SB Nation Big 12 Roundtable: Week 1

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The Big 12 Roundtable is back, graciously hosted by rptgwb of Rock M Nation.  We have three sets of answers for each question, so I'm not going to take up any extra space.  On to the questions!

1. Everyone knows the national talking points for each Big 12 team by now (Oklahoma has new linemen! Bill Snyder's back at Kansas State!  Baylor might upset somebody!). Give us a storyline for your team that isn't quite getting the attention it should.

TB: Right now, there's some serious concern about injuries on defense for K-State.  While the Wildcats have some pretty good front-line players, there's not a lot of depth, and a rash of injuries could be devastating to this team's chances to have a decent season.  Starting defensive end Brandon Harold is definitely injured, and it sounds like defensive tackle Daniel Calvin is hurt, too.  At Fan Appreciation Day last week, 230-pound Hansen Sekona was practicing with the second-string defensive line as a tackle.  If that doesn't concern you, then your optimism runneth over.

BracketCat: Well, sad as it may seem, "Bill Snyder's back at Kansas State" truly highlights most of the offseason storylines and most of the major reasons for optimism among the fan base. It all flows from that basic fact. But if I had to pick a couple other preseason storylines to highlight, they would be the quarterback battle between Carson Coffman and Grant Gregory, the potential for Brandon Bank's senior season, and the health of Brandon Harold's knee.

As I write this, it looks like Coffman will be the starter, but Gregory closed fast on him in fall camp and likely will close the gap even more as the season progresses. If Coffman slips up, Gregory will be waiting for his opportunity. He's a sixth-year senior and this is his last chance to play, so he will be driven. He appears to be a better runner than Coffman and also might have a better arm. But if these two go back and forth all season, it could be another downer of a year like 2001.

As for the Brandons, the former is the smallest star wide receiver the league ever has seen and the latter is a beastly man-child who does us no good on crutches, which is where he is right now. Jordy Nelson set several single-season records for a wide receiver just two years ago, and while Banks probably won't surpass most of those, he at least has a chance to turn in the second-best season by a K-State receiver. Harold is the key to the entire defensive line, and although he is expected to return some time this season, it remains to be seen how effective he will be after missing several games and rehabbing his second knee injury this year.

Panjandrum: "Can Kansas State have a respectable defense again?"  That's my main concern, and it's probably the most pertinent question for most KSU fans.  Sure, Bill Snyder's back, and yes, most of the fans are very enthusiastic, but unless the defense improves mightily in the next few months, this program will be missing out on a bowl for the third straight year.  The addition of a nationally known defensive coordinator like Vic Koenning, and an experienced coordinator like Chris Cosh, has to be considered one of the better combos in the conference.  Whether or not they're able to get this defense back to respectability will most definitely set the stage for success in the next few years.

2. The Big 12 continues to be derided by other conferences as a pass-happy, no defense, made-for-TV free-for-all. The question must be asked, how accurate is this description, and is the perception something of which the conference should be ashamed?

TB: There may be something to it, because offenses like Oklahoma's and Texas Tech's laid eggs against SEC defenses in bowl games.  However, lest we put too much stock into a bowl game played after one month's rest and, in Texas Tech's case, with nothing of consequence on the line, I want to see how Big 12 offenses stack up in intersectional games this season before I pronounce defense dead in the Big 12.

 
Here's my hypothesis on the situation.  There are a very few programs in the country who can consistently recruit enough elite talent to stock both sides of the ball with superior athletes.  Florida, Georgia, LSU, Texas, and Oklahoma spring fairly readily to mind.  Other programs have to apportion the elite talent they get.  In the SEC, it seems the mindset is to stock the defensive side of the ball first, while in the Big 12 the opposite seems to hold true.  Coaches are as beholden to groupthink as any group, because their huge salaries and tenuous jobs are at stake, and it's risky to go against the grain.  Look at Auburn last year.  The Tigers tried to implement a spread attack and, when it failed, it helped lead to the firing of a very successful head coach.
 
Also, I'll suffer the slings and arrows of the "no-defense" crowd so long as it means I don't have to watch a game like the debacle that was the Auburn/Mississippi State showdown last year.

BracketCat: I wouldn't say there's "no defense," but when your top-ranked defense (Texas) barely eclipses the top 50, it's not far from the truth. It's the pass-happy part I take issue with. This league has a ton of great runners: Darrell Scott, Rodney Stewart, Roy Helu, Jake Sharp, Derrick Washington, Kendall Hunter, DeMarco Murray, Robert Griffin, Baron Batch and the list goes on. And K-State's Daniel Thomas could be the next name to join the list. It isn't just the passing attacks in this league that are high-powered; the rushing attacks are pretty potent, too.

