This spring, the Big 12 is loaded with quarterback competitions. But the three most hotly contested quarterback battles figure to reside in Norman, Morgantown and Austin. We predict the winners of these three competitions in our weekly Big 12 roundtable:

Who will win Oklahoma's QB derby?

Max Olson: I feel like I'd be a fool to bet against Baker Mayfield in this race. I know we've seen glimpses of Trevor Knight's ceiling before, and no question he's exciting on his best days. But if you saw what Mayfield did in the OU spring game last year, you knew this day was coming, right? Sure, the best foe he ever beat at Tech was probably that 4-8 TCU team. But Mayfield is a third-year guy now who's had plenty of time to mature and learn, and I can't discount the fact he's the Oklahoma QB most accustomed to playing in the offense Lincoln Riley will run. I think Mayfield will win the job in August.

Brandon Chatmon: I expect the OU spring competition to end much like TCU’s did 12 months ago, with the overriding summer question being whether the Sooners have anyone who can do the job. The spring will be filled with plenty of ups and downs from all three competitors. I think they do have a guy who can get the job done but, like Max, I think it won’t be decided until just before the season begins. Mayfield is the favorite because people tend to like shiny new toys, but I’m going to go with Knight to hold off Mayfield and keep his job. I like what Mayfield brings to the table, but people are choosing to overlook Knight's positives and focus instead on the mental lapses that plagued him in 2014. I’m betting on Riley to bring consistency and good decision-making to Knight’s game.

Jake Trotter: I don't think Bob Stoops will name a starter until August. But when he's ready to name one, I think it will be Mayfield. I'm not ready to give up on Knight. And Cody Thomas has the tools to be a quality Big 12 quarterback. But given the offense Riley wants to run, Mayfield makes the most sense. He has experience operating the air raid from his time at Tech. And, he's not a retread from last year's disastrous season. Mayfield brings a little bit of savvy and a lot of confidence to the position, too, which is something the Sooners could really use.

What about West Virginia's QB battle?

Olson: The William Crest bandwagon was filling up quickly last year in Morgantown even when he didn't play, and it's easy to see why. Is he better than Geno Smith and Pat White combined, as some WVU fans seem to believe? Not yet. We got such a limited opportunity to see him play in 2014 (four pass attempts and five rushes vs. Towson), but as long as his shoulder holds up, I think he's the long-term solution for this program.

Chatmon: Skyler Howard made great strides toward securing the starting job after Clint Trickett’s head injuries forced him to retire. Howard was solid in three starts to end the season, particularly with his eight touchdowns without an interception. But with five quarterbacks in the battle to permanently replace Trickett, this competition looks poised to extend into the preseason. Among those candidates, I have no doubt Crest is the future at the position with his unique skill set and mature approach, but I think Howard will start when the Mountaineers kick off the season Sept. 5 against Georgia Southern. Whether he keeps that starting spot throughout 2015 is the overriding question.

Trotter: Howard did some nice things filling in for Trickett late last season. But there's a reason why Crest beat him out for the No. 2 quarterback job coming out of the preseason. Howard can make plays outside the pocket, both with his arm and feet. But I'm skeptical his accuracy will be sharp enough to hold off Crest this spring. Crest is loaded with potential, and I see him ultimately beating out Howard again.

Who will emerge from Texas' QB competition?

Olson: Of these three, the Texas battle is the one I feel least confident about. I say that because I'm just not sure where Tyrone Swoopes and Jerrod Heard stand in the eyes of their coaches. Shawn Watson repeatedly said during the season that Heard was nowhere near ready. And it's hard to predict which Swoopes we're going to see this spring. A long competition will benefit both guys. I'd give a tiny edge to Heard ultimately being the choice, but I don't assume he's in the lead at this moment.

Chatmon: At Texas, Heard gets the nod over Swoopes despite Swoopes having the edge in experience. Heard seems like the right choice and the Longhorns' best hope of finding an answer at the quarterback position this spring, and I expect him to emerge atop the depth chart after shining in spring practices on the 40 acres. The question remains why Heard didn’t get a chance with the UT offense experiencing plenty of bumps in 2014, but I’m betting he shows he should have gotten that chance by separating himself this spring.

Trotter: Considering Heard is a complete unknown, I'll go with Swoopes here. But I don't feel great about it. Swoopes had his moments last season but struggled down the stretch, leading Texas to finish its season with a thud. Yet despite Swoopes' struggles, Heard never got a shot. Apparently, he wasn't ready. Will he be ready this spring? That's anyone's guess.
We know as little about who'll be catching passes for Texas as we do about who's throwing them. With two trusted seniors gone, the Longhorns' offense has a relatively clean slate at the receiver position. Who's going to rise up and make plays this fall? A closer look at another key Big 12 spring position battle:

Departed: John Harris defied all expectations to become the first Texas receiver in five years to surpass 1,000 yards. Tyrone Swoopes' favorite target was the Horns' breakout threat with 68 catches for 1,051 yards and seven touchdowns. The other go-to target, Jaxon Shipley, is also gone after four productive seasons as a starter and 218 career receptions for more than 2,500 yards. Together, they accounted for 52 percent of Texas' receptions and nearly 200 targets last season.

Spring contenders: Senior Marcus Johnson, senior Daje Johnson, junior Jacorey Warrick, sophomore Armanti Foreman, sophomore Lorenzo Joe, sophomore Dorian Leonard, sophomore Jake Oliver, sophomore Roderick Bernard, redshirt freshman Garrett Gray.

Summer contenders: Sophomore Gilbert Johnson, freshman DeAndre McNeal, freshman Ryan Newsome, freshman John Burt.

