Texas Longhorns: Chris Harper

HornsNation is breaking down Texas' 2013 football schedule every Monday this summer. This week: The Longhorns' fourth game of the season vs. the Kansas State Wildcats on Sept. 21.

Question of the Week: Scariest UT games 

May, 16, 2013
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AUSTIN, Texas -- There was a time when Texas would strike fear in future foes rather than have its fans be stricken with it when studying the schedule.

But times, personnel, records, well, let’s just wrap it up by saying a lot, has changed at Texas. These days, instead of having all those gimme games, worry and dread often accompany games way beyond the Red River Rivalry.

Of course, Texas coach Mack Brown has done his best to assuage those fears by continually pointing to 2013 as the year when Texas gets back to being Texas. Then again, an increasingly skeptical fan base probably needs more words to help cease its cuticle chomping. But there won’t be anything but words until Aug. 31. Words and, well, fear.

It is that fear HornsNation is ready to pounce upon with this week’s question of the week: Which team on Texas’ 2013 schedule should fans worry about most and why?


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Senior Bowl buzz from the Big 12

January, 26, 2013
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You can keep up with our scouts in Mobile, Ala., at the Senior Bowl this week with ESPN Insider, but here's a taste of what they've seen from the Big 12 talents this week:

Kansas State receiver Chris Harper got his first notebook mention of the week Insider after a strong practice for the North team. Scouts love his size (228 pounds) and ability to box out defenders for the ball, but had big questions about his speed and ability to get off the line. I'd agree with those. He's not a physical freak, but he's a great route-runner with really good hands. That can pay off at the next level. Our scouts said he had trouble getting free on underneath routes. We saw that at Kansas State. He's most effective out on the edge with cornerbacks, where safeties and linebackers couldn't necessarily help.

Texas defensive end Alex Okafor's up and down week continued, but he impressed on Wednesday in 1-on-1 workouts. There's some questions about his run-stopping ability and breaking loose against double teams, but he's at least earning some attention.

Oklahoma tackle Lane Johnson is turning heads for the South team Insider this week. Scouts are raving about his long arms and quickness. Considering he's a former quarterback, that's not much of a surprise.

Trending up or down: Big 12 in 2013

December, 18, 2012
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Colleague Phil Steele checked in with our ESPN Insider folks for a look at all 70 bowl teams Insider... in 2013.

What can they all expect next season? You'll need Insider to see his full comments, but he weighed in on the nine Big 12 bowl teams.

Baylor's stock: Down

My take: I'd lean more toward even for the Bears. They're losing Nick Florence and Terrance Williams, but Tevin Reese is a strong candidate to continue the receiver tradition at Baylor under Art Briles, and Lache Seastrunk might end up being the Big 12's best back next year. Don't be surprised if new QB Bryce Petty is even better than Florence. It's very easy for me to see Baylor winning seven (or more) games next year, and once again, it's hard to see the defense getting worse.

WVU's stock: Even

My take: The record might be the same (7-5) next year, but I would lean toward trending down for WVU, just because it won't have the upside or potential of this year's team. WVU was good enough to win 9-11 games this year, but with a new QB, no Tavon Austin and no Stedman Bailey, it's tough to see next year's team being able to make that claim.

Texas' stock: Up

My take: How up depends on David Ash's development, once again. When he played well early in the season, Texas looked like it could beat a whole lot of teams. When he struggled against KU and Oklahoma, Texas didn't look like it could beat anyone. The defense can't be any worse.

TCU's stock: Up

My take: Way, way, up. Maybe more up than any team in the country. TCU was 70 percent freshmen and sophomore this year and still managed to go 7-5. It has tons of talent on both sides of the ball, and running back Aaron Green, a blue-chip transfer from Nebraska, will be on the field. Quarterback Casey Pachall may return, too. Big 12 title contenders.

