Big 12: Dat Nguyen

Earlier today, I released my Big 12 all-BCS era team. Here were the toughest players leaving off the team:

[+] EnlargeWes Welker
Ronald Martinez/Getty ImagesWes Welker returned eight punts for touchdowns and made 259 receptions in four seasons at Texas Tech.
1. PR: Wes Welker, Texas Tech (2000-03) – I originally had Welker on my team as the punt returner. But then I had nowhere to put Oklahoma receiver Ryan Broyles, who only set an FBS record with 349 receptions and probably would have won the Biletnikoff Award in 2011 had he not been injured. While not at Welker’s level as a returner, Broyles was still prolific returning punts, so I wound up sticking him there to get him on the team. In hindsight, I should have just cheated and created three WR slots, as there was a decent drop-off after Justin Blackmon, Michael Crabtree and Broyles. That would’ve cleared space to keep Welker on the team.

2. LB: Dat Nguyen, Texas A&M (1998) – Nguyen was a tremendous player, but he was hurt by the fact he only played one year in the BCS era. Still, Nguyen was very deserving based on that one season. He was a unanimous All-American, and won the Bednarik (defensive player of the year) and Lombardi (best lineman or linebacker) awards.

3. PR: Antonio Perkins, Oklahoma (2001-04) – I had actually had Welker ranked slightly ahead of Perkins as a returner, so it wouldn’t have mattered if I had created three WR spots. Still, Perkins was a consensus All-American returner and set a record for punt return touchdowns in a game with three, and for that, he was in the conversation.

4. OG: Davin Joseph, Oklahoma (2002-05) – One area in which the Big 12 lacked quality options was at offensive guard. Texas’ Justin Blalock made the team as a guard, even though he was largely a tackle in college. Joseph, however, was a quality player for the Sooners, making 40 career starts while blocking for Adrian Peterson.

5. S: Earl Thomas, Texas (2008-09) – Thomas was the top safety left off the team. He was only at Texas for two seasons, but was a consensus All-American while leading Texas’ defense when it made the national championship game after the 2009 season. He was second in college football in 2009 with eight interceptions before leaving early for the NFL Draft.
Our list of the top 10 Big 12 players ever generated as much response from you all as anything we've ever done. I really appreciate all of it. Many of you agreed with the list. Plenty of you didn't. That's pretty natural. It was an absolutely brutal list to put together. Tons of talented guys have a case to be on it, and might be on your list. I wouldn't necessarily disagree. Still, I only had room for 10. Here's an extensive list of all the guys who I also think have a strong case for inclusion. They're the players who just missed my all-time top 10. In no particular order, here they are:

Eric Crouch, QB, Nebraska: In 2001, won the Heisman Trophy, Davey O'Brien Trophy, Camp Award and was the Big 12's Offensive Player of the Year. Finished his career with 4,481 passing yards and 3,434 rushing yards and accounted for 84 touchdowns.

Justin Blackmon, WR, Oklahoma State: Won the Biletnikoff Award in 2010 and 2011, and was the Big 12's Offensive Player of the Year in 2011. Finished his three-year career with 252 catches, 3,564 receiving yards and 41 total touchdowns.

Grant Wistrom, DL, Nebraska: Won Big 12 Defensive Player of the Year honors in 1996 and 1997. Won the Lombardi Award in 1997 and helped Nebraska go 49-2 during his career. Finished with 58.5 tackles for loss and 26.5 sacks.

Michael Crabtree, WR, Texas Tech: The first-ever two-time winner of the Biletnikoff Award as the nation's top receiver. He was a unanimous All-American in both seasons and finished his career with 231 catches for 3,127 yards and 41 touchdowns.

Troy Davis, RB, Iowa State: Finished second in the Heisman voting in 1996 and fifth in 1995. Topped 2,000 yards rushing in both seasons and scored 37 touchdowns. He was the Big 12's Offensive Player of the Year in 1996.

Darren Sproles, RB, Kansas State: Rushed for 1,986 yards in K-State's Big 12 title season in 2003. Finished his four-year career with just under 5,000 rushing yards. Scored 44 touchdowns in his final three seasons and was fifth in Heisman voting in 2003. Also returned a punt for a touchdown in 2003 and averaged more than 27 yards on kick returns.

Dat Nguyen, LB, Texas A&M: Won All-Big 12 first-team honors three times, and was the league's Defensive Player of the Year in 1998, leading the Wrecking Crew to Texas A&M's only Big 12 title. Won the Bednarik Award and Lombardi Award that season. Made 51 consecutive starts and finished his career with 517 tackles, the only player in A&M history to lead the Aggies in tackles for four seasons.

Cedric Benson, RB, Texas: Won the Doak Walker Award as the nation's best running back in 2004 and was a two-time first-team All-Big 12 selection. His 5,540 career rushing yards are second all-time at Texas to only Ricky Williams.

