Big 12: Alexander Robinson

I saw colleague Heather Dinich's look at the longest 1,000-yard rusher droughts in the ACC earlier this week, and got curious: What about the Big 12 droughts?

No big surprise, Texas Tech leads the way by a long, long time.

Florida State has the nation's longest 1,000-yard rusher drought (Warrick Dunn, 1996), but Tech is only two years behind.

The Big 12 had just three 1,000-yard rushers last year among teams that return for 2012, but every other team in the Big 12 has had at least one 1,000-yard rusher since 2007.

The last team to have two 1,000-yard rushers? Oklahoma's record-setting offense in 2008, which scored more points than anyone in college football history. DeMarco Murray and Chris Brown both topped quadruple digits.

The Big 12 is known for its passing acumen, and perhaps no one is synonymous with that than Texas Tech. Last year, Eric Stephens was well on his way to a 1,000-yard season before dislocating his knee, among other damage.

Here's how long each team's drought has been:

No drought
  • Baylor: Terrance Ganaway, 2011: 1,547 yards
  • Oklahoma State: Joseph Randle, 2011: 1,216 yards
  • Kansas State: Collin Klein, 2011: 1,141 yards

One year

  • Oklahoma: DeMarco Murray, 2010: 1,224 yards
  • TCU: Ed Wesley, 2010: 1,078 yards

Two years

  • West Virginia: Noel Devine, 2009: 1,465 yards
  • Iowa State: Alexander Robinson, 2009: 1,193 yards

Four years

  • Texas: Jamaal Charles, 2007: 1,619 yards
  • Kansas: Brandon McAnderson, 2007: 1,135 yards
13 years

  • Texas Tech: Ricky Williams, 1998: 1,582 yards

 

Chat: Texas' future, Big 12 changes, Top 25

September, 6, 2011
9/06/11
4:45
PM ET
Thanks for all the questions in Tuesday's chat. Here's the full transcript.

Didn't get yours answered? Put a better one in my always-open mailbag.

And a few highlights:

Steve in Moore, Okla., asked: Why are we not hearing anything from Beebe?

David Ubben: He's working behind the scenes and probably doesn't see the benefit in speaking publicly. That's debatable, but like last summer it's not like he's doing nothing. Now, though, I'm not sure what his approach will be in trying to keep UT and OU in the league.

Clayton in Houston asked: Is the Aggie defense feast or famine? It seems like Saturday it was a 3 and out/turnover or SMU got a string of big plays. What's up Ubbs? Should I be worried about the Aggie defense going into Big 12 play?

DU: I wouldn't get too worried. It was one game, and the throws over the top were communication errors on a similar play with a post-flag crossing route. The safety and corners couldn't figure out who had who and the flag was wide open like three times, including on the touchdown. The running game was a bit more troublesome, but it's one game. The Aggies led the league in the stat last year and don't play again for two more weeks. I wouldn't be too concerned just yet.

Mike in Wichita asked: So explain to me again how "Super Conferences" are good for college football? The fans, traditions, rivalries are what make it great - not TV $ for the schools. With all this influx of huge revenue - shouldn't tuitions go down along with ticket prices? (kidding)

DU: I hate them for college football. All the things that make this game special are getting minimized in these discussions.

Robert Griffin III in Waco, Texas asked: Is there a player in the NCAA more singularly important to his team's success than I am?

DU: This is kind of a mischaracterization. It's true to an extent, but I've talked to a few people about it over the weekend. There's no doubt RG3 takes his team to the next level, but Baylor's not a bunch of dregs without him. They're a fringe bowl team without him and an 8-10 team with him. Kendall Wright, Elliott Coffey, Ahmad Dixon, Terrance Ganaway and Prince Kent are all big-time athletes who have come to Waco with Griffin. Baylor has plenty of talent outside Griffin.

Jordan in Fort Worth asked: Do you think the Texas the the ACC talk is just posturing? Like they are trying to make the PAC12 panic and accept them with their own network?

DU: I'm not going to take a guess at anyone's motivation for anything in this realignment mess, but I'll say this: Texas to the ACC might be the least likely scenario at the end of this saga. Pac-12, Big 12, Big Ten would all surprise me less.

Even the SEC. (Hi, Aggies! Remember us?)

Brian in Dallas asked: Which upset would have supprised you more if they happend Kansas State or Iowa State?

DU: Honestly, they were pretty even. Both teams are trying to feel around in the dark for what they can do offensively. Daniel Thomas was K-State's offense last year. Alexander Robinson and Austen Arnaud were Iowa State's offense. They're all gone. There were bound to be some issues.

Eric in Manhattan, Kan., asked: Snyder's time is coming to an end in a couple years. Although I have great respect for the man as a person and coach. Who do you think will take his place? Especially with the probably conference changes.

DU: Joe Paterno.

Raiderttu06 in Lubbock asked: Leon Mackey, is he still good enough to put on the field with half a lung? BTW- Did you hear about our new defensive weapon, the West Texas dust storm that rolled in during the second quarter as the cold front blew through and kept Texas State scoreless for three quarters.

DU: Ha. I felt bad for Mackey. That's got to be frustrating. I heard about the dust storm. Tech may get to see a few more of those in the near future when it travels to Arizona for conference games.

Haboob. One of the nation's great linguistic accomplishments, and a word soon to be added to plenty of Big 12 fanbase's dictionaries.

Bill in Norman asked: Can you explain to me why Texas is in the Top 25? Thanks

DU: No. They're Texas?

Kevin D. in Concord, N.H., asked: I've been riding the Henry Josey train since last year. Does this Kendial Lawrence injury finally give him the chance to take the reigns? He seemed to me to be by far and away the most effective back (besides Franklin) on the field against Miami on Saturday.

DU: It'll be interesting. I picked Josey to lead the team in rushing at some point this summer, but Lawrence really picked it up in fall camp and I thought he was poised for a big year. It's hard to imagine a guy having a worse start to the season, though.

Wrapping up Week 1 in the Big 12

September, 3, 2011
9/03/11
11:57
PM ET
Helmet stickers will be on the way tonight. Here are some thoughts on Saturday's more drama-filled games.

Iowa State 20, Northern Iowa 19: This one? Well, it wasn't pretty. But Iowa State got the win with a brand-new quarterback and without its top playmaker from last year, Alexander Robinson. Steele Jantz was uninspired early, throwing three interceptions, but there's no denying what he did late. Facing a 4th-and-10, he hit Josh Lenz for a 26-yard score to go ahead late in the fourth quarter. He led a nine-play, 60-yard game-winning drive to take the lead for good in the final minute. Jantz's performance had warts all over it, but if you're an Iowa State fan, take those positives late as progress for Jantz. When he produces 267 yards of total offense, scores three touchdowns and gets a win in his first start ever, that's a good thing.

Kansas State 10, Eastern Kentucky 7: Kansas State is a more experienced team, but five turnovers against any team puts you in big danger, even when it's an FCS opponent. The Wildcats offense was actually third in the Big 12 last season, but still lacks a lot of explosiveness. Collin Klein finished with 13-of-21 for 128 yards and the game-winning, 33-yard touchdown pass to Chris Harper. Bryce Brown's stat line (three carries, 16 yards) is unavoidable, but K-State was able to run the ball. John Hubert and Klein combined for 169 yards on 42 carries, so it's clear this team's identity hasn't changed, as expected. Zone reads and ball control. It was ugly, but like Iowa State, a win is a win. Both of these teams are most likely on the outside of the bowl season, but it'll be close. Games like this have to be won.

Texas 34, Rice 9: Texas struggled early, but the offense came alive in the second half. You have to love what that kind of momentum could do heading into next week's game against BYU, who struggled Saturday at Ole Miss, but erased a 13-point lead against the Rebels in just over four minutes for a 14-13 win. Garrett Gilbert heard the boo birds, but finished 13-of-23 for 239 yards and a touchdown. Case McCoy played late but didn't complete either of his two passes. True freshman David Ash looks like he won't redshirt. He came in early on, but lined up at receiver. The Malcolm Brown Era is off to a great start with 86 yards on 16 carries. He had a fumble, but for a true freshman to do that in his first start -- against anyone -- is a fantastic sign for the Horns. Mike Davis also had a pair of 50-plus yard catches, finishing with three catches for 115 yards.

