Big 12: Big 12 spring team wraps 2010

Baylor spring wrap

May, 6, 2010
2009 overall record: 4-8

2009 conference record: 1-7

Returning starters: Offense (6), Defense (6) P/K (2)

Top returners: QB Robert Griffin III, WR Kendall Wright, RB Jay Finley, OT Danny Watkins, LB Antonio Johnson, DT Phil Taylor, P Derek Epperson

Key losses: C J.D. Walton, WR David Gettis, LB Antonio Jones, LB Joe Pawelek, S Jordan Lake, DL Jason Lamb

2009 statistical leaders (*returners)

Rushing: Jay Finley* (370 yards)

Passing: Nick Florence* (1,786 yards)

Receiving: Kendall Wright* (740 yards)

Tackles: Joe Pawelek (109)

Sacks: Tracy Robertson*, Jason Lamb (3)

Interceptions: Chance Casey* (2)

Three spring answers

1. The return of RG3. He does still exist. And though he was only a partial participant in spring practice, fans got to see him back on the field for the first time since September. Griffin unsuccessfully campaigned with Baylor coach Art Briles to let him play in the spring game, but says he’s about 80-90 percent recovered from knee surgery.

2. Deeper and deeper. Briles finally feels like his team has a quality two-deep full of players who won’t have a significant dropoff if forced into action. It’s something he didn’t have in the team’s first two seasons under Briles, and now his focus shifts to becoming as deep as some of the teams who routinely finish above them in the Big 12 South.

3. Patching together the O-Line. Baylor is replacing All-American J.D. Walton, among others on the offensive line, and the spring was the first step to filling those holes. Briles says offensive tackle Danny Watkins could be one of the best in the conference, and juco transfer Robert T. Griffin will compete for time at guard in the fall after recovering from shoulder surgery in the middle of this spring.

Three fall questions

1. Is Robert Griffin really back? He’ll be back on the field, but will he be the same Griffin? There isn’t a lot of reason to think he won’t be, but you never know until he takes the field. Whether it’s in his mind or in his legs and arms, a layoff from live action for almost a year could be tough to come back from.

2. Competition in the secondary? Baylor brings in two talented recruits in Prince Kent and Ahmad Dixon in the secondary, along with a few others, but the Bears have three seniors and sophomore Chance Casey leaving the spring with starting positions. The fall camp could play host to heated competition from the talented youngsters.

3. Bowl-bound Bears? This season, not unlike the last, begins with plenty of optimism and legitimate hopes of reaching the program’s first bowl game since 1994. By turning down Texas Tech in the offseason, Briles re-affirmed his commitment to doing it, and he’ll get a chance to prove it when the season arrives.

Colorado spring wrap

May, 6, 2010
2009 overall record: 3-9

2009 conference record: 2-6

Returning starters: Offense (8), Defense (7) P/K (1)

Top returners: QB Tyler Hansen, WR Scotty McKnight, RB Rodney Stewart, OT Nate Solder, DB Anthony Perkins, WR Markques Simas, DB Jalil Brown

Key losses: TE Riar Geer, RB Darrell Scott (transfer), DB Cha’pelle Brown, LB Jeff Smart, DB Benjamin Burney, LB Marcus Burton

2009 statistical leaders (*returners)

Rushing: Rodney Stewart* (804 yards)

Passing: Tyler Hansen* (1,440)

Receiving: Scotty McKnight* (893 yards)

Tackles: Anthony Perkins*, Jeff Smart (77)

Sacks: Marquez Herrod* (6.5)

Interceptions: Benjamin Burney (2)

Three spring answers

1. Get to know Toney Clemons. The Michigan transfer made a big splash this spring, impressing his team enough to be the top pick in the draft when the Buffaloes split for the spring game. Clemons has size and speed, but 2010 will be about turning that into on-field production.

2. Stars staying strong. Colorado’s two most consistent players a year ago, offensive tackle Nate Solder and running back Rodney Stewart, both had good springs. Stewart was protected from contact often with dwindling numbers at running back, but Solder caught a touchdown pass in the spring game after being drafted with the No. 2 pick before the game.

3. Hawkins’ future not a distraction. Dan Hawkins will sit on maybe the hottest seat in the Big 12 this season, but he didn’t address it much during the spring as his team went about its business.