Iowa State's stock: Even

My take: I'd agree. Sam Richardson showed some promise, but I don't know if I see a true impact player there. ISU still has to improve its skill position talent in a big way to truly make the jump from fringe bowl team.

Oklahoma State's stock: Up

My take: Other than TCU or Texas, no Big 12 team's stock should be more up next year. OSU can absorb the loss of Joseph Randle if he leaves, and if he stays, OSU will likely have the Big 12's best offense with a good O-line, maturing QBs and experienced backs. They'll go from seven wins to a Big 12 title contender.

KSU's stock: Down

My take: Agreed here. It's pretty simple. This is a very, very experienced team with two huge talents in Collin Klein and Arthur Brown that will be difficult to replace. K-State has a lot of potential at QB in Daniel Sams and juco commit Jake Waters, but Chris Harper will be gone, too. John Hubert and Tramaine Thompson will have to play big, and the offensive line will have to lead the way.

No overlooking threat of KSU skill players

November, 28, 2012
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Collin Klein might get all the hype, but the Kansas State skill players who surround him will get plenty of attention from Texas’ defense this week.

One of the most dangerous members of that group is a Texas native who didn’t get much attention coming out of high school: John Hubert.

[+] EnlargeJohn Hubert
WD/Icon SMIK-State tailback John Hubert, who has 12 touchdowns this season, is a big threat out of the backfield.
The Wildcats got a steal in Hubert, a junior running back who was ranked No. 182 among running back prospects in 2009 by ESPN. The recruiting rankings weren’t alone in overlooking him.

He rushed for more than 2,800 yards and 41 touchdowns as a senior at Waco (Texas) Midway. You’d think that would be enough to put him on several in-state schools’ radar. Instead, the closest offer close to home came from North Texas.

Hubert ended up picking KSU over Idaho State, Louisiana Tech, North Texas and Montana State. Other Big 12 schools, including hometown school Baylor, gave him a look but didn’t bite.

At 5-foot-7 and 191 pounds, Hubert was an easy one to pass up. Last season, he should’ve been relegated to a minor role behind five-star transfer Bryce Brown. But the former No. 8 overall recruit and Philadelphia Eagles back left KSU after three carries in two games.

(Read full post)

Big 12 position rankings: Receivers/TEs

February, 14, 2012
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We're continuing our look at the postseason rankings for each position in the Big 12. Here's a look back at where the receivers ranked in the preseason.

In this position, unlike quarterback, depth is a major, major factor in these rankings.

More postseason position rankings:
[+] EnlargeJustin Blackmon
Doug Pensinger/Getty ImagesJustin Blackmon highlighted Oklahoma State's deep group of receivers this season.
1. Oklahoma State: The Cowboys boasted two-time Biletnikoff winner Justin Blackmon, but he wasn't the only weapon. The Cowboys had nine (!) receivers with at least 19 catches and 200 yards receiving this season. Insane. Life is good with Brandon Weeden at quarterback.

2. Baylor: Kendall Wright actually outperformed Blackmon and Ryan Broyles on the stat sheet, catching 108 balls for 1,663 yards. The Bears didn't have the insane depth of OSU, but the trio of Wright, Terrance Williams (59 rec, 957 yards, 11 TDs) and Tevin Reese (51 rec, 877 yards, 7 TDs) were all in the Big 12's top seven receivers.

3. Texas A&M: Ryan Swope emerged to become one of just four Big 12 receivers to notch 1,000-yard seasons. Jeff Fuller's season was disappointing, but he still finished eighth in the league in receiving, and Uzoma Nwachukwu was in the league's top 15 in receiving.

4. Oklahoma: The Sooners weren't quite as solid as they thought to begin the season. Broyles was as advertised, though his Biletnikoff-contending season was cut short by a torn ACL. The unit was productive, but came down with the drops late in the season. Broyles and Kenny Stills were both in the league's top seven in receiving, and Jaz Reynolds caught 41 passes for 715 yards to crack the top 10.