We'll run down the other four games shortly.
We wrapped up our position rankings by team a bit earlier, but we'll move on in ranking the 10 best players at each position.

Here's the top 10's you've missed so far:
Running back is one of the weakest position groups in the Big 12 heading into 2011, a change from last year's extremely strong class. Just one of the league's top 11 rushers returns, and part of the success from last season was because of so much experience at the position. There are a few guys on this list with upside, but only a few are truly established. Some guys might make good on their upside, but for now, running back joins cornerback and defensive line as the league's weakest positions.

Also, if you haven't played a snap in the Big 12, you're not included on this list. (Also, if your last name is Brown.)

[+] EnlargeCyrus Gray
Thomas Campbell/US PresswireTexas A&M's Cyrus Gray is among the Big 12's most experienced returning tailbacks.
1. Cyrus Gray, Texas A&M -- Gray took over late last season and returns as the only Big 12 player to rush for more than 750 yards last season. He finished with 1,133 yards and 12 scores, but 938 of those yards and 10 of those touchdowns came in the season's final seven games, most of which came after the No. 2 guy on this list got hurt.

2. Christine Michael, Texas A&M -- Before Gray took off, Michael was far outperforming his teammate and looked headed for a 1,000-yard season after rushing for 844 yards and 10 scores in 2009. He was at 631 yards through eight games before breaking his leg, and no player in the Big 12 could top his 2009 effort. Despite playing just over half the season, he still ranked 14th in the Big 12 in rushing. Considering 10 of the top 11 rushers in the league are gone, it's easy to see why the powerful, 5-foot-11, 215-pounder is No. 2 on the list.

3. Roy Finch, Oklahoma -- Finch showed lots of flash last season in spot duty behind DeMarco Murray before aggravating a foot injury that kept him out of the first half of the season. He'll have to stay healthy to make good on his potential, and despite being on the All-Big 12 preseason team, he's not on his own team's depth chart just yet. He'll have to jump over Brennan Clay and Jonathan Miller to get his touches in a crowded backfield that will likely carry the load by committee this season.

4. Joseph Randle, Oklahoma State -- Randle was extremely valuable last season out of the backfield, catching 37 passes for 427 yards and a key touchdown against Texas A&M. That was more receptions than any running back outside of DeMarco Murray, but this year, he'll join Jeremy Smith in trying to replace Kendall Hunter, who ran for more than 1,500 yards last season.

5. Eric Stephens, Texas Tech -- Stephens has been underrated and underexposed behind starter Baron Batch, but his time looks like it has finally come. The Red Raiders have a deep backfield, but Stephens is its top talent, averaging 5.26 yards on his 127 carries last season, leading the team with six touchdowns.

6. James Sims, Kansas -- Sims was one of the bright spots in a dark year for Kansas football last season, taking over the starting role after a season-opening loss to North Dakota State and rushing for 101 yards in an upset win against Georgia Tech. Sims also scored four of his nine touchdowns in a comeback win against Colorado. I'd expect Sims' touches to take a slight hit with Darrian Miller on campus now, but he was extremely productive considering the Jayhawks' lack of a passing game, which ranked 105th nationally last season.

7. Shontrelle Johnson, Iowa State -- Johnson's lateral movement reminds me a bit of Finch, but he's got a lot of speed and if Iowa State's offensive line gets him a crack, he can be a home-run hitter. He was stuck behind Alexander Robinson last season, but Johnson averaged 6.2 yards on the limited carries he got, turning them into a pair of touchdowns. That's the highest average of any returning Big 12 back.

8. De'Vion Moore, Missouri -- Missouri doesn't have a big time back, but it doesn't need one. Moore led a group of four backs that combined to rush for more than 1,500 yards and 19 touchdowns last seaosn. Look out for shifty Henry Josey to slide in and unseat Moore to lead the team in rushing, but Moore will get lots of touches in the red zone this season, and he's great at finding a crease. No Tigers running back got more than 100 carries last season, and that might still be the case, but Missouri truly proved that a running back platoon can be extremely successful, even if it lacks a game-changer at the top of the depth chart.

9. Terrance Ganaway, Baylor -- Ganaway is the bowling ball third of a good trio at Baylor. Jarred Salubi is the shiftier third and Glasco Martin is the young guy with lots of hype. All three should form a solid group. Art Briles said this week at media days that he'd love for one of them to separate themselves, but also understands it might not happen with this group.

10. Fozzy Whittaker, Texas -- Whittaker has struggled to stay healthy throughout his career, but rushed for 351 yards last season and enters the season as the starter ahead of Cody Johnson. He'll have to hold off promising freshman Malcolm Brown as well as Johnson, but for now, the Longhorns' running backs have a lot to prove in a new offense built to help them succeed.
Here's the next in our look at the Big 12 rankings by position: Running backs.

Last year's class was one of the best in recent history, but this year's class? Unassuming to begin the season. There are a few possible stars looming, but very, very little talent returning. Cyrus Gray ranked seventh in rushing yards last year (thanks to an insane finish), but he's the only player returning to the Big 12 from the conferences' top 10 rushers in 2010.

That's nuts.

The Aggies are the only team with a truly elite backfield tandem, though I could see Oklahoma and/or Oklahoma State joining that group by the end of the year.

The rest of the league? Every team has at least a couple of players to get excited about, and teams 5-10 are all pretty close. No one is really understaffed at the position, but obviously, they're fit to be ranked.

Here's where I have them:

1. Texas A&M

[+] EnlargeTexas A&M's Cyrus Gray
AP Photo/Eric GayCyrus Gray had at least 100 yards rushing in each of A&M's final seven games last season.
I wouldn't have been surprised if Cyrus Gray and Christine Michael were the Big 12's top leading returning rushers this year, but a midseason injury from Michael prevented it from happening. Regardless, his return gives Texas A&M by far the best tandem in the Big 12, and arguably the best in the country. When Mister Jones isn't cranking the Counting Crows on his stereo, he's a pretty good reserve, alongside Ben Malena, who impressed me on my visit to College Station this spring.

2. Oklahoma

Oklahoma will try and replace do-everything forever (or whatever) back DeMarco Murray with a platoon likely led by shifty Florida native Roy Finch. True freshman Brandon Williams made a big impact in spring camp, and Brennan Clay will likely earn a few touches, too. Health concerns raise questions about a pair of other OU backs' knees (Jermie Calhoun, Jonathan Miller), but walk-on Dominique Whaley led the team in rushing in the spring game.

3. Oklahoma State

The Cowboys have a great pair in sophomores Joseph Randle and Jeremy Smith, and a nice set of backs to spell them if needed, too. Kye Staley, once a top-flight recruit, returned this spring after quitting the team following a severe knee injury, and might earn a few touches this spring. Also, Abilene, Texas, native and 2011 ESPNU 150 signee Herschel Sims arrives this fall and may jockey for time and the opportunity to shed a redshirt.

4. Missouri

What the Tigers lack in a truly elite back, they have in depth. Missouri has four backs who are all capable of being very good in the Big 12, even though neither of the four topped 600 yards a year ago. A big reason for that was none of the four got more than 100 carries, but with the carries they did get, every back averaged more than five yards per carry. The platoon approach works for Missouri, but senior De'Vion Moore and junior Kendial Lawrence will lead the way with sophomores Henry Josey and Marcus Murphy not far behind.

