Tim's mailbag: How good is OU linebacker Travis Lewis?
Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Griffin
Here are some of my better questions and e-mails I received this week from some of my readers.
Dion Dricks of San Antonio writes: Hey, Tim. How good do you think that Oklahoma linebacker Travis Lewis is and do you think he's the best linebacker in the country now.
Tim Griffin: Dion, I think that Travis Lewis is one of the best players in the Big 12 right now as a sophomore. His combination of size, speed, instincts and tackling ability makes him one of the best linebackers in the country. I might rank Brandon Spikes of Florida a tad better. Sean Weatherspoon of Missouri has more experience. But I think that Lewis can develop into that kind of a player with another big season. If he does that, he can definitely challenge to become a Butkus Award winner and an All-American candidate. If he improves and remains for three seasons, it's not out of the question that Lewis could develop into one of the best linebackers in Oklahoma history. He already had one of the best freshman seasons.
Jason from Austin writes: Tim, What are your thoughts on the job Mike Sherman is doing in College Station. Let's put aside all the theatrics that Mike Leach is starting in the media, but Sherman seems to have quietly gone about his business. I am intrigued with how the incoming freshman will respond, and what impact they will have in 2009. As for the 2010 recruiting class, it seems that he has put together a solid class. Do think he will ever be able to compete with Texas, OU, and LSU on the recruiting trail?
Tim Griffin: I have been impressed with Sherman's early performance, although transforming the program he inherited into one that can compete for a Big 12 championship is a steep challenge. The South Division has never been more competitive. Oklahoma and Texas are both competing at a national-championship level. But making Sherman's job that much more difficult is the fact that Oklahoma State, Texas Tech and Baylor all are arguably at their highest achievement levels in the history of the Big 12. I'm a big believer that if one program rises, that others in the division will have to correspondingly fall at the same time.
The recruiting class for 2009 looks to be an improvement with a nice infusion of talent. Christine Michael was a huge get for them and will likely be A&M's starting running back from his first day in school if he's as good as advertised. One thing that has hurt Sherman, however, is how none of the members of that 2009 class began their college careers early to get a jump before their first fall camp. Take a look at players like Oklahoma linebacker Tom Wort and Texas defensive end Alex Okafor for those who have gotten a boost by arriving early. Sherman has to inspire his players to want to do the same in order to get his program at an equal footing as his South Division rivals.
Brian Johannes from Lincoln, Neb., writes: Why doesn't the Big 12 Championship game come to Denver occasionally? Invesco Field is a very good stadium. Location can't be a factor because having it in Texas isn't fair for the North schools.
Tim Griffin: You raise a very good point. It seems to me that the people in Denver have never been as aggressive as those in Dallas or Kansas City, which appear to have evolved into the conference's favored championship game sites in recent seasons. The Dallas Cowboys' and Kansas City Chiefs' organizations have jumped to the forefront with guarantees that have been necessary to bring those games to their cities. In early days, both St. Louis and San Antonio got an occasional shot at a championship game. It's also been played at Houston. But I think the new Cowboys Stadium in Arlington, Texas, and Arrowhead Stadium in Kansas City will become the conference's favored locations because they offer more seats. More seats translate into more money for the conference, which I think will be the ultimate consideration.
And the conference has done a good job of revolving the game between North and South locations over the years. But it wouldn't surprise me in future seasons if Arlington becomes the semi-permanent location for the Big 12's football championship game.
George from Austin writes: Hey, Tim, stop me if you've heard this one before. Texas ends up in a BCS bowl game at the end of the season where they meet a Big 10 powerhouse. The game is tight the whole way, before the Longhorns end up winning at the very end of the game, led by their Heisman-level quarterback. The next season, they start out ranked No. 2 behind a "team for the ages" that has already won two national championships and has no apparent weaknesses. And the championship game is to be held at Rose Bowl in Pasadena. It just all sounds a little familiar to me for some reason.
