Big 12 lunchtime links: Leach's influence strong in conference

Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Griffin

It's hard to believe, but Texas Tech coach Mike Leach might be the most influential person in the Big 12's brief history.

Veteran Tulsa World columnist John Klein brings up that point this morning, and I think it's a good one.

Let's revisit the Big 12 when Leach arrived as a member of Bob Stoops' original coaching staff. Stoops remembered how much he hated preparing for Leach's passing offense when he was Florida's defensive coordinator and Leach was calling plays as Kentucky's offensive coordinator.

So he hired him. And the Big 12 hasn't been the same since.

Leach helped transform Josh Heupel from a journeyman junior college quarterback into a player who would win the national championship the following season with the Sooners.

By then, Leach had already been hired as Tech's head coach. Those with long memories will recall that Leach beat out Rich Rodriguez for the job.

His quirky coaching style helped transform a probation-ravaged program that had lost five games in each of its previous four seasons before he arrived. Since then, Leach has helped the Red Raiders make a bowl trip each of the eight seasons he's been coaching there. He hasn't won a Big 12 title or a South Division championship, but appears to have his best chance this season to do it.

The Big 12 hasn't been the same, either. The conference, once dominated by stodgy run-heavy, defensive-dominated philosophies, now is on the cutting edge offensively of what we see today.

If you check the NCAA's current team scoring averages, five of the nation's top six scoring teams and five of the nation's top 10 passing teams are from the Big 12. The conference will likely have three Heisman Trophy finalists this season and conceivably could have even more.

It took some time and a collection of quarterbacks to do it.

But Leach helped push it along more forcefully than anybody else in the conference's history. And he's made it fun for those of us who've watched it happen.

Here are some links to get you primed for tomorrow's games. Enjoy them.

  • Jake Sharp's 181-yard effort against Kansas State last week revealed how to attack the Wildcats' defense, the Kansas City Star's Mike DeArmond writes.

  • Natalie England of the San Antonio Express-News writes about how about how Justin Tucker's unique rugby-style punting enabled Texas to dictate field position for much of the game last week against Texas Tech.

  • Blair Kerkhoff of the Kansas City Star spells out the doomsday scenario for Big 12 commissioner Dan Beebe - one team from the conference in the Bowl Championship Series. It could happen if Oregon State wins the Pac-10, leaving USC as an attractive BCS at-large team.

  • The big-play offensive firepower of the current Oklahoma State team is reminiscent of the school's celebrated 1988 team. Chuck Carlton of the Dallas Morning News reminds us that Barry Sanders was the running back on that team, Hart Lee Dykes was at wide receiver and, yes, Mike Gundy was its starting quarterback.

  • The Topeka Capital-Journal's Tully Corcoran writes that Kansas players aren't intimidated as they face a 19-game losing streak at Nebraska that dates to 1968.

  • Steve Sipple of the Lincoln Journal-Star advises Turner Gill to listen if Kansas State should call him about the Wildcats' vacant coaching job.