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Friday, August 7, 2009
Big 12 mailbag: Where are the great Texas RBs?

By ESPN.com staff
ESPN.com

Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Griffin

If it's a Friday afternoon, it's time to dive into my mailbag.

I received a bunch of good questions this week. Here are some of the best: 

Justin from Austin, Texas, writes: I read your recent post about Texas having the most commits thus far from the ESPNU 150. One thing that interests me is the lack of a top running back on that list. I was curious as to your opinion on why Texas is not THE school to go to if you are a top quality running back, especially considering the Longhorns' lack of a true standout player at this position.

It would seem to me that someone with a lot of talent at the position would jump at the opportunity to come to a high profile school and potentially get 3 to 4 years of playing time right off the bat. Is it because Texas isn't perceived as a good running back school anymore, or are we already too stacked with players (though no "great" ones yet) so that recruits feel they won't get the playing time?

Tim Griffin: Justin, you make an interesting point. I, too, noticed that Texas hasn't attracted a blue-chip running back yet. Of course, Lache Seastrunk from Temple, Texas, would fit into that category. But it seems that Texas has missed out on the perceived great running backs and hasn't had a difference maker there since Cedric Benson graduated.

Maybe it's because of the Greg Davis' recent spread offense making top running back recruits shy away from the school as it becomes more heavily pass-oriented. But I think a bigger reason might be because of the development of spread offense as the de facto choice for many Texas high schools anymore. It means that more top athletes across the state are playing either quarterback or wide receiver.

There aren't nearly as many top running back prospects in Texas as there might have been 15-20 years ago. The days of top running backs like Earl Campbell, Adrian Peterson and Eric Dickerson now seems a little dated.

But if the Longhorns were successful in attracting Seastrunk, it wouldn't surprise me that Davis could develop an offense with him as a running back with 20-25 carries per game - even with a spread offense being employed much of the time.


Garon McClure writes: Tim, I am a Sooner fan and read your blog and columns almost daily. I was wondering what you thought about the Sooners trying to use Mossis Madu in the way that Florida used Percy Harvin the last few years. Have you heard any rumors or anything like that? I think it would be an intriguing wrinkle to the offense since they say they are moving him to the slot and he is a good runner too.

Tim Griffin: I think the Sooner coaches are tinkering with a variety of ways to employ Madu. His receiving skills, as well as the logjam at tailback with Chris Brown and DeMarco Murray, led to his move as a slot receiver this spring. It wouldn't surprise me if they still found a chance to let him run the ball, maybe in a limited role like Harvin did for the Gators last year.

I was very impressed with Madu last season for the Sooners. He came up big for them in the Big 12 championship game against Missouri when he rushed for a career-high 114 yards and three touchdowns after Murray was injured. And I look for him to be occasionally featured as a runner at times in 2009.


Dan Kaminski of Des Moines, Iowa, writes: When most teams are blowing out another team, coaches pull their starting quarterback and put in their backups. Texas did this and Florida did this last season with Colt McCoy and Tim Tebow respectively.

How come everyone talks about Sam Bradford's numbers last season but no one talks about the fact that when OU was blowing teams out by 50 points, Bob Stoops rarely (or at the last few minutes of the fourth quarter only) put in his back-up and thus inflated Bradford's stats?

Don't get me wrong, I think Bradford is one of the top quarterbacks, but his stats wouldn't have been anywhere as impressive as McCoy's had McCoy stayed in and played all games until the end.

Tim Griffin: I think that the usage of Bradford and McCoy assuredly speaks to the comfort and confidence that Mack Brown had in his backup quarterback compared to Bob Stoops with his. But I don't think the scoring was as significant for Bradford in blowout games as you might think.

Late in the season, Bradford played into the fourth quarter against Texas Tech and was needed in the fourth quarter against Oklahoma State, considering the Sooners were nursing only a three-point lead midway through the quarter.

It was understandable for him to be in the fourth quarter of the Big 12 championship game, his last opportunity to shine for Heisman voters. Still, Bradford accounted for only seven of his 50 touchdown passes in the fourth quarter, and three of those came in Oklahoma losses or games settled by two touchdowns or less.

Bradford's single-season numbers were the best in Oklahoma history by a quarterback, but I don't necessarily think that playing deep into games was that big a factor in them.


Cecil Wilson from Plano, Texas, writes: Tim, when are you hosting your next online chat? And what does Mack Brown and Co. have to do, besides go undefeated and win the Big XII Championship to get to the National Championship game in Pasadena? Thank you.

