Big 12: Toby Gerhart

My Heisman Trophy ballot has changed every week for the last couple of months.

I'm not surprised there are more than three players going to the trophy presentation.

Five players were invited to New York for Saturday night's Heisman Trophy presentation -- quarterbacks Andrew Luck of Stanford and Robert Griffin III of Baylor, tailbacks Montee Ball of Wisconsin and Trent Richardson of Alabama and cornerback Tyrann Mathieu of LSU.

It's a shame the Heisman Trust didn't have room for three more quarterbacks because Houston's Case Keenum, USC's Matt Barkley and Boise State's Kellen Moore were just as deserving.

With five finalists going to New York, it figures to be one of the closer votes in recent Heisman Trophy history.

The closest vote in Heisman Trophy history came just two years ago, when Alabama tailback Mark Ingram edged Stanford's Toby Gerhart by only 28 points. Ingram received 227 first-place votes, Gerhart got 222 and Texas quarterback Colt McCoy, the second runner-up, received 203.

Given the number of finalists and their geographical regions, we could have another really close finish on Saturday night.

Luck, the runner-up to Auburn's Cam Newton last season, entered the 2011 season as the Heisman Trophy favorite. His performance didn't slip much this season, as he completed 70 percent of his passes for 3,170 yards with 35 touchdowns and nine interceptions.

I still feel Luck might be the most valuable player on any team in the country. Without him, there's no way the Cardinal is ranked No. 4 in the country and playing No. 3 Oklahoma State in the Tostitos Fiesta Bowl. Luck has done more with less, as Stanford lacks the game-changing playmakers that other teams have.

But Luck might still be the second-best quarterback in New York. Griffin, who is widely known as RG3, completed 72.4 percent of his passes for 3,998 yards with 36 touchdowns and six interceptions. He also ran for 644 yards with nine touchdowns.

Without him, the Bears wouldn't have beaten TCU, Oklahoma and Texas. Griffin's one drawback: He had a late interception that sealed the Bears' fate in a 36-35 loss at Kansas State on Oct. 1 and threw two picks in a 59-24 loss at Oklahoma State on Oct. 29. But with everything else RG3 has done this season, it's easy to give him a mulligan for the miscues.

LSU defense
Kevin C. Cox/Getty ImagesRunning back Trent Richardson has been at his best in Alabama's biggest games.
I still believe Richardson is the best player in the country. He looked like the best player on the field in No. 2 Alabama's 9-6 loss in overtime to No. 1 LSU on Nov. 5. He had 89 rushing yards and 80 receiving yards in a game where every yard mattered. He finished the season with 1,583 yards with 20 touchdown runs and three touchdown catches. He's also Mr. Dependable, not losing a fumble in his past 520 touches and only once in 614 career touches.

Ball has been a scoring machine for the No. 10 Badgers this season, running for 1,759 yards with 32 touchdown runs and six touchdown receptions. His 38 total touchdowns are one shy of matching former Oklahoma State running back Barry Sanders' NCAA single-season record of 39 set in 11 games in 1988. Ball's production helped lead the Badgers to a Jan. 2 date against Oregon in the Rose Bowl Game presented by VIZIO.

Mathieu fell off my ballot after he was suspended from playing in the Tigers' 45-10 victory over Auburn on Oct. 22 for smoking synthetic marijuana. But his big plays helped the Tigers overcome deficits in each of their last two victories, over Arkansas and Georgia in the SEC championship game.

Mathieu -- aka the "Honey Badger" -- is the best player on the top-ranked team. He leads the Tigers with 70 tackles and has forced six fumbles and recovered five. He also is the most dynamic punt returner I've seen since Florida State's Deion Sanders. Mathieu has scored four touchdowns -- two on fumble returns and two on punt returns.

To penalize Mathieu for one foolish mistake wouldn't have been right. After all, Newton was briefly ruled ineligible at Auburn last season and 2010 Heisman Trophy finalist LaMichael James of Oregon was suspended from playing in last season's opener.

Brut Sun Bowl: Oklahoma (7-5) vs. Stanford (8-4)

December, 30, 2009
Dreams of a national championship ended early this season for Oklahoma when Sam Bradford was injured in a season-opening loss to BYU. And the Sooners’ dreams of claiming an unprecedented fourth consecutive Big 12 title were effectively quashed when the 2008 Heisman Trophy winner was reinjured early in the Texas game.

At 7-5, Oklahoma already has lost more games in the regular season than in any previous season during coach Bob Stoops’ tenure. But the Sun Bowl game against Stanford still is important as the Sooners try to put a positive ending to a nightmarish season.

WHO TO WATCH: Ryan Broyles, WR/KR, Oklahoma

Whether it’s catching passes, running reverses or running back punts, Broyles is the Sooners' top playmaker. He led the team with 76 receptions for 964 yards and 12 touchdown grabs and has averaged 16.5 yards per punt return. And he has a nose for the end zone with 14 touchdowns that led the conference. His 1,565 all-purpose yards rank fourth in the Bob Stoops era and he twice produced 11 catches in a game. And Broyles is in line to become the first wide receiver to lead Oklahoma in scoring in the 72 seasons that the program has been tracking football statistics. When Broyles is making big plays, the Sooners have their best shot to win and quarterback Landry Jones’ confidence is at its peak. A big game from Broyles will be vitally important if this game turns out to be a shootout as so many bowl games seem to do.

WHAT TO WATCH: Oklahoma’s rush defense against Toby Gerhart

The Sooners’ rush defense is their strength on that side of the ball, ranking seventh nationally. With Gerald McCoy and Adrian Taylor at tackle and Jeremy Beal and Frank Alexander at end, the Sooners have one of the most productive defensive fronts in the country. But the Sooners still will be challenged by Gerhart, who ranked second in Heisman balloting on the strength of a late surge that saw him rush for 1,736 yards this season -- including an average of 185.5 yards and 13 rushing touchdowns in his last four games. With Stanford quarterback Andrew Luck doubtful because of a broken right index finger, backup quarterback Tavita Pritchard likely will lean on Gerhart more than usual. And considering he averaged 29 carries in his final four games of the season, the interior of the Sooners’ defense might brace for a big test in the game.

WHY WATCH: Can the Sooners turn around their recent bowl slump?

Oklahoma’s struggles in recent bowls have made the Sooners a national punchline with five straight losses in BCS games and three consecutive losses in national championship games. While the Sun Bowl might not have the national luster of some of their recent bowl games, just winning the final game of the season would be huge for the Sooners’ psyche -- especially after all of this season’s early disappointments. A triumph over the Cardinal would enable the Sooners to produce some positive momentum heading into 2010.

PREDICTION: There might be some concern about how motivated the Sooners will be in El Paso after playing in BCS games in seven of their last nine seasons. But the struggles in those recent games should have this group excited just to try to win a bowl game for a change. With Luck likely out, the Sooners will be catching a break. Look for the Sooners to try to control Gerhart and force Pritchard to beat them passing. The Sooners also look to have too many offensive weapons against a pedestrian Stanford defense that likely will have trouble matching them athletically. Oklahoma 38, Stanford 24.

