Tim's mailbag: Why Baylor might struggle in 2009

Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Griffin

Here is a representative sample of the questions I received during the past week about the Big 12:

Jeff from Austin writes: Tim, thanks for your work at ESPN.com covering the Big 12. I enjoy reading your stuff. But I'm floored by your perspective about Baylor being sixth in the South next year. There is not any way that Texas A&M or Texas Tech is better than Baylor next season. I think Baylor will easily win six games, maybe seven or eight. I think you might be picking according to history, and not looking at the information that is the 2009 season. I don't see how they finish without a bowl game.

Tim Griffin: I did consider history pretty strongly. For example, Baylor hasn't won in College Station since 1984. Their schedule also turns around. Baylor's four toughest games will be at home, but I just don't see them being able to consistently beat teams like Texas, Texas Tech, Nebraska and Oklahoma State. All are listed in most preseason top 25 lists. Baylor will be lucky, in my opinion, to win one of those games. The Bears go to Oklahoma, Missouri, Texas A&M and Iowa State for their road games. They haven't won at any of those schools except Iowa State since the Big 12 was formed. Their nonconference schedule eases a little bit, but I still see them as an underdog at Wake Forest. They should win remaining home games against Connecticut, Northwestern State and Kent State.

So even with another year of experience for Robert Griffin and Joe Pawelek's return, it will be tougher for the Bears to improve by two games with their schedule turning around. I think it will be close between Texas A&M and Baylor, but I give A&M a slight edge just because they are playing coach Art Briles' team at home.

Joe from Omaha writes: Tim, some up here are all over you about picking Nebraska to win the North Division. What is your rationale for picking the Cornhuskers to win?

Tim Griffin: I know that many polls are picking Kansas to win the North Division. But I'm thinking that the South Division will dominate the North as before, and Kansas has a murderous South with visits to Texas Tech and Texas and a home game against Oklahoma. That likely will give the Jayhawks three losses right there. It will mean that Kansas absolutely has to beat Nebraska in the showdown game and hope the Cornhuskers lose two other games in the division.

I also looked at how Joe Ganz flourished under Shawn Watson's tutelage and think he should be able to get Patrick Witt or Zac Lee to similarloy develop in his offense. Quentin Castille looked like a monster in the Gator Bowl and Roy Helu Jr. had his moments. The Cornhuskers will have four starting offensive linemen returning. And the Cornhuskers' defense with Ndamukong Suh, Pierre Allen and Phillip Dillard and the secondary with Anthony West, Larry Asante, Matt O'Hanlon and Eric Hagg will be the strength of the team.

If Pelini can find a serviceable option at quarterback, they should be able to cobble together enough wins to win a tight North Division race.

Jake from Leavenworth, Kan., writes: Tim, just read your listing of memories from this season. It seemed heavily skewed to the South Division. Why no mention of Ron Prince making his defense run sprints when they got back from that nationally televised loss against Louisville?

Tim Griffin: That was a good one and I wish I could have included it. I could have developed 40 or 50 memories of the 2008 season if I had the time and space to do it. The one I really regret not including was Gene Chizik's declaration on Nov. 17 that he was set at Iowa State for the long haul after a report on a Dallas talk show indicated he was interesting in moving. Twenty-six days later, it was announced that Chizik was the new coach at Auburn.

Jeffrey from San Antonio writes: Great blog...love your insights. While watching the BCS Championship Game, I kept asking myself this question... If I were the head coach, who would I want as my defensive coordinator: Brent Venables, Will Muschamp, or Charlie Strong? Who would you pick?

Tim Griffin: All have been coordinators on teams that won national championships (Venables as a co-coordinator with Mike Stoops on Oklahoma's 2000 national championship team). But in looking at the different strengths of those coaches you mentioned, I was really struck by the aggressive nature and hitting that Strong's unit brought to the Oklahoma game. Also, I don't know if Florida's across-the-board defensive talent is as good as those other teams. But they really played great defense against the Sooners. So I might lean toward Strong, based on his team's performance last week.

Alan from Colorado Springs writes: I would like your thoughts on college football's individual awards and when they should be handed out. I know there have been some really close Heisman races recently. And for some reason, the player who has won the award always seems to get outdone by one of the finalists in his bowl game. I'm curious if you think that Sam Bradford would have won the Heisman if it were voted on after the bowl were completed? And do you think it will ever change so that the most outstanding player in college football can truly be crowned.

