Big 12: Ben Alexander

ESPN the Magazine had a fascinating feature looking back at the past 25 No. 1 high school recruits, where they are now and what the ranking meant to them. With apologies to Vince Young, there aren't a ton of Big 12 talents on the list, but there have been plenty of great recruits to come through the Big 12. We took a look on Thursday at how the All-Big 12 team stacked up as recruits, and you saw quite a mixed bag.

Well, it's the same for the recruits who came to campus with high rankings and high profiles. Going back to 2006, here's how every Big 12 commit from the ESPNU 150 turned out. We'll look at 2006 in this post before eventually reaching 2010 and the current class, 2011, by signing day.

2006

No. 6: DeMarco Murray, RB, Oklahoma. Murray set the school records for touchdowns (64) and all-purpose yards (6,498) as a Sooner. He's projected to be drafted on the first day of this year's NFL Draft.

No. 7: Sergio Kindle, OLB, Texas. Kindle was a finalist for the Butkus and Hendricks Awards and was a two-time All-Big 12 performer with 176 career tackles. He was drafted by the Baltimore Ravens in the second round last year's NFL Draft, but missed his rookie season after fracturing his skull in a fall on the stairs at his home.

No. 13: Jevan Snead, QB, Texas. Lost a quarterback battle to Colt McCoy following the 2005 season. Played sparingly as a freshman before transferring to Ole Miss. Went undrafted in 2010. Now plays for Arena League's Tampa Bay Storm.

No. 21: Gerald McCoy, DT, Oklahoma. McCoy was a Lombardi finalist, a three-time All-Big 12 performer, a two-time All-American who left Oklahoma after his junior season and was selected No. 3 overall by the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in the 2010 NFL Draft.

No. 22: Eddie Jones, DE, Texas. Jones just finished his career at Texas with an All-Big 12 honorable mention year in 2010. Finished his career with 111 tackles and 13.5 sacks.

No. 34: J'Marcus Webb, OT, Texas. Webb played one year at Texas before transferring to Navarro College and eventually West Texas A&M. He was drafted in the seventh round of the 2010 draft and spent the season with the Chicago Bears.

No. 36: Adron Tennell, WR, Oklahoma. Tennell finished his four-year career at Oklahoma with 40 catches, 505 yards and five touchdowns.

No. 42: Dustin Earnest, LB, Texas. Earnest finished his career in 2010 with 84 tackles and a sack for the Longhorns.

No. 45: Mike Goodson, RB, Texas A&M. Goodson was the Big 12 Freshman of the Year in 2006 with his career high 847 yards. He finished with 1,966 yards and 13 TDs in three seasons before being drafted in the fourth round by the Carolina Panthers.

No. 67: Phillip Payne, WR, Texas. Caught his first career pass in 2009, his third year at UT, before transferring after the season.

No. 75: Derek Burton, DE, Oklahoma State. Started 15 games in four years for the Cowboys, recording 67 career tackles.

No. 82: Ben Alexander, DT, Texas. Made four career starts, with 51 tackles and half a sack in 38 career appearances.

No. 104: Terrance Anderson, CB, Oklahoma State. Made 96 tackles in four years with the Cowboys. Had four career interceptions.

No. 110: Jonathan Nelson, CB, Oklahoma. Started all 14 games in 2010 for the Sooners after earning All-Big 12 honorable mention as a junior in 2009. Finished career with 155 tackles and five interceptions.

No. 111: Jermaine Gresham, TE, Oklahoma. Caught 111 passes for 1,629 yards and 26 touchdowns in three seasons, including an All-American season in 2008. Missed all of 2009 with knee injury. Drafted No. 21 overall in the 2010 draft by Cincinnati Bengals.

No. 137: Jeremy Beal, DE, Oklahoma. Had 224 tackles, 58.5 tackles for loss, and 29 sacks in four seasons, including three All-Big 12 seasons, an All-American season and was a Hendricks Award finalist in 2009. Projects as middle-round pick in 2011 NFL Draft.

No. 141: Josh Freeman, QB, Kansas State. Threw for 8,078 yards and 44 touchdowns and 34 interceptions in 35 career games. Also ran for 404 yards and 14 touchdowns as a junior. Drafted No. 17 overall by the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in the 2010 NFL Draft.

Big 12 mailbag: CU's aggresive national-television model explained

September, 11, 2009
9/11/09
6:04
PM ET
Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Griffin

If it's a Friday afternoon, it must mean it's time to check the mailbag.

With the season starting, we've got some interesting correspondence this week. Here are some of the more notable missives.