Chase Daniel, QB, Missouri: Led Missouri to two Big 12 Championship games and helped the Tigers reach BCS No. 1 in 2007. Finished his career as the school's all-time leader in total offense. Threw for 12,515 yards and 101 touchdowns in three years as a starter. Finished fourth in Heisman voting in 2007.

Tommie Harris, DT, Oklahoma: One of the greatest freshmen in Big 12 history. Won the Lombardi Award in 2003 and earned All-Big 12 and All-American first team honors in 2002 and 2003.

Derrick Johnson, LB, Texas: Made the All-Big 12 first team three times and finished his career with 458 tackles, 69 tackles for loss, 11 forced fumbles (nine in 2004) and nine interceptions. Won the Butkus Award and Nagurski Trophy in 2004.

Michael Bishop, QB, Kansas State: Became a starter at K-State after a junior college national title. Finished second in the 1998 Heisman voting to Ricky Williams and helped K-State to an undefeated regular season. Was 22-3 as a starter and accounted for 5,715 yards of total offense and 59 total touchdowns.

Fans talk: The best individual seasons ever

June, 8, 2012
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We've wrapped up this week's countdown of the greatest individual seasons of all-time, but I asked you all to weigh in on the best ever in Big 12 history, as well as your favorite moments from those seasons. Here's what you had to say:

Dennis McElroy in Lamoni, Iowa, wrote: How quickly you forget Troy Davis. First back to have back to back 2000 yard seasons while playing on horrible Iowa State teams. If he had the benefit of the talent of an Oklahoma, there is no telling what he might have accomplished.

Ray Cobra in Los Angeles wrote: 1997, Michael Bishop led K-State to an 11-1 record and a Fiesta Bowl blow-out win while outplaying a guy named Donovan McNabb before a national audience. Bishop became a star that season and set K-State up as a national title contender for the next. How is that not one of the best Big 12 seasons by a player or at least on the just-missed list? Hard to argue that 11-1 and a Fiesta Bowl win in your first year out of juco as the starting QB for a Bill Snyder offense is better than losing the Big 12 title game and then failing to show-up for the Alamo Bowl as in Bishop's 98, which did make your 'just missed' list (and was indeed a fine season). Despite KSU's one loss to the eventual national champion in Lincoln and despite the fact that he was a basically a rookie, Bishop had a dream season in 97. Don't you agree?

Chris in Lindsberg, Kan., wrote: Big 12 Best Individual Seasons- Terence Newman, CB, Kansas State, 2002. In 2002, Terence Newman was a consensus First Team All-American, won the Jim Thorpe award, and was a finalist for the Bronko Nagurski award.It is easy to forget just how dominant Newman was during his senior season. Newman was constantly locked up with top receivers (Keary Colbert, Mike Williams, Shaun McDonald, Roy Williams), but he only surrendered one receiving touchdown all year (Rashaun Woods, Oklahoma State). In addition to eviscerating the other team's best receiver every week, Newman also contributed offensively and in the return game. He scored in four different ways (reception, punt return, kickoff return, defensive PAT), gave the Wildcats punt return touchdowns of 71 and 40 yards and a kickoff return touchdown of 95 yards. Newman's most memorable play of the season occurred during a 27-20 home win against #11 USC in September. With less than a minute before halftime and K-State holding a 10-0 lead, the Trojans recovered a fumble for a momentum-shifting touchdown. But the extra point attempt was blocked. Newman picked up the ball and raced 90 yards for a defensive two-point conversion.

Matt in Kansas City wrote: What about K-State Linebackers....Josh Buhl (undersized LB) had 184 tackles in 2003 which #2 all-time in college football....Mark Simoneau - 1999 consensus 1st team All American and Big 12 Defensive Player of the Year...if you look at best defensive careers he has to be up there....400 career tackles and 251 unassisted stops...also Big 12 1st-team 3 times

Kyle in Houston wrote: Best Individual Season: Dat Nguyen - 1998 -> Unanimous All-American -> Chuck Bednarik Award -> Lombardi Award -> Jack Lambert Award -> Big 12 Defensive Player of the Year -> First-Team All-Big 12

OU woofer in Houston wrote: Quentin Griffin - as a senior totaled 287 carries for 1,884 yards with 15 scores,and also caught 35 passes for 264 yards with 3 Tds, (single game for the season was 248 yrds/32 carries/1 td vs UT). The three-year starter helped OUwin a national championship in 2000 and he finished fourth in school history in career rushing yards (3,756), third in touchdowns (44) and finished second in all-purpose yards (4,973). He is 4 on OU's all time rushing leaders behind, Billy Sims, Joe Washinton, Adrian Peterson and Steve Owens. ...

