Big 12: Aaron Horne

Weak and Strong: Iowa State Cyclones

April, 16, 2013
4/16/13
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Turnover is an annual tradition in college football, but with that, teams' strengths and weaknesses constantly shift, too. Today, we'll continue our look at the biggest strengths and weaknesses for each Big 12 team.

Next up: Iowa State.

Strongest position: Offensive line

Iowa State's run the ball pretty well lately, and that should be case yet again in 2013. Four starters return from last season's solid offensive line, and they've taken to calling themselves "The Union." That union will serve the Cyclones well after losing only left tackle Carter Bykowski from last year's team in the second half of the season. Center Tom Farniok has shown tons of promise early in his career, and the junior will be flanked by a pair of seniors at guard: Ethan Tuftee and Kyle Lichtenberg. Farniok, with 26 starts, is actually the team's most experienced player, leading Tuftee by three starts. Jacob Gannon should hold down the right tackle spot. The strength of the line is in the middle, but losing Brayden Burris last year to injury was a huge loss, but the Cyclones adjusted and the offensive line should be a huge strength that makes things a whole lot easier on the skill positions, which are much stronger at running back than in the passing game.

Weakest position: Receiver and/or defensive line

You can't really pick between these two, where a whole lot of work is needed for the Cyclones. Three starters and five overall contributors on the 10-man rotation along the defensive line are gone, and starter Willie Scott, a rising senior, is currently suspended after an arrest on suspicion of possession of a controlled substance earlier this month. The unit was improved last season with Jake McDonough and Roosevelt Maggitt holding things down, but finding new talent to fill those voids this season is a tough task.

It might be even tougher at receiver. All three of the team's leading receivers -- Aaron Horne, Josh Lenz and Chris Young -- are all gone, and the leading returning receiver is tight end Ernst Brun Jr. Iowa State's receivers were already quite average, and judging by Big 12 standards, below average. Quenton Bundrage, Albert Gary and Jarvis West headline the unit, which should also get some help from sophomore Tad Ecby.
We'll take a look at some of the Big 12's breakout stars this spring, but we'll move forward with a series today looking at guys who will be stepping into bigger roles this season and what they have to provide for their new teams. Some are emerging from role players into starters. Some are going from starter to star. Some from stars to bona fide superstars.

Let's move on with Iowa State.

Iowa State's spring step forward: QB Sam Richardson

You'll hear some chatter about Grant Rohach once Iowa State officially kicks off spring practice on March 26. I don't quite buy it yet. After Steele Jantz graduated and Jared Barnett transferred, it's clear that Richardson's late-season takeover of the starting quarterback spot was just the beginning for him.

It's not set in stone, though, and even if I don't buy Rohach as a guy who would win the starting job this spring, poor play by Richardson in the fall may force Paul Rhoads to yet again dig into his bench to search for answers. The quarterback spot has spelled trouble for Rhoads, which really does make Iowa State's streak of three bowl games in four seasons under Rhoads even more amazing. ISU just can't seem to find any consistency at the spot, but you'll have to show some grace early on when it comes to numbers. Richardson won't be getting much help in the immediate future, so you'll have to trust Rhoads and offensive coordinator Courtney Messingham's assessments more than just his raw numbers.

Iowa State's top three receivers -- Josh Lenz, Chris Young and Aaron Horne -- are all gone, and Richardson will have to rely on undersized jukebox Jarvis West and tight end Ernst Brun Jr. when practice begins. Will more targets emerge? They'll have to if Richardson is going to put up respectable numbers compared to his Big 12 counterparts. Look for Quenton Bundrage and senior Albert Gary to make a few plays. Richardson's got a lot to prove this spring, and one solid performance against Kansas, one of the Big 12's worst defenses, isn't enough to assure him much. He struggled mightily in the bowl game loss to Tulsa and couldn't string together completions against even West Virginia, though he did toss three scores and no interceptions. He completed fewer than 50 percent of his passes in two of his three starts, and he'll have to take steps forward this spring to get that percentage closer to 60 on a consistent basis in the fall. Iowa State needs it.

See more Big 12 spring steps forward.

Midseason report: Iowa State

October, 16, 2012
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IOWA STATE

Record: 4-2, 1-2

The Cyclones are overachieving yet again, but Paul Rhoads isn't kidding around when he says this team is capable of winning five league games, which would put them at 8-4. It'll be difficult, but the Cyclones have showed they're capable of doing it.

The defense is among the Big 12's best, led by linebackers A.J. Klein and Jake Knott, two of the league's best at the position. The Cyclones won in Iowa City over rival Iowa for the first time since 2003 in a 9-6 "Game of the Century," and nobody but Iowa State has beaten Tulsa yet.

TCU was playing shorthanded and on short notice, but Iowa State dominated a 37-23 win in Fort Worth before nearly knocking off Kansas State in Ames last week.

Three ranked teams remain on the schedule, but there's not a game left that the Cyclones can't win. Finding some clarity and consistency at quarterback would help make any of those wins happen. ISU showed up at No. 24 in the BCS rankings and Jared Barnett is likely the man to try and keep the Cyclones among the nation's top 25 teams. If he can't keep it going, though, Steele Jantz will be ready to go off the bench if he's needed. Jantz started the first three games of the year, but four turnovers in a loss to Texas Tech forced Rhoads to make a switch.

Offensive MVP: Josh Lenz, WR. You could give this to Shontrelle Johnson, James White, Aaron Horne or any of Iowa State's quarterbacks in a win, but Lenz has been the biggest threat on this offense and the most consistent throughout the season. Kansas State somehow held him without a catch last week, but he's caught 18 passes for 279 yards and four touchdowns. He also threw a touchdown on a trick play in the win over TCU.

Defensive MVP: Jake Knott, LB. Knott has a team-high 57 tackles and his 41 solo tackles are 16 more than any player on the team. It's amazing how much better he can look when he's back at full strength. He's already got a pair of interceptions and five tackles for loss. He's also forced a fumble and broken up three passes with half a sack, too. Klein's not far off, but Knott's been better over the first half of the season.