Three fall questions

1. Who’s the quarterback? After taking over for Cody Hawkins last season and finishing the year as the starter, most figured the job was all but Tyler Hansen’s entering spring. But Hawkins insists there’s a competition and that Hawkins and Hansen remain thinly separated. Colorado fans won’t be happy initially if Hawkins starts, but if he produces and the Buffs win a few games, few will be complaining. Some think the team would be better suited by naming a starter now and allowing him to embrace a leadership role over the summer. Hawkins wants competition.

2. Who’s catching the ball? Clemons will be a factor, but Colorado could end up having one of the conference’s most underrated corps of receivers in Clemons, along with last year’s leading receiver Scotty McKnight and Markques Simas. Kyle Cefalo could also be a player that emerges this fall after catching 12 balls for 144 yards in the spring game.

3. Can the Buffaloes defense improve? Colorado had the second-worst defense in the Big 12 last season, and with an underwhelming offense, it’s no surprise they won only three games. Defensive back Cha’Pelle Brown was the only Colorado player to make the All-Big 12 top two teams, and he graduated. Outside of Anthony Perkins, Colorado is replacing its top four tacklers and needs playmakers to emerge to improve on its 2009 season.

Iowa State spring wrap

May, 6, 2010
2009 overall record: 7-6

2009 conference record: 3-5

Returning starters: Offense (8), Defense (4) P/K (1)

Top returners: RB Alexander Robinson, QB Austen Arnaud, DB David Sims, DB Leonard Johnson, WR Darius Darks, WR Darius Reynolds

Key losses: OL Reggie Stephens, LB Jesse Smith, DB James Smith, LB Fred Garrin, DE Christopher Lyle, WR Marquis Hamilton

2009 statistical leaders (*returners)

Rushing: Alexander Robinson* (1,193 yards)

Passing: Austen Arnaud* (2,017 yards)

Receiving: Marquis Hamilton (606 yards)

Tackles: Jesse Smith (135)

Sacks: Christopher Lyle (5)

Interceptions: David Sims (5)

Three spring answers

1. All about the linebackers. Iowa State lost five linebackers to graduation from last year’s team. A.J. Klein, Jake Knott and juco transfer Matt Tau’fo’ou are the likely replacements. Iowa State coach Paul Rhoads says they’re still thinking and playing short of full speed, but their development pleased him in the spring.

2. Arnaud takes hold. Quarterback Austen Arnaud struggled for much of 2009, but Rhoads says the senior was the most improved player on the team in the spring. Sophomore Jerome Tiller played well enough in spot duty last season to push for playing time this season, but Arnaud’s performance in the spring likely postponed Tiller’s chances until next year.

3. Year Two. Last spring, Iowa State was on its third coach in four years. This year, the team has been able to more firmly grasp the concepts of Rhoads’ systems and try to build on the team’s 7-6 finish last season.

Three fall questions

1. Scheduled for a rough landing? Iowa State has one of the conference’s toughest schedules, and Rhoads believes his 2010 team could be better than last year’s and finish with a worse record. The Cyclones play Northern Illinois, Iowa and Utah in the non-conference, and have to play at Texas and Oklahoma in consecutive weeks later in the season.

2. Who’s catching the ball? The Cyclones lost Marquis Hamilton to graduation, and have a talented group of receivers, but how they’ll shake out remains to be seen. Darius Reynolds got off to a hot start in 2009, but a broken leg ended his season. Jake Williams, Darius Darks and Sedrick Johnson will also be options for Arnaud.

3. Sustainable defense? Iowa State ranked in the top half of the conference in scoring defense in 2009, but lost seven starters from the bowl-winning team. Iowa State could be improved in the passing game, but it won’t matter much if the defense can’t be at least almost as good as they were last season.

Kansas spring wrap

May, 6, 2010
2009 overall record: 5-7

2009 conference record: 1-7

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

Top returners: RB Toben Opurum, OL Brad Thorson, OL Jeremiah Hatch, LB Drew Dudley, WR Johnathan Wilson, LB Huldon Tharp, DE Jake Laptad

Key losses: WR Dezmon Briscoe, QB Todd Reesing, WR Kerry Meier, S Darrell Stuckey, RB Jake Sharp, S Justin Thornton, Coach Mark Mangino

2009 statistical leaders (*returners)

Rushing: Toben Opurum* (554 yards)

Passing: Todd Reesing (3,616 yards)

Receiving: Dezmon Briscoe (1,337 yards)

Tackles: Darrell Stuckey (93)

Sacks: Jake Laptad* (6.5)

Interceptions: Ryan Murphy* (2)

Three spring answers

1. This is how we do things. Coach Turner Gill set the tone for his program early, speaking out about his curse-free zone at practices and other team functions. That goes for coaches and players. Practices are slightly uptempo, and Gill gave each position a fresh start. Everyone wanted to know how Gill would run his program when spring began, and he gave a good look in his first 15 practices.