5. Kansas

[+] EnlargeKansas' James Sims
John Rieger/US PRESSWIREJames Sims is the No. 2 returning rusher in the Big 12 this season.
Running back will be a strength for Kansas next year, who might have found a second back this spring that perfectly complements power runner James Sims, a rising sophomore who racked up 742 yards last year after not playing in the opener. Believe it or not, he's the Big 12's No. 2 returning rusher, behind A&M's Gray. Darrian Miller burst onto the scene this spring, and figures to be a big part of the team in the fall. I see him being the Jayhawks' biggest home-run threat. DeShaun Sands and Brandon Bourbon offer even more depth at the position.

6. Texas Tech

The Red Raiders lose backfield constant Baron Batch, but have a good group lined up for 2011. Tommy Tuberville's effort to establish a more efficient running game is a realistic possibility with Eric Stephens as the likely feature back, and Aaron Crawford, Ben McRoy and Harrison Jeffers in the mix. True freshman Ronnie Daniels' strong spring likely earned him some time, too, rather than a redshirt.

7. Baylor

Baylor loses a 1,200-yard rusher in Jay Finley, and figures to use a thunder-and-lightning approach with 6-foot, 240-pound bowling ball Terrance Ganaway and shifty, 5-foot-9, 205-pound Jarred Salubi. Glasco Martin, a more balanced back, may earn a few carries, too. Regardless of who has the ball, life is good for Baylor backs, who get a bit more room from defenses that are forced to respect Robert Griffin III's legs.

8. Kansas State

The Wildcats' top two rushers, including two-time league rushing champ Daniel Thomas, are gone. Hopes are high for Wichita native and former blue-chip back Bryce Brown, but he's still entrenched in a position battle with John Hubert and Robert Rose heading into fall camp.

9. Texas

Texas brings back a pair of seniors in Fozzy Whittaker and Cody Johnson, but if the Longhorns are going to climb up this ladder by year's end (and they might) it's likely to be on the back of hyped incoming freshman Malcolm Brown, who is on campus and set to begin fall camp. D.J. Monroe might be the fastest player in the Big 12, but he'll have to master the nuances of pass blocking to get more than a few touches every game. Jeremy Hills can offer some depth at the position, too, after Tre Newton was forced to quit the game because of concussions.

10. Iowa State

Shontrelle Johnson showed some flash last year, but he still brings just 35 career carries into his 2011 effort to replace Alexander Robinson. Jeff Woody and James White offer a bit more depth, too. Florida native DeVondrick Nealy might get into the mix if he can put together a strong fall camp.

The Revolving Door: Iowa State

June, 9, 2011
6/09/11
3:00
PM ET
I've done it. You've done it.

"Hey, is that guy still around?"

Even with two fewer teams, it's hard to keep track. Our next series, which we did last year, too, takes a look at two key players for every team in the league who are taking their talents elsewhere, returning to campus, or arriving to try to write a legacy of their own.

So really, this series isn't so much for the fans of the teams in the posts, but more for everyone else. It wouldn't be a bad idea to bookmark these.

Next up: Iowa State

Going:

Austen Arnaud, QB

Arnaud was the heart of Iowa State's team as a three-year starter at quarterback. He had an unfortunate end to his career with a knee injury in a late-season loss to Colorado. He played for three different coaches in his career (and three different offenses), which is never easy, but the 6-foot-3, 230-pound powerful runner holds a handful of school records, and helped get the Cyclones into the postseason, where they beat Minnesota in the Insight Bowl in 2009.

Alexander Robinson, RB

Robinson was Arnaud's right-hand man for three seasons, rushing for 2,842 yards and 20 touchdowns during that span, including a 1,000-yard season in 2009 that earned him All-Big 12 honors. Robinson was a big part of Iowa State's resurgence in 2009, and led his coach, Paul Rhoads, to repeatedly say he'd take Robinson over any back in the league. Every time he took the field Robinson did his part to validate his coach's confidence.

Staying:

Jake Knott and A.J. Klein, LBs

The pair combined for more tackles in 2010 than any other duo in the conference, with 241 stops. They'll both be just juniors in 2011, and have already staked a claim as one of the league's best linebacking duos. Knott, a 6-foot-2, 243-pounder is the Big 12's leading returning tackler, but will be returning from a broken arm suffered during the spring.

Darius Reynolds, WR

Iowa State loses its top two pass-catchers from last year's team, and the Cyclones are hoping Reynolds can be the player to fill the void. He emerged this spring as a big playmaker, and the team will need that to continue to get back to a bowl. Reynolds has shown potential during his career, and was a highly recruited juco prospect. The 6-foot-3, 190-pounder is capable of doing everything the Cyclones offense needs from its receivers.

Coming:

Steele Jantz, QB

Jantz, a juco prospect from California, will be one of the passers up for replacing Arnaud. He's the Cyclones fastest quarterback, and if he wins the job, could be a playmaker to watch. He threw for more than 3,000 yards in 2010 while leading his team to an 11-1 record, and if he can make the transition to Division I, the fun factor in watching the Cyclones offense could skyrocket.


Aaron Horne, WR

Horne is a juco transfer as well, added late to the class, but might come out of nowhere to be one of Iowa State's leading receiver. He caught eight passes for 124 yards and a touchdown in the spring game, and will likely play slot receiver. Most interesting, though, is how the Cyclones discovered him. Horne caught the eye of the Iowa State coaches while they were watching Jantz -- his juco teammate.

Click here for more from The Revolving Door.

Checking the Big 12's health

May, 31, 2011
5/31/11
4:30
PM ET
Colleague Mark Schlabach recently took a look at every major program, handing out a 1-5 health rating on the state of the program.

Here's his scale:

5: Consistent winner with potential to be BCS bowl contender every season
4: Potential to join the sport's elite in the near future
3: Recent mediocre results but seems to be building momentum
2: Recent success but seems to be headed in wrong direction
1: Below-average program with little success in past or future

And here's what he had to say about each team in the Big 12:

Baylor
Rating: 3
The Bears have a star quarterback (Robert Griffin III) and underrated coach (Art Briles), who guided them to their first bowl game in 16 years in 2010. Building a consistent winner will be Briles' biggest challenge.

My take: Agreed. The Bears are moving in the right direction, but still far from becoming an annual elite team.

Iowa State
Rating: 2
The Cyclones can't seem to get over the hump, going 7-6 in 2009 and 5-7 in '10 in coach Paul Rhoads' first two seasons. At least Rhoads won seven more games than Gene Chizik did in his two seasons at Iowa State from 2007-08.

My take: I'd probably give the Cyclones a 3. Iowa State's fall from the postseason had more to do with its schedule, and Paul Rhoads' teams have gotten better every year. This year's team, he feels, is still his best yet, despite losing most of his offense in Austen Arnaud and Alexander Robinson.

Kansas
Rating: 2
Turner Gill's first season as the Jayhawks' coach was an unmitigated disaster, as they limped to their second straight losing record at 3-9. Gill had a lot of success at Buffalo, but competing in the Big 12 might be a different animal.

My take: Agree. There's no telling what's in store for Turner Gill at Kansas, but last year's team was one of the worst in Big 12 history. The Jayhawks should be better in 2011, but KU hasn't proved its two-year free fall in 2009 and 2010 is officially over.

Kansas State
Rating: 2
Even legendary Wildcats coach Bill Snyder is having a hard time cleaning up the mess former KSU coach Ron Prince left behind. In Snyder's second go-around in Manhattan, the Wildcats are 13-12 in two seasons combined.

My take: The 'Cats are straddling 2-3, but 2011 will be a telling year. The Brown Brothers will have a big influence on if Snyder succeeds in "calming the waters" for his second successor.

Missouri
Rating: 4
Gary Pinkel has guided the Tigers to unprecedented success, winning 40 games over the last four seasons and going to six straight bowl games. The only things missing: A Big 12 championship and BCS bowl game.

My take: Agreed. Missouri and Oklahoma State are the closest two teams in the Big 12 to joining college football's elite, and the Tigers took a huge step last year by beating Oklahoma for the first time under Pinkel.