Iowa State spring wrap

May, 9, 2012
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2011 overall record: 6-7

2011 conference record: 3-6
Returning starters: Offense (7), Defense (5), P/K (1)

Top returners: RB James White, LB A.J. Klein, LB Jake Knott, QB Jared Barnett, QB Steele Jantz, WR Josh Lenz, WR Aaron Horne

Key losses: OL Kelechi Osemele, WR Darius Reynolds, CB Leonard Johnson, DE Jake Lattimer, DL Stephen Ruempolhamer

2011 statistical leaders (*returners)

Rushing: James White* (743 yards)
Passing: Steele Jantz* (1,519 yards)
Receiving: Darius Reynolds (695 yards)
Tackles: A.J. Klein* (117)
Sacks: Patrick Neal (3.5)
Interceptions: Ter'Ran Benton (3)

Three spring answers

1. Jerome Tiller's not pouting: Tiller sat out 2011 after being academically ineligible, and as such, became a nonfactor in the quarterback race, even though he was the likely successor to Austen Arnaud. Tiller came back with a vengeance this spring ... at receiver. He caught five passes for 44 yards, but don't be surprised to see him put up those kinds of numbers during the season. Nice to see him bounce back.

2. The linebacker spot is in good hands: Jake Knott missed the spring after offseason shoulder surgery, but the linebackers put on a show during the spring. Jevohn Miller played well in Knott's absence, but Jeremiah George was one of the most improved players on the team during the spring. Knott and Klein will be senior stars, but Iowa State's linebacker tradition will carry on when they leave.

3. The offense isn't changing: Offensive coordinator Tom Herman left to take the same job at Ohio State, but replacement Courtney Messingham isn't messing with much in the offense. There will be subtle changes, sure, but mostly to suit whoever wins the QB job. The version of the spread ISU uses has a lot of zone read concepts, and that will continue with either. What the passing game looks like will be a little different.

Three fall questions

1. Who will be the quarterback? Jared Barnett and Steele Jantz both had their moments in 2011. Both went 3-0 in their first three starts. Jantz had three fourth-quarter comebacks and Barnett grabbed one of the biggest wins in school history against OSU to get ISU bowl eligible. Jantz was turnover-prone, however, and Barnett struggled with consistency. The competition is still wide open heading into fall camp.

2. What's the status of Shontrelle Johnson? Johnson's the biggest home run hitter on the offense, but he's been out since early last season with a neck injury. His status is still in doubt. James White filled in nicely last year, but Johnson can take the offense to another level. Iowa State hopes he can get back, but nothing's promised.

3. Who's the new No. 1 receiver? Jantz loved Darius Reynolds early in the season, but Aaron Horne and Josh Lenz were more productive with Barnett late in the season. Reynolds is gone, but who's the new go-to guy in the passing game? It could be either.

Iowa State dealing with key injuries

April, 24, 2012
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Iowa State already played without linebacker Jake Knott all spring.

That's after losing its top running back, Shontrelle Johnson, with a neck injury early in the 2011 season.

Though it's been more than six months since the injury, Johnson's status is still in doubt.

"He’s not cleared, yet, to do anything football-wise,” coach Paul Rhoads said during the Big 12 coaches teleconference this week. "They will wait until July, when they take the final round of pictures and his surgeon sees those, and decides whether he’s going to sign off."

That's bad news for the Cyclones, though Rhoads' squad played well in the absence of the team's most electric runner. James White emerged to lead the team with 743 yards rushing, but getting Johnson back would be an obvious huge boost.

"Speculation is, probably, that he will get cleared," Rhoads said. "But until that final round of X-rays is taken and viewed, we’ll just sit back and wait and see. And let the young man train like he is going to play."

That's a tough spot for Rhoads, but Johnson isn't going to play if his health is in serious risk. With neck injuries, that's always possible.

The Cyclones are also waiting for receiver Aaron Horne to heal from a broken collarbone, but signs are good for him to return.

"I’m confident we’ll have Aaron back," Rhoads said.

That's especially good news for his junior-college teammate Steele Jantz, who's competing for the quarterback job with Jared Barnett this spring.

Horne's production waned after Jantz was benched in midseason. Horne caught 23 of his 38 balls in the season's first six games. He was held without a catch in the final two games of the regular season.

Iowa State receivers struggling with injury

March, 28, 2012
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Iowa State's receivers need a big spring, but injuries are keeping major contributors off the field.

Aaron Horne, a juco transfer who caught 38 passes for 431 yards in his first season, will miss the rest of the spring with a broken collarbone. He suffered the injury on Saturday, coach Paul Rhoads told reporters this week.

Fellow receivers Ja’Quarius Daniels (shoulder) and Chris Young (concussion) are also being kept off the field.

Iowa State's leading receiver, Darius Reynolds, is gone, and Josh Lenz will enter his senior season as one of the top targets, but his production narrowly outpaced Horne's, with 39 catches for 510 yards.

The unit was one of the least productive in the Big 12, and one of the positions that needs the most improvement this spring.

If that's going to happen, the receivers obviously have to stay healthy. Not what Iowa State wanted to see this spring.

Big 12 spring football preview

February, 21, 2012
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Spring football is already under way at Texas Tech, but in the coming weeks, the Big 12's other nine programs will join the Red Raiders in taking the field as a team for the first time since January, December or November for some.

Here's a preview of what to expect:

BAYLOR BEARS

Spring practice start date: March 19
Spring game: April 14

What to watch:
  • Nick Florence: It's not official, but the Baylor quarterback job is Florence's to lose. That means he inherits the unenviable task of replacing the school's first Heisman winner. He replaced RG3 in 2009 with mixed results, but showed some major potential in a win over Texas Tech when RG3 took a shot to the head and sat out the second half. Can he keep the bowl streak alive at Baylor? We'll get an idea this spring.
  • The defense's progression: You didn't need to see much more than the 67-56 Alamo Bowl win over Washington to know the Bears needed some work on defense. In the month of November, Baylor became the first team in FBS history to win four consecutive games in a single season while also giving up at least 30 points in each of those games. The defense can't make Florence pick up the slack to that level. Year 2 under Phil Bennett must be better. Baylor has no excuses. The Bears have the athletes on campus necessary to be at least a decent defense.
  • The team's attitude/motivation: Baylor played with a lot of purpose the past two seasons, and made history in both, cracking a 16-year bowl drought and winning 10 games this year. Is that fire still there? Baylor has to prove it is without RG3 (and Kendall Wright) carrying the team on the field, emotionally and mentally.
IOWA STATE CYCLONES

