Big 12: Mountain West Conference
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.
But we can't start them unless we sift through our mailbag for some of the weekend's better letters.
Jason from Wichita, Kan., writes: Hey Tim, I love the blog...it has become my primary source of Big 12 football information. I was wondering your thoughts as to why every time a major coaching position in college or NFL positions come open, Bob Stoops is inevitably listed as the number one candidate and Mack Brown is never mentioned. Is this because most of the college football world (fans and the media) view Texas as more of a destination job than Oklahoma? With both receiving comparable pay, the only other difference I see is their ages.
Tim Griffin: Jason, first thanks for the compliment. I’ve always been interested in how Stoops seems to be mentioned or portrayed as the more desirable coach as far as other openings, while Brown seems to be permanently affixed to Texas. The point you made about their ages is a good point. Brown is 58 and Stoops is 49. Most would assume that Stoops has at least one more move after never serving as a head coach at another school. Brown has done it before at places like Appalachian State, Tulane and North Carolina before arriving at Texas.
The last time I can remember Brown being mentioned in connection with a job came when his good friend Red McCombs was looking for a head coach of the Minnesota Vikings after the 2001 season. McCombs instead hired Mike Tice at that time and sold the team to Zygi Wilf and five partners in 2005.
The point you made about both Texas and Oklahoma being destination college football jobs is correct. I would include both in the top six or seven jobs in college football -- particularly with the strong support that they receive from Texas athletic director DeLoss Dodds and Oklahoma athletic director Joe Castiglione.
I think it would take a special job to get either Stoops or Brown to leave their current jobs. And this will give us a chance to savor their rivalry in the Big 12 for at least another few years.
Alex Headington from Iowa writes: Tim, the Big 12 North loses a lot of talent next season. Do you see Iowa State competing for the North title?
Tim Griffin: Even with the Cyclones’ improvement and bowl bid this season, their schedule gets much tougher in 2010. ISU trades Baylor, Oklahoma State and Texas A&M for Texas, Oklahoma and Texas Tech. Toss in non-conference foes like Northern Illinois and Utah and the Cyclones will be facing a rugged challenge.
Even with the return of players like Austen Arnaud and Alexander Robinson and a second season becoming familiar with Paul Rhoads' coaching style, it wouldn’t surprise me to see the Cyclones with a better team in 2010 and a worse record.
Brett Cooper from Piedmont, Okla., writes: Hey, Tim. I’m wondering if you are reporting the Big 12 or promoting the SEC with that statistic you dredged up about the SEC’s 10-3 record over the Big 12 in the bowls?
Tim Griffin: Brett, you can’t alibi your way around facts. And the fact is that the Big 12 has struggled mightily against SEC teams since 2003 with 3-10 record.
The Big 12 started slowly Monday night when Texas A&M enabled Georgia to score 30 unanswered points to cruise to an easy victory.
It will be up to Oklahoma State and Texas to claim upsets to give the Big 12 some bragging rights, or else the SEC will boat race them again in this season's bowl games.
It’s been that way since 1997 – the last time the Big 12 had a winning bowl record over the SEC. The only way the Big 12 can claim superiority is to win on the field, which is something its teams have had trouble accomplishing in the last few seasons against the SEC.
James from Dallas/Fort Worth writes: Hey Tim, quick question about the Independence Bowl - what was ever the final reasoning on why it was right for A&M to have not gotten time back after the spike at the end of the first half when ESPN2 clearly showed 0.5 of a second left? It may not have been a game-changer, but it certainly changed the mood and morale of the team after they were sure they had gotten themselves in field goal range in time. Officials reviewed the Colt McCoy time issue at the end of the Nebraska game. Why couldn’t they fix this one?
Tim Griffin: James, I have no real answer for you. The only differences I could see was that the Texas play ended a game and the Texas A&M play ended a half. Also, there was less than a second left, 0.3 seconds I believe.
The chance not to stop the clock happened when Ryan Tannehill battled for extra yardage after making the catch with nine seconds left. He should have gone down and allowed Jerrod Johnson to make a quick spike which would have left a couple of seconds on the clock. I think the Mountain West Conference crew might have given them the call in that situation. Instead, after Tannehill’s catch, the ball was respotted and the clock started immediately without giving the Aggies at least a half-second to re-set.
