Big 12: 2012 fall camp previews

Opening camp: West Virginia Mountaineers

August, 10, 2012
Camp is open up in Morgantown. Before we get too deep in sweltering hot practices, I'll offer up a quick preview of what you need to know heading into the season.

See more fall camp previews.

Next up: West Virginia.

Media's predicted finish: Second (received seven first-place votes).

Biggest storyline: The Big 12 offered West Virginia a life raft out of the crumbling Big East, which lost all but two founding members by the time the Mountaineers left for greener pastures down South. Now, it's time to answer the question of whether or not a Big East power could win big in a much tougher conference. The Mountaineers won the league or a share of it six times since 2003, including three BCS bowl wins in three trips. WVU knocked off Oklahoma in a memorable Fiesta Bowl route, but that was one game. Time to put up or shut up every single week in big games in a loaded Big 12 for 2012.

Biggest question mark: Pass rush. West Virginia lost pretty much everybody that produced their pass rush from last season, and now, they're moving to a brand-new system, a 3-4 under Joe DeForest and Keith Patterson. Bruce Irvin and Julian Miller will be tough to replace, and now, in the Big 12, they're going to play much faster, more skilled offenses with quarterbacks who are taught to get the ball out of their hands and into the hands of guys who can make plays in the open field.

Who needs to step up: The passing game. These guys have gotten all the press this offseason, and simply put, must be great. The defense may demand it. You can win and win big in this league with a defense that's just OK, and West Virginia has the firepower to do it. Think Baylor in 2011, but with upgrades on defense. If West Virginia's going to be a factor in the Big 12 title race, Geno Smith has to validate his status as the league's preseason Offensive Player of the Year, helping Stedman Bailey and Tavon Austin both log one more 1,000-yard season apiece. The trio must, above all, be consistent. One bad day and there's a long list of teams in the Big 12 that can beat WVU.

Fun fact: The Big 12 is just 1-4 against West Virginia in bowl games. Maybe the Mountaineers can petition to have every game this year played at a neutral site?

On the mend: Running back Shawne Alston held down the spot in spring camp, but sophomore Dustin Garrison is back after tearing his ACL in Orange Bowl practices. The shifty, 5-foot-8, 180-pounder averaged nearly 5.5 yards a carry last year, racking up 742 yards on just 136 carries, with six scores.

Breaking out: LB Terence Garvin. Garvin sat out the spring after undergoing knee surgery, but he'll take over the Star linebacker position that Shaun Lewis took control of to win Big 12 Freshman of the Year honors in 2010 at Oklahoma State. DeForest brought the position over from Stillwater, and Garvin's a speedy converted safety who could make tons of plays in the scheme. He proved himself as a playmaker in the Big East, but across the Big 12, he's basically an unknown. That may change quick this fall.

Opening camp: Texas Tech Red Raiders

August, 10, 2012
Camp is open over in Lubbock. Before we get too deep in sweltering practices, I'll offer up a quick preview of what you need to know heading into the season.

See more fall camp previews.

Next up: Texas Tech.

Media's predicted finish: Ninth.

Biggest storyline: Texas Tech is on a little redemption tour of its own after breaking the Big 12's longest stretch without a losing season, one that reached back nearly two decades. Last year's 5-7 season was aided by injuries, but the defense simply wasn't good enough. The pundits clearly aren't convinced Texas Tech is ready to rebound and reach the postseason, but the Red Raiders should have the offense. Can they stay healthy and finally turn the corner after a couple of rough seasons to begin the Tommy Tuberville era? He's recruited really well. The Red Raiders have the athletes to make it happen.