Spring practice start date: March 20
Spring game: April 14

What to watch:
  • The quarterback battle: Or is it? Jared Barnett looked like the man of the future in Ames late in the season, leading the Cyclones to an historic upset of No. 2 Oklahoma State. But in the ugly Pinstripe Bowl loss to a mediocre Rutgers team, Barnett's inaccuracy posed big questions. He was benched and Steele Jantz stepped in, though he didn't play much better than Barnett. Turnovers were an issue for Jantz early on, but Barnett has to bounce back in the spring to make sure the job doesn't come open.
  • The receivers: Darius Reynolds was the big-play man for the Cyclones, but he's gone. It's going to be tough to replace him. Slot receivers Aaron Horne and Josh Lenz were productive, but did little to stretch defenses like Reynolds did. Can ISU find someone to fill the void?
  • The new man at left tackle: Iowa State had the luxury of having a future pro, Kelechi Osemele, at left tackle for the past three seasons. He earned All-Big 12 nods in each of those seasons, but he's gone now. Junior Carter Bykowski was behind Osemele on the depth chart, but will the converted tight end be the new man at tackle for the Cyclones?
KANSAS JAYHAWKS

Spring practice start date: March 27
Spring game: April 28

What to watch:
  • Uh, everything?: I mean, what's not to watch at KU? Charlie Weis steps in for the fired Turner Gill and tries to build KU up from nothing. The Jayhawks were one of the worst teams in Big 12 history last season, losing six games by at least 30 points. Weis will speak his mind and watching him rebuilding the Jayhawks is going to be fun. It all starts next month -- on the field, at least.
  • KU's new pass-catch combo: Dayne Crist is on campus, and so is Oklahoma transfer Justin McCay, a former blue-chip recruit who didn't quite catch on in Norman. Quarterback and receiver were arguably the two biggest positions of need for KU last year, and we'll get a preview of what could be a productive combo next season. McCay isn't officially eligible for the 2012 season yet -- he needs the NCAA to waive its mandated redshirt year after a transfer -- but the coaching staff is confident he'll have it granted.
  • The uncertainty on the depth chart: When a new staff comes in, you never know what to expect. Kansas' leading rusher in its final season under Mark Mangino, Toben Opurum, is now one of its best defensive linemen. Look for Weis to shake things up, too. Where? Who knows?
KANSAS STATE WILDCATS

Spring practice start date: April 4
Spring game: April 28

What to watch:
  • Collin Klein's maturation: Kansas State's quarterback could be fun to watch this spring and next fall. His throwing motion isn't pretty, but his accuracy improved in a big way throughout the season. If that continues at a pace anything close to what we saw last year, K-State's going to be a load for everyone. Look out.
  • Developing depth at running back: John Hubert is back, and so is seldom-used Angelo Pease. Bryce Brown is gone, though. Klein handles a lot of the heavy lifting in the running game, but it'd be some nice insurance if K-State could establish some more depth in the backfield. Making Klein carry the ball 300 times again is tempting fate.
  • Stars becoming superstars: Kansas State brings back more starters than all but seven teams in college football, so this team is going to look remarkably similar in 2012 to the way it did last year. However, it should get better. And its two transfers could look dominant this spring. Cornerback Nigel Malone and linebacker Arthur Brown emerged as stars last year, but we could see the duo emerge as true game-changers this spring. Look out, Big 12 offenses.
OKLAHOMA SOONERS

Spring practice start date: March 8
Spring game: April 14

What to watch:
  • New faces on, off the field: Mike Stoops' arrival as the defensive coordinator was the biggest news this offseason in the Big 12, and Brent Venables, who had been at OU for all of Bob Stoops' tenure, left for Clemson rather than become co-defensive coordinator. Hopes are high that Stoops can revitalize Oklahoma's defense. He was in charge when the Sooners rode a dominant D to the 2000 national title, and the Sooners have the talent to win it all in 2012. Receiver Trey Metoyer joins the team this spring, and could be a major contributor immediately. Two of the team's four new tight ends are also enrolled early.
  • QB Blake Bell's role: The Belldozer is back … but so is full-time quarterback Landry Jones. How will the balance between the duo look this spring? And what new wrinkles will we see in Oklahoma's simple, yet near-unstoppable short-yardage formation that scored 13 touchdowns in the second half of 2011?
  • The battle at defensive end: Oklahoma must fill two huge holes at defensive end. Big 12 Defensive Player of the Year Frank Alexander is gone, as is possible first-round pick Ronnell Lewis. R.J. Washington contributed late and has potential, but David King filled in for Lewis in the final three games of the season. The duo could be great, but it could also be pretty pedestrian. We'll get an idea this spring, but Lewis and Alexander set a high, high bar.
OKLAHOMA STATE COWBOYS

Spring practice start date: March 12
Spring game: April 21

What to watch:
  • The quarterback battle: This will easily be the highest-profile, highest-quality quarterback battle in the Big 12. It won't be at the level of Texas Tech in 2010, but it won't be too far off. Clint Chelf, J.W. Walsh and Wes Lunt will go head to head. All have plenty of potential, though Lunt may have the most. The big-armed true freshman also has the least experience. Anything could happen here.
  • Which receivers rise: Justin Blackmon and Josh Cooper leave huge holes behind. It's not every day a two-time Biletnikoff Award winner walks on campus. Hubert Anyiam is gone, too. Michael Harrison is unlikely to play for the 2012 season, but the school has offered no confirmation on his status. He had the most potential, but OSU is deep at the position. Who emerges as the top target? Isaiah Anderson? Tracy Moore? Josh Stewart? Anything could happen there, too.
  • Defense needs a leader: Safety Markelle Martin has been the heart of the defense the past two seasons, but his big-hitting days are over. Who becomes the new voice of the defense? It needs to find leadership this spring heading into summer voluntary workouts.
TEXAS LONGHORNS

Spring practice start date: Feb. 23
Spring game: April 1

What to watch:
  • The quarterback competition: I still think having a competition at the spot, which Texas says it will, isn't the best option, but David Ash and Case McCoy will go at it alongside early-enrolling freshman Connor Brewer. If Ash secures the job, expect an announcement heading into summer officially anointing the sophomore.
  • More sophistication on both sides of the ball: The progression is natural and likely. Offensive coordinator Bryan Harsin and defensive coordinator Manny Diaz had good first years in Austin, but this is Year 2. The spring won't be devoted to learning the playbook. It's time to master it. Both units could look markedly different, and much more refined next fall. Deny it all you like: Texas is back on its way to the top after a rough two years.
  • Maturing offensive weapons: Last season, the Longhorns relied on two true freshman running backs (Malcolm Brown/Joe Bergeron), a freshman/sophomore rotation at quarterback and its top receiver (Jaxon Shipley) was a true freshman. No. 2 (Mike Davis) was a sophomore. I hope I don't have to tell you what freshmen and sophomores do in college football. Look. Out.
TCU HORNED FROGS

