from 2005: The Cowpokes high powered offense had 31 fumbles, (losing 18), and was intercepted 17 times.

Probably the best dressed among the Big XII coaches, OSU good guy (honestly), Mike Gundy was trying to be upbeat and hip, but his face looked as if he'd aged ten years and his porcupine spiked hair looked eerily out of place. Gundy looked and sounded much more somber than the upbeat guy with all the answers and all the confidence a year ago. He was candid, answered every question straight up, but his face and voice sometimes was void of emotion, and enthusiasm.

Gundy was apparently still shell-shocked from last year when redshirt freshman Bobby Reid stunk up Stillwater and all points in between and the Cowboys finished 4-7 and won just one Big 12 game.. It's amazing that he is being given as the reason why they could be better.

Any success hoped for this season's can be attributed to the typical O-State soft-as-Charmin schedule, (guaranteed), and the continued good health of sophomore Bobby Reid, (no guarantees), who has had shoulder problems, foot injuries and bruises continually since stepping off of the bus almost two years ago. Last year, Reid was less than spectacular, (52 of 108 with 4 INT's; 600 yards 2 TD's).

But the Aggie faithful contend that much like Vincent Young, Reid is a 'new man' this year. He'd better be, because the Pokes have little fuel on the first team and no depth beyond.

"Bobby will have to run the ball effectively to become a good player in this conference," Gundy said. And Reid can run, last year getting 289 yards on 61 carries. The issue is, does he know when to throw and when to run?

Last year Reid continually seemed bewildered by the choices as defenders crashed the gates for 130 yards in losses. The question was not fully answered in the spring game, when Reid, completed 12 of 22 passes and threw three incompletions, as one of the picks came when he could have easily bolted into the end zone from five yards out.

The Pokes return 13 starters (8 offense; 5 defense), but after last season, no one knows if that's good news or bad. Most of the defensive leaders are gone, and the offense is counting on Reid; senior OT Corey Hilliard, (6-5, 310); and senior WR D'Juan Woods along with newcomers WR Adarius Bowman, (TR NC) and JC transfer RB Dantrell Savage. Cowpoke coaches rave about Bowman, and Savage is the real deal, but they may not provide enough firepower to offset a thin defense.

"We are going to be very young (defensively). We're going to depend on the guys up front to take the pressure off of our cornerbacks. The defensive line is going to be the key to our success this year," says OSU defensive coordinator Vance Bedford.

Bottom Line: Forget the stadium makeover - take some of those Boone Buck$ and buy $ome player$. (And as Kirk Herbstreet screamed last year when ESPN went to a break after talking about the Pokes: "PLAY SOMEBODY'). The Sooners have no choice, they have to put up with orange end zones, piped in crowd noise and flag boys once every other year. It won't be easy - at first. But the good guys should be able to not let the distractions bother them before rolling up the Cowboys in the third quarter and coasting out of town toward Kansas City afterwards.

BIG XII Championship Game December 2, @ Kansas City

Deano's 'Most Likely' KC opponents:

Nebraska: 50% Best overall talent, but the Huskers must play Texas and at A&M.
Kansas: 30% Favorable schedule - trades Big XII South 'Big Boys' to Iowa State.
Missouri: 10% Always tough when not expected.
Iowa State: 5%: Suspect defense; tougher conference schedule.
Colorado: 4%: A year away, not ready for prime time.
Kansas State: 1%: If salesmanship counts, the Cats are in. Ron Prince can promise, but can he deliver?

Bottom Line: Look out 'Little Rock' if the Sooners have to face either favorite. Nebraska fans will out number OU fans four to one, based on the fact that KC Chiefs season ticket holders, (i.e Nebraska and KU fans), get 'first dibs' on ducats. (Think of the Big XII basketball tourney at the Ford Center with most of the seats going to Hornets Season Ticket holders).

The Sooners (and Texas), are better than any North team, but if the Big XII assigns our favorite officiating crew to the game, the crowd could become a huge factor. Sooners in a squeaker - and on Phoenix.

(Betting Line Apologies to Dean Blevins, no - he did not predict any such thing).

Recruiting . . .

NOTE: Each year we take a one week break in recruiting to report on the BIG XII Media event and report on how the information we gather there effect the Sooners. Coaches and players will be returning to campus this week, and next week we will resume updating the Oklahoma recruiting list (below).

Here are Oklahoma's current commitments for 2007:

Jontae Bumpus - DE - Muskogee, OK
Desmond Jackson - DB - Seguin, TX
Jamell Fleming - DB - Arlington, TX
Austin Box - LB - Enid, OK
Mike Reed - LB - Yuba JC, CA

Here are the prospects for approximately 10 slots that OU has offered, (or in a few cases, s close to offering), listed by position and in the order that we believe that OU has the best chance at signing.

