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Monday, August 18, 2008
Tim's mailbag predicts how good Huskers, Aggies will be

By ESPN.com staff
ESPN.com

Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Griffin

From Bellevue: Does 6-6 or a lofty 7-5 sound realistic for the re-tooled Cornhuskers?

Tim Griffin: Yes it does and maybe a step better, like 8-4 if Bo Pelini grabs some beginner's luck along the way and stays away from some defensive injuries that might cripple his program.

Pelini's arrival has been like a shot of adrenalin through the Nebraska program. I think it only continues once the season begins. I also expect Nebraska to absolutely mash the ball lot more than most people would think. I was talking to one of the most-respected Nebraska reporters over the weekend. He told me it wouldn't surprise him if the Cornhuskers ranked among the top 10 nationally in rushing. With backs like Lucky, Castille, Helu and Mendoza, it's a possibility.

To go 8-4, the Cornhuskers absolutely have to win their first three nonconference games. I'm thinking they could be ripe for an upset in one of those games and Pelini has to guard against that. But I really like their home schedule from there with games against Virginia Tech, Missouri, Kansas and Colorado. They will likely be underdogs for the first three. It wouldn't surprise me if they can claim at least one of those games and maybe two.

And if the Cornhuskers can finish strongly, they should finish at least 7-5 and maybe better. And a late winning streak might catapult them into a good bowl. Watch what the Gator Bowl does in terms of taking Notre Dame. If the Irish end up in Jacksonville for New Year's Day, don't be shocked to find the Cornhuskers finish up somewhere in Texas -- like San Antonio or El Paso -- for their bowl trip this season.


47 Straight in Amarillo writes: Tim, you mention that you are waiting for some school to erect its own version of Monument Park like you saw at Yankee Stadium. Have you seen Heisman Park at OU? There are statues of Billy Vessels, Steve Owens, Billy Sims and Jason White. Also the newly remodeled Switzer Center houses trophies and other displays.

Tim Griffin: Yes, I have. I had the pleasure of being escorted through the Switzer Center when it opened by Oklahoma Athletic Director Joe Castiglione, who was in his first days on the job at that time. But it would really be cool if Monument Park was actually inside the bowl of the stadium, rather than outside. That's what I was talking about with the Yankees' exhibit and how Texas' new exhibit will be configured for their players with retired numbers.

That being said, I truly enjoyed my trip to Oklahoma's historic exhibit. It made me remember the days of Granville Liggins and Eddie Hinton -- as well as a slew of other Sooner greats.


Hunter from Texas writes: Hey Tim, quick question because I'm seeing this a lot. Do you think it's going to be an ugly year at Texas A&M? I personally think they will be 8-4 going to a bowl game, with us beating Tech and Colorado along the way.

Tim Griffin: I was really impressed after spending some time with Mike Sherman and his players last week. But I think it will be a bigger rebuilding job than most Aggie fans might realize. He's basically trying to retrofit his system with players more ideally suited for Dennis Franchione's old philosophy. I still think keeping the offensive line healthy will be critical. One or two injuries could cripple A&M's hopes for a bowl trip.

Also, Texas Tech coach Mike Leach is 6-2 against A&M and has claimed two of his last three games in College Station. So you can bet the Red Raiders won't be intimidated -- nor will his experienced team.

Colorado also hasn't been fazed by the Aggies in the history of the conference. The Buffaloes are 5-2 in the history of the rivalry, including three wins in the last four games. A&M was lucky to escape with a 29-26 overtime victory over Colorado in their last trip to College Station. But I think the Aggies' upset hopes are probably better against Colorado than against Texas Tech this season.


Josh Warren writes: Tim, Love the blog....very neutral and level-headed with interesting bits. But in response to your request for nicknames, I'm a Texas Tech fan and grad, so that's all I know. Eric Morris, our feisty slot receiver has two great ones. Coaches and players call him "EMo," a play on his first and last name, and "The Elf," because of his stature and mischievous personality, on and off the field. Leach is even experimenting with a zone-read play in which Morris lines up in the backfield with Harrell and the tailback and takes a direct snap, then reads and hands off or keeps it himself. Leach calls the formation "The Elf".

