Big 12: 2014 Big 12 spring team wraps

Baylor spring wrap

May, 1, 2014
5/01/14
11:00
AM ET
A recap of what we learned about Baylor this spring as the program prepares to defend its Big 12 conference title.

Three things we learned in the spring:

1. The nation’s No. 1 offense is ready to reload. There’s no replacing guys such Lache Seastrunk and Tevin Reese, but Bryce Petty is fired up about the new weapons he gets to work with. RB Johnny Jefferson, TE Tre'Von Armstead and WRs Corey Coleman, Robbie Rhodes and Jay Lee were a few of the many who stepped up this spring.

2. Art Briles loves this defensive line. The Baylor coach says he’ll put his D-line up against any in the nation, and with good reason. Even after losing some key seniors, a unit that features ends Shawn Oakman and Jamal Palmer, tackles Andrew Billings, Beau Blackshear, Byron Bonds and the versatile Javonte Magee should frustrate opposing offenses.

3. A historic season ending in heartbreak left the Bears with plenty of motivation this spring. The Tostitos Fiesta Bowl loss to UCF left a sting that troubled Baylor’s players and coaches in the winter, and there's a stronger sense that there’s unfinished business entering 2014.

Three questions for the fall:

1. Can Baylor’s defense play up to the level of its stellar 2013 unit? DC Phil Bennett is optimistic about the caliber of his new starters, and the depth that BU’s strength program is fortifying. But you can’t just assume the new guys will immediately match the quality play of Ahmad Dixon, Eddie Lackey, Sam Holl and so many other departed starters.

2. How will the Bears’ offensive line hold up? Losing left tackle Spencer Drango midseason was a major blow to this group last season, and while he’s back, All-America guard Cyril Richardson was one of three senior starters who graduated. Baylor needs LaQuan McGowan, Kyle Fuller and several others to step up.

3. What can the newcomers bring to the table? Briles brags that he signed the best wide receiver class in the country, but it’s not as if Baylor needed much help at that position. You know the junior college additions will play early on, but what can the rest of the Bears’ incoming class contribute?

One way-too-early prediction:

Calling Baylor a lock for a top-10 spot in the polls requires a lot of confidence in a defense that must replace 10 seniors on the two-deep, but the staff believes its talent evaluation and development will pay off big in 2014. But the Petty-led offense is absolutely loaded, and the Bears’ sights should be squarely set on fighting for a playoff bid.

Iowa State spring wrap

May, 1, 2014
5/01/14
10:30
AM ET
Three things we learned in the spring about the Iowa State Cyclones:

1. The offense has pass-catchers: On top of returning tight end E.J. Bibbs, slot receiver Jarvis West and wideout Quenton Bundrage, receivers P.J. Harris, Brett Medders and South Florida transfer D'Vario Montgomery emerged this spring. Blue chip freshman Allen Lazard will also be joining the receiving corps this summer, potentially giving Iowa State its best collection of pass-catchers in years.

2. QB Grant Rohach is the favorite to start: Coach Paul Rhoads said the Cyclones will wait until mid-August before naming a starting QB. But after leading Iowa State to a pair of wins at the end of last season, then outplaying Sam B. Richardson and Joel Lanning in the spring game, Rohach will go into the summer as the odds-on favorite to be the starter when the Cyclones are finally ready to name one.

3. The OL should be way better: Injuries forced Iowa State to use nine different starting combinations along the offensive line last year. The silver lining? The Cyclones brought back a wealth of starting experience up front, headlined by four-year starter Tom Farniok at center, who was healthy again in the spring. This line should give new coordinator Mark Mangino a strong foundation to build around.

Three questions for the fall:

1. Can the interior of the D-line hold up? The Cyclones suffered major attrition along the defensive line this spring, as projected starters Rodney Coe and David Irving were booted off the team. The Cyclones did get some good news last week as Brandon Jensen, a starting nose guard last year, decided to rejoin the squad after initially quitting. But interior D-line play is still a major question.