Calvin Kirkpatrick of Kyle, Texas, writes: Hey, Tim. What’s the deal with Colorado sucking up all of the Big 12's television time? Every time it looks like I’ll be tuning in this season they'll be playing somebody on national television.

Tim Griffin: Calvin, I will say one thing for Colorado athletic director Mike Bohn: He’s willing to play on some non-traditional nights to get exposure for his program. Most of the major powers aren’t willing to do that, feeling their games on Saturdays are almost sacrosanct. It hasn’t always been that way. I remember that Oklahoma traveled to Tulsa a few years ago to play on a Friday night. And who can forget Texas’ struggles on that Sunday night in 1994 when the Longhorns and John Mackovic lost to Rice?

But Colorado’s athletic department appears to be the most willing in the Big 12 to take this unconventional approach. It will provide them some additional money from playing in these games. But it also will provide them with the difficulty of playing on five days this week at Toledo. I imagine that Dan Hawkins probably isn’t as enthralled about this idea today as he might have been a few months ago.

But brace yourself for even more. The Buffaloes’ games against West Virginia (Thursday Oct. 1), at Oklahoma State (Thursday Nov. 19) and Nebraska (Friday Nov. 27) all will be played on days other than Saturday.

The game tonight might be the biggest one that Hawkins has coached at Colorado.

And I can’t wait to watch it.




Rusty from Hesston, Kan., writes: Tim, I enjoy your blog and find that I check multiple times each day. I’d thought I’d throw you a curveball in terms of your likes and dislikes. I’d like to know which uniforms you like in the Big 12 and which ones you don’t like.

Tim Griffin: Rusty, I appreciate the kind words. I’ve never been asked about my judgment about fashion, but here goes.

I always have been partial to the traditional, clean look for uniforms. Those worn by Texas and Oklahoma have remained relatively unchanged over the years and are my two favorites in the league. One of my favorite old uniforms was the Texas A&M uniforms from back in the 1970s when they had vertical stripes on the uniforms. I also really liked the Aggies’ helmets back then, as I do any helmet that has the player’s uniform numbers on it. I’m looking forward to seeing Nebraska’s throwback uniforms when they play Louisiana-Lafayette on Sept. 26.

I don’t dislike many uniform combinations. But I wasn’t crazy about Baylor’s all-white look they sported for the Wake Forest game. It made them look like they should have been delivering Cookies and Cream from the "Little Creamery in Brenham" than playing football.


David from Newport, R.I., writes: Tim, in regards to your grading the offenses and defenses. I like the idea and the comments others have made. How about this idea? Instead of using 1 or .5 points for the touchdown and FG, respectively, why not divide total points by 7 so the missed extra points and two point conversions are also included. Also, why not have a comparison between the offensive and defensive production similar to baseball’s run differential to get an idea how each team has compared to their opponents.

Tim Griffin: David, my offensive and defensive rankings prompted a lot of comments from readers. I appreciate them all. Some blasted them because they were so simple, or because they didn’t factor in strength of schedule or special teams.

I didn’t want to do that. I just wanted an easy-to-measure way to judge the effectiveness of an offense. I thought in terms of a batting average in baseball, which is clear and easy to understand. And using that same thought process, I thought I could come up with something like a batting average. And I think my measure does that, giving us a percentage of how well a team operates by judging its percentage of scoring drives. I wasn't interested in doing much more than that, like grading it on the measure of an opponent or anything like that.

That’s why I decided to go the way I did. I do like your mention of the run differential and might try that out to see if can determine the effectiveness of a team.


(Read full post)

Ten Big 12 names to remember

May, 19, 2009
5/19/09
10:00
AM ET

Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Griffin

Here are 10 players who developed as names to remember during spring practice across the Big 12.

Baylor WR Terrance Williams: Talented redshirt freshman who had a strong camp as he developed into one of Robert Griffin's primary receivers.

Colorado CB Jimmy Smith: Emerged as the Buffaloes' most talented one-on-one pass defender and the Buffaloes' key player in the secondary.

Iowa State QB Jerome Tiller: Lanky freshman who might still have a chance to compete for playing time with starter Austen Arnaud. Tiller didn't hurt his chances by throwing for 250 yards and two touchdowns and also adding a 65-yard touchdown run in the spring game.

Kansas WR Johnathan Wilson: Took advantage of the departure of top deep threat Dezmon Briscoe to emerge as the Jayhawks' prime deep threat when he was gone. Wilson led all receivers with 133 receiving yards and could be a capable featured receiver if Briscoe or Kerry Meier is injured.

