Updated: April 24, 2009, 3:38 PM ETBy Bruce Feldman
We'll begin this week's mailbag with some Big 12 talk: From Dara in Lubbock: Heard you visited the Red Raiders. How is [QB Taylor] Potts looking and how much do you think we'll miss Crab this year? Feldman: Mike Leach always talks about how his idea of a balanced offense is spreading the ball around to everyone, instead of a 50-50 split between the running game and passing game. Obviously, Tech is going to miss Michael Crabtree a lot, but as great as he was, there was a tendency to force things to him. Tech has a bunch of other dangerous receivers who are emerging (Detron Lewis, Ed Britton and Tramain Swindall all could be 1,000-yard receivers in '09) and there's another batch of young wideouts who have done a lot of promising things this spring. Given Tech's loss of QB Graham Harrell, Crabtree and two of its best O-linemen, expecting 11 wins doesn't seem very realistic to me. As for Potts, he has looked pretty good. The sophomore is bigger than Graham Harrell and has a stronger arm. Still, Harrell was really accurate. The ball almost never hit the ground during practices when he was the triggerman. I was also impressed by Potts' backup, Steven "Sticks" Sheffield. The 6-foot-4 junior really gets the ball out quick and looks pretty accurate. However, the Red Raider who really caught my eye was RB Harrison Jeffers, a redshirt freshman from Oklahoma. He was absolutely dynamic in the two practices I was able to see. Jeffers has terrific balance and blazing speed. He's listed at 5-9, 210, but when he came by the Tech office, Leach yelled over to him, asking how tall he really was. "Five-six," he shot back without hesitation. Jeffers should make a great change of pace option to Baron Batch. Looking at their schedule, the Red Raiders have four road games that will be tough: Texas (Sept. 19), very underrated Houston (Sept. 26), Nebraska (Oct. 17) and Oklahoma State (Nov. 14). Plus, they host Kansas (Oct. 31) and OU (Nov. 21), who I think will both be top 20 teams this season. I think 8-4 sounds about right to me. From Dustin in Pasadena: So Bill Snyder has come back to college football and he's wasting little time trying to weasel out of a game against UCLA. Where is the outrage here and is it my imagination or are the Pac-10 schools the only ones with the, um, guts to schedule name schools out of conference? Feldman: Let's start out by saying that what Snyder did at Kansas State in the '90s was one of the great coaching jobs in the history of the sport. No one would outwork his staff and the guy hit on junior college talent at a ridiculously high percentage. However, he wasn't shy about loading up on the cupcake opponents to develop his team and inflate their record. Like it or not, his strategy worked well. As Brian Dohn reported, K-State is trying to get out of the game in 2010. Since that will be Year 3 of the Rick Neuheisel era, UCLA should be that much better. Not to mention that K-State is in major reload mode, especially since the previous regime loaded up on JCs last year. That doesn't bode well for 2010. I agree that it looks bad, but I really don't think Snyder cares all that much about what outsiders think. In fact, I'm pretty sure he doesn't. And yes, I do agree that the Pac-10 deserves credit for the out of conference schedule they play across the board. They often travel across the country and will face any league. But it's not like other power conferences never do it. They just don't do it as often. But then again as we've said many times before, the SEC and Big 12 do have conference title games to survive. From Bobby in Gainesville: UF has been toying with the I-formation in spring practice. What do you think of the idea of the Gators running it in the fall? Feldman: I think it'd be a great change of pace for UF if the Gators are committed to it. Emmanuel Moody sure sounded excited about the chance to really "run downhill." That's why some shotgun teams try the pistol formation, so they can get their tailback deep and ready to attack. The tricky part is finding fullbacks and tight ends to help make it work. That said, I think UF has the kind of athletes where they could pretty much be dangerous running anything if they worked at it. From Robbie in Tallahassee: Nice article on top ten players who have no shot at the Heisman. Eric Berry should have been awarded the Jim Thorpe Award last season. Malcolm Jenkins from Ohio State is a joke and it really showed on his pro day for the NFL. Comparing his stats to Eric Berry's is disrespectful because the competition in the SEC is stronger than the Big Ten. I am already campaigning. Vote Eric Berry '09 Heisman. Feldman: I agree that Berry is a special player. I don't think there was a better defender in college football all season. He does everything well on the field. However, it really hurt him for the Thorpe that his team did not have a winning record. And really that wasn't the fault of the Vols defense. UT was good on D, but just horrible on offense. I'll have a lot more on Berry in an upcoming issue of ESPN The Magazine. From James in Dallas: I'm glad to see Taylor Mays get this kind of recognition. He is an absolute game changer who affects every wide receiver whether he hits them or not. I'm a Notre Dame fan, and I don't even like the idea of our guys running routes over the middle. Hope you have a press pass for that game in South Bend this year. Feldman: After the way the Trojans have absolutely demolished the Irish the past few years, I'm not ready to book that flight to South Bend just yet. Although I will say the battle between Aaron Corp and Jimmy Clausen, the guy who had all of the attention when both came up in Southern California, is a compelling subplot. Mays is a spectacular talent. I've never covered anyone who is so big and still so fast. In the last half of the 2008 season, he was an absolute menace to rival offenses. No one was more physical. I talked to him Thursday, and he was very excited about the development of the young USC defense. He says Malcolm Smith will be the next great USC linebacker; that junior DE Everson Griffen has really come on and he called CB Shareece Wright the best corner he's ever played with. The Trojans D also has put more emphasis on forcing turnovers this spring and has done much more hitting than in the past. Random Stuff • Jake Locker's hand has healed, his confidence is up and his mechanics have been polished up, which explains why the Washington QB has been pleasing the new U-Dub staff. Coach Steve Sarkisian has set a goal for the super athletic QB to complete at least 60 percent of his passes in 2009 and thus far Locker is on target. According to Bob Condotta's report, QB coach and offensive coordinator Doug Nussmeier thought Locker's issues came when he was forced to look away from his primary receiver. "When he had to go to his secondary and third receivers, his throwing base was getting real, real wide," Nussmeier said. "So we worked to try to keep that narrow, keep his feet together when he's moving in the pocket." My three cents: If Locker blossoms and completes over 60 percent, Washington could win as many as four games. That doesn't sound like much but given how awful the Huskies were in '08, that's a nice jump. To go around the college football landscape with Bruce Feldman, become an ESPN Insider.
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