5. Texas Tech: Tech's top target, Darrin Moore, battled injuries all year, but Eric Ward emerged as the team's most consistent target, catching 84 passes for 800 yards and 11 scores. Alex Torres missed two games, but added 616 more yards.

6. Missouri: The Tigers' receivers had their production dip with a dual-threat passer in James Franklin who ran the ball more than his predecessor, but they were still pretty good, despite lacking a true big-time threat. T.J. Moe caught 54 passes for 649 yards and four scores. Tight end Michael Egnew added 50 grabs for 523 yards and three scores. L'Damian Washington, Marcus Lucas and Wes Kemp had unremarkable individual seasons, but their production added up to a good year for Mizzou's receivers.

7. Kansas State: Kansas State was better than most thought to begin the season, but the ground-based offense limited their receivers' ability to finish with big production. Chris Harper (40 rec, 547 yards, 5 TDs) led the group. Tramaine Thompson and Tyler Lockett showed some good promise, too.

8. Texas: The Longhorns could get really good, really fast at this spot. The uncertainty/struggles at quarterback limited this group, but Jaxon Shipley and Mike Davis could both mature into absolute stars. For now, though, they didn't quite crack the top 15 in the Big 12 in receiving. Both topped 40 catches and 600 receiving yards.

9. Iowa State: Darius Reynolds' size downfield will be missed, but Aaron Horne and Josh Lenz are tough covers working the middle of the field. Reynolds caught seven touchdowns, and Horne and Lenz both topped 38 catches.

10. Kansas: Yikes. The Jayhawks didn't have a receiver in the league's top 20, but D.J. Beshears led the team with 40 grabs for 437 yards and three touchdowns. He was the only Jayhawk in the Big 12's top 32 in receiving.
I unveiled my All-Interview team this week, but I heard about as much feedback from that post as any we've had on the blog.

Folks wanted more.

So, here it is. I asked the local reporters for help: Tell us the story of players this season who provided one memorable interview for one reason or another, or consistently offered a look inside teams that few other players could duplicate.

Here they are:

David Snow, OL, Texas: Imagine what you'd expect a guy who grew up lifting hay bales and shooting deer in the small East Texas town of Giilmer to sound like. That's exactly the voice that comes from Snow, who spent every Longhorns media session spewing blunt honesty through his thick, slow drawl. If Texas stunk, Snow owned up to it, sometimes in PG-13 terms. If he didn't like an opponent (and he usually didn't) he had no problem describing his distaste. He was one of the few guys who seemed to genuinely enjoy talking to the media, and his listeners enjoyed it too. -- Mike Finger, San Antonio Express-News

Javon Harris, S, Oklahoma: Came into the interview room for 30 minutes the Monday after that Baylor game, and answered every question honestly. -- Jake Trotter, SoonerNation

Shaun Lewis, LB, Oklahoma State It's not about quantity. It's about quality. You don't get a lot of words from Lewis, but he always helps make the story better. -- Bill Haisten, Tulsa World

Grant Garner, C, Oklahoma State: Excellent, both on topics specific to the offensive line and the big-picture condition of Oklahoma State football. -- Bill Haisten, Tulsa World

Richetti Jones, DE, Oklahoma State: Other than Weeden, Richetti was my favorite guy to chat with because he told you exactly how he felt about absolutely anything. He called out critics of the OSU defense when the Cowboys climbed to No. 2 in the nation. He ripped the BCS for the title game rematch that featured a team that didn't win its conference. But his jabs--or any answers he gave--were always entertaining. One of my interview highlights of the season was him describing how he thought the first earthquake that hit Oklahoma in November was paranormal activity in his bedroom. The dude is hilarious, and I'll miss talking with him. -- Gina Mizell, The Oklahoman

Gabe Ikard, OL, Oklahoma: I noticed you had Ben Habern, and that's a very fine selection from the Sooners. But Gabe Ikard is more than suitable as an addition. In fact, once, we interviewed Habern and Ikard together, sitting next to one another. It was their choice. They cut up and had a good time with it, but they also gave a lot of answers I could use. (I remember that being the day I was writing about walk-on Dominique Whaley's impact on the team and previously working at Subway to pay for school.)

