Big 12: Tim\'s mailbag
Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Griffin
Spring practice has sparked an outpouring of letters and e-mails about the events taking place across the Big 12. Here are some of the more notable missives I received this week.
Jonny from Chicago writes: Hey, Tim. Are any Big 12 schools known for the type of NFL positions prospects they have produced over the years. For instance, Penn State is commonly referred to as "Linebacker U" and USC has the nickname of "Tailback U". Any in the Big 12 you can think of?
Tim Griffin: Good question. There aren't any as notable as the ones you mentioned, but here are a few of the most notable trends I could find when I thought about the Big 12 and the NFL draft.
Colorado: Wide receivers. The Buffaloes have had four first-round selections since 1991, although none since 1997. Included in the list are Rae Carruth, Charles Johnson, Michael Westbrook and Mike Pritchard.
Texas: Defensive backs. This is the conference's most consistent factory at any position. The Longhorns have six first-round selections at the position since 1991 -- Stanley Richard, Bryant Westbrook, Quentin Jammer, Michael Huff, Michael Griffin and Aaron Ross. It's almost like a machine turning out No. 1 picks under defensive backs coach Duane Akina.
Nebraska: Defensive ends. The Cornhuskers have had six defensive ends picked in the first two rounds of the NFL draft since 1997. That's included key producers like Grant Wistrom, Adam Carriker, Mike Rucker, Kyle Vanden Bosch and Chris Kelsay.
Oklahoma: It's more quantity for the Sooners than top-round quality, with nine defensive backs picked since Bob Stoops took over. That list has included only two first-round selections -- Roy Williams and Andre Woolfolk.
Steve from Overland Park, Kan., writes: Tim, if you were starting an NFL team and you could have your choice of any Big 12 player who is on a college roster this spring, who would you pick.
Tim Griffin: Given the choice, I think Oklahoma quarterback Sam Bradford would look awfully good on my team. I like his size and arm a little better than Colt McCoy, and I also think Bradford will hold up better in the NFL. Among others I would strongly consider include Oklahoma tight end Jermaine Gresham, Oklahoma defensive tackle Gerald McCoy, Oklahoma State wide receiver Dez Bryant, Texas defensive end/linebacker Sergio Kindle and Baylor defensive tackle Phil Taylor.
G from Gering, Neb., writes: Will you be attending any of Nebraska's spring practices this year? And what are you specifically looking for?
Tim Griffin: G, I'm headed up there to watch on Saturday morning if I don't get snowed out along the way. I know most coaches have vanilla workouts when the media is around. But I'll be curious if Zac Lee's arm is really as good as I've heard. I'm also going to be looking at Nebraska's receivers as they replace the sizable hole created by the departure of Nate Swift and Todd Peterson. And I'll be curious to see what kind of attitude the Cornhuskers have on defense. They need to be more aggressive in terms of creating turnovers. And if I know Bo Pelini, he's probably coaching that into them from their first spring practice.
Jason from Fort Collins, Colo., writes: Tim: In an offensive conference like the Big 12, who do you see as having the top defenses for this upcoming season?
Tim Griffin: I would expect the conference's top two defenses to be Oklahoma and Texas, who I also think will have the conference's two best teams.
I like Oklahoma's just a little bit more because of the return of players like McCoy, Jeremy Beal, Travis Lewis and Dominique Franks. If the Sooners can find a couple of safeties, they'll be one of the best in the country.
And linebackers Austin Box and Ryan Reynolds and defensive end Auston English could be among the best players in the conference at their best position if they can come back from injuries. Their return will only boost the production of Brent Venables' unit.
I also like Texas if they can find some help for Kindle along the defensive front. I expect some of the younger players in the secondary to challenge existing starters for playing time.
And I think Nebraska can be very good as the Cornhuskers work for the second season under Pelini. They need for Barry Turner to come back healthy at defensive end. And it will be interesting to see if Jared Crick is as good as I'm hearing at defensive tackle next to Ndamukong Suh.
Not coincedentially, those three teams should be among the best in the Big 12 this year. I think the teams with the best defenses will have a huge advantage in a conference like the Big 12 where the offenses will be so potent.
N. Hodgin from Alpharetta, Ga., writes: Tim, Where did Patrick Witt transfer to?
Tim Griffin: It still is undetermined, although I hear he's considering UCLA, Stanford, Duke and Yale.
Obviously, the question for him will be whether he wants to play immediately, which he could do if he went to an FCS school. Recent Big 12 transfers like Rhett Bomar and Bobby Reid were able to do that.
If Witt wants to play at another FBS school, he'll have to sit out a year.
His family has hinted to several Nebraska newspapers that he might move and give up his football career.
But I frankly don't see that happening. I would look for him to end up at another FBS school, getting a year to learn the offense before playing again 2010.
Zeyad from Tulsa writes: Oklahoma has a good chance at going undefeated this year as long as they get by Texas. But with the Sooners' soft schedule and their recent letdowns in big games do you think there's a chance they will get voted out of the national championship game if they finish undefeated? Especially if it would end up being a rematch of last season?
