Mailbag: Big 12 defenses must step up

Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Griffin

Here are some questions from across the blogosphere to prepare us for Saturday's games.

Mark Messick from Nashville, Tenn., writes: Having to endure the SEC bias on a regular basis in this area and also knowing you're from the Mid-South area originally, how do you explain to people that the Big 12 isn’t that far removed from the SEC when all they do is harp on our conference's lack of defense? You've witnessed southern football and now southwest football. Is there really that much of a difference in terms of competitiveness and talent? I mean, OU squandered a lot of chances and still was in the game in the fourth quarter against Florida last year in the BCS title game. Remember, people were saying that Florida was supposedly unbeatable. What gives?

Tim Griffin: Mark, you bring up an interesting point. I don’t think that the SEC is that much better than the Big 12, although the bowl wins picked up last season by Florida over Oklahoma and Mississippi over Texas Tech were convincing, physical victories that gave the Big 12’s detractors some pause.

I did grow up in the South and watched a lot of SEC football in my day. I grew up listening to the "Pick of the Dixie" radio network every Saturday afternoon in those pre-cable days. Heck, I still do follow the SEC when I have the chance. I like the offense played in the Big 12 a little bit better, but I can go "old school" with the best of them and watch a game like South Carolina's 7-3 yawnfest over North Carolina State.

I think one reason for this offensive slant in the Big 12 can be seen by really examining Texas high school football, which serves as the primary talent area for the Big 12. The state has seen a proliferation of spread offenses over the last 10 years and seems to do a strong job in producing quarterbacks and receivers. I think the best athletes at Texas high schools typically end up playing quarterback or wide receiver. Twenty years ago, these athletes might have played at running back, but that is changing.

In the South, I think these athletes are often directed to defensive positions first. It helps the defensive-first attitude I think you see in the Southeastern Conference.

For the Big 12 to turn that national perception, it needs to win some games against nonconference opponents where the conference's defenses play well.

A big first step would be strong performances by teams like Oklahoma State and Baylor on Saturday in showdown games against teams from other BCS conferences that should be tight.

The only way the Big 12 changes the hearts and minds of those fans will be by playing a little defense.

Roggan from Houston, Texas, writes: In a few separate articles you say Oklahoma has a better defense and better offense than Texas, but pick Texas to win. What is the difference maker be it special teams/coaching/whatever?

Tim Griffin: As you saw by my rankings in offense and defense, the Sooners have slight advantages over Texas. I think the special teams edge makes up for that. If you remember last year, Jordan Shipley’s huge kickoff return for a touchdown turned the game around. I think you can say that difference -- and certainly Ryan Reynolds’ injury -- helped catapult the Longhorns to the victory.

Even with Texas’ loss of tight ends, I don’t think the Longhorns have been hit with as many key early losses as the Sooners. The loss of Tom Wort and the potential departure of Mike Balogun could be devastating for Oklahoma's middle linebackers, particularly considering the lack of experienced depth there for the Sooners. And an extended absence for Jermaine Gresham at tight end could rob the Sooners of their most consistent receiving playmaker.

As I said before, the margin isn’t very much between the two teams. But I still like Texas, barely.

Roy Grannell from Dallas, Texas, writes: Tim, Unless I read all the articles on the subject wrong, Colorado coach Dan Hawkins has selected their starting quarterback and the team has been preparing for Colorado State under that selection this past week. It's just that it won't be announced to the public until game time.

Tim Griffin: That might have been right early in the week, although Cody Hawkins’ recent illness has thrown a monkey wrench into all of that. I’m guessing that if he isn’t at 100 percent, we might see Tyler Hansen as the Buffaloes’ starter on Sunday night against Colorado State -- although I would be surprised if we don’t see both quarterbacks get some playing time against the Rams.

Kenny Webb from Houston, Texas, writes: Tim,Thanks for the prolific blogging. As an excited Baylor fan, I can't wait til Saturday. The TV schedule doesn't have any teams listed for the 3:30 EDT slot on ESPN2 in my newspaper. Any chance Baylor and Wake Forest will be on the air?