McCoy, Young share similar reaction to Heisman snub

December, 21, 2009
AUSTIN, Texas -- For the second time in five seasons, Texas offensive coordinator Greg Davis sent a text message to his quarterback shortly after his player lost in the Heisman Trophy.

David sent Colt McCoy a message last Saturday night similar to one that was delivered to Vince Young in 2005 when he finished second behind USC's Reggie Bush.

"I told Vince he was my Heisman winner," Davis said. "And I sent one to Colt, too, where he was my Heisman winner."

And like Young five years ago, McCoy answered the text with a short declaration as he gets ready for a chance to beat the team with the eventual winner of the Heisman.

"I answered the way I felt," said McCoy, who answered like Young: "Game On."

McCoy was thought to be the Heisman leader after a strong performance against Texas A&M in the Nov. 26 regular-season finale. But he struggled through a nine-sack, three-interception performance in the Big 12 championship game against Nebraska.

Those struggles helped contribute to him finishing third this season behind winner Mark Ingram of Alabama and second-place finisher Toby Gerhart of Stanford.

McCoy finished second last season behind Sam Bradford of Oklahoma.

"I think last year was a lot more disappointing than this year," McCoy said. "I was fine afterwards this year because I know how much more we have to play for.

"The only disappointing thing was that I was disappointed for my teammates that I couldn't bring it home for them. Every award is a team award and for the most part we did pretty good. But I wasn't upset."

But whether he uses the disappointment to fuel his competitiveness might be a different story.

"I might use it as a little motivation," McCoy said. "But other than that, I know how much more we have to play for. That was really what was on my the whole trip."

It's not exactly like McCoy's trophy case will be barren. He claimed his second Walter Camp Football Foundation Player of the Year Award and also was named the winner of the Maxwell Award, the Davey O'Brien Award and the Johnny Unitas Golden Arm Award.

But a bigger goal remains the crystal ball presented to the national championship team after the Jan. 7 Citi Bowl Championship Series game.

"The most special thing is getting to play for a national championship," McCoy said.

My Big 12 confidence picks

December, 17, 2009
Many of you have written to me over the last several days asking me about my bowl picks for various confidence pools.

Obviously, these games aren't quite as prevalent as bracket sheets during the NCAA men's tournament, but they assuredly are growing. I know I have several offers and have to get my sheets ready by Saturday's games.

Here are my picks for Big 12 bowl games ranked one through eight in terms of my confidence in the results of the games. I'll have much more extensive previews before the games and I reserve my right to make a last-minute change, but here are my picks in place for Saturday's confidence-pick deadline.

8 points: Texas Tech over Michigan State, Valero Alamo Bowl. The Red Raiders are catching the Spartans at exactly the right time. And the fact that Michigan State is riddled with suspensions only makes the Red Raiders' opportunity to win that much greater. Tech's Taylor Potts should have a huge game against the Spartans' struggling secondary that ranks 96th in pass-efficiency defense and 103rd in pass defense.

7 points: Missouri over Navy, Texas Bowl. The Tigers played well late in the season when Blaine Gabbert was healthy. Danario Alexander was the Big 12's most explosive player down the stretch. And while the defense isn't their best quality, I like their chances of being able to stuff Navy's run-heavy offense. Missouri limited four of its last five opponents to 77 yards rushing or less and Dave Steckel's group will have a long time to prepare for the option.

6 points: Georgia over Texas A&M, Advocare V100 Independence Bowl. Which Aggies team will show up for this game? The one that nearly beat Texas or the one that was blown out by Oklahoma or Kansas State? I think that Joe Cox and A.J. Green will have a lot of success against the Aggies' struggling defense, providing they can effectively keep Von Miller out of the Georgia backfield.

5 points: Oklahoma over Stanford, Brut Sun Bowl. The Sooners are intent on turning around after losing five of their last six bowl games. Oklahoma gets a break because of Andrew Luck's iffy status for the Cardinal. Look for the Sooners' run defense to clamp down on Toby Gerhart and Ryan Broyles and Landry Jones to make enough big plays to win.

4 points: Mississippi over Oklahoma State, AT&T Cotton Bowl. How much will that blowout loss at Oklahoma in Bedlam harm the Cowboys' psyche? I'm thinking more than might be expected as underrated bowl game coach Houston Nutt will assuredly have the Rebels ready to play. Look for a game similar to last year's Cotton Bowl against Texas Tech where the Rebels win the game in the trenches.

3 points: Arizona over Nebraska, Pacific Life Holiday Bowl. Look for a defensive struggle between good buddies Mike Stoops and Bo Pelini. But with Nebraska's well-chronicled offensive struggles against better opponents, it might be more of the same for the Cornhuskers in the bowl game. This one should be tight, but look for Arizona quarterback Nick Foles to make enough big plays to give the Wildcats a narrow victory.

2 points: Iowa State over Minnesota, Insight Bowl. The Cyclones definitely are happy to move up this far in the bowl pecking order. That attitude, along with strong inside running by Alexander Robinson, might be enough to catapult them to a big effort over the Gophers. Minnesota has been to the Insight Bowl three times in the last four seasons and might be a little bored with another trip to the desert this time around.

1 point: Texas over Alabama, Citi BCS National Championship Game. The Longhorns are underdogs in this one, but I'm thinking they are going to be a little tired about pundits talking about how fortunate they are to be playing in this game. The Longhorns are actually a better match for the Crimson Tide than they would have been against Florida. Will Muschamp's expertise on Nick Saban and his system will be pivotal. And I think Texas' run defense will keep Mark Ingram bottled up and that Colt McCoy will outplay Greg McElroy for his fourth bowl victory.

That would produce a 5-3 bowl record for the Big 12 this time around. It might be a little optimistic, but I'm fairly confident the teams can play to my expected levels.

What about some of your picks? I'm curious what you believe is a legitimate record the Big 12 can achieve this season.

McCoy, Suh end up third, fourth in Heisman balloting

December, 12, 2009
The Big 12 was unable to produce a second consecutive Heisman Award when Alabama's Mark Ingram won the award Saturday night.

Ingram claimed the award in the closest balloting in the history of the award, beating out Toby Gerhart of Stanford by 28 points.

Ingram, a sophomore, became the first player in the history of the Alabama program to win the Heisman.

Texas quarterback Colt McCoy finished third and Nebraska defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh was fourth.

Suh claimed the Southwest region that encompasses much of the Big 12's regional footprint. He also posted the most points in history by a defensive player.

Oklahoma's Sam Bradford claimed the Heisman Award last season.

It marked the second-straight season two Big 12 players attended the ceremonies in New York City.
If it’s Friday, how about some letters to send us out into the weekend?

