Oklahoma Sooners: Robert Griffin III
What’s the most critical position in the Big 12? It depends on who you talk to. In a conference that rides its offensive reputation, some coaches are hoping to land players that will help them score points, while others are looking for the prospects to prevent points.
As official visits become finalized and uncommitted players get closer to announcing their commitments, here is a look at some of the most critical positions in recruiting for the Big 12 teams.
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Want a few examples, even from just the past few seasons? I'm glad you asked.
Michael Crabtree, WR, Texas Tech, 2007: A position switch and transcript issues meant a redshirt season in 2006, but Crabtree had one of the greatest debut seasons in Big 12 history. He caught three touchdowns in his first game ever, and finished the season with 1,962 yards and 22 touchdowns on 134 catches. No Big 12 receiver has had more yards since, and he took home the Biletnikoff Award after leading the nation in receiving yards by 356 yards. His closest competition caught just 16 touchdowns, too.
Robert Griffin III, QB, Baylor, 2008: Griffin committed to Houston first, but followed Art Briles to Baylor and electrified the crowd with early runs in a loss to Wake Forest. He eventually broke the FBS record for passes without an interception, and didn't throw his first until the ninth game of the season. It was clear he was the future of the program, and he finished the season with almost 3,000 yards of offense, accounting for 28 touchdowns.
Daniel Thomas, RB, Kansas State, 2009: Thomas joined the long line of junior college stars under Bill Snyder at Kansas State. Thomas arrived in Manhattan as an unknown and led the Big 12 with 1,265 yards and 11 touchdowns, showcasing great vision and toughness on the way to an eventual NFL draft selection. He led the Big 12 in rushing again in 2010, too.
Devonte Fields, DE, TCU, 2012: Fields was the Frogs' top recruit in 2012 as the nation's No. 73 overall player and the No. 11 defensive end. By the first week of October, he had 9.5 tackles for loss and cruised to earning the Big 12's Defensive Player of the Year honors.
Lavonte David, LB, Nebraska, 2010: He's one of the many Blackshirts' greats over the years, and made adjusting to life in the Big 12 from junior college look easy. He led the league with an eye-popping 152 tackles, and anybody who watched the Huskers every week might have sworn it was more. He was everywhere. He added 12.5 tackles for loss and six sacks, as well as eight pass breakups.
Lache Seastrunk, RB, Baylor, 2012: Seastrunk didn't get much time on the field for the first two months of the season, but once November arrived, he broke out in a huge way. The Oregon transfer was stuck behind Glasco Martin and Jarred Salubi on the depth chart, but earned the nod as the featured back heading into November, and rushed for 831 yards in Baylor's final six games, including an upset of No. 1 Kansas State in the Bears' 5-1 run to close the season.
Bruce Irvin, DE, West Virginia, 2010: Irvin's road was incredible, using junior college to turn his life around and earn his way to WVU after dropping out of high school. In his first season as a Mountaineer, he finished second nationally with 14 sacks, and forced a pair of fumbles.
Travis Lewis, LB, Oklahoma, 2008: Lewis redshirted his first season in Norman, but led the Big 12 with 144 tackles as a redshirt freshman, making 12 tackles for loss and intercepting four passes. It was the start of an incredible career. He led the Sooners in tackles for each of the next four seasons.
With the help of ESPN 300 prospects announcing their verbal commitments, two Big 12 schools saw a slight rise in the latest ESPN class rankings. Because of one Big 12 school’s rise, another Big 12 school took a slight fall in the rankings. Here’s a closer look at the rankings as it pertains to the conference.
Trending up: Oklahoma State saw the biggest rise of the conference -- and of the nation -- by jumping from No. 33 to No. 28. Only Oklahoma State and Florida saw ranking spikes of that caliber during the week. The Cowboys’ success stemmed from landing ESPN 300 CB Chris Hardeman (Houston/Alief Taylor) and three-star WR and high school teammate Keenen Brown. Both committed on Aug. 11. Hardeman, a former LSU commit, is a top-25 cornerback nationally, and Brown, at 6-foot-3 and 205 pounds, can be used as a reliable outside threat in Mike Gundy’s potent offense.
