Jackie Sherrill hasn't walked the sidelines as a head coach since he left Mississippi State in 2003, but he will be back in the college football spotlight this season every Saturday.
Sherrill, who coached for seven years in Big 12 country at Texas A&M (1982-88) before heading to Mississippi State, will join former Oklahoma State head coach Pat Jones as a studio analyst on Fox Sports Southwest's Saturday Scoreboard show.
However, despite the fact that he last coached in the region since 1988, Sherrill still has a great pulse for Big 12 football. Sherrill attended several of the Big 12 school's spring practices, including Oklahoma, Texas and Texas A&M, as well as Big 12 media day in late July.
So to get the scoop on the upcoming Big 12 conference season, we went to the former A&M head coach and new FSN studio analyst to get his predictions and thoughts on what lies ahead for the Sooners in 2006.
OUInsider.com: Coach, what are your thoughts on Nebraska, Iowa State and the Big 12 North?
Jackie Sherrill: When you talk about Nebraska, you talk about the big offensive line and Bill Callahan. He took the head coach hat off and went over and started working with the offensive line, because the staple of Nebraska is their offensive line where they can pound you and maul you. And that is what Bill is trying to re-establish at Nebraska.
When you utter the name Nebraska, the first thing people think about is the offensive line. Before the Big 12 meetings, I had Nebraska as a clear-cut favorite, but at the media days I had an opportunity to meet a young man from Iowa State (Bret Meyer). The quarterback changed my opinion and makes me think Iowa State will be fighting for the North with Nebraska.
They brought in this center Scott Stephenson, a transfer from Minnesota last year, and he seems really impressive. But you look at their offensive starters and what they have coming back — they have almost their whole offensive team back.
Defensively, they have a long ways to go because they lost some good players last year, like Jason Berryman. They also lost their linebacker due to dismissal. I don't have a great feel defensively, but offensively I know they can win some games, and they've had some heartbreakers last season and they have been knocking at the door.
The one question I asked Dan McCarney: Do your players have the mental capacity to overcome that one hurdle?
OUInsider.com: Nebraska and Iowa State are at the top of the North Division, but how do you see Kansas State under new head coach Ron Prince? Does he have enough talent to challenge Iowa State and Nebraska for the division?
Sherrill: There are two or three things that impress me about Kansas State. One is they have a young coaching staff and a bunch of young quality players coming back to challenge at least the middle of the pack of the North Division. On saying that, you have to look at Colorado and Missouri.
Colorado has a bunch of players coming back and a new head coach, Dan Hawkins. I like Missouri with Chase Daniels (quarterback) because he'll be able to get the ball spread around and not just be a one-man show like Brad Smith.
OUInsider.com: When you look at Kansas under head coach Mark Mangino, a former Oklahoma assistant, how do you look for the Jayhawks to do this season?
Sherrill: You have to look at them defensively where they lost a lot. They had a great run defense — one of the best in the country — and had a great front seven. Offensively, there is still a big question mark, but Mark Mangino has a great offensive mind.
OUInsider.com: What do you think of the South from top to bottom?
Sherrill: When you take the offense of Texas and the defense of Oklahoma, you would have yourself a national championship team. In saying that, during my Fox interview with Mack Brown about his freshmen, he said he is not going to talk about his freshmen because they haven't earned their "spurs" yet. However, 22 players are going to make an impact on his team this year.
In saying that, can they replace Vince Young? The answer to that is no, but I think that they do have two young quarterbacks (Colt McCoy and Jevan Snead) who can spread the ball around. But those two young quarterbacks don't know any better. That could lead to the demise of the Texas Longhorn offense.
When you take a look at Oklahoma, nobody does better in a crisis than Bob Stoops. And when that happens the team takes on the attitude of the head coach.
OUInsider.com: How explosive do you think Oklahoma's offense can be with the question marks on the offensive line?
Sherrill: It starts with the loss of J.D. Quinn on the offensive line. I think they have enough offensive linemen, but it's the lack of experience that could be very devastating early in the season against Washington and Oregon. Although in saying that, when I saw them in the spring I was very impressed.
One player stuck out in my mind and that was Brian Simmons. He's flying under the radar, but he will help Oklahoma build a very good offensive line.
OUInsider.com: What are your thoughts on the defense? How good they can be?