2. Pick leads the way. Kale Pick was the only one of Kansas’ six quarterbacks with past experience and looked like the front-runner to win the job. He and Jordan Webb emerged as the front-runners in the final week of practice before Pick took a firm hold of the job with his performance in the spring game. He threw a pair of touchdowns, including a game-winner to Christian Matthews—who he also beat out for the job.

3. Linebackers ready to play. Kansas entered the spring with way more questions on defense than offense. The linebackers answered those early on. Defensive coordinator Carl Torbush feels like he has six or seven linebackers ready to see action in the Big 12, led by Drew Dudley, the Jayhawks leading returning tackler.

Three fall questions

1. Can Gill compete in the Big 12? Gill accomplished a remarkable turnaround at Buffalo, but Kansas isn’t looking to rebuild and get back to winning eight games, Gill’s previous career high for wins in a season. Gill hasn’t competed in the Big 12 since coaching Nebraska’s wide receivers in 2004. Kansas likely won’t compete for any serious titles in 2010, but can he take a step toward doing it in the future?

2. Are the wide receivers ready? Pick is replacing record-holding quarterback Todd Reesing, but he won’t have two NFL draft picks, Dezmon Briscoe and Kerry Meier catching his passes. In their place, senior Johnathan Wilson and sophomore Bradley McDougald. McDougald has moved outside, but both will be counted on for major production this season.

3. Can Kansas find a defense? The Jayhawks finished 2009 on a seven-game losing streak, finishing at 1-7 in conference. During that span, they gave up an average of almost 36 points per game. With no major defensive stars taking the field this season, can Kansas find playmakers and make that number shrink? If they don’t, year one of the Turner Gill era won’t be much fun.

Kansas State spring wrap

May, 6, 2010
2009 overall record: 6-6

2009 conference record: 4-4

Returning starters: Offense (7), Defense (6) P/K (2)

Top returners: RB Daniel Thomas, DB Emmanuel Lamur, DB Tysyn Hartman, DB Troy Butler, DT Prizzell Brown

Key losses: WR Brandon Banks, QB Grant Gregory, WR Lamark Brown, DB Joshua Moore, TE Jaron Mastrud, OT Nick Stringer, DT Daniel Calvin, DT Jeffrey Fitzgerald

2009 statistical leaders (*returners)

Rushing: Daniel Thomas* (1,265 yards)

Passing: Grant Gregory (1,096 yards)

Receiving: Brandon Banks (705 yards)

Tackles: Emmanuel Lamur* (68)

Sacks: Jeffrey Fitzgerald (7)

Interceptions: Tysyn Hartman* (5)

Three spring answers

1. Coffman states his case…loudly. The spring began with a three-man quarterback race, and ended with Carson Coffman throwing seven touchdown passes in the spring game. Collin Klein and Sammuel Lamur will be back to compete in the fall, but Coffman’s performance, combined with his experience last season, will likely be too much for either to overcome.

2. Chris Harper won’t be taking snaps. Oregon transfer Chris Harper figured to be a factor in the quarterback race, but he elected to move to receiver and stayed there throughout the spring. His impressive size and athleticism will be used on the sidelines, rather than in the backfield.

3. Butler shining in the spring. Juco transfer Troy Butler won a starting safety job last season, but made just 46 tackles and was held without an interception. In the spring game, he picked off two passes and made eight tackles. They came against the second-team, but he’s getting to the ball, and that’s something he didn’t do often last year.

Three fall questions

1. How will the new-look receivers fit in? Kansas State has plenty of size at receiver, something it didn’t have last season. But it’s possible that all three of the Wildcats top receivers won’t have caught a pass since the 2008 season. Aubrey Quarles sat out the 2009 season, and transfers Brodrick Smith and Chris Harper could also make big impacts this season.

2. Are the Wildcats deep enough? For all the celebration around Coffman’s performance, his team’s 79-0 win in the spring game over the second-teamers suggests a wide gap in talent between only the first and second teams. If Kansas State suffers a couple injuries in the right place, could the season fall well short of expectations?