Both of those guys, and Ikard in particular, are extremely engaging. Not only do they not mind interviews ... they seem to like them. That's rare, at least over the course of the long season. Ikard, who has a 4.0 I think, is very thoughtful and honest with his answers. Those two guys often fill your notebook, regardless of what you're working on. I appreciate their positive attitudes about media when we sometimes run into malcontents by, oh, sometime in October. -- Travis Haney, The Oklahoman

Brandon Weeden, QB, Oklahoma State: Not only did you feel like you were dealing with a grown up -- no age jokes allowed -- Weeden always gave every question sincere thought and provided a thoughtful answer. He showed up every week, after every game, ready and willing to talk. He should be hired by every team in the league to teach a Media 101 session. -- John Helsley, The Oklahoman

Jeff Woody, RB, Iowa State: Great knack for giving you insight to the game, and the emotion that goes into it - without throwing teammates under the bus. He described running back Shontrelle Johnson as a rabbit darting across the back yard, while being chased by a dog. -- Andrew Logue, Des Moines Register

Steven Johnson, LB, Kansas: No matter what the situation was, Steven Johnson was a guy we could count on for the truth. Whether it was after tough loss, a big win or the opening practice of the season, Johnson always told it like it was and rarely held back his emotions or expectations. Sometimes that meant him breaking down to the point of tears, other times it meant him holding out hope for winning the Big 12 or making a bowl game even though the Jayhawks were five or six games into a disappointing season. Johnson will go down as one of the classiest players to ever wear a KU uniform and he easily was this team's go-to guy for good quotes. -- Matt Tait, Lawrence Journal-World

Terrance Ganaway, RB, Baylor: Thoughtful with his answers, willing to answer difficult questions and very well-reasoned and well-worded responses. -- Jimmy Burch, Fort Worth Star-Telegram

R.J. Washington, DE, Oklahoma: Epic interviews in high school made us all eager to get some time with him. But after a redshirt year, he clearly had been taught to dial it back a bit. Still, he's very good. Almost always offers up something interesting, and it's frequently subject matter that you may not have asked about. He gets it. He knows not to be overly defensive or closed-down in interviews because he refuses to buy the company line that the media is out to get him. -- John Hoover, Tulsa World

Terrance Frederick, CB, Texas A&M: He seemed real -- appropriately serious but at times still light hearted -- as the season turned sour. -- Suzanne Halliburton, Austin American-Statesman

Steven Johnson, LB, Kansas: Looked like you already got him, but I'll put in another vote for KU's Steven Johnson. He was the guy you could count on to say what everyone was thinking. -- Austin Meek, Topeka Capital-Journal

Ter'ran Benton, CB, Iowa State: Benton is smart, funny and you never know where an interview with him will go. He might tell you why Louisiana Hot Sauce is the best hot sauce in the world. He might joking tell you that cornerback Leonard Johnson should be playing well because he has a light class load. He's great at explaining why things are, or aren't, working for the defense. He's an all-around great quote. -- Bobby La Gesse, Ames Tribune

B.J. Finney, C, Kansas State: The freshman center was the face of K-State football this season, at least at press conferences. He showed up at every single media availability and gave thoughtful answers to every question he was asked. Quite impressive when you consider he was the only football player to show up for a few of the midweek pressers and reporters desperate for a quote asked him about the opposing team's offense and what strategy the K-State secondary had for that week. He gets the perfect attendance award. -- Kellis Robinett, Wichita Eagle/Kansas City Star

Chris Harper, WR, Kansas State: Never afraid to speak his mind on a topic. Will respond to dull questions with incredible insight. A former quarterback, he can analyze every offensive position. By far the best and most entertaining talker on the team. But he lost points for criticizing the Pinstripe Bowl. Bill Snyder didn't care for that, and made him off limits to media for several weeks. -- Kellis Robinett, Wichita Eagle/Kansas City Star

Wrapping up the Big 12 regular season

December, 7, 2011
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The Big 12's not so simple anymore.