Biggest question mark: The entire defense. Texas Tech was by far the nation's worst run defense last season. That's an accomplishment especially in the Big 12, where passing is the name of the game. The Red Raiders gave up 12 more yards a game than New Mexico, the next-worst rush defense and a team that won one game. They gave up 25 more yards a game than the 116th-ranked rush defense. New coordinator Art Kaufman is the fourth man in four years to be in charge of the Texas Tech defense, which fell victim to poor depth in 2011. Coach Tommy Tuberville says the basic terminology and schemes haven't changed, even though the alignments have, from a 4-3 in 2009 to a 3-4 in 2010 to a 4-2-5 last year and back to a 4-3 this year.

Who needs to step up: The defensive line. Even with the injuries, the offense was good enough to win 7-8 games or more last season, averaging almost 34 points a game. Still, there's no underestimating the importance of this unit's improvement. If Tech can't stop the run any better than last year, the offense won't have a chance. Defensive tackle Delvon Simmons must emerge at the front line of the defense. Tackle Kerry Hyder and ends Branden Jackson and Dartwan Bush are the guys who can have the biggest influence on whether or not Texas Tech's rise begins in 2012.

On the mend: This list could go on and on and on, but we'll focus on the biggest guys who need to be back on the field. That starts with running backs Eric Stephens and DeAndre Washington who are returning from knee injuries. Receivers Alex Torres (knee) and Darrin Moore (ankle) are back and healthy, though Moore is facing disciplinary action after an offseason DWI arrest.

Breaking out: Texas Tech may have a pair of linebackers who are household names by the end of the season. Juco transfer Will Smith took over this spring and earned a starting spot at middle linebacker. Tuberville wants him on the field as much as possible. Terrance Bullitt, a converted safety, is playing outside linebacker and the 215-pound senior is a big hitter who can fly around and be everywhere. He just needs to prove he can be where he needs to be when he needs to be there. He's got the athleticism to make it happen.

Don't forget about: WR Eric Ward. Torres has had a great career already, and Moore has all the potential in the world, but Ward was the guy producing in 2011, and returns as the team's leading receiver. He was steady during a rocky 2011, catching 84 balls for 800 yards and 11 scores.

Opening camp: Texas Longhorns

August, 10, 2012
Camp is open in Austin. Before we get too deep in sweltering hot practices, I'll offer up a quick preview of what you need to know heading into the season.

See more fall camp previews.

Next up: Texas.

Media's predicted finish: Third.

Biggest storyline: Texas was a lot better last year than it was in 2010's five-win season, but how much better will Texas be in 2012? Eight wins won't cut it with the expectations facing this year's team. An offense full of freshmen is now an offense full of sophomores, but the Longhorns are still trying to climb back up the mountain after a Big 12 title in 2009 and two forgettable seasons since. Is this the year the Horns reach the summit once again?

Biggest question mark: Quarterback. No question about this one. For now, coach Mack Brown still says the position isn't settled between David Ash and Case McCoy, but Ash has reportedly received nearly all of the first-team reps since a strong performance in the win over California in the Holiday Bowl. Ash has the bigger upside and more impressive physical attributes, but he's got to start making good on that upside. He'll have plenty of help around him with a strong backfield and two good, young receivers in Jaxon Shipley and Mike Davis.

Who needs to step up: The linebackers. Junior Jordan Hicks is the leader of the group, but there's a huge leadership void there with the loss of Emmanuel Acho and Keenan Robinson. That leadership has shifted to guys like Alex Okafor, Kenny Vaccaro and Jackson Jeffcoat. Steve Edmond is a big presence and a promising player at 255 pounds in the middle of the defense, and former blue-chip recruit Demarco Cobbs is ready to take over at the other outside linebacker spot. He missed six games last season with a broken arm, but he's got absurd speed for his position.

Fun fact: Texas has exactly 12 players on its roster who are not from Texas. Who came from furthest away? How about freshman kicker Michael Davidson, from Aberdeen, Scotland.

