Big 12 football media update
Friday, July 28th 2000, 12:00 am
News On 6
Baylor: Steele Looking Forward
Baylor coach Kevin Steele emphasized again that his team is looking forward, not backward. One stigma from last season, however, hasn't disappeared from view.
Steele's first comment on the Bears' off-season progress concerned a snap taken by quarterback Greg Cicero to close spring drills. "I was very encouraged,'' Steele said, "to see Greg take a knee at the end of the spring game. We've got that down now.''
Steele was alluding to Baylor's final, fatal play last September against Nevada-Las Vegas. Instead of going to a knee and icing the victory, the Bears gave the ball to Darrell Bush, who fumbled into the hands of UNLV's Kevin Thomas, who returned it the length of the field for the winning touchdown. Baylor went on to win only one game in Steele's debut season.
Steele gave a blunt assessment of other steps the Bears must take to regain their competitive edge. "We've got to get better at everything,'' he said. "And we've got to get better as coaches. We've got to give our guys more of a chance than we did last year.''
Cicero, a former Texas signee who arrived via junior college, welcomed the fact that he doesn't have a rear-view mirror. "I wasn't here last year,'' Cicero said, "so that's not a problem for me.''
If summer travel is any indication, the Bears may be in for another bumpy ride this season. Steele and the rest of the Baylor contingent arrived late at the Big 12 Media Day function because of weather problems that forced their plane to land in Oklahoma City. "The pilot called me up and said, 'I'm going to have to land this thing,''' Steele said. "I said, 'Don't tell me â€“ land it!''' ... Former high-school quarterback star Odell James will finish his Baylor career as a safety. James, who floundered at quarterback, asked for the move and is now listed as the backup to Matt Amendola, a redshirt freshman. ... Fullback Derek Lagway is gone for the season because of injuries suffered in a motorcycle accident. "He didn't start the last six games for us, so he really wasn't a returning starter,'' Steele said. "But he had such a good spring, to be honest about it, that was a big blow.
Oklahoma: Sooners on the Run
The maxim that you have to walk before you can run aptly describes the situation at Oklahoma as Bob Stoops enters his second season at the helm. Stoops' goal this fall is a wholesale upgrade of the Sooners' running game, last in the Big 12 last season.
"Hopefully, we can be a team that, when we run the ball, we can hurt people,'' Stoops said. "We need to continue developing that part of our team.''
Stoops brought the sagging Sooners instant credibility â€“ as well as a winning record and a bowl berth â€“ with a pass-oriented attack. Quarterback Josh Heupel, a junior college import, threw for 30 touchdowns and posted seven 300-yard games, one more than all the previous 300-yard games in OU history. The Sooners led the Big 12 in total offense, but it wasn't enough to contend for the Big 12 South title.
"I felt that the quickest opportunity we had to move the ball and score points was to throw the ball,'' Stoops said. "But I think the best teams do both.''
Stoops said that although he had high expectations last season, he stayed away from discussing goals.
"Our team had a hard time getting through conditioning and warm-ups at first,'' he said. "I wasn't about to start talking about goals.''
A big part of OU's formula for an improved running game is sophomore Quentin Griffin, who gave up his 1999 redshirt with only four regular-season games left after a rash of backfield injuries. He finished as OU's second-leading rusher and averaged 6.5 yards per carry. ... The Sooners lost their offensive guru when coordinator Mike Leach took the Texas Tech head coaching job. With former offensive line coach Mark Mangino now calling the offensive shots, the Sooners don't expect any changes â€“ except, perhaps, from opponents who have to prepare for both OU and Tech. Stoops doesn't buy into the buzz that OU and Texas are destined for a Big 12 South showdown of 4-0 teams on Oct. 7 in the Cotton Bowl. "You need to win games in your division and need to win in your conference,'' Stoops said, "and they're all the same.''
Texas Tech: Williams Load Lightened
Ricky Williams is a rarity in football: a running back who wants fewer, not more, carries.