Also freshman recruit Harrison Jeffers nickname is "Bookworm" because of his second efforts to qualify academically. And backup MLB Victor Hunter has been dubbed, and this is my personal favorite, "The Little Ball of Hate." That's all I've got. Thanks for all the hard work.

Tim Griffin: Josh, I really like your contributions, particularly the one for Hunter. also heard that moniker applied to hockey players and Fort Worth-area sports columnists in the past. I think it works best with football players.


Omaha writes: Do you think the big 12 is the toughest and most talented conference in country this year?

Tim Griffin: Consider me a little biased, but I think the Big 12 could be that tough this season. No conference is as stacked at the top as the Big 12, as evidenced by the five teams among the nation's top 14 in both the USA Today coaches' poll and the Associated Press media poll released on Saturday.

I'm not quite so sure if the Big 12 can match the SEC in true strength from 1-12, as I think the teams in the middle of the SEC might be just a tad better. But I think the Big 12 will be as balanced as in any season. And I also think the strength of the conference is more compact between 1-12 as it's ever been.

When Gary Pinkel told me every team in the Big 12 North is going to be better this season, I'm going to take him at his word. Hold on for a wild ride. It ought to be an interesting season.


Josh writes: Did you do any research at all before writing your article? I was just curious, because Rashad Bobino is probably the Longhorns fourth-best linebacker. Please look up Sergio Kindle, Jared Norton and Rod Muckelroy. Thanks for the attentiveness.

Tim Griffin: Josh, thanks for the note -- I guess. But my rankings were done with where the players are right now, and not based on future potential. I know that Will Muschamp is pinning a lot of hopes on the three linebackers you've mentioned. But Bobino is the steadiest coming into the season -- and that's why I ranked him that way. It could very well change once the season begins. And if all of those linebackers emerge -- as you seem to think they will -- Muschamp will be a happy man. We've heard a lot of hype for Kindle in the past. But he hasn't approached it yet, has he?


Will from Houston writes: Tim, I really enjoy your interesting and informative blog. It's been a great way to satiate my thirst for Big 12 football during the summer. However, I feel as though you have been remiss in your coverage of Texas' running back competition. It seems as though the replacement of Jamaal Charles should be a pretty big deal. How about an update on that situation?

Tim Griffin: Read my blog later this week. I'm headed up to Austin to check in with the Longhorns. Their running back situation is my No. 1 topic.

Just hope we have some running backs or offensive coaches we can talk to.


Sean Arnold from Kearney, Neb., w
rites:
Tim, after reading the comments that followed your column about the most hated teams in the conference were you surprised? Did you consider redoing the list?

Tim Griffin: No, I wasn't surprised by the response it provoked. In fact, I expected it. That's the kind of passion that fans have about their teams and those they dislike. But opinions are like noses -- everybody has one. That's what makes college football such a fun sport to cover and follow.


Patrick in Omaha writes: "Des Moines Register columnist Sean Keeler has to cover Iowa State and Iowa relatively equally. That's why he listed his top 23 ranking for a combination of the Big Ten and Big 12 conferences on his blog. Hope that Big Ten commissioner Jim Delany doesn't see this. He might get an idea for some kind of "gifreakinnormous" super-conference."

You forgot to add, "Amazingly, this 23-team conference will still be called the Big 10."

Tim Griffin: Hey Patrick, nice snarky line. I ought to check with you occasionally. And you're spot-on with your assessment, too. But I don't think the Big 12 is ripe for picking by the Big Ten, as long as their big fish -- Notre Dame -- is still in play. If the Irish again decide they don't want to join a conference in a few years, we might see another round of conference musical chairs.

That's all for now. Please keep those e-mails coming.