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Facing the Heisman winner, however, has usually not been a positive for the Sooners. OU is 5-11 against Heisman winners in the season they captured the award.
In fact, since beating Florida State quarterback Chris Weinke in the Orange Bowl to take the 2000 national championship, the Sooners have lost three in a row to Heisman winners.
2011: QB Robert Griffin III, Baylor
The result: Baylor 45-35
Griffin Heisman’s moment actually came against the Sooners. Griffin torched OU for 479 passing yards and four touchdowns, including the game-winner with eight seconds to play.
2004: QB Matt Leinart, USC
The result: USC 55-19
The game featured the top four Heisman finalists, but Leinart rose to the top in the national title game rout. Leinart outplayed Adrian Peterson, and Jason White and threw for 332 yards and five touchdowns.
2001: QB Eric Crouch, Nebraska
The result: Nebraska 20-10
The Sooners corralled Crouch for much of the game. But in the fourth quarter, he hauled in a 63-yard touchdown off a double reverse pass to seal the Big Red victory and catapult Nebraska to the national title game.
2000: QB Chris Weinke, Florida State
The result: OU 13-2
During the coin toss, OU linebacker Torrance Marshall told Weinke that he stole his boy’s (QB Josh Heupel) trophy. Marshall and the Sooners then backed up their talk on the field. Against a tenacious OU defense, the 28-yard-old Weinke had the worst performance of his career, completing just 25 of 51 passes for 274 yards and three turnovers. Thanks to a defensive performance for the ages, the Sooners won their seventh national championship.
1998: RB Ricky Williams, Texas
The result: Texas 34-3
Against a hapless OU defense, Williams ran wild, scratching out 139 yards and two touchdowns on 31 carries in a game that was over by the third quarter.
1994: RB Rashaan Salaam, Colorado
The result: Colorado 45-7
Against the 22nd-ranked Sooners, Salaam racked up 161 yards and four touchdowns on 25 carries. The Sooners spiraled after the crushing defeat and finished 6-6 in Gary Gibbs’ final season.
1988: RB Barry Sanders, Oklahoma State
The result: OU 31-28
In perhaps the most epic Bedlam game, Sanders dazzled with 215 yards and two touchdowns. But thanks to a little Sooner Magic, Brent Parker dropped the game-winning touchdown in the end zone and OU held on for the narrow victory in Stillwater.
1986: QB Vinny Testaverde, Miami
The result: Miami 28-16
In a showdown featuring the No. 1- and No. 2-ranked teams, Testaverde was awesome, throwing for 261 yards and four touchdowns. He also completed a school-record 14 straight completions. Thanks in part to his OU performance, Testaverde went on to capture 70 percent of the Heisman vote, though Miami would miss out on the national title after losing to Penn State in the Fiesta Bowl.
1983: RB Mike Rozier, Nebraska
The result: Nebraska 28-21
Spearheaded by Rozier's 205 rushing yards, the Huskers came from behind twice to pull out the win in Norman. Rozier would finish as the all-time leading rusher in Big Eight history and became the second player in FBS history to top 2,000 yards in a season.
1981: RB Marcus Allen, USC
The result: USC 28-24
Against second-ranked OU, Allen and the top-ranked Trojans rallied with a late fourth-quarter touchdown drive to stun the Sooners with two seconds remaining. Allen led USC with 208 rushing yards and two touchdowns.