2. How will Mangino impact the offense? Rhoads tabbed Mangino to turn around an Iowa State offense that finished 90th nationally in scoring last season. Rhoads was drawn to Mangino’s track record, which included taking Kansas to the Orange Bowl and coordinating a national championship attack at Oklahoma. Mangino brought energy and intensity this spring, but whether that will translate into more points will play out in the fall.

3. Who will be the defensive anchors? Under Rhoads, the Cyclones have seemingly always featured a defensive lynchpin. Last year it was All-Big 12 linebacker Jeremiah George. But with George graduated and several key players off last year’s defense gone, it’s unclear who that foundational defender will be. One possibility is cornerback Nigel Tribune, who started as a true freshman last year.

One way-too-early prediction:

Iowa State has ranked at least second-to-last in scoring offense in every year since 2005. But under Mangino and a host of budding playmakers, the Cyclones will feature their highest scoring attack since that ’05 season, and finish well above the bottom two in the league in scoring.

Kansas spring wrap

May, 1, 2014
5/01/14
10:00
AM ET
A recap of what we learned about Kansas this spring as Charlie Weis prepares for his third season as coach.

Three things we learned in the spring:

1. Montell Cozart is the guy. Weis named the sophomore his starting quarterback after reviewing the Jayhawks’ spring practice performances. Not only did Cozart star in the spring game, he separated himself in the other 14 spring practice sessions and convinced Weis to name him the starter now so the team would know who would lead the offense this fall.

2. Receiver Nick Harwell could make a big difference. The Miami (Ohio) transfer looked like a legitimate difference-maker during the spring. Harwell clearly proved he should be a guy who new offensive coordinator John Reagan will try to get the ball as much as possible in 2014.

3. KU’s defense should be improved. The Jayhawks return several starters on defense and appear faster and more athletic than last season. Linebacker Ben Heeney is one of the league's most underrated defenders and a veteran secondary should be able to better handle the passing offenses in the conference.

Three questions for the fall:

1. Who will replace running back James Sims? Sims was KU’s offense for much of his four-year stint in the Jayhawks' backfield. Senior Brandon Bourbon looks like he can contribute but will have to hold off a star-studded group of running back signees set to arrive in the summer.

2. Will KU’s defense live up to lofty expectations? The defense was vocal about its desire to be the best defense in the Big 12 this season. That’s a lofty goal for a defense that finished in the bottom third in the Big 12 in nearly every category.

3. Will the coaching changes pay off? Weis brought in Reagan to run the offense and added receivers coach Eric Kiesau. The veteran head coach has made a point to take a step back from the offense and take more of a CEO approach this season. We’ll see if it pays off.

One way-too-early prediction:

Cozart will validate Weis’ decision to name him the starter with a strong sophomore season. If he shows he can be a "pass first, run second"-style quarterback, Cozart will cause some real problems for Big 12 defenses this fall.

Kansas State spring wrap

May, 1, 2014
5/01/14
9:30
AM ET
Three things we learned in the spring about the Kansas State Wildcats

1. The defense will be better: On its way to claiming the 2012 Big 12 title, K-State boasted the top defense in the league. After some shaky moments last season, the Wildcats should be stout again defensively, led by all-conference defensive end Ryan Mueller.

2. Jake Waters is a confident QB: Waters’ first start at K-State ended in a loss to FCS opponent North Dakota State. Waters, however, improved rapidly throughout the season, leading the Wildcats to wins in six of their final seven games. Waters looked even more confident this spring, capped with a crisp spring game outing in which he didn’t even have favorite target Tyler Lockett.

3. The offensive line should be solid: K-State graduated both offensive tackles from last year’s line, but quickly solidified those holes this spring. All-Big 12 guard Cody Whitehair swung to left tackle, while juco transfer Luke Hayes immediately stepped in and took over right tackle. With B.J. Finney manning center for a fourth year in a row, the Wildcats could field one of the league’s top lines.

Three questions for the fall

1. Can Daniel Sams help as a WR? After watching the last few games last season from the sideline, the former QB requested a position change in the offseason. Sams had only 9 yards receiving in the spring game and remains a work in progress as a receiver. But if he settles into his new role, he could be a factor again offensively.