New addition: Don't underestimate the impact of newcomer Anthony Fera, who gives Texas a huge upgrade at one of its biggest question marks: kicker. He may also get in the mix at punter, but Fera's an experienced kicker who transferred to Texas after the NCAA hammered Penn State with severe sanctions, including a four-year bowl ban. He made 14 of 17 kicks last season. Texas' defense should produce a lot of close, low-scoring games. Here's guessing Fera will have a big influence on how many of those are wins and how many are losses.

Don't forget about: WR Mike Davis. Shipley grabbed a lot of headlines last year, but Davis is still a big talent, too. The junior grabbed 45 passes for 609 yards and a touchdown last year. I'd be shocked if he doesn't have a major boost in production this year.

Breaking out: RB Johnathan Gray. Gray was the nation's top running back in the 2012 recruiting class, and joins Malcolm Brown and Joe Bergeron in a loaded backfield for the Longhorns. Still, where he fits and what kind of impact he'll have is one of the league's most fascinating developments. It's not every day the nation's Gatorade Player of the Year shows up on a Big 12 campus.
Camp is open up in Stillwater. Before we get too deep in sweltering hot practices, I'll offer up a quick preview of what you need to know heading into the season.

See more fall camp previews.

Next up: Oklahoma State.

Media's predicted finish: Fourth.

Biggest story line: Brandon Weeden and Justin Blackmon are gone. The Cowboys are going from a 28-year-old quarterback to an 18-year-old quarterback, but he's got to find a handful of new targets to come close to what Oklahoma State was used to with Weeden and Blackmon in 2010 and 2011. The Cowboys enter the season in the unfamiliar position of defending champs, but outside of the quarterback and pass-catching spots, this team is anything but rebuilding.

Biggest question mark: Wes Lunt. We know he beat out J.W. Walsh and Clint Chelf this spring to amazingly win the job as a true freshman who should have still been in high school, but how will he handle the first year of major college football? It won't be easy, especially considering the strength of the league's defenses, which should be stronger than they've been in recent seasons. Can Lunt be productive and also take care of the ball?

Who needs to step up: The cornerbacks. Justin Gilbert and Brodrick Brown should be absolutely nasty at cornerback, but they simply have to be great this season. The margin for error for the defense is nothing like it was last season. It may surprise some, but the Cowboys actually led the Big 12 in scoring defense in conference games last season. That's nice. OSU still has to be better, and it's going to start with the Pokes' pair of returning starters at corner.

Biggest position battle: Starting left tackle Michael Bowie broke team rules and was suspended, but chose to leave the team, leaving the Cowboys reliant on a sudden position battle at left tackle. Parker Graham started three games there last year and may grab the spot, but sophomore Daniel Koenig, redshirt freshman Devin Davis and juco transfer Chris Grisbhy will be in the mix, too.

Don't forget about: RB Jeremy Smith. Joseph Randle is the headliner. Herschel Sims was the superstar recruit kicked off the team this spring. Smith will have to join Randle in supporting his new quarterback, proving that their success on the ground -- the duo combined for almost 2,000 yards -- was more than defenses being distracted by Weeden and Blackmon. Smith is a power back, but even he broke out for scores from 74 and 30 yards against Texas, the league's best defense.

Breaking out: There are lots of receptions to be had in this offense. The only question? Who's going to get them? Tracy Moore, Isaiah Anderson and Josh Stewart are the most likely candidates, but look out for spring breakout star Charlie Moore and newcomer Blake Jackson, one of the nation's best juco tight ends a year ago.

Opening camp: Oklahoma Sooners

August, 9, 2012
Camp is open up in Norman. Before we get too deep in sweltering hot practices, I'll offer up a quick preview of what you need to know heading into the season.

See more fall camp previews.

Next up: Oklahoma

Media's predicted finish: First.

Biggest story line: Is Oklahoma, fresh off a disappointing end to 2011, good enough to bounce back and ascend back into the BCS in 2012 as Big 12 champs? The Sooners are the favorites, and have a decent shot at winning a national title if they stay healthy. This year, they don't have to deal with the crushing pressure of the preseason No. 1 and the expectation of a national title. Even QB Landry Jones admitted to me this preseason that wins last year felt mostly like relief, the calm after holding their breath for 60 minutes. This year should be much more relaxing, with wins feeling more like accomplishments. Will the results show up on the field?