Steve Johnson from Gretna, Neb., writes: With the recent decommitments by Tyler Gabbert and Curtis Carter from Nebraska, how do you think that affects the current Nebraska recruiting class. And does it signal that there will be a change in how the Cornhuskers’ offense has evolved under Shawn Watson?

Tim Griffin: I think both recruits must have been watching the Cornhuskers’ struggling offense last week before they made their calls to decommit. It wasn’t just in the Texas game, but throughout the last quarter of the season, that the Cornhuskers turned to a ball-control heavy offense with heavy use of a fullback and tight end on most plays.

It was the offense that was good enough to clinch the Cornhuskers the North Division with five straight victories down the stretch.

Because of that, it will be interesting to see which way the Cornhuskers go. Watson is comfortable coaching offenses many ways. While I’m sure he’d like to have a quarterback “sling the ball around the lot,” his current collection of talent seemingly lends itself better to a running game.

And considering Gabbert’s senior-season statistics, I’m not sure if that his decommitment will be such a big loss for the Cornhuskers. Carter would have been exactly what the Cornhuskers needed – a speedy receiver who can make big plays. That’s the element Nebraska’s offense is most sorely missing. And it was obvious in the game against Texas.

Jack Scarbrough from Tulsa, Okla., writes: Tim, I’m sure you are getting your fair share of castigation from the Nebraska fans after your Heisman vote. I’m sure it was a tough vote and you made what you felt was the right call.

My question is this. Which Heisman winner do you think had the most dominant season in history?

Tim Griffin: Jack, thanks for your sentiments. And your question is an easy one -- a lot more simple than my Heisman vote was this season.

Give me Barry Sanders of Oklahoma State in 1988. Something about rushing for 2,628 yards, scoring 234 points on 39 touchdowns, and having five consecutive 200-yard games impressed me.

Josh Jungman of Washington, D.C., writes: I noticed your post about the effect of Mack Brown's contract on Will Muschamp.

While I haven't seen the contract myself, the reports I have read suggest that his compensation does not require him to be the head coach for the full term of the contract since it includes a provision for re-assignment within the Texas athletic department. I have no idea what market rate is for an AD (though I would assume $5 million per is way above market), but if any athletic department could afford that, it would be Texas. Another way to think of the contract -- if my analysis is right and Mack were to transition to AD in a year or two -- is that they're just deferring compensation for him to later years. If I'm correct, it would seem that this week's amendment would then have little effect on his decision of when to retire from coaching.

Tim Griffin: Josh, you raise a good point that Brown conceivably could take the other job and continue as athletic director at his new salary. And you are correct that a $5 million contract for an athletic director would be the highest in college sports history. My point is Brown has never looked as relaxed and casual as he currently does. The fact his new salary has come along will likely make him want to stay in his job. I’m thinking it might be a couple of years longer than some would suspect. And like I wrote yesterday, I’ll be extremely curious to see how that would affect Muschamp if some other top jobs start popping up around the country. I’m thinking there is only a handful he would consider -- probably less than five. But if Alabama, LSU or Georgia materialized, would he be loyal to Texas or would he decide to go elsewhere? And if he did have one of the job opportunities, would it make Brown more likely to leave coaching to make room for his hand-picked successor?

My thought is that Brown has several more years of coaching in front of him. And the new contract only guarantees that.

Steve from Kansas City, Mo., writes: Tim, It seems over the past few years Missouri has been snubbed over and over again for bowl games.

The Orange Bowl picked Kansas in 2007, the Gator Bowl selects Nebraska in 2008, and now the Insight Bowl chose Iowa State over Missouri in 2009. I just don't get it. Does Mike Alden not have enough pull in the conference and does someone have it out for MU?

Tim Griffin: I know it’s been frustrating for Missouri and their fans over the past three seasons in their bowl placements. I think the only way for the Tiger and their fans to overcome those perceptions is to become known among bowls as a group of fans who travel to bowl destinations regardless of where they are.

I know that the Texas bowls aren’t the most glamorous stops in the Big 12 food chain. But I also know that Missouri has a lot of alumni scattered across the Lone Star State. If they want the trend to turn around, they need to pack the Texas Bowl for their game against Navy, or at least sell a large number of tickets. If that happens, the next time the Tigers are involved in competition with another Big 12 school for a bowl slot, those selectors will remember what Missouri has done in the past.

Mike from Lincoln, Neb., writes: Tim, I enjoy reading your blog.

But I have one question for you. Why do Suh's and Gerhart's teams having four losses make an impact on why you don’t vote for them for the Heisman? Last I checked, the Heisman wasn’t for the most outstanding player on the best team.

Tim Griffin: Many are curious about why I put Colt McCoy over Ndamukong Suh. As I considered my vote, I think a quarterback that completes more than 70 percent of his passes on a team that is undefeated and playing for a national championship is a pretty special player. One who would be worthy of a Heisman Trophy on most people’s ballots.

In a tough year where there’s no cut-and-dried winner, those facts resonate for me. Everybody has their own definition of how to vote.

That is mine.

Ken Lawson of Houston writes: Tim, do you think the NCAA should restrict teams from interviewing coaches till post bowl season?

The game is about the fans, teams etc. Not the coaches. We have seen time in and out as coaches bail on the team, or stay as a lame duck and it impacts the outcome. The distraction and emotion is too great for all.

Tim Griffin: Ken, your thought sounds good in theory. But with recruiting season coming up so soon after the end of the season, most losing programs feel a compunction to make a change as soon as possible.

Administrators want to get the best coaches possible, hoping to turn downtrodden teams around quickly. There will always be a rush to get what is presumed to be the best candidate.

And for that reason, I don’t see your idea ever happening. Although I agree with your sentiments.

Thanks again for of all the good questions. We’ll check back again early next week.

Why I voted McCoy for the Heisman

December, 10, 2009
The Heisman Trophy balloting was tougher than I can ever remember it being.

I labored long and pondered my vote for several days before I finally made it late Monday afternoon.

[+] EnlargeColt McCoy
Ronald Martinez/Getty ImagesColt McCoy didn't play his best in the Big 12 championship, but he did enough to win.
Voting for Colt McCoy isn’t an easy decision and after reading countless e-mails and letters this week assuredly wasn’t a popular one. But I think it’s the right one for a lot of good reasons.

Like an electorate that is swayed by the last thing they hear at a debate, I fear that some of my fellow voters and most fans across the country put too much importance on what happened in the most recent game. I don't think they considered the body of work for a season.

McCoy was intercepted three times in a tight 13-12 victory over Nebraska. One of the picks was tipped at the line of scrimmage. Another one was snatched by DeJon Gomes on an outstanding athletic play were he ripped it away from a Texas receiver.

I don’t think it was McCoy’s fault that he was sacked nine times against Nebraska. Instead, it was most indicative of playing behind the weakest offensive line he's had during his career.

But in the end, McCoy persevered to take his team to the conference championship and advance to the national championship game. Detractors talk about how he disappeared in that Nebraska game. I actually look at the toughness he showed to engineer his team to its biggest victory during the time he has been Texas’ quarterback -- despite the fierce pounding he took.