Spring practice start date: Feb. 25
Spring end date: April 5

What to watch:
  • Can TCU shut out the scandal? Four team members were arrested in a recent drug sting and kicked off the team. How much of a distraction will that be for a program undergoing the most monumental change in its history? Quantifying the effects of the scandal will be pretty impossible, and we've got no idea how they'll handle the change, but will it be on players' minds?
  • The offense tightens up: The Horned Frogs' offense is absolutely loaded and ready to go for 2012. Quarterback Casey Pachall returns and brings his top three weapons (Josh Boyce, Skye Dawson and Brandon Carter) with him. Running backs Waymon James, Ed Wesley and Matthew Tucker each topped 700 yards rushing in 2011 and all return. The spring will be all about fine-tuning an already stellar offense, and it'll be fun to watch.
  • Replacing departed starters: All-America linebacker Tanner Brock was among the four football players arrested and booted from the team, as was all-conference defensive tackle D.J. Yendrey and likely starting safety Devin Johnson. Those were unforeseen losses, but TCU can't feel sorry for itself. Gary Patterson has no choice but to find new faces to fill those holes.
TEXAS TECH RED RAIDERS

Spring practice start date: Feb. 17
Spring game: March 24

What to watch:
  • Once again, a new defense: Texas Tech sounds like a broken record these days when it comes to defensive coordinators. This time, Art Kaufman will be stepping to the microphone as the fourth defensive coordinator in Lubbock in four years. He's bringing a 4-3, a shift back to what Ruffin McNeil ran in 2009. Chad Glasgow's 4-2-5 and James Willis' 3-4 failed miserably in 2011 and 2010, respectively, the first two years under Tommy Tuberville.
  • The battle at running back: No one knows yet if Eric Stephens will be back next season. There's still a long way to go in his rehab from a dislocated knee he suffered last season in a loss to Texas A&M. DeAndre Washington is also out this spring after tearing his ACL against Missouri. Harrison Jeffers hung up his cleats. Who will prove to be reliable this spring? Look for the Red Raiders to try to use sophomore Bradley Marquez, freshman Javares McRoy and junior SaDale Foster in a manner similar to the way Oregon uses scatback De'Anthony Thomas, with lots of short passes and bubble screens to get them the ball in space, where they can use their speed and shiftiness to make plays.
  • Team health: Tuberville said earlier this month that the team is missing 15 players this spring. It can't afford any more injuries. It's already going to be tough to get enough done this spring, but Tech can't start getting banged up.
WEST VIRGINIA MOUNTAINEERS

Spring practice start date: March 11
Spring game: April 21

What to watch:
  • Dana Holgorsen's offense in Year 2: Holgorsen didn't get a chance to coach his talented offense at Oklahoma State in its second year. The results could have been crazy. They might be at West Virginia in 2012, and the beginning steps will be taken this spring as Geno Smith & Co. get more and more comfortable with the system and Holgorsen adds more wrinkles.
  • The battle at running back: Sophomore Dustin Garrison hurt his knee in practices leading up to the Mountaineers' 70-33 Orange Bowl win over Clemson, and won't be there for the spring. What does senior Shawne Alston have in store for the spring? Garrison was the featured back last season, but a big spring could help Alston earn a few carries next year.
  • Defense needs help: Najee Goode leaves a big hole at linebacker, and defensive back Eain Smith's exit means the Mountaineers enter the season without two of their top three tacklers from a year ago. Bruce Irvin and Julian Miller's talents on the defensive line will be tough to replace, and in a league that requires a great pass rush, Irvin, Goode and Miller's 19 combined sacks must be replaced somehow.

Big 12 position rankings: Receivers/TEs

February, 14, 2012
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We're continuing our look at the postseason rankings for each position in the Big 12. Here's a look back at where the receivers ranked in the preseason.

In this position, unlike quarterback, depth is a major, major factor in these rankings.

More postseason position rankings:
[+] EnlargeJustin Blackmon
Doug Pensinger/Getty ImagesJustin Blackmon highlighted Oklahoma State's deep group of receivers this season.
1. Oklahoma State: The Cowboys boasted two-time Biletnikoff winner Justin Blackmon, but he wasn't the only weapon. The Cowboys had nine (!) receivers with at least 19 catches and 200 yards receiving this season. Insane. Life is good with Brandon Weeden at quarterback.

2. Baylor: Kendall Wright actually outperformed Blackmon and Ryan Broyles on the stat sheet, catching 108 balls for 1,663 yards. The Bears didn't have the insane depth of OSU, but the trio of Wright, Terrance Williams (59 rec, 957 yards, 11 TDs) and Tevin Reese (51 rec, 877 yards, 7 TDs) were all in the Big 12's top seven receivers.

3. Texas A&M: Ryan Swope emerged to become one of just four Big 12 receivers to notch 1,000-yard seasons. Jeff Fuller's season was disappointing, but he still finished eighth in the league in receiving, and Uzoma Nwachukwu was in the league's top 15 in receiving.

4. Oklahoma: The Sooners weren't quite as solid as they thought to begin the season. Broyles was as advertised, though his Biletnikoff-contending season was cut short by a torn ACL. The unit was productive, but came down with the drops late in the season. Broyles and Kenny Stills were both in the league's top seven in receiving, and Jaz Reynolds caught 41 passes for 715 yards to crack the top 10.

5. Texas Tech: Tech's top target, Darrin Moore, battled injuries all year, but Eric Ward emerged as the team's most consistent target, catching 84 passes for 800 yards and 11 scores. Alex Torres missed two games, but added 616 more yards.

6. Missouri: The Tigers' receivers had their production dip with a dual-threat passer in James Franklin who ran the ball more than his predecessor, but they were still pretty good, despite lacking a true big-time threat. T.J. Moe caught 54 passes for 649 yards and four scores. Tight end Michael Egnew added 50 grabs for 523 yards and three scores. L'Damian Washington, Marcus Lucas and Wes Kemp had unremarkable individual seasons, but their production added up to a good year for Mizzou's receivers.