Biggest question mark: Receivers. There's tons of potential here, especially with the addition of Penn State transfer Justin Brown, who'll contribute on punt returns, too. Kenny Stills returns, but offseason suspensions means Brown and Stills will be the only Sooners on the roster who have played a down of college football when the season begins. Trey Metoyer looks likely to emerge as an impact player, but he's got to prove it. Can Sterling Shepard and Durron Neal get in the mix while Jaz Reynolds and Trey Franks sit out with multiple game suspensions?

Biggest addition: Defensive coordinator Mike Stoops is in after nearly a decade in charge of the Arizona program. He'll coach the defensive backs and replace Brent Venables, who left for Clemson after being forced into a co-defensive coordinator role with Stoops.

Who needs to step up: The rest of the offensive line. Oklahoma's camp has gotten off to an awful start. Center Ben Habern left football after lingering neck and back issues, and guard Tyler Evans is out with a torn ACL. That's a pair of three-year starters. Guard Gabe Ikard, the team's most talented lineman, is moving to center, but the Sooners are officially strapped for depth. It's time for junior Bronson Irwin to slide into Evans' spot, and he'll have to be great if OU is going to win another Big 12 or national title.

On the mend: Dominique Whaley. The Sooners' RB suffered a nasty broken ankle last season against Kansas State, but he's back and ready to compete with Roy Finch and Brennan Clay for carries in a crowded backfield.

Don't forget about: S Tony Jefferson. He's moving from the nickel back spot (Joe Ibiloye is expected to take over) back to free safety across from Javon Harris as strong safety, but don't be surprised if Jefferson makes a run at the Big 12 Defensive Player of the Year award by season's end. He's got the physical talent and his instincts are almost unmatched in this league. At a more natural spot, could he emerge as an All-American, or more?
Camp is open up in Manhattan. Before we get too deep in sweltering hot practices, I'll offer up a quick preview of what you need to know heading into the season.

See more fall camp previews.

Next up: Kansas State.

Media's predicted finish: Sixth

Biggest story line: Kansas State won eight games a year ago by one score or less. Only two were by at least two scores, and the Wildcats had two lopsided losses to Oklahoma and Arkansas, losing just one close game all season, a 52-45 road loss to Big 12 champ Oklahoma State. Add it all up, and people are skeptical of the Big 12's biggest surprise in 2011. The Wildcats won 10 games and return 17 starters, including their two best players -- QB Collin Klein and LB Arthur Brown -- and what's their reward? K-State's picked sixth in the league now, instead of eighth.

Biggest question mark: Klein's right arm. Klein scared defenses with his legs, and got a lot better as a passer as the season wore on, but how much growth is left for the league's biggest and toughest QB? If he shows up with a vastly improved arm this fall, K-State's offense may be close to unstoppable, even if its slow pace keeps it from finishing in the top half of the no-huddle, pass-frenzied world of Big 12 offenses.

Fun fact: It's all in the family at K-State these days. Coach Bill Snyder's grandson, Tate, is a sophomore linebacker on this year's team, and incoming freshman Glenn Gronkowski will play fullback and tight end, just like his older brother Rob, who caught 17 touchdowns for the Patriots last season. Gronkowski has two more older brothers who also play in the NFL now.

On the mend: WR/KR Tyler Lockett. Lockett missed the last part of 2011 with a lacerated kidney, but healed up in time for spring. The problem? The Big 12 Offensive Freshman of the Year suffered another minor injury just before the spring game and had to sit out again. He's healthy, though, and ready to make the most of his sophomore season.