3. Playmakers wanted. Daniel Thomas is a reliable option at running back, but can the Wildcats find a way to give the offense some additional firepower? The Wildcats were short on big plays in 2010; Thomas broke runs of 25 yards or longer in just two plays. If the receivers can prove they’re deep threats, and Coffman can get them the ball, it’ll be easier for both them and Thomas to operate and produce big plays.

Missouri spring wrap

May, 6, 2010
2009 overall record: 8-5

2009 conference record: 4-4

Returning starters: Offense (9), Defense(9) P/K (1)

Top returners: QB Blaine Gabbert, RB Derrick Washington, WR Wes Kemp, LB Will Ebner, DE Aldon Smith, CB Carl Gettis, CB Kevin Rutland

Key losses: WR Danario Alexander, LB Sean Weatherspoon, DE Brian Coulter, DT Jaron Baston, OL Kurtis Gregory, P Jake Harry

2009 statistical leaders (*returners)

Rushing: Derrick Washington* (865 yards)

Passing: Blaine Gabbert (3,593 yards)

Receiving: Danario Alexander (1,781 yards)

Tackles: Sean Weatherspoon (111)

Sacks: Aldon Smith* (11.5)

Interceptions: Kevin Rutland* (2)

Three spring answers

1. Rutland speaks up. Without Missouri’s best—and loudest player—on defense, Sean Weatherspoon, Missouri needed to find a new voice opposite the offense. It’s not quite as loud, but senior cornerback Kevin Rutland emerged as the defensive leader in the spring. He’ll need to back it up with his play, but did what he could in 15 practices, picking off four passes in the Tigers’ five scrimmages.

2. Depth at receiver: Found. Experienced juniors Wes Kemp and Jerrell Jackson figured to be big factors in the passing game after Danario Alexander graduated. Not so much for sophomore T.J. Moe, who caught just two passes as a freshman, would be as big of a factor as he became in the spring. A quarterback in high school, Moe came to Missouri as the state’s Gatorade Player of the Year, and found a new position at receiver. He caught more passes during scrimmages this spring than any other Missouri receiver, including 12 in the spring game.

3. No problems backing the line. Missouri is replacing Weatherspoon, but isn’t short on talent at linebacker. It might be the team’s strongest and deepest position. Luke Lambert and Andrew Gachkar are experienced seniors, and Missouri has plenty of others who can play, including Will Ebner, Donovan Bonner and Zaviar Gooden.

Three fall questions

1. Will the secondary improve? Missouri’s pass defense was the second-worst in the conference a season ago. They’ll be fielding the same four players in the secondary, now all seniors. But will the experience mean improvement? It better, otherwise Missouri will have to score in the 30s to consistently win games.

2. How good can Blaine Gabbert and Aldon Smith be? Both have the potential to become one of, if not the best in college football at their positions. But as of now, it’s just that. Both were extremely productive in 2009, and Gabbert did most of it on a gimpy ankle. If both continue to get better like coach Gary Pinkel believes they will, a North title is certainly within reach. If not, the Tigers won’t stray far from eight wins.

3. Can the Tigers get over the hump? Oklahoma stood between Missouri’s first Big 12 title twice in the past two seasons. The Tigers were dominated by Texas in Columbia last season, and now Nebraska looks like the favorite to win the North. They’ll take on the Huskers in Lincoln this year, but for Missouri to win the Big 12, it’ll have to win more games it’s not supposed to win than it’s had to in awhile.

Nebraska spring wrap

May, 6, 2010
2009 overall record: 10-4

2009 conference record: 6-2

Returning starters: Offense (8), Defense (8) P/K (2)

Top returners: RB Roy Helu Jr., DT Jared Crick, CB Prince Amukamara, QB Zac Lee, RB Rex Burkhead, WR Niles Paul, OL Keith Williams, P/K Alex Henery

Key losses: DT Ndamukong Suh, S Larry Asante, LB Phillip Dillard, S Matt O’Hanlon, DE Barry Turner, C Jacob Hickman

2009 statistical leaders (*returners)

Rushing: Roy Helu Jr.* (1,147 yards)

Passing: Zac Lee* (2,143 yards)

Receiving: Niles Paul* (796 yards)

Tackles: Ndamukong Suh (85)

Sacks: Ndamukong Suh (12)

Interceptions: Matt O’Hanlon (6)

Three spring answers

1. Defensive identity. The word “Peso” took on a whole new meaning in Nebraska this spring. Though not as revolutionary as some figured it to be, the five defensive back set helped the Huskers finish strong in 2009 and inspired the Mexican currency-inspired moniker in spring 2010. The lynchpin of the Peso is defensive back Eric Hagg, who plays the safety/linebacker hybrid position.