2. Who will be the featured running back? The Wildcats went into the spring hoping to uncover a replacement for three-year starter John Hubert. But Jarvis Leverett, Charles Jones and DeMarcus Robinson couldn't separate, leaving the competition cloudy heading into the fall – and the door open for highly touted incoming freshman Dalvin Warmack to make a run at the job.

3. Will the jucos produce? Bill Snyder has a track record of relying on juco signees, and this year is no different. Hayes and cornerback Danzel McDaniel both made an impression in the spring, and coveted defensive tackle Terrell Clinkscales and linebacker D'Vonta Derricott will be arriving in the summer. To contend for the Big 12 title, K-State needs the bulk of its juco class to produce.

One way-too-early prediction

Warmack, who rushed for 4,500 yards and 70 touchdowns and averaged 9 yards per carry his final two seasons at Blue Springs (Mo.) High School, will take over as K-State’s primary running back before October.

Oklahoma spring wrap

May, 1, 2014
5/01/14
9:00
AM ET
A recap of what we learned about Oklahoma this spring as the program prepares to build upon its 11-2 season a year ago.

Three things we learned in the spring:

1. OU’s defensive front should be dominant. The Sooners return all of their contributing defensive linemen and are likely to add a healthy Jordan Phillips. OU will go six or seven deep along its defensive line and at least half of those defenders could end up playing on Sundays.

2. The Sooners want to be as versatile as possible on defense. Defensive coordinator Mike Stoops shuffled around his best players, putting defensive end Geneo Grissom in a stand-up linebacker role and linebacker Eric Striker in the nickelback role at various times. The goal is to get the team's top 11 players on the field in every situation.

3. The offense remains a work in progress. OU’s offense wasn’t particularly balanced in 2013, finishing 90th among FBS teams in passing yards (199.1 per game). It didn’t look like much had changed during the spring game. OU needs a strong, consistent passing game to emerge, like it did in the Allstate Sugar Bowl, if it hopes to win a Big 12 or even national title this fall.

Three questions for the fall:

1. Will Trevor Knight become a consistent passer? The sophomore quarterback passed for 348 yards in the Sugar Bowl but averaged 67.3 passing yards per game in the other seven games he attempted a pass. Knight looked like a star against Alabama and gets the chance to show he can be a consistent star this fall.

2. Who will make game-changing plays on offense? As a proven playmaker, junior receiver Sterling Shepard is a given. After him things get unclear. Talent is not an issue but proven production, or lack thereof, is a problem. The defense will be able to carry the Sooners through some games but if championship aspirations are real, OU needs game-changers to emerge at running back and receiver.

3. Can any true freshmen make an impact? A roster full of talented returnees could make it tough on true freshmen to make an impact but receiver Michiah Quick, running back Joe Mixon, running back Samaje Perine and safety Steven Parker II could prove good enough to play right away at positions of need.

One way-too-early prediction:

Oklahoma’s three-game stretch to begin October will define its season as it travels to TCU, battles Texas in Dallas, then hosts Kansas State. The stretch is sandwiched between a pair of bye weeks which should make things easier on Bob Stoops’ coaching staff, but none of those games will be easy. How the Sooners handle them will show if they have what it takes to jump into national title contention.

Oklahoma State spring wrap

May, 1, 2014
5/01/14
8:30
AM ET
A recap of what we learned about Oklahoma State this spring as the Cowboys try to replace a senior-laden defense and find a quarterback.

Three things we learned in the spring:

1. Big 12 defensive coordinators aren’t going to like Tyreek Hill. The junior college transfer made a smooth transition into the Oklahoma State program after starring on the track earlier this semester. Hill showed he can be a game-breaking threat as a running back or receiver and should be one of the centerpieces of the offense this fall.

2. J.W. Walsh is the best option at quarterback. True freshman Mason Rudolph stepped on campus with all the accolades and Daxx Garman impressed during spring drills, but Walsh brings veteran maturity and experience to the offensive backfield. His experience was apparent during the spring as he operated the offense like someone who has started eight games during the past two seasons. Coach Mike Gundy says the competition rages on, but Walsh looks like a clear favorite.