Kenton in OKC wrote: Justin Blackmon's 2010 campaign deserves to be among the top 5 Big 12 seasons of all-time. He is the ONLY RECEIVER IN FBS HISTORY TO DO WHAT HE DID! 100 yds and a TD in every game played, come on. He torched OU's secondary on a bum ankle. I'm just appalled you left him out of the top 5. ONLY PLAYER IN HISTORY!

John Galt in New York wrote: Got to say Dubs. A little shocked not to see RGIII not make the list. I wouldn't consider him number 1 but I would say its hard to deny him the 3-5 spot. It appears you went pretty team-centric in your choosing. 2 Texas, 2 OK, and a corn husker. All teams with loads of talent and not just at the dynamic positions. Looking at the title "Best Individual Big 12 Seasons Ever", emphasis should be on the individual and to say that RGIII wasn't in the top five is a little disappointing. Not too many people would be surprised to hear Texas, Oklahoma, or Nebraska have a Heisman talent player or that player be on a National Championship team...but Baylor? Not sure any other offensive player on your list could win 10 games with the same Baylor team.

Kevin in Ardmore, Okla., wrote: Went to OSU and was wondering why you skipped over Brandon Weedon this last year. Lets see his stats. 2011 OKST 408 Comp 564 Att 72.3 Ptc 4727 Yds 8.4 Avg 37 TD 67 Lng 13 Int 159.8 Rat. Who he beat, Nick Foles, Ryan Tannehill, David Ash, Collin Klein, RGIII, Landry Jones and Andrew Luck. How many of those are now or will be NFL QBs. Know tell me how he isn't good enough not only to make the list, but not to make Just missed.

Jeff in Manhattan, Kan., wrote: Jordy Nelson, Kansas State, 2007. While not Justin Blackmon or Michael Crabtree, he still deserves a "near miss" mention as he was a consensus All-American with 122 catches for 1606 yds and 11 TDs, also threw for 2 touchdowns and returned 2 more punts to round out the stat sheet. Also, this. Thanks, Ubbs.

Jay Adams in Ames, Iowa, wrote: How can you leave out Seneca Wallace? Not only did he have the most prolific career for an Iowa State quarterback, but he led Iowa State to an unprecedented, and since unmatched, 11th rank in the nation.

Lunch links: Best Kansas State team ever?

January, 6, 2012
1/06/12
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Honey, don't you think it's weird that one of your friends is an 80-year-old man?

A look at the All-Time All-Big 12 team

November, 24, 2010
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You might have heard something about this, but 2010 is the last season of the Big 12 as we know it. To commemorate the league's run as a 12-team conference, a panel of 20 media members compiled their all-time Big 12 team. Here's who made it, and you can see the full votes here.

All-time Top Offensive Player: Vince Young, QB, Texas

All-time Top Defensive Player: Ndamukong Suh, DT, Nebraska

All-time Coach: Bob Stoops, Oklahoma

OFFENSE:

QB: Vince Young, Texas

RB: Ricky Williams, Texas and Adrian Peterson, Oklahoma

WR: Michael Crabtree, Texas Tech and Rashaun Woods, Oklahoma State

TE: Chase Coffman, Missouri

OL: Dominic Raiola, Nebraska; Jammal Brown, Oklahoma; Aaron Taylor, Nebraska; Justin Blalock, Texas; Russell Okung, Oklahoma State

DEFENSE

DL: Ndamukong Suh, Nebraska; Tommie Harris, Oklahoma; Grant Wistrom, Nebraska; Brian Orakpo, Texas

LB: Derrick Johnson, Texas; Dat Nguyen, Texas A&M; Rocky Calmus, Oklahoma; Teddy Lehman, Oklahoma

DB: Roy Williams, Oklahoma; Terence Newman, Kansas State; Derrick Strait, Oklahoma; Michael Huff, Texas

SPECIAL TEAMS

All-purpose: Darren Sproles, Kansas State

K: Mason Crosby, Colorado

P: Daniel Sepulveda, Baylor

Here's how it breaks down by team:

1. Oklahoma: 7
2. Texas: 6
3. Nebraska: 4
4. Kansas State: 2
4. Oklahoma State: 2
6. Baylor: 1
6. Colorado: 1
6.Missouri: 1
6. Texas A&M: 1
6. Texas Tech: 1
11. Iowa State: 0
11. Kansas: 0

Who got snubbed? Who doesn't belong?

A&M's Fuller headed for history

September, 14, 2010
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Texas A&M's receiving records are modest. Wide receiver Jeff Fuller isn't ignorant of that, but if he keeps at his current pace, they won't be modest for long.

[+] EnlargeJeff Fuller
AP Photo/David J. PhillipJeff Fuller has found the end zone three times in the Aggies' first two games of the season.
The 6-foot-4, 215-pound junior tied the career record for touchdown receptions with his 18th score in Saturday's win over Louisiana Tech. He might have broken Robert Ferguson's single-season record of 885 yards last year before a broken leg cost Fuller nearly six games. Both may fall later this year. Fuller has caught 14 passes for 207 yards and three touchdowns through two games.

