Big 12: 2013 shoes to fill

Big shoes to fill: Baylor Bears

March, 7, 2013
3/07/13
9:00
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We're moving on with a new series today looking at the players across the Big 12 who have to replace program legends. We might as well call this the Nick Florence Memorial team, but today we'll tackle his old team, the Baylor Bears.

Big shoes to fill: Baylor's defensive tackles

We've talked about filling Florence's shoes, and even those left behind by Terrance Williams and Lanear Sampson. We're looking a little closer at Baylor today, and I'm staring right at the front of Baylor's defense. Both defensive tackles, Nick Johnson and Gary Mason Jr. are gone, and Baylor's left with a hole in the front of the defense that only about 600 pounds can fill.

Smart money is on rising sophomore reserves Beau Blackshear and Trevor Clemons-Valdez stepping up to replace Mason and Johnson. Clemons-Valdez made four starts a year ago and should be a strong replacement, and the duo combined to make 21 tackles a season ago, including a tackle for loss from Blackshear and a fumble recovery from Clemons-Valdez. Baylor's trying to build its defense, but if it starts getting gashed up front, any development elsewhere will ultimately be for naught. Filling those emptied spots is paramount this spring.

See more shoes to fill.
We're moving on with a new series today looking at the players across the Big 12 who have to replace program legends. We might as well call this the Nick Florence Memorial team, but let's talk Iowa State Cyclones.

Big shoes to fill: Iowa State's secondary

You know about the losses of A.J. Klein and Jake Knott, so we'll take a closer look at some other big shoes to fill for the Cyclones: The secondary. The defense is perennially underrated, and the guys at the back of the defense were consistently overshadowed by Klein and Knott. The biggest piece missing next season is safety Durrell Givens, but cornerback Jeremy Reeves is gone, too. Givens forced nine turnovers on his own last season, including six fumble recoveries, and Reeves capped his career with an interception for a touchdown in the Liberty Bowl. Jansen Watson, Deon Broomfield and Jacques Washington return, but if ISU is going to continue to give its inconsistent offense some additional breathing room, it must plug the holes in the secondary. I'd expect Broomfield to move over and assume a starting position, but filling the cornerback spot will be an interesting competition during the spring. Senior Cliff Stokes and sophomore Sam Richardson (the reason quarterback Sam B. Richardson has a middle initial on his jersey, and yes, that is amazing) were reserves a year ago and should get the first crack at the gig, but look for sophomore Kenneth Lynn to be in the mix, too. I don't expect a lot of growth from Iowa State's offense, and getting back to a bowl game will require the defense to grow up quickly. It can't do that without finding suitable fill-ins for Reeves and Givens.

See more shoes to fill.
We're moving on with a new series today looking at the players across the Big 12 who have to replace program legends. We might as well call this the Nick Florence Memorial team, but let's talk Kansas Jayhawks.

Big shoes to fill: Kansas' safeties

Bradley McDougald posed a strong challenge last season to James Sims as Kansas' best player, but McDougald is heading to the NFL and his position mate Lubbock Smith is gone, too. McDougald was a playmaker all over the field for KU's defense, but he leaves a hole that KU may not be well-prepared to fill. Somebody has to step up this spring. Dexter Linton and Ray Mitchell will probably get the first crack to do that next season after serving as reserves in 2012. Linton made 26 stops and broke up two passes a year ago, and Mitchell added six tackles of his own. Converted linebacker Victor Simmons could get a crack, too, after grabbing some time as a reserve in all 12 games last season. Look out for redshirt freshman Tevin Shaw, too. Juco transfer Isaiah Johnson may earn time or a starting spot as the only safety Kansas signed in its latest recruiting class. It'll be interesting to see if Charlie Weis skews young to help his team build and learn from experience, but there's no doubt that KU has to find a way to replace their most valuable defender in 2012.

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Big shoes to fill: Oklahoma Sooners

February, 28, 2013
2/28/13
2:30
PM ET
We're moving on with a new series today looking at the players across the Big 12 who have to replace program legends. We might as well call this the Nick Florence Memorial team, but let's talk Oklahoma Sooners.