Oklahoma
Rating: 5
Even the sport's best teams suffer a mediocre season every once in a while (OU went 8-4 in 2005 and 8-5 in '09), but Bob Stoops has built one of the most consistent winners in the country. Under his watch, OU has won seven Big 12 titles and played in four BCS National Championship games since 2000.

My take: Eight BCS appearances and one title make anything but a 5 impossible to argue here.

Oklahoma State
Rating: 4
The Pokes won 29 games during the last three seasons combined, including a school-best 11-2 record in 2010. Of course, in-state rival Oklahoma might be OSU's biggest obstacle in joining college football's upper crust.

My take: Oklahoma State missed a golden opportunity to get over the hump last year against Oklahoma, but there's no doubt the Cowboys are getting closer and closer under Mike Gundy, beginning with last year's historic season.

Texas
Rating: 4
The Longhorns have more talent, money and resources at their disposal than just about every other program in the country. That's what makes last season's 5-7 finish so perplexing. With a new coaching staff in place, it shouldn't take Mack Brown long to get UT back on track.

My take: Handing out a three would be a little harsh for the Longhorns, who made it easy to forget this season that they were in the national title game 17 months ago. But is 2011 the next step towards the end, or a rebound year from a shocking 2010?

Texas A&M
Rating: 4
Mike Sherman led the Aggies to a 9-4 record in 2010, nearly equaling his victory total (10-15) from his first two seasons in College Station. Sherman has upgraded the Aggies' talent and has them in position to become a Big 12 challenger every season.

My take: The Aggies finally had their first winning season under Sherman in 2011, and this year's team should be even better. This game is tough to predict, but it's hard to see A&M not ending up in a BCS bowl in the very near future.

Texas Tech
Rating: 3
The Mike Leach fiasco seemed to suck life out of the Texas Tech program, but then former Auburn coach Tommy Tuberville produced an 8-5 record in his first season in Lubbock. At least Tuberville is teaching the Red Raiders how to play defense.

My take: He's teaching them to play defense, but last year, the Red Raiders weren't fast or healthy enough to do it. Changing that is step one to getting Tech back to contender status.

The Big 12's top returning TD makers

May, 24, 2011
5/24/11
10:30
AM ET
Inspired by (read: ripped off) our friends over at the SEC blog, we'll take a look today at who brings back the most scoring in the league.

It's also an interesting look at exactly how many times teams crossed the goal line last season, a total stat that, for whatever reason, doesn't get looked at very much.

It's obviously no guaranteed predictor of success, but it's an interesting look at the boiled down "returning starters" number we always hear about in the months leading up to the season.

1. Texas A&M -- 93.6 percent
47 offensive touchdowns (44 return)
28 passing touchdowns (15 return)
28 receiving touchdowns (27 return)
19 rushing touchdowns (17 return)

2. Missouri -- 88.9 percent
45 offensive touchdowns (40 return)
17 passing touchdowns (1 returns, James Franklin)
17 receiving touchdowns (17 return)
28 rushing touchdowns (23 return)

3. Kansas -- 87.5 percent
24 offensive touchdowns (21 return)
11 passing touchdowns (11 return)
11 receiving touchdowns (9 return)
13 rushing touchdowns (12 return)

4. Texas -- 79.3 percent
29 offensive touchdowns (23 return)
10 passing touchdowns (10 return)
10 receiving touchdowns (7 return)
19 rushing touchdowns (16 return)

5. Oklahoma State -- 72.6 percent
62 offensive touchdowns (45 return)
36 passing touchdowns (36 return)
36 receiving touchdowns (35 return, Colton Chelf)
26 rushing touchdowns (10 return)

6. Baylor -- 70.8 percent
48 offensive touchdowns (34 return)
23 passing touchdowns (23 return, including one by WR Kendall Wright)
23 receiving touchdowns (21 return)
25 rushing touchdowns (13 return)

7. Oklahoma -- 59 percent
61 offensive touchdowns (36 return)
38 passing touchdowns (38 return)
38 receiving touchdowns (29 return)
23 rushing touchdowns (7 return)

8. Texas Tech -- 35.7 percent
56 offensive touchdowns (20 return)
39 passing touchdowns (none return)
39 receiving touchdowns (11 return)
17 rushing touchdowns (9 return)

9. Iowa State -- 34.5 percent
29 offensive touchdowns (10 return)
14 passing touchdowns (1 returns, Jerome Tiller)
14 receiving touchdowns (6 return)
15 rushing touchdowns (4 return)

10. Kansas State -- 26.8 percent
56 offensive touchdowns (15 return)
16 passing touchdowns (1 returns, Collin Klein)
16 receiving touchdowns (9 return)
40 rushing touchdowns (6 return)

A couple thoughts/notes:
  • In the total numbers, we counted the guys who crossed the goal line, since you obviously can't count passing touchdowns twice.
  • You can see here why I still think Texas Tech is a year away from being a big factor.
  • Iowa State and Kansas State have tough tasks ahead replacing the production of Daniel Thomas for the Wildcats and Austen Arnaud and Alexander Robinson for the Cyclones. I don't think I told anyone anything they didn't know, but it's a little sobering to see the numbers on paper here.
  • Pretty clear to see that Missouri brings back a lot, and if it can get some good play from James Franklin, the Tigers could be in for a great season. The same is true for Texas A&M, as complete of a returning team as there is in the country. The upside isn't as high as Oklahoma, of course, but the Aggies' focus has to be replacing center Matt Allen and a pair of stout linebackers in Von Miller and Michael Hodges.
  • Not sure what the big gap between the top seven and the bottom three is all about, but it's there, so ... there you go.
  • Shocking to see how far Texas fell in one of the simplest offensive stats in football. In 2009, Texas had 29 passing touchdowns and 28 rushing touchdowns, compared to 29 total in 2010. Talk turnover margin all you'd like, and it certainly factors into that number, but Texas won't win many more games unless that number sees a big boost in 2011.
  • I didn't realize OSU edged out in-state rival OU with 62 scores to the Sooners' 61. I'd expect those two to be joined at the top by the Aggies next season.
  • Additionally, I'm not sure Kansas State's offense got enough respect last season. Those 56 scores are nothing to scoff at, especially when you compare them to other offenses that most people would consider significantly better than the Wildcats (i.e., Texas Tech, Missouri, Baylor, Texas A&M). Is that truly the case? Perhaps not.

Iowa State spring wrap

May, 6, 2011
5/06/11
10:00
AM ET
IOWA STATE

2010 overall record: 5-7

2010 conference record: 3-5

Returning starters: Offense (5), Defense (7) P/K (2)

Top returners: LB Jake Knott, LB A.J. Klein, CB Leonard Johnson, CB Ter'Ran Benton, WR Darius Reynolds, RB Shontrelle Johnson, OT Kelechi Osemele

Key losses: QB Austen Arnaud, RB Alexander Robinson, TE Collin Franklin, S David Sims, DB Michael O’Connell

2010 statistical leaders (*returners)

Rushing: Alexander Robinson (946 yards)

Passing: Austen Arnaud (1,703 yards)

Receiving: Collin Franklin (530 yards)

Tackles: Jake Knott (131)

Sacks: Jacob Lattimer* (4)

Interceptions: Jake Knott* (4)

Three spring answers

1. Encouraging signs at receiver. Iowa State’s leading receiver in 2010 was tight end Franklin, not a good sign for explosive plays in a league that demands them. This spring, though, the Cyclones may have a pair of good ones. Juco transfer Aaron Horne made an impact, and Reynolds showed signs of becoming the big-play threat the Cyclones hoped they recruited.

2. No questions about defensive leaders. Linebacker Knott was already a captain. But after having surgery for a broken arm, his first stop? Practice. His 130 tackles last season already said plenty. His clear priority said even more. Neither required words.

3. Nice addition. We’ll see a new-look stadium this fall. The Cyclones are adding a new free-standing structure with an HD video display above the Jacobson Athletic Building in the north end zone. It’s a sharp update and a reason for fans to be excited for the fall.