Williams says Texas Tech's new pass-oriented offense under new coach Mike Leach will actually be to his benefit. This is from a back who averaged 28 carries during his 1998 season that saw him rush for 1,582 yards and 13 touchdowns.
"I'm used to getting the ball 40 times, but that's very tiring," said Williams. "I'm looking for less carries and more catches. My goal is to get 1,000 yards rushing and 1,000 yards receiving. I think this [offense] will help me out a lot."
Williams, a Duncanville product whose 1999 season was wiped out by a knee injury, said fewer carries will mean less wear-and-tear on his knee. The spread offense will open up the field more and lead to big gains, Williams said.
During his big 1998 season, Williams caught just 18 passes. He said he has been working with quarterback Kliff Kingsbury to improve his receiving skills. Although Williams was held out of contact in the spring, now that he's healthy Leach plans to make full use of him.
"I think Ricky will have the same amount of touches as he did two years ago, maybe more,'' said Leach. "But some of those touches are going to be in mid-air. The key is to get Ricky as many touches as possible."
Defensively, Tech is shifting from a 4-4 alignment to a 4-3 look that will feature more zone coverage and zone blitzes than in the past. ...To build team unity, Leach had his players compete in a series of games such as tug-of-war, water polo and relay races. Offensive and defensive players were paired together, as were linemen and skill players. ...Free safety Kevin Curtis, who led the Big 12 with 153 tackles last season, said he will be making few tackles in the new system but will be doing more blitzing. ...Leach said he believes he can develop the receivers needed for his system through practice and repetition.
Colorado: Buffs to be Tested Early
If Colorado doesn't hit the ground running, things could get ugly.
The Buffaloes open with a six-game gauntlet of Colorado State, USC, Washington, Kansas State, Texas A&M and Texas.
"It's the kind of thing where we have to come out firing,'' said defensive end Brady McDonnell.
Last year, it took Colorado half the season to get comfortable with coach Gary Barnett and his system. The Buffs went 7-5 and finished strong by winning four of their last six. The two losses were by six points at Kansas State and in overtime to Nebraska.
The quarterback battle between junior college transfer Bobby Pesavento and sophomore Zac Colvin appears to be a dead heat. Barnett said the only difference between them is personality. Pesavento is a quiet leader while Colvin will make some noise.
Kansas: Jayhawks get Defensive
It didn't take long for Kansas safety Carl Nesmith to adopt a defensive mentality when he switched from offense last season.
Nesmith was nicknamed The Butcher by a teammate after he made a particularly violent hit last season. Now Nesmith envisions a student section called the Butcher Shop, with Jayhawk fans clad in aprons wielding rubber knives and fake blood.
"Every game, I pick out a receiver that I really want to hit," said Nesmith.
Nesmith was a receiver and quarterback in junior college but moved to free safety when he arrived at Kansas last year.
With six new junior college defensive linemen, coach Terry Allen said the Jayhawks may use more four-man fronts to defend the run and get more of a pass rush. ... Allen said the biggest question mark is the offensive line, which will determine how good Kansas can be.
Nebraska: Counting on Crouch
Nebraska opponents may have a tougher time squeezing an ouch out of Eric Crouch this season.
Crouch, whose emergence at quarterback last season paved the Cornhuskers' path to the Big 12 title, bulked up 10 pounds during the off-season to just over 200. As a sophomore last fall, Crouch became the first Cornhusker quarterback to lead the team in rushing since 1955.
"I feel I've gotten stronger and faster,'' Crouch said. "This may help me to make that one play that I couldn't make last year.''
Bobby Newcombe, moved from quarterback to wingback early last season, has never stopped taking snaps â€“ and won't now, Solich said. The Cornhuskers have a hotshot redshirt freshman, Jammal Lord, waiting in the wings to spell and eventually replace Crouch. ... Nebraska fans are eagerly awaiting the arrival of Thunder Collins, a junior college standout who could extend the Cornhuskers' long line of flashy I-backs.
Editor's Note: This is the second of three-part coverage of Big 12 Media Day. The Dallas Mornig News will file briefs on the remaining six teams Saturday.