Big 12: Alton Dixon
Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Griffin
Sometimes the spring provides a chance for personnel holes to be filled. Sometimes it doesn't.
Here are some of the notable positions around the Big 12 that picked up some assistance during the spring.
Baylor: The quick development of defensive tackle Phil Taylor, a heralded transfer from Penn State, should turn a traditional position of weakness for the Bears into a strength. Joining him at the position will be Jason Lamb, who showed some promise after moving over from defensive end before spring practice.
Colorado: The emergence of hulking 260-pound middle linebacker Marcus Burton and B.J. Beatty at outside linebacker have helped transform the Buffaloes' defense. Burton led the team in tackles and was a prime playmaker in the spring game with eight tackles, two sacks and a fumble recovery. He had eight tackles in 10 games last season.
Iowa State: Redshirt freshman quarterback Jerome Tiller outplayed starter Austen Arnaud in the spring game, passing for 210 yards and getting free for a 65-yard touchdown run. I'm not sure that Tiller will be starting come September, but he'll make Arnaud work harder to earn his job.
Kansas: The Jayhawks had questions in the defensive line before the spring, even with the return of all-Big 12 honorable mention selections Caleb Blakesley and Jake Laptad and late season starting defensive tackles Richard Johnson and Jamal Greene. The development of tackle Darius Parish and end Max Onyegbule should add to the depth. And that doesn't even account for the arrival of heralded junior college transfer Quintin Woods, who originally signed with Michigan out of high school before heading to Bakersfield (Cal.) Community College to get his grades in order.
Kansas State: The emergence of linebackers like Alex Hrebec, Ulla Pomele and John Houlik has helped turn the position into the strength of the defense, even as the Wildcats are transforming to a 4-2-5 alignment. Hrebec, a former walk-on, contributed 19 tackles in the spring game and Houlik is a huge hitter despite his 5-foot-11, 219-pound size.
Missouri: Redshirt freshman Aldon Smith has only added to the Tigers' depth at defensive end, which already featured Brian Coulter and Jacquies Smith in front of him. Smith was voted as the team's most improved player in the spring. Throw in converted offensive tackle Brad Madison and redshirt freshman Marcus Marlbrough and you'll see why Gary Pinkel considers it his best collection of defensive ends at Missouri.
Nebraska: The Cornhuskers had serious questions at quarterback, particularly after the departure of projected starting challenger Patrick Witt before spring practice and Kody Spano's knee injury. But the strong spring by Zac Lee and the surprising development of converted linebacker LaTravis Washington eased some of offensive coordinator Shawn Watson's concerns. Their strong spring work also should mean that heralded freshman Cody Green likely won't be thrown into action perhaps as quickly as Watson might have feared before the spring.
Oklahoma: After losing starters Nic Harris and Lendy Holmes, safety was the only position without returning starters for the Sooners on defense. Quinton Carter nailed down one starting position and Sam Proctor and Joseph Ibiloye are poised to fight for the other job beside him. Emmanuel Jones and Desmond Jackson also had strong spring efforts to challenge for playing time.
Oklahoma State: Defensive tackle was enough of a question that new coordinator Bill Young moved Derek Burton inside from defensive end to help bolster depth at the position. Burton and Swanson Miller appear to have won starting jobs with redshirt freshman Nigel Nicholas and junior Chris Donaldson providing strong depth. Their strong play helped the Cowboys rack up seven sacks in the spring game - more than half of their 2008 season total of 13.
Texas: The Longhorns were concerned about defensive end after the departure of NFL draft picks Brian Orakpo and Henry Melton from last season. Those fears appear to be assuaged after the seamless transition of Sergio Kindle to the position from linebacker and the quick assimilation by freshman Alex Okafor. Toss in Sam Acho and Russell Carter and the return injured pass-rushing threat Eddie Jones and the Longhorns appear stacked at the position.
Texas A&M: Safety was a question mark before spring camp after the loss of Devin Gregg and Alton Dixon and the move of 2008 starting free safety Jordan Peterson to cornerback. But the strong return to safety by converted cornerback Jordan Pugh and the noticeable development by Trent Hunter helped solidify the position during the spring. And the Aggies' depth at the position was improved after the move of wide receiver Chris Caflisch to the position along with strong play from DeMaurier Thompson.
Texas Tech: The departure of two-time Biletnikoff Award winner Michael Crabtree and underrated Eric Morris was supposed to cripple the Red Raiders' receiving corps. Mike Leach appears to have found several serviceable replacements after Tramain Swindall, Lyle Leong, Detron Lewis and walk-on flanker Adam Torres all emerged during the spring. And that doesn't include Edward Britton, who was in Leach's doghouse much of the spring after falling behind in the classroom but still is perhaps their most athletic force on the field.
After the disappointments of the Dennis Franchione era, Mike Sherman was counted on to provide a healing nature that would unite all of the elements of the Texas A&M program.
That idea lasted less than one game. The Aggies' 18-14 season-opening loss to Arkansas State signaled that Sherman would be struggling through a lot of disappointments in his first season.