Three fall questions

1. Who’s the QB? The Cyclones have the Big 12’s most jumbled quarterback situation. Four players are still trying to lay claim to the position, each bringing something a bit different. Jerome Tiller has the most experience, but Steele Jantz, Jared Barnett and James Capello may end up the starter by the end of fall. My money is on Jantz, the fastest of the quartet.

2. Down south blues? Iowa State snuck into a bowl game in 2009 and just missed another berth in 2010 after losing its final three games. It looks like it’ll be on a similar plane in 2011, needing to beat a few teams it isn’t supposed to in order to reach the postseason. Can that happen with a schedule that features nine conference games, including every Big 12 South team? And I didn’t even mention Iowa …

3. Replacing A-Rob? Shontrelle Johnson showed some nice burst last year in spot duty but had a fairly quiet spring. He’s likely to replace the Cyclones’ offensive star the last two seasons, Robinson, but can he keep up with the kind of production that Iowa State got out of its back?

The Big 12's One Shining Moment

April, 5, 2011
4/05/11
9:00
AM ET
The ball is kicked...

That's how it goes, right?

College basketball is over, but brackets live on forever. Or something. Anyway, inspired by our friends over at the SEC blog, we'll try our hand at a little bracketology on the football field.

What if the Big 12 played a single-elimination tournament?

Ten-team brackets are a little unusual and more complex than the NCAA Tournament bracket, so if you're unfamiliar, we'll be working off this bracket.

I seeded the tournament based on my pre-spring power rankings (which, admittedly, have fluctuated already since January) and in true NCAA Tournament fashion, all the games will be played on neutral sites. Additionally, these games will be played riiiiight ... now!

That means no incoming freshmen unless they enrolled early, and no time to settle position battles, get players healthy or improve.

Wrenches being thrown everywhere! The humanity!

So ... here we go.

Play-in games:

No. 7 Texas Tech vs. No. 10 Kansas: Texas Tech may be breaking in a new quarterback, trying to work with new receivers and giving the ball to inexperienced running backs (albeit backs loaded with potential) but the Red Raiders should win this one easily. Kansas doesn't have the skill position talent to exploit the Red Raiders' defensive weaknesses and won't be able to stop them. Seth Doege has shown signs of being far better than competent, but the same can't be said for Kansas' quarterbacks. The Red Raiders should be pretty good up front and slow the Jayhawks' running backs. Texas Tech 34, Kansas 13

No. 8 Kansas State vs. No. 9 Iowa State: Last year's Farmageddon was an underrated game in terms of entertainment, but both teams lost their workhorses. Alexander Robinson and Daniel Thomas won't face off in this one, but Kansas State is the only team in the Big 12 who hasn't started spring practice yet. Undone by unforeseen scheduling! The Wildcats' revolving door of quarterbacks can't find a rhythm against the Cyclones, who use Jerome Tiller like Nebraska used Taylor Martinez last year and zone read the Wildcats with Tiller and Shontrelle Johnson for the upset win. Iowa State 21, Kansas State 17

First round:

No. 1 Oklahoma vs. No. 9 Iowa State: Last year, Oklahoma beat these guys 52-0 in Norman. It won't be that bad this time, but the Sooners return just about everybody (save the secondary) and Iowa State lost its two best players, Austen Arnaud and Robinson. Sometimes, it's just that simple. Oklahoma 48, Iowa State 13

No. 2 Texas A&M vs. No. 7 Texas Tech: Texas A&M's deep receiving corps has worked together for awhile and can definitely take advantage of Texas Tech's youth in the secondary. The Red Raiders' safeties had a nice spring and did a nice job grasping new defensive coordinator Chad Glasgow's system from TCU, but the Aggies just have too many offensive weapons. Another big day for Tannehill, who won't touch his school-record 449 yards like he did last time against Tech in his first career start, but he clears 300 yards. Texas A&M 31, Texas Tech 21

No. 3 Oklahoma State vs. No. 6 Baylor: Baylor got steamrolled in their first big test once they climbed atop the Big 12 South standings, falling behind 34-0 in Stillwater. Both teams bring back loads of talent, and Baylor's defense should be slightly improved, but still learning. Baylor learns from the big-game failures from last year, but Oklahoma State is still the better, more balanced team. Oklahoma State 38, Baylor 35

No. 4: Missouri vs. No. 5 Texas: The one game this round that didn't happen last year, Texas will have a tough time capitalizing on Missouri's two big question marks: Quarterback and secondary. Missouri goes with Tyler Gabbert for most of the game and mixes in James Franklin for a few series with good results. Texas tests the Tigers' deep with a newly aggressive offense, but none of the quarterbacks even came close to completing a deep ball on Sunday. Kip Edwards grabs a couple picks on balls forced into Mike Davis and the Tigers get enough offense for the win. Missouri 27, Texas 14

Semifinals:

No. 1 Oklahoma vs. No. 4 Missouri: Missouri won't have a raucous crowd or a locker room bent on beating OU for the first time under their current coach this time around. Missouri hangs around early, but the Tigers don't have enough offense. Although Oklahoma is playing without All-Big 12 corner Jamell Fleming, Missouri still doesn't have a deep threat or a quarterback quite comfortable with trying to find one. The Sooners zero in on T.J. Moe and the running game and knock off the Tigers. Oklahoma 31, Missouri 24

No. 2 Texas A&M vs. No. 3 Oklahoma State: These two weren't separated by much last year, and I'd have loved to see them play one more time. Their 38-35 classic last year was one of the league's best games and both teams look loaded up for another big year. A&M still has defensive coordinator Tim DeRuyter, but Oklahoma State lost Dana Holgorsen. Bad news? Yes. But the good news for Oklahoma State is Texas A&M is missing three starters from the secondary this spring. Play this thing in July and we might have another classic. But now? Another heartbreak for the Aggies. Oklahoma State 34, Texas A&M 31

Finals:

No. 1 Oklahoma vs. No. 3 Oklahoma State: Bedlam may very well decide the Big 12 title next November, and it decides our little bracket party here with a spring tournament. Both offenses are breaking in new offensive coordinators, but Oklahoma's Josh Heupel is much more ingrained in the system than Oklahoma State's Todd Monken, who was being taught the offense by the current Cowboys this spring. Both offenses lost big-name running backs, and both have solid replacements in line with depth. Jeremy Smith and Joseph Randle at Oklahoma State match up well with Oklahoma's Roy Finch, Brandon Williams and Brennan Clay. Both have receiver depth and Oklahoma State should have an advantage against a young OU secondary. The league's co-Defensive Players of the Year, S Tony Jefferson of Oklahoma and LB Shaun Lewis of Oklahoma State, validate the award with big nights. But Oklahoma State has to convince me that it can win a big game with so much (humor me, here) on the line. It played well in last year's Bedlam but came up short. They're even closer this time, but Oklahoma takes home the title in another classic. Oklahoma 41, Oklahoma State 38 (OT)

Luther, take it away!

Lunch links: Big words aimed at Sooners

March, 22, 2011
3/22/11
12:00
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But the real question is, when will Barney learn his father is also the Trinity Killer?

Opening spring camp: Iowa State

March, 22, 2011
3/22/11
11:00
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Schedule: Iowa State opens spring practice today and will close with its spring game on April 16.

What’s new: For one, the quarterback. Starter Austen Arnaud has been the face of the program for the last three seasons, but he's gone, taking with him an impressive legacy. His 6,777 career passing yards are second most in school history and he completed a higher percentage of his passes than any passer in school history.

On the mend: Linebacker Matt Tau'fo'ou missed most of the season with a broken leg suffered against Iowa, but he's back this spring and debuted at the top of the depth chart at middle linebacker. The senior, 5-foot-11, 243-pounder is pretty stout in the middle of the defense.

New faces: Quarterback Steele Jantz, a juco transfer, is in practice this spring. More on him in a second.