Maybe it's unfair, but conferences are most often judged by their top teams. Glance at Oklahoma and Texas, the two teams that won every Big 12 title since 2003, and you'll see a combined eight losses in 2011.

The Longhorns improved from 5-7 to 7-5. Oklahoma? A 2010 Big 12 title bled into a national title chase in 2011 that ended with a third loss in its regular season finale, and a particularly embarrassing one, too.

Robert Griffin
AP Photo/Tony GutierrezRobert Griffin III's star turn got Baylor nine wins -- and himself an invitation to the Heisman ceremony.
Outright Big 12 champion stomped the Sooners in Stillwater, ending the Longhorns and Sooners' Red River Reign over the league. This year's second-place finisher, Kansas State, had been the last team not the Longhorns or Sooners to win the Big 12. Since that title in 2003, it's been all Texas and Oklahoma.

The league ain't what it used to be, in lots of good and bad ways. The newfound parity is a good sign.

Texas A&M and Missouri leaving for the SEC? A profoundly bad sign.

Texas A&M and Missouri's combined 0-6 record against Oklahoma, Oklahoma State and Kansas State? Another good sign.

TCU and West Virginia (probably) join the Big 12 next season, and will find a league that looks much different than it did even two years ago.

Texas' ascent still looks in-progress, and until the Longhorns find a quarterback, can't reasonably count on having any real shot at a Big 12 title. Oklahoma will be strapped for experience next season without Ryan Broyles and three of its best defenders. It will only get more difficult if Landry Jones, projected as a top-10 pick, leaves early for the NFL.

Oklahoma State broke the proverbial glass ceiling this year in resounding fashion, challenging the idea that 2011 was a "down year" in the Big 12. Oklahoma was a disappointment. Texas A&M tanked. The Longhorns were still too young and lacked enough offense.

But there's a reason why, even without a team in the national championship game for the second consecutive year, this was far from a down year for the Big 12. You just have to look a little harder.

Oklahoma State surpassed last year's 10-win regular season with 11 this year, the most in school history. Kansas State is one of the nation's biggest surprises, and was robbed of a spot in the BCS by the Hokie-loving Sugar Bowl. Baylor? All the Bears did was win more Big 12 games (5) than any year before, and put themselves in position for the program's first Heisman winner ever.

Injuries morphed Oklahoma from great to just good, but this year, the Big 12's identity was much deeper than "How did Texas and Oklahoma do?"

The league went 27-3 in nonconference play, winning the eternal love of the BCS computers and landing eight teams in bowl games, despite switching to a nine-game conference schedule. In other words, every team replaced a likely nonconference win with a Big 12 opponent. The league, top to bottom, still put together an outstanding season. That .900 percentage was the best nonconference winning percentage of any league since the SEC in 1997.

Two of those losses, by the way, came from Texas A&M and Missouri, who will be gone to the SEC after this season.

The Big 12 missed out on the national title race, but it wasn't down this year. It was way, way up. You just had to look a little harder to tell.

Time to look back on the season that was:

Offensive MVP: Robert Griffin III, QB, Baylor

Griffin might be the nation's offensive MVP, so why would it be any different here? The Heisman finalist (and likely favorite) helped carry the Bears to a 9-3 season and broke the NCAA record for pass-efficiency rating, at 192.31. He racked up 3,998 yards, 36 touchdowns and six interceptions on 267-of-369 passing.