The skinny: Concerns about Texas' returning receivers were one reason why Kyler Murray didn't pick the Longhorns, and they're valid. Marcus Johnson was supposed to break through in 2014 but didn't play with much confidence, finishing with 27 catches for 313 yards and one score. Daje Johnson is a dynamo when healthy but is perpetually on thin ice. Foreman showed flashes as a freshman with two long touchdowns late in the year. Warrick and Joe played plenty but rarely got the ball. Oliver has been hampered by injury and Bernard suffered a season-ending one as a freshman. There's optimism about Leonard, a long target who caught one ball in 2014. But nobody in this group has done enough to guarantee a starting job in 2015. That's why the Longhorns inked four in February. Prep school transfer Gilbert Johnson is an intriguing sleeper who'd previously signed with Georgia, and McNeal was promised immediate playing time. But they're not in Austin yet. New receivers coach Jay Norvell will give lots of guys a shot to become difference-makers this spring.

Prediction: Expecting the unexpected with this group is probably a wise approach. Buy stock in Foreman and Leonard, two guys Norvell recruited hard while at Oklahoma. They could give Texas' offense big-play ability and I think they'll help their chances this spring. The Longhorns need Marcus and Daje Johnson to get back on track this spring and go into fall camp as front runners to start, or else is going to be a very young and unpredictable group. Who's going to be the Harris of the bunch and lead the way? Too hard to tell right now.
Under Bob Stoops, Oklahoma has never had a quarterback competition so wide open.

Trevor Knight, Baker Mayfield and Cody Thomas all own Big 12 starting experience. Redshirt freshman Justice Hansen is a former ESPN 300 signee. And all four will be operating with some degree of a clean slate due to the arrival of new offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach Lincoln Riley, who has been tasked with reviving the air raid in Norman.

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Who will win Oklahomas QB battle?

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So, who will emerge from this competition?

We’re putting that question to you in our weekly Big 12 poll.

In one tumultuous season, Knight went from being Oklahoma’s long-term answer at quarterback to one with a murky future, at best. He led the Big 12 with three pick-six interceptions, and tossed another pick that was returned to the 1-yard line, igniting Baylor’s 48-14 rout of the Sooners in Norman. In that game, Knight also suffered a transient quadriplegia injury, which leads to pain and numbness. After sitting out Oklahoma’s final three regular-season games, Knight returned for the Russell Athletic Bowl. But he looked completely out of sorts, and in the worst performance of his career, threw three picks, as Clemson destroyed the Sooners, 40-6. A winter to recover from the injury scare and a change of position coach from Josh Heupel to Riley could revive Knight’s career this spring. But to have any chance of remaining a starter, Knight will have to display the confidence and poise he showed late in the 2013 season.

Riley, however, is sure to give a strong look to Thomas and Mayfield, as well.

Underscoring his belief that he can win the job, Thomas gave up baseball -- he would have been a starting outfielder for the Sooners -- this spring to focus solely on football. While Knight was injured, Thomas filled in as the starter to mixed results. Thomas was a natural operating the zone-read, which sparked Oklahoma’s ground game. But he also struggled throwing the ball, and finished the season with a completion rate of just 45.5 percent, which ranked lasted among Big 12 quarterbacks that made at least one start. Thomas will have to be much more accurate to have any chance of winning a job in Riley’s system -- though it’s also possible that Riley’s system might boost Thomas’ completion percentage.

Yet while Knight and Thomas started last year, the quarterback that watched from the sidelines could actually be the favorite in the competition.

Mayfield won Big 12 Offensive Freshman of the Year honors in 2013 before transferring in from Texas Tech. While Knight struggled in Oklahoma’s spring game last year, Mayfield shined, completing all 10 of his pass attempts. Still, Mayfield has much to prove. Though he won the Red Raiders’ starting job as a walk-on true freshman, he was also up-and-down at times. That said, coming from Tech -- the same place Riley developed his offensive chops -- Mayfield has the most experience in the system Riley wants to install.

Though Mayfield, Thomas and Knight could quickly turn this into a three-way competition because of their experience, Hansen shouldn’t be completely discounted. He was, after all, the No. 9 QB recruit in the country in 2014, and given Oklahoma’s struggles at the position last season, Riley would be prudent to cast a wide net in his evaluation. With a blistering start to the spring, perhaps Hansen can wedge his way into the discussion.

Either way, this will be fascinating quarterback derby to follow.

Let us who you think will win it by casting a vote in the poll.
Shortly after taking over as coach at Oklahoma in 1999, Bob Stoops inspected the practice fields. There, he was mortified to find chicken bones littering the grounds, remnants of a lax policy that had permitted fans to tailgate on Saturdays where the Sooners practiced during the week. Stoops quickly realized he had much work ahead that spring to overhaul a football culture gone haywire.

In the 16 years since, never has Stoops faced a more critical spring than the one he will embark on this weekend.

After five years of trending in the wrong direction, Oklahoma has arrived at another crossroads. The Sooners are coming off an 8-5 season in which they suffered two of the most embarrassing defeats -- 48-14 to Baylor and 40-6 to Clemson -- of the Stoops era.

[+] EnlargeBob Stoops
Tom Pennington/Getty ImagesGetting Oklahoma back atop the Big 12 standings will be a difficult task for coach Bob Stoops.
Oklahoma’s top recruiter, Jerry Montgomery, has bolted town. The rest of the coaching staff has been completely revamped, leaving offensive line coach Bill Bedenbaugh as the only assistant holding the same duties he did last year.

The funding for an ambitious $400 million stadium renovation has come to a crawl, raising concerns as to whether it will ever be completed.

Quarterback is a total unknown. The pass defense has been in a perpetual spiral.

Baylor and TCU have surpassed the Sooners as the current class of the Big 12. Texas is back to dominating the recruiting trail.

And, for the first time since that chicken bone-clearing offseason, Oklahoma could open unranked in the preseason polls.

The pressure will be on Stoops and his Sooners this spring. To begin reversing this tide of recent decline.

"I’m more determined than ever to get Oklahoma back in the position to competing for national championships like we have so many other times," Stoops said this offseason.