Key battle: It's pretty simple: Quarterback. Somebody has to fill Arnaud's shoes, and there should be a great competition in the spring to do it. Jerome Tiller has the most experience, so he'll start the spring atop the depth chart, but Jantz has earned plenty of buzz prior to spring practice. If he can make good on it, he'll win the competition that coach Paul Rhoads says is wide open. Jantz will start the spring at No. 2 on the depth chart, right ahead of James Capello and Jared Barnett.

Breaking out: Running back Shontrelle Johnson. Playing behind Alexander Robinson last year, Johnson showed quite a bit of burst and finished with 318 yards on his 35 carries. That included a 61-yard touchdown run against Texas Tech.

Don’t forget about: The secondary. The Cyclones struggled to stop the run, which perhaps prompted teams to run more than throw, but they finished sixth in the league in pass defense. Iowa State brings back both corners, Jeremy Reeves and Leonard Johnson, and safety Ter'Ran Benton. They should be good again, and sophomore Jacques Washington will begin the spring as the starter at free safety.

All eyes on: The skill positions. You can't win in the Big 12 without great play at quarterback, running back and receiver, and the Cyclones have big, big questions marks at all three positions. Johnson is the least of these, but he's still very low on experience. Jantz has never played major college football and in spot duty last year, Tiller struggled, especially late in the year against a stingy Missouri defense that beat the Cyclones 14-0 in Ames. The receivers, Darius Reynolds, Darius Darks and Josh Lenz, were underwhelming last year with neither cracking the Big 12's top 30 in receptions or yardage. The team's top two receivers, tight end Collin Franklin and receiver Jake Williams, are gone, and somebody has to emerge and ease the new quarterback's transition.

What to watch in the Big 12 this spring

February, 16, 2011
2/16/11
9:00
AM ET
Springtime is almost here. And here's a look at what to expect across the Big 12 when it gets into full swing here in the next couple weeks.

BAYLOR BEARS

Spring practice starts: February 28

Spring game: April 2

What to watch:
  • Big changes on defense. Baylor brought in Phil Bennett as its new defensive coordinator, and he says his scheme will be multiple, built to fit the Bears' personnel. Considering the Bears' recent recruiting successes in the secondary, look for a 4-2-5 type of look.
  • Recruiting stars: time to shine. Both safeties, Tim Atchison and Byron Landor, are gone. Baylor, though, has two former ESPNU 150 recruits at safety who would be well served to start filling their potential. Prince Kent was a reserve last season and at one time, the nation's No. 51 overall recruit who originally signed with Miami. Ahmad Dixon, meanwhile, was the No. 15 overall prospect in the 2010 class. The opportunity is there. Baylor needs big talent at the position. Briles has recruited it. Can they develop into players who make Baylor a contender?
  • Running back competition. Jay Finley topped 1,200 yards in 2010, but he's gone. Who steps into his void? Terrance Ganaway is a bowling ball at 5-foot-11, 235 pounds, but the shifty Jarred Salubi could get a good amount of carries, too. They could begin to share carries this spring.
IOWA STATE CYCLONES

Spring practice starts: March 22

Spring game: April 16

What to watch:
  • Quarterback competition. It should be a good one in Ames this spring. Jerome Tiller is the name most recognize after getting lots of meaningful time and starts because of injuries to Austen Arnaud over the past two seasons. But juco transfer Steele Jantz sounds confident he can win the job. Rising sophomore James Capello and redshirt freshman Jared Barnett will compete, too.
  • Paging Cyclone receivers. Iowa State had one of the most underwhelming receiving corps in the league during the past season, and three of its top five pass-catchers won't return in 2011. Of those three, however, one is a tight end (Collin Franklin) and another is a running back (Alexander Robinson). The new quarterback will need some help, and Darius Darks and Darius Reynolds will need to provide it as seniors.
  • Shontrelle's time or not? Freshman Shontrelle Johnson looked like the running back with the most pop behind Robinson for most of 2010, but two other freshmen running backs jockeyed for carries, too. Paul Rhoads is hardly handing the job over to Johnson, but spring could be the time when he really separates himself from the pack.
KANSAS JAYHAWKS

Spring practice starts: April 1

Spring game: April 30

What to watch:
  • What are they doing behind center? Kansas never got much consistent play out of the quarterback position last year, but freshman Brock Berglund is one of the 2011 class' top recruits, and enrolled early to compete in the spring with Jordan Webb and Quinn Mecham. With a building program like Kansas, there's perhaps some value in handing the program to a younger player like Webb or Berglund, but they'll have to earn it. Doing so will start in the spring, but don't expect the Jayhawks to have a set-in-stone starter by spring's end.
  • Top linebacker back on the field. Huldon Tharp missed all of 2010 with a foot injury, but he says he's 100 percent and ready to get back on the field. As a freshman in 2009, he was fifth on the team in tackles, with 59, and looked like one of the league's possible budding stars. Now, he'll get his chance to join fellow linebacker Steven Johnson as one of the team's top tacklers, and he'll do it as a sophomore after redshirting in 2010.
  • Toben rising? Turner Gill raised plenty of eyebrows when he moved his team's leading rusher in 2009, Toben Opurum, to linebacker in fall camp, and eventually slid him up to defensive end. But toward the end of 2010, Opurum started showing some major signs of growth at the position. We'll get a better idea this spring if he's one of the league's most unlikely new stars at defensive end.
KANSAS STATE WILDCATS

Spring practice starts: April 6

Spring game: April 30

What to watch:
  • Prodigal Kansan sons come home. There's no doubt that the Wichita native Brown brothers are the main attraction at Kansas State this spring, a season after transferring back home. Bryce Brown, the running back, was the nation's No. 8 prospect in the 2009 class. Arthur Brown, the linebacker, was the nation's No. 6 prospect in the 2008 class. Bryce transferred from Tennessee and Arthur from Miami. The Wildcats are pinning much of their hopes on the duo, and we'll get a good sense of what they can provide soon.
  • Quarterback competition. Carson Coffman is gone, and two new faces will challenge for the job: juco transfer Justin Tuggle and Daniel Sams. Sammuel Lamur is also up for the gig. Collin Klein may or may not be; Bill Snyder hasn't explicitly confirmed a past comment from Sams saying Klein had moved to receiver. Don't expect a starter to be named by spring's end, but a general order could start to form.
  • Can the defense show improvement? Kansas State had the Big 12's worst overall defense last year, and the worst rushing defense in college football, giving up 3,008 yards on the ground. Coordinator Chris Cosh looks like he'll still be around in 2011, and defensive backs David Garrett and Tysyn Hartman are solid pieces to try and build around. But this young maturing defense must get better to make a bowl game again with so many questions on offense. That starts in the spring.
MISSOURI TIGERS

Spring practice starts: March 8

Spring game: April 16

What to watch:
  • Franklin comes alive! Blaine Gabbert bolted to the NFL early, and Missouri has a gaping hole a quarterback. The position, however, is surrounded by a lot of quality talent that likely makes the Tigers a Top 25 team. There's no understating the importance of the position for the Tigers, and that will begin to be decided in the spring. James Franklin, a rising sophomore, saw spot duty in 2010 as more of a runner, and may have the inside track on the job, but Tyler Gabbert, Blaine's younger brother, and Ashton Glaser should make it an interesting competition in the spring. If neither of them impress early, don't count out incoming freshman Corbin Berkstresser.
  • Here is the new secondary. Same as the old secondary? After years of pass defense being one of the Tigers' biggest weaknesses, it became a strength in 2010 behind the leadership of senior corners Kevin Rutland and Carl Gettis. But the Tigers lose them and safety Jarrell Harrison. Rutland emerged as one of the team's most impressive players last spring, but was Missouri's success in the secondary a one-time thing or the beginning of a welcome trend?
  • Time to dominate the trenches? Missouri played without likely first-round pick Aldon Smith for much of the previous season, but the defensive and offensive lines for the Tigers were as good as ever in 2010. How will they look in 2011? Impact juco transfer Sheldon Richardson won't be enrolled by the spring, but the four returning starters on the offensive line should get some solid work against Brad Madison, Jacquies Smith and Terrell Resonno.
OKLAHOMA SOONERS