1977: RB Earl Campbell, Texas
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2011 record: 10-3 | 2011 conference record: 6-3 (Big 12)
OU’s all-time against Baylor: 20-1
Top returners: WR Terrance Williams, WR Tevin Reese, TE Jordan Najvar, OT Cyril Richardson, CB K.J. Morton, S Ahmad Dixon
Key losses: QB Robert Griffin III, RB Terrance Ganaway, WR Kendall Wright, C Phillip Blake, OG Robert T. Griffin, DT Nicolas Jean-Baptiste, DT Tracy Robertson, LB Elliot Coffey
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1. The NFL draft begins tonight at 7 p.m, and though it’s unlikely any Sooners will hear their names called during the first round, there will be plenty of familiar names coming off the board. Oklahoma’s defense was much maligned late last season but Baylor quarterback Robert Griffin III, who torched the Sooners' secondary, is set to get selected No. 2 overall by Washington and Oklahoma State receiver Justin Blackmon, who had 18 receptions for 200 yards and one touchdown in two games against OU, likely will be drafted in the top 10. ESPN draft guru Mel Kiper also has OSU quarterback Brandon Weeden going late in the first round. Clearly the Sooners weren’t the only team who struggled to stop Griffin or Weeden and Blackmon.
2. You have to wonder what it is like to be Landry Jones tonight. He could be walking across the stage to meet Roger Goodell, but instead he’s in class? There are several NFL teams looking for a quarterback in the draft and it’s easy to believe Jones would have been a top 10 pick if he had elected to declare early. Regardless, Sooners fans should be happy, they’ll have an NFL quarterback at the helm this fall, someone multiple NFL teams would love to have in their locker room.
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Well, Oklahoma State had a little something to do with it, but so did two huge positions in need of improvement.
Both cracked colleague Travis Haney's list of positions with the potential for huge growth in 2012.
First up, the Texas quarterbacks.
Texas seemed to indicate it would like for the more athletic [David] Ash to be the guy, even as a freshman, but he could not sustain enough consistency to win the job outright. And, really, Ash simply could not take care of the ball. He threw an interception every 21.8 passes. (The most efficient quarterback in 2011, Wisconsin's Russell Wilson, threw one every 77.3 throws.My take: I totally agree with this one. How much Ash improves is the big question. An offseason full of first-team reps will be extremely valuable -- he got almost none last year before being thrust into the role of starter as a true freshman. During spring camp last year, he was a fourth-stringer. He could get better, but Ash has never really looked the part of future superstar to me. Fortunately for the Longhorns, the team is good enough everywhere else it doesn't need him to be a superstar. If he's solid, but able to get the ball to Texas' playmakers like Jaxon Shipley and Mike Davis, the Longhorns will be a factor in the Big 12 race.
[Case] McCoy was more consistent in November, but no one was mistaking him for his older brother in terms of arm strength and accuracy. He did put up a 356-yard passing day in the loss to Baylor at the end of the regular season, but McCoy then gave way to Ash for the bowl victory against Cal. It was a yo-yo effect all season for the Horns, who would like to see one of the two emerge -- but still haven't really through spring ball.
Second, Haney looks at the Oklahoma defensive backs, who are under new direction this year with Mike Stoops.
Stoops has a variety of options for the different spots in the defensive backfield. Already, he has shifted Tony Jefferson from sam linebacker to free safety, his more natural position, and moved Javon Harris from free to strong safety. Harris was the goat in several games, including the Baylor debacle. Jefferson might be the most underrated defensive player in the Big 12 because he has yet to settle into one, specific position.My take: The league's best quarterbacks gave the Sooners all kinds of trouble last year, and it won't be much easier this year. Yeah, Brandon Weeden and Robert Griffin III are gone, but TCU's Casey Pachall and West Virginia's Geno Smith are the new guys very capable of tearing up anybody's secondary.
Another important piece of the OU defense, Aaron Colvin, missed the spring after minor shoulder surgery. He can play any of the secondary spots, again freeing up Mike Stoops to mix and match to find a solution for the big-play disease.
It's tough to know exactly what the problem for Oklahoma was. The Sooners could be dominant at times. They have the talent and athleticism. Most importantly, they have lots of experience. For OU, it's a matter of just doing it. Stoops will try to make it happen, but big improvement could result in a big, big year for the Sooners.