Big shoes to fill: Oklahoma's receivers

If you want to know more about Oklahoma's quarterback spot and the big shoes to fill there, you can do that with the guys at SoonerNation. There's no reason to rehash the race to replace Landry Jones, but we'll look at the guys who Jones' heir will be throwing to today. Kenny Stills left early and Justin Brown had a solid performance in his one year as a Sooner after transferring from Penn State. Together, Oklahoma's got to replace their top two receivers who accounted for 155 catches, 1,843 yards and 16 touchdowns. That's no small task, but the Sooners have a lot of guys in place to make it happen.

Fresno State transfer Jalen Saunders is at the top of that list after showing big potential in the second half of the season last year once he was ruled eligible. He had three games with at least nine catches (including 15 for 181 yards against Notre Dame) and topped 100 yards receiving in the Sooners' last three regular season games. He's well-suited to be the unit's best player next season, but look out for young guys, too. Oklahoma brought in an unbelievable haul of receivers in the 2012 recruiting class, and it may start paying off now. Sterling Shepard had a strong 2012 season with 45 grabs for 621 yards, but Durron Neal and Trey Metoyer should embrace bigger roles this season with a new quarterback.

The Sooners have had a strong receiving tradition for quite some time now with guys like Stills, Ryan Broyles, Juaquin Iglesias, Manny Johnson and Malcolm Kelly, and they look well suited to continue that tradition in 2013.

More big shoes to fill:
We're moving on with a new series today looking at the players across the Big 12 who have to replace program legends. We might as well call this the Nick Florence Memorial team, but let's talk Texas Longhorns.

Big shoes to fill: Oklahoma State's defensive ends

This unit will be getting used to a brand-new position coach in Joe Bob Clements, who came over from Kansas State this offseason. The Cowboys are losing three of their top players at the position in Nigel Nicholas, Ryan Robinson and Cooper Bassett, and behind them is a bit of a messy situation. Tyler Johnson is the only guy I'd lock into a starting spot after making four sacks, six tackles for loss and 27 stops last season as a reserve, along with an interception and a pair of forced fumbles. Still, with a new position coach, you can never know for sure. Beyond him, it's a crap shoot. We might see sophomore Trace Clark emerge, or junior Jimmy Bean and sophomore Taylor May. The Cowboys might even slide a guy like Davidell Collins over. Either way, it's a huge spot for the Cowboys next season. You can't underestimate the importance of a pass rush in a league full of great quarterback play and high-powered offenses. Johnson must grow into his increased role if Oklahoma State's defense is going to have a better 2013 under new coordinator Glenn Spencer.

More big shoes to fill:

Big shoes to fill: Texas Longhorns

February, 21, 2013
2/21/13
1:00
PM ET
We're moving on with a new series today looking at the players across the Big 12 who have to replace program legends. We might as well call this the Nick Florence Memorial team, but let's talk Texas Longhorns.

Big shoes to fill: Texas' defensive ends

Texas isn't replacing much next season; the Longhorns bring back 19 starters to lead the Big 12 and tie for the national lead. That's got to bring a smile to Mack Brown's face, but the departing Alex Okafor leaves behind a big hole at defensive end following a season with 16.5 tackles for loss and a Big 12-leading 12.5 sacks. Jackson Jeffcoat has the opposite end spot locked down, of course, but filling Okafor's role will get really interesting this spring. Senior Reggie Wilson contributed each of the past three seasons, made a start in 2012 and may step into that role, but junior Cedric Reed started the last six games of the year without Jeffcoat and had 4.5 tackles for loss in the final five games of the season. It seems like he might be the safer bet, but sophomore Torshiro Davis could be a dark horse after burning his redshirt year following Jeffcoat's injury. The Longhorns need production opposite Jeffcoat and have a few solid options to do it, so even with Okafor's absence, Texas has reason to feel solid about this spot heading into the 2013 season.