Defensive MVP: Frank Alexander, DE, Oklahoma

Alexander played through a painful shoulder injury in Bedlam, and suffered a knee injury in the game, but he was outstanding throughout the season as the biggest wrecking ball on defense of anyone in the Big 12. He's got all the physical measurables, using his speed, flexibility and quickness at 6-foot-4, 255 pounds to lead the Big 12 with 8.5 sacks and 18 tackles for loss.

Newcomer(s) of the year: Arthur Brown, LB, Kansas State and Nigel Malone, CB, Kansas State

I couldn't decide between these two. Both helped completely revitalize a K-State defense that struggled last year. Brown transferred to K-State from Miami and Malone arrived via the City College of San Francisco. Brown was arguably the Big 12's surest tackler, ranking ninth in the league with 95 stops, including 7.5 for loss, two sacks and his first pick was a game-changer against Baylor to help K-State get the victory. He was the first player all season to intercept RG3, and one of just six all season. Malone, meanwhile, snatched seven picks, two more than any player in the Big 12. He also broke up nine passes and made 57 tackles (46 solo).

[+] EnlargeKansas State's Bill Snyder
Scott Sewell/US PRESSWIREBill Snyder molded Kansas State's crew of unknowns into the Big 12's biggest surprise.
Coach of the Year: Bill Snyder, Kansas State

Easy pick here. The numbers say it all. Kansas State was loaded with unknowns. Lots of first-year players, especially on defense (see above), and one of his most hyped players, running back Bryce Brown, left the team at midseason. He also had a former receiver at quarterback, Collin Klein, who became one of the nation's most valuable players. The big man took a beating, but ran for 1,099 yards and a Big 12-best 26 touchdowns. The Wildcats were picked to finish eighth in the Big 12, and don't exude talent as much as most other Big 12 teams do. They nearly won the Big 12, though, and finished eighth in the BCS standings.

Biggest Surprise: Iowa State 37, Oklahoma State 31 in 2OT on Nov. 18.

This one had the biggest impact, too. The Cowboys were 28-point favorites and raced to a 24-7 third-quarter lead. They didn't score again until overtime. Iowa State rallied to tie the game, and the usually reliable Quinn Sharp missed what could have been a game-winning 37-yard field goal with just over a minute to play. After Brandon Weeden threw an interception in the second overtime, Iowa State pounded the running game and Jeff Woody crossed the goal line to win the game, put Iowa State into a second bowl game in three years, and knocked Oklahoma State out of the national title chase. The morning of the game, Oklahoma State learned that women's basketball coach Kurt Budke and assistant Miranda Serna had been killed in a plane crash. After the gam, the Cowboys were left trying to stomach a painful, shocking loss on the field, where the stands at Jack Trice Stadium had emptied for an epic field rush.

Biggest Disappointment: Texas A&M

No question about this one. Texas A&M was a Big 12 contender and had the talent to possibly win a national title. The mental makeup, though, didn't exactly reek of toughness. The Aggies were favored in 11 games and led by double digits in all 11 of those games. They lost six, including five losses with double-digit halftime leads. They saved the most painful loss for last. Hated rival Texas, a catalyst for the move to the SEC, erased a 10-0 and 16-7 halftime lead to beat the Aggies 27-25 on a last-second field goal after a late two-minute drill. Less than a week later, Texas A&M fired coach Mike Sherman and is looking for his replacement before moving to the SEC next season.

Best Game: Kansas State 53, Texas A&M 50 in 4OT on Nov. 12

This might be the best game in Big 12 history. With just 6:38 to play, Kansas State trailed, 31-21. Klein hit Chris Harper for a 53-yard score to get the Wildcats within reach, and K-State forced overtime on a 44-yard kick by Anthony Cantele with just 2:12 to play. The two teams traded touchdowns in the first and third overtimes, sandwiched around field goals in the second overtime. In the third, though? Texas A&M elected to kick a 20-yard field goal on 4th-and-1 at the K-State 3-yard line. Kansas State answered with all running plays and drew a pass-interference penalty before Klein pushed the pile for a 1-yard touchdown to win the game.

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