A national title, perhaps?
Quarterbacks' rushing talents are factored into these rankings. As such, it's tough to figure out how to weigh that vs. passing acumen. Ultimately, teams ranked 4-7 were really, really close.
In these position rankings, we take into account backups, though that impact is minimal at the quarterback spot.
If your quarterback wins the Heisman, you're not finishing below No. 1 on this list. Robert Griffin IIIlit up defenses and broke the NCAA record for passing efficiency, even though Wisconsin's Russell Wilson did the same this year, and finished higher than RG3. Even when RG3 suffered concussion-like symptoms against Texas Tech, backup Nick Florencecame in and burned Texas Tech's defense in a 66-42 win. Griffin finished with as many touchdowns as Brandon Weeden (37), but threw as few interceptions as Collin Klein (6), despite throwing the ball 121 more times than Klein.
2. Oklahoma State
Brandon Weeden is a solid second place in this ranking, and backup Colton Chelflooked good in lots of mop-up duty, too. Weeden was the star, putting together an All-Big 12 caliber season, though Griffin's otherworldly performance in 2011 knocked him off his first-team perch from 2010. He led the league with 4,727 yards and 37 touchdowns. He also had the second-most pass attempts in the league, with 564.
Landry Jones got some help late in the season when Blake Bell's BellDozer racked up a team-high 13 touchdowns. Jones wasn't outstanding late in the season after Ryan Broyles' knee injury, but his receivers didn't help him much, either. The dropsies seemed to infect everybody after Broyles' college career ended. Jones finished with 4,463 yards passing, second most in the Big 12. He also added 29 touchdowns but must improve on his 15 interceptions, a regression back to freshman-year Jones.
The SoonerNation staff is wrapping up Oklahoma's 10-3 season by answering 10 questions, just like we did during the Sooners' bye week in November. Today:
What was the Sooners' biggest disappointment of the season?
Widespread rules violations
This one is easy. The widespread lack of attention to the “little things,” as defensive captain Travis Lewis put it, leading to a number of players being asked to transfer in December. Injuries plagued the Sooners. But just as detrimental were the numerous suspensions, stemming from skipped workouts, missed classes and failed drug tests. The Sooners didn’t have the intangibles needed to compete for a national championship. Very disappointing.
- Jake Trotter
For a team expected to compete for a national championship, the Sooners didn’t approach every game to dominant their opponent. All too often they started slowly, seemingly with the belief they could just “turn it on” and win. Their slow start against Missouri was a perfect example and it finally caught up with them against Texas Tech when they ran into a 31-7 halftime deficit and couldn’t rally for the win.
- Brandon Chatmon
Lack of leadership
When things started to go downhill for OU, there was nobody there to bring that spark back to the team. Landry Jones is a great player, but it just feels like he doesn’t have the natural born leadership qualities. Defensive captain Travis Lewis went silent and stopped addressing the media after the loss to Texas Tech, something he even said might not have been the best idea in hindsight. Nobody could rally the troops together.
- Bob Przybylo
After giving themselves a clever nickname in the preseason, Oklahoma's defensive backs didn't play consistent enough to warrant the moniker. Despite having an abundance of talent, Oklahoma ranked No. 79 in pass defense in 2011, and the Sooners were burned several times through the air. OU gave up 452 passing yards to Seth Doege and Texas Tech in a loss, and 485 passing yards to eventual Heisman-winner Robert Griffin III and Baylor. The Sooners had solid individual performers - the corners Jamell Fleming and Demontre Hurst were mostly solid -- but they didn't perform well as a unit. There is hope for the Sooners' secondary, however. Mad Mike Stoops returns to tutor the defensive backs in 2012.
- Dane Beavers
What do you think? What was OU's biggest disappointment this season?