3. The Cowboys’ defensive line should be pretty good. Defensive tackle James Castleman, defensive end Jimmy Bean and defensive end Emmanuel Ogbah look as if they could be the foundation of a disruptive defensive front. There are major question marks at linebacker and in the secondary, but the Cowboys defensive line is a great starting point.

Three questions for the fall:

1. Rebuild or reload? The Cowboys have won 50 games in the past five seasons but has Gundy raised the level of this program to simply reload instead of rebuild after losing so many seniors? In addition, a lot of the players who helped build the program are no longer in Stillwater, Okla. Do the new players understand what it will take to win 50 games in the next five seasons at OSU?

2. Will the young Cowboys mature quickly? They had better. If Oklahoma State's young players aren’t ready for the big stage, they are likely to be embarrassed by Heisman Trophy winner Jameis Winston and Florida State in the season opener. Oklahoma State has upgraded its talent in the past five years and features a deeper and more athletic roster, so a loss is not a certainty. But those players will have to show they’ve matured and are ready to produce in order to knock off the reigning national champions.

3. Is Walsh the answer? Walsh is the clear favorite to start the season at quarterback, but is he the long-term answer? He can prove doubters wrong with a strong start to the season. But if he stumbles out of the blocks, he can expect Cowboys fans to start calling for Garman or Rudolph to take over.

One way-too-early prediction:

The Cowboys will have an up-and-down season but will show an competitive nature and resolve after being humbled early in the season. Oklahoma State will finish the 2014 campaign strong, thus setting up the Cowboys to be considered one of the Big 12 favorites in 2015, with several key playmakers returning.

TCU spring wrap

May, 1, 2014
5/01/14
8:00
AM ET
A recap of what we learned about TCU this spring as the Horned Frogs work to rebound from a 4-8 season.

Three things we learned in the spring:

1. Devonte Fields is back. The former Big 12 AP Defensive Player of the Year missed most of 2013 due to a foot injury and played like the guy who was a freshman phenom this spring, particularly in the final weeks of practice. If he stays healthy, he can be one of the nation’s top defensive ends once again.

2. The QB battle begins. Weeks after wrapping up spring practice, TCU got good news for its quarterback conundrum when Texas A&M transfer Matt Joeckel announced that he’s heading to Fort Worth. The senior will challenge Trevone Boykin and incoming freshmen Foster Sawyer and Grayson Muehlstein in what should be a competitive summer battle.

3. Spring ball is essential for getting a better grasp of what you’ve got in the fall, and coach Gary Patterson got some questions answered on that front. He liked how TCU’s offensive line came together, and successors in the secondary began to emerge. TCU’s overall depth seems to be steadily improving entering Year 3 in the Big 12.

Three questions for the fall:

1. Offensive mastery is a big one. Patterson brought in two quality up-tempo spread coaches in Doug Meacham (Houston) and Sonny Cumbie (Texas Tech) to install a new scheme. Learning how to execute that attack with consistent success takes times and lots and lots of reps, plus a steady QB. If you don’t get it down, you’re left with an offense that gets off the field quickly.

2. Must get the running back stable healthy. TCU was left with only one healthy scholarship rusher for the spring-ending scrimmage due to a variety of injuries. The run game is essential to how Patterson sees this offense operating, and there’s talent with B.J. Catalon, Kyle Hicks, Aaron Green, Trevorris Johnson and incoming frosh Shaun Nixon.

3. There really is no replacing Jason Verrett, so no point in phrasing it that way. What’s obvious is TCU needs several cornerbacks to step up if it hopes to replicate the impact of the future first-round pick. Ranthony Texada, a redshirt freshman, is the guy to watch, with senior Kevin White expected to hold down the other side.