In the grand scheme of things, the play didn’t really matter that much. But it would have given A&M a shot of momentum to start the second half. And we don't really know how the game would have turned out if the Aggies had gotten the call there.
Justin Kalemkiarian of Minneapolis, Minn., writes: In preparation for the Holiday Bowl, plus being on my "lunch break,” I was a bit curious about Roy Helu Jr.'s statistics. According to ESPN, Helu has rushed for 2,151 yards through this year's Big 12 Championship game. In the pantheon of Husker running backs that puts him at no. 22 all-time, right between Tony Davis and Steve Taylor. With a 100-yard game he would vault into 17th place and pass such heroes as Doug DuBose and Jeff Kinney. If he were to rush for another 1,000 yards in his career he would end up at fifth all-time, just 2 yards behind Calvin Jones for fourth place. This blows my mind!
I think most people would be hard-pressed to name Nebraska's starting running back and would be even more shocked to find out that he has a legitimate shot at ending his career as the no. 3 rusher in the team's history (he needs 1,284 yards to pass Eric Crouch)! What are your thoughts on Helu's place among Cornhusker greats?
Tim Griffin: It’s hard to argue with statistics, although Helu does get a break because would have played in four seasons and basically started for about 3 ½ of those seasons. But it does underscore the kind of numbers he has racked up during his career.
But considering the aggravating injuries that occurred at times in each of the last two seasons, it might be a big presumption to think that Helu will automatically be able to play through next season.
He’ll be an important element for the Cornhuskers – in Wednesday’s bowl game and into next season after Bo Pelini has hinted about moving to a more basic offensive attack.
And if he stays healthy and productive, Helu will go down in history as one of the greatest running backs in Nebraska’s storied history along with immortals like Mike Rozier, Ahman Green, Jones, Ken Clark and I.M. Hipp who rank as Nebraska's top five running back rushers of all time. All five of those players compiled their career totals in only three of playing time.
That's all the time for today. Keep the letters coming and I'll check back later this week.
Thanks again for all of the good correspondence.
I appreciate it.
Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Griffin
By all accounts, 2008 was a landmark season for Big 12 football.
The unprecedented three-way tie for the South Division championship that involved Texas, Texas Tech and Oklahoma made the conference must-see television for the second half of the season for fans across the country. Attention was riveted to the conference unlike any previous time in the Big 12's history.
It should be more of the same this season as strong races are expected in both the North and South Divisions.
The conference again will feature cutting-edge offensive units that will score boatloads of points and be powered by the most talented collection of quarterbacks that can be found anywhere.
Those numbers are nice, but the Big 12's lack of defensive production is the main reason I still think it ranks behind the Southeastern Conference.
The top athletes in the Big 12 are clustered on offensive units, helping to result in shootouts.
In the SEC, those same athletes seem to end up playing defense. It might not be as much fun to watch, but the physical nature is apparent.
In recent bowl games, the Big 12 has struggled to match that defensive nature of the SEC for many statement-making victories. Oklahoma's loss to Florida in the BCS title game and Texas Tech's defeat to Mississippi in the Cotton Bowl last year indicated there's still a gap between defenses found in the SEC and the Big 12.
The SEC also has a deeper concentration of top teams, as seen by its four teams in the top 10 when the USA Today coaches' poll was released earlier today.
It doesn't mean the Big 12 won't be exciting or fun to watch this season. Because it will be -- again.
But until Big 12 teams can notch some statement-making victories where defense isn't an afterthought, its national perception will continue to lag behind the SEC's.
The rest of the nation is no comparison. Big 12 teams can occasionally win their BCS bowl games, unlike the ACC. It might not have the fancy television network of the Big Ten, but has a more exciting brand of football to showcase. And it's not nearly as top heavy as the Pac-10 with its concentration of USC and Oregon at the top and little balance after.
Here's my ranking of the top eight conferences heading into the upcoming season
- Big 12
- Big Ten
- Big East
Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Griffin
All right Big 12 fans, don't say that the ESPN.com football pundits didn't keep you on the edge of your seat.
Pat Forde, Mark Schlabach and Ivan Maisel attacked an interesting proposition, choosing the top programs if the FBS was being winnowed to 40 members.
