Big 12 mailbag: Why I flip-flopped to Kansas this week

Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Griffin

Here's a group of the best letters I received this week. Thanks again to all who contributed.

Matt from Orlando, Fla., writes: Tim, I love your blogs, especially during the off season reading them religiously. My question is, a few months ago you gave Nebraska the edge over Kansas. Yes you said you reserve the right to change your mind which is totally understandable. But I find it funny how you change your mind on Nebraska winning the North and saying that Kansas will all because of one player leaving Nebraska.

Yes, Quentin Castille was a big feature in Nebraska's offense. However, one player should not make or break a team. Don't count out Roy Helu Jr., who happens to be our STARTING RB. Plus our nasty defensive line that kept pressure on Kansas QB Todd Reesing (who couldn't handle it last year). Could you tell me why one player leaving made you change your mind on a great prediction?

Tim Griffin: I figured I would be answering this question, considering I got it in one form or another from about 40 people this week. Heck, one of my favorite members of the media in Omaha compared me to John Kerry earlier this week because of my late change.

Let me first say that my edge for Nebraska over Kansas wasn't ever that large to start with. I favored Nebraska as much for Kansas' tough cross-divisional schedule as anything else. It's going to be a bear for the Jayhawks to win any of those three games against Texas, Oklahoma and Texas Tech. It still will.

But I also think Castille's dismissal will affect the way that Nebraska plays offense. With Castille and Helu, they had the best combination of backs in the North Division. They would be able to dictate the tempo for the Cornhuskers. It would take off pressure from an iffy passing game led by untested junior-college transfer Zac Lee.

Also, Helu is bigger and stronger this season. But he also appears to be more susceptible to muscle pulls - he's already missed a few days of fall practice - and the depth at the position has contracted with Castille's dismissal. They have only other back with college experience as a running back in Marcus Mendoza.

As anybody who reads this blog on a regular basis knows, I have a lot of respect for the job that Nebraska offensive coordinator Shawn Watson does. He was able to put together an explosive offense in Colorado for the Buffaloes' 2001 Big 12 championship that was remarkably like this Nebraska team. He had journeyman quarterbacks in Bobby Pesavento and Craig Ochs, a three-pronged rushing attack in Chris Brown, Bobby Purify and Cortlen Johnson and a stud tight end (to borrow a description from Bo Pelini) in Daniel Graham. The Cornhuskers were similar when Helu and Castille were both on the roster and the five-headed monster they have a tight end probably comes close to matching what Graham meant to the Buffaloes.

But this conference is a lot different in 2009 than it was in 2001. You're going to need to score points in bunches to win. And I think the Cornhuskers need some help at wide receiver to be more explosive to boost the contributions of Menelik Holt, Niles Paul and the rest.

The Cornhusker defense will be just as fearsome as before. Their defensive line might be the conference's best this side of Oklahoma. But losing Castille will tweak how they are able to play offense. And it will make things more difficult for Watson to control games with his young inexperienced quarterback and his lack of explosive playmakers at wide receiver.

It might only mean one game during the course of the season. But as close as I figure the North to be, the Cornhuskers will need that game at the end of the season.

Jamie Cabela of Midland, Texas, writes: Tim, quick question for you. Who is going to be your surprise player in the Big 12 this season?

Tim Griffin: I'll actually go with two of them. My first will be Markques Simas of Colorado, once he is eligible. I think he's got a great opportunity to become a top receiver immediately for the Buffaloes. And my other choice will Missouri freshman tailback Kendial Lawrence. I've heard some good things about him, even if he is third-string on the Tigers' roster. Look for him to contribute for the Tigers as the season goes on.

Jim from Grand Junction, Colo., writes: Ignoring the good, competitive games for a minute, which of the "cupcakes" has a chance to pull off an upset against the Big 12 teams in the first two weeks of the season? Any at all? Thanks for your insight.

Tim Griffin: Jim, I don't know exactly what your definition of a cupcake would be, but I'm going to presume you mean a school from outside the BCS-affiliated conferences.

If that's the case, don't look for anything in the first week of the season. But it wouldn't surprise me if two Big 12 teams have troubles in the second week of the season in road games.

I think Kansas State might be tested at Louisiana-Lafayette. I saw a Texas A&M team lose there in 1996 and weird things can happen down at "The Swamp" for unintiated teams that aren't prepared. Also keep an eye on Kansas' trip to UTEP on the same date. The Jayhawks have lost three-straight non-conference regular-season road games. They haven't won a non-conference road game during the regular season since beating Wyoming in 2003. And I think UTEP quarterback Trevor Vittatoe might provide the Kansas defense with some problems.

Matt Strohm from Parkersburg, Iowa, writes: Tim, with the start of the season only eight days away, I was wondering if you would rank all the Big 12 schools in terms of team entrances.

Tim Griffin: Matt, I don't think I can do justice to them all, but I'll give you a few of my favorites.

Let me say that I'm not usually all that enraptured by the cookie-cutter entrances around college football these days. It reminds me of something you might see in the NBA.

But there's still something about the Nebraska Tunnel Walk that gets me pumped up, although the ones used at the end of the Callahan tenure were pretty lame. I also like the "Running of the Bulls" in Austin for Texas games and the "There's Only One Oklahoma " video that plays at Owen Field before Sooner games.

But for sheer intimidation factor, my all-time favorite still has to be the old-school Iowa entrance when the Hawkeyes used to take the field in a slow walk while holding hands when they were coached by Hayden Fry. I could only imagine what that would look like for an opposing team on the other side of the field.