And other Heisman finalists struggled through bad games this season as well.

Mark Ingram produced 30 yards against Auburn -- a defense that was ranked 80th nationally in rush defense. Earlier in the season, he rushed for 50 yards against Arkansas's defense, which finished 68th in rush defense.

I also hear from some of my friends that cover the Southeastern Conference that other backs on Alabama’s team could have done the same thing as Ingram if they had gotten the opportunity.

People talk about the Heisman not being a career award and how previous years shouldn’t matter.

But I think Colt McCoy did enough this season to take his team to the brink of the national championship. On top of becoming the winningest quarterback in FBS history with a 45-7 career won-loss record.

That statistic resonates in a year where one candidate doesn’t stand out to me.

Nebraska defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh had phenomenal individual numbers. But I still can’t get away from the biggest statistic in my mind: 9-4. As in Nebraska’s won-loss record.

Suh also had a few clunkers thrown in as well. There was the game against Texas Tech when he had four tackles and no sacks in a 21-point loss to the Red Raiders. He had four tackles and no sacks against Oklahoma. And three tackles and no sacks against Kansas.

It’s also likely that Suh played as a part of one of the great defensive lines in Big 12 history. Jared Crick set a school record for sacks against Baylor. Barry Turner was an underrated defensive end who repeatedly beat Adam Ulatoski last week. Pierre Allen had his moments as well.

The argument could be made that those opponents schemed to take him away from the game. But shouldn’t a Heisman Award candidate be able to overcome those offense plans, particularly playing with as strong a defensive front as the Cornhuskers had this season?

The top individual statistics belong to Stanford running back Toby Gerhart, who rushed for 1,736 yards and 26 touchdowns. But his numbers were swollen by playing six teams with rushing defenses ranked 60th or worst, including a 205-yard season-ending effort against a Notre Dame defense that ranked 90th in rush defense this season.

But Gerhart rushed for 82 yards in a loss against a Wake Forest team that was 5-7 and ranked 82nd in run defense. He also rushed for 96 yards in a loss against Oregon State. The Cardinal were 8-4.

I’m not here to belittle the other candidates, but merely to show that all of them had their failings over the course of the season. They all struggled through games that weren’t as good as their best.

And in the end, there’s something to be said about a quarterback who took his undefeated team to the national championship game while completing 70 percent of his passes. He had the biggest single rushing game and the longest rushing play of the season for a team that had no backs that rushed for more than 520 yards.

McCoy had one consistent receiver and an offensive line -- at least if Saturday night’s performance is an indicator --that left a lot to be desired.

One Heisman moment for him came on that 65-yard touchdown sprint through the Texas A&M defense.

But another one came six games earlier after one of his biggest disappointments.

After McCoy had thrown a fourth-quarter interception in the red zone, he made a crunching form tackle that saved many yards on a return and likely saved the Longhorns’ 16-13 victory over the Sooners.

A play like that showed me more than any mere statistic could have.

I voted McCoy for first place, Suh at second place and Gerhart at third.

I think it’s the right vote.

But because of the late interest, I’m more interested in this Heisman balloting than any I can remember in a long time.

It ought to be fun Saturday night.
Here are some letters I received this week on a variety of subjects.

Paul Lloyd of Austin, Texas, writes: Tim, great work on the Big 12, this is the only non-work related bookmark I keep on my computer at the office. I have a question or proposal for you about the BCS Championship game that I've been repeating since the Texas naysaying began. Do you feel that a month worth of doubt and underselling Texas helps their chances to play the "no one wants you here" edge against Alabama?

I know this is a common motivator in sports but it really hits home with Texas since before the 2005 team won the National Championship against USC, ESPN ran a week long piece that culminated in declaring that team the greatest ever. I think there's a reason Saban kept trying to remove any David vs. Goliath connotations Sunday night, because he knows how big a motivator and demotivator this can be for both sides. What are your thoughts?

Tim Griffin: Paul, I think you are exactly right on this. Texas will be repeatedly undersold during the next month of its preparation. Mack Brown couldn’t ask for a better psychological ploy than this happening.

The Longhorns will be doubted over the next few weeks. Colt McCoy and the offense will be castigated for their performance against a pretty good Nebraska defense.

And another advantage for the Longhorns will be the presence of Will Muschamp on Brown’s staff. If anybody knows about Nick Saban and his play-calling habits it will be Muschamp, who coached with him at LSU and later followed him to the Miami Dolphins.

Saban is a savvy enough coach to realize the “David vs. Goliath” comparison is a tad specious.

I prefer to consider the matchup as “King Kong vs. Goliath” between these two storied powers – in terms of football history, tradition, prestige, coaching and the like. The game should be an interesting one.

Jon Weinhold of Lincoln, Neb., writes: Hey Tim, love the column. I've recommended you to a few friends as a way to get a quick dose of Big XII news. That being said, do you think the biggest indication of how good Ndamukong Suh has been this season is that almost everyone has actually learned how to correctly pronounce his name? Second, as corn-fed and die-hard as I am, I'm SHOCKED that the Huskers moved UP in the polls after that loss to Texas. Remember, I'm a Nebraska fan, so I'm well-acquainted with dropping in the polls after a win, but not the reverse. Does that happen often around the nation and I just don't notice?

Tim Griffin: Jon, like you said, a lot of people have learned to correctly pronounce his first name over the last few weeks. But I still like how Bo Pelini sometimes still refers to him as “Big Suh” and Mack Brown a couple of times last week called him “Young Suh.” For those of you at home, his name is phonetically said “N Dom In Can.”

And you do bring an interesting point in Nebraska earning some unexpected respect for their close loss last week to Texas. They did play a great game – particularly the Cornhuskers’ defense. But it was going to be tough to beat Texas or any other good team without scoring any touchdowns.

But I do think that Bo Pelini’s team got a healthy dose of national respect around the country. They jumped from 20th to 19th in the coaches’ poll and 21st to 20th in the coaches’ poll. They even got votes as high as No. 12 by Ron English of Eastern Michigan and No. 13 by Rich Rodriguez of Michigan.

And I’m sure the Cornhuskers got a lot of respect from Mack Brown, who probably more than once has realized that his team was fortunate to escape Cowboys Stadium with the Big 12 title Saturday night.

John Nuxoll from Dallas writes: Hey Tim. Forgive the pointed question, but can you with a conscience not vote for the best player in college football this year --Nebraska's Suh -- just because traditionally the award is given to an offensive player?

Tim Griffin: John, I’ll reveal my vote for the Heisman a little later in the week – how's that for suspense? I’m planning an entire blog item on why I voted the way I did.

John, there’s no doubt Suh is a great player. I saw the way he dominated the center of the Texas line on Saturday night. But I also remembered some struggles he had earlier in the season against teams like Texas Tech and Kansas.