"It's just good to put my name in Aggie history, tying the record," Fuller said. "People go back and forth about how it’s not that many touchdowns, but I feel like it’s a pretty big deal, and it’s just nice to know it’s going to be remembered."

Fuller's quarterback, Jerrod Johnson, entered the season as the career leader in touchdown passes, so for a program not used to slinging it like the Aggies have under Mike Sherman, it's nothing new. But for both, it's a lot more than nothing.

"When you come into college as a recruit, that’s one of the things," Fuller said. "You want to be remembered."

He'll be remembered like Ferguson was, like quarterback Reggie McNeal was and like the Aggies' linebackers coach, Dat Nguyen, was as the program's leading tackler. But for now, the focus is on producing those memories.

"I hear more about it from the media. It's not really talked about at practice and meetings. It’s really just about improving, and not focusing on what you did right, it’s more stuff you need to work on and things you need to improve or correct," Fuller said. "I feel like if I just continue to work and do my job, I feel like the records will come."

Lunch links: Hard Knocks -- Kansas

August, 17, 2010
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Texas A&M linebacker Von Miller's ugly evil twin/uncle says hello.

Desperation or improvement?

That's the question Texas A&M football fans have to be asking themselves after Aggies coach Mike Sherman rebuilt his coaching staff after only two seasons. After the Aggies finished 6-7 in 2009, dropping Sherman's record to 10-15 in two seasons in College Station, he completely overhauled his staff. All but one defensive assistant was replaced, and former Louisville coach Steve Kragthorpe was hired to coach wide receivers.

There's really no way to sugarcoat it: If Texas A&M's defense and special teams are as bad as they were in each of the past two seasons, Sherman will be the coach looking for a job in 2011.

[+] EnlargeMike Sherman
Ronald Martinez/Getty ImagesMike Sherman has posted a 10-15 record in two seasons at Texas A&M.
The A&M defense can't possibly be any worse, after it finished 106th among FBS teams in pass defense (254.7 yards per game), 105th in total defense (426.3 yards) and scoring defense (33.5 points per game) and 90th in rushing defense (171.6 yards).

After the Aggies allowed 30 points or more in nine games last season, defensive coordinator Joe Kines retired. Defensive line coach Buddy Wyatt left for Kansas and defensive backs coach Van Malone departed for Tulsa.

Sherman is betting that former Air Force defensive coordinator Tim DeRuyter can shore up his defense quickly. DeRuyter runs an aggressive 3-4 scheme, which helped the Falcons lead the country in turnover margin (plus-1.69 turnovers per game) and finish fifth in passing defense (154.3 yards per game), 10th in scoring defense (15.7 points) and 11th in total defense (288.3 yards) in '09.

The good news for DeRuyter? The Aggies will bring back 10 defensive starters, including pass-rushing specialist Von Miller. DeRuyter's chore is to make the Aggies more aggressive and disciplined.

Sherman hired former Texas A&M All-American Dat Nguyen as inside linebackers coach, which is a very smart move. Bringing back one of the school's most-decorated players is always a public relations coup with alumni and fans. The fact that Nguyen worked the past three seasons as an assistant linebackers coach with the Dallas Cowboys shows he's more than just a big name, too.

Sherman lured Purdue defensive line coach Terrell Williams to College Station and hired Nick Toth as his team's outside linebackers coach. Toth worked last season as defensive backs and special teams coach at The Citadel. Toth played and coached under DeRuyter at Ohio and is well-versed in coaching the 3-4 scheme.

Toth also will be asked to help fix Texas A&M's special-teams woes. Last season, the Aggies finished 104th in net punting (32.9 yards), 98th in kickoff return defense (23.1 yards) and 49th in kickoff returns (22.3 yards).

The special-teams miscues were never more evident than during Texas A&M's 44-20 loss to Georgia in the Independence Bowl. The Aggies allowed a kickoff return for a touchdown, had a field goal and punt blocked and snapped the ball over the punter's head.

Kragthorpe, who was fired after compiling a 15-21 record in three seasons at Louisville, replaces former A&M wide receivers coach Nolan Cromwell, who left for the same position with the NFL's St. Louis Rams. Kragthorpe previously worked as offensive coordinator at A&M from 1998-2000, helping lead the Aggies to their lone Big 12 title in 1998.

With Big 12 powers like Oklahoma and Texas having to replace several star players, and programs such as Kansas and Texas Tech undergoing major renovations, the Aggies might be well positioned to move up the league's ladder this coming season.

If they don't, Sherman's job might be on the line.