7. Kansas State: Kansas State was better than most thought to begin the season, but the ground-based offense limited their receivers' ability to finish with big production. Chris Harper (40 rec, 547 yards, 5 TDs) led the group. Tramaine Thompson and Tyler Lockett showed some good promise, too.

8. Texas: The Longhorns could get really good, really fast at this spot. The uncertainty/struggles at quarterback limited this group, but Jaxon Shipley and Mike Davis could both mature into absolute stars. For now, though, they didn't quite crack the top 15 in the Big 12 in receiving. Both topped 40 catches and 600 receiving yards.

9. Iowa State: Darius Reynolds' size downfield will be missed, but Aaron Horne and Josh Lenz are tough covers working the middle of the field. Reynolds caught seven touchdowns, and Horne and Lenz both topped 38 catches.

10. Kansas: Yikes. The Jayhawks didn't have a receiver in the league's top 20, but D.J. Beshears led the team with 40 grabs for 437 yards and three touchdowns. He was the only Jayhawk in the Big 12's top 32 in receiving.

Big 12 recruiting needs in 2012

January, 24, 2012
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Signing day is coming fast. Next Wednesday, the next round of players will sign up for their respective programs and start what could be storied careers.

Here's what each team across the Big 12 needs. You'll find Texas A&M and Mizzou on the SEC blog and West Virginia on the Big East Blog.

BAYLOR

Quarterback: This one's pretty simple. Robert Griffin III is taking his talents to the NFL early. Nick Florence is waiting to take over, and the Bears have Bryce Petty behind him, but more reinforcements at quarterback are needed. Dual-threat quarterbacks, ideally.

Defensive tackle: Baylor already was one of the nation's worst teams (102nd nationally) at stopping the run. Now it'll need to replace both its interior linemen, Nicolas Jean-Baptiste and Tracy Robertson.

Offensive linemen: Baylor's offensive line, meanwhile, has been solid. It loses junior college transfer and two-year starter Robert T. Griffin, as well as All-Big 12 center Philip Blake. John Jones, a reserve guard, also has exhausted his eligibility.

IOWA STATE

Receiver: This has been a weak spot for the team for several years, and its top overall talent, Darius Reynolds, is gone. Darius Darks is, too. Aaron Horne and Josh Lenz will be the team's best weapons in 2012, but the pair of shifty slot guys will be seniors. This position needs reinforcements.

Defensive back: The DBs have been a quiet strength for ISU, especially in 2011. Cornerback Leonard Johnson and safety Ter'Ran Benton both have exhausted their eligibility, though, and defensive backs coach Bobby Elliott left for Notre Dame. You'll see plenty of new faces in the Cyclones' secondary next year.

Defensive line: Experienced starters Stephen Ruempolhamer and Jacob Lattimer are both gone, and Iowa State has struggled to stop the run consistently the past few seasons.

KANSAS

Quarterback: Kansas landed high-profile transfers Dayne Crist (Notre Dame) and Jake Heaps (BYU), but this is still a huge position of need. Last year's starter, Jordan Webb, left the team. Quinn Mecham is out of eligibility. Heaps is sitting out his NCAA-mandated year after transferring. Crist is the starter, but he badly needs a backup, especially if Brock Berglund's transfer appeal allows him to leave.

Wide receiver: Kansas lacks a big threat at this position. It needs a talent upgrade in a big way. Oklahoma transfer Justin McCay is joining the team, but he's no guarantee to a) be granted immediate eligibility or b) become an impact player.

Defensive tackle: Kansas is thin here, too. Richard Johnson, Patrick Dorsey and Michael Martinovich are gone, and Kansas couldn't stop much of anything on defense. Some push up front could help make everything look better. A late addition to the 2012 class from a junior college seems like a no-brainer. The Jayhawks need physically mature players to contribute immediately.

KANSAS STATE

Offensive line: K-State's offensive line was much better in 2011 and could be again in 2012. It needs help replacing All-Big 12 lineman Clyde Aufner, though. Starter Colten Freeze is also gone.

Defensive line: Kansas State is bringing back about as many starters as anyone in the Big 12, but the biggest losses are along the defensive line. Kick-blocking specialist (five in 2011) Ralph Guidry is gone, along with tackle Ray Kibble. Juco transfer Jordan Voelker exploded onto the scene this year, but he's gone, too.

Defensive backs: Cornerback David Garrett leaves a huge hole behind. Tysyn Hartman may not be as talented as teammate Ty Zimmerman, but his experience leaves a big hole. Zimmerman will have to mentor a younger safety in the near future.

OKLAHOMA

Receiver: The Sooners are thin here in a big way. That was obvious late in the season when Ryan Broyles' storied college career ended a few weeks early with a knee injury. The team also lost Justin McCay (transfer) to Kansas. Jaz Reynolds and Kenny Stills are the likely top two targets, but they need help.

Tight end: This position inspired a bit of panic at the end of the season. Seniors James Hanna and Trent Ratterree are gone. Austin Haywood wasn't allowed back on the team, and two more tight ends left the team for various reasons. That left the Sooners suddenly without a scholarship player at the position returning in 2012.

Offensive line: Starting tackle Donald Stephenson must be replaced, as will guard Stephen Good, who moved in and out of the starting lineup throughout his career. The Sooners bring back a lot of talent and aren't dying for depth there, but those two will leave holes. Three more offensive line starters will be seniors in 2012.

OKLAHOMA STATE

Offensive line: The Cowboys need a whole lot of help here to fill in behind young players stepping into the starting lineup. Starters Levy Adcock, Nick Martinez and Grant Garner are gone. Backup center Casey LaBrue is gone, too. Those are two All-Big 12 linemen who leave big shoes to be filled.

Receiver: Justin Blackmon surprised no one by leaving a year early, and Josh Cooper leaves with perhaps the most underrated career of any receiver in school history. In OSU's offense, there's always room for depth here. Nine receivers had at least 19 catches in 2011. Blackmon and Cooper combined for 192, though.

Defensive ends: The pass rush was solid for Oklahoma State this year, but both starters, Jamie Blatnick and Richetti Jones, are gone. Replacing both is a necessity.

TEXAS

Receiver: Texas lacks a true game-changer at the position, though Jaxon Shipley and Mike Davis may develop into that role in 2012. Former blue-chip recruit Darius White left for Missouri, too.