ATHLETES: Projected: 1 - 4 / Current Commitments: 0

Travis Lewis (RB ***) S - Ath (6'2, 220, 4.4), San Antonio, TX (Lee)
Gerald Jones (19 RB) (6-1 / 190 / 4.49) OKC (Millwood)
Chad Jones (11 S) Ath (6-3 / 220 / 4.5) Baton Rouge, LA (Southern Lab)
Sam Proctor (RB ***) Ath (6-1 / 205 / 4.4), Pearland, TX
Jermaine Love (UR) Ath (5-11½ / 206 / 4.4), Garland, TX (North)
Ben Bass (25 DE) DE/OL (6-4 / 260 / 4.9), Plano, TX (West)
Kamar Aiken, (****) FS/WR, (6'2 / 205 / 4.4), Hollywood, (Chaminade Madonna Prep) FL
Doug Wiggins, (10 CB) Ath, (5-10½ / 185 / 4.5), North Miami Beach, FL
Billy Chavis, (5 TE) Ath - TE, (6'5 / 227 /4.7), Beaumont, (Westbrook), TX (future offer pending)
Cameron Jordan (UR ***) DE (6-4 / 240), Chandler, Arizona (future offer pending)

RUNNING BACK - Projected: 1 / Current Commitments: 0

Running Back Prospects:

Lennon Creer (8) (6-1 / 195 / 4.45), Tatum, TX
Joseph Reese RB (6-2 / 190 / 4.4), of Pflugerville, TX ('Soft' A&M Commitment)
Caleb King (3) (5-11 / 197 / 4.4), Lilburn, (Parkview), GA

RECIEVERS - Projected: 2 / Current Commitments: 0

At present, here is OU's offer list of Receiver prospects- with their current Super Prep/Scout national ranking ('X'), and listed in order of signing possibility - as of this date:

Corey Wilson, (UR) (6-0 / 185 / 4.4), Carrollton (Creekview HS), TX
Ron Brooks (6) SR (6-0 / 170 / 4.5) Irving, TX (MacArthur)
Terrance Toliver (3) WR (6-5 / 188 / 4.4), Hempstead, TX
Dez Bryant (UR ****) WR (6-1 / 203 / 4.6) Lufkin, TX
James Kirkendoll (UR ****) SR (5-11 / 178 / 4.4), Round Rock, TX
Greg Little (8 LB) WR (6-3 / 205 / 4.5) Durham, NC (Hillside)
Arrelious Benn (1) WR (6'2 / 205 / 4.4), Washington D.C. (Dunbar)

OFFENSIVE LINEMEN - Projected: 3 / Current Commitments: 0

At present, here is OU's offer list of Offensive Line prospects- with their current Super Prep/Scout national ranking ('X'), and listed in order of signing possibility - as of this date:

Matt Romine ( UR ****) OL (6-6 / 275 / 5.2) Tulsa, OK (Union)
Po'u Palelei (25) OL (6-3 / 314 / 5.8) Las Vegas (Bishop Gorman)
Lee Ziemba (6) OL (6-7 / 295 / 5.2) Rogers, AR
Javario Burkes (22) OL (6-6½ / 300 / 5.2), Phoenix, AZ (Moon Valley)
Tray Allen (2) OL (6-4½ / 290 / 5.3), Grand Prairie, TX (committed to UT, but still talking to OU).
Donald Stephenson, (6-6 / 280) Kansas City, MO (Central) (committed to KU, but still talking to OU).
Bryan Bulaga, (6-5 / 250 / 4.8), Woodstock, IL (Marian Catholic) (committed to Iowa, but still talking to OU).
DEFENSIVE ENDS - Projected: 2

Jontae Bumpus
- (6-4 / 220 / 4.6) Muskogee, OK. (Committed to Oklahoma)

Defensive End Prospects:

Richetti Jones (4) DE (6'3½ / 235 / 4.6), Dallas, TX (Lincoln)
Frank Alexander DE (6'4 ½ / 229 / 4.7), Baton Rouge, LA (Southern Lab)
Everson Griffen (1) DE (6-4 / 265 / 4.55), Avondale, AZ
Sam Acho, DE (6'3 / 247 / 4.67), Dallas, TX (St Mark's) (offer pending)

DEFENSIVE LINEMEN - Projected: 1 / Current Commitments: 0

Defensive Line Prospects:

Joseph Barksdale (19 OL) (6-5½ / 315 / 4.9), Detroit, MI (Cass Technical HS)

Rolando Barragan DT/DE (6-3 / 262 / 4.8) El Camino JC (CA)

DEFENSIVE BACKS - Projected: 3

The Prospects:

Desmond Jackson, (18) - CB (6'1 / 190 /4.5), Seguin, TX. (Committed to Oklahoma)
Jamell Fleming - (UR ***) CB (5-11 / 197 / 4.5) Arlington (Sequin) TX (Committed to Oklahoma)
Christian Scott (9) (6'0½, 189, 4.4), Dallas, TX (Skyline)
Jermaine Love (UR) (5-11½ / 206 / 4.4) Garland, TX (North)
Jeremy Kerley (UR) (5-10 / 175 / 4.5) Hutto, TX

LINEBACKER - Projected: 2

LB Austin Box (1 - S)- (6-3 / 217 / 4.6), Enid, OK. (Committed to Oklahoma)
LB Mike Reed - (UR - JC) (6-3 / 250 / 4.6), Yuba JC, Marysville, CA. (Committed to Oklahoma)

PK / PUNTER: Projected: 0 - 1 / Current P/PK Commitments:

The Kicker / Punter Prospects:

Wesley Bryan (6-0 / 180) Fort Lauderdale St. Thomas Aquinas (Florida) (offer pending)
Stephen Hoge, (6-2 / 200), OKC PC North (offer pending)
Jimmy Stevens, (5-6 / 150), OKC Heritage Hall (offer pending)

OU would like to wait until October to offer one of the above.

QUARTERBACK - Projected: 0 - 1 / Current QB Commitments: 0

At this time the Sooners are not recruiting a 'pure' QB, but prefer an athletic player that can perform in multiple skill positions. That could change as they will continue to monitor and evaluate QB's when the HS season starts in September.

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