The Big 12 finished with eight teams selected, including three of the final four picks. Don't say that we at ESPN.com don't enjoy a little finely-crafted drama from the live chat from their 40-team draft, which played out at this link.
Here are the Big 12 teams and where they were picked in the draft.
25. Texas Tech
26. Oklahoma State
39. Texas A&M
And for the fans of the other four schools -- Baylor, Colorado, Iowa State and Kansas State -- I wish my deepest sympathies. And please send the irate e-mails to the panel members and not to me.
The late run enabled the Big 12 to have the second-most schools picked in the relegation game than any other conference, trailing only nine picks from the SEC. The Pac-10, Big Ten and ACC had six schools apiece, two from the Mountain West and one each from the WAC, Big East and from the independents.
I wasn't surprised that the three power teams in the Big 12 were picked as high as they were. And South Division powers Texas Tech and Oklahoma State were actually picked a tad earlier than I might have expected. And the run of the three late schools might have showed that the esteemed panel might have been using some collective notes.
But having eight teams picked in this game is a pretty good indication of the Big 12's stature among national powers.
Truthfully, it's one or two more Big 12 schools than I expected would be picked.
Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Griffin
After watching Big 12 games last season, I got the idea that the league was one where offenses dominated and defensive coordinators grew old very quickly.
But I didn't realize how much Big 12 offenses ruled until I looked at the numbers compared to the rest of the country.
The NCAA broke down all of the 2008 statistics on a conference-by-conference extrapolation. I then pulled out a calculator to delve deeper than the surface numbers.
The Big 12 led every conference in almost every major offensive statistic. Some of these margins were by an unexpectedly large margin.
Take average number of plays. Here's how the conferences rank on a per-game, per-team basis.
Big 12 71.0
Conference USA 69.9
Mountain West 69.1
Sun Belt 68.5
Big Ten 68.3
Western Athletic 67.4
Big East 66.1
Atlantic Coast 65.2
NATIONAL AVG 67.7
The statistics indicate the Big 12 ran 1.59 percent more plays than its next closest rival and was 4.93 percent above the national average.
Punting also provides another interesting comparison. The Big 12 ranks last among conferences in average punts per game. Here's a look at the national average in per-team punts per game.
Sun Belt 5.1
Western Athletic 5.0
Big Ten 5.0
Atlantic Coast 4.9
Big East 4.7
Mountain West 4.7
Conference USA 4.6
Big 12 3.7
NATIONAL AVG. 4.7
The Big 12 has fewer punts -- by a huge margin over any other conference. It's 27.45 percent below the national leader and one full punt per game below the national average.
The Big 12 also led the nation convincingly in most yards per team. Here's a look at the national per-team, per-game averages.
Big 12 439.6
Conference USA 401.8
Sun Belt 378.2
Western Athletic 370.2
Mountain West 368.8
Big Ten 367.2
Big East 360.9
Atlantic Coast 329.1
NATIONAL AVG. 371.6
Again, the Big 12 has a huge edge over the rest of the country. The per-team per-game total offense total is 9.41 percent above its next closest finisher, 18.3 percent above the national average and 33.6 percent above the last-place finisher's average.
Scoring again was led by the Big 12. Here's a per-conference, per-team, per game comparison.
Big 12 35.6
Conference USA 28.8
Western Athletic 26.7
Big Ten 26.6
Mountain West 26.4
Sun Belt 26.2
Big East 25.3
Atlantic Coast 24.0
NATIONAL AVG. 27.2
The Big 12's figures were a whopping 23.6 percent over second-place Conference USA, 30.9 percent above the national average and 58.9 percent above the scoring done by independents.
Here's how the conferences ranked on a yards-per-play average.
Big 12 6.19
Conference USA 5.75
Sun Belt 5.52
Western Athletic 5.50
Big East 5.46
Big Ten 5.35
Mountain West 5.33
Atlantic Coast 5.03
NATIONAL AVG. 5 49
The Big 12's average per play ranked 7.65 percent above its closest contender, 12.8 percent above the national average and 23.1 percent above the lowest finisher among the conferences.
It will be interesting to see if the Big 12 offenses can maintain that domination next season. With the strong cast of returning quarterbacks, it wouldn't surprise me if it is similarly skewed next season.