Quarterback: David Ash and Case McCoy didn't show a ton of potential at quarterback this year, though Ash may grow with an offseason to prepare as starter. Garrett Gilbert got a big chunk of the work in the spring, summer 7-on-7 and fall preseason camp. Even if Ash does grow, the Longhorns need reinforcements at the position.

Linebacker: Two senior impact players are gone. Texas is left trying to replace Emmanuel Acho and Keenan Robinson, though Jordan Hicks may mature into a star in 2012.

TCU

Offensive line: TCU's offensive line is headed for some major turnover. OT Robert Deck, OG Kyle Dooley and OG Spencer Thompson are gone. Two more starters, OG Blaize Foltz and C James Fry, will be seniors in 2012.

Defensive linemen: TCU isn't losing a lot at this spot, but Ross Forrest and D.J. Yendrey will be seniors in 2012. The Horned Frogs would be well-served to prepare, and offer some depth next year.

Specialists: TCU will have to break in a pair of new starters on special teams next season. Kicker Ross Evans and punter Anson Kelton have exhausted their eligibility.

TEXAS TECH

Receiver: The Red Raiders' offense requires a lot of depth here. Tramain Swindall is the only loss at the position, but three more (Alex Torres, Cornelius Douglas, Darrin Moore) will be seniors. Douglas moved to cornerback this year after the team was racked with injury, but we'll see whether he moves back this offseason.

Offensive line: Tech has a huge need here. Four players won't be returning in 2012. Lonnie Edwards, Mickey Okafor and center Justin Keown must be replaced.

Defensive linemen: Tech's Donald Langley and Scott Smith are both out of eligibility, and juco transfer Leon Mackey will be a senior.

Thoughts on the postseason Big 12 awards

December, 7, 2011
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The Big 12 announced its league awards on Wednesday, as voted on by the league's coaches.

Coach of the Year: Bill Snyder, Kansas State
Offensive Player of the Year: Robert Griffin III, QB, Baylor
Co-Defensive Players of the Year: A.J. Klein, LB, Iowa State; Frank Alexander, DE, Oklahoma
Offensive Lineman of the Year: Grant Garner, C, Oklahoma State
Defensive Lineman of the Year: Frank Alexander, DE, Oklahoma
Offensive Freshman of the Year: Tyler Lockett, WR/KR, Kansas State
Defensive Freshman of the Year: Quandre Diggs, CB, Texas
Special Teams Player of the Year: Quinn Sharp, P/K/KOS, Oklahoma State
Offensive Newcomer of the Year: Aaron Horne, WR, Iowa State
Defensive Newcomer of the Year: Arthur Brown, LB, Kansas State

A few thoughts on the awards.
  • Well deserved honors for Snyder as the top coach and Alexander as the top defensive lineman. Both were runaway winners in my book. Garner is a solid selection as offensive lineman of the year.
  • Very surprised to see A.J. Klein share defensive player of the year awards. He had a great year, but you could definitely make the case that his teammate, Jake Knott, had one that was just as good. Iowa State's linebackers ascended to become the league's best by the end of the year, but Klein and Knott both surpassed 100 tackles. Klein had 101 tackles, two sacks, 7.5 tackles for loss and an INT he returned for a score. Knott had 107 tackles, four tackles for loss, two interceptions and three forced fumbles.
  • Lockett taking home the offensive freshman of the year award was a huge upset, but certainly, voters factored in his kick returning accomplishments. He caught 18 passes for 246 yards and three scores, but returned 16 kicks for an average of 35.2 yards and two scores. That average was almost 10 full yards more than any other player.
  • Still, I would have had a tough time picking between Texas running back Malcolm Brown and wideout Jaxon Shipley for that award. Both dealt with injuries late in the season (so did Lockett, though) and Brown had 707 yards rushing with five scores. Shipley caught 40 passes for 593 yards and three scores.
  • I doubt any player won an award by a wider margin than Quinn Sharp did for special teams player of the year. He was nearly the best at everything in every phase of special teams. Just an unbelievable year.
  • Not a lot of candidates for offensive newcomer of the year, but Horne is a good selection. The juco receiver made some huge grabs for Iowa State this year.
  • No question about Arthur Brown, though, clearly.
  • RG3 as the offensive player of the year is a no-brainer. He's Baylor's first winner in school history. He may soon be the school's first Heisman winner, too.

Halftime analysis: UConn 10, Iowa State 7

September, 16, 2011
9/16/11
9:34
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That wasn't pretty, but wow, was it entertaining. Here's a look back at the first half from East Hartford, Conn., where Iowa State trails UConn, 10-7.

Turning point: Iowa State's offense had amassed negative yardage into the second quarter before Steele Jantz hit Darius Reynolds on a floating pass down the right sideline for a 48-yard gain. James White, who scored the game-winning touchdown against Iowa last week, ran 26 yards two plays later to cut the lead to 10-7, and magically, Iowa State was right back in a game that it had been dominated in up until that point.

Turning point II: Steele Jantz left the field on the final drive of the half with an apparent leg injury and had to be helped off the field and into the locker room. He was tackled from behind and had his leg bent awkwardly.

Stat of the half: Before that completion, Steele Jantz was 0-for-4 with three interceptions and no yardage. He finished the half 6-of-13 for 85 yards and three picks.

What Iowa State needs to do: If Jantz can play, get him more opportunities to run. I won't venture a guess as to his availability yet, but it didn't look pretty.

If not, redshirt Jared Barnett will get his first action ever, outside of a kneel at the end of the half. Nobody's seen him play outside of the spring game, when he went 9-of-18 for 62 yards. Get him started with a focus on the run game and Shontrelle Johnson, balanced by some easy throws. Throw either screens to Johnson or short underneath routes to Aaron Horne or Josh Lenz, who can make plays once they get the ball in the open field.

Big 12 did you know: Week 3

September, 16, 2011
9/16/11
10:00
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Time for another round of facts and tidbits via ESPN Stats and Info and various sports information departments around the Big 12.

