Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Griffin
It wouldn't be a Friday without some letters from the readers. Here are some I got this week.
Brandon from Ames, Iowa, writes: Tim, I'll be a Cyclone fan until I die no matter how bad we get, but is there going to be any hope for a good season this year? Rhoads is making us hopeful, but what should we consider a successful season given our current condition?
Tim Griffin: Brandon, I've been impressed during the times I've talked with Paul Rhoads since he's taken the job. He seems very positive and upbeat and realizes how daunting the job will be. I see a lot of similarities between him and his coaching mentor, Dan McCarney, who hired Rhoads at Iowa State earlier in his coaching career.
I was also impressed by his two hires for coordinators. Both Tom Herman and Wally Burnham are both very respected in the business and will help him tremendously.
But the Cyclones' talent is at the bottom of the North Division and it will be a big challenge for them to escape the cellar in Rhoads' first season. I think a more realistic goal would be for them to win a game or two more than last season's 2-10 record that ended with 10 straight losses. Anything more than that, in my opinion, will be extremely difficult to accomplish.
Austin from Houston writes: Tim, I noticed in your March 13 mailbag that you mentioned Oklahoma hasn't lost at home since 2001. Did you forget that they lost to the mighty TCU Horned Frogs 17-10 on September 3, 2005? I know that all of the Sooner fans as well as Bob Stoops remember that day. On a different note, although we are roughly seven months away from the game, who is your "way too early" pick for the Texas/OU game?
Tim Griffin: Austin, thanks for the catch. I meant to say the Sooners hadn't lost a conference game since 2001. I do remember the TCU game -- I was there that day. The Horned Frogs were able to dominate the Sooners at Owen Field. I had never seen that happen before with Bob Stoops coaching. And I haven't seen it since, either.
As far as my Red River Rivalry pick, if you asked me today, I would have to go with the Longhorns, but just barely. I'll reserve the right to make my final pick the week before the game.
Texas obviously will be smarting after failing to make the Big 12 championship game despite beating the Sooners last season in the celebrated three-way tie for the South Division championship. They couldn't ask for more inspiration coming into the game than that whole scenario.
But one thing that struck me when talking with Oklahoma players last week in Norman was the defense's confidence. The Sooners have nine starters back on their defensive unit, missing only safeties Nic Harris and Lendy Holmes. The Sooners seem comfortable that their defense will be much improved from last season. I thought the Sooners had a great defensive effort against Missouri in the Big 12 game and a good one in the loss to Florida in the Bowl Championship Series title game. Oklahoma's defense wasn't to blame for the Sooners losing that game.
So I think the Sooners' defense will be a little better than most people think this season. It should make for a great matchup at the Cotton Bowl.
Can we play tomorrow?
Robert Holmes from Norman, Okla., writes: Tim, if you were starting a Big 12 team of all the players who are coming back for the 2009 season, who would you pick first?
Tim Griffin: Great question and one that bears a more detailed answer. I'm going to start a daily post on Tuesday where I will count down the 40 most valuable players in the Big 12. I'll have a player a day culminating on May 2, which also coincidentally is the day of the Kansas State spring game -- the last one in the conference.
So start watching for that next week.
Brandon from Poteet, Texas, writes: Tim, I saw where you were at Baylor yesterday. How do you gauge the Bears' mindset coming into the upcoming season? Is a bowl berth a real possibility? And where did you end up eating on your way home? I would have advised George's if I was you.
Tim Griffin: The Bears seem to be a confident bunch. From interviews with new defensive tackle Phil Taylor to safety Jordan Lake and defensive coordinator Brian Norwood and coach Art Briles, to newcomers like offensive tackle Danny Watkins, I could detect a different attitude from previous seasons. Those players and coaches flatly tell you they will be playing in a bowl game. And it appears that it will be a shock for them if they aren't bowling somewhere in December.
That being the case, the Bears will face a typically difficult South Division schedule. They absolutely must win three games in the nonconference schedule. And a key swing game at Texas A&M on Nov. 21 will be huge for them.
Baylor's 41-21 victory over the Aggies last season in Waco was a convincing one. But remember that the Bears have produced 10 losses and a tie in their last 11 trips to Kyle Field. The last time Baylor won in College Station was on Oct. 20, 1984, when Grant Teaff's team claimed a 20-16 triumph. As of today, that's a string of 8,917 days and counting.
That's a huge gap and won't be easily snapped.
And as far as my meal in Waco, I didn't really have much time after spending a couple of hours finishing my work and getting a late start back home. I hopped right in the car and made it back home in time to eat one of my wife's delicious leftover pulled-pork sandwiches while I switched between President Obama's appearance on Jay Leno and the final minutes of the Illinois-Western Kentucky game late last week.
Maybe next time for George's.
Steve Woodson from Garden City, Kan., writes: Hey Tim. Great blog. I wouldn't think of starting my day without reading it. I've got a quick question for you. Which team would you anticipate to be the "surprise team" in the Big 12 this season? And which team do you expect will take the biggest step backwards from last season.
Tim Griffin: Steve, thanks for the compliments. I think that Colorado is nicely situated with some diminished expectations outside the program after last season's struggles.
I know that coach Dan Hawkins predicted his team would go 10-2 this season, which would be a surprise to almost anybody outside the Colorado program. But I do think if the Buffaloes can stay healthy and have a quarterback to emerge that they've got a great shot to make it back to a bowl game and might even be able to climb into North Division title contention with a few breaks along the way.
And as far as the program I expect to take the biggest step back, I would nominate Texas Tech. Graham Harrell and Michael Crabtree will be missed, obviously. But so will players like Brandon Williams, Louis Vasquez, Daniel Charbonnet, Darcel McBath, Shannon Woods and Rylan Reed. That's a big chunk of talent that had a huge p
art in the Red Raiders' South Division tri-championship team last season to replace at one time.
I still expect the Red Raiders to contend for a bowl appearance as I would peg them about fourth in the Big 12 South behind Texas, Oklahoma and Oklahoma State. But I think seven or eight wins is a more likely victory total for them this season rather than last year's 11-2 mark.
Jackson from Telluride, Colo., writes: Which off-season coaching moves to do you think will prove to be the most important in the Big 12 this season?
Tim Griffin: I'll actually nominate three. Obviously, the hiring of Bill Young as Oklahoma State's new defensive coordinator has huge ramifications. Mike Gundy is counting on him to be able to fashion together enough improvement to push the Cowboys into contention. That will be a tall order for him, even with all of his past success at previous stops.
I'm also very curious how the new staff of Bill Snyder works together at Kansas State. I think the hiring of Vic Koenning was a huge get for Snyder. I'm also intrigued to see how Dana Dimel and Del Miller will work together again as co-offensive coordinators. Both have worked with Snyder before. Are there any changes in their coaching since they lasted coached there? We'll see.
And I'm also very interested to see the work of new Missouri offensive coordinator Dave Yost and defensive coordinator Dave Steckel. Both have been with Gary Pinkel since the beginning at Missouri. But both also represent changes that have come to the program after former offensive coordinator Dave Christensen left for the head coaching job at Wyoming and former defensive coordinator Matt Eberflus left to become the Cleveland Browns' linebackers coach.
Pinkel had never had a change in his coaching staff in the first eight years at Missouri. I'm curious to see how the recent switches will alter the Tigers and Pinkel's schematics, if any.
That's all for this week. Check back next week for more correspondence and keep the questions and answers coming. I appreciate it.