Sorry about the delay in letters this week. I was tied up in Austin for the first two days reporting on Texas and couldn’t hit my mailbag as much as I would have liked.
Here are some representatives of my most interesting dispatches so far this week.
Nate Ferguson from North Carolina writes: How did Nebraska’s Alex Henery not make All Big 12 first-team punter? O.K., Baylor might have punted a whole lot more then Nebraska and that guy Derek Epperson might have been good. But I know for a fact that Henery was the player of the game against KSU! Three punts all within the KSU 3-yard line? Tell me those were flukes and I'll never read your blogs again. So why did he not get first team?
Tim Griffin: Nate, I was also a little surprised when Henery didn’t earn first-team All-Big 12 honors. His kicking numbers didn’t match Grant Ressel from Missouri. And Henery’s numbers didn’t actually match Epperson’s either. Epperson averaged more than 2 yards per kick more than Henery, but Henery led the conference with 26 kicks downed inside the 20-yard line, compared to 12 for Epperson. I think Henery might be the best directional punter I’ve seen in college football in a long time.
I guess coaches considered distance as the primary determinant. But if they were doing that, I would have thought that Oklahoma’s Tress Way would have won first-team All-Big 12 after his strong finish. Way averaged 45.5 yards per punt to lead the conference. And his averaged in games of November was 49.5 yards per punt, including 58.8 yards per punt in the Sooners’ finale last week against Oklahoma State.
And please don’t stop reading the blogs. Hopefully, there’s something in them every day that causes you to come back for more on the Big 12.
Greg Inman from Manhattan, Kan., writes: Tim, here's a story for you for the games this weekend. Two key games, four Heisman hopefuls. Watch the SEC and Big 12 Championships and watch someone step up and seize the trophy.
Tim Griffin: Greg, I do think there will be a great chance that the Heisman winner will emerge from one of those two championship games. I think Colt McCoy will face a bigger challenge against Nebraska’s defense than some might think, considering the Cornhuskers rank in the top 15 nationally in the four major defensive statistics of rush defense, pass efficiency defense, scoring defense and total defense. Nebraska defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh will be getting a lot of national attention at the game.
It will be interesting to see if his candidacy would diminish with a less-than-stellar performance. I don’t necessarily think it will happen, but he will be tested to have a big game against the Blackshirts.
It should be an interesting Saturday, needless to say.
Pat Mat from Houston writes: Tim, please give me a break. Florida and Alabama have played close games, including ones that referees unfortunately have impacted like the Arkansas-Florida game. If you will check the rivalry games, most are decided by about half the spread---Texas by 21 over A&M won by 10, Alabama by 9.5 over Auburn won by 5 at the wire. When the Longhorns win the National Championship, you will probably write that they are the worst team in years to win it. Good teams win in a lot of ways. Thanks for reading.
Tim Griffin: Pat, I appreciate your e-mail. Like you said, teams win a lot of different ways. That’s why it will be interesting to see how the rest of the season plays out. I don’t necessarily think the Longhorns are one of the worst teams to be in a position to win a national championship. But they have benefited from a couple of favorable breaks in regards to their rivals from the South Division.
I think that’s the major reason why the Big 12’s national perception is down a little this season. If Oklahoma and Oklahoma State had been at full strength, it’s not out of the question to think we might have had a similar race to last year when Texas Tech, Oklahoma and Texas battled it out.
Dennis from St. Louis writes: Tim: Missouri was expected to be down after losing so much talent last year. They didn't exactly re-load this year but overall how do you think they did? Was it a strong enough performance to warrant optimism in the coming years or was it a sign of decline?
Tim Griffin: I was very impressed with the Tigers down the stretch. I compared their game against Kansas to the one I saw earlier in person against Nebraska and saw a lot of growth. The season was marked with some chuck holes like the loss to Baylor. But the way the Tigers finished and the improvement that Blaine Gabbert showed gives Gary Pinkel a lot of cause of optimism in the future. A bowl trip will be big for the young players, but it wouldn’t surprise me to see Missouri challenge Nebraska for North Division supremacy next season.
Brad LaFratte of Ames, Iowa, writes: Will Iowa State got a shot at Auburn in the Independence Bowl?
Tim Griffin: That’s the game I’d really like to see as the Cyclones would meet up with their old coach, Gene Chizik. But I’m hearing the Outback Bowl will choose Auburn, depriving us of a chance at a Chizik vs. the Cyclones matchup.
But I’m hearing the Independence Bowl, which picks before the Texas Bowl, might opt instead for Texas A&M to play a Southeastern Conference school because of the Aggies’ strong finish against Texas. A game like A&M against Georgia or South Carolina might be an intriguing.
The thought is that A&M will travel better to Shreveport than ISU might. The Aggies haven’t been to the Shreveport Bowl since 2000. And the Cyclones have been to the Independence Bowl twice since the Aggies.
So it might be more likely for the Cyclones to end up in Houston to meet Navy in the Texas Bowl. It would mark the second service academy that ISU has played this season. And a test against the Midshipmen’s option attack might be a good challenge for Wally Burnham and the Cyclones’ defense.
Thanks for all of the good questions this week. Check back on Friday afternoon for another group before the Big 12 title game.