David L. Stoudt writes: I'm glad that the Pac-10 officials have deemed "San Antonio a marvelous post-season destination and the Valero Alamo Bowl as one of the nation's elite bowl games."

But I'm wondering did anyone consider asking the fans where they'd rather go. We love heading south to San Diego every year for a fantastic bowl matchup. Who in Hades wants to go to San Antonio in December?

I think this is a huge mistake in judgment and we won't b

e attending those games, regardless of who's playing.

Tim Griffin: I'm also curious about how this affiliation switch will change the dynamics of the Big 12's bowls.

It sounds like the Holiday Bowl's matchup basically will be switching to San Antonio and the Valero Alamo Bowl. Those Holiday Bowls have always been exciting, high-offense games. I think the Pac-10/Big 12 matchup is a good one because both conferences have reputations for offensive football. You see those kind of games in bowls anyway, but I think this makes it even more attractive with those two conferences involved.

It's going to be interesting because the Pac-10 always had a homefield advantage in San Diego. This will switch over when the game moves to the Alamo City.

I realize I'm probably the wrong person to ask about this, but I suggest coming to San Antonio before you make any snap judgments. But I suggest that you take a walk through Southtown. Try the carne guisada tacos with cheese at Taco Haven once or sip a margarita at Rio Rio Cantina on the Riverwalk and tell me that San Antonio isn't a good place for a bowl game.

I'll bet you'll come back with a different answer.

Scott Anderson from Colorado Springs, Colo., writes: Hey Tim, I'm a huge KSU fan and I read one of your blogs where you said the Wildcats will be spending the holidays at home. And if KSU wanted to go to a bowl game they'd have to upset a few people. It makes me wonder if you really have looked at their schedule. I'm not saying KSU will be a good team this year but I do disagree with you on that they will have to have some upsets to go to a bowl game.

In my eyes, the Wildcats' potential wins are UMass, Louisiana-Lafayette, UCLA, Tennessee Tech, Iowa State, Texas A&M. They might even get another from there, too.

Don't you believe in the power of Bill Snyder?

Tim Griffin: Scott, I've always thought that Snyder is a Hall of Fame coach who did more with little talent than any coach in the last 15-20 years. But it will be a challenge for him to get the Wildcats bowling this year.

I do think they should win four to six games this year. The swing games I see are UCLA and Iowa State. If they can win both, I think they've got a good shot to go to a bowl game. They have Colorado, Kansas and Missouri at home. It wouldn't surprise me if they win one of those games. So if they can get three conference wins and three non-conference wins they'll get to a bowl.

But that might be easier said than done with the current collection of talent on the roster. And the Wildcats' lack of experience at quarterback might come back to haunt them this season.

Tyson Boelman from Phenix City, Ala., writes: Tim, an article was posted about Nebraska playing Syracuse and it said they were one of the few teams to have a winning record against the Cornhuskers. I wonder if you know which teams do have a winning record against them?

Tim Griffin: Good question and thanks to stassen.com, I was able to get that information rather easily.

It turns out that 25 opponents have an all-time winning record over the Cornhuskers, including two Big 12 opponents.

Here are the teams with a winning record against Nebraska with the Cornhuskers' winning percentage against them listed: Penn State, 6-7, .462; Oklahoma 37-44-3, .458; Indiana, 7-9-3, .447; Michigan, 2-3-1, .417; Syracuse 5-7, .417; Minnesota, 20-29-2, .412; Alabama, 2-3, .400; Texas, 4-8, .333; Pittsburgh, 6-15-3, .312; Washington State, 1-3, .250; Arizona, 0-1-1, .250; Florida State, 2-6, .250; USC, 0-3-1, .125; Camp Dodge, 0-1, .000; Georgia Tech, 0-1, .000; Mississippi, 0-1, .000; Iowa Pre-Flight, 0-1, .000; Arkansas, 0-1, .000; Stanford, 0-1, .000; Duke, 0-1, .000; Houston, 0-1, .000; St. Louis, 0-1, .000; Carlisle, 0-1, .000; Purdue, 0-1, .000; and Ohio State, 0-2, .000.

Note: For ties, I counted a half win and half loss for the game.

Thomas from Charlottesville, Va., writes: The Buff faithful are very excited that Andre Simmons was cleared this week for play for Colorado. Can you shed some light on his junior-college and high school experience and why the Colorado coaching staff is so pleased to get him? Thank you!

Tim Griffin: I think Simmons is exactly what the Buffaloes need, particularly with the departure of Josh Smith. He'll provide a big, speedy deep threat who should complement Scotty McKnight and Markques Simas. It will be tough for Simmons to emerge early, but by the time Big 12 play begins, he should be rounding into shape and should be ready to contribute.

When I read about his high-school and junior-college experience, I was struck by how successful his teams were in high school. His team won the state championship as a junior and finished second in the state when he was a sophomore with a cumulative record of 53-4. And as interesting as any statistic during that period was the fact he set his school's career record for interceptions as a defender, which tells me some about his physical presence.

His numbers went down substantially in his second season in junior college after he produced 60 catches as a freshman and only 31 receptions as a sophomore. But I heard from a couple of sources that he faced almost constant double-team defenses in that second season. And he was an effective kick returner both seasons, which is another pressing need the Buffaloes have.

I think his arrival could be a big addition for the Buffaloes. Remember, they have the most advantageous schedule of any Big 12 North team with home games against division rivals Missouri, Nebraska and Kansas. They need to settle on a quarterback and stay healthy, but Simmons' arrival was one of Dan Hawkins' brightest moments during this training camp.

Thanks again for all of the good letters. Enjoy the weekend and let's come back coached up for the first week of the season.

I can hardly wait.