No, I don't think we should be ashamed. While part of me misses the smash-mouth defenses K-State and Nebraska had in the late 1990s, and the triple-option attacks that came with them, there is no denying that the league's national profile hasn't been higher than it was the last two seasons. That's primarily because the games are so damn fun to watch. I liken it to when the AFL crashed the NFL's party in the 1960s with its colorful uniforms and flashy passing attacks. At the time, the NFL was somewhat slow and boring in comparison. The AFL changed the NFL for the better and helped make football the major television draw it is today. I think the Big 12 is doing a lot of the same things for college football.

Panjandrum: The Big 12 shouldn't be ashamed.  You do what you need to do to win and be competitive on the national stage.  If there's one thing that I despise about the NFL, it's how bland it is.  Everyone runs the same damn thing.  In college, some teams run the spread, some teams run the WCO, and others simply run.  It's the diversity that makes it fun.  If your team has the horses to put forth a balls-to-the-wall passing attack that lights up the scoreboard, more power to you.

3. Over the summer, ESPN's Tim Griffin compiled a list of the Top 25 moments of the Big 12 era that stirred up a bit of internal debate. Which moments for your program were either overrated or underrated?

TB: As far as I can tell, there are three K-State "moments" in the top 25: the 1998 conference title game loss to Texas A&M (No. 6), the 2003 conference title game win over Oklahoma (No. 8) and the home victory over Nebraska in 1998 (No. 16). 

 
Without doing any of that icky "thinking" stuff about where I'd move other moments if I had to move K-State's moments up or down, here are my thoughts.  The 1998 title game with A&M is probably about right.  K-State would have played in the national title game that year if they had won, and they lead most of the game until A&M made a furious comeback and won it when Sirr Parker "scored" in overtime.  The mere fact that K-State was in the national title hunt befuddled Big 8 old-timers, who knew K-State as the easiest home game on the road schedule.  So the fact that they came so close, only to be robbed at the very end, makes that game a huge moment in Big 12 history.
 
As I've said many times before, I think the 2003 game is more notable for how much K-State won by than the fact that they won.  If you looked at how good K-State was expected to be that season, and then look at how well they played toward the end of the year when everyone finally got healthy and things started to click, it's not shocking to think they were the best team in the Big 12.  But the mere fact that they so thoroughly dominated Oklahoma in ever facet of the game is what's amazing.  I may consider this game a little underrated, considering that the Oklahoma-Boise State game ranks ahead of it.
 
Finally, the 1998 game in which K-State beat Nebraska in Manhattan for the first time since the Dark Ages is probably underrated.  In my mind, there were two defining moments in the transition from Nebraska as a dominating team to an ordinary team, and this was one of them (the 2001 Colorado game was the other).  This game broke Nebraska's decades-old hex on K-State, and as much as any other single game, helped K-State turn the corner from a good program that could win nine or 10 games per season to a program that could compete for conference titles and perhaps even a national title.  I think it's probably a little underrated, and a quick glance tells me that UCLA's "Rout 66" victory over Texas probably shouldn't be ahead of this game.

BracketCat: Overrated: Sirr Parker in the 1998 championship (but only from K-State's perspective - that was our lowest moment and it was memorable for all the wrong reasons)

Underrated: The 2003 championship (our greatest moment), beating Nebraska in 1998 (our second-greatest moment), beating Nebraska in 2000 (our third-greatest moment - Griffin didn't even rank it), beating USC in 2002 and watching Terence Newman return a blocked PAT to the house (our greatest non-conference win and the loudest I have ever heard Bill Snyder Family Stadium)

Panjandrum: I don't know if any were really over or underrated.  I don't really get worked up on subjective polls like that.  If there was one thing that bugged me, it was a seemingly favorable amount of weight and coverage to the South schools, but hey, if that's his opinion, it's his opinion.  I think the 2003 championship was one of the absolute best moments in this conference's history, and it's the last time a North team won the championship, but hey, if you think Crabtree's catch and a Red River game are more memorable, or that the Border War game a few years back doesn't compare by over a dozen places, you must be from Texas.

4. We've seen no less than 30-40 "Best Big 12 Coaches" power rankings in the offseason, but rarely is there the same press for the coordinators. If you had to replace your offensive coordinator and defensive coordinator with coordinators from within the conference, who are you poaching and why?

TB: Can I take Mike Leach even though he's not a coordinator?  OK, just kidding, but who wouldn't love that kind of consistent offensive success?