Aggies hire defensive line coach Terrell Williams from Purdue

February, 1, 2010
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Texas A&M has hired former Purdue assistant coach Terrell Williams as Mike Sherman's new defensive line coach.

It fills a position created when former defensive line coach Buddy Wyatt resigned to accept the position at Kansas on Turner Gill's new staff, the San Antonio Express-News reports. It was the first hiring by new Texas A&M defensive coordinator Tim DeRuyter.

Williams, 35, has come to A&M after four seasons coaching the Boilermakers' defensive linemen. He comes with a strong reputation for developing individual talents such as Anthony Spencer, Cliff Avril, Alex Magee, Mike Neal and Ryan Kerrigan.

The Boilermakers ranked fourth in the Big Ten and 22nd nationally in 2009 as they averaged 2.67 sacks per game. Kerrigan was third nationally with an average of 1.08 sacks per game.

But the Boilermakers struggled mightily against the run, ranking 94th nationally and last in the Big Ten conference against the run. Purdue was gashed for at least 200 yards rushing in four different games during its 5-7 season. Additionally, the Boilermakers yielded 26 rushing touchdowns to rank tied for 100th nationally and in front of only Florida State (27 rushing touchdowns allowed), A&M (29 rushing touchdowns allowed) and Washington State (35 touchdowns allowed) among schools in conferences with automatic BCS berths.

A&M fans continue to hope that legendary former A&M player Dat Nguyen eventually will end up on DeRuyter's staff. Kines coached linebackers in addition to being the defensive coordinator. DeRuyter had no specific positional duties at the Air Force Academy and may be inclined to head to that position on his new staff, freeing up a spot for the former Lombardi and Bednarik award winner on his staff.

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

January, 29, 2010
1/29/10
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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.

Will Nguyen join A&M coaching staff?

January, 29, 2010
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Dat Nguyen might be the most recognizable Texas A&M football product of the Big 12 era.

Along with Aggie icons like John David Crow, John Kimbrough and yes, even original 12th man E. King Gill, Nguyen made a legendary mark on the school through his time with the football program.

Now, it seems to be a no-brainer for A&M coach Mike Sherman to bring the most decorated Aggie in recent history back into the fold. The Aggies have a vacancy on their defensive staff after Buddy Wyatt left for Turner Gill's new staff at Kansas.

Nguyen quit his work with the Dallas Cowboys earlier this week after being offered a two-year contract extension to continue as the NFL team's assistant linebackers coach and a quality control assistant.

That job was more clerical in nature than Nguyen really wanted. And it's why he decided to quit after spending three years as a coach for his old professional team.

"I want to grow as a coach,” Nguyen told the San Antonio Express-News. "I want to be more hands-on, and be more accountable to players.

“I didn't think I'd have the chance to grow like I had envisioned as a young coach. They offered me an extension. I just didn't see where staying with the Cowboys was going to help me accomplish what I want to accomplish.”

Coming back to his old school might do just that.

“I definitely want to be in coaching; it's a part of my life,” Nguyen said. “I want to make differences in kids' lives.”

It's hard to imagine a more positive role model the Aggies could add to help revamp a struggling defense that ranked among the bottom 16 teams in total defense, scoring defense and pass defense in 2009.

Obviously, Nguyen has never coached in college or been involved in recruiting. But his name still resonates with Aggies everywhere and would likely do the same in any household of nearly any recruit in Texas.

“People think I'm crazy to not have signed that extension, that I should keep coaching for the Dallas Cowboys,” he said. “But I've never done anything because of money. I understand what I gave up. I understand that I left an NFL job without a job at hand. I took that risk.

“I have faith, and as long as I have my wife and our two kids, I'm fine. I don't know where the Lord is going to take me. It's in his hands.”

Sherman is battling as he tries to build his program after losing 15 of his first 25 games as coach, capped by a 44-20 loss to Georgia in the Independence Bowl.

His defense struggled with former coordinator Joe Kines in charge, allowing at least 40 points in 12 of those games. The Aggies ranked 114th and 105th nationally in total defense in the last two seasons.

The hiring new coordinator Tim DeRuyter was a wildly popular move among Aggie fans, prompting a standing ovation for the new coach when he was introduced at the A&M basketball game against Colorado last week.

Bringing Nguyen back into the program would only continue that excitement for a defense that has looked little like the "Wrecking Crew" defenses of which he was such a prominent part during his playing career.

Biggest hiring of Sherman's tenure

January, 21, 2010
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The worst-kept secret in Central Texas finally was revealed Thursday afternoon when the Texas A&M Board of Regents approved the hiring of Air Force defensive coordinator Tim DeRuyter as the Aggies’ new defensive coordinator.

DeRuyter, 47, is considered one of the rising stars in his profession. His work in turning Air Force’s defense around despite the inherent talent limitations at the school has caught the eye of the football cognoscenti over the past few years.