And he did as the Aggies limped home with a 4-8 record that marked the fourth time in seven seasons they have failed to make a bowl trip. In the process Texas A&M failed to beat any of its five South Division rivals for the first time in the school's Big 12 history.
Sherman did find some young skill players that will help him in the future. Sophomore quarterback Jerrod Johnson emerged as a capable quarterback after he was thrust into the lineup by two early injuries sustained by starter Stephen McGee. Freshmen receivers Ryan Tannehill and Jeff Fuller provide hope for the future. And running back/kick returner Cyrus Gray developed as the season continued.
The A&M defense was another story. The Aggies ranked no higher than 107th nationally in any of the four major defensive categories, bottoming out in a season-ending three-game losing streak where they were outscored by a combined margin of 156-58.
Offensive Most Valuable Player: QB Jerrod Johnson. Despite learning as he went, Johnson provided one of the biggest statistical seasons in school history, passing for a school-record 21 touchdowns and 2,435 yards. In the process, he also passed for a school-record 419 yards against Kansas State.
Defensive Most Valuable Player: DB/LB Alton Dixon. After arriving at the school as a defensive back, Dixon moved to linebacker midway through his senior season to shore up an area of need. He led the team with 94 tackles, notched two tackles for losses and broke up two passes.
Turning point: After jumping to a 14-3 halftime lead against Arkansas State in the opener, the Aggies were shut out in the second half in the 18-14 loss. That loss showed that the Aggies wouldn't overmatch any opponent on their schedule and that Sherman's first season in the Big 12 would be a difficult adventure -- as it ended up being.
What's next: Sherman will face a huge rebuilding job in the nation's most difficult division. All of the other South teams are on upswings, which will make it difficult for the Aggies to return to relevance very quickly. And that's even with a strong core of young players headed by Johnson, Tannehill and Fuller. And the early departure of top running threat Michael Goodson makes it that much tougher.
Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Griffin
One more Big 12 football game tomorrow night and then speculation season will begin. Not just for bowl games and coaching changes, but also whether players will stay in school or declare for the NFL draft.
It should be interesting. Here are a few links to get things percolating over lunch.
- Michael Crabtree told the Lubbock Avalanche-Journal that he plans to return to school next season, contradicting what his father told the Dallas Morning News.
- Forget about how some are saying that Oklahoma doesn't belong in the Big 12 championship game. The Oklahoman's Berry Tramel isn't sure if Missouri is the best team in the North Division, either.
- The Dallas Morning News picked Colt McCoy as its offensive player of the year in what Chuck Carlton called "the year of the quarterback, the year of the wide receiver and the year of the tight end" across the Big 12.
- Texas A&M players Trent Hunter and Alton Dixon had a definitive answer to the Austin American-Statesman's Randy Rigs who they considered to be the best team in the Big 12's South Division. A hint: the team is playing for the conference championship Saturday night in Kansas City.
- Guerin Emig of the Tulsa World writes that Bob Stoops struggles with suggestions the Sooners have developed a Big 12 dynasty - despite five previous championships and a shot for an unprecedented three-peat Saturday night by beating Missouri.
- Joseph Duarte of the Houston Chronicle has Mack Brown's most recent vote to the USA Today coaches' poll, via the Dan Patrick radio show. Brown pegged his Longhorns at second, followed by Florida and Oklahoma.
BIG 12 SCOREBOARD
Final Illinois 18 Louisiana Tech 35 Final Rutgers 40 North Carolina 21 Final North Carolina State 34 UCF 27
Final Nevada 3 Louisiana-Lafayette 16 Final Utah State 21 UTEP 6 Final 22 Utah 45 Colorado State 10 Final Western Michigan 24 Air Force 38 Final South Alabama 28 Bowling Green 33
Final Marshall 52 Northern Illinois 23 Final Navy 17 San Diego State 16
Final Central Michigan 48 Western Kentucky 49 Final Fresno State 6 Rice 30
1:00 PM ET Cincinnati Virginia Tech 2:00 PM ET 15 Arizona State Duke 3:30 PM ET Miami (FL) South Carolina 4:30 PM ET Boston College Penn State 8:00 PM ET Nebraska 24 USC
2:00 PM ET Texas A&M West Virginia 5:30 PM ET Oklahoma 17 Clemson 9:00 PM ET Arkansas Texas
3:00 PM ET Notre Dame 23 LSU 6:30 PM ET 13 Georgia 21 Louisville 10:00 PM ET Maryland Stanford
12:30 PM ET 9 Ole Miss 6 TCU 4:00 PM ET 20 Boise State 10 Arizona 8:00 PM ET 7 Mississippi State 12 Georgia Tech
12:00 PM ET 19 Auburn 18 Wisconsin 12:30 PM ET 8 Michigan State 5 Baylor 1:00 PM ET 16 Missouri 25 Minnesota 5:00 PM ET 2 Oregon 3 Florida State 8:30 PM ET 1 Alabama 4 Ohio State
12:00 PM ET Houston Pittsburgh 3:20 PM ET Iowa Tennessee 6:45 PM ET 11 Kansas State 14 UCLA 10:15 PM ET Washington Oklahoma State