I also remember Colt McCoy’s struggles not only against Nebraska but also against Oklahoma. Or how Mark Ingram rushed for only 50 yards against Arkansas or 30 yards in 16 carries against Auburn only a week ago. Heck, I can remember when Toby Gerhart went for 82 yards against Wake Forest.

So my decision dealt with a lot of factors. And I’ll detail them later in the week. Watch for it.

Dan R. Becker from Des Moines, Iowa, writes: Tim, I just want to see if I can get some clarification on the lack of outrage with a 7-5 Oklahoma team and 6-6 Texas A&M team jumping Missouri. No offense, but you have gained a reputation with a lot of fans from the North schools of supporting the South schools. To me, it just seems incredibly unfair to be characterizing this as a spat between ISU and Missouri when two other schools were very clearly involved as well. Like the blog and we all gain information from it but sometimes an argument like this one has more than just the obvious conflict to look at.

Tim Griffin: Dan, you are correct. But I also think it’s germane to the argument to point out Texas A&M did beat Iowa State in a head-to-head game and Oklahoma had a better record than Iowa State. It was interesting that most of the outrage I’ve read in Missouri newspapers over the last couple of days specifically concerns Missouri being passed by Iowa State more than Missouri and Texas A&M or Missouri and Oklahoma.

That might be because the Insight Bowl is judged to be the best of the trips from a spectators’ standpoint.

But in terms of a pecking order of teams heading into the bowls, I think it would be fair to put Iowa State last among the eight Big 12 schools. When a program with the eighth-best record among teams jumps past the one with the fifth-best record, I can understand why there might be some hurt feelings.

Ethan from Manhattan, Kan., writes: With Kansas State's season over with, the Wildcats’ largest question is who is going to step in at QB. I see Harper taking the job with Coffman as a backup but what if Snyder can get Cameron Newton from Blinn C.C.? Then I see KSU with one of the best set-ups for the wildcat in the nation. Harper would move to WR and Thomas was a QB in high school and Juco. KSU would have three athletic quarterbacks and a bunch of options for what could happen. What do you think is going to happen?

Tim Griffin: Like you said, a lot hinges on where Newton ends up. If he arrived at Kansas State, he would provide offensive coordinators Del Miller and Dana Dimel with a lot of different ways to go. I doubt we would see Daniel Thomas get much playing time at quarterback, except in those Wildcat formations. He’s simply too valuable as a running back, where his strength and durability made him the Big 12’s best running back this season. I’ve also heard some big things about Chris Harper, particularly if his shoulder is healthy when he returns. I would expect Carson Coffman to have the edge, but Harper will give him a big push once spring practice starts. Who plays quarterback at Kansas State will be one of the most interesting personnel battles in the Big 12 next year.

Thanks again for all of the questions. We'll check back again on Friday.

Suh, McCoy among Heisman finalists

December, 7, 2009
Nebraska defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh and Texas quarterback Colt McCoy are among five finalists who have been invited to New York City for Saturday's Heisman presentation.

The two players couldn't be coming into the presentation with more disparate performances. Suh set a Big 12 record with 4.5 sacks and a team-high 12 tackles in a 13-12 loss to McCoy's Texas team in the Big 12 title game. McCoy struggled with a season-worst three interceptions and was sacked nine times, but still led the game-winning drive.

Other finalists include Stanford running back Toby Gerhart, Alabama running back Mark Ingram and Florida quarterback Tim Tebow.

The Heisman organizers got it right by inviting the five best players.

I've been talking to writers across the country today. Many -- if not most -- still were undecided today before they made their votes.

Suh's late charge has really caught the attention of Heisman voters. But I would still be surprised if a defensive player wins the award, even if he has been the nation's hottest player down the stretch.

How I rank the Big 12's upcoming bowls

December, 7, 2009
The array of Big 12 bowl treats over the next month will feature a little of everything.

We've got some good games and others that might not be as appealing for those from outside the respective fan bases. Here's a look at how I rank the Big 12's eight bowl games this season.

I based my selections on importance, style of the two teams, coaching and starpower. Here are my rankings.

1. Citi BCS National Championship Game

Texas vs. Alabama

My take: The national title will be decided between two tradition-steeped programs with Heisman finalists Colt McCoy and Mark Ingram. Who could ask for more?

2. Brut Sun Bowl

Oklahoma vs. Stanford

My take: Even if Andrew Luck doesn't play, we'll have an intriguing battle between Toby Gerhart and the Sooners' defense. Toss in the Sooners' need for a bowl victory and this could be a good one.

3. Pacific Life Holiday Bowl

Nebraska vs. Arizona

My take: Two strong defenses will square off in this game. Throw in two fiery coaches like Mike Stoops and Bo Pelini and it should be an intriguing coaching matchup.

4. Advocare V100 Independence Bowl

Texas A&M vs. Georgia

My take: Sure, the Georgia staff has been blown up after the firing of Willie Martinez. But two high-powered offenses keyed by Jerrod Johnson and Joe Cox should result in a lot of points and passing yards.

5. Texas Bowl

Missouri vs. Navy

My take: The Tigers slid all the way into the bottom of the Big 12's pecking order, but this game still will be interesting. Danario Alexander and the potent Missouri passing game against Navy's option attack should be an interesting contrast of styles.

6. AT&T Cotton Bowl

Oklahoma State vs. Mississippi

My take: The Cowboys must rebound from their final-game struggles at Oklahoma, or they will face a difficult challenge against Jevan Snead and the Rebels.

7. Valero Alamo Bowl

Texas Tech vs. Michigan State

My take: Texas Tech's high-powered offense and underrated defense will be going against an undermanned Spartan team wracked by suspensions. I have no idea how either team will approach their trip to San Antonio.

8. Insight Bowl

Iowa State vs. Minnesota

My take: Insight Bowl officials jumped all over the Cyclones, hoping they will drive tickets for this battle of 6-6 programs. They better hope the Arizona golfing is good, because Minnesota's struggling offense produced no touchdowns in the last two games of the season.

Heisman choice will be most difficult in recent memory

December, 7, 2009
Heisman Trophy ballots are due today. I know because I got a call during the middle of the BCS selection show at my home last night reminding me.

Talk about the perfect time to catch a sportswriter at home. The Heisman Trust must be taking clues from the best telemarketers around.

My Heisman ballot is still sitting in front of me. I have until 5 p.m. this afternoon to make a vote which might be the most difficult in my 12 years as a voter.

After last week’s game at Texas A&M, I was ready to vote Colt McCoy by acclimation. Watching him pass and run through that weak Aggie defense convinced me he was the most worthy candidate.

Even after watching big games by Toby Gerhart, C.J. Spiller and the rest, I was ready to vote for McCoy.

But after watching the games on Saturday, I was glad I held off.

After watching McCoy struggle through his worst game of the season it gave me pause on whether to vote for him. After throwing three interceptions and being sacked nine times, it wasn’t the most robust of all Heisman statements.

