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Tim's mailbag: Why Banks is Big 12's most underrated player

5/29/2009

Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Griffin

Here are some questions to get you ready for the weekend. They are representative of some of the best e-mails I received over the last week or so.

John Stinson of Des Moines, Iowa, writes: Tim, love your blog. Keep it coming during the off-season. I know of no better daily source of Big 12 information anywhere.
My question for you is this. Who is the most underrated player in the Big 12? Is there a player, or players, who are sometimes overlooked with all of the great talent like Sam Bradford and Colt McCoy in the conference.

Tim Griffin: John, thanks for the kind words. My appreciation for Oklahoma fullback Matt Clapp is well-known. He does a lot of dirty work as far as blocking, but is one of the best in the nation in what the Sooners ask of him. I think Alexander Robinson is overlooked sometimes at Iowa State. And Baron Batch doesn't receive the due he deserves because Texas Tech's offense is stacked so heavily to the pass. But I think the most underrated player in the conference is multipurpose Kansas State player Brandon Banks, who is a valuable receiver and return threat. He's a threat to score or break a big gainer every time he touches the ball. The plan is to use him as a quarterback in some "Wildcat" formations to get the ball in his hands more often next season. I think I would pick Banks first, followed closely by Batch and Clapp.


Jacob Traxler from Champaign, Ill., writes: Hey Tim. I've got a quick bone to pick with you in one of your items this week. You mentioned that Colorado had the best backfield in the Big 12. Have you ever heard of Oklahoma?

Tim Griffin: Jacob, I didn't say that Colorado had the best backfield, but merely the deepest with their collection of players like Darrell Scott, Rodney Stewart, Demetrius Sumler and Brian Lockridge. While the Buffaloes don't have the upper talent to match DeMarco Murray or Chris Brown on Oklahoma, I think they have a deeper collection of proven talent. An indication can be seen in the Sooners' struggles running the ball without Murray in the BCS title game against Florida. I wouldn't necessarily say the Buffaloes are better than the Sooners in running the ball, but they have a few more potential runners so there isn't quite the drop-off that Oklahoma would face if they had to withstand another injury to either Murray or Brown.


Steve Johnson from Tampa, Fla., writes: Tim, always enjoy reading your blog. You have a good handle on news in the Big 12 area. It's something I miss living in this part of the country.
My question is do you see any interest in the Big 12 returning to the old association the Big Eight used to have with the Orange Bowl to send its champion down here. I sure would like to have an occasional chance to see Big 12 teams in my area and that might be the opportunity.
What do you think?

Tim Griffin: Steve, while many old-time Big Eight fans would share your sentiments, I think the Big 12 is very happy with its current association with the Fiesta Bowl to keep sending its champions there when it isn't playing for a national championship. It would surprise me to see the Big 12 push for an association with the Orange Bowl.

And Steve, don't fret. You can occasionally see Big 12 teams end up at the Gator Bowl. And Oklahoma will renew its tradition-steeped rivalry at Miami at the newly named Land Shark Stadium on Oct. 3. You might consider driving down there and checking it out.


Jake from Horseshoe Bay, Texas, wrote: Tim, thanks so much for your blog. Your daily information is getting me through the down season until camps start later this summer.
Quick question for you. Who do you consider to be the best coach in terms of developing talent in the Big 12?

Tim Griffin: Jake, thanks for your compliment. I think the best way to judge your question is to look at who gets the most from players who aren't necessarily the four- and five-star recruits. Obviously, coaches like Mark Mangino of Kansas and Gary Pinkel of Missouri have done a nice job in turning their programs in recent seasons with those players. But the coach who consistently gets the most from less-heralded incoming talent is Mike Leach of Texas Tech. His coaching is one of the biggest reasons why the Red Raiders have been the only program to be bowl-eligible every season of Big 12 history.

Leach has developed a national reputation for his off-beat, quirky way of doing things. But don't ever underestimate his ability to develop players. He's among the best in the business.


Andy from San Diego, Calif., writes: I wonder if you could analyze Blaine Gabbert vs. Zac Lee vs. Carson Coffman. Which of the new Big 12 North QBs do you like at this point in time to have the best year? The stats will more than likely lean to Gabbert by the end of the season, but that isn't the best way to do look at it due to different systems. What do you see these three quarterbacks doing this season?

Tim Griffin: It wouldn't surprise me if all three end up leading their teams to bowl games before the season ends. Coffman still has to nail down the starting job and will be facing a big challenge this summer when Grant Gregory and Daniel Thomas arrive in the Kansas State program. Coffman has the edge now, but it wouldn't surprise me if one of the other two players gets substantial playing time.

I think Zac Lee has already nailed down the starting job at Nebraska, as has Gabbert at Missouri. I expect the Tigers to run the ball more this season, but Gabbert will still provide better passing statistics than the other two. Lee won't match the numbers posted last year by Joe Ganz, but I look for the Cornhuskers to feature a tough running game keyed by Roy Helu Jr. and Quentin Castille. Lee doesn't need to post big numbers, but he should serve as a strong manager of his team's offense.

I would expect Gabbert to have better passing numbers, Lee's team to have the best record and Coffman to occasionally struggle to keep his job. But I still think the Wildcats could sneak into a bowl game -- mainly because of the coaching acumen of Bill Snyder and an underrated defense.


Justin from Kansas City writes: Great blog, Tim. I read it every day. It was a week or two ago when you were blogging about how many similarities there for this year compa
red to the year Texas won the National Championship (USC and Florida being the power houses and winning the Championship the year before, this year it will be in the Rose Bowl, etc ). To add onto that deja vu, Texas is now seeded No. 1 in the NCAA baseball tournament and also won the championship that season. That same year Texas football won it all, so did baseball. Let's hope the trend continues and we find Texas defeating Florida for the National Title like we did USC. Any thoughts?

Tim Griffin: You're correct in the fact that Texas claimed the baseball championship in the spring of 2005 and followed it up with a national championship in football in the fall. Before we start jumping too far in front of ourselves, let's remember that no Big 12 football or baseball team has won a national championship since that run. As a matter of fact, the last five baseball teams to win the national championship were not among the national seeds coming into the championship, including Fresno State, which was a No. 4 regional seed last season. And no Big 12 baseball team has even made it to Omaha since the Longhorns' last trip. That's on top of no Big 12 football championships during that span, although Oklahoma made the BCS title game last year. So it will be interesting to see how things play out.


Lance Cogburn of Tulsa, Okla., writes: Hey Tim, what are your thoughts on Zac Robinson's evolving into a pocket passer for Oklahoma State? His sophomore year was incredible and he kept defenses guessing with his running and passing. Last season, his rushing stats really fell off from the previous year. Now I hear that he's trying to put on more weight. I would think that would make him even less of a threat to run. What kind of impact do you think this will have on Oklahoma State's offensive production this season, if any?

Tim Griffin: I can sense Robinson gaining more comfortable in Mike Gundy and Gunter Brewer's offense. Because of that, he's less compelled to make things happen with his feet. That growing confidence in the offense has been bolstered by the developed of Kendall Hunter and Dez Bryant, the best running/receiving combination in the conference and maybe in college football.

Like you mentioned, Robinson is bigger and stronger than he ever has been. I think that will change him even more into a pocket passer. If he can stay healthy, I look for him to have the best passing numbers of his career, although his rushing statistics might drop again.

Thanks again for all of the good questions. I'll catch some more again next week.