Oklahoma's three-year starter (give or take a few games) says he's coming back to Norman for his senior year and a fourth year behind center for the Sooners.
"I want to accomplish the goals that I set before I got here, and there is still a lot more to do," Jones said in a release. "I want to make sure I've exhausted every effort in that area. And I want to be a senior. I enjoy being at OU and with my teammates, and look forward to graduating with the guys that were in my class when I got here."
ESPN draft analysts Mel Kiper Jr. and Todd McShay both ranked Jones as their No. 3 quarterback in the upcoming NFL draft behind Andrew Luck and Robert Griffin III. Jones is 15th on Kiper's Big Board, and ranked 17th overall by McShay.
The Big 12 looks open for the taking in 2012, but Jones' decision makes it pretty simple: the Sooners will slide into the spot as the favorite.
They won't be heavy favorites as they were in 2011, but Oklahoma will have the preseason edge on Kansas State, TCU, West Virginia, Oklahoma State and Texas.
Now, the spotlight turns to Baylor quarterback Robert Griffin III, who says he's undecided and plans to make his decision next week after meeting with coaches.
He's the final big piece of the Big 12 title race puzzle in 2012, but for now, the Sooners have the edge.
Baylor quarterback Robert Griffin III is still undecided on his future, but he moved all the way up to No. 6 from No. 11 on Kiper's last Big Board update.
"Not buying any talk he'd be higher on some boards than Luck, but his altered delivery has resulted in better accuracy on downfield throws," Kiper wrote. "Great kid, underrated passer, big-time athlete. No ill effects from 2009 knee injury. Remarkable numbers."
That's an unbelievable rise for Griffin, who was nowhere to be found on the Big Board at midseason.
Oklahoma quarterback Landry Jones simply slid up to No. 12 from his spot at No. 13 last week.
"I still like the way he's battled in 2011, but it's fair to say his reputation outpaced his performance this season," Kiper wrote. "Accuracy is still very good. Good size, strong arm but needs to improve footwork. Still a very good prospect."
Jones hasn't announced his decision, but Oklahoma coach Bob Stoops said last week he expects Jones to stay. That's what he should do, too.
Justin Blackmon stuck at No. 5 on the Big Board.
On Baylor’s game-winning touchdown pass, Robert Griffin III showed why he’s earned the respect of Big 12 coordinators with his arm. The Bears quarterback threw from the left side of the field to the right corner of the endzone between OU safety Sam Proctor and cornerback Demontre Hurst.
It was a throw that few quarterbacks can make.
“I don’t even know how to explain it,” Hurst said of his thoughts when he saw the ball in the air. “I saw the ball thrown and it pretty much fell right into his hands. Watching film today I was sick to my stomach that he made a great pass like that. It was just an amazing throw.”
Film review in general was quite unpleasant for the Sooners secondary as they relived Griffin’s 479 passing yards in the upset victory.
“Watching it as a secondary we were pretty disgusted,” Hurst said. “Plays we could have prevented, just our eyes in the wrong spot. Watching it, it was pretty ugly but we have to man up to it, own up to it.”
Oklahoma safety Sam Proctor marveled at the talent of Griffin after the Sooners’ 45-38 loss to Baylor last weekend.
“He was by far one of the greatest athletes I’ve played against,” Proctor said. “He’s a great talent. The fact he could improvise with his legs gave his receivers more time and that added a little more stress in the cover game.
The Sooners defensive line did a good job winning their one-on-one battles with the Bears offensive line but expecting a defensive lineman to bring down the ultra-talented Griffin is a scary proposition.
“It wasn’t one, two, three, four, five [seconds then throw],” Proctor said. “He was more buying time, a few times we were back there for six or seven seconds in open field which is always a little more difficult.”
Griffin threw for a season-high 479 yards while averaging 14.1 yards per attempt. “RGIII” could be college football’s most explosive player with his combination of speed and superb passing skills.