Some of the sacks were cheap ones when he was stopped a yard or two behind the line after scrambling. His first interception was tipped and the third interception came after Dejon Gomes wrestled the ball away from the Texas receiver on the play.

Obviously, if there was something that awarded lifetime achievement in college football, McCoy would be an easy choice. He’s the Peyton Manning of this era, a player who has accomplished alot. But the Heisman rewards just this season, and that’s where the rub is.

Ndamukong Suh was a one-man demolition crew in the Big 12 title game, racking up 4.5 sacks and a team-high 12 tackles. He’s been the best defensive player I’ve seen over the course of any Big 12 season. He reminds me of when Reggie White is at the highest of levels.

Gerhart has brought the run back at Stanford in a traditionally pass-heavy conference. I wish I could vote after watching him play Oklahoma’s solid run defense to give me an idea of what he could do against a known commodity in my mind. But he’s had a spectacularly strong season.

Spiller makes me gasp with his talents as a runner, receiver and returner. He makes the Atlantic Coast football games must-see television to me.

And Mark Ingram had a huge game for Alabama in the SEC championship game, helping power the Crimson Tide to the title with his running and catching abilities.

I’ve never waited until the last day like this to make my final pick on the Heisman. But this is undoubtedly the most difficult choice I’ve had.

I’ve got until 5 p.m. ET to make my final decision. I’ll probably use every minute I can.

Big 12 power rankings

December, 7, 2009
Here's how I rank them heading into the bowls.

1. Texas: The Longhorns earned their BCS championship game berth, but it wasn’t pretty. They struggled all night offensively against Nebraska and were lucky to escape Arlington with the Big 12 championship. The most immediate concern for this team will be the return of the running game and to find some kind of pass blocking after all of the struggles in the championship game. If Texas struggled against teams like Oklahoma and Nebraska, the same bodes for the game against Alabama. Colt McCoy’s Heisman hopes took a big hit. Fortunately for him, Ndamukong Suh will be wearing a coat and tie the next time he sees him rather than a football uniform.

2. Nebraska: It was amazing that the Cornhuskers were so close to the Big 12 title, considering all of their struggles on offense. But even after producing five first downs and 106 total yards against Texas, the Cornhuskers were close because of the play of their defense, particularly Suh. Some of the comments that the Pelini brothers made after the game that were reported in the Omaha World-Herald will only increase the intensity of next season’s game when Texas visits Nebraska. But after Saturday night, there’s no doubt that Bo Pelini has pushed the Cornhuskers program ahead faster than most expected. And the Holiday Bowl will be another way for the Cornhuskers to continue their growth.

3. Oklahoma State: A week after their demolition at the hands of Oklahoma, it will be interesting to see how the Cowboys respond to the start of Cotton Bowl preparations. The Cowboys will face a determined challenge in the trenches against Mississippi, which stunned Texas Tech last season. The Cowboys sure could use Donald Booker in a physical game like that -- and a healthy Zac Robinson.

4. Texas Tech: Mike Leach has never missed a bowl during his 10-year tenure with the Red Raiders. Tech is running into the bowl game in good shape with Steven Sheffield recovering from his foot injury and Taylor Potts coming off a strong finish. The Red Raiders also might end up catching a very winnable bowl game in the Alamo Bowl as they face a fractured Michigan State program that is being torn apart after a controversial series of suspensions. A win likely would enable the Red Raiders to crack the final Top 25, so a big effort is important in bowl preparations.

5. Missouri: It’s hard to believe that a team ranked this high will end up playing in the Big 12’s bowl game with the smallest payout. Actually, Gary Pinkel probably isn’t complaining too much. Navy’s one-dimensional offense shouldn’t pose that much of a problem to the Tigers. They get a shot to play in another Texas city for a bowl game -- it will be four different ones in four years in Houston -- but it will keep the Tigers as a prime topic of conversation in one of Texas’ most fertile recruiting areas. Even though the trip might not be as glamorous as a trip to Arizona, it will still be a bowl trip and a winnable one at that.

6. Oklahoma: The Sooners will be making their first visit to El Paso since 1993 with their trip to the Sun Bowl. It’s a big disappointment after all of the high expectations coming into the season. But the game against Stanford should be a challenging one. It will be a test for the Sooners to check Andrew Luck, Toby Gerhart and all of the Cardinal’s offensive weapons. But the opportunity to win after losing five of his last six bowl games should be something that will drive Bob Stoops and his team during the next several weeks.

7. Texas A&M: Expect one of the most entertaining bowl games when Texas A&M hooks up with Georgia in the Independence Bowl. With Joe Cox and Jerrod Johnson throwing passes and the relative struggles of both team’s pass defenses, the first team in the 50s might end up winning. It will be a good challenge for the Aggies -- particularly on defense -- as they try to stem a recent bowl tailspin that has seen them lose seven of their last eight bowl games since 1998.

8. Kansas State: No bowl game for the Wildcats, but Bill Snyder is hitting the junior-college recruiting trail in earnest as he tries to find playmakers who will fill in for departing seniors like Jeffrey Fitzgerald and Grant Gregory. The Wildcats came much closer to making a bowl trip this season than most expected before the season. Their inability to practice in December will be a huge impetus for Snyder to make sure he includes only one FCS team on his future schedules.

9. Iowa State: Cyclone fans have traditionally stepped up with the kind of interest that makes bowl directors take notice -- even pushing them ahead of teams like Missouri that had significantly better records and head-to-head victories over the Cyclones. Paul Rhoads won’t apologize for his trip to the Insight Bowl, or a chance at a winnable game against Minnesota. ISU will be looking to hand Minnesota its third straight Insight Bowl loss from a different Big 12 team. Considering the Gophers’ late-season offensive struggles, the Cyclones should have a good shot at their first bowl victory since 2004.

10. Kansas: After Mark Mangino’s “resignation” last week, Lew Perkins is looking for a new coach. That chore obviously overrides all other aspects of running the program. Perkins is under the gun a little bit, considering that recruiting can be started by the new coach as soon as he is hired. The coaching search at least will take some of the focus away from the seven-game losing streak that will keep the Jayhawks home for the holidays after a promising 5-0 start this season.

11. Colorado: Dan Hawkins is answering questions about his secret new e-mail address. That’s what happens when you talk about winning “10 games with no excuses” and end up not making a bowl game. But after Hawkins’ one-season reprieve, he’s probably not complaining too much.

12. Baylor: The Bears remain tied with Duke for the nation’s longest bowl drought at 15 seasons and counting. The key for Art Briles’ team to break it next season is getting Robert Griffin healthy and developing a defense that can stand up to the rigors it will face in the South Division next season.

Brut Sun Bowl

December, 6, 2009
Stanford (8-4) vs. Oklahoma (7-5)

Dec. 31, 2 p.m. (CBS)

The Sooners started the season with legitimate BCS title hopes and a No. 3 preseason ranking, but were doomed when tight end Jermaine Gresham was lost in August with a season-ending knee injury and returning Heisman Trophy winner Sam Bradford lasted less than two games before he was knocked out for the season.

