Spring football primer: Burning questions for each Big 12 team
|Big 12 spring practice dates|
In most conferences, more than half the league has been eliminated from title contention before the first whistle blows for spring practice. That's how the distribution of wealth usually works in college football. Leagues have distinct upper, middle and lower classes. That isn't the case in the Big 12, the conference the Bolsheviks would have adored.
I could make at least a semi-plausible case for eight of the Big 12's 10 teams to win the conference in 2013. (Nine of the conference's teams were bowl eligible last season.) In a league this wide open, every opportunity to improve is critical. So the teams that make the best adjustments in the next month will be the ones ready to play for a title come late August.
• Baylor: Can the Bears plug in a third quarterback in three years and keep piling up the points? Bears coach Art Briles is a branch of the Mike Leach coaching tree, but Briles might be the branch that hangs the closest to the ground. Baylor runs a hurry-up, spread scheme that rolls up plenty of passing yards, but it's the Bears' run game that's made them so tough to stop. In 2011, Baylor finished second in the Big 12 in rushing. In 2012, Baylor led the league in rushing by more than 200 yards over second-place Oklahoma State. That ground attack -- especially the development of Oregon transfer Lache Seastrunk in Baylor's final six games -- allowed Nick Florence to easily replace 2011 Heisman Trophy winner Robert Griffin III. Now, fourth-year junior Bryce Petty appears poised to take over one of the nation's most explosive offenses. Along with quarterback, the Bears also have to replace their center and their top receiver for the third consecutive season. Kevin Palmer, Stefan Huber and Kyle Fuller will compete to replace Ivory Wade in the middle of the offensive line. At receiver, Terrance Williams is gone, but senior Tevin Reese averaged 18.1 yards a catch in 2012 and is due for more touches.
• Iowa State: How will the Cyclones replace star linebackers A.J. Klein and Jake Knott? Klein led the Cyclones in tackles last season with 117. Knott, who had 79 tackles, would have challenged Klein for the lead had he not missed five games because of injury. Combined, Klein and Knott led the defense in every way imaginable. Their departures leave a gaping hole. So who steps in to lead? Senior linebacker Jeremiah George, who started nine games and made 87 tackles in 2012, is a candidate. Jevohn Miller, a junior from Brooklyn, Iowa, who was a top reserve last year, is another candidate. Cyclones coach Paul Rhoads said he also might give freshman Alton Meeks, a 6-foot-3, 225-pounder who played quarterback for Dr. Phillips High in Orlando, Fla., a chance to crack the linebacker rotation this spring.
• Kansas: Jake Heaps might be a starting quarterback again, but to whom will he throw? After sitting out in 2012, BYU transfer Heaps should get the first crack at the starting quarterback job. He'll have to beat out sophomore Michael Cummings, who started five games last year and threw for 456 yards, three touchdowns and four interceptions. If those numbers sound unimpressive, know that they weren't completely Cummings' fault. None of the Jayhawks' wide receivers caught a touchdown pass last season. Zero. Tight end Jimmay Mundine caught two touchdown passes and averaged 13.1 yards a catch, but he only caught 14 passes. Maybe the wideout who will emerge will be Oklahoma transfer Justin McCay, who sat out last year after the NCAA denied his waiver request even though Oklahoma officials asked that the NCAA allow McCay to play immediately at Kansas.
• Kansas State: Optimus Klein is gone. Is there a Rodimus on the roster? The Wildcats will begin the defense of their Big 12 title with a giant question mark at quarterback. Daniel Sams backed up Collin Klein last year, but he'll have to fend off Jake Waters, the top juco quarterback prospect in the country. Last year at Iowa Western, Waters completed 73.3 percent of his passes and threw for 3,501 yards and 39 touchdowns. "It is really significant and I think it will certainly enhance Daniel's play," Kansas State coach Bill Snyder said of Waters' addition on National Signing Day. "We are hoping that it becomes a very competitive environment and there is no reason, at this point in time, to believe that it will not. The greater the competition you have at any position, whether it is at quarterback or any place else, probably presents better opportunities for young people to improve their performance. They should feel compelled to improve their performance and committed to do so and I think both Daniel and Jake feel that way. It will be a good competition."
• Oklahoma: How will the Sooners respond to a staff overhaul? Last spring, Oklahoma players had to adjust to a change at defensive coordinator. This spring, the Sooners will break in a new offensive line coach, tight ends coach and defensive line coach. Coach Bob Stoops' choice of position coaches to change is telling. While Oklahoma's record has remained excellent compared to most programs, the Sooners certainly haven't seemed as dominant in the past few years -- especially along the lines of scrimmage. A blowout loss to Texas A&M, which boasted one of the nation's best offensive lines, in the Cotton Bowl only served to drive home that point. Offensive line coach Bill Bedenbaugh, tight ends coach Jay Boulware and defensive line coach Jerry Montgomery will have their work cut out for them this spring. Montgomery, who came from Michigan, may have the most important job. As former Sooners coach Barry Switzer lamented, Oklahoma didn't seem to have any elite defensive linemen last year. "We're not as good as we have been," Switzer told The Tulsa World's John Hoover. "We don't have the Tommie Harrises or Gerald McCoys squatting down there in the middle."