Whether that will happen will hinge heavily on 31-year-old offensive coordinator Lincoln Riley, who has been charged with bringing the Mike Leach air raid attack back to Norman this spring.

To clear a spot for Riley, Stoops fired Josh Heupel, who, from being Stoops’ first quarterback recruit in 1999 to Sam Bradford’s position coach, had been an integral piece of Oklahoma’s resurgence in Stoops’ early days. Yet as the Sooners struggled to regain their footing over the past five years, they lost their offensive identity under Heupel along the way, prompting Stoops the make the most drastic coaching change of his tenure.

Save for one bowl game, Riley has never called plays for a Power 5 conference offense. And he’s young enough to be Stoops’ son. But Stoops’ future and Oklahoma’s fortunes are now on Riley’s shoulders. All eyes will be on him this spring as he attempts to rehabilitate an offense that desperately needs to uncover an immediate and long-term answer at quarterback.

Trevor Knight, Baker Mayfield, and Cody Thomas will all be vying to be that answer in what figures to be Oklahoma’s most wide open -- and intriguing -- quarterback competition of this millennium.

Knight was supposed to be the Sooners’ quarterback of the future. But after a disastrous 2014 season in which he led the Big 12 in pick-six interceptions and suffered a scary transient quadriplegia injury, he could be Oklahoma’s quarterback of the past.

In three games relieving Knight, Thomas failed to gain a stranglehold on the job, as he finished last in the Big 12 in completion percentage.

That leaves Mayfield, who walked-on at Texas Tech before transferring to Oklahoma, where he sat out last season. Given his Tech ties, Mayfield has experience operating the system Riley will be installing. And he was the 2013 Big 12 Offensive Freshman of the Year. But after cruising through the non-conference, Mayfield also struggled against Big 12 competition that season. And he has not played in game in two years.

Quarterback, however, isn’t the Sooners’ only pressing concern.

When defensive coordinator Mike Stoops came back to Norman two years ago, he was supposed to bring the ferocious Oklahoma defenses of the early 2000s with him. Instead, the Sooners have been a sieve on that side of ball since his return, ranking ninth in the league in pass defense last season. It got so bad that Sooner fans booed through an embarrassing sequence against Baylor, in which quarterback Bryce Petty completed all nine pass attempts on a cinch of a scoring drive with Oklahoma’s overmatched defensive backs playing 10 yards off the ball.

Bob Stoops has taken his brother off manning defensive backs, and brought in Kerry Cooks from Notre Dame. But Cooks’ task of whipping a secondary into shape this spring is daunting, because the unit features only one proven difference-maker -- cornerback Zack Sanchez.

Oklahoma’s task of challenging for a Big 12 title next season is even more daunting.

TCU and Baylor are top 10 teams. Oklahoma State toppled the Sooners in Norman last season. And a Week 2 trip to Tennessee could thwart the Sooners before they even get going.

Oklahoma won’t have chicken bones on its practice field. But once again, Bob Stoops has plenty of work ahead.
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Junior days are underway, and the spring evaluation period is quickly approaching. While a number of programs are off to a fast start and in need of keeping impressive commitments in the fold, there also are programs in need of creating momentum and battling archrivals on the trail this spring and headed into the summer.

Here is a look at 10 programs that need a big spring, for various reasons (listed alphabetically):

Florida
The Gators saved the 2015 class in the days leading up to national signing day creating some momentum heading into the spring and summer. The time to capitalize is now for Jim McElwain and staff, and Florida simply must continue to gain steam with archrival Florida State swinging a big recruiting stick in state, and Miami on a run headed into the spring evaluation period. Florida currently has three verbals, all outside the ESPN Junior 300.

Oklahoma will open its spring drills this weekend. Below is a preview of what to look for from the Sooners this spring:


Offensive returner ready to take next step: From Vince Carter to Jon Cooper to Gabe Ikard, the Sooners have enjoyed a strong run of All-American-caliber centers. Ty Darlington could be in the next in that line after shining in his first season as a starter. The Sooners had some struggles last year, but offensive line was not one of them. Neither was center. With Oklahoma breaking in three new starters up front and transitioning to a different offense, Darlington will be integral to the Sooners having any chance at a bounce-back season. He appears ready for that challenge.

Defensive returner ready to take next step: Strong safety Steven Parker was thrown into the fire as a true freshman last year and had his share of struggles along with the rest of an Oklahoma secondary that finished ninth in the league in defending the pass. Still, as a former ESPN 300 recruit, Parker has the pedigree to develop into an elite safety. With a year of experience under his belt, he should be much steadier in his second season on campus.

Redshirt freshman to watch: Joe Mixon was the gem of the 2014 signing class and was expected to give the Sooners a huge lift in the backfield. Instead, he was suspended all of last season after he punched a female student in the face, and fellow freshman Samaje Perine gave the Sooners the backfield boost. Mixon has since returned to the team. And though Perine is the established starter after rushing for more than 1,700 yards last season, Mixon is a big talent whose versatile skill set warrants a role in the offense. It will be interesting to see how new coordinator Lincoln Riley uses him this spring out of the air raid.

Most significant position battle: Never before in the Bob Stoops era have the Sooners featured a quarterback derby this wide open. Trevor Knight, Baker Mayfield and Cody Thomas all bring Big 12 starting experience to the table, giving Riley several options. Even though he sat out last season after transferring in from Texas Tech, Mayfield could have the inside track to the starting job. The former Big 12 Offensive Freshman of the Year operated a version of the offense in Lubbock that Riley will be installing.

Key midterm enrollee: After Sterling Shepard suffered a groin strain in early November, the Oklahoma receiving corps was exposed and the passing attack fell apart. Shepard is back from the injury, but the Sooners desperately need another pass-catching target to take the pressure off Shepard. Enter Dede Westbrook, who was one of the top junior-college recruits in the country. Whether in the slot or on the outside, Westbrook could provide the Sooners with a much-needed No. 2 receiver alongside Shepard.

