Quarterbacks bring big plays to Big 12 - KMOV.com

Quarterbacks bring big plays to Big 12

Maybe the Big 12 should consider a name change. Call it the PS3 Conference, because at times it resembles a video game come to life.

If you want offense, if you love games in which quarterbacks have more touchdown passes than incompletions, if you get giddy at five-receiver sets, then the Big 12 delivers. While the conference encompasses large parts of the Corn Belt and the Oil Patch, the results look like something created in Silicon Valley.

While the conference gets attention with the offense, it's not merely an updated version of the old wild, wild WAC.

Oklahoma and Texas have each won a national title this decade. Missouri was No. 1 last season going into the Big 12 title game. All of those teams, along with Texas Tech, have legitimate chances at a championship. Each is ranked among the top seven teams in the country this week by Associated Press voters. And six teams - half the league - have cracked the Top 25.

Texas coach Mack Brown has called the Big 12 as strong as he's seen it and even compared it this week to the Southeastern Conference, the gold standard of the Bowl Championship Series.

Among the Big 12's best quarterbacks are (clockwise from top left) Missouri's Chase Daniel, Texas' Colt McCoy, Oklahoma's Sam Bradford and Texas Tech's Graham Harrell.

We take a closer look at the Big 12 as teams prepare to beat up each other in conference play.

Big 12 well-armed

A month into the season, Missouri quarterback Chase Daniel has resigned himself to a Monday morning reality check.

He'll look at statistics supplied by the Tigers' coaching staff and shake his head, no matter how well he played. This week provides a perfect example. Daniel ranks fourth nationally in passing efficiency - and third in the Big 12.

Yes, the conference quarterbacks are that good, where even a Heisman front-runner can be impressed. Six of the nation's top 10 quarterbacks call the Big 12 home.

This week, Texas Tech's prolific Graham Harrell ranked 20th nationally, good for ninth in the conference.

Part of the credit goes to the offensive scheme. More than other power conferences, the Big 12 has embraced the spread offense. Yet the spread didn't just arrive in August.

There are numerous contributing factors.

Eleven of the 12 starting quarterbacks returned from last season.

"Offensively, it's the best it has been," said Mike Leach, who became Texas Tech head coach after serving as Oklahoma's offensive coordinator in 1999. "I think it's because of returning quarterbacks, and the rest of the offensive unit tends to draw from those guys. There is better work in the off-season and better work in camp because your offense already has a bit of an identity.

"Our conference is the benefactor of a lot of good quarterbacks."

How good?

Consider the combined numbers for Daniel, Oklahoma's Sam Bradford and Texas' Colt McCoy this season.

The three have combined for 12 games, the equivalent of a full regular season.

In that span, they've completed 75.9 percent of their passes for 3,723 yards with 42 touchdown passes and four interceptions.

Daniel preferred to spread the credit liberally, same as he distributes the football.

"It's ridiculous the amount of quarterback play we have here," Daniel said, "and you look at that as a direct correlation to the offensive line we have and other teams have and also the receivers. It's not just the quarterbacks. We get too much credit for it."

Quarterback comparison

Where Big 12 quarterbacks rank among the national leaders in passing efficiency behind Tulsa's David Johnson, whose rating is 227.2. (Includes completions-attempts-interceptions.)

2.Colt McCoyTexas80-100-11,01814209.7
3.Sam BradfordOklahoma83-115-21,29316209.1
4.Chase DanielMissouri101-133-11,41212193.4
5.Zac RobinsonOkla. St.52-73-38497192.4
8.Josh FreemanKansas St.77-115-21,10511175.8
10.Robert GriffinBaylor47-78-07567171.3
16.Joe GanzNebraska67-104-49977159.5
18.Todd ReesingKansas126-179-21,40511154.4
20.Graham HarrellTexas Tech120-186-31,57312153.6
25.Jerrod JohnsonTexas A&M35-61-24527150.9
Top 10 attacks

Five Big 12 teams rank among the nation's top 10 in total offense behind Tulsa's 600.75 yards per game:

3.Texas Tech,572.75
4.Oklahoma St.562.50
Key games

Five games that will shape the Big 12 race

1. Texas vs. Oklahoma, Oct. 11: The annual spectacle looks even bigger now. Who says the AT&T Red River Rivalry is losing its luster?