Tim Griffin: George, who said history repeats itself? There seem to be a lot of similarities between the 2005 team that Texas had and its upcoming team. Another similarity that you missed is the schedule that 2005 team faced compared to the current team. It's exactly the same with home games against Colorado, Kansas and Texas Tech, road games against Missouri, Missouri, Baylor and Texas A&M along with the Red River Rivalry against Oklahoma at the Cotton Bowl in Dallas. Coincidence? Maybe not.
Tim Griffin: In the draft I participated in with the guys from College Football Draft Insider, I picked McCoy over Bradford because of the competition's unique scoring system that provides more points on touchdown passes, passing yards, and, most important, rushing yards and touchdowns. Considering those perimeters, McCoy is a more valuable player than Bradford. If it was done with strict passing statistics, I might have gone with Bradford.
I like the team I picked up and I was especially pleased with a couple of my late-round picks. You were required to pick a tight end and two wide receivers. I thought my late pick of Brandon Banks at Kansas State was huge, particularly if Banks blossoms at the "wildcat" role that I hear KSU coaches are considering. And after the run on tight ends, with Jermaine Gresham of Oklahoma and Mike McNeill of Nebraska going in the early rounds, I thought my selection of Jamie McCoy at Texas A&M will pay some dividends. I look for him to have a big season catching passes for Jerrod Johnson.
Jim from Grand Junction, Colo., writes: Tim, this is not a specifically a Big 12 question, but still one that is of great interest to me. I've read many posts by Tennessee bloggers who say that Monte Kiffin will create great 3-4 defenses in college that will overwhelm opponents and result in great recruiting of players who want to go pro on defense. Isn't that a little unrealistic? In my opinion, the 3-4 defense is risky and unreliable in college and fine defensive minds something doesn't correlate into good recruiters. How do you think this trend might impact Big 12 defenses?
Tim Griffin: I've read about Kiffin's defensive plans and they are inte
resting. If he has success, it will serve as a recruiting boon for players who fit in his system.
But I think that 3-4 defense might work a little better in the SEC than the Big 12.
A more interesting trend to me has been the rash of 4-2-5 defenses that teams are tinkering with around the conference. Kansas, Kansas State and Texas all appeared to be happy with using a nickel package as their base defense. And it makes sense in the Big 12 because of all of the high-powered offenses those teams regularly face. The best way to shackle the Big 12's aerial circuses will be to play five and sometimes six defensive backs in coverage. So from that standpoint, I expect that to blossom -- particularly if any of those defenses have any lasting success.
I'm eager to watch Kiffin, whom I've followed since he was at Nebraska earlier in his coaching career. He was such a legendary defensive teacher at Tampa Bay when he coached in the NFL. It will be interesting to see if he still has the touch.
Ryan Gerstner from Kansas City writes: Tim, I really enjoy your blog. I definitely go to ESPN a lot more to read it especially when football season comes around. I'd rethink your pick of Kansas State over Kansas. You never take road wins for granted, but Kansas has a better chance of winning 45-3 than Kansas State does of winning this game. I know Bill Snyder is a good coach, but he's devoid of talent especially on the offensive and defensive lines. KU racks up offensive points like you would playing a video game. Snyder will get KSU competitive again, but give him a couple of years. This season is going to more closely resemble his first season in Manhattan than his last few years.
Tim Griffin: Ryan, I guess that's why they play the games, isn't it?
I was just throwing out some predictions. Like you said, you can never assume a victory before the start of the season. Also, I remember how Snyder owned Kansas during the first stage of his coaching career. After losing to the Jayhawks in his first season, he never lost to them again, winning his final eight games against them in Manhattan. I realize that this team is much less talented than his previous teams. But Snyder rarely was blown out at home. I don't think this will happen this season. And I think his coaching acumen will get a couple of victories for his team that some would now consider as upsets. Kansas could well be one of them.
And one other thing: Don't consider that May is merely a time for Triple Crown horse racing and the NBA playoffs. I'm doing my best to keep the site humming with fresh material. I think you'll find something you'll like by coming here several times during the day as well. So please come back early and often.
Thanks again for all of the good questions. Check back later in the week for another batch.