We love you all.
  • The Big 12 played two overtime games last week. That's the same number of overtime games involving Big 12 teams in the past three seasons.
  • Since 2009, Landry Jones is 33-of-44 for 18 touchdowns on red zone pass attempts to Ryan Broyles. He's 61-for-120 for 22 touchdowns and two interceptions when targeting the rest of the team.
  • On the road, while facing four or fewer pass-rushers, Jones has 11 touchdowns and seven interceptions, while completing 63 percent of his passes.
  • Against blitzes in all games since the 2010 season, he has 10 touchdowns and two interceptions, while completing just under 67 percent of his passes. When targeting Broyles in those scenarios, he has completed 71 percent of his passes, compared to 63 percent for the rest of his offense.
  • Broyles' 19 red-zone touchdowns are six more than any active player in college football, but Texas A&M's Jeff Fuller is tied with Michael Floyd at Notre Dame for second, with 13.
  • Last year, against Florida State, Broyles finished with 12 catches for 124 yards. Eight of his catches and 67 of his yards came on passes behind or at the line of scrimmage.
  • Last week's 26-yard reception on a swing pass was the first catch of Texas running back D.J. Monroe's career.
  • Baylor's No. 19 ranking is its highest since 1991.
  • Landry Jones has 38 touchdowns and six interceptions in home games during his career. On the road (not neutral site), he has 17 touchdowns and 15 interceptions.
  • Through two games, 10 of Texas' 14 passes thrown by David Ash and Case McCoy have been for 10 yards or less, including six screen passes.
  • UCLA ran for 264 yards against Texas last year, more than any other Longhorn opponent.
  • Iowa State quarterback Steele Jantz's 57-yard completion to Aaron Horne was the longest for the Cyclones since 2005.
  • Bears quarterback Robert Griffin III leads the nation in passing efficiency, though he's played just one game.
  • However, with no limitations on attempts, Baylor receiver Kendall Wright has a passer rating of 496, well ahead of Griffin's 250.6. Wright is 2-of-2 this season for 55 yards and a touchdown.
  • Kansas has just one player on its roster from the state of Georgia. Georgia has no Kansans on its roster.
  • Kansas State is 11-5 coming off a bye week under Bill Snyder.
  • Texas Tech true freshman linebacker Blake Dees graded out as the defense's top performer in the season opener.
  • Big 12 officials have reviewed 34 plays so far this season, overturning 12 calls.
  • Kansas scored 89 points in its first four games last season. This year, it has 87 points through two weeks.
  • Missouri is 10-0 all-time against FCS opponents. It plays Western Illinois on Saturday.
  • Baylor and Stephen F. Austin haven't met since 1947, but the Lumberjacks never scored in the previous three meetings.
  • Baylor's Wright needs 122 receiving yards to become the school's all-time leader.
  • Missouri's streak of 22 consecutive nonconference wins stretching back to 2005 ended with last Friday's loss to Arizona State.
  • Texas Tech has nine consecutive seasons of at least eight wins. That's tied for fifth nationally and only Oklahoma has more in the Big 12, with 11. Boise State and Virginia Tech are the only schools with more.
  • Oklahoma State has scored a touchdown on its first offensive possession and forced a punt on its first defensive possession in both games this season.
  • The only score K-State gave up in its 10-7 opening win against Eastern Kentucky came after a fumble on the Wildcats' one-yard line.
  • Oklahoma State has won nine of its past 10 road games.

Offense comes alive for ISU in Ames

September, 10, 2011
9/10/11
2:36
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Iowa State had moved the ball with some consistency, but lacked a big play throughout the day against Iowa, and even last week against Northern Iowa.

Not anymore.

Aaron Horne, a teammate of quarterback Steele Jantz in junior college in California, had a 57-yard catch-and-run to get Iowa State in the red zone. It took a 17-16 lead with an eight-yard touchdown pass to a wide-open Josh Lenz on a flag route.

That 57-yarder was the longest play of the season for Iowa State, whose previous long against Iowa on Saturday was a 15-yard run by Shontrelle Johnson. Iowa State has the momentum, we'll see if it can keep it.

The fourth quarter is about to start in Ames. Should be a great one.
Today is all about the QBs here at ESPN.com, and here's a look at each of the quarterback races in the Big 12.

IOWA STATE

[+] EnlargeJerome Tiller
Nelson Chenault/US PresswireJerome Tiller is expected to open as Iowa State's starting QB.
The safe bet: Jerome Tiller. Tiller, a junior, has filled in for Austen Arnaud much of the past two seasons, but struggled late last season after Arnaud suffered a season-ending knee injury. Tiller quarterbacked a win at Nebraska in 2009, but didn't look much improved in the game time he earned in 2010.

The wild card: Steele Jantz. Jantz is a speedy transfer from junior college in California who also arrived at Iowa State with his top receiver from the City College of San Francisco, Aaron Horne. Jantz will have to keep learning the offense, but can he inject life into the offense with his legs like Taylor Martinez did for Nebraska? Iowa State's version of The Decision is set for Aug. 20. Who will be taking their talents under center at Jack Trice Stadium? Give me the underdog in this race.

The dark horse: Jared Barnett. James Capello, a fourth contender, transferred, but Paul Rhoads says Barnett still has a chance. Can he make enough noise in fall camp to make that a reality?

KANSAS

The heavy favorite: Jordan Webb. Webb started seven games as a redshirt freshman in 2010, and appeared to take control during the summer, but he struggled last season. He should learn from experience, too. Last year's opening-day starter, Kale Pick, is now a receiver. Webb will almost certainly get the call for the season opener, but if he doesn't improve, that could change fast.

The underdog: Quinn Mecham. Mecham started four of the final five games for the Jayhawks, but the senior and junior college transfer might not be the best long-term option for Kansas. Webb learning on the go could pay off in the future, while any lessons Mecham learns will be out the door after the season. Mecham as the backup might be a better role for the team's greater good.

The wild cards: Brock Berglund and Michael Cummings, a pair of true freshmen. Cummings enters with a bit less talent but much less baggage. Berglund was a blue-chip recruit from Colorado, but legal issues stemming from an April assault charge have him spending much more time back home than anticipated. Berglund also missed summer voluntary workouts because of the charge and went back to Colorado before spring practice began, despite enrolling at Kansas in January, a semester earlier than the rest of the freshman class. Expect a redshirt for one of the two, but the two quarterbacks in front of them haven't exactly set the bar high. If the favorites struggle, don't be surprised to see Cummings or Berglund get a chance.

KANSAS STATE

The heavy favorite: Collin Klein. Coach Bill Snyder has already given Klein the status as Day 1 starter, but the Wildcats have played two quarterbacks before under Snyder, and Klein's backups could benefit from a similar strategy this season. The only rumors surrounding Klein are those of vast development during the summer, but he'll have to prove it during fall camp and early in the season to get a stranglehold on the job.