It’s clearly the biggest hiring in Mike Sherman’s coaching tenure. The Aggies’ struggling defense is considered their biggest liability.

Sherman said he likes what he has seen in DeRuyter’s previous work.

“I like his aggressive, attacking style of defense,” Sherman said. “He has a great history of success and has shown great ability to teach and to lead young men.”

DeRuyter is coming off an impressive coaching performance in his last game. The Falcons limited Houston quarterback Case Keenum to a season-low 222 yards and forced six interceptions in a 47-20 victory over the Cougars in the Armed Forces Bowl.

That effort punctuated a breakout season for the Falcons. Air Force finished 11th nationally in total defense (288.3 yards per game), fifth in pass defense (154.3 yards per game) and 10th in scoring defense (15.7 points per game). DeRuyter’s defense ranked seventh in the country with 20 interceptions, fifth in the nation with 34 total turnovers and led the nation in turnover margin.

The Aggies will have nine defensive starters back from their 2009 team that went 6-7, including national sack leader Von Miller. But DeRuyter must turn around an A&M defense that ranked 114th and 105th nationally in the past two seasons under former coordinator Joe Kines. It allowed opponents to score at least 35 points in seven of its final 10 games last season.

It’s a far cry from the great defenses of the past that were keyed by legendary players like Dat Nguyen.

DeRuyter said those great A&M defenses have been an inspiration to him during his career.

“As a defensive player at Air Force and being a defensive coach, I’ve tried to emulate the “Wrecking Crew” style that R.C. Slocum had in place at (Texas) A&M,” DeRuyter said. “As a defense, we like to dictate to the offense and put them back on their heels.”

DeRuyter was an undersized, overachieving linebacker at Air Force in the mid-1980s, helping Fisher DeBerry’s team to three straight bowl victories. He coached at schools like Air Force, Ohio University, Navy and Nevada. The A&M job will be the first time he’s ever coached at in a conference with an automatic berth into the BCS.

Last August, DeRuyter described his ideal defense to the Colorado Springs Gazette in simplistic terms.

“We want to have guys that are chomping at the bit to go rip someone's head off,” DeRuyter said.

The Falcons responded by limited 11 of their opponents to 20 or fewer points.

But duplicating that success against the offensive firepower in the Big 12 will be a different challenge – particularly with the personnel the Aggies currently have.

A&M's all-decade team

January, 21, 2010
1/21/10
4:17
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At the start of the decade, Texas A&M was at the top of the Big 12 South Division.

The Aggies claimed the Big 12 championship in 1998 after qualifying for the title game in 1997. A&M capped off an emotion-packed 1999 season by beating eventual Big 12 South champion Texas in the "Bonfire Game" to end the regular season.

But the program regressed as Oklahoma's Bob Stoops and Texas' Mack Brown built their programs throughout the aughts. R.C. Slocum was let go after the 2002 season and Dennis Franchione was similarly jettisoned after the 2007 season.

Mike Sherman is in place now. The program faces a huge battle to get itself back to the level where the Aggies were at only 10 seasons ago.

Here's a look at some of the top players and moments of the Aggies' last decade.

OFFENSE

QB: Jerrod Johnson

RB: Courtney Lewis

RB: Jorvorskie Lane

WR: Robert Ferguson

WR: Terrence Murphy

TE: Martellus Bennett

OL: Cody Wallace

OL: Taylor Whitley

OL: Lee Grimes

OL: Kirk Elder

C: Seth McKinney

DEFENSE

DL: Mike Montgomery

DL: Rocky Bernard

DL: Ty Warren

DL: Von Miller

LB: Jason Glenn

LB: Justin Warren

LB: Mark Dodge

DB: Sammy Davis

DB: Melvin Bullitt

DB: Terrence Kiel

DB: Jaxson Appel

P: Justin Brantly

K: Todd Pegram

Ret: Cyrus Gray

Offensive player of the decade: QB Jerrod Johnson. It was a tough choice over quarterbacks like Stephen McGee and Reggie McNeal who played for the Aggies earlier in their careers. But Johnson's abilities to develop the most potent passing offense in A&M history -- setting school records for touchdown passes, total offense and passing yards in 2009 -- make him the choice. And he could be poised for even more in his senior season.

Defensive player of the decade: DE/LB Von Miller. The Aggies' proud reputation for tough defenses became forgotten over the decade as spread passing offenses proliferated across the conference. But Miller was decidedly a throwback in a 2009 season where he led the nation with 17 sacks and became the most dominant A&M defensive player since Dat Nguyen. Miller thrived in the hybrid "Jack" position created by former defensive coordinator Joe Kines. He wisely chose to return to college for his senior season next year where he can continue with a new coordinator in place.

Coach of the decade: R.C. Slocum. It was difficult for A&M fans to see the demise of Slocum, perhaps the most popular coach in school history. The Aggies never had a losing record under Slocum and made bowl trips in two of the three seasons he coached them this decade, including the 2001 Galleryfurniture.com Bowl that remains their most recent bowl victory.