Spring practice starts: March 21

Spring game: April 16

What to watch:
  • Freshmen on display. Coach Bob Stoops hasn't been shy about saying his 2010 recruiting class was his best ever, but it could look even better after this spring. Two of his best emerging recruits, Justin McCay and Geneo Grissom, didn't even play in 2010, and could start to make an impact. The same goes for Corey Nelson, who will try to earn some more time somewhere backing up star Travis Lewis.
  • Is there a golden boot in Norman? Jimmy Stevens was much more accurate in 2010, finishing 19-for-23, but his attempts outside 45 yards were sparse. The good news is he missed none of his 53 extra points. Field goals have been a bit of an adventure for the past couple years, but continuing in the spring what he started last year would be a good sign for Oklahoma. The Sooners are strong everywhere and need good special teams play to reach their lofty title goals.
  • Are the Sooners' backs back? Roy Finch missed the Fiesta Bowl with a stress fracture, and his durability is certainly questionable entering 2011. When he's healthy, he looks like the next star in the Sooners' backfield, but they'll need some depth behind the 5-foot-8, 173-pounder. Jermie Calhoun, Jonathan Miller and Brennan Clay have all looked good at times, but there should be some good competition from newcomers Brandon Wegher, an Iowa transfer who'll be in camp this spring and eligible next season, and blue-chip recruit Brandon Williams, who enrolled early.
OKLAHOMA STATE COWBOYS

Spring practice starts: March 7

Spring game: April 16

What to watch:
  • Every piece of the offense. The spring in Stillwater is all about keeping or improving upon the status quo. Had it kept Dana Holgorsen, there'd be little doubt that would happen, but Oklahoma State must make the most of its five returning offensive linemen, quarterback Brandon Weeden and receiver Justin Blackmon. The opportunity for a historic season is there, but they'll have to pick up the nuances of the new offense quickly in the spring like they did last year.
  • What about the kicker? Dan Bailey won the Lou Groza Award as the nation's top kicker in 2010, but he's gone. Oklahoma State needs to fill that role quickly, and we'll likely know who will get the nod after the spring.
  • Who steps up on the defensive line? The Cowboys lose three starters up front on defense, including All-Big 12 performer Ugo Chinasa and tackles Chris Donaldson and Shane Jarka. Can senior Richetti Jones become a star in the Big 12? We'll have a good idea if he, or any of the Cowboys' other defensive linemen, can by the end of April.
TEXAS LONGHORNS

Spring practice starts: February 24

Spring game: April 3

What to watch:
  • New coaches and their students/players. Texas has five new coaches. Although it's hard to get a good read early on, how they relate with the players on the field, in the film room and around the facilities will have a big impact on how the 2011 season plays out in Austin. The young-blooded coordinators could serve themselves well by relating to players and the players will need to spend plenty of extra time learning new schemes and plays.
  • Quarterback competition ... or not? Mack Brown says the gig is open and it is, for now. Garrett Gilbert can close it with a strong spring. If Garrett struggles on the field or has difficulty grasping the new system, the door will be wide open for Connor Wood or Case McCoy to step in and close it. Gilbert didn't get much help, but he did very little in 2010 to inspire a lot of breathing room with McCoy and Wood clamoring for playing time.
  • And you've got to defend the pass, too. Texas loses its top three cornerbacks to the NFL, and only Carrington Byndom and A.J. White got much meaningful playing time last season. Younger players can earn some rare early playing time with a strong spring. Will anyone step up?
TEXAS A&M AGGIES

Spring practice starts: March 22

Spring game: April 16

What to watch:
  • New linebackers in the running. Spring isn't so scary when you bring back nine defensive starters, but the two Texas A&M lost were the heart of its defense. Linebackers Michael Hodges and Von Miller are gone. Kyle Mangan didn't look fantastic when forced into action during the Cotton Bowl, but the time is now for Damontre Moore and Dominique Patterson, a pair of sophomores, to make their impact.
  • Tannehill's tuning things up. Quarterback Ryan Tannehill played about as well as anyone could have hoped late last season, but he'll need it to continue his performance with a solid spring nailing down the timing with his receivers, who all return. He's already got a leg up on last year's quarterback, Jerrod Johnson, who was held out of team drills last spring after shoulder surgery that eventually derailed his senior season.
  • Christine's back. Christine Michael missed the second half of the season with a broken leg, giving way to Cyrus Gray's rise among Big 12 backs. It should make Texas A&M's depth at the position even more impressive, but we'll see how Michael looks coming back from the injury.
TEXAS TECH RED RAIDERS

Spring practice starts: February 19

Spring game: March 26

What to watch:
  • Past defending that pass defense. Texas Tech had the Big 12's worst pass defense last season, but has a pair of big potential players at cornerback in rising sophomores Tre Porter and Jarvis Phillips. Starters LaRon Moore and Franklin Mitchem are gone, but if returning starters Cody Davis and Will Ford can continue to mature, the defense should improve in the area most important for success in the Big 12.
  • And they're off! There's a four-man quarterback derby set in Lubbock this spring between Seth Doege, Jacob Karam, Michael Brewer and Scotty Young. I don't expect it to be settled until midway through fall camp, similar to last season, but there should be a solid front-runner and more clarity after spring. Coach Tommy Tuberville was extremely impressed with Doege and Karam last spring after Taylor Potts and Steven Sheffield went down with injuries.
  • Time to find new stars. Most of the big names on Texas Tech's defense are gone. Colby Whitlock, Bront Bird, Brian Duncan will all continue their careers elsewhere. The leaders on the defense will have to begin to emerge in the spring. Is it Scott Smith? Cody Davis? A younger, unexpected player? We'll find out. Sometimes these types of situations aren't as easy to predict as they might seem, like Missouri's strength in 2010 emerging in the secondary.
Tags:

Baylor Bears, Iowa State Cyclones, Kansas Jayhawks, Kansas State Wildcats, Missouri Tigers, Oklahoma Sooners, Oklahoma State Cowboys, Texas Longhorns, Texas A&M Aggies, Texas Tech Red Raiders, Colby Whitlock, Corey Nelson, Ahmad Dixon, Brennan Clay, Jacob Karam, Darius Reynolds, Christine Michael, Von Miller, Alexander Robinson, Kyle Mangan, Chris Cosh, Steven Sheffield, Turner Gill, Tysyn Hartman, Bill Snyder, Bront Bird, Case McCoy, Brandon Williams, Dan Bailey, Justin Blackmon, Franklin Mitchem, Richetti Jones, James Capello, Connor Wood, Shane Jarka, Ryan Tannehill, Terrance Ganaway, Byron Landor, Cody Davis, Travis Lewis, Cyrus Gray, Scotty Young, Chris Donaldson, Bryce Brown, Jerome Tiller, Brian Duncan, LaRon Moore, Toben Opurum, Darius Darks, Paul Rhoads, Brad Madison, Art Briles, Kevin Rutland, Carrington Byndom, Sheldon Richardson, Bob Stoops, Jerrod Johnson, Blaine Gabbert, Jay Finley, Jared Barnett, Taylor Potts, Huldon Tharp, Jimmy Stevens, Arthur Brown, Mack Brown, Jarvis Phillips, Garrett Gilbert, Tyler Gabbert, Jordan Webb, Jermie Calhoun, Collin Franklin, Phil Bennett, Jacquies Smith, Jarred Salubi, Collin Klein, Tim Atchison, Carl Gettis, Seth Doege, Ugo Chinasa, Terrell Resonno, Carson Coffman, Aldon Smith, Brandon Weeden, David Garrett, Justin McCay, James Franklin, Corbin Berkstresser, Geneo Grissom, Quinn Mecham, Scott Smith, Tre Porter, Shontrelle Johnson, Prince Kent, Damontre Moore, Michael Brewer, A.J. White, Brock Berglund, Ashton Glaser, Michael Hodges, Brandon Wegher, Steele Jantz, Jonathan Miller, Justin Tuggle, Daniel Sams, Dominique Patterson

Re-ranking the Big 12's best players

February, 11, 2011
2/11/11
3:00
PM ET
Oh, yes. It's that time again.