2. Missouri at Texas, Oct. 18: The game looks even more intriguing now, with Chase Daniel taking on Will Muschamp's revamped defense. If Missouri wins, the Tigers probably run the table to the Big 12 title game.

3. Texas Tech at Kansas, Oct. 25: Before the Red Raiders can worry about Texas and Oklahoma, they face a classic trap game against talented QB Todd Reesing.

4. Texas Tech at Oklahoma, Nov. 22: Both are undefeated now, and maybe both will be then. The Sooners remember what happened in Lubbock last season.

5. Oklahoma at Oklahoma State, Nov. 29: Imagine the joy at T. Boone Pickens Stadium if somehow the Cowboys spring the upset. It would be like oil at $150 a barrel.

Best feel-good story

Oklahoma State sophomore receiver Artrell Woods has yet to catch a pass this season.

His mere presence on the field speaks volumes.

In July 2007, Woods faced the prospect of never walking again. He dislocated and fractured vertebrae in a spinal cord injury during a weight-training session and temporarily lost use of one leg.

After surgery, Woods was able to return. He gradually has regained his speed, even though he's been slowed this season by a minor knee sprain.

Best turnaround

At first glance, Baylor's 2-2 record entering conference play doesn't seem that impressive.

Even since-departed Guy Morriss won three nonconference games in 2005 and 2007. The Bears, however, won only two conference games those two years combined.

New coach Art Briles has brought hope back to Waco, along with a gifted first-year freshman quarterback in Robert Griffin. All Griffin did was rush for a school-record 217 yards in his second start, and he nearly engineered an upset of unbeaten Connecticut on the road.

Don't expect more than one or two Big 12 wins this season. Griffin gives Briles the offensive building block he desperately needed, and that should put Baylor on the recruiting radar of top skill players.

Best team

No surprise here. The best team in the country has been the best team in the conference. The Sooners have an offense to match those of Missouri, Oklahoma State and Texas, thanks to Sam Bradford and the up-tempo no-huddle. Just as important is the defense. Oklahoma has the only unit in the Big 12 ranked among the top 20 nationally, making it the most complete team.

Biggest enigma

Call this a tie among two unbeatens.

Oklahoma State ranks among the top five in total offense and scoring offense. In a departure from the league trend, the Cowboys lead the nation in rushing. So far, the best win was over Houston, which amassed 483 yards and 37 points. Everybody still wants to see if the defense has improved enough to avoid the typical 7-6 Mike Gundy finish.

Factor Texas Tech into the list. The Red Raiders have been slightly underwhelming, their No. 7 ranking notwithstanding. Will Graham Harrell and Michael Crabtree start clicking the way everybody expected in conference play? Coach Mike Leach dismissed a question about being overrated this week. "I ignore the whole thing," Leach said. "You go out there, you play and you just see where it takes you."

Most valuable player

In a quarterback-driven league, it's hard to avoid picking somebody at the marquee position.

As good as Sam Bradford is, Oklahoma would still be a contender without him. That leaves Missouri's Chase Daniel and Texas' Colt McCoy as indispensable pieces for top-five teams. McCoy has completed 80 percent of his passes while leading Texas in rushing. If anything, Daniel is even more important to Missouri, orchestrating an offense that he has run since eighth grade and bringing a swagger. The slight edge goes to Daniel.

Outsiders beware

Only the Southeastern Conference has a better record than the Big 12 this season against nonconference competition:

Big 1238-10.792
Big Ten30-9.769
Atlantic Coast26-10.722
Mountain West21-10.677
Big East20-11.645
Western Athletic15-16.484
Conference USA16-21.432
Sun Belt8-21.276
Toughest test

Texas has remained out of the spotlight as much as the nation's No. 5 team can be, despite a budding Heisman candidate in quarterback Colt McCoy and a defense that shows signs of dominance. All that changes in the next five weeks, when the Longhorns face maybe the most brutal stretch in the country. The opponents have a combined record of 19-1 and four are ranked. The breakdown:

Oct. 4at Colorado3-1
Oct. 11vs. No. 1 Oklahoma4-0
Oct. 18No. 4 Missouri4-0
Oct. 25No. 21 Oklahoma State4-0
Nov. 1at No. 7 Texas Tech4-0

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