Moment of the decade: Stephen McGee's dramatic game-winning drive in a 2006 victory at Texas. Despite vomiting in the huddle throughout the game-winning drive, McGee directed the Aggies on a 16-play, 88-yard drive capped by his own 8-yard touchdown run en route to a 12-7 victory over the Longhorns in Austin. McGee converted five third-down plays on the drive as A&M snapped a six-game losing streak to their most bitter rivals.

Big 12 mailbag: Will Blackshirts be good in 2010 again?

January, 19, 2010
1/19/10
5:15
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I received a slew of comments about some of my early choices for my All-Decade teams across the conference. Hopefully, that will prove as popular during the rest of the week for the rest of the Big 12 teams as they are released.

Here's a representative example of some of the other missives I've received over the last few days.

Mike Heuertz of Iowa writes: Tim, even with Ndamukong Suh leaving Nebraska, as well as a couple other key defensive players, do you think the Blackshirts will be better next season? And what do you think Nebraska's record will be?

Tim Griffin: I talked with several Nebraska fans during my swing through the state last week who seemed almost giddy about the Cornhuskers’ chances next season.

That being said, the loss of Suh will be huge. I think he can be considered the arguably greatest defensive player in the history of the program. The Cornhuskers also will lose Barry Turner, Phillip Dillard, Larry Asante and the heart, grit and talent provided by Matt O’Hanlon.

Now I can see players like Prince Amukamara, Will Compton, Sean Fisher and Jared Crick getting a lot better gaining experience playing Bo Pelini’s defense. But it might be a little wishful thinking to hope for much improvement from this season -- considering the Cornhuskers’ big defensive personnel losses.

As far as their record, I would expect them to be one of the powers of the Big 12. They have a tricky game at Washington which will earn them a lot of national notoriety if they can win. Texas will be coming to Lincoln, as will Colorado and Missouri. A road game at Oklahoma State doesn’t look as daunting as it could be with the Cowboys breaking in a new quarterback. But an underrated challenge for the Cornhuskers might wait at Texas A&M with Jerrod Johnson and all of A&M’s strong returning offensive weapons back for next season.

Looking at that schedule, I’ll pick the Cornhuskers to go 10-2 and finish as the Big 12 North champion. Considering their returning talent and their schedule, I think that’s a relatively conservative pick.

But as far as next year's team being better than the 2009 version of the Blackshirts, that might be wishing for a little bit much -- even for the Pelinis.


Chris Henson from Salt Lake City, Utah, writes: Tim, a quick addition to the Texas A&M-Oklahoma State tidbit. The Red, White, and Blue Out in 2001 was organized by a group of students first and foremost as a fundraiser for the victims of 9/11. I appreciate you noting this event as it really shows what Texas A&M is all about.

Tim Griffin: Chris, thanks for the clarification. Like you wrote, it was truly an emotional event. There’s a picture of the stadium that is still hung in the press box at Kyle Field of the stadium bedecked for that game. It still gives me goose bumps when I see it.


Travis from Seattle writes: Tim, the players of the decade category has created quite a stir, with many saying, "...well how could X player be off the list." For the most part I agree with your list if you look at it being, who were great players, AND who did the most to influence their team's success, (thus why Graham Harrell is off, being a plug-and-play quarterback in that system although he did do a fine job).

But I propose a different category. Who were the best ATHLETES of the decade? And how about the best competitors, the ones who did everything to try to win. What are your thoughts?

Tim Griffin: You raise a good point about my list earlier being an all-around grouping of all qualities. As far as the best athletes of the decade in the Big 12 from the last decade, in no specific order I would include Ndamukong Suh, Eric Crouch, Robert Griffin, Chris Brown, Vince Young, Seneca Wallace, Dez Bryant, Dezmon Briscoe, Darren Sproles, Danario Alexander (before and after his injury), Brad Smith, Jeremy Maclin, Adrian Peterson, Brian Orakpo, Michael Huff, Earl Thomas, Reggie McNeal, Robert Ferguson, Sammy Davis and Michael Crabtree.

And among the top competitors I’ve seen include Stephen McGee, Crabtree, Colt McCoy, Roy Miller, Joe Pawelek, Jordan Lake, George Hypolite, Todd Reesing, Chase Daniel, Sean Weatherspoon, Matt O’Hanlon, Suh, Josh Fields, Brian Iwuh, Darrell Stuckey, Steven Sheffield, Wes Welker and Kliff Kingsbury. There are many others, but those are just some of the names that come to me off the top of my head. And the fact that Suh and Crabtree made both of those lists is pretty indicative of how exceptional they really were.