Tim Griffin: My next chat will be coming up probably not next week but the week after, likely on the same day as my Big 12 previews appear.

I'll give a couple of days notice when it will be approaching, because I always enjoy receiving all of your questions.

And I don't necessarily think Texas would have to go undefeated to win the national championship. I do think it would be crucial for them to finish quickly and win the Big 12 title game. And they should hope that the other contenders all have a loss or two to help winnow the field and make them stand apart from the rest.

I think if they do that, a Big 12 champion team with zero or one loss is going to have a good shot to make the national championship game. A one-loss team made it last year from the conference with Oklahoma.


Clayton Buehrle from Dallas writes: Tim, concerning the Top 40 teams in the BCS, could you please explain how ESPN expects to "play" the different teams against each other? What teams are playing (Current teams or past teams?)? The whole scenario is fun but seems a bit confusing. My friends and I could use some insight. Thanks.

Tim Griffin: My colleagues took a novel approach of breaking up the 40 teams into four 10-team conferences and then having a playoff. Mark Schlabach's story today spells out how the fantasy would play out.

My favorite part is a yearly relegation that would drop out the bottom feeders every year and replace them with teams from outside the top 40. I know that sounds a little like European soccer, but I think that would really be interesting to see teams jump up a level or drop depending on how they played the previous season.

And that's what makes the whole idea of relegation such a fun topic idea.


Brad Millican of Fort Worth, Texas, writes: How are fall practice schedules set? There seems to be a huge difference in when all the Big XII teams report for camp. Is this regulated by the NCAA?

Tim Griffin: Brad, different coaches have different strategies in how they want to break down the practices as they get ready for the season. Each school has 29 practices from the start of practice to the first game. The first three practices are without pads. But the schedule is
different based on the academic schedule of each school. Some coaches like to have a lot of two-a-days early to immediately challenge their teams. Other coaches like to backload things and test their teams a little closer to the start of the season.


Mark McCabe of Stafford, Va., writes: Tim, growing up a Cornhusker fan and now having lived in several places around the country... I found the recent ESPN poll asking, "What are you most looking forward to in the fall? College or Pro Football (never mind the World Series)." Both the Big 12 (TX and MO the exceptions) and the SEC areas picked college football.

Do you think fan support has a major impact on success or does success lead to fan support?

Tim Griffin: Mark, I noticed the same chart. I've lived in both the South and Midwest for extensive periods and think that the passion for college football is the strongest in those "flyover areas." The lack of competing NFL teams lead to that support. And I do think it has a major impact on success. Recruits know they can pick a school in that area and realize their games will be the biggest sporting events in their states. That's a heady feeling for a recruit and a big reason why places like Nebraska, Oklahoma, Arkansas, Alabama and Iowa have been able to continue their success over many years.

And it doesn't surprise me that Texas and Missouri aren't as excited about college sports as other Big 12 areas. The heavy influence of professional sports in both states - probably as strong there as any area in the conference - has tempered some of the excitement for college sports in recent years. The fans there still get excited when a team like Texas or Missouri makes a run at a national championship. But the NFL helps cut down some of the day-to-day excitement in college football there.


Kenneth Smith of Houston writes: Who do you think will win the starting QB spot at Kansas State? Also do you think that K-State will be in the mix for the Big 12 North title?

Me personally, I think the Wildcats are going to upset a team this year, maybe Missouri or Kansas. The offense seems to be pretty good with Keithen Valentine in the backfield again and Brandon Banks at wide receiver. The defense last season was OK, but they need to learn just to wrap up to make a tackle. Who do you think will be the two teams competing in the North?

Tim Griffin: I think that Kansas State will be the mystery team in the North this season - even more than Colorado. I've always had huge respect for the coaching acumen that Bill Snyder brings to his program. He'll be facing a huge challenge at Kansas State, but I think his task will be a little easier because so many of his assistant coaches have coached or played for him and are familiar with his demands.

I think Carson Coffman will get the start for the Wildcats' opener Sept. 5 against Massachusetts. But I'm thinking that Grant Gregory and Daniel Thomas likely will have chances to play as well. I think Thomas could be the starting quarterback later this season, as Snyder has always favored quarterbacks who were adept at running and passing like Michael Bishop, Ell Roberson and Jonathan Beasley. Thomas fits that mold.

And as far as the last two teams competing in the Big 12 North, I'll go with Nebraska and Kansas. I think the regular-season finales for both teams - Nebraska at Colorado and Kansas and Missouri at Arrowhead Stadium in Kansas City - will have much importance in determining the North champion this season.

Thanks for all of your questions this week. We'll check back again next Friday.