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Friday, February 5, 2010
Big 12 mailbag: Recruits should spur Missouri's rushing attack

By ESPN.com staff
ESPN.com

I couldn’t leave for a weekend without checking the e-mails and seeing some of the questions that the readers had for me this week.

Here are some of the best ones I received over the last several days:

L. Edgar from St. Louis, Mo., writes: Many fans and almost all the media have said that the weakness in Missouri coach Gary Pinkel's program is the lack of a running game. There is evidence to support this view: when they get ahead they are unable to take time off the clock and they are not that effective in the red zone. To me, it looks as if this recruiting class ignored that need. Do you agree?

Tim Griffin: While it might have looked like Pinkel didn’t put a lot of importance in attracting backs, I really like the signing of Greg White of DeQueen, Ark. He’s a different kind of back than the Tigers have had in recent seasons. In fact, the 215-pounder might be considered Missouri’s first true power back since Zack Abron left school. I think he can emerge into a key contributor for the Tigers if he can stay healthy.

And I also think that the addition of two mammoth bookend offensive tackles like Nick Demien and Mitch Morse bodes well for the future of Missouri’s interior line play. It’s been lacking in the last couple of seasons and might be as big a reason for the Tigers’ red-zone problems as anything else. I think these additions will help address the problems that have been there for the Tigers in recent seasons.

Jason Lewis from Kansas City, Mo., writes: Tim, I know recruiting is subjective but I'm wondering why you ranked Nebraska as the seventh-best class in the Big 12. You ranked them behind Baylor, when Nebraska's class was ranked 23rd overall and Baylor's was ranked 39th overall by Rivals. Can you explain your ranking for the Huskers? Thanks.

Tim Griffin: Jason, those were not my rankings but those of ESPNU’s talent evaluators. But I think I can speak for them that the biggest question is the lack of offensive skill players and the inability to land Owamagbe Odighizuwa, who instead accepted the offer at UCLA.

Nebraska desperately needs those big-time receivers to consistently challenge Texas and Oklahoma.

And I know I’ve heard from many Nebraska fans who claim they don’t need Odighizuwa because Bo and Carl Pelini will develop a lesser recruit into as good a player as Odighizuwa would have been.

But remember, he’s a special five-star talent. It always hurts when you lose a chance to get those difference makers. And for anybody to say that the Cornhuskers couldn't have used him don't understand the reality of how the big defensive end could have developed after working with the Pelinis.

Mike Wehling from Lincoln, Neb., writes: Tim, great job with the blog. It remains the main reason why I go to ESPN.com. What teams do you think will win the Big 12 North and South for next season?

Tim Griffin: Mike, I’ll have my definitive early answers sometime next week, but for now I’ve got Nebraska winning the Big 12 North and either Oklahoma or Texas winning the South. I’m leaning to the Sooners now, but could change my mind between now and Wednesday when the pick will be released.

The major reason I give Nebraska the edge is all of the weapons returning from this season’s team, along with the framework of a strong defense. I know that Nebraska will miss Ndamukong Suh, starting safeties Matt O'Hanlon and Larry Asante and linebacker Phillip Dillard, but I’m thinking another year of work with the Pelinis could turn Jared Crick into a monster. And I also like some of the Cornhuskers' returning defensive talent.

And I’m leaning to Oklahoma because they will have an experienced quarterback in Landry Jones with multiple starts. Texas loses Colt McCoy, but will have the inexperienced Garrett Gilbert back. I’m still working over who I think will be the best heading into spring practice and I’ll have an answer next week.

Bear Brown from Denton, Texas, writes: What do you think the Texas Tech fans should do about this whole post-Leach thing? I believe since he's not coming back we should just try to move on. Thanks!

Tim Griffin: That’s why new coach Tommy Tuberville wasted little time connecting with Tech alumni across the state of Texas as soon as the recruiting period was over. The day after National Signing Day, Tuberville was pressing the flesh in both Dallas and Houston to reassure Tech fans that drastic change won’t be resulting in the Red Raiders' program after the controversial firing of Mike Leach.

It will be interesting to see how Tech fans handle the switch. The fact is that both Oklahoma and Texas probably will be down a little next season in the Big 12 South. Tuberville has some nice offensive weapons and I’m convinced he’ll have a strong defense with the Red Raiders some day. But whether that comes next year or not will likely determine if they can challenge for the South Division title.

Tuberville has his work cut out to make Tech fans forget about Leach, the most important figure in Tech football in the last 40 years. But Tuberville is an outstanding coach who had an Auburn team on the brink of a national championship. He was able to consistently compete in the SEC. I'm thinking he'll be able to duplicate that success at Tech, too.

Steve Shoemaker of Las Cruces, N.M., writes: Tim, I loved your post earlier today about the Pro Football Hall of Fame and potential Big 12 players joining in the future. I’ve got two who I think are absolute locks. How about guard Will Shields of Nebraska and punter Shane Lechler of Texas A&M? Both of them were on the NFL’s All-Decade that was released earlier this week. I think what both players have accomplished during their pro careers should make them strong candidates.

Tim Griffin: Steve, I agree with you on both players. I think Shields will end up being one of the great offensive linemen of the NFL’s recent history. It’s hard to argue with his credentials of having made a Pro Bowl in 12 consecutive seasons and nine All-Pro teams. His work with the Kansas City Chiefs was a big reason why that franchise was so successful in the early part of this decade.

And Lechler might go down as the greatest punter in NFL history. His current career average of 47.3 yards per kick after the 2009 season is nearly a yard per kick more than the second-place NFL career punter, Glenn Dobbs. His 51.1 yard-per-kick average in 2009 was the second-highest season total in NFL history and trailed only Sammy Baugh's 51.4 average in 1940.

So it’s safe to say that Lechler’s place in Canton one day looks pretty secure if he can keep his punting average consistently high as its been during the first 10 seasons of his NFL career.

Thanks again for all of the good questions. Enjoy the Super Bowl and will check back again next week.