Kansas State DE Brandon Harold: After struggling after being moved inside, Harold flourished with a big spring after moving back to defensive end.

Missouri RB De'Vion Moore: As Derrick Washington recovered from offseason knee surgery, Moore played as the Tigers' No. 1 tailback during most of the spring. Not only did he show tough between-the-tackles running ability but also developed into a strong receiving threat out of the backfield.

Nebraska LB Matthew May: The converted sophomore safety earned a role at weakside linebacker in both the Cornhuskers' nickel and base defenses.

Oklahoma LB Tom Wort: Became an immediate producer for the Sooners as a true freshman. He could be ticketed to immediate play on special teams as he provided immediate depth.

Texas DT Ben Alexander: The 310-pound senior claimed the starting job next to Lamarr Houston as the Longhorns look for a playmaker in the trenches to replace Roy Miller.

Texas Tech DE Brandon Sesay: After losing 21 pounds before spring practice, a slimmer Sesay notched two sacks in the spring game to showcase a strong finish as he challenges for a starting position left open when McKinner Dixon was suspended for academic reasons. .

Texas spring wrap

May, 14, 2009
5/14/09
9:10
AM ET
Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Griffin

Texas Longhorns
2008 overall record: 12-1

2008 conference record: 7-1

Returning starters

Offense: 8, defense: 6, kicker/punter: 2

Top returners

QB Colt McCoy, WR Jordan Shipley, C Chris Hall, T Adam Ulastoski, S Earl Thomas, DT Lamarr Houston, DE/LB Sergio Kindle, LB Roddrick Muckelroy

Key losses

DE Brian Orakpo, WR Quan Cosby, G Cedric Dockery, RB Chris Ogbonnaya, DT Roy Miller, LB Rashad Bobino

2008 statistical leaders (* returners)

Rushing: Colt McCoy* (561 yards)
Passing: Colt McCoy* (3,859 yards)
Receiving: Quan Cosby (1,123 yards)
Tackles: Rodrick Muckelroy* (112)
Sacks: Brian Orakpo (11.5)
Interceptions: Ryan Palmer (3)

Spring answers

2009 Schedule
Sept. 5 Louisiana-Monroe
Sept. 12 at Wyoming
Sept. 19 Texas Tech
Sept. 26 UTEP
Oct. 10 Colorado
Oct. 17 Oklahoma (at Dallas)
Oct. 24 at Missouri
Oct. 31 at Oklahoma State
Nov. 7 Central Florida
Nov. 14 at Baylor
Nov. 21 Kansas
Nov. 26 at Texas A&M

1. Secondary depth: Texas coach Mack Brown believes the Longhorns might have the best depth at defensive back of any team he's ever had. The group made Colt McCoy look ordinary in the spring game, continuing its strong performance from earlier in practice. It was a big turnaround from last season, when Texas produced a Big 12-low six interceptions and generated only 16 turnovers. But strong play this spring from safeties Earl Thomas, Christian Scott, Nolan Brewster and Blake Gideon make the position seem set. Cornerbacks Chykie Brown and Aaron Williams appear to have emerged as two of the most physical players to have lined up at the position for Texas in several years. And Curtis Brown and Deon Beasley add solid depth at the position.

2. Speed pass-rushers: Sergio Kindle was switched to defensive end and dominated early practices like Texas defensive coordinator Will Muschamp had hoped. Kindle is being counted on to fill the featured pass-rusher role so ably played by Brian Orakpo last season. But just as much of a revelation was the play of freshman Alex Okafor. Brown traditionally has been hesitant to give true freshmen significant playing time. He might not be able to avoid it with Okafor, who tore up early practices. Speed pass-rushers are vitally important in the Big 12 and Okafor combines with Kindle to give the Longhorns two of the fastest in the conference.

3. McCoy back for more: So much for any thoughts about complacency after McCoy nearly won the Heisman last season. McCoy has come back driven and appears ready to take another step during his senior season. He's returned 10 pounds heavier and appears to be the Longhorns' obvious leader on a team of talented young players desperately seeking one.

Fall questions

1. Running back: Cody Johnson appeared to be close to winning the job midway through camp at tailback before he was sidelined with a left hamstring pull. He needs to report to camp this summer in better shape. The Longhorns tinkered with their power running game with Vondrell McGee and Fozzy Whitaker and all three of the touchdowns in the spring game came from the I-formation. It was a start, although the Longhorns failed to average 3 yards per carry in the
spring game. Someone needs to emerge since the Longhorns can't realistically expect McCoy to be the team's leading rusher again this season. One hope could be Chris Whaley, a bruising 235-pounder who arrives this summer as the team's most highly touted freshman offensive player.