Oklahoma had the talent. It had the experience, a BCS bowl win already under its belt.
"We have high expectations, and I don’t shy away from them,” Stoops said before the season. "My feeling is, it is about time. We need to win one."
There was no guarantee, but a 34-yard fling from Baylor quarterback Robert Griffin III ended any hope Oklahoma had of achieving the biggest and loftiest goal on its mind: the national title.
The Bears rushed the field, and the Sooners were left to reassess a season gone wrong.
"To have just your one goal of being a national champion isn’t always very realistic, and percentages of that for everybody are pretty difficult," Stoops said Monday. "It’s always pretty tough. At the end, that’s always a goal for us."
That can be crossed off the list now, but the biggest goal lies ahead: keeping focus and motivation without a shot at the title to fight for. The new motivation, Stoops says, is an eighth Big 12 title since 2000.
The Sooners were marred by injuries to major contributors all season. First there was a broken toe for linebacker and captain Travis Lewis in preseason camp that had him at less than 100 percent early in the year. Receiver and captain Ryan Broyles set the FBS record for career receptions in midseason, but weeks later, his college career was over with a torn ACL. In between that, leading rusher Dominique Whaley's amazing story from walk-on to leading rusher hit a sad chapter when he fractured his ankle.
Yet, here's Oklahoma, toting two losses but still an opportunity to be Big 12 champions.
"That’s a great year, anytime you’re the champion of your league and that’s what we still have an opportunity to do. That’ll be great motivation right there," Stoops said.
A debatable point for sure, but Stoops reiterated that though it's the biggest, a national title isn't the only goal for his team. To reach that biggest goal, a conference title must come first. A BCS game -- not the big one -- will follow if the Sooners snatch another title, a point Stoops must pound home this week.
Oklahoma hosts Iowa State on Saturday, and a streak of eight consecutive wins over rival Oklahoma State will be on the line a week later. With it, a Big 12 title. We'll find out in coming weeks if that motivation truly is enough to keep the Sooners looking like the team it thought it could be in August.
"It’s a major focus and it’s a great focus. It’s great motivation," Stoops said. "To be honest with you, as the member of the whole drum beat leading up to the whole year was a one true champion, right? Because we’re all playing each other. we look at it as a chance to be the champion. That’s great motivation and it could be one year. That’s how we look at it."
Alabama, Oklahoma To Meet In Sugar Bowl
BIG 12 SCOREBOARD
2:00 PM ET Washington State Colorado State 3:30 PM ET 20 Fresno State 25 USC 5:30 PM ET Buffalo San Diego State 9:00 PM ET Tulane Louisiana-Lafayette
6:00 PM ET Pittsburgh Bowling Green 9:30 PM ET Utah State 23 Northern Illinois
2:30 PM ET Marshall Maryland 6:00 PM ET Syracuse Minnesota 9:30 PM ET Brigham Young Washington
12:00 PM ET Rutgers Notre Dame 3:20 PM ET Cincinnati North Carolina 6:45 PM ET Miami (FL) 18 Louisville 10:15 PM ET Michigan Kansas State
11:45 AM ET Middle Tennessee Navy 3:15 PM ET Ole Miss Georgia Tech 6:45 PM ET 10 Oregon Texas 10:15 PM ET 14 Arizona State Texas Tech
12:30 PM ET Arizona Boston College 2:00 PM ET Virginia Tech 17 UCLA 4:00 PM ET Rice Mississippi State 8:00 PM ET 24 Duke 21 Texas A&M
12:00 PM ET Nebraska 22 Georgia 12:00 PM ET UNLV North Texas 1:00 PM ET Iowa 16 LSU 1:00 PM ET 19 Wisconsin 9 South Carolina 5:00 PM ET 5 Stanford 4 Michigan State 8:30 PM ET 15 UCF 6 Baylor
7:30 PM ET 13 Oklahoma State 8 Missouri 8:30 PM ET 12 Clemson 7 Ohio State