2. Taylor Martinez emerges. Tales of his speed leaked out during spring practices, and Martinez put on a show in the spring game, running for 60 yards and throwing for 79. The redshirt freshman injected himself into the quarterback race this spring, further muddying a logjam at the top for the Huskers.

3. Second target found. Mike McNeill moved from tight end to receiver this spring, but will still play some tight end in a hybrid role, and Nebraska needed to find a second option opposite Niles Paul. Brandon Kinnie looks like the answer. He’s been competitive with Paul in the spring and caught a 36-yard score in which the 230-pounder dragged the pile 10 yards into the end zone. Will Henry caught a 72-yard score in the game, and should be a factor in the passing game as well.

Three fall questions

1. Who’s the QB? Last year’s starter, Zac Lee, sat out the spring after undergoing offseason surgery on his throwing arm. Sophomore Cody Green played in spots last season, and had a good spring. But Martinez has some fan support after his spring and will likely play at least some role in the offense. Nebraska needs its quarterback play to improve if it wants to make the jump to national title contender this year, but who gets the task hasn’t been determined.

2. Is the defense going to sustain? The Pelini brothers aren’t fretting about their defense, despite losing five members of the Blackshirts to the NFL, saying the defense will be “five times better” than it was last season. An improvement is a possibility in the fall, but the defense allowed a nation-best 10.4 points a game in 2009, a tough number to duplicate for a second season without players like Ndamukong Suh, Larry Asante and Phillip Dillard.

3. Burkhead vs. Helu. Rex Burkhead returned from a stress fracture in his foot and received more carries than Roy Helu Jr., who finished the season with 1,147 yards. Burkhead, a former high school quarterback, allows Nebraska’s Wildcat formation to be more versatile, and is shiftier than Helu, but Helu is more experienced, and runs with a slashing style. They’ll enter the fall likely receiving near equal carries, but that balance could shift as the season progresses.

Oklahoma spring wrap

May, 6, 2010
2009 overall record: 8-5

2009 conference record: 5-3

Returning starters: Offense (9), Defense(4) P/K (2)

Top returners: QB Landry Jones, RB DeMarco Murray, LB Travis Lewis, S Quinton Carter, WR Ryan Broyles, DE Jeremy Beal, DE Frank Alexander

Key losses: DT Gerald McCoy, OL Trent Williams, QB Sam Bradford, RB Chris Brown, DE Auston English, OL Brian Simmons, OL Brody Eldridge

2009 statistical leaders (*returners)

Rushing: Chris Brown (774 yards)

Passing: Landry Jones* (3,198 yards)

Receiving: Ryan Broyles* (1,120 yards)

Tackles: Travis Lewis* (108)

Sacks: Jeremy Beal* (11)

Interceptions: Brian Jackson (4)

Three spring answers

1. O-line no longer offensive. Coach Bob Stoops tabbed his offensive and defensive lines as two of the most improved units on the team, a big difference from a year ago when Stoops called out his offensive linemen for not working hard enough. Part of the problem last season was injuries, and right guard Eric Mensik was lost for six weeks with an MCL injury, but even without their three best blockers from a season ago, the line is further ahead as a unit than they were last spring.

2. Young talent rising. Plenty of young players didn’t get on the field in 2009, for various reasons, whether it be injury, more experienced talent, or still being in high school. But linebackers Tom Wort and Ronnell Lewis, along with cornerback Demontre Hurst and receiver Kenny Stills could be big parts of Oklahoma’s 2010 team. Lewis will help replace one of the linebacker positions vacated by Ryan Reynolds and Keenan Clayon, but moved around in the spring. Wort is a likely starter as well after missing all of last season with a torn ACL. Hurst will help replace one of the corner positions vacated by Dominique Franks and Brian Jackson. And Stills could start for a receiving corps that struggled in 2009.

3. Lewis takes the reins. Oklahoma’s defense won’t be short on talent, headlined by defensive ends Jeremy Beal and Frank Alexander. But junior linebacker Travis Lewis, the team’s leading tackler as a sophomore, is ready to take over as the voice of the team, talking plenty of trash before the spring game and backing it up with his play, helping his team pitch a shutout. Gerald McCoy was the heart of the defense last season. This year, it’s Travis Lewis.