Sherrill: How good do you want it to be? That's the answer. There is no question when you look at Oklahoma's defensive line — Calvin Thibodeaux, C.J. Ah You and Larry Birdine. Then you have all the young guys like DeMarcus Granger and Gerald McCoy. Then you look at the linebackers with Rufus Alexander and Zach Latimer.
They are a really strong group, but I am most impressed by the secondary. They are going to be able to do things this year defensively that they did not do last season. Oklahoma was very vanilla last year on the defensive side of the ball. They were not able to use their defensive schemes effectively.
OUInsider.com: Coach, do you see anyone else challenging Oklahoma and Texas in the South?
Sherrill: You have to take a look at Texas A&M, and it starts with Stephen McGee. If he was on Texas or Oklahoma's team, you could circle them for a national championship. Stephen McGee has the ingredient in a quarterback that you don't normally find. The young man is really impressive in his interviews. When he left the FSN room all the people that had a chance to talk to him were amazed that he has such confidence in things that he said and believed in.
You would have to say that Texas A&M has a real chance to win the South. Now it would take a major improvement on the defensive end side of the ball, because that is where they had problems last season. When you take a look at all the schedules for the South, the fifth game between Texas Tech and Texas A&M; the winner of that game will have a real shot at challenging Oklahoma and Texas. If A&M beats Texas Tech, they have a real chance to be 9-0 when they play Oklahoma.
OUInsider.com: When you look at the doormat at the Big 12 South last year it was Oklahoma State. Who, in your opinion, will be there this year — Baylor or Oklahoma State?
Sherrill: I think it's going to be Baylor because their schedule is against them. Oklahoma State has improved their football team. The real question is can they improve the quarterback position?
How much has Bobby Reid improved from last season to this season? If he has improved as much as it seems, then Oklahoma State has the chance to be the surprise team.
OUInsider.com: When you look at the Big 12 overall, who do you think will represent the North and the South in the Big 12 championship game?
Sherrill: I think it will be Texas in the South and Nebraska in the North.
OUInsider.com: So who wins the Big 12 championship?
Sherrill: I think Texas does because they have a lot of talented players.
OUInsider.com: Now let's take a look at the Heisman Trophy candidates. Who do you like for your candidates?
Sherrill: Brady Quinn at Notre Dame, Adrian Peterson at OU — it all depends on if they can take the pressure off Peterson with good QB play — and Ted Ginn at Ohio State. Those are my top three. My dark horse is Jamaal Charles at Texas.
OUInsider.com: Give me your preseason pick for the Heisman winner.
Sherrill: Because of what has gone with OU, I would have to go with Brady Quinn at Notre Dame.
OUInsider.com: Since you picked Texas to win the South, you obviously think they'll beat Oklahoma in October. Why are the Longhorns going to win this matchup?
Sherrill: When you look at it right now, the Sooners have lost an offensive lineman (J.D. Quinn) and that has forced Oklahoma's offensive line to move players around, which is not good for an offensive line that does not have depth or experience, especially when it's taking on a very good Texas defensive line. I think Oklahoma's weakness on the o-line is Texas' strength on the d-line.
OUInsider.com: When you look at the quarterback position, neither team has a fully experienced quarterback. Who, in your opinion, will lead their team down the field with success against a great Oklahoma defense and a great Texas defense?
Sherrill: By the time OU and Texas play in the Cotton Bowl, I think that Jevan Snead will be the quarterback for the Longhorns. He's a young, talented quarterback who plays well out of the spread offense who can stands tall, which will give him good vision to see down the field and quick feet to move around in the pocket. But he does lack all the experience that it would take to go into that game.
He has all the necessary talent at the vital skill positions, plus a strong offensive line. So when you throw it all in there right now you have to say that Texas has the advantage over Oklahoma right now at the quarterback position.
OUInsider.com: When you look at the defense, from top to bottom, Oklahoma and Texas are the clear favorite for the best defensive teams in the Big 12. Who's defense will have the advantage and why?
Sherrill: Oklahoma has more depth, but I'm not sold that they are not as overall complete as Texas. When you look at Texas, you have to start with the defensive line and Frank Okam. I don't think Oklahoma has a player like that, but I do think OU has better depth.
I think the talent level at both schools is really good. When I break down
Oklahoma's defense and Texas's defense, I give the edge to Oklahoma at the linebacker position and their corners. But overall, I have to give the nod to Texas unless a great player steps up on Oklahoma's defensive line.
Q&A with Jackie Sherrill
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