I made my first go-around this summer, and it was definitely a fun experience that inspired tons of discussion. Perhaps my favorite moment: The group of you (much, much larger than I ever expected) who felt the need to fill my inbox with angry e-mails after I jokingly teased in July that Garrett Gilbert would be No. 1 on my list that was "heavily weighted toward players' actual accomplishments in their college careers." Oh, you readers.

Now, it's time to do the whole project all over again, starting Monday.

We're ranking the top 25 players in the Big 12. This list, however, is based solely on their performances during the 2010 season. I composed my preliminary list on Thursday, but it's nowhere near finished.

One quick note: This is one of the last cases in which Nebraska and Colorado will remain on the Big 12 blog. Since their players did play in the Big 12 in 2010, they're going to be included on this list.

Here's what my top 25 looked like before the season:
  • No. 1: Jerrod Johnson, QB, Texas A&M
  • No. 2: Daniel Thomas, RB, Kansas State
  • No. 3: Travis Lewis, LB, Oklahoma
  • No. 4: Von Miller, LB, Texas A&M
  • No. 5: Ryan Broyles, WR, Oklahoma
  • No. 6: Nate Solder, LT, Colorado
  • No. 7: Aaron Williams, CB, Texas
  • No. 8: DeMarco Murray, RB, Oklahoma
  • No. 9: Jared Crick, DT, Nebraska
  • No. 10: Robert Griffin III, QB, Baylor
  • No. 11: Jeremy Beal, DE, Oklahoma
  • No. 12: Blaine Gabbert, QB, Missouri
  • No. 13: Prince Amukamara, CB, Nebraska
  • No. 14: Alexander Robinson, RB, Iowa State
  • No. 15: Sam Acho, DE, Texas
  • No. 16: Roy Helu, Jr., RB, Nebraska
  • No. 17: Curtis Brown, CB, Texas
  • No. 18: Aldon Smith, DE, Missouri
  • No. 19: Kendall Hunter, RB, Oklahoma State
  • No. 20: Jeff Fuller, WR, Texas A&M
  • No. 21: Tim Barnes, C, Missouri
  • No. 22: Brian Duncan, LB, Texas Tech
  • No. 23: Landry Jones, QB, Oklahoma
  • No. 24: Tanner Hawkinson, OT, Kansas
  • No. 25: Blake Gideon, S, Texas

As I'm sure you can tell, plenty of guys dropped off the early draft of the postseason list. Plenty of others will be crashing the party pretty high on the list.

Others made big moves up or down. I'm interested to hear your input before we get this thing kicked off.

So, who deserves to go where?

Recruiting needs: Big 12 North

January, 26, 2011
1/26/11
9:00
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Signing day is exactly a week from today, and it's time to take a look at who needs what in its 2011 class.

Some schools have addressed these with their current class. Some haven't. Others are still trying.

We'll kick things off with the artists formerly known as the Big 12 North and examine the South later today.

COLORADO

Cornerback: Jalil Brown and Jimmy Smith were pretty reliable for the Buffaloes, but both are headed to the NFL, and the Buffaloes could definitely use some depth behind their first-year starters. It's not quite as pressing of an issue considering their move to the less pass-happy Pac-12, but they still like to sling it out west.

Receiver: Colorado isn't exactly starving anywhere on offense, but receiver sticks out a bit. Toney Clemons was good, but maybe not quite what the Buffaloes hoped he'd be in 2010, but they caught a break in getting Paul Richardson back after a great freshman season. The Buffaloes need some complementary pieces around Clemons and Richardson to replace departed pass-catchers Scotty McKnight and Travon Patterson. Next year, that should be tight end Ryan Deehan and receiver Will Jefferson.

IOWA STATE

Receiver: It's been a struggle for Iowa State in recent years, but they have to get better outside to help out their quarterback. Sedrick Johnson's transfer only worsens the Cyclones depth at the position, but Jake Williams and tight end Collin Franklin, the team's leading receiver, are gone. Shontrelle Johnson looks ready to become a big factor in the offense, but the Cyclones filling the space at receiver will make it easier for Johnson to replace running back Alexander Robinson.

Safety: Both starters, David Sims and Zac Sandvig, are gone. So is the Cyclones top reserve at the position, Michael O'Connell. Sims was a top-notch talent that will be tough to replace, but Iowa State needs more depth here. They should be solid at corner with Leonard Johnson, Ter'ran Benton, Jeremy Reeves and Anthony Young, which could make the new safeties' jobs easier.

KANSAS

Defensive line: KU is losing three of four starters on the line, including the team's only All-Big 12 talent, defensive end Jake Laptad. Turner Gill wants more speed, and this is a place to install it. Tackles that tip the scales at 320 pounds aren't too necessary in this league, but speed on the edge can go a long way in stopping the pass.

Quarterback: Neither Jordan Webb or Quinn Mecham look like long-term answers at quarterback for the Jayhawks. Mecham will be a senior, and Webb might develop into a better player as a sophomore next year, but Kansas needs other options. The Jayhawks hope Brock Berglund, the top-rated recruit in Colorado, is the solution to the problem.

KANSAS STATE

Running back: I hear your cries for Bryce Brown, Wildcats fans, but K-State can't expect to hitch their wagon to the former blue-chip recruit turned Tennessee transfer in the same way it did for Daniel Thomas. Thomas and his backup, William Powell, are gone, and the Wildcats need some depth at running back to show up.

Interior offensive linemen: K-State loses both guards and its center from an offense that produced the Big 12's leading rusher in 2010. Don't expect them to do it again in 2011 without Wade Weibert, Kenneth Mayfield and Zach Kendall, as well as Thomas and Powell, but finding some new talent behind them will help them come close.

Cornerback: David Garrett emerged as a budding star in 2010 ready for a breakout senior year in 2011, but the Wildcats lose Terrance Sweeney and Stephen Harrison, as well as safety Troy Butler. Like we've mentioned earlier, good secondaries are a must for success in the Big 12, and K-State had one of the league's worst in 2010.

MISSOURI

Receiver: Missouri has some good ones ready to suit up in 2011, namely Wes Kemp, Jerrell Jackson and T.J. Moe, but the Tigers don't have a true gamebreaker. They have some younger players in Marcus Lucas and Jimmie Hunt who they hope will develop into big-time, All-American caliber receivers, a la Jeremy Maclin and Danario Alexander. In Missouri's system, though, adding a few receivers is always a good idea. They certainly don't need any more running backs.

Defensive backs: Mizzou doesn't have any huge holes that need to be filled with recruiting, but the Tigers lose both corners, Carl Gettis and Kevin Rutland from their 2010 team. Kip Edwards and E.J. Gaines look likely to fill those roles, but the Tigers could use some depth and keep recruiting in the secondary to help add some talent around Tavon Bolden and Matt White, safeties who will replace departed Jarrell Harrison, who actually had to play some linebacker in 2010 because of injuries.

NEBRASKA

Every kind of kicker: Alex Henery, the team's punter and kicker is gone. So is kickoff specialist and lover/producer of touchbacks, Adi Kunalic. Fan favorite Henery was hardly underappreciated by the Nebraska faithful, but they'll miss him even more if the Huskers can't find a suitable placekicker and punter. Bo Pelini was reportedly after Wake Forest commit Mauro Bondi this week.

Receiver: Niles Paul and Mike McNeill are gone. The Huskers need Brandon Kinnie to come through with another good year and it'd be nice if Quincy Enunwa broke through in 2011, but Taylor Martinez needs some more help at wide out, and a couple new recruits could provide it as Martinez's passing prowess matures.

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