Question that could be answered: Other than picking a quarterback, the biggest challenge Riley faces this spring is figuring out how to utilize Perine, a bruising runner between the tackles, out of the air raid system. Easing the degree of difficulty, Riley has a track record of running the ball more than some of his air raid play-calling counterparts. The Sooners should exit spring ball with a good feel about how they'll be able to still feature Perine despite the new offense.

Question that won’t be answered until fall: In 2007, there was little doubt that Sam Bradford would win the three-way quarterback battle with Keith Nichol and Joey Halzle. And still, Bob Stoops waited until two weeks before the season opener to name Bradford the starter. This quarterback competition is far more muddled than that one was. It would be a surprise if Stoops didn't let this quarterback derby play out into the preseason, as well.

Big 12 morning links

March, 5, 2015
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This should be an interesting 30 for 30. I'm looking forward to it.
  • Sam Richardson has grown into a strong leader for Iowa State, writes Bobby La Gesse of the Ames Tribune. Richardson's leadership can be seen on and off the practice field for the Cyclones heading into his fifth season. Richardson is easily the Big 12's most overlooked returning quarterback. Richardson's 56.2 career completion percentage must improve, but if it does, he could help the Cyclones return to a bowl game.
  • Those who have worked with Marcus Arroyo have plenty of praise for Oklahoma State's new assistant coach, reports Kyle Frederickson of The Oklahoman. Change has come to the Cowboys coaching staff and Arroyo is an intriguing hire as a guy who was calling plays for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers last season and has experience as a offensive coordinator. Mike Gundy clearly wanted to supplement the offensive coaching staff by adding creative, experienced minds and looks like Arroyo fits the bill.
  • Baylor offensive tackle Spencer Drango decided to return to Waco to get better. Becoming a unanimous All-American, winning the Outland Trophy and allowing zero sacks are among the goals for Drango, who could have left early for the NFL. Drango is one of the reasons I consider the Bears alongside TCU as a favorite in the conference. His return along with the rest of BU's offensive line will make life easier for whoever wins the starting job for Art Briles' team.
  • This look back at TCU's Class of 2012 is a reminder of how well Gary Patterson's program evaluates on the recruiting trail. Derrick Kindred, Joey Hunt and James McFarland are among the three-star recruits who have developed into key pieces of the Horned Frogs team. That should make TCU fans rest easy despite the fact the Horned Frogs did not sign a player in the ESPN 300 in the Class of 2015.
  • On the other side of the equation this look at Oklahoma's Class of 2012 isn't pretty for Sooners fans. Sure the class included standouts Sterling Shepard, Eric Striker and Charles Tapper but it also featured names like Gary Simon, John Michael McGee and Taylor McNamara who never became impact players for the Sooners. OU's recruiting is moving in a much better direction in recent years but it's a revealing glimpse at OU's struggles to evaluate a few years ago.

Q&A: Baylor LT Spencer Drango

March, 4, 2015
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Baylor left tackle Spencer Drango earned All-America honors last season then elected to come back for his senior season and another shot at a national title. What’s he working on this spring? How do his quarterbacks look? When will he get to catch a pass? We caught up with Drango before Baylor’s first spring practice last week.

What have you guys seen from Seth Russell so far?

[+] EnlargeSpencer Drango
AP Photo/Tony GutierrezSpencer Drango will see to it that Baylor's new QB is well protected.
Drango: He’s shown us that he can be the leader of this team. As far as who has the position, I think it’s still up in the air. The coaches decide that. But all of our guys have been busting their butt. Seth has stepped up to fill that leadership role that’s been vacated by other guys.

What do you like about Jarrett Stidham from getting to watch him work?

Drango: He’s an overall good guy. I haven’t seen much on the field, just seen him throw a little bit. Just like Seth, it doesn’t look like he’s putting much effort into it to throw 65 or 70 yards. I know he can run, I’ve seen that a little on his highlights. It should be a lot of fun to watch him work.

In what ways can you improve after already earning All-America honors?

Drango: Well hopefully I can get unanimous All-American. That’s one of my goals. And then another one of my goals is to win the Outland Trophy. I was a semifinalist last year so I’d like to improve on that. And just here and there, pass pro, getting back to my old self I guess. I got there about halfway through last season. Pass blocking, I still didn’t feel like I was quite back to 100 percent on that. I had to adjust. Now that I’ve got a lot of my strength back, it should help a lot.

Was it important to you, in coming back this year, to help this offense through a transition to a new quarterback?

Drango: I think so, and I think it’s on the whole line in general to maintain that protection we’ve had in the quarterbacks of the past -- and not just maintain, but improve upon it. I don’t know how many sacks we gave up last year. One is too many. I’d like to see us give up none, and I think we can. We definitely have the talent on the line and mindset to be able to do that.

How motivated is this team after the Cotton Bowl loss?

Drango: We’re extremely motivated. Offseason was very intense. We wanted it that way. We wanted to weed out and get rid of the bad habits we had and get focused on doing things right and staying right. Having motivation is always a good thing.

Has LaQuan McGowan been asking for more chances to catch the ball?

Drango: I think every O-lineman is asking for more chances to catch the ball.

Well why haven’t you?

Drango: Uh, you know … coaching, I think. I’d be more than willing to do it, but I think …

You’re an All-American now. You can ask for that, right?

Drango: Well I would hope so. I think, position-wise, it works out better for him to do it than me. Just in the spot I’m at and the spot he’s at, it works out better for him to go do it. I love it.

It might tip the opponent off if you’re lined up in the slot.

Drango: Yeah, exactly. I don’t know, maybe we can do a tackle screen or something like that. That’d be fun.

When you guys were setting up that play, did you ever think they might actually run it in a game?

Drango: Any play that we run in practice, I think we can run it in a game. We have some crazy stuff that we run just to mess around. Coach Briles has some of those plays he loves.

So there are much crazier plays than that one we haven’t seen yet?

