Big 12: Brayden Burris
Next up: Iowa State.
Strongest position: Offensive line
Iowa State's run the ball pretty well lately, and that should be case yet again in 2013. Four starters return from last season's solid offensive line, and they've taken to calling themselves "The Union." That union will serve the Cyclones well after losing only left tackle Carter Bykowski from last year's team in the second half of the season. Center Tom Farniok has shown tons of promise early in his career, and the junior will be flanked by a pair of seniors at guard: Ethan Tuftee and Kyle Lichtenberg. Farniok, with 26 starts, is actually the team's most experienced player, leading Tuftee by three starts. Jacob Gannon should hold down the right tackle spot. The strength of the line is in the middle, but losing Brayden Burris last year to injury was a huge loss, but the Cyclones adjusted and the offensive line should be a huge strength that makes things a whole lot easier on the skill positions, which are much stronger at running back than in the passing game.
Weakest position: Receiver and/or defensive line
You can't really pick between these two, where a whole lot of work is needed for the Cyclones. Three starters and five overall contributors on the 10-man rotation along the defensive line are gone, and starter Willie Scott, a rising senior, is currently suspended after an arrest on suspicion of possession of a controlled substance earlier this month. The unit was improved last season with Jake McDonough and Roosevelt Maggitt holding things down, but finding new talent to fill those voids this season is a tough task.
It might be even tougher at receiver. All three of the team's leading receivers -- Aaron Horne, Josh Lenz and Chris Young -- are all gone, and the leading returning receiver is tight end Ernst Brun Jr. Iowa State's receivers were already quite average, and judging by Big 12 standards, below average. Quenton Bundrage, Albert Gary and Jarvis West headline the unit, which should also get some help from sophomore Tad Ecby.
Next up: Iowa State.
Jacques Washington, S: Washington flew around the field for an underrated Iowa State secondary last year, finishing third on the team with 90 tackles. He's back this season, and the 6-foot-1, 213-pound junior should have a big impact. He was all over the place in the biggest win in school history, the November upset of No. 2 Oklahoma State that sent the Cyclones to a bowl game for the second time in three seasons. He forced a fumble and nabbed his first career interception. In his second year as a full-time starter, he just may blossom into one of the league's stars.
Brayden Burris, OT: Kelechi Osemele was the man everyone kept an eye on in Iowa State's offensive line, but the coaches have been lauding Burris this offseason. Is it possible he could be even better than Osemele? Burris suffered a broken leg against Texas, but returned in the final two games of the season against Kansas State and Rutgers, holding down the right tackle spot opposite Osemele.
Jarvis West, WR: West is the most explosive talent on Iowa State's roster other than a healthy Shontrelle Johnson, and Iowa State's going to get him the ball a lot more this season. The shifty 5-foot-7, 165-pounder is tough to get a solid shot on, and he makes a big impact on special teams, too. He caught four passes for 34 yards in the win over Oklahoma State and finished the season with 25 catches for 141 yards and an average of 26 yards on his 22 kick returns. He's not terribly consistent in his production, but he's a handful for defenses, and should only be moreso as a sophomore this season.
Here's what we've covered so far:
This group is subject to more change during the season than perhaps any other position. You never quite know how chemistry will develop, and in these rankings, you really have to rely heavily on experience, similar to quarterbacks. It's not the only factor, but you have to acknowledge that it's a major one.
So, here's how I rank them:
2. Baylor: The Bears might be a bit of a surprise here, but Baylor's strong skill-position talents wouldn't look nearly as good without this group, which lost a first-round pick at left tackle in Danny Watkins. However, Philip Blake is one of the league's best centers and four starters return from a line that helped Baylor finish second in the Big 12 last season in yards per carry, just behind Nebraska but nearly a half-yard more than Oklahoma State, the third-place team.
3. Missouri: The Tigers suffered a big loss in center Tim Barnes, a three-year starter and the offensive line's leader, but they return four starters from last season line and have the most career starts on the line of any team in the Big 12, with 105, which ranks 11th nationally.
4. Texas A&M: A&M's rising sophomore tackles, Luke Joeckel and Jake Matthews, had to learn on the go last season, but their development should be fun to watch this season on an offensive line blocking for the Big 12's best overall collection of skill-position talents. The line returns four starters, replacing only center Matt Allen.
5. Oklahoma: The Sooners' goal-line problems last season cost them a game at Texas A&M, but this line was very solid the rest of the season and has plenty of upside. Likely starter Jarvis Jones won't be available until perhaps October, so the Sooners will turn to touted redshirt freshman Daryl Williams at right tackle in the interim. Center Ben Habern and tackle Tyler Evans add a lot of experience.