Three fall questions

1. Can the Sooners stay healthy? The theme for last season was injuries everywhere for the Sooners. Stoops says confidently he isn’t changing a thing, and it’s the right move. But it won’t stop fans—and maybe a couple of coaches—from cringing every time a player goes down awkwardly. Injuries turned the Sooners from a national title contender into an eight-win team a year ago, and another year of getting beat up could add to the frustration.

2. How much better will Landry Jones be? Jones played well when forced into action early by Sam Bradford’s injured shoulder. He played poorly in games against Texas and Nebraska, but finished the season with a career-high 418 yards and three touchdowns against Stanford. Jones is loaded with potential, and Stoops is optimistic at how Jones will look after a full spring and fall as starter.

3. Do the Sooners have a kicker? Jimmy Stevens lost his job to walk-on Patrick O’Hara late last season, but the two combined were just 1-of-8 from beyond 40 yards last season. A rainy spring game did little to settle the spring debate, and a couple misses on reasonable kicks by whoever wins the job in the fall could lead to another switch.

Oklahoma State spring wrap

May, 6, 2010
2009 overall record: 9-4

2009 conference record: 6-2

Returning starters: Offense (4), Defense(4) P/K (2)

Top returners: DE Ugo Chinasa, RB Kendall Hunter, WR Hubert Anyiam, S Markelle Martin, K Dan Bailey, P Quinn Sharp

Key losses: QB Zac Robinson, OL Russell Okung, RB Keith Toston, WR Dez Bryant, LB Donald Booker, CB Perrish Cox, LB Andre Sexton, LB Patrick Lavine, S Lucien Antoine

2009 statistical leaders (*returners)

Rushing: Keith Toston (1,218 yards)

Passing: Zac Robinson (2,084 yards)

Receiving: Hubert Anyiam (515 yards)

Tackles: Donald Booker (99)

Sacks: Ugo Chinasa* (6.5)

Interceptions: Patrick Lavine (5)

Three spring answers

1. Learning the offense: Oklahoma State looks on schedule in learning new offensive coordinator Dana Holgorsen’s spread attack, one he used to coordinate the best offense in college football at Houston last season. Brandon Weeden is the unquestioned starter after the spring, including a nice finish in the spring game when the junior threw four touchdown passes.

2. Kendall Hunter: New ends, different means. Coach Mike Gundy estimates Hunter will touch the ball around 250 times next season, but he won’t be doing it on the ground. Instead, he’ll be catching the ball in space, using his shiftiness to make defenders miss and pile up yards for the Cowboys. Holgorsen says Hunter is even better than he thought, and they’ll both want to prove it in the fall after Hunter’s disappointing 2009 season.

3. He’s no Lemon. Defensive coordinator Bill Young believes linebacker Orie Lemon is the best middle linebacker in the country, and Lemon had one of the best springs of any player on the Cowboy defense. He missed the entire 2009 season after tearing his ACL in fall camp, and will be ready to get back on the field this fall.

Three fall questions

1. Will Weeden be the next Keenum? At Houston under Holgorsen, Case Keenum threw for almost 1,500 more yards than the second-best in football in 2009. No one’s expecting Weeden to throw for 5,600 yards in 2010 (or throw it almost 700 times), but if he can elevate his status to one of the conference’s best quarterbacks, Holgorsen will have another impressive bullet on his resume and the Cowboys will have a few more wins.

2. Can the O-line assert itself? Will it have to? The offensive line is replacing the NFL Draft’s No. 6 pick and four-year starter Russell Okung, along with three other starters. Will they be good enough to get Holgorsen’s offense humming? With the system’s quick-release passing, it might not have to hold for long.

3. Can the Cowboys exceed expectations in a rebuilding year? After falling short of the South title in 2009 with Zac Robinson, Dez Bryant (at least part of the time) and Okung, expectations are measured in what’s somewhat of a rebuilding year for the Cowboys. They have a great chance to parlay a 4-0 non-conference record into a bowl game, but how many more wins will the Cowboys have in conference? Only the fall knows.