Drango: Uh, I don’t know about much crazier. I don’t know if you can get much more crazy than a 400-pounder scoring a touchdown. But every team has their tricks. We’ve got to have a lineman throw him the ball. That would be kind of fun. I don’t know if that’s going to happen. I’ll talk to Coach.
Texas Tech needs to build a strong defense if the Red Raiders hope to surprise in 2015 and the linebacker position will be a critical piece of the puzzle under new defensive coordinator David Gibbs.

Departed: Tech lost 139 tackles with the departure of Sam Eguavoen and V.J. Fehoko. Even though Fehoko and Eguavoen were productive linebackers, they weren't difference makers for a Red Raider defense that finished No. 121 among FBS teams while allowing 295.5 rushing yards per game in 2014.

Spring contenders: Senior Sam Atoe, senior Micah Awe, sophomore Jacarthy Mack, sophomore Mike Mitchell, redshirt freshman Dakota Allen, junior Malik Jenkins, senior Pete Robertson, senior Andre Ross, sophomore Kahlee Woods, junior Kris Williams.

Summer contenders: Incoming freshman D'Vonta Hinton.

The skinny: This position needs a major playmaking upgrade if Kliff Kingsbury's squad hopes to surprise in 2015. Robertson is a star who led the team in tackles and who also excelled as a pass-rusher, so taking him out of that role in Gibbs new defense would be unwise. Awe joins Robertson as a returning starter who had 69 tackles a year ago and brings plenty of experience. Mitchell is the ray of sunlight and hope for the entire defense yet remains unproven. The Ohio State transfer has the athleticism and playmaking to help spark the defense to new heights if he maximizes his unique talent. Allen, Atoe, Ross and Jenkins are among several candidates who could make the spring interesting as they battle for playing time.

Prediction: Robertson and Mitchell have the potential to be the top two players on Tech's defense. Robertson already ranks as one of the Big 12's best so Gibbs' task will be finding the right role to allow him to match or even exceed his 2014 production and Mitchell can transform a defense that badly needs a playmaker. Awe's experience will be hard to replace, so Robertson, Awe and Mitchell could be the trio that emerges from spring football atop the depth chart. With Mitchell's addition expect Tech's linebackers to be much improved in 2015.
Texas Tech got its spring practice schedule started on Sunday. Here's a preview of what to look for from the Red Raiders this spring:

Offensive returner ready to take next step: Receiver Devin Lauderdale closed out 2014 in a big way. He hauled in seven touchdowns over his last seven games, including scores of 82, 76, 56, 48 and 47 yards. The split end is poised to establish himself as one of the Big 12's better big-play threats in his junior year, especially if Tech can get a bit more stability from its quarterback play.

Defensive returner ready to take the next step: New defensive coordinator David Gibbs has said he'll be shocked if defensive end Branden Jackson doesn't break out in a big way this fall. The senior, a two-year starter, logged 44 tackles (10.5 for loss) and five sacks in 2014. When returning Big 12 sack leader Pete Robertson commands extra attention, Jackson will have to make opponents pay.

Redshirt freshman to watch: Well, technically, he's kind of a double-redshirt freshman. Linebacker Mike Mitchell is ready to break out after sitting out his first two years of college. The coveted Ohio State transfer is slated to start at weakside linebacker and brings freaky athleticism to the position. Expectations are mighty high for Mitchell this year, and Gibbs can find a bunch of ways to use him.

Most significant position battle: Quarterback, of course. Patrick Mahomes impressed as a true freshman in his final three games, including the 598-yard, six-touchdown barrage of Baylor. Davis Webb is back from left shoulder surgery and still has 14 starts under his belt. Both are more than capable of leading this Tech team, and coach Kliff Kingsbury is going to push them hard this spring.

Key midterm enrollee: Breiden Fehoko has only been in Lubbock a few months but is already a fan favorite. The brother of former Red Raiders Sam and V.J. Fehoko was the top-rated member of Tech's signing class and, at 6-foot-3 and 287 pounds, already has a college-ready body. He's starting off a third-stringer this spring but should become a force up the middle in time.

Question that could be answered: The quarterback situation. Kingsbury has insisted he's not interested in dragging this battle out for any strategic purposes. When he finds what he's looking for, he'll make the call. Finding a way to have Mahomes available for all 15 practices despite his baseball commitments was crucial, as was getting Webb healthy in time to practice. I wouldn't be shocked if Tech coaches are comfortable with naming The Guy by the end of spring ball.

Question that won't be answered until fall: How quickly can this defense get fixed? Gibbs was a turnover wizard at Houston (FBS-high 73 takeaways over the last two years) and inherits a group with some real flaws that's endured a revolving door of leadership at DC. Gibbs promises to make this defense more disciplined and sound, and Tech will get back to being competitive in the Big 12 as soon as its D starts getting stops on a consistent basis. This spring is about fundamental progress. We'll have to wait until September to see the results.
A closer look at a few important position battles in the Big 12 entering spring practice:

Baylor: Middle linebacker
Aiavion Edwards vs. Grant Campbell

Replacing Bryce Hager, one of the Big 12’s most underappreciated stars, won’t be easy. He was the quarterback of Baylor’s defense, and his successor inherits a lot of responsibility. Edwards started five games last season while Campbell, a junior college transfer, served as Hager’s top backup. They’ll be aided by the return of exciting sophomore Taylor Young, who took Edwards’ job at weakside linebacker last year. Defensive coordinator Phil Bennett is going to let Edwards and Campbell keep competing until the right fit is found, and it’s been a good battle so far.

