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July 21, 2008

Big 12 Notes: McGee must earn A&M QB job

MORE BIG 12 MEDIA DAYS: Perfect storm for Red Raiders? | Day One Photo Gallery

KANSAS CITY, Mo. Stephen McGee has been a fulltime starting quarterback the past two seasons. He has passed for more than 2,200 yards in back-to-back years, has thrown 26 touchdowns and only 11 interceptions in his career and has led Texas A&M to consecutive victories over archrival Texas.

But he will have to do more than that to remain the Aggies' starter.

New A&M coach Mike Sherman, speaking at Monday's Big 12 Media Days, made it clear the quarterback position wasn't settled. McGee will have to beat out highly regarded sophomore Jerrod Johnson, a 6-foot-5, 229-pounder, to retain the keys to the offense.

"I think it would be unfair to me to just walk in and hand Stephen the job," Sherman said. "I've told him that. He's going to have to earn it. In fairness to Jerrod, they both have to work to compete against one another and earn the job."

Sherman said that he viewed the situation as a quarterback competition, not a quarterback controversy.

"I don't think you have a controversy when you feel like you have good talent at that position," he said. "If we didn't have talent at that position, yeah, there would be a controversy.

"I have confidence that we're going to have a very good quarterback when we start the season. I think he'll play at a higher level because of the competition."

Mizzou, OU favored

No surprise in the Big 12 preseason media poll Missouri and Oklahoma were picked to repeat at division champions.

Mizzou received 51 first-place votes and was a unanimous pick to win the North. Kansas was picked second, followed by Nebraska, Colorado, Kansas State and Iowa State.

Oklahoma received 49 first-place in the South, with Texas receiving the other two. The Longhorns were picked second, followed by Texas Tech, Oklahoma State, Texas A&M and Baylor.

Coaches and players from Nebraska, Texas Tech, Texas A&M and Missouri were featured Monday; the event last two more days.

Patience, patience

Not that long ago Nebraska had the most powerful program in the country. Not anymore.

The Huskers, who won national championships in 1994, '95 and '97 and played for the title after the 2001 season, are coming off a 5-7 finish in 2007 that cost Bill Callahan his job and led to the hiring of new coach Bo Pelini.

Impatient Nebraskans are probably hoping for a quick turnaround. Pelini said he is, too.

"I don't worry about (impatience)," Pelini said. "I'm not that patient myself. They have expectations and they want to win. I want to win.

"But I'm not focused on the end product now. I'm focused on the process. Everybody wants to win the national championship, none more than me."

Of course, Pelini just won one. He was the defensive coordinator for national champion LSU last season.

The main reason for the Huskers' '07 debacle was an inept defense, which was one of the worst in Nebraska history. The Huskers allowed at least 40 points six times, including a record 76 in a loss to Kansas.

A new system may help, but Pelini said the Nebraska defensive players also needed a new psyche.

"Obviously, their psyche was damaged a little bit," Pelini said. "But I believe if you teach well and they are committed to learning, and if we get on the same page with a great understanding of what to do, that breeds confidence and they can play fast. Then, the damaged psyche goes out.

"That happens over time, but it doesn't happen overnight."

A reality break?

Missouri lost twice last season and numerous starters -- quarterback Chase Daniel, wide receiver Jeremy Maclin, tight end Chase Coffman and free safety William Moore -- are All-America contenders. For that reason, some are hailing the Tigers as possible national champions.

But coach Gary Pinkel isn't among them, and he's making sure his players aren't either.

"I don't encourage that (talk) at all," he said. "We haven't won the Big 12 and now we're going to win the national championship? We only won the Big 12 North championship."

And if some Missouri players are talking about winning it all?

"I'll handle it internally," Pinkel said.

Weight and see

Texas A&M senior running back Jorvorskie Lane has rushed for 44 touchdowns in his career, but that number is overshadowed by 285.

That's how much Lane weighs, as listed in the A&M media guide.

So what's his weight now?

"What time is it?" Sherman joked.

The quip caused some chuckles, but it really hasn't been a laughing matter for the coach, who moved Lane to fullback because of his size.

"He gives us a double threat as a runner and also as a receiver," Sherman said. "Obviously, his blocking he's not had to do that very often. But because of his size, he should be able to engulf people."

Sherman wants Lane down to 260.

"The weight is an issue," Sherman said. "It has been since we got here. He has lost some weight, but he still has a ways to go."

Three's not a crowd

Texas Tech followers wonder whether Aaron Crawford, Shannon Woods or Baron Batch will emerge as the Red Raiders' starting running back. Coach Mike Leach does, too.

"I'm curious about that myself," he said. "We've got three really good running backs right now. This spring, going in, I could tell you real strengths and weaknesses that this guy had, that guy had, and so it went.

"What I expected to happen was we'd rep them all, and then one would start to separate himself and he'd get most of the reps. But what happened instead was that it was very competitive. Guys tended to improve on their weaknesses and develop more strengths."

Leach isn't opposed to playing all three.

"I think there's room enough for all three of them to have a role," he said. "Eventually, what will develop will probably be some fine distinctions on this situation, this type of block or this type of a route and so forth, that we'll personnel around it.

"But if it remains as competitive as it is right now, I would have no problem playing either of the three or all three of them."

No huddle, no problem

Missouri averaged 39.9 points to rank eight nationally in scoring offense last season. Pinkel said the Tigers score fast because they play fast. Missouri doesn't huddle, which Pinkel said allows the Tigers to set the tempo of the game.

"We want to be an offensive football team that dictates a little bit what the defense does," he said.

Mizzou's decision to go without a huddle came after Pinkel huddled with coordinator Dave Christensen on the subject.

"He came in my office and said, 'Coach, I want to talk to you about the huddle,' '' Pinkel said. "He said we don't want to huddle anymore.

"We examined the pluses and minuses of it, and I think it's been a tremendous asset because the no-huddle provides you with the creative tempo of the game, provides you an opportunity to check at the line of scrimmage, have the staff do that from the press box. I think if we huddle all the time we would not be near as productive as an offensive football team as we have been."

Olin Buchanan is the senior college football writer for Rivals.com. He can be reached at olin@rivals.com.

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