 
With Vic Koenning in charge of K-State's defense, I'd be hard pressed to say that I'd trade him straight-up for anyone.  If I'm forced to choose, it's probably between Texas' Will Muschamp and Oklahoma State's Bill Young.  While I have some reservations about whether Muschamp is a good pick for a head coach at Texas, we're talking about coordinators, and he obviously knows what he's doing.  Young was a part of KU's once-in-a-lifetime season in 2007, and has a reputation for getting things done.
 
While Mike Gundy is probably the genius behind Oklahoma State's offensive firepower, if it meant getting that offense in Manhattan, I'd take Gunter Brewer at Okie State.  Quite simply, I love OSU's style.  An option game mixed in with a potent passing attack kind of sounds familiar, doesn't it K-State fans?  Again, I'm not saying I'd trade Bill Snyder's offensive acumen, but we're talking coordinators.

BracketCat: Offensive coordinator: If I had to replace Del Miller and Dana Dimel, I would pick Ed Warriner of Kansas. That guy has been a thorn in our side for a while. If you widened the pool to all Big 12 coaches, I'd love a tag team of Mike Gundy (run coordinator) and Mike Leach (pass coordinator), just because I love coaches who call their own plays. I got a kick out of watching Gundy intently draw up new plays on the sideline while his defense was on the field embarrassing Chase Daniel in Columbia. And you can't go wrong with a pirate drawing up your fusillades.

Defensive coordinator: I'm very happy with Vic Koenning and Chris Cosh, but if I had to replace them, I'd go with a team of Oklahoma State's Bill Young (crafty veteran in the box) and Oklahoma's Brent Venables (fiery guy on the sideline). Young absolutely owned us in 2006 and 2007, and Venables is still a favorite son to many at Kansas State, despite persistent rumors that he did something unspeakably horrible while he was here that would prevent him from ever being a coach-in-waiting or a successor to Bill Snyder.

Panjandrum: On offense, I'd go with Ed Warinner at Kansas.  Maybe it's him, maybe it's Reesing, or maybe they just have talented players, but that guy knows how to run an offense.  Obviously, I'm more than pleased with Bill Snyder, and Mike Leach is technically not on the table, but in the absence of picking either of those guys, I'll go with him.  On defense, the answer is Bill Young, and I really don't have to expand on it.  I love Vic Koenning as well, but Young is just freaking good.

5. Time to start our weekly Big 12 Power Poll. Rank the Big 12 teams from 1 to 12. (Note: This IS a power poll and isn't intended to account for schedule)

TB:

1. Texas -- My favorite to win the South, and thus the conference.
2. Oklahoma -- Not far behind Texas, but questions about the offensive line lead to other questions on the offense, notably, how Sam Bradford will perform if he gets hit more and doesn't have as reliable a running game as he's used to.
3. Oklahoma State -- Very tempted to pick them as a darkhorse in the South, but can't quite pull the trigger until I see what Bill Young does with that defense.
4. KU -- On paper, the best team in the North.  We'll see how they handle that schedule.
5. Texas Tech -- Will still be prolific even without Harrell and Crabtree.
6. Nebraska -- My favorite to win the North despite not being as proven as KU.
7. Missouri -- An obvious dropoff from last year, but this is still a team I wouldn't be surprised to see exceed this expecation.
8. Colorado -- I'm splitting the difference.  They could contend for the North, or they could be in the basement.  Who freaking knows?
9. Baylor -- Excuse me for not yet buying into the wild hype after Baylor's 4-8 season last year.  Now that I live in Missouri, I feel comfortable saying "Show Me."
10. K-State -- It pains me to rank the Cats this low, but until we see the improvement we expect, they have to be here in my book.  The front line players on both sides would merit a higher ranking, but the lack of depth in a sport where injuries are a fact of life is concerning.
11. Texas A&M -- If they're much better than last year, I'll be surprised.  Some improvement is probably inevitable, but I still think Mike Sherman was yet another poor hire by the Aggies.
12. Iowa State -- A new coach and a new system for a team that couldn't get much worse than it was under Gene Chizik.  I think they nab a conference victory this year -- and really hope it's not at Farmageddon at Arrowhead -- but that's about all.

BracketCat:

1. Texas
2. Oklahoma
3. Oklahoma State
4. Nebraska
5. Kansas
6. Texas Tech
7. Missouri
8. Baylor
9. Colorado
10. Kansas State
11. Texas A&M
12. Iowa State

Panjandrum:

1. Texas
2. Oklahoma
3. Oklahoma State
4. Nebraska
5. Kansas

6. Missouri
7. Texas Tech
8. Colorado
9. Kansas State
10. Baylor

11. Texas A&M
12. Iowa State


Essentially, every team after the fourth on that list is a crap shoot in my opinion.

via assets.sbnation.com


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