Tim Griffin: Interesting question, Alan. I do think that the timing of the award benefits regular season rather than bowl performance. But it's always been that way and the Heisman is a tradition-laden award. I don't think we'll ever see them change. Organizers like the attention their award receives immediately after the regular season ends. As such, the Heisman will end up being presented to the most outstanding player of the regular season.

And to answer your question, I don't believe that Bradford would have won the Heisman if it had been awarded after the bowl game. But I don't necessarily think Tim Tebow would have won it, either. My bet would have been Colt McCoy, who had a phenomenal comeback victory over Ohio State in the Tostitos Fiesta Bowl. It's fun to look back and think how the award might have changed if it had presented after the bowls.

Korey in Midland, Texas, writes: Tim, are you done for the year? Say it ain't so, where am I going to get my Big 12 info? Many things will be happening in the offseason.

Tim Griffin: No rest for me. I'll be blogging on a regular basis during the offseason. There will be heavy concentration and reports during the time around signing day, spring practice and the conference meetings. So check back regularly. I don't know if I can promise as many posts as during the season, but there will assuredly be some information that you will find interesting over the course of the next few months. I promise.

Tony T. from Omaha writes: Hey, Tim. What's with this statement you had a couple of days a
go: "What little boost in national perception the Big 12 received after a pedestrian 4-3 bowl season came from the North Division" The three losses the Big 12 had in bowl games all came from SOUTH DIVISION teams. This garbage about how weak the North is getting old. The Big 12 North is still better than most divisions in the college football.

Tim Griffin: Tony, what I said was that what little jump the Big 12 got was from the North Division teams. But let's be truthful here. Kansas played a team in Minnesota in the Insight Bowl that lost its last four games coming into the bowl game. The Golden Gophers produced 188, 301 and 134 total yards in their last three games before the bowl. So there wasn't really much challenge there. Missouri was the only North team to beat a ranked foe and Northwestern had earlier lost games by 35 points at home to Ohio State and 17 points at home to Michigan State. And Nebraska's bowl opponent, Clemson, had fired its coach earlier in the season and beat only two FBS teams with winning records this season.

So it's fair to say the North teams didn't face anywhere near the challenges that those in the South did. I think the four Big 12 South bowl opponents -- Mississippi, Oregon, Ohio State and Florida -- all were better than any North division team.

The North should improve next season and I think the return of Bill Snyder to Kansas State will push the Wildcats back into bowl contention. But North teams must improve their 3-15 record against the South and hope they can turn around a five-game losing streak in the championship game. South teams have hung 42, 70, 21, 38 and 62 points in those games. Those numbers aren't pretty and the rest of the nation assuredly has noticed them.

Kirby Smith writes: Hey, Tim. Texas finished as the best team in the Big 12 this year, and quite frankly was robbed of the opportunity of representing the Big 12 in the national championship game. Texas hung 45 on Oklahoma while Florida was only able to put up 24. I think Texas would have beaten Florida by at least 10. What do you think?

Tim Griffin: I came away from the FedEx BCS National Championship Game very impressed with Florida. Tim Tebow simply willed his team to the victory over Oklahoma after struggling early. I was impressed by the Gators' speed and athleticism and their depth along the defensive front. I don't know that Texas would have been able to match any of those strengths. To win, I think the Longhorns would have had to run the ball consistently and contained Florida's speedy playmaking threats and accounted for Tebow. And in the end, I expect Florida would have beaten the Longhorns by seven to 10 points.

Bruce Becker of Lincoln, Calif., writes: The viewer data you posted about the Big 12's BCS television ratings was skewed by the nature of the games. The Big 12 was in two BCS games. And on the field, the Big 12 was defeated. Ohio State doesn't constitute a real test. They are proven to be the big dog in a weak conference.

Tim Griffin: Bruce, I think the television rankings are significant because of several factors. First, the Big 12 wasn't the only conference that had more than one team in the BCS. The SEC had two teams, including one in the BCS title game. And the Big Ten had two as well. And since it the figures I quoted were an average, I think it was indicative of the across-the-board television support the Big 12 had with viewers, even if it came with a 4-3 record. And remember, the Insight Bowl was on NFL Network, which obviously drew the conference's average numbers down.

And I won't argue with you about Ohio State, although the Buckeyes played one of their better games of the season against Texas in the Tostitos Fiesta Bowl. They played with more tenacity and intensity than Penn State, the team that beat the Buckeyes for the Big Ten title. I think Ohio State played Texas much better than most pundits expected.

That's all for now. I'll check back with more questions next week. Keep them coming.