One way-too-early prediction:

Expect TCU to still be one of the surprises of the Big 12 this fall. Yes, the schedule provides challenges early and often, with Minnesota on the nonconference slate and the Frogs opening Big 12 play against conference favorites Oklahoma (at home) and Baylor (in Waco), but don’t be shocked if the Horned Frogs are already sitting on six wins by the first week of November.

Texas spring wrap

May, 1, 2014
5/01/14
7:30
AM ET
A recap of what we learned about the Texas Longhorns following their first spring with new head coach Charlie Strong.

Three things we learned in the spring:

1. Strong isn’t messing around. From his high-intensity practices, to his willingness to stop and restart practice if the vibe isn’t right, to demanding players walk the half-mile uphill to the fields, the first-year coach is out to bring back a toughness that went missing with the Longhorns in recent years.

2. Texas will have two play-callers and, potentially, a handful of playmakers on offense in 2014. Offensive Joe Wickline and assistant head coach Shawn Watson will call plays, and Watson gets the final say. They know what they have in RB Malcolm Brown and WRs Jaxon Shipley, Marcus Johnson and Kendall Sanders, who all earned good reviews this spring.

3. Defensive line will be the strength of Texas’ defense, led by a pair of All-Big 12 caliber veterans in DE Cedric Reed and DT Malcom Brown. Senior Desmond Jackson is holding down the other interior spot, and Shiro Davis is emerging as the replacement for Jackson Jeffcoat. Depth behind them still a question mark, but those four starters are the real deal.

Three questions for the fall:

1. Quarterback. Duh. The foot fracture David Ash suffered before the final week of spring ball only amplified the scrutiny of this spot. Tyrone Swoopes had a few flashes and also some struggles in the spring game. Don’t be surprised if former USC QB Max Wittek joins the program in May and makes this a real competition, along with freshman Jerrod Heard.

2. The linebackers remain a source of uncertainty exiting spring ball, with Jordan Hicks among the three veterans at that spot who missed spring practice. DC Vance Bedford should feel good about Steve Edmond (his play, not his words), Dalton Santos and Peter Jinkens back there, and Demarco Cobbs is back from injury, but who’s starting by the end of August?

3. Wickline comes to Austin with a reputation for being one of the nation’s top offensive line coaches. He’ll have a nice challenge finding his best five this fall. Center Dominic Espinosa might be the only lock among the Longhorns’ potential starters up front, and Wickline could choose from any number of lineup combinations for the opener.

One way-too-early prediction:

Presuming that Texas gets its quarterback affairs in order, this has the look of a nine-win team coming out of spring ball. How the Longhorns players buy in this summer and into fall camp will go a long way toward raising (or lowering) those expectations. Three of Texas’ first six games in 2014 come against likely preseason top-10 teams, so the Horns have to get a lot better between now and then.

Texas Tech spring wrap

May, 1, 2014
5/01/14
7:00
AM ET
Three things we learned in the spring

1. Bryce Petty's reign as the Big 12’s best quarterback could be in jeopardy. Texas Tech quarterback Davis Webb picked up this spring right where he left off after earning MVP honors at the National University Holiday Bowl. The sophomore passed for 354 yards and four touchdowns during the Red Raiders’ spring game and looks ready to take his game to another level in his second season in Lubbock.

2. The Red Raiders' defense needs help. Replacing Kerry Hyder along the defensive line won’t be easy as Texas Tech needs junior college signees like Rika Levi to provide depth and competition up front while the secondary is young and inexperienced. The return of defensive coordinator Matt Wallerstedt means Texas Tech will have stability and consistency in its defensive coaching staff the first time in years, which should help, but Texas Tech’s defense will need to grow up fast if Red Raiders hope to insert themselves into the Big 12 title race.

3. Is there anything Kenny Williams cannot do? After leading the team in rushing and starring on special teams last season, the senior switched from running back to linebacker and found himself atop the depth chart at the end of spring. Second-year coach Kliff Kingsbury didn’t indicate that Williams time on offense is over so Texas Tech could have one of the nation’s top three-way playmakers at its disposal this fall.