• Oklahoma State: How will Mike Gundy deal with déjà vu? Last spring, Oklahoma State held a quarterback competition. The competitors were Clint Chelf, J.W. Walsh and Wes Lunt. True freshman Lunt won, but in September he injured an ankle. Walsh took over. Then he got hurt, and Chelf took over. Now, the Cowboys will stage another quarterback competition. The competitors are Clint Chelf, J.W. Walsh and Wes Lunt -- as well as transfer Daxx Garman. Chelf, who went from third-string status to leading the Cowboys' rout of Purdue in the Heart of Dallas Bowl, will start the spring atop the depth chart. Whether he can stay there is anyone's guess.
• TCU: With a loaded defense, will a second-chance quarterback determine whether the Horned Frogs compete for a title? With talents such as defensive end Devonte Fields and cornerback Jason Verrett among 15 returning starters, TCU has the raw materials to make a run at the Big 12 title. TCU might have had a shot at the crown last year, but quarterback Casey Pachall's arrest on a drunk driving charge on the Thursday morning before the Frogs' fifth game torpedoed the season. Dual-threat backup Trevone Boykin filled in as best he could, but the offense was designed around Pachall, who was suspended for the remainder of the year. Now Pachall is back. The Horned Frogs hope he is rehabilitated and walking a more narrow path. Coach Gary Patterson has said publicly that the competition between Pachall and Boykin is open, but Pachall seems to have the inside track. If he is clean, sober and slinging, the Frogs could be in for a special season.
• Texas: Will an up-tempo offense finally provide the Longhorns the production they desire? Texas went up-tempo in its Alamo Bowl win against Oregon State, and coach Mack Brown decided to keep the Longhorns moving fast in 2013. Yet unlike the pass-heavy up-tempo offenses run by many of the Leach-Hal Mumme disciples, Texas hopes to remain balanced. With backs Johnathan Gray, Malcolm Brown, Joe Bergeron, the Longhorns might present defenses with a unique challenge by going heavier on the run. Against those three backs, a gassed defense could be quite porous. "We'll still run the same plays," Brown said last month. "We will still want to be very balanced. There will be similarities to what we did with Vince [Young] and Colt [McCoy]. As I've said many times, I thought we got away from the running game with Colt in the end, and we got so we couldn't run the ball and we're in a better place right now running the ball than we were the last two years. So we will continue running the ball a lot and be balanced. We will have fewer formations, and we will substitute less, because one of the real advantages right now for defenses is that when you substitute, the defense gets to substitute." This all sounds great, but Texas has been tinkering on offense since McCoy graduated with relatively limited success. Will this newest wrinkle finally make the Longhorns dominant again? Time will tell.
• Texas Tech: Can Kliff Kingsbury bring his alma mater to new heights? Deadspin obtained a copy of a fairly hilarious e-mail sent to a Texas Tech deputy athletic director by a Lubbock clothier who suggested ways to craft new coach Kliff Kingsbury's image. Among the suggestions was to hire a stylist for the 33-year-old coach. If Kingsbury's vehement anti-pleats stance is any indication, he is the one head coach in college football who doesn't need a stylist. Kingsbury is as confident in his offense as he is in his deep V-necks. He knows exactly what he wants to run, and he seems quite prepared to run it without Johnny Manziel, who pulled the trigger for Kingsbury's Texas A&M offense in 2012. Kingsbury, with assistance from fellow Leach-era Red Raiders Sonny Cumbie and Eric Morris, will implement a throw-heavy scheme that should look quite familiar to folks in west Texas. Michael Brewer, the likely starter at quarterback, might not be Johnny Football, but he is athletic enough to run an offense similar to the one Kingsbury developed last year for Manziel. Kingsbury is also excited about the possibility of drawing up new wrinkles for 6-5, 260-pound junior tight end Jace Amaro, who looks like a five-year NFL veteran next to some of his younger teammates.
• West Virginia: Without Geno Smith and most of the staff he brought to Morgantown, can Dana Holgorsen keep the Mountaineers' offense humming? Receivers coach and offensive coordinator Shannon Dawson is the last assistant remaining from the offensive group Holgorsen brought to West Virginia when he was hired to replace Bill Stewart. Bedenbaugh is now at Oklahoma. Quarterbacks coach Jake Spavital is at Texas A&M. Running backs coach Robert Gillespie just took a job at Tennessee. Holgorsen, Dawson and a group of newcomers will try to replace quarterback Smith and receiver/back/touchdown machine Tavon Austin, who are headed to the NFL. Tuesday, Holgorsen named pretty much every quarterback on the roster when he discussed the competition for the position. More than likely, the competition will come down to Texans Paul Millard and Ford Childress. "I would assume everybody would like to know about the quarterback position. I am more anxious than you are," Holgorsen said. "As this thing goes on, we will discuss it. We've got a lot of practices ahead of us. We won't name a starter for a while."