The hype man: Justin Tuggle. Tuggle replaced Cam Newton at Blinn Junior College and transferred to Kansas State before spring practice after originally playing for Boston College out of high school. Tuggle sounded like a strong contender entering spring practice, but didn't make it happen. We'll see if his status changes during fall camp.

The backup plan: Sammuel Lamur. Lamur was the No. 3 quarterback last season, and took over the No. 2 spot on the depth chart ahead of Tuggle during the spring. We haven't seen much of Lamur during his career, but this might be the year.

TEXAS

The favorite: Garrett Gilbert. Gilbert, despite his struggles in 2010, never got pulled and started all 12 games for the Longhorns. He looked unimpressive in the spring game, but indications from his teammates are that he's embodied the leadership aspect of the job, something coach Mack Brown covets. That might earn Gilbert the job, but if he doesn't look like a vastly different player this season, he'll lose it.

The wild card: Case McCoy. McCoy, the younger brother of that other McCoy kid you might have heard of, has taken on a bit of a fan-favorite role after his performance in the spring game, when he outplayed Gilbert. Despite his good numbers in the spring game, however, he looked uncomfortable and must make up for his lack of experience to oust Gilbert for the reins of the offense.

The mystery man: Connor Wood. Wood is a former high school All-American, but redshirted in 2010 and played sparingly in the spring game. Outside of a few snaps in spring, no one outside the locker room has had much of a chance to see Wood play, but if he starts making noise during fall camp, you'll hear it.

The young gun: David Ash. Coaches lauding true freshman quarterbacks in the spring is rare, but Ash arrived in Austin early and got a lot of compliments from the new Longhorns coaches. He's the long shot in this race, and Brown apologized to him for not getting him enough snaps in the spring game, but the coaches indicate he's still alive in the race.
We wrapped up our position rankings by team on Thursday, but today, we'll start ranking the 10 best players at each position. Obviously, the quarterback rankings won't look vastly different, but we'll get plenty of variance in the other positions.

This is a good group this year. There's a big dropoff after the first four, but plenty of others could join that group by season's end.

Also, I picked each team's representative according to who I picked to win the job in fall camp.

So, without further ado, let's get it on.

[+] EnlargeBrandon Weeden
Chuck Cook/US PresswireOklahoma State's Brandon Weeden seems destined to deliver dominant statistics again this season.
1. Brandon Weeden, Oklahoma State -- We've been over this several times, but Weeden and Jones' numbers are extremely similar when you factor in Oklahoma's deep love for the bubble screen, and heading into this season, I lean toward Weeden because he's less likely to make a back-breaking mistake. Jones threw for almost 500 more yards, but Weeden had 106 fewer attempts, and averaged nearly a full yard more (8.4 vs. 7.6) per attempt than Jones.

2. Landry Jones, Oklahoma -- That said, my bet is on Jones taking the No. 1 spot from Weeden by season's end. We'll see a much more confident Jones this season, further development in his naturally quiet personality. I expect that to manifest on the field and Jones has enough talent around him to mount a serious Heisman campaign, as well as come close to or exceed his 4,718 yards and 38 touchdowns last season. It won't be for a lack of confidence. Jones threw the ball more than any quarterback in the nation last season.

3. Robert Griffin III, Baylor -- Griffin made big strides as a passer in 2010, and I'd expect that to continue this season, especially with the likely emergence of Josh Gordon as a big target with more experience. People peg Griffin, a junior, as a dual-threat quarterback, and there's no denying his speed, but if you took that away from him, he'd still be No. 3 on this list after throwing for 3,501 yards and completing 67 percent of his passes, the highest percentage of any returning quarterback in the Big 12.

4. Ryan Tannehill, Texas A&M -- Tannehill will try to avoid the Texas A&M senior quarterback curse this season, but you have to love his chances with the way he played in the Aggies' final seven games of 2010, including a 5-1 record in his six starts. Tannehill, like Griffin, has the luxury of returning almost his entire receiving corps. Just nine receptions from last season's team won't return in 2011.

5. Seth Doege, Texas Tech -- The risk with Doege is significantly less than the risk that comes with James Franklin at Missouri. To me, it boils down to experience. Doege has been in the program for three seasons already, and he'll finally get his chance to start in his fourth fall on campus vs. Franklin in his second. He might not have the support at the skill positions that Franklin has, but he'll have five returning starters on the offensive line and an offense that's provided success for a lot of quarterbacks before him, even more than Missouri's.

6. James Franklin, Missouri -- Franklin, a sophomore, has a bit more upside than Doege, but I'd expect Franklin to learn a lot more during 2011 than Doege will. Franklin's thrown 14 passes at Missouri, but he might surpass that in the first half against Miami (OH) in the opener. Tyler Gabbert's departure after spring didn't help the Tigers' depth, but here's guessing it did wonders for Franklin's suspect self-confidence.

7. Collin Klein, Kansas State -- Klein was a big, versatile piece of Kansas State's offense last season, integral in a satisfying 39-14 stomping of Texas in Manhattan. He'll need to develop more as a passer to be the complete quarterback Kansas State needs, but for now, it looks like he'll hold off Justin Tuggle and Sammuel Lamur to win the job officially.

8. Garrett Gilbert, Texas -- Gilbert's potential is clear, but it feels like time and quality receivers are necessary for him to start making good on that potential. He might not have either this season. I expect him to be better, but his leash will be much, much shorter if he beats out Case McCoy and Connor Wood in fall camp. He made it through 2010 without being benched, but if he shows any of the same struggles in 2011, he won't get far before McCoy or Wood get a chance, or even freshman David Ash.

9. Steele Jantz, Iowa State -- Jantz's speed is something Iowa State hasn't had from a quarterback since Seneca Wallace, and that playmaking ability can put pressure on defenses and allow Iowa State's backs to make plays and receivers see less blanketing coverage. I'll pick him over the more experienced Jerome Tiller up in Ames, and he'll love playing with former juco teammate Aaron Horne at receiver.

10. Jordan Webb, Kansas -- Webb sounds like he's distancing himself from Quinn Mecham this summer, but he still has a long way to go before he proves he's a quarterback that can get Kansas into the postseason. The position is more important in the Big 12 than in perhaps any other league in college football, and until Kansas improves there, losing seasons will continue.

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