Those losses only scratched the surface in an injury-ravaged season that was the worst run of injuries ever endured by a team coached by Bob Stoops. Freshman quarterback Landry Jones emerged as a starter, but had a streaky range of performances, including six touchdowns in one game, five TD passes in another and five interceptions in another.

After the Oklahoma defense was humiliated in a late-season loss at Texas Tech, the Sooners rebounded with their best performance of the season in a 27-0 beatdown over Oklahoma State. Wide receiver Ryan Broyles emerged as the Sooners’ most versatile weapon with 76 receptions and 12 touchdown grabs. His production will be big against the explosive Cardinal, who rank 10th nationally in scoring, 11th in rushing and 13th in total offense.

Stanford is led by all-purpose running back Toby Gerhart, a Heisman candidate who has rushed for 1,736 yards and 26 touchdowns this season. But he will be tested by the Sooners’ rushing defense, which ranks seventh nationally and has limited opponents to 88.6 yards per game. Winning the Sun Bowl will be huge for Stoops, who has lost five of his last six bowl games.

Big 12 mailbag: My Big 12 only Heisman finalists

November, 20, 2009
Here are some questions I received over the last several days from readers.

Enjoy them, and enjoy the games this weekend. It should be a good weekend of football action across the Big 12.

K.C. from Norman, Okla., writes:

Hey Tim, if there was such a thing as a Big 12 Heisman race -- and not national -- what players would you put on your list of five finalists?

Tim Griffin:

That's an interesting question. If I was basing things not only on statistics but under the Heisman’s mantra as “the conference’s best player” I would choose these players. And it’s a tough choice, believe me.

" Texas quarterback Colt McCoy

" Nebraska defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh

" Oklahoma defensive tackle Gerald McCoy

" Texas wide receiver/kick returner Jordan Shipley

" Missouri wide receiver Danario Alexander

The players who nearly made my list also were strong choices. But heading into the games this week, these would be the players who be invited to come to my Big 12 banquet.

Dan from Kansas City writes:

Pardon my French, but Oklahoma State has no way of getting into a BCS bowl game over Iowa. They lost by about 30 to Texas and they also lost to Houston. The Big 12 is an embarrassment this year. You’ll see it in the bowls.

Tim Griffin:

What I was saying is that the Cowboys have got as good an opportunity for an at-large berth in the BCS as any other team if they can finish strongly. That means they’ll have to win at Oklahoma, which will be easier talked about than done.

But if quarterback Zac Robinson is back and healthy against the Sooners, I think they’ve got a good opportunity. They can have a big finish to their season. The OSU fans have one of the best reputations about traveling to a bowl game as any team in the conference. It would be their first BCS trip, which I think would make it even more special. I’m hearing they’ve got as good a shot as any other team.

And the Cowboys' grittiness I saw at the end of their victory over Colorado Thursday night reminded me a lot of how Iowa plays. I think it would be a good pairing between those two schools.

The Big 12 has struggled some this season. Injuries and suspensions have played a major part. But the bowl season will provide the conference with a chance to redeem itself as always. I’m anxious to see how it plays out.

Charles Mitchell of Las Vegas, N.M., writes:

Tim, are the stories linking Texas Tech coach Mike Leach to Louisville pure gossip?? Or do you think Leach is ready to go to another program if a good opportunity presents itself?

Tim Griffin:

I don’t know if that specific job has caught Leach’s attention or not, but with all of the smoke about it, I would guess it has. Louisville has a very aggressive athletic director in Tom Jurich who is willing to spend big money to hire coaches. Look at what he did with Rick Pitino and basketball. And Leach has to be one of the nation’s hottest coaches, both for what he has accomplished at Texas Tech and also how fan-friendly his offensive philosophy would be.

I’ve always thought most coaches have a specific shelf life at a specific school. I’m not sure if Leach has reached his in Lubbock yet. He was able to parlay last season’s tri-divisional championship into a record deal at his school. Is he happy with that, I don’t know?

But I would think this thought would play a part in his considerations: The Big 12 South is always going to be one of the most competitive divisions in college football. It will be tough for Texas Tech to keep up with superpowers like Oklahoma and Texas at the top. Texas A&M is a slumbering giant, awaiting the right coach to turn things around. Oklahoma State and Baylor have both increased spending exponentially to stay up with the rest of the division. It’s hard to see Texas Tech really catching those big schools on a consistent basis.

But at Louisville, Leach would have the budget and facilities to match almost any of the other schools. I would think only West Virginia has the traditional support to have a markedly better program than Louisville. I think the Cardinals' program is right up there with any of them. They were a BCS-level power a couple of years ago.

Leach is also familiar with the lifestyle after working at Kentucky under Hal Mumme. He’s always told me he liked living up there. Would he be willing to return for the right amount of money? I don’t know.

Brett from Jacksonville, Fla., writes:

Hey Tim, I just wanted to comment on your list of Big 12 Coach of the Year candidates. Paul Rhoads should be the Big 12 Coach of the Year. Why? Because five years down the road we'll all remember his amazing turnaround at ISU. Will we remember how Bill Snyder took KSU back to a north title just to get destroyed by Texas? Probably not. And about Mike Gundy? Not a chance. Paul Rhoads and Iowa State need to be recognized for what they've done. Would you have been surprised by a 3-9 record? No, neither would I. But 6-6 and a bowl game, or 7-5? Shocked would be a better description. I think that Rhoads has given the ISU program a little bit of a swagger back.

Tim Griffin:

Brett, I’m not discounting what Rhoads has done. And he might have his program in line for more in the future. But I think if Bill Snyder takes his team to the Big 12 title game with a team picked to finish fifth in the division before the start of the season, it would be one of the most improbable divisional championships in Big 12 history. And if Gundy was able to take the Cowboys to a BCS at-large berth after undergoing the injuries and suspensions he’s had this year, I also think he would be a worthy candidate. Rhoads has done an outstanding job this season with the Cyclones. I just think winning a division or going to a first BCS bowl game would be a greater accomplishment and would merit some recognition.

Roy Bray of Omaha, Neb., writes:

Tim, you sure managed to discount the first and only Nebraska/Stanford clash ever. You omitted a highly salient fact and got another completely wrong. First, the game was played in 1941, NOT 1940, on 1-1-41. Second, it was the Rose Bowl, of all things, AND, it was the first bowl game Nebraska EVER played in! The Union Pacific Railroad ran special trains from Nebraska to that game! We Husker fans would love a crack at avenging our loss in our first-ever bowl game.

Tim Griffin:

The website I consulted just had the specific seasons that were played and not the specific dates for the games. I’ve gotten several e-mails about the Cornhuskers’ first bowl game. I should have checked their media guide before I wrote anything, just for accuracy sake.