2. Defensive tackle: Texas' depth inside was hit hard by attrition after Roy Miller left. One of the best stories of the spring was the emergence of Ben Alexander, who has struggled finding the field against spread teams in the past. But Texas' depth is perilous behind him, starter Lamarr Houston and Kheeston Randall. And it got worse last week when heralded redshirt freshman Jarvis Humphrey had to quit football because of a kidney ailment. The Longhorns will need some help this summer when incoming players like heralded recruits Derek Johnson and Calvin Howell arrive.

3. Leadership: The Longhorns clearly have one of the most talented teams in the nation. But one concern that won't be answered before the season is how the team responds to adversity. Last year's team received strong direction from players like Miller, Quan Cosby and Orakpo and had a knack for responding when challenged -- such as in comeback victories against Ohio State and Oklahoma and their near comeback against Texas Tech. Brown openly questioned the makeup of this team in the spring. He won't have any answers until the season starts.

Tim's mailbag: The Big 12's best in the trenches

April, 3, 2009
4/03/09
6:08
PM ET

Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Griffin

Happy Friday afternoon to everybody.

Here are some of the more representative e-mails and letters I received this week.

Drew from San Diego writes: Tim, love your blogs. I'm curious, who will have the best offensive and defensive lines in the North and South this coming season?

Tim Griffin: In the North Division, I would give Colorado a slight edge for having the best offensive line. The Buffaloes return four starters and also will have key players like Ryan Miller and Mike Iltis coming back from injuries that will only boost their talent.

Dan Hawkins has really been recruiting strong Colorado talent and we could see players like Bryce Givens and Evan Eastburn emerge during the spring to challenge for starting jobs. I give them a slight edge over Missouri, Kansas State and Nebraska.

On defense in the North, I really like Nebraska. Ndamukong Suh, who I think is the best defensive player in the division, should be a force at defensive tackle. And the return of Barry Turner at end might give them a player who could contribute 10-12 sacks next season if he's healthy.

In the South, I really like Texas' offensive line. The Longhorns lose only one starter in guard Cedric Dockery and should only be better by playing another season together. I'm looking for a big push from players like Tray Allen, Kyle Hix and Britt Mitchell and mammoth incoming freshman Mason Walters during the summer.

Oklahoma could be poised to have one of the great defensive lines in Big 12 history with the players they have coming back. Not only do they have all four starters back from last season, including All-American candidate Gerald McCoy, but also six of the top eight players in the two-deep roster from last season. And that doesn't even include Auston English, who was merely the pass rusher in the conference in 2007 before struggling with injuries last season.

And if I had to pick the best in the conference, give me Texas' offensive line and Oklahoma's defensive line. Just another reason why the Red River Rivalry shapes up as so interesting this season.


Steve Belch from Tulsa, Okla., writes: Tim, I read your blog often and I enjoy all of your comments and insight about players and coaches. But I also enjoy the little tidbits of information you provide about some of the non-football stuff across the conference.

With that in mind, I'm curious where your favorite stop is in the Big 12 and why do you like it the most? Also, any other particular favorites?

Tim Griffin: Actually, I hate to sound like John Madden, but my favorite stop is Texas for one main reason. I can jump in my car and be at the stadium in about an hour. I can also get back from there and into my own bed that night, which is becoming more and more important with my family the older I get.

My other favorites include Colorado (great scenery, cool backdrop for stadium), Nebraska (big-game feel/comfortable press box), Oklahoma (strong SID department really takes care of your needs) and Texas Tech (very underrated stop because of many friends in Lubbock over the years).

But let me also mention there are no bad stops along the Big 12 that I regularly visit. I can -- and do -- enjoy myself anywhere.


Luke Robertson from Des Moines writes: Hey Tim, I saw where you visited Iowa State earlier this week. What kind of chance do you see for them making a move back into bowl contention under Paul Rhoads?

Tim Griffin: Luke, it likely will be a long road back to a bowl game for the Cyclones. But I really like Rhoads' enthusiasm for the job and what appears to be his realization of all the work that will be needed over the next several years.

I think the hirings of Tom Herman and Wally Burnham arguably were among the most significant in the conference. Austen Arnaud being around for the next couple of years will help. But they've got to get much better quickly on defense, and that will be a huge challenge in the Big 12.