Who needs to step up: Receivers. The pass-catchers let Klein down in the Cotton Bowl, and the duo of Chris Harper and Tramaine Thompson is pretty underrated across the league. K-State's run-heavy offense simply doesn't allow them to put up very big numbers. They're back, and so is Lockett, but the margin of error is small for these guys. They need to catch everything and make plays when they get the ball in their hands to make defenses respect K-State's passing game.

Don't forget about: DE Meshak Williams. I put Williams on my preseason All-Big 12 team, but he's not quite as respected around the league as he should be. He's no physical marvel, but he's got the high motor coaches love, and he's productive. Leave him without a second lineman in his face at your own peril, Big 12 offenses.

Opening camp: Kansas Jayhawks

August, 8, 2012
Camp is open up in Lawrence. Before we get too deep in sweltering hot practices, I'll offer up a quick preview of what you need to know heading into the season.

See more fall camp previews.

Next up: Kansas.

Media's predicted finish: Tenth.

Biggest story line: The climb begins. Kansas has won just five games the past two seasons, and just one Big 12 game. Along the way, it endured plenty of lopsided losses that were anything but competitive. Enter Charlie Weis, whose tenure at Notre Dame started with a pair of BCS bowl berths, but plummeted to three sub-par seasons before being fired. He's back in his first head coaching job since, and the announcement turned heads and brought on plenty of criticism. Now begins Weis and Kansas' road back, both equally invested in one another. How will Year 1 look? Step one is getting back to being competitive, just five years removed from a BCS bowl win in Lawrence.

Biggest question mark: Defensive line. Kansas brought in Keon Stowers and Nebraska transfer Josh Williams to help bolster a defense that was gashed often last season. The defensive backs are somewhat underrated and the linebackers are pretty good, but none of them had a chance when the D-line was getting blown off the line on running downs and getting zero pass rush (nine sacks, seven fewer than any Big 12 team) in a pass-heavy Big 12. Hope has arrived in Lawrence. Now, it's time to make it happen.

Setting the stage: Kansas coach Charlie Weis set a strong precedent early on, announcing the removal of 10 players all the way back in January, including big-time talents like safety Keeston Terry, running back Darrian Miller and quarterback Brock Berglund. Sorting out the cause/effect is messy, but the Jayhawks saw a huge boost in GPA for the Jayhawks this spring and a clear message sent from Weis to his team: This is serious business. Take your responsibilities seriously or get out.

On the mend: WR Daymond Patterson. Patterson might be the top target in the Jayhawks' passing game, but he's back this year after sitting out with a medical redshirt because of a groin injury suffered in the season opener last year. He's back, healthy and ready for a good run at his senior season.

Who needs to step up: QB Dayne Crist. Crist's career arc has brought him to Lawrence, and last year's 12-game starter, Jordan Webb, transferred out to Colorado when Crist arrived with Weis. He's the guy now. Jake Heaps is in line for this team in 2013, but Crist has no legitimate backup with any real experience, and if he doesn't play well or gets hurt, it's going to be tough for KU to be much better than it was last year.

Breaking out: DE/LB Toben Opurum. Kansas' leading rusher in 2009, Opurum's career has been pretty crazy since, and full of position moves. Now, he's playing a hybrid linebacker/defensive end spot, and when I was filling out my ballot for All-Big 12 preseason nods, Opurum wasn't far from it. The 6-foot-2, 250-pound senior has emerged as one of the team's leaders, and could help lead a renaissance for the Kansas defense.

Opening camp: Iowa State Cyclones

August, 8, 2012
Camp is open up in Ames. Before we get too deep in sweltering hot practices, I'll offer up a quick preview of what you need to know heading into the season.

See more fall camp previews.

Next up: Iowa State.

Media's predicted finish: Eighth

Biggest story line: Iowa State has snuck into a bowl game in two of the past three seasons, but nearly made it in 2010, too. Coach Paul Rhoads is preaching about his 2012 team, touting it as his best team yet. It's debatable, but he might be right. Can Iowa State start to climb and make the same sort of jump Oklahoma State and Missouri did over the past five years? You've got to climb the ladder one position, one game and one year at a time. ISU's got another brutal schedule, but an experienced team. Can it prove something?