Texas spring wrap

May, 6, 2010
2009 overall record: 13-1

2009 conference record: 8-0

Returning starters: Offense (6), Defense(7) P/K (1)

Top returners: CB Chykie Brown, CB Aaron Williams, S Blake Gideon, WR James Kirkendoll, RB Tre’ Newton, DE Sam Acho, DT Eddie Jones, DT Kheeston Randall

Key losses: QB Colt McCoy, WR Jordan Shipley, DE Sergio Kindle, S Earl Thomas, DT Lamarr Houston, OL Adam Ulatowski, OL Charlie Tanner, LB Roddrick Muckelroy, WR Dan Buckner (transfer)

2009 statistical leaders (*returners)

Rushing: Tre’ Newton* (552 yards)

Passing: Colt McCoy (3,521 yards)

Receiving: Jordan Shipley (1,485 yards)

Tackles: Roddrick Muckelroy (84)

Sacks: Sam Acho* (7)

Interceptions: Earl Thomas (8)

Three spring answers

1. Check out the new style. Texas is going under center. And while offensive coordinator Greg Davis warns the style change isn’t as radical as some believe, it’s still a departure from the spread attack under the accurate Colt McCoy, which was a departure from the zone read scheme under the athletic Vince Young. If the running game materializes, everything else will come easier for the Longhorns.

2. National Championship was no fluke. The hype surrounding Garrett Gilbert’s impending ascension to starter this spring was expanded tenfold by his performance in the national championship game after McCoy was sidelined with a shoulder injury. This spring, as best he could, he validated that hype. He’s taken control of the team, and performed solidly all spring, capped off by an impressive 10-of-13 for 165 yards and three touchdowns in the spring game.

3. Secondary strengths. After this spring, Mack Brown believes his secondary has three NFL-bound defensive backs in Chykie Brown, Curtis Brown and Aaron Williams. They could terrorize Big 12 quarterbacks this season, even though they lost safety and first-round pick Earl Thomas to the NFL last season.

Three fall questions

1. Will the broken record fix itself? The past couple springs have been all about establishing the running game in Austin. The past two falls have come and gone without a solid, consistent runner for Texas. This year, Tre’ Newton and Fozzy Whittaker have separated from a talented group of running backs as the featured runners in the offense heading into fall. If they’re not productive, we’ll be right back here again next spring.

2. What receivers will fit where? Other than Jordan Shipley, no Texas receiver could be counted on for Colt McCoy. Now, players like Malcolm Williams, James Kirkendoll, DeSean Hales, Marquise Goodwin and John Chiles will try to change that. But when fall comes, so does the nation’s best receiving class. Texas signed two of the top three receivers and three of the top 11, as well as ATH Demarco Cobbs, who could also play receiver. Mike Davis, Darius White and Chris Jones will be nipping at the heels of any older receivers who slip up in preseason camp.

3. Will the dominance over Oklahoma continue? The Red River Rivalry has favored the south side, Texas, in four of the past five seasons. As usual, the Sooners and Longhorns will meet again at the Cotton Bowl in October, and Oklahoma will be hungry to reverse their fortunes against the burnt orange. How Texas responds will have a big impact on the South race, even though a victory in the 2008 game didn’t put the Longhorns into the Big 12 title game.

Texas A&M spring wrap

May, 6, 2010
2009 overall record: 6-7

2009 conference record: 3-5

Returning starters: Offense (8), Defense (9), P/K (2)

Top returners: QB Jerrod Johnson, LB Von Miller, WR Jeff Fuller, RB Christine Michael, RB Cyrus Gray, DT Lucas Patterson, DB Trent Hunter, WR Uzoma Nwachukwu

Key losses: S Jordan Pugh, OL Michael Shumard, OL Kevin Matthews, OL Lee Grimes

2009 statistical leaders (*returners)

Rushing: Christine Michael* (844 yards)

Passing: Jerrod Johnson* (3,579 yards)

Receiving: Uzoma Nwachukwu* (708 yards)

Tackles: Trent Hunter* (95)

Sacks: Von Miller* (16.5)

Interceptions: Jordan Pugh (3)

Three spring answers

1. Found a place for Von Miller. Von Miller will play the “Joker” position, a hybrid defensive end/linebacker spot in new defensive coordinator Tim DeRuyter’s 3-4 alignment. It seems like a natural fit for the 6-foot-3, 240-pounder who led the nation in sacks last season.

2. Embracing DeRuyter’s schemes. After fielding the worst defense in the Big 12 last season and ranking 104th nationally in scoring defense, the Aggie D was ready for a change. It cam in the form of DeRuyter, who coached Air Force’s defense last season into the national top 10. Texas A&M’s defenders were clearly receptive to DeRuyter’s new approach and are ready to erase a forgettable year.

3. Joeckel can’t hide. Texas A&M is replacing three offensive linemen from last year’s team, but its new left tackle might be true freshman Luke Joeckel. The Arlington, Texas product and No. 83 on the ESPNU 150 enrolled early as the nation’s No. 6 offensive tackle prospect. He drew rave reviews from coach Mike Sherman—reluctantly, Sherman admitted—and left the spring as the starter. If the Aggies make it back to Joeckel’s hometown for the Big 12 title game, he’ll be a reason why.