Robert Williams of Lake Charles, La., writes: Tim, Big 12 expatriate here stuck in the SEC's footprint, unfortunately. Thanks so much for your blogs. You give me a heaping dose of information every day.

Just curious if you think any starting quarterbacks from last year face any legitimate chances of being unseated before the start of the season. I'm particularly curious what you might think about Jerrod Johnson at my former school, Texas A&M.

Tim Griffin: Robert, thanks for the kind words. I can really only think of only one place where the incumbent isn't firmly entrenched in the Big 12 and that's at Colorado.

I think that Cody Hawkins will have to win the job again before the start of the season. Tyler Hansen showed flashes last season and Matt Ballenger has the size and the big arm that all offensive coordinators seem to love. I'm not willing to hazard a guess on who will be starting for the Buffaloes in their season opener Sept. 5 against Colorado State.

I know Texas A&M coach Mike Sherman is saying that he's giving Ryan Tannehill a shot to become his starting quarterback this spring. But I still expect Johnson to end up as the starter. I know he struggled down the stretch last season.

But Tannehill developed into a pretty salty wide receiver last season. And I don't think Tannehill will provide that much more of a boost over Johnson at quarterback to convince Sherman to move him away from his new position. In a sense, I can't see him weakening himself at another position unless the personnel boost will be a lot greater at quarterback than I think it will be.


Andy from Akron, Ohio, writes: Tim, give me your pick. Gerald McCoy or Ndamukong Suh? Suh has better stats and McCoy has better talent around him to take away the offenses focusing on him. I know my opinion, what is yours?

Tim Griffin: Andy, great question. I really like both of them for different reasons. As you said, Suh does have better statistics, but also has the ability to get them because of his team's demands for him. McCoy is also a great player who is the linchpin in the conference's best defensive line.

But as far as choice between one of them, check my daily rankings for the best players in the Big 12 over the next several weeks for my answer. Trust me, it was a tough decision.


Jackson Roach from Marfa, Texas, writes: Tim, thanks for all the coverage you provide to us about the Big 12. I couldn't live without it. I trust you are going to the Texas scrimmage on Sunday. Who are some players you are interested in watching and why?

Tim Griffin: Jackson, I wouldn't miss the scrimmage. It should be interesting.

I'm most intrigued to see John Chiles' new role at receiver. I'm hearing he's getting a lot of balls this spring because Jordan Shipley is out of action. He also would be an ideal candidate to replace Quan Cosby on the swing pass
es and jailbreak screens that Colt McCoy really likes. Those passes would really showcase Chiles' athleticism. Just a guess here, but I bet that McCoy throws to Chiles among the first several plays of the scrimmage.

I'm also curious about freshman defensive end Alex Okafor, who I've heard is really lighting it up at practices so far. The Longhorns obviously have a huge need at defensive end. Can Okafor overcome his youth to become a prime producer so quickly in his career? We'll start seeing that on Sunday.

I want to zero in on Ben Alexander at defensive tackle, particularly against the Longhorns' talented offensive front.

And I'm also very interested in watching the secondary. I think the battle for playing time among players in the unit could be as intense as any on the team. Sunday will be an early indicator of how it could play out.

Thanks again for the correspondence and enjoy the Final Four tomorrow. In my mind, it's one of the great days in all of American sports -- at least until football season rolls around!

What to watch at Big 12 spring practices

February, 13, 2009
2/13/09
10:00
AM ET

Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Griffin

The Big 12 should again be loaded in 2009. And the spring will feature several key positional battles and holes to fill that will go a long way in determining whether Oklahoma can make history and claim a fourth-straight championship this season.

Here a look at each team and three major items to watch in spring practice.

NORTH DIVISION

Colorado Buffaloes

Spring practice begins: March 31

Spring game: April 25

What to watch:

  • The health of the team: The Buffaloes' players lost a combined total of 121 games to due to illness or injury last season. Some players like tight end Riar Geer, guards Devin Head, Maxwell Tuioti-Mariner and Mike Iltis, linebacker Jon Major and cornerback Jalil Brown will be limited during the spring because of past injuries. But others like tackle Ryan Miller, tailback Rodney Stewart and cornerback Benjamin Burney should be good to go throughout the spring. Coach Dan Hawkins won't push things, but it will be good to have as many regulars as possible practicing again.
  • The return of Darrell Scott: The conference's most publicized running back recruit of 2008 never could get untracked, rushing for disappointing totals of 343 yards and 3.9 yards per carry last season. The spring will give him a chance to show why he was one of the nation's top recruits in the Class of 2008.
  • Settle the kicking game: After Colorado kickers combined to shank 11 of 17 attempts last season, it might be the last chance for Aric Goodman or Jameson Davis to show what they can do after their struggles last season and the arrival of heralded recruit Zach Grossnickle in the fall.