[+] EnlargeTrevor Knight
Jackson Laizure/Getty ImagesTrevor Knight will need to find consistency this offseason to earn the nod as Oklahoma's starting QB.
Oklahoma: Quarterback
Trevor Knight vs. Baker Mayfield vs. Cody Thomas

The great variable here is new offensive coordinator Lincoln Riley and the Sooners’ transition to Air Raid-style football. All three of his QB candidates have starting experience in the Big 12. Knight needs to stay healthy and get much more consistent. Mayfield has experience in this scheme and needs to show the spark he provided Texas Tech as a freshman in 2012. And Thomas, who dropped baseball to focus on winning this job, just needs to keep pushing them. All three are in for a rigorous offseason of learning under Riley’s watch.

Oklahoma State: Running back
Rennie Childs vs. Sione Palelei

Chris Carson, the touted juco signee who flipped from Georgia, doesn’t arrive in Stillwater until the summer. Neither does freshman Jeff Carr. That means Childs, Palelei and the rest of the Cowboys' backs have the spring to prove they deserve carries this fall. Childs has rushed for 483 yards and five scores as a reserve over the past two years, while the speedy Palelei redshirted last year. Carson seems like the safe bet to be this group’s workhorse when he arrives, but somebody has to tote the rock this spring.

TCU: Cornerback
Corry O’Meally vs. DeShawn Raymond vs. Nick Orr vs. Cameron Echols-Luper

The Horned Frogs are expected to have a wide-open battle for the spot Kevin White held down for three years, and all four of these guys bring different traits to the table. O’Meally and Orr played as reserves in their first year as Frogs. Raymond, a four-star early enrollee, would be TCU’s biggest option here at 6-foot-1. And Echols-Luper, a prolific returner, just switched from receiver to corner this offseason. There’s not a lot of experience among this group, but there is a lot of potential.

Texas: Quarterback
Tyrone Swoopes vs. Jerrod Heard

Swoopes started 12 games last season and at times showed flashes of an exciting future. He also struggled mightily against TCU and Arkansas to end the year. How much better can he get as a junior? Heard, a redshirt freshman, was nowhere near ready to play last year in the eyes of co-offensive coordinator Shawn Watson. We’ll see how both respond to playing in a higher-tempo offense this spring, and whether ESPN 300 signee Kai Locksley tests them in the summer. Texas badly needs stability and leadership at this spot as well as a much-improved line.

Texas Tech: Defensive tackle
Rika Levi vs. Keland McElrath vs. Demetrius Alston vs. Breiden Fehoko

What’ll makes this group fun to watch is the influence of their new position coach, fiery co-defensive coordinator Mike Smith. He’ll push Tech’s big men like never before. Levi didn’t play up to the hype last year, but he’s looking much better this spring now that he’s dropped 20 pounds. Tech fans will be clamoring to see Fehoko, Tech’s top-rated signee, on the field as soon as possible. Anthony Smith, Marcus Smith and the injured Donte Phillips are also in the mix. Considering Tech’s inability to stop the run last year, finding the right combo here is important.

West Virginia: Quarterback
Skyler Howard vs. William Crest vs. Paul Millard

Howard showed dramatic improvement leading up to his three-game audition to end 2014. He lost two of those three, but threw eight TDs and played with confidence when he got his shot. West Virginia fans are rightfully excited about Crest, a dual-threat redshirt freshman whose first year was cut short by a shoulder issue. Millard and true freshmen Chris Chugunov and David Sills are also battling for this job, giving Dana Holgorsen better QB depth than he’s had in a while. If Crest proves he’s ready to lead now, he might run away with this race.
Following his showing at the NFL scouting combine, Bryce Petty is back in San Diego training with George Whitfield and preparing for his Baylor pro day on March 18. We caught up with the former Baylor quarterback to talk about the draft process, the “system quarterback” perceptions and working alongside Jameis Winston.

You've been training with Jameis Winston. How's that going?

That guy is a grinder. He goes to work. That's what I love about him. I understand he's got a whole bunch of outside attention, but what people don't understand is there's so much more to him. It's been cool to go to work with him and we really balance each other out and help each other. In the film room and on the board, that guy is a wizard. He's very knowledgeable about defenses and protections. It's been a blast and we get each other's best.

I'm sure you'll have a lot of stories from hanging with him for a few months, right?

Possibly. Who knows? They all go in my bank, man. Sorry, y'all don't get those.

Tell me about the combine. What'd you think of your performance?

[+] EnlargeBryce Petty
Jamie Squire/Getty ImagesBaylor QB Bryce Petty threw for 3,855 yards and 29 touchdowns during his final season at Baylor.
You know what? Kinda crazy, but I actually thought I underperformed in the things I wanted to do. I was pretty upset about my 40. I was running low 4.6's coming into the combine and busted out a 4.87, which kind of sucks. I know a 40 is not too high on the priority list of what scouts are looking for, but anytime they say, ‘This kid's athletic and can move,' you want to cross that box off. I wasn't happy with that.

Also, on the throws, I missed a throw or two out of every series, which is unlike me and what I'd been doing. To answer your question, it was a great four days as far as getting to know coaches and GMs and scouts. They want to talk about our offense. It's funny how many people love watching our offense. They love it enough to bash it, I guess.

You're getting a lot of questions about the Baylor offense during this process. How do you sell executives on your ability to play in any system?

Things like, ‘Are you a system quarterback?,' to me, I laugh at it. Yes, the quarterbacks that have came through have been very successful. At the same time, you still have to have some ability to play quarterback to run that offense. For what we might've lacked in a progression-style, West Coach verbiage offense, we made up for in the sense that a lot of my throws were anticipated throws. All of our routes have options. You know from coverage what they're going to do. Secondly, our play calling is built for tempo. We don't need a whole lot of verbiage. So when you're calling out one play and you've got to know what everybody's doing on that one play, it almost balances itself out as far as the intellectual part.

We do have a knock for our offense and how it translates, but at the same time, man, to me it's all about the person. That's what I try to lobby. You can measure my height, weight and hand size, look at my film, but you can't measure work ethic and heart and desire to win and drive to be the best. I'm going to put in all the work I can to be the best. I'll bring a certain energy and passion about the game. I'm not worried about it at all. I'm excited. I know I'm going to take my bumps and bruises and get yelled at here and there, but that's part of the process. I'm going to give it my all and that's what I'm trying to lobby. If you're not with that or you're calling B.S., that's fine. Hopefully someone will take that and run with it.

