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Mailbag: Pelini is my post-bowl Big 12 Coach of Year

Happy Friday afternoon.

I wouldn’t think of jumping into the weekend without answering some of my better letters from this past week.

So here I go.

Steve Russell of Loveland, Colo., writes: Tim, quick question for you. If you were picking a conference coach of the year including the bowl games, who would you select?

Tim Griffin: After the regular season and conference championship game, I picked Mack Brown because of his 13-0 record. But including the bowl results, I would lean to Bo Pelini, with Brown closely followed by Paul Rhoads of Iowa State.

I think Pelini was able to get a lot out of a team that struggled offensively for much of the season. The Cornhuskers had one of the most imposing defenses in recent Big 12 history with Ndamukong Suh, Jared Crick, Prince Amukamara, Larry Asante, Phillip Dillard and Co. They had a 10-4 record, but the Cornhuskers were very close to a couple of more wins. With a fortunate break or two, the Cornhuskers could have ended up winning the Iowa State and Virginia Tech games during the regular season and the Big 12 championship game. They came legitimately close to a 13-1 record this season. Pelini deserves much of the credit for getting them into the championship game and for their victory over Arizona in the Holiday Bowl.

And as far as Rhoads, I think he did a masterful job with his team. The fact he was able to go to Nebraska and beat the Cornhuskers while starting a backup quarterback and running back while Austen Arnaud and Alexander Robinson were out of the lineup was one of the biggest upsets in the nation this past season. Capping the season with an Insight Bowl victory over Minnesota and finishing with a winning record completed a strong first season for the Cyclones.

Caleb from the Foothills of Colorado writes: Tim, I saw in your last mailbag that you weren't certain Colorado was nailed down as a conference member. Can you please elaborate on where you think they might be going and why? I can't see them in any other conference that makes geographical sense except the Mountain West and while the Buffs have been (sometimes painfully) bad for a few years now I don't think they deserve being relegated to the MWC.

Tim Griffin: Caleb, I was speaking from a gut feeling I have about Colorado in comparison with the rest of the conference. The Buffaloes program is nowhere near its level in football in the 1990s or even in the early stages of the Big 12. They obviously need a shot of enthusiasm. The report of the $50 million donation from boosters might produce that, but they clearly need a boost of some kind to jump into competition with schools like Texas, Oklahoma and Nebraska.

I’ve always wondered if Colorado might be a better fit in the Pac-10 if that conference ever chose to expand. New Pac-10 commissioner Larry Scott is said to be considering that. Maybe the Buffaloes might be a team he would look at.

And I’ve often thought that if the Mountain West ever got an automatic berth into the BCS if Colorado would be more competitive in that conference. Playing against schools like Colorado State, New Mexico, Utah, Wyoming and BYU would make geographic sense. But I don’t know if it would be palatable to Colorado fans after playing Big Eight and Big 12 opponents for all of these seasons.

My point was that if the Big 12 becomes serious about making the jump into Utah by adding either BYU or Utah at some point, they need to be sure that Colorado is on board for the duration. The move that direction doesn’t make much sense if the Buffaloes aren't committed.

Roger Stringfellow of Katy, Texas, writes: Tim, I read your post earlier today about Dat Nguyen returning to Texas A&M. What do you are his legitimate chances of returning to Aggieland? And do you think that Mike Sherman is smart enough to make this hire?

Tim Griffin: I think that Dat Nguyen would bring cache to Sherman’s coaching staff unlike many hires he could make. Nguyen legitimately is the most decorated Aggie football player of the last 40 years.

But you have to remember that Sherman is facing huge pressure after going 10-15 in his first two seasons at A&M. Hiring Tim DeRuyter from Air Force was a bold, popular move among most A&M fans. But I’m wondering if DeRuyter and Sherman believe they can gamble on a new coach with little true coaching experience and none in college football by hiring Nguyen.

To me, the hiring is a no-brainer. Getting Nguyen back in the program would be huge for Sherman and his staff. But if they believe they only have a one- or two-season window to turn things around, I can understand why they might opt for a new defensive coach with more experience.

Michael Hengel of Pine Bluff, Ark., writes: Hey, Tim, thank you for the nice column on Freddie Steinmark. Seeing his name in the headline of your piece brought back a flood of memories -- even before reading the feature, which I thoroughly enjoyed. I confess that I had not thought about his great story in years. What an inspiration.

Tim Griffin: Michael, thanks to you and everybody else who wrote to me to comment on my piece on what would have been Steinmark’s 61st birthday earlier this week. He’s still an iconic figure in Texas football history. But his story needs to be shared with more people who might have forgotten about him, or never heard of his inspiring life.

David Macrander of Omaha, Neb., writes: Tim, What do you think the chances are of all three of the major recruits Nebraska is after end up signing with them on signing day? If not all of them, how many (if any) do you think will sign with the Huskers?

Tim Griffin: Out of the three players remaining, I’ll rank the chances of them coming like this. I think the Cornhuskers’ best hopes come with attracting Owamagbe Odighizuwa because of their success with Ndamukong Suh. Odighizuwa saw what Bo Pelini’s staff did with another raw but talented defensive line prospect from Oregon in Suh. I’ve heard that really resonates with him. After that, I think their chances are next best with Corey Cooper, who likely sees that the Cornhuskers need immediate help at safety and likely could use him in the 2010 season if he develops quickly.

Quarterback Brion Carnes obviously has some family history with the Cornhuskers, considering he’s the cousin of legendary Nebraska quarterback Tommie Frazier. But I’m wondering if Jamal Turner’s announcement last night that he’s coming in the Class of 2011 will have any effect. Also, I know that Carnes is close with Western Kentucky coach Willie Taggert, who is a former quarterback at Manatee High School in Bradenton, Fla., where Carnes played.

So I’d rank Odighizuwa first, Cooper second and Carnes third in terms of their chances at arriving at Nebraska. Getting one player from that group would be a big late surge for Pelini. Two would be huge and a hat trick of all three players might be beyond even his most optimistic hopes. It will be interesting to see how many late recruiting commitments the Cornhuskers will get.

Thanks again for all of the good questions this week. Enjoy the Senior Bowl and I’ll check back with you again next week with another batch.