Three questions for the fall

1. What happens if Webb goes down? Disaster. It’s telling that Texas Tech released a post-spring depth chart with Webb as a lone quarterback on the two-deep. If the sophomore is forced to miss time the Red Raiders’ hope of a dream season will take a major hit.

2. Who fills the playmaking void left by Jace Amaro and Eric Ward? Receiver Jakeem Grant is the first in line to fill the playmaking void left by the duo that combined for 2,299 receiving yards and 15 touchdowns in 2013. But Grant was a key piece in the offense last season, so someone else needs to show they’re ready to produce in Kingsbury’s offense. Keep an eye on D.J. Polite-Bray, Devin Lauderdale and Reginald Davis, a trio of sophomore receivers who could be poised to explode in Texas Tech’s passing attack.

3. Which defensive newcomers will make an immediate impact? ESPN 300 cornerback Nigel Bethel II and linebacker Dakota Allen are a pair of high school signees with the talent to help immediately while junior college defensive line signees Levi, Keland McElrath and Brandon Thorpe will get plenty of opportunities. The answer to this question will have the biggest impact on Texas Tech’s ultimate destiny this fall, particularly if Webb remains healthy, because it will be critical for defensive newcomers to be ready to contribute right away.

One way-too-early prediction

The Red Raiders will have a major impact on the Big 12 championship race. Lack of overall depth will keep Texas Tech from putting itself in the title hunt, but the Red Raiders will record an upset in 2014 that alters the title race and changes the destination of the 2014 Big 12 championship rings during the home stretch of the conference schedule in November.

West Virginia spring wrap

May, 1, 2014
5/01/14
6:30
AM ET
Three things we learned in the spring about the West Virginia Mountaineers:

1. Clint Trickett is the heavy favorite to open as the starting QB: Paul Millard and junior college transfer Skyler Howard battled to make a run at the starting QB job during the spring. Yet Trickett, who was out recovering from a shoulder injury, opened at the top of West Virginia’s post-spring depth chart. Barring another injury or a disastrous preseason, Trickett should be the starter when Mountaineers take the field in the opener vs. Alabama.

2. The backfield is loaded: The Mountaineers easily have the deepest stable of running backs in the Big 12. On top of returning Dreamius Smith and Wendell Smallwood from last year’s rotation, Pitt transfer Rushel Shell and 2011 leading rusher Dustin Garrison both shined in the spring. Divvying up carries will be tricky, but the Mountaineers are stocked with talent in the backfield.

3. The depth is better: Coach Dana Holgorsen admitted a lack of depth had plagued West Virginia in its first two seasons in the Big 12. But all spring he touted the team’s improved depth, which includes seven returning starters on either side of the ball. More depth should help West Virginia stave off another late-season collapse in its new league.

Three questions for the fall:

[+] EnlargeClint Trickett
Brad Davis/Icon SMICan Clint Trickett stay healthy and productive enough to hang on to West Virginia's QB job.
1. Who is the answer at QB? Trickett will likely open as the starter, but that doesn’t mean he will stay there. Trickett was inconsistent at times, and at 180 pounds, prone to injury. Howard was unable to win the job in the spring, but he or incoming freshman William Crest could get another shot down the line if Trickett struggles or is sidelined with another injury.

2. Can the WRs make more plays? The Mountaineers return starting receivers Mario Alford, Daikiel Shorts and Kevin White, but collectively the trio produced only two 100-yard receiving games all last year. Part of that was due to the inconsistent QB play, but part of it was on them. The talent is there at receiver for West Virginia to be way more explosive in the passing game.

3. Will the new defensive regime make a difference? In two years in the Big 12, West Virginia has ranked ninth and last in the league in scoring defense. After coordinator Keith Patterson bolted for Arizona State, Holgorsen promoted safeties coach Tony Gibson to coordinator, then hired longtime Penn State assistant Tom Bradley. The two emphasized a new defensive mentality this spring. Whether they’ll be successful won’t be answered until the season.

One way-too-early prediction:

Despite facing a brutal schedule that could include three preseason top 10 opponents, West Virginia will get back to a bowl game, leading to Holgorsen returning as coach in 2015.

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