How do you deal with the uncertainty of whether you're going in the first round?

If you sit here and read all the tidbits and worry about where I'm going, it just causes more stress than I need. What gives me peace at night is my faith and knowing God is going to put me exactly where I'm supposed to be, on a team that wants me, on a team I want to be on. For a while, I wanted to be the No. 1 guy taken and the No. 1 overall pick, but that made me put too much pressure on myself during the season. Now I'm just enjoying the process. I don't care where I'm drafted. All I care about is that first day of camp and the rest of the days on that team. ‘Where do they peg him? Where does he go?' Who cares and who knows? All that matters is what I do when I get there.

At this point, do you have any sense of who wants to draft you?

I know if mom had a team or she was a GM, she'd take me. That's as secure an answer as I have. No idea. That's one of the cool parts about it: the anxiousness, the nervousness of where you're gonna go, who's gonna take you, when they're gonna take you. But I'm not too concerned about it now. I'm enjoying it and living out my childhood dream. I'm gonna end up exactly where I'm supposed to be and give that team my all and have fun doing it.

Big 12 morning links

March, 4, 2015
Mar 4
9:00
AM ET
Congrats to the Jayhawks. Eleven straight Big 12 titles ain't easy.
  • Chuck McGill of the Charleston Daily Mail shares the story of West Virginia assistant JaJuan Seider, whose 14-year-old son was diagnosed with cancer and had two tumors removed in January. Jaden Seider is currently in chemotherapy -- fortunately, his cancer was 100-percent treatable -- and fans from both West Virginia and Marshall have rallied to show their support with a #SeiderStrong hashtag. Jade sure sounds like one tough kid. Be sure to give this one a read.
  • Baker Mayfield has beaten the odds before, so why can't he win the job at Oklahoma? Jason Kersey of The Oklahoman does a nice job of tracing Mayfield's competitive streak and perseverance back to his days at Lake Travis High in Austin, where he earned the starting job after an injury and never gave it up. Those who know him best are confident Mayfield will find a way to become QB No. 1 at OU. He's the guy I'd bet on right now, too, based on that mean streak and his now-convenient knowledge of Air Raid concepts.
  • Art Briles shared some wonderful news on Tuesday: the great 400-pound behemoth LaQuan McGowan is getting work at tight end and H-back this spring. Briles says the Bears will try to experiment with him in non-conference play if possible. The staff is hesitant to let him loose this spring in case he injures someone, which is a reasonable fear. Though McGowan's TD against Michigan State got all the glory, I liked how Baylor found ways late in the season to use McGowan as a bonus blocker in goal-line power sets. Why not see what else he can do?
  • As expected, a lot of eyes at Iowa State are on junior college transfer Desmond Tucker right now. The Cyclones expect the defensive tackle to take a starting job, but he'll have to earn it first. Bobby La Gesse of the Ames Tribune offers a good breakdown of where Tucker stands and what he's working on (hands first) as he tries to prove himself. ESPN's No. 3 rated juco DT prospect is already displaying impressive athleticism and could make a big impact once he gets all caught up.
  • Best of luck to former West Virginia quarterback Clint Trickett, who's reportedly set to become the new quarterbacks coach at Eastern Mississippi Community College. Trickett is following in his father's and brother's footsteps and diving right into the coaching world after concussions ended his playing days at WVU. Trickett consistently earned praise during his stint at WVU for his knowledge of the game, and this is no small-time gig. EMCC has won three NJCAA titles in the last four years and its last QB, Chad Kelly, signed with Ole Miss.

Big 12 Tuesday mailbag

March, 3, 2015
Mar 3
4:00
PM ET
In Tuesday's mailbag, Tom Bradley's departure, a May signing day and Kansas State's record are among the topics. As always, thanks for your questions (and thanks for not asking about expansion this time around). To submit questions for next week's mailbag, click here.

Scott in Edgewater, Maryland, writes: Tom Bradley left for UCLA, is this going to negatively effect West Virginia, and why did he leave after just one year?

Brandon Chatmon: I think it hurts the Mountaineers, no question about it. Bradley brought tons of experience and a veteran presence to the WVU coaching staff while helping solidify the defense. It’s a big loss for Dana Holgorsen’s program but not one that is impossible to overcome. As far as why, who wouldn’t want to go to UCLA? Sign me up.


Aaron Terhume in Lenexa, Kansas, writes: With K-State's hardest games at home next year (TCU, Oklahoma, Baylor & West Virginia) what are the odds of an 8+ win season for the CATS?

BC: It feels like you’re overrating the home-field advantage a tad here, Aaron. The Wildcats still have to replace Jake Waters, Tyler Lockett, Ryan Mueller and B.J. Finney, who were among the best in the Big 12 at their positions. I think the home field will help but 7-8 wins sounds about right before spring football kicks off and we start finding out some answers about the 2015 version of Bill Snyder’s team. Anything above eight could be asking a lot from Snyder and company.


J.J. in Tumalo, Oregon, writes: With its continuing squishy soft out of conference schedule do you agree that Baylor leaves itself no margin of error? A weak SOS will always justify the College Football Playoff Committee kicking Baylor to the curb and 0-2 in its last bowl games does not help the cause.

BC: I agree on both counts. The Bears have decided to minimize their margin of error with their stance on nonconference scheduling and bowl losses to Central Florida and Michigan State, with the nation watching, doesn’t help matters. None of this is something Art Briles' program can’t overcome, however. I don’t think many people would be shocked to see the Bears in the College Football Playoff in 2015 even though they aren’t maximizing their potential routes to the playoff.


