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September 08, 2010
By Wendell Barnhouse | Correspondent

Analysts and statisticians would scoff at the notion that one day constitutes a trend. It doesn't. But the first Saturday of the Big 12 football season might be an indication that running backs are in and quarterbacks are (sorta) out.

True, no team has gone to the wishbone or the wing-T (even though the "wildcat" formation that some are using is adapted from wing-T football). But for just the second time in conference history, the Big 12 had three running backs gain 200 or more yards on the same day.

Oklahoma State's Kendall Hunter cavorted for 257 yards, Kansas State's Daniel Thomas collected 234 and DeMarco Murray made it a trio by gaining 218 yards. The only other time that the Big 12 has had three 200-yard rushers on the same day was Oct. 24, 1998 when Kansas' David Winbush (268), Texas' Ricky Williams (259) and Oklahoma's De'Mond Parker (220) all broke the 200-yard barrier on the same day.

Players gaining 200 yards on the ground have been a rare occurrence lately. Counting Saturday, there have been 85 players gain 200 or more yards in Big 12 history. 64 of those came in the first seven years of the league (1996-2002). From 2003 through the first weekend of 2010, 21 players have gained 200 or more. From 2005 through 2009, just 9 gained 200 or more (not counting Saturday).

The last two seasons, only two players have gained 200 or more yards - Oklahoma State's Kendall Hunter gained 210 yards againt Houston on Sept. 6, 2008 and Baylor freshman quarterback Robert Griffin III had 225 yards against Washington State on Sept. 13, 2008.

Will this be the Year Of The Running Back? Maybe. Two factors could contribute to that. First, a number of teams are playing quarterbacks who are lacking experience. Second, coaches want the straight and sure path to victory.

"I would guess that people who are running the ball will feel good about their offensive line and who's carrying the football," Kansas State coach Bill Snyder said Monday. "Does that address the quarterback issue? I couldn't speak to that."

As Darrell Royal liked to say, dance with the one that brung ya. In the last two years, most Big 12 coaches' dance partners were quarterbacks who could throw for 300 or more yards per game. This year, more coaches might want to boogey with their backs.

Diamond in the rough
New Oklahoma State offensive coordinator Dana Holgorsen for eight seasons was an assistant coach for former Texas Tech coach Mike Leach. The last two seasons as Houston's offensive coordinator Holgorsen game-planned and play-called for an offense that was the most prolific in college football.

When he arrived in Stillwater, the plan was to move the Cowboys to a spread attack with four wide receivers, no tight end and a single running back.

So what happened in Oklahoma State's season opener with Washington State? Holgorsen debuted a "diamond" formation - tailback Kendall Hunter lined up behind quarterback Brandon Weeden with two running backs lined up on each side of Hunter but a step or two closer to the line. Sort of an inverted Wishbone look.

"I guess in one of my previous lives, when the Wishbone was around, maybe I was tinkering with it then," Holgorsen told the Tulsa World. "We experimented with it this fall and didn't really know how it was going to turn out. But it turned out all right."

Maybe so. Hunter rushed for a career-high 257 yards as the Cowboys displayed a balanced attack - 37 pass attempts, 44 rushing attempts.

After the game, a number of Holgorsen's coaching buddies called to ask what was up with the run-oriented alignment. One of the callers was Leach, but he never asked about "The Diamond."

"When you get on the phone with Mike, it's a minimum of an hour," Holgorsen said. "If we got into that conversation, it would have been two or three hours."

Here's to you, Mr. Robinson
Saturday's Iowa State-Iowa game for the CyHawk Trophy features two outstanding running backs who share the same last name.

The Cyclones' Alexander Robinson gained 97 yards and scored two touchdowns in the Cyclones' season-opening defeat of Northern Illinois while the Hawkeyes' Adam Robinson rushed for 109 yards and three touchdowns as ninth-ranked Iowa defeated Eastern Illinois, 37-7.

Quote book
Texas running back Tre' Newton on the Longhorns' running game:
"You're either getting better or you're getting worse. "I don't think there's necessarily been an ingredient missing. You can't just come out there and expect to be great all of a sudden. It's a process."

Kansas State safety Tysyn Hartman on the Wildcats' season opening defeat of UCLA:
"It's a great win. I remember in Big 12 Media Day in Dallas, we said this was going to be a statement game and kind of a benchmark for us more than anything that let us know where we are as a team."

Kansas senior running back Angus Quigley on the Jayhawks' offense in the 6-3 season-opening loss:
"As an offense, I don't feel like we played very energetic. It looked like we were just out there at times going through the motions. It's very shocking to see. That was a very poor showing by our football team. … They played harder than us," Quigley said. "It shows in film, and we have to be better than that."

Iowa State coach Paul Rhoads on the new contract for Iowa coach Kirk Ferentz that will pay him $3.7 million per year:
"I did text him the other day asking for some spending money. I'm still waiting on that."

Nebraska offensive coordinator Shawn Watson on how redshirt freshman quarterback Taylor Martinez is handling being the Huskers' starting quarterback:
"He knows he's getting attention. But I think he would really kind of like it all to go away and leave him alone and let him just do his thing. That's just his makeup. He's really a very even-keeled person that way."

Short yardage
* Texas A&M didn't commit a turnover in its season opener. That's the third time during the Mike Sherman Era that the Aggies didn't have lose a fumble or throw an interception. They've won all three of those games.

* Texas will be facing a Wyoming team dealing with tragedy. An automobile accident involving four football players left one player, 19-year-old reserve linebacker Ruben Narcisse, dead. "We're reaching out to our entire team and coaching staff," said Wyoming second-year coach Dave Christenen, who was previously the offensive coordinator at Missouri. "It's a terrible tragedy, and a terrible loss. Our focus now is helping our team and staff deal with this tragedy and making sure the families of the young men involved know that we are here to support them in any way we can."

* Playing Illinois usually means a star performance for a Missouri player. Six have been earned Big 12 player-of-the-week honors since 2002. Quarterbacks Brad Smith (2002) and Blaine Gabbert (2009), safety Pig Brown (2007), defensive end Stryker Sulak (2008), defensive end Aldon Smith and return specialist Jeremy Maclin (2008) have earned conference recognition for their play against the Illini.

* Texas had three players with 50 or more yards rushing in the same game for the first time since 2005.

* Iowa State senior safety David Sims served a one-game suspension in the opener. The Big 12 defensive newcomer of the year last season will return to the field when the Cyclones play at Iowa State Saturday. Sims had two of his team-high five interceptions against the Hawkeyes last season. "David will play a lot," Iowa State secondary coach Bob Elliott said. "I'm not sure if he'll start, but he's playing."

* Oklahoma allowed 441 yards to Utah State in the opener but 340 of those yards came on just 12 of the 75 plays the Aggies ran. "I think we just got on our heels and relaxed a little after we got up 21-0," Soooners safety Jonathan Nelson said. "We were on our home field. We just have to realize we have to play every single play like it's our last and stay true to basic fundamentals."

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