But the first Nebraska-Stanford game was played at the end of the 1940 season. For example, the Texas national championship team is considered to be in 2005, despite playing their national title game against USC in January of 2006. For record-keeping purposes, those January bowl games are considered to be a part of the previous season. So I can see why the website had that game included with the 1940 season.

A second game between Nebraska and Stanford would be a great bowl game, not only for the history, but also for several delicious potential matchups. I’d love to see Bo Pelini and Jim Harbaugh in a great matchup of young coaches. I think it would be interesting to see how Toby Gerhart, Andrew Luck and all of those Stanford offensive players would fare against the Blackshirts. And I think the Holiday Bowl would have some interest in attracting both schools, but particularly Nebraska. The bowl will be moving down the pecking order in the Big 12’s new bowl contract and doesn’t figure to get many chances at the Cornhuskers in the future.

So for all those reasons, I’d be intrigued to see those two teams play in San Diego. In late December. At the end of the 2009 season.

Thanks again for all of the good questions. Check my blog throughout the week for some video responses to some of your questions and again next Tuesday for my next mailbag.

Tuesday mailbag: Who should be the Big 12's Coach of the Year?

November, 17, 2009
Happy Tuesday afternoon. Here are some reader questions and answers before I plow into some late afternoon interviews around the conference.

Scott Jackson of Stillwater, Okla., writes: Tim, who do you think should be coach of the year in the Big 12? My thought is it should be Bill Snyder who wins the Big 12 North. If that does not happen it could be a tie between Mike Gundy and Paul Rhoads; Gundy has did a good job keeping OSU together through lost players for many reasons, but I would have to give the edge to Rhoads for what he has done at ISU, because if anyone had said they would beat Nebraska and were going bowling they would need strapped down. Thanks for your input.

Tim Griffin: Scott, I haven’t made my mind up, yet. I’m still kind of waiting for the final two games and the championship play out. I’m actually favoring Snyder right now with Gundy and Rhoads in that order. I think the fact that Snyder is challenging for the Big 12 title has got to be one of the major surprises in college football. Like you said, Gundy has done a nice job of keeping the Cowboys together with Dez Bryant and Kendall Hunter out of the lineup. If OSU can make a BCS at-large spot, I think he would be a legitimate candidate. And Rhoads’ coaching job has been stunning. After talking to several Iowa State players for a story I wrote earlier today, I think the rebuilding job he has done on that defense has been absolutely stunning. Remember how they struggled to make basic defensive plays last season with Gene Chizik's defense. They are doing a great job of keeping opponents out of the end zone this season.

Drew Firestone from Los Angeles, Calif., writes: Tim, two questions for you. First, how many times has Cody Johnson scored for the Longhorns inside the 3-yard line this year on short runs? It seems to me like even during Texas' championship run in 2005, that Mack Brown would give the ball to his big goal-line back inside the 5 instead of letting his Heisman candidate QB get credit for the score, which is something that Urban Meyer doesn’t do with Tim Tebow.

Also, I believe not once last year did anyone blast Bob Stoops for running scores up and passing when his team was up 30 in the fourth quarter, yet there’s a big deal about it now when negative talk about his team doesn’t matter. What do you think?

Tim Griffin: Cody Johnson has scored 11 touchdowns this season, including seven from inside of 3 yards. And you are correct, Mack Brown has typically designated a goal-line back. In 2005, the Longhorns used Henry Melton in that role. Tebow is obviously featured that way for the Gators.

And I’ve got to disagree with you. Several comments were made late last season about Stoops keeping Sam Bradford in the game late, particularly in late season games against Texas Tech and Oklahoma State. What he’s hearing about Landry Jones playing so late in the Texas A&M game isn’t anything new.

Ashtyn Beek of Jefferson City, Mo., writes: A lot of different people and sports websites are predicting Nebraska to meet Stanford in the Holiday Bowl. I think this would be a great match-up between two physical teams, led by two confident, competitive coaches. Suh/Crick vs. Gerhart would be a great battle. Anyway, I can think of Nebraska playing just about everyone from the Pac-10 in recent history, except for Stanford. What's the history between these two teams?

Tim Griffin: These two teams have met only once and it is the fewest times that the Cornhuskers have played any Pac-10 opponent. Their only game came in 1940, when Stanford notched a 21-13 home victory over the Cornhuskers.

Also, I agree with you. A matchup between Bo Pelini and Jim Harbaugh would be intriguing. And, the matchup between the bullish Stanford running game and the dominant Nebraska defensive front would be a good one, too.

Jared Henke of Columbus, Neb., writes: Tim, my question regards the conference as a whole. Going back a couple weeks to your blog about changing the conference from North and South to East and West. What if the Big 10 decides to expand to make a championship game and wants Missouri. What team do you think would be added to the Big 12 to keep a championship game? Arkansas? TCU? Maybe Iowa? How could the conference be restructured to align them in East/West and possibly bringing back the NU vs. OU rivalry and the Texas A&M vs. Arkansas rivalry?

Tim Griffin: I actually think that if the Big Ten is looking for an expansion team – and that’s a mighty big if – that they might look other ways before Missouri. I would think that they would offer Notre Dame the chance first. And they would have to be convinced the Irish aren’t interested in the vacancy. I think Pittsburgh might be a better choice than Missouri. And don’t discount Nebraska either.

But if they had to go another way, I think all of the team you mention would be good choices. TCU is the hot national team now and I would think that if it joined, it would want to be included with the other four Texas teams. I can’t see Arkansas leaving all of the money the Razorbacks are making in the SEC to come to the Big 12, no matter how viable or how much more sense it would make. And for much the same reasons, I can’t see Iowa leaving the Big Ten. A more likely scenario might be a team like BYU or Utah from the west.

But I think it’s all very speculative at this time as I don’t know how attractive Missouri would really be to the Big Ten at this time.

Steve from Saint Louis, Mo., writes: I am curious what would happen in a case that the Big 12 champion is not bowl eligible. I realize that cannot happen this year, but a Kansas State champion would just barely have the number of wins.

Tim Griffin: Actually, the won-loss record wouldn’t matter in that far-fetched case. The Big 12 champion would automatically qualify for a BCS record, no matter what its record would be.

Justin Wilson from Oklahoma City, writes: Tim, I was wondering how to find defensive stats. has a great set of stats for offensive players and teams but I haven't been able to find any reliable sets of stats for defense or special teams really on this site. Some help?

Tim Griffin: I check defensive statistics every week as part of how I award helmet stickers. The best source I can think of is going to the individual school websites. They typically are up about an hour after a game concludes and are then can be found for permanence as most schools provide that information.

As for season stats, try the NCAA’s wonderful website. I think they’ll have what you want. I know I probably check this site on an almost hourly basis in my research. It's a good one.

Here’s the link. Follow each team and go to the defensive statistics from the drop-down menu.

Try this out and let me know if it works.

Thanks again for all of the good questions. Check back again late Fridayafternoon for some discourse on the Big 12.