Tim Griffin: The ESPN2 game at that time will feature Western Michigan’s trip to Michigan, although in some Texas markets ABC affiliates have arranged to carry the game on alternate channels. Check your local listings to see if it might be shown in Houston. The Baylor-Wake Forest game also will be available on ESPN 360, so you can watch it that way as well. It should be a good game.

Gary from Olathe, Kan., writes: Tim, please put on your offensive coordinator hat to answer this question...say you're Nebraska's Shawn Watson and the game again FAU turns into a blowout early. Do you leave Zac Lee in the game and give experience to young wide receivers and running backs or do you insert true freshman Cody Green to give him valuable game experience at the cost of burning a potential redshirt season?

Tim Griffin: Gary, although it will be critical for the Cornhuskers to build confidence in Lee running their offense, I’ve got to also think that getting Green playing time is vital. The injury to Kody Spano left Green as the Cornhuskers' backup. It’s better to start getting him experience early rather than late. So if I’m the coordinator, I let them both play.

And if I’m the Cornhuskers’ coordinator, I probably stop at 20 in the number of carries I allow Roy Helu Jr. to have in Saturday's game. It’s as important to get game experience for as many of those other running backs as possible early in the season.

Andy from Chicago writes: Tim,really love the blog. As a Texas Ex up in Big Ten/Notre Dame country it's great to be able to keep in touch with what's going on with my old conference.

I'm curious about the spate of scheduling issues Texas has had recently. Utah backed out of the 2008 and 2009 games, Arkansas backed out of the 2009 return trip to Fayetteville, and Wisconsin wouldn't agree to a home-and-home starting this year. What gives? Is it really as simple as other teams wanting to make their schedules easier?

Or is there some other reason (political, personal, budgetary, etc.)? If this trend continues, it's going to make it hard for Texas to keep a good non-conference schedule - this is the first year under Mack Brown that Texas hasn't played at least one BCS conference team or ranked non-BCS school (TCU in 2007).

Tim Griffin: Andy, good question as I analyze the Texas nonconference schedule that includes Saturday’s opener against Louisiana-Monroe, future home games against UCF and UTEP and a road game against Wyoming this season.

Obviously, that is the weakest Texas nonconference schedule in memory and arguably is the softest of any presumed national contender. And it will play out to be a liability over the course of the season.

If late games like Oklahoma-BYU can materialize in the final months of setting a schedule, I think Texas could really, truly have arranged to play a tougher schedule if Brown and athletic director DeLoss Dodds wanted one.

Another factor that cuts to Texas' weak schedule, particularly from the viewpoint of their rivals, is the scheduling deal announced earlier this week by Texas A&M. What does it say for Texas if the Aggies can negotiate future home-and-home series with Oregon and USC?

Texas does have upcoming home-and-home series against Mississippi and UCLA and the Arkansas series is set to resume. But the lack of a marquee opponent during 2009 will haunt the Longhorns all season long, particularly if the BCS race is close during November.

Bryan from Bristol, Ct., writes: Tim in your game of the year: Texas vs. Oklahoma in Dallas, Oct. 17 -- Is there really any other? You say that the South Division's balance of powers should be set in this game again as the division's winner likely will come from this game for the 11th straight season.Tim, Texas won the Red River rivalry last year; Oklahoma represented the Big 12 South in the conference championship game.

Tim Griffin: I know what you are saying. But if you look, my statement is correct. The championship game participant has come from the Texas-Oklahoma game every year since 1999. Either the Longhorns or Sooners have played in the Big 12 title game each year since Bob Stoops took over for the Sooners. Oklahoma made title-game trips in 2000, 2002, 2003, 2004, 2006, 2007 and 2008. Texas appeared in the championship game in 1999, 2001 and 2005. The last South team other than Texas or Oklahoma to play in the title game was Texas A&M in 1998.

That's all the time I have for questions this week. Thanks for reading. Enjoy the games on Saturday (and Sunday) and let's check back again next week.