More big shoes to fill:

Big shoes to fill: TCU Horned Frogs

February, 20, 2013
2/20/13
4:00
PM ET
We're moving on with a new series today looking at the players across the Big 12 who have to replace program legends. We might as well call this the Nick Florence Memorial team, but let's talk TCU.

Big shoes to fill: TCU's offensive line

Big 12 teams have a well-earned reputation for offense, but far too often, the skill position talent gets too much credit and the offensive line gets far too little. A great line can make average skill position talent look great and great skill position talent look legendary, while mediocre or poor offensive line play can make any skill position talent look average or worse. TCU will encounter one of those two next season when it loses guard Blaize Foltz and center James Fry, a pair of solid talents who must be replaced next season. Look for the Frogs to shuffle some experienced players in those slots and play some younger guys at tackle, so this category is a little jumbled, but look for senior John Wooldridge to get a shot to fill in for Foltz at guard. The 310-pounder has been a solid reserve for each of the past three seasons, and has earned a shot to start this season. Foltz's younger brother, Brady Foltz, may earn a shot to start at guard, too. He'll be a sophomore next year and was a solid contributor as a redshirt freshman a year ago. Sophomore Joey Hunt may get a look, too, and will most likely be in the rotation. TCU's defense will earn a lot of ink this offseason, and so will quarterback Casey Pachall, but don't overlook the importance of replacing Fry and Foltz. If TCU does it well, expect much of the rest of the offense to fall into place and look mighty impressive come fall.

More big shoes to fill:
We'll kick off a new series today looking at the players across the Big 12 who have to replace program legends. We might as well call this the Nick Florence Memorial team, but we'll move on with Texas Tech.

Big shoes to fill: TBD at safety

Quarterback Michael Brewer will get lots of attention when he steps in to replace Seth Doege this spring, but Texas Tech might have a bigger issue replacing the safeties. Cody Davis was a four-year starter who showed major progress for an improved defense in 2012, and so did fellow senior D.J. Johnson. Tech loses a ton of experience at the position, and new coach Trey Haverty will have his work cut out for him this spring. With a new staff and a lot of turnover at a position, I'll stop short of trying to predict who will fill in for Davis or Johnson. Might we see a converted cornerback?

Defensive shortcomings have been a common theme for Texas Tech. It fielded a lot of great teams under Mike Leach and never won that elusive Big 12 title. Having great play in the secondary is a must in the Big 12. Offenses can and will beat you over the top. Haverty didn't spend a lot of time at TCU before coming back home to his alma mater, but finding replacements for Davis and Johnson will have a big impact on where Tech falls in the Big 12 pecking order in 2013.

Big shoes to fill: West Virginia

February, 14, 2013
2/14/13
11:00
AM ET
We'll kick off a new series today looking at the players across the Big 12 who have to replace program legends. We might as well call this the Nick Florence Memorial team, but we'll kick off at the bottom of the alphabet with West Virginia.

Big shoes to fill: WR Jordan Thompson

There will be a ton of talk this offseason about replacing Geno Smith, but great receivers can make even an average quarterback look a whole lot better. Replacing a player with Tavon Austin's kind of quickness is basically impossible, but the importance of doing so for the Mountaineers will be huge in 2013 with Ford Childress or Paul Millard stepping in for Smith. Thompson made a big impact in the spring but caught just 13 passes for 75 yards once the fall arrived. West Virginia's top three receivers (Stedman Bailey, J.D. Woods, Austin) are all gone and two of its other top six transferred during the season (Travares Copeland, Ivan McCartney). So to put it simply, Thompson doesn't really have a choice. He's got to be great in 2013 for West Virginia's offense to keep rolling under Dana Holgorsen.

There will be room for freshmen and juco transfers like Shelton Gibson and Kevin White to make an impact, but the scary truth is a rising sophomore in his second season on campus is the best hope to fill the enormous void left behind from Austin and Bailey. Together they accounted for 224 receptions, 2,914 yards and 37 touchdowns.

No pressure.

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