Iowa State Cyclones

Spring practice begins: March 24

Spring game: April 18

What to watch:

  • Paul Rhoads' early assimilation: After his hiring last Dec. 23, Rhoads has concentrated on recruiting and building a coaching staff. Being able to work on the field with his team will likely be a relief for him after such a hectic start.
  • Help in the secondary: The Cyclones lose starters Chris Singleton and Brandon Hunley from a unit that ranked in the bottom 10 nationally in pass efficiency defense and pass defense. Rhoads' specialty is defense, but he'll have his work cut out with his new unit.
  • Finding another starter at wide receiver: Darius Darks is back after an impressive freshman season, but Rhoads needs to find a replacement for 2008 leading receiver R.J. Sumrall. Look for Sedrick Johnson, Marquis Hamilton and Houston Jones all to have their chances at the starting unit during the spring.

Kansas Jayhawks

Spring practice begins: March 9

Spring game: April 11

What to watch:

  • Finding starters at linebackers: The Jayhawks must completely rebuild their linebacking corps as James Holt, Mike Rivera and Joe Mortensen all are gone from last season. Arist Wright and Dakota Lewis are in the mix because of their experience. A bigger wild card could be converted running back Angus Quigley, who turned heads with his defensive instincts and tackling in work before the Jayhawks' bowl game last season.
  • Get a consistent kick returner: The mystifying struggles of Marcus Herford last season resulted in a drop of more than 8 yards per kick return as the Jayhawks fell from seventh in 2007 to 118th nationally last season. Dezmon Briscoe showed flashes of being a productive returner late in the season, but more work from different players will be needed in the spring to shore up the area.
  • Rebuild the center of the offensive line: Losing starting guards Chet Hartley and Adrian Mayes along with center Ryan Cantrell will be the biggest offensive concern this spring for the Jayhawks. Carl Wilson and Sal Kapra should get a long look at guard and Brad Thorson will given the first shot at center.

Kansas State Wildcats:

Spring practice begins: April 6

Spring game: May 2

What to watch:

  • Bill Snyder's return to coaching: The wily Snyder will be facing the biggest challenge of his professional career after returning after a three-year coaching sabbatical. The Wildcats aren't as bad as they were in 1989 when Snyder originally took over, but the Big 12 is a much tougher than the Big Eight was in those days. And it will test the patience and legendary work ethic of Snyder to get the Wildcats back into Big 12 title contention in the immediate future.
  • The quarterback battle: New offensive coordinator Andy Ludwig is one of the conference's most notable hirings after his strong recent work at Utah. Ludwig will be challenged as he looks at Carson Coffman or junior-college transfer Daniel Thomas to replace Josh Freeman as his starting quarterback.
  • Looking for a defensive turnaround: The Wildcats were woeful last season, ranking among the bottom 10 teams nationally in rushing defense, scoring defense and total defense and 106th nationally in pass defense. It will likely try the patience of new coordinator Chris Cosh, who will be looking for replacements along the defensive front for Brandon Balkcom and Ian Campbell. One potential playmaker could be Jeff Fitzgerald, who started 13 games for Virginia in 2007.

Missouri Tigers

Spring practice begins: March 10

Spring game: April 18

What to watch:

  • The changing of the guard on offense -- and then some: Gone are all-time greats like Chase Daniel, Jeremy Maclin and Chase Coffman, along with productive receivers Tommy Saunders and Earl Goldsmith. Offensive coordinator Dave Christensen has left for the Wyoming coaching job, meaning that Dave Yost takes over as the coordinator along with Blaine Gabbert at quarterback, Andrew Jones at tight end and Jerrell Jackson as the featured receiver. Collectively, it will be the largest transformation in Gary Pinkel's coaching tenure at Missouri.
  • Finding a pass rush: Three starters are gone along the defensive front as productive starters Stryker Sulak, Tommy Chavis and Ziggy Hood all are gone from last year. Look for redshirt defensive end Aldon Smith to get in the fight for playing time immediately, along with holdover Brian Coulter at defensive end if he can recover quickly from labrum surgery. Terrell Resonno and Dominique Hamilton will get a long look at defensive tackle before the arrival of heralded "tight end" Sheldon Richardson in the summer.
  • Secondary assistance: The Tigers need help after losing starting safeties Justin Garrett and William Moore and cornerback Tru Vaughns from last year's team. Considering all of the prolific offenses in the Big 12, this will capture much of defensive coordinator Matt Eberflus' attention as newcomers like safety Jarrell Harrison and cornerback Robert Steeples will show what they can do.

