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Friday, January 14, 2011
Mailbag: Fuller, 2011 title, new defenses

By ESPN.com staff
ESPN.com

Justin Wendling in Canton, Ga., asks: Do you think the Oklahoma Sooners will beat Oklahoma State and Texas again this year?

David Ubben: Neither is a given. Oklahoma has a tough schedule; the Sooners could have as many as seven top 25 teams on their schedule. Texas is never a sure thing for Oklahoma. Far from it. Just look at this year. The Longhorns went 5-7. Oklahoma had a good year by their standards and were a legitimate top 10 team. Yet Texas came within a couple plays of beating the Sooners.

The catch for Oklahoma in Bedlam this year is they have to go back to Stillwater for a second consecutive year because of the nine-game scheduling. That's one of a few kinks in the transition to a round-robin schedule. That's not a good thing for a team bent on a national title. Oklahoma State will have learned from last year's experience, could be playing for a Big 12 title and will have Justin Blackmon and Brandon Weeden back to do it.

Outside of Florida State in Tallahassee early in the season, that trip to Stillwater will be Oklahoma's toughest road game in 2011.


Derek Kane in Albuquerque, N.M., asks: I Know that technically Nebraska is out of the Big Twelve (Or Should I say Big Ten) but how do you think the are going to fair this year?

DU: It's going to be tough for them with that schedule. The offense clearly has to be better, and Big Ten teams are better equipped to neutralize Nebraska's strength in the secondary simply by running the ball downhill with power. Teams like Missouri could never really do that against the Huskers, and their offensive strengths played right into Nebraska's defensive strength. Based on the way Nebraska defended Washington, they'll have to get better defending power running games in a hurry.

Jared Crick's return will be valuable in stopping those running games, but I'm interested to see how an undersized linebacker like Lavonte David does. Clearly the talent and instinct for the position is there, but can he handle offensive linemen getting into the second level of the defense and consistently tackle bigger running backs? I don't expect Nebraska to keep recruiting 210-pound linebackers like him, so he could be one of the last of his kind at Nebraska. But, if he has a lot of success next year, that might not be the case.


Eric in Houston asks: What are your predictions for Baylor's defense next year?

DU: You'd have to figure they'd be better. New coordinator Phil Bennett made it clear he's excited, and sounds confident that he can have a satisfying level of success. Replacing Phil Taylor and his size will be tough, but the departure of Tim Atchison should open up one of the safety spots and give blue-chip recruit Ahmad Dixon a chance to prove his worth on the field. The Bears defense doesn't need to be great with the way the offense played, but if it's significantly better like Texas A&M's became this year, you could see Baylor win eight, nine, even 10 games. The Bears defense last year was a lot better than Texas A&M's in 2009, but they don't quite have the same amount of raw talent. But do big little things like win the turnover battle (Baylor forced just 20 turnovers last year, No. 9 in the Big 12. It also turned it over just 20 times, No. 6 in the Big 12) and quit giving up big plays and they might be surprised at just how much that fixes immediately.


Mark Fiegener in Stillwater, Okla., asks: What will it take for Oklahoma State's defense to reach the level of success that the offense has had this past season? More talent? Some new coaches to back up Bill Young? The '09 version looked close to this goal.

DU: It's not a talent issue, although they're boosting that lately, too. I don't think you're going to see OSU's defense suddenly become the best in the country, but they got a lot better last year. Guys like Shaun Lewis, Johnny Thomas and Brodrick Brown have really bright futures, but next year, the big challenge is going to be replacing Orie Lemon. Ugo Chinasa probably had a little bit more raw talent, but Lemon made that whole thing run and got guys doing what they needed to be doing. Experience is tough to replace at linebacker.


Shane in Rushville, NE asks: David you still haven't answered my question. Will you come with us (Nebraska) to the Big Ten? Your blog will be missed.

DU: Sorry, man. No can do. I promised myself after college that I'd never live north of Missouri. Too cold for my taste. You're stuck with my man Adam Rittenberg, braving the annual arctic winds of Chicago. I'll take my 50-degree Januaries down here in Dallas.


Robert in Houston, Texas, asks: I think the Big 12 might have made a mistake going to a 9 game, round robin schedule rather than keeping an 8 game conference schedule. The difference between the two doesn't matter for the top half of the conference, but will make it very difficult for Iowa State, Kansas, etc. to get to bowl games. Even the Pac 10 thought about moving away from the round robin two years ago, since it has a hard time fulfilling bowl commitments, having teams ranked highly in polls, and this year aside, getting two teams to the BCS. The weakened Big 12 is almost making itself weaker with this move and will further hurt its perception with its teams carrying more losses than other conferences.

DU: It's absolutely true. The addition of the ninth game is automatically five more losses for the conference, and plenty of people don't realize that. Ask Ted Miller, our man out in the Pac-10 about it. He's constantly reminding people of that. Nobody gets hurt worse than the teams in the middle who traditionally would qualify for a bowl, i.e. a Kansas State, but usually wouldn't be a 10-game winner. All of a sudden, if you don't show up one or two weeks and don't spring an upset, you're staying 5-7 in the face. The Big 12 will experience some of that for the first time next year. I'm sure I'll spend time here explaining why people (except those in the conference formerly known as the Pac-10) don't understand that. I know I never really did until the last few years.


Stephen in Corpus Christi, Texas, asks: Still waiting to hear whether or not Jeff Fuller is staying at Texas A&M next season. If you had to make the decision for him, what would you advise him to do?

DU: Well, I was told his report from the NFL Draft advisory committee told him he would be drafted outside the top two rounds, and maybe that changes in pre-draft workouts, but I doubt it. He needs to say. A year ago, his teammate Von Miller was a mid-round draft pick and stayed. Now, he's probably a first rounder. With guys like Justin Blackmon and Ryan Broyles staying, I'm not saying that will for sure be the case for Fuller, but he certainly has a chance. And he can get a lot better. And leaving without a degree if you're not a first-round pick is never a prudent decision, regardless of family background.


Mark L in St. Louis, Mo., asks: Is Missouri NOT a threat next year? Personally i think alot of people are sleeping on Mizzou. Dubbs Be honest is Missouri a contenter or a pretender in the 2011-2012 season? Also who do you see as our impact player next year?

DU: Well, they are, but certainly behind Oklahoma, Oklahoma State and Texas A&M. Maybe that changes when the season starts, but look around the league over the past decade or so. You win in the Big 12 with quarterbacks. James Franklin (or whoever ends up replacing Blaine Gabbert) should be good, but there's going to be growing pains--bad games. Even the best Missouri's had lately, Gabbert and Chase Daniel, couldn't win more than eight games as first-year starters. That won't even come close to winning the Big 12. Missouri has a more complete team than it did in 2006 and to a lesser extent, 2009, with a defense that should be solid, but Franklin is going to have to play big if the Tigers are going to make a serious run at the Big 12 title.

As for Missouri's impact player: Obviously T.J. Moe has proven to be one of the Big 12's most difficult covers. Brad Madison should be fun to watch at defensive end. A deep threat would open up Missouri's offense and make some more room for Moe, but even if a younger guy like Jimmie Hunt emerges, Franklin has to be able to get it to him. Will he be able to do it with enough consistency in Year 1 as a starter? Maybe, but history isn't on his side until next year.