Biggest question mark: Quarterbacks. Jared Barnett and Steele Jantz teamed up for three wins each in last season's six-win campaign, but as the old saying goes, "If you've got two quarterbacks, you don't have any." The fall is all about figuring out who will take the field on Sept. 1 vs. Tulsa, where the Cyclones are actually a home underdog. Rhoads plans to announce his starter after the third scrimmage of camp with a couple weeks before the opener.

Fun fact: Iowa State is the Big 12's only team with a real quarterback competition this fall. Texas hasn't officially announced David Ash as the starter, but he reportedly took nearly every first-team rep through spring and worked with the first team during the summer, similar to what Garrett Gilbert did in the offseason before 2011.

On the mend: RB Shontrelle Johnson. He suffered a major neck injury against Texas and missed the rest of the season. His career was in doubt, but he's been cleared for contact, and he's back. He's shifty and speedy, and gives Iowa State some serious punch in the backfield.

Who needs to step up: DT Jake McDonough. He's the only returning starter on a defensive line that didn't offer much resistance the past two seasons. Iowa State's linebackers are quite obviously outstanding. Both earned preseason All-Big 12 nods and A.J. Klein is the returning Big 12 Defensive Player of the Year. But if opposing offensive linemen are rolling into the second level of the defense, Klein and Jake Knott's effectiveness will be for naught. Racking up 130 tackles doesn't mean much when two-thirds of them are 4-5 yards downfield.

Don't forget about: WR Jarvis West. He's the most exciting playmaker in Iowa State's offense, and the Cyclones need to find ways to get him the ball. Receiver Josh Lenz is the most reliable receiver, but West gives the team a home-run threat that no one else on the team can provide.

Opening camp: Baylor Bears

August, 8, 2012
Camp is open down in Waco. Before we get too deep in sweltering hot practices, I'll offer up a quick preview of what you need to know heading into the season.

See more fall camp previews.

First up: Baylor.

Media's predicted finish: Seventh

Biggest story line: Can Nick Florence fill RG3's legendary cleats? Florence is a much, much different player, but he's mobile and has plenty of experience for what's essentially still a first-year starter. Better yet, he's got a fantastic offensive line headlined by Ivory Wade and Cyril Richardson. He'll have two of the league's best receivers in Terrance Williams and Tevin Reese, and be supported by an outstanding trio of backs in Jarred Salubi, Lache Seastrunk and Glasco Martin.

Biggest question mark: The defense. Baylor won't have a Heisman winner to outweigh a rough season from the defense. The Bears were the first team in FBS history last season to win four consecutive games in a single season while also giving up at least 30 points in each win. Phil Bennett is ready for Year 2, and his defense has a lot to prove after finishing ahead of only Kansas in total defense. The Bears forced lots of turnovers late in the season, helping them finish strong, but will that continue?

Fun fact: The Bears' six-game win streak is the longest of any team in one of college football's six major conference. The MAC's Northern Illinois (9) is the only team who has won more consecutive games entering 2012.

Who needs to step up: Williams and the backfield. Baylor had the Big 12's leading rusher in Terrance Ganaway and leading receiver in Kendall Wright last season. Those losses are big, too. Williams and the backfield trio have the potential to be great replacements for the Bears, who have had 1,200-yard rushers in each of the past two seasons. Who knows if a featured back will emerge, but this group has to be productive if Baylor's going to reach a third consecutive bowl.

Don't forget about: S Ahmad Dixon and CB K.J. Morton. Neither get the same recognition as guys who earned a reputation as the league's best at their position, but after really strong finishes to 2011, Dixon and Morton might make a run in 2012 that proves they deserve a place in the conversation as one of the Big 12's best defensive backs.