Nebraska Cornhuskers

Spring practice begins: March 21

Spring game: April 18

What to watch:

  • The battle for quarterback: One of the nation's most intriguing quarterback battles will play out during the spring. Incoming freshman Cody Green arrived in college early intent to battle for the starting job and become the first four-year starting quarterback for the Cornhuskers since Eric Crouch. Holdovers Patrick Witt, Zac Lee and redshirt freshman Kody Spanos all are in the hunt to replace Joe Ganz. Witt has more experience, but it's not much more than any other contender. It should be interesting to see how offensive coordinator Shawn Watson handles the competition.
  • Find starters at wide receiver: The Cornhuskers lose starters Nate Swift and Todd Peterson who combined for 125 receptions last season as the team's two major receiving threats. Menelik Holt has more experience than any other returner, although coaches are salivating about the chance to work with Antonio Bell, a 2008 recruit who wasn't on the team last season while he got his grades in order.
  • Rebuild the right side of the offensive line: Powerful blockers Matt Slauson at guard and tackle Lydon Murtha both are gone from last season, leaving a huge void for offensive line coach Barney Cotton to fill. Marcel Jones and D.J. Jones should get the first crack at the starting jobs during the spring.

SOUTH DIVISION

Baylor Bears

Spring practice begins: March 3

Spring game: April 4

What to watch:

  • Competition at offensive tackle: The Bears will be looking for two new starting tackles to replace Don Gay and Jason Smith along the offensive line. Sophomore Joe Korbel figures to get a look at one of the positions, but beyond him it's anybody's guess who will replace the talented pair that combined for 73 career starts.
  • New starters on the left side of the defensive line: Starting defensive end Leon Freeman and defensive tackle Vincent Rhodes both will be gone after their eligibility expired. The only holes in Baylor's front seven will be found there as Jameon Hardeman and Zac Scotton will challenge at defensive end and Sam Sledge at defensive tackle.
  • Better production in their pass defense: The Bears struggled mightily last season and could never seem to produce big plays when they needed them, ranking 103rd in pass defense, 84th in sacks and 109th in tackles for losses. Another spring learning the concepts of defensive coordinator Brian Norwood should benefit them and perhaps serve as a catalyst for a bowl berth with significant improvement.

Oklahoma Sooners

Spring practice begins: March 3

Spring game: April 11

What to watch:

  • Help at wide receiver: After losing Juaquin Iglesias, Quentin Chaney and Manuel Johnson from last season's BCS title-game runner-up, the Sooners desperately need some players to emerge this spring. Ryan Broyles assumes the No. 1 position, although junior college receiver Cameron Kenney will help, along with Brandon Caleb from last season's two-deep roster. It will also be noteworthy to watch the work of running back Mossis Madu, who will receive some work at slot receiver.
  • Competition in the offensive line: Trent Williams is the only returning starter from last season for a talented veteran group that will lose four starters who combined for 149 starts during their college career. The Sooners aren't devoid of talent, but it's just untested. It means they need a big lift this spring from players like tackle Cory Brandon, guards Brian Simmons and Alex Williams and center Jason Hannan.
  • New look at safety: Nic Harris and Lendy Holmes seemingly had been at Oklahoma since
    the days of Brian Bosworth. That's a little bit of an exaggeration, but the Sooner duo combined for 83 starts and provided steady, efficient defense throughout their careers. Quinton Carter and Desmond Jackson appear poised to take over for them, although it will be impossible for the Sooners to match their experience.

Oklahoma State Cowboys

Spring practice begins: March 9

Spring game: April 18

What to watch:

  • Bill Young's work: Oklahoma State has the offense to challenge for the Big 12 championship. But the success of the season ultimately will be determined by the defense generated by new defensive coordinator Bill Young. The Cowboys return six starters but must improve drastically after last season's late collapse that saw them blistered for 56, 61 and 42 points among their final three games of the season.
  • Help at safety and defensive tackle: The Cowboys lose starters Tonga Tea and Jeray Chatham at tackle and starting safeties Quinton Moore and Ricky Price. Those key positions in the heart of Oklahoma State's defense will command much of Young's attention. He's particularly excited about the play of Swanson Miller and Shane Jarka and Johnny Thomas at safety. But other players need to step up when they get their chance.
  • Develop depth at wide receiver: Dez Bryant accounted for a larger percentage of completions than any other wide receiver in the Big 12. His absence this spring as he recovers from knee surgery will enable others to have a chance to play and become acclimated with the first-string offense. The Cowboys' depth at the position is aggravated after Bo Bowling was suspended after his arrest earlier this week. It will provide players like Hubert AnyiamJosh Cooper and DeMarcus Conner an opportunity to work with Zac Robinson while Bryant and Bowling are gone.