Three fall questions

1. Will the defense be good enough? The offense scored the third-most points in the Big 12 last season, but still won just six games. The easy culprit is the defense, which gave up over 40 points on five occasions in 2009, and 60-plus in a pair of other losses. The offense still returns eight starters, so they won’t need to be dominant, just better. We won’t know how much better until the fall.

2. Will the offense repeat its performance behind a new line? Oklahoma experienced it last season, and Texas A&M could be a candidate in 2010. The best way to derail a dominant offense is replacing starters on the offensive line. Oklahoma went from the best offense in the history of college football to fourth in the Big 12. If the turnover process doesn’t go better for the Aggies, they could see a similar drop.

3. Is this “The Year?” Texas A&M is the only team other than Texas or Oklahoma to represent the South in the Big 12 title game, but they haven’t done it since winning the Big 12 title in 1998. Is this the year the Aggies make it back? They’ll have their best team under Sherman, and unlike Oklahoma State a year ago, they won’t begin their campaign with Oklahoma and Texas entering the season as frontrunners for the national title. If they’re going to sneak up and snatch the South, this will be their best chance in awhile.

Texas Tech spring wrap

May, 6, 2010
2009 overall record: 9-4

2009 conference record: 5-3

Returning starters: Offense (7), Defense (6) P/K (2)

Top returners: QB Steven Sheffield, WR Detron Lewis, QB Taylor Potts, RB Baron Batch, WR Alex Torres, CB LaRon Moore, DT Colby Whitlock, LB Brian Duncan, LB Bront Bird

Key losses: DE Brandon Sharpe, OL Brandon Carter, CB Jamar Wall, OL Marlon Winn, LB Marlon Williams, DE Daniel Howard

2009 statistical leaders (*returners)

Rushing: Baron Batch* (884 yards)

Passing: Taylor Potts* (3,440 yards)

Receiving: Detron Lewis* (844 yards)

Tackles: Brian Duncan* (87)

Sacks: Brandon Sharpe (15)

Interceptions: Franklin Mitchem*, LaRon Moore*, Jamar Wall (2)

Three spring answers

1. Business as usual. The offense will remain the same under new coordinator Neal Brown, like he said it would. Other than differences in terminology and how plays are relayed to the quarterback, the offense will be similar to former coach Mike Leach’s. One big difference is that quarterbacks will have the green light to tuck the ball and run if the opportunity arises.

2. Let's run this town. Brown says the Red Raiders will run more next season. The main reason is his offense’s depth at running back. Texas Tech has three running backs who could be factors in leading rusher Baron Batch, as well as sophomores Harrison Jeffers and Eric Stephens. The pass will still be king in Lubbock, but the running game will likely be featured more than it ever was under Leach.

3. Taking out their aggression. Former defensive coordinator Ruffin McNeill is gone to East Carolina. He took with him his bend-but-don’t-break defensive approach. Now, Texas Tech will be dictating the action with former Alabama linebackers coach James Willis coordinating the defense. He helped the Crimson Tide win a national title in 2009 with his blitz-happy schemes that force defenses to make difficult throws instead of preventing the big play at the cost of giving up underneath passes.

Three fall questions

1. What happens once the QBs become healthy again? Steven Sheffield and Taylor Potts’ battle for the QB job ended early this spring when Sheffied re-broke his foot and Taylor Potts suffered a serious laceration to his throwing hand. Both underwent surgery midway through the team’s 15 practices and did little to settle the quarterback debate. Sheffield likely had a slight edge when the two were injured, but they’ll pick up where they left off—this time with more urgency—in the fall.

2. What happens if Brown’s offense stalls? The offense, even directed by two inexperienced quarterbacks, flourished late in the spring. But if Sheffield or Potts are unable to complete a high enough percentage of their passes or move the ball, will the Red Raiders depend even more on the run? If the offense doesn’t continue its run of piling up gawdy numbers against Big 12 defenses, will the spread return in 2011?

3. Will Tech fans embrace Tommy Tuberville? Mike Leach was perhaps the most beloved figure in the history of the program. Among the fans, at least. Will the fans cozy up to his less colorful, less quotable replacement? If he wins, it’ll be easy. Tuberville’s been historically more successful than Leach, but the bar in Lubbock has been set by Leach, who won more games than any coach in Texas Tech history.