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Conference ChatterTV returns for second season; lost art of running the ball returns in Big 12

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With the second season of Conference ChatterTV set to begin, my goal is simple: top my record of 81-24 from last season.

It must be done. Brief refresher on Conference ChatterTV, a YouTube extended component of my Big 12 blog here on KUsports.com: Basically, I make picks on every game involving a Big 12 football team. It's a fun way to look ahead to the week's games, and in turn, reflect on the games at the end of the weekend.

Each week, I'll have two YouTube videos. One will make picks and preview the games, while the other will reflect on the picks and offer analysis from the weekend's action.

If you have a YouTube account, feel free to subscribe to my channel or shoot me a friend request. My account name is ConferenceChatterTV. I'll do my best to post episodes in my blog each week on KUsports.com.

Here's the preview episode to the second season:

A few other Big 12 nuggets I've come across lately...

What's happened to star-studded pass catchers?

For the past few seasons, the Big 12 has had some of the best wide receivers in the country. From last year, a few names that come to mind are Jordan Shipley, Dezmon Briscoe, Dez Bryant, Danario Alexander and Ryan Broyles. Two years ago, Michael Crabtree and Jeremy Maclin were spectacular.

This season, superstar wide receivers in the Big 12 don't appear to exist in mass quantities.

I always enjoy keeping up with Rivals.com position rankings before the start of each season. In Rivals' wide receiver rankings, Oklahoma's Broyles is the only Big 12 name that appears in the top 25 receivers in the country.

That just seems odd.

For the past two seasons, the Big 12 was known as a pass-happy conference that utilized the spread offense to produce eye-popping, viewer-friendly statistics. In 2009, the Big 12 had five teams in the top 20 in the country in passing offense. In 2008, the conference had seven teams in the top 20.

Shift in focus: ground game returning to prominence?

It certainly appears the conference is changing the way it runs the football. Teams are recruiting more speed on defense. Not quite as many fireworks in the passing game. Instead, teams are reverting back to the old-school way of smashmouth thinking. Run the ball to open up the pass.

Jesse Newell posted an intriguing blog a few months ago that listed the percentage of the time Big 12 teams ran the football last season. Of the 12 teams, only Kansas State and Oklahoma State ran the ball at least 60 percent of the time.

Expect that to change in 2010.

Predictions on which teams run 60 percent of time this season

This upcoming season, expect to see more of an emphasis on the ground game. Here's what teams I could see running the ball at least 60 percent of the time:

Kansas State: The Wildcats ran the ball a Big 12-leading 62.8 percent of the time last year, primarily with Daniel Thomas, and the stud back will return this year for his senior season. Topping his 1,265 yards and 11 touchdowns from a year ago will be tough, but very possible. K-State will likely start Carson Coffman at quarterback, so expect the workhorse Thomas to see plenty of action to keep the pressure off Coffman.

Oklahoma State: Running back Keith Toston is gone, but Kendall Hunter (the same guy who led the league in rushing in 2008) is back and, most importantly, injury-free. Hunter should be the focal point of the offense. First-year offensive coordinator Dana Holgorsen and his rapid-pace offense, where everyone seems to be running routes, could make one think OSU will air it out early and often. But the Cowboys no longer have Dez Bryant, and their best weapon will be Hunter out of the backfield.

Nebraska: The Huskers nearly ran it 60 percent of the time last year (58.4 percent). With Roy Helu Jr. and Rex Burkhead back, along with four of five offensive linemen returning, running the football should be Nebraska's priority.

Kansas: The Jayhawks haven't run the ball 60 percent of the time this decade, but if it's up to first-year coach Turner Gill, that could change in 2010.

Last season, Kansas ran the ball 42.8 percent of the time, 11th in the league.

"What that percentage is, I can't give that answer right now," Gill said in an interview with WHB 810 in the spring. "If you sit here and say, 'What's your ideal situation?' I would say it would probably be more of a standpoint of being 60 percent run the football and 40 percent throw the football."

That could mean a healthy dose of sixth-year senior Angus Quigley and freshman Deshaun Sands, to go along with newly-named sophomore starting quarterback Kale Pick and his ability to scramble from the pocket.

KU running back Angus Quigley (22) finds a gap in the Texas defense on Nov. 15, 2008, in Lawrence.

KU running back Angus Quigley (22) finds a gap in the Texas defense on Nov. 15, 2008, in Lawrence. by Eric Sorrentino

I'll be honest, though: I still don't fully understand moving Toben Opurum from running back to linebacker. I'm no coach (scary thought), but if I have the mentality to run the ball 60 percent of the time, I want to heavily include the bulldozing Opurum in my plans. Even if Quigley's the starter. Plenty of carries to go around.

Rell Lewis recently injured his knee and could miss significant time, meaning the Jayhawks will have to rely on freshmen (Sands, Brandon Bourbon, James Sims) to spell Quigley.

The freshmen could be up to the challenge. And with Huldon Tharp's foot injury (out for season) at linebacker, I realize there's an added need there.

But the Jayhawks must really need help at linebacker, because taking a guy in Opurum, who averaged 4.2 yards per carry and totaled 10 touchdowns a year ago, and switching him to linebacker takes critical experience away from something Kansas wants to do 60 percent of the time this season when the ball is in its possession.

A freshman running back will undoubtedly hear his name called earlier than he expected a few months ago.

That should be all for now, friends. As always, discuss.

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