Texas Longhorns

Spring practice begins: Feb. 27

Spring game: April 5

What to watch:

  • Build consistency in the running game: The Longhorns ranked 41st nationally in rushing last season -- their worst national ranking since 2002 -- and relied on Colt McCoy as their primary running threat. That dangerous strategy has to change this season if the Longhorns have any legitimate national title contenders. Key tasks during the spring will be to build cohesion in an offensive line that loses only starter Cedric Dockery from last season and additional work for Fozzy Whittaker, who struggled with injuries most of his freshman season last year.
  • Rebuild the defensive front: The Longhorns had the nation's most productive pass rush, leading the country with an average of 3.62 sacks per game last season. It will be a challenge to replace key players like Brian Orakpo, Roy Miller and Henry Melton. But defensive coordinator Will Muschamp liked what he saw in limited playing time for players like Sam Acho, Russell Carter, Ben Alexander, Michael Wilcoxson, Kheeston Randall and Eddie Jones. Those players, along with possibly Sergio Kindle getting more playing time at defensive end, will be key to Texas' defensive hopes this season. And incoming freshmen Dominique Jones, Alex Okafor and Kyle Kriegel all arrived at college early to challenge for immediate playing time.
  • Build confidence with young receivers: Leading receiver Quan Cosby graduated and Jordan Shipley will miss spring work after recovering from shoulder surgery. It will give McCoy a chance to build confidence in some of the younger members of his receiving corps, most notably Brandon Collins, Dan Buckner, Malcolm Williams and James Kirkendoll.

Texas A&M

Spring practice begins: March 26

Spring game: April 18

Spring practice ends: April 24

What to watch:

  • Additional development of young talent: The Aggies were one of the nation's youngest teams last season as 10 true freshmen combined to see action in 90 games and start in 41 of them. The spring will provide an additional opportunity for those young players and others on the roster to gain much-needed experience.
  • Improvement of the pass rush: The biggest hole on defense for the Aggies will be at defensive end where Michael Bennett, Amos Gbunblee and Cyril Obiozor accounted for most of the playing time last season from a group that ranked 11th in the Big 12 and 100th nationally in sacks. Paul Freeney is poised to assume one of the starting positions there. The other side looks like a wide-open battle that will play out throughout the spring and into summer camp.
  • Find a running back: Coach Mike Sherman will be looking at Keondra Smith, Cyrus Gray and Bradley Stephens for the role as the Aggies' featured running back -- for a few weeks anyway. Whoever wins that battle may celebrate a kind of pyrrhic victory as heralded running back Christine Michael arrives for fall camp as the Aggies' likely featured back. But Sherman likely will be working on building depth in the spring.

Texas Tech Red Raiders

Spring practice begins: March 25

Spring game: April 18

Spring practice ends: April 20

What to watch:

  • Any passing game regression?: Graham Harrell and Michael Crabtree rewrote the national record book as one of the most prolific pass-and-catch
    combinations in NCAA history. But yet, the Red Raiders always have always had a potent passing attack with Mike Leach in charge. It will be interesting to see Taylor Potts' development at quarterback and the growth of wide receivers like Detron Lewis, Lyle Leong, Edward Britton, Rashad Hawk and Tramain Swindall as they try to fill those big shoes for the Red Raiders.
  • Find a pass-rushing threat: Defensive end Brandon Williams is turning pro after leading the Big 12 with a school-record 12 sacks last season. McKinner Dixon was a big performer in spot duty last season and could be ready to emerge, as is junior-college transfer Daniel Howard.
  • Rebuild the left side of the offensive line: Rylan Reed and Louis Vasquez were the two most decorated linemen in Texas Tech history during their careers. The productive duo will be missed, along with starting center Stephen Hamby. Chris Olson at left tackle and Lonnie Edwards at left guard aren't nearly as big or experienced as Reed and Vasquez. Growth during the spring for the unit will be important as the Red Raiders prepare for a difficult September schedule.
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