Fred Dodge of Annapolis, Md., writes: Tim, in reference to your top 10 jobs in college football. You have a good list, BUT the one caveat that I think goes with this list or any list is context. Most of these are still the "right-guy-for-the-right-place" jobs -- as are coaches. Being a Husker, I lean toward Bo Pelini and Nebraska as my first examples. Bo would not be a good fit for many of these jobs...I just can't see Bo fitting at USC or Florida for example; but I also can't see Lane Kiffin or Pete Carroll being successful in Lincoln. And in my opinion there are only a few guys who can shape a program around their personality. Nick Saban could coach anywhere, Urban Meyer probably could, and Jim Tressel could in most places. But I have a difficult time seeing Mack Brown outside the southeast or southwest and Bo Pelini outside the midwest. All of these guys could still coach, but I think they would struggle in fan support -- and so they would also in recruiting.

Tim Griffin: You make an interesting point, although I think that Pelini would work in more places than you might suspect. He’s a dyed-in-the-wool football coach and would succeed at most traditional powers, although I think his style best suits him at Nebraska. But I could see him being successful in the Southeastern Conference, in the Big Ten or even at Notre Dame. Anywhere they have a deep appreciation for football, I can see Pelini working out.

I think coaches like Bob Stoops, Saban, Meyer and Tressel would work most places. I also think you might include some underrated coaches out there like Mike Riley of Oregon State, Gary Patterson of TCU, Jeff Tedford of California and Chris Peterson of Boise State would be adaptable at almost any job in the country. But it does seem that the smart coaches are the ones who pick places where they are comfortable and have the best chance for success.


Kyle Zander of Fort Hood, Texas, writes: Will Chris Whaley and Desean Hales get playing time for Texas in 2010? I played against Hales in high school and the kid is the real deal, Texas needs to get him involved as soon as possible. And Whaley could help, too.

Tim Griffin: Texas needs to find some help for its running game. Whaley was hurt when he reported to practice last summer and never regained his form. If he’s willing to rededicate himself, there likely is a chance for him to earn some playing time this spring. He needs to have a big spring to get there.

Sales is in a similar situation. The Longhorns have wide receiving talent in players like senior-to-be John Chiles and James Kirkendoll. Malcolm Williams is a big strong receiver who will emerge in coming seasons and should be the team’s featured receiver in 2010. But there are catches – plenty of them -- available for Hales if he can force himself into the mix.


Brett Stamm from Keller, Texas, writes: Tim, love the blog! Keep up the good work! Has Mike Sherman, or will Mike Sherman, or why will Mike Sherman not, consider Dat Nguyen for defensive coordinator? Talk about a guy who has done an outstanding job in his current position and would bring some instant credibility with players and recruits in a program that has pretty much let a proud defensive tradition die with questionable and mediocre hires. This is a guy who was the face of and exemplified the "Wrecking Crew" tradition for four years! Your thoughts?

Tim Griffin: Brett, Dat Nguyen has been a key member of Wade Phillips’ staff as an assistant linebacker coach and defensive quality control assistant with the Dallas Cowboys. But I would suspect that Sherman probably would like for Nguyen to have a little more seasoning and experience calling defenses before he would give him the responsibility of serving as the Aggies’ defensive coordinator.

In a way, Nguyen reminds me a little of Major Applewhite as they develop in their coaching careers. It won’t surprise me if both become successful coordinators and eventually outstanding head coaches. But they need more experience to get there.

Nguyen seems like a natural to join the A&M coaching staff in the future. But I think it might be a stretch to see him as the Aggies’ defensive coordinator at this stage of his career.

That’s all the time I have for today. Thanks again for all of the good questions and keep the letters and e-mails coming. I’ll check back again on Friday.

Suh, McCoy among Lombardi Award finalists

November, 11, 2009
11/11/09
6:55
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Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Griffin

Two Big 12 defensive linemen are among the four finalists for the Lombardi Award, which will be presented by the Rotary Club of Houston.

Nebraska defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh and Oklahoma defensive tackle Gerald McCoy are among four finalists who will attend a banquet in Houston where the winner will be announced on Dec. 9. Other finalists include TCU defensive end Jerry Hughes and Alabama defensive tackle Terrence Cody.

The Big 12 has featured four winners in its history as a conference since 1996. Previous winners include Texas A&M linebacker Dat Nguyen in 1998, Nebraska defensive end Grant Wistrom in 1997, Oklahoma defensive tackle Tommie Harris in 2003 and Texas defensive end Brian Orakpo last season.

In the history of the award, more honorees have come from Big 12 schools than any other conference. Many of those winners came from schools in the old Big Eight and Southwest conferences.

It would appear that Suh is the early favorite for the award. But he will need a strong finish to stave off the others. Cody would appear to be Suh's biggest challenger, and the Alabama player should get much exposure as the Crimson Tide battle to claim the Southeastern Conference championship.

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