Tim Griffin: Zeyad, I think that any team that goes undefeated in the Big 12 is going to have a great shot at playing for the national championship. And I would also argue about Oklahoma having a soft schedule. The Sooners will be playing bowl teams like BYU and Tulsa and also have a trip to Miami among their nonconference games. That's in addition to playing all of the schools in the Big 12 South along with road games at projected Big 12 North title contenders Kansas and Nebraska and a potential Big 12 championship game. The Sooners won't have to apologize for that schedule.
Thanks again for all of the e-mails and letters and please keep them coming. We'll check back again next week.
Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Griffin
We'll be going to a different schedule the next few weeks in which we'll break up the questions. Some will appear on Tuesdays and others will appear on the traditional Friday slot.
Here are some of the best ones I've received over the past several days.
Andrew from Clemson, S.C., writes: Tim, with Kansas getting so much off-season hype to win the Big 12 North, do you think some are underestimating the loss of the members of their offensive line and linebackers from last season? I know here in Clemson after we saw what happens with a young offensive line and linebacker corps.
Tim Griffin: You raise a very good point. That rebuilding is the major reason why I'm a little hesitant to pick the Jayhawks for the North title. Even with Todd Reesing, Dezmon Briscoe, Kerry Meier, Jake Sharp and all the rest, the play of the Kansas defense will be critical.
I'm thinking the Jayhawks will miss Joe Mortensen, James Holt and Mike Rivera. And the loss of guards Chet Hartley and Adrian Mayes and center Ryan Cantrell could be even more of a challenge, considering they anchored of the Jayhawks' line.
I'm also a little leery about the Jayhawks' cross-division opponents. Drawing Texas, Oklahoma and Texas Tech will mean the Jayhawks will be playing three of the four likely toughest South opponents.
It won't be easy. And that's why I think the North will be an interesting race.
John from Austin writes: Tim, I wrote you a couple of weeks ago how Texas doesn't seem to be in the running for guys who like to make the dramatic "hat" choices on ESPN (to announce where they are committing). But I was thinking about the 19 2010 commitments the school has already attracted. Most of them show up, maybe we are cradle robbers instead of the "hat guys?"
Tim Griffin: Or maybe Mack Brown and his staff feel like they can circumvent the whole "hat process" by picking his recruiting targets early and signing them. It looks like he's done a pretty good job so far -- at least this spring anyway.
Abe Clark from Durham, N.C., writes: I'm curious if you misread a question in your last chat? You ranked the best teams in the Big 12 last year as Texas, Oklahoma, Oklahoma State and Nebraska. Did you think the ranking was for the upcoming season? Where's the love for one of the best Texas Tech teams in history?
Also, I love your blog and your insights.
Tim Griffin: Sorry about that. I did think the question was for the upcoming season. Some of those questions in our chats are a little like the lightning round from "Password," for some of my more television-savvy readers. We try to crank as many out as we can. I'll try to read them a little more clearly next time.
As far as last season, here would be my final Big 12 rankings: Texas, Oklahoma, Texas Tech, Oklahoma State, Missouri, Nebraska, Kansas, Colorado, Kansas State, Baylor, Texas A&M and Iowa State.
And also I agree that arguably, the last Texas Tech team was the best in the history of the school. The Red Raiders' 10-0 start and No. 2 ranking late last season also made it one of the most memorable seasons as well -- both for Texas Tech fans and Mike Leach's pocketbook with the new contract extension.
Steve from Roanoke, Va., writes: Just wondering what you think about Oklahoma's defense. Will they be much better than last season?
Tim Griffin: I do think the Sooners' defensive unit will be a backbone for the team. The Sooners have nine starters back and some key producers like Gerald McCoy, Travis Lewis, Frank Alexander, Dom Franks, Keenan Clayton, Auston English and Jeremy Beal. The defense will be particularly important in the Big 12 where offenses will again be so predominant. The team with the best defense might end up as the best team, because I think many teams will have big offensive units.
I think the biggest key for the Sooners will be the play of their new safeties after starters Nic Harris and Lendy Holmes both departed. The play of Quinton Carter and Sam Proctor will be critical as the projected starters. And also keep an eye open for a contribution from rangy redshirt freshman Joseph Ibiloye, who has turned heads in winter workouts.
John S. from Williamsport, Pa., writes: Who do you believe assumes power in the North? Missouri loses Chase Daniel, Jeremy Maclin and all of the guys on defense. With the staff changes in Columbia, it looks like they will be taking a step back. My guess is Nebraska or Kansas. Who do you think?
Tim Griffin: I'm thinking that Nebraska would be my slight favorite over Kansas, mainly because of the Cornhuskers' cross-division schedule compared to Kansas'. But it wouldn't surprise me if Colorado creeps into contention and I still think Missouri and Kansas State will be representative teams that have their moments, too. I give Nebraska a slight edge, but I want to take a close look at their quarterbacks this spring before I anoint the team heading into the summer.
Jason Peters from Oklahoma City writes: Tim, what would you consider are the greatest teams in Big 12 history? And are my Sooners included on the list?
Tim Griffin: Most definitely. They aren't the best team, but are among several of the best. Here's how I would rank them.
1. 2005 Texas
2. 2000 Oklahoma
3. 1997 Nebraska
4. 2004 Oklahoma (Maybe higher if Mike Stoops coached them all season)
5. 1999 Nebraska
Keep the letters and e-mails coming and I'll try to answer a representative sampling of them later this week. Thanks again for writing.