Jamie in Austin, Texas, writes: Haven't we heard this song before? Texas Tech quarterback looks great early in his career, gets loads of hype, the fanbase gets super pumped for his prospects, and then… Kliff Kingsbury shuffles the deck and that QB doesn't even finish the season as the starter. Baker Mayfield, Davis Webb, now possibly Patrick Mahomes. Is it time that we pause before we start hyping Tech QBs up?

BC: Well, Jamie, I haven’t seen too many posters touting Mahomes as the Big 12 preseason offensive player of the year. He was extremely impressive to end his freshman season but I’d agree some folks on the fringe who need to take a step back before anointing him as the Big 12’s next elite passer. And when it comes to Kingsbury, I can’t blame him for tinkering with his quarterbacks -- neither Mayfield or Webb were taking care of the ball. Mahomes, in his short time, did a better job protecting the ball (16 TDs, 4 INTs) than either of those other two quarterbacks.


rtXC in Denison, Texas, writes: Are you guys as tired of the coaching carousel extending past signing day as the fans are? Here's my suggestion: move signing day to the first Wednesday of May. By that time, all NFL and NCAA staffs should be complete, with the players getting to see exactly what the new staff members bring to the table throughout spring practice and in the spring games. Gives players more time to sort things out, while giving new staffs more time to get things together. The first season of this change would provide an extra long recruiting cycle, but after that things would feel normal again, while protecting both parties, coaches and players alike. Thoughts?

BC: It’s an interesting idea but I don’t know that moving signing day to May really addresses the problem, which is the natural desire of coaches (or anyone for that matter) to progress in their careers. Coaches are going to leave during players/recruits careers, which is why prospects are repeatedly told to pick the school not the coach. Just because the coach would be there on a May signing day doesn’t mean they would be there five years down the road or even one year down the road. The only answer is players picking the best place/environment to excel, regardless of the coaches.


Cole in Oklahoma City writes: With Riley coming to OU and establishing a new offense, would you take the bet Joe Mixon has more total offense than Samaje Perine since Samaje is more of bruiser type back? And also given OU comes back to what they're known for, who wins the Big XII? My prediction is TCU, OU, Texas, Baylor, Ok St and so on. TCU and OU will probably be the Big XII title game.

BC: I’d bet on Mixon because he’s more versatile, allowing Riley to use him in so many different ways. I’d imagine we will see that duo on the field together plenty of times in 2015 -- both are too talented to waste on the sidelines. TCU and Baylor remain the clear favorites for me with Oklahoma State as the next candidate after that top two. OU has to prove themselves title ready before I'm willing to put them up there with TCU or Baylor.
It's Take Two Tuesday, and today we’re watching the throne. Big 12 co-champions Baylor and TCU have both begun spring practice and are already hard at work toward proving they deserve playoff-contender hype in 2015. Both have flaws and holes to address over the next month.

Brandon Chatmon and Max Olson debate which defending Big 12 champ will have more questions answered by the end of spring ball.

Brandon Chatmon: Baylor Bears

Baylor doesn’t have many questions to answer after back-to-back titles and increasing depth as each season goes by.

Obviously replacing Bryce Petty will be the talk of Waco as the quarterback battle between Seth Russell, Chris Johnson and Jarrett Stidham garners plenty of headlines. Russell is the favorite to win the job thanks to his experience in the system and success behind Petty in 2014. Either Johnson or Stidham will have to take the job away from the junior quarterback, meaning it’s possible Russell cements the job this spring. Either way, BU’s track record of stellar quarterback play under Art Briles makes this a mini question mark as opposed to the elephant-sized question marks at some of the other quarterback positions around the conference.

Receiver, linebacker and defensive back are the other potential question marks at Baylor with the departures of Antwan Goodley and Bryce Hager, along with BU’s secondary struggles at various times in 2014.

Yet the receiver position looks like it could be even stronger with KD Cannon poised to make a jump in Year 2, Corey Coleman showing he can be one of the Big 12’s top targets, and a meeting room full of elite but inexperienced receiving talent.

At linebacker, Taylor Young will look to build on a productive redshirt freshman campaign and will have Aiavion Edwards and Grant Campbell battling to help fill Hager’s void.

The bulk of BU’s starting lineup returns from last season, and the small questions facing Briles' team could have answers who saw time on the field for the Bears in 2014.

Max Olson: TCU Horned Frogs

There’s no disputing TCU has more players to replace this spring, and that means more uncertainty. Gary Patterson knows replacing six veteran starters on defense is no small task, and starting defensive end Mike Tuaua is out for the spring as well.

So what are the Frogs going to do? Entering their fourth year in the Big 12, they have the quality depth needed to solve these issues. Patterson and his newly promoted co-defensive coordinators will foster a next-man-up mentality this spring and push for competition.

And there will be lots of competition. At strong safety, Sam Carter’s replacement could be Denzel Johnson, Travin Howard or George Baltimore. At weak safety, Kenny Iloka is probably the favorite but will be pushed by redshirt freshman Ridwan Issahaku.

Then you’ve got Kevin White’s starting corner job, a battle that could play out a lot of different ways. You’ve got a former juco transfer (Corry O’Meally) competing with a touted true freshman (DeShawn Raymond), a converted receiver (Cameron Echols-Luper), a senior track star (Kolby Griffin), and youngsters Nick Orr and Torrance Mosley. Of all of TCU’s question marks, this is the competition I think is most likely to carry over to fall camp, though a pecking order will surely develop in spring ball.

And then there’s linebacker. Two new starters are needed, but that situation could be mostly figured out by the end of the spring. Between Sammy Douglas, Paul Whitmill, Ty Summers and the Frogs’ freshmen, Patterson seems excited about his options.

That’s a lot of names to keep up with, isn’t it? Still, I trust that Patterson knows what he’s working with and that this group can, in time, come close to playing to their predecessors’ standards. And fortunately, this team lost practically nothing -- just one starting lineman -- on offense. Having so few concerns on that side of the ball makes me far less concerned about TCU’s situation.

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