6. Texas Tech: Tech boasts one of the Big 12's best guards in Lonnie Edwards, but don't be surprised if Mickey Okafor grabs the Big 12's first-team spot at right tackle by season's end. The Red Raiders return all five starters, and will have to play well to support new faces at every skill position on offense.
7. Kansas: Four of the Jayhawks' starters are juniors and another is a senior, and for all of KU's struggles last season, it did have some success running the ball in spots, even though its 1,615 total rush yards were the fewest in the Big 12. James Sims (742 yards, 9 TDs) returns and KU adds a possible home-run threat in Darrian Miller, but the offensive line returns 97 total starts, 15th-most in college football and second-most in the Big 12. That has to pay off eventually, if not this season.
8. Iowa State: The Cyclones boast the league's best left tackle, Kelechi Osemele, but center Ben Lamaak is gone and ISU might turn to redshirt freshman Tom Farniok as his replacement. Brayden Burris is solid at right tackle, but sophomore Ethan Tuftee, who has very little experience (just five appearances total), enters fall camp as the starter at right guard.
9. Texas: No, I don't know how this happens. But it's hard to deny. Run blocking has been a struggle for Texas, and new position coach Stacy Searels will have to change that for the Longhorns, who have kept quiet about any real depth-chart developments throughout the spring and into fall camp. Tray Allen's health is a concern, but Mason Walters played well in 2010 and David Snow has a lot of experience at center with 19 starts and 39 appearances. If this group can't ascend in these rankings during the season, Texas' turnaround from last season 5-7 campaign will not happen. Texas, though, has the fewest career starts in the Big 12, with 36, which ranks 105th nationally.
10. Kansas State: Kansas State has had the Big 12's leading rusher the past two seasons, but he's gone and so are three offensive linemen, including the unit's best blocker, guard Zach Kendall. Center Wade Weibert and guard Kenneth Mayfield also are gone, leaving gaps in the interior. Senior Zach Hanson joins Manese Foketi and Clyde Aufner on a unit that returns just 42 career starts, second-fewest in the Big 12 and 97th-most in college football.
All that's missing is Lil' Penny, a puppet (OK, marionette) before puppets (Yes you, LeBron and Kobe) were cool.
- Texas' Chris Whaley, who had a nice spring game at running back, is moving to H-back for the Longhorns, reports Alan Trubow of the Austin American-Statesman. He also has a few other Longhorn notes, including an update on the race to back up Garrett Gilbert.
- Bob Stoops says the reward for a tough nonconference schedule isn't what it used to be, reports John Henderson of the Denver Post.
- Kansas State's Bill Snyder wants to pick his quarterback 10 days before the opener, reports Austin Meek of the Topeka Capital-Journal.
- Tom Kensler of the Denver Post caught up with the newest Buffalo, receiver Travon Patterson, whose transfer from USC was finalized late Monday.
- In case you've misplaced the Longhorns, you can find them on one of Sports Illustrated's regional covers for its college football preview issue.
- Oklahoma has a group of five talented running backs playing backup to DeMarco Murray, and it's remarkable that running backs coach Cale Gundy has been able to recruit only backs without prima donna attitudes, writes Jake Trotter of The Oklahoman.
- Kansas will play Rice, at Northern Illinois and South Dakota State in its 2012 nonconference schedule.
- A side effect of the Peso defense is added depth at linebacker for the Huskers, and Brian Rosenthal of the Lincoln Journal Star gives a look at the four guys competing for the two interchangeable starting spots: Will Compton, Eric Martin, Sean Fisher and juco transfer Lavonte David.
- Colorado's Nate Solder is the third-best tackle in the 2011 draft class, according to The Sporting News' Russ Lande.
- Iowa State's two new starters on the O-line, the alliterative Hayworth Hicks and Brayden Burris, are changing their diets to move in opposite directions, writes Randy Peterson of the Des Moines Register.
- Oklahoma State receiver Justin Blackmon feels like he has an opportunity to be the offense's No. 1 receiver, reports Brandon Chatmon of The Oklahoman.
- Tom Keegan at the Lawrence Journal-World says KU football is a tough sell in 2010, which wasn't the case a year ago.
Brayden Burris, RT
Burris started just one game (Texas A&M) a season ago, but left the spring as the Cyclones' starter at right tackle. Iowa State has lots of talent at the skill positions, specifically at quarterback in Austen Arnaud and Alexander Robinson at running back. The 6-foot-6, 276-pound sophomore will be responsible for making sure that talent gets a chance to showcase itself. He'll start opposite left tackle Kelechi Osemele, one of the Big 12's best linemen, so the bar for success on the offense's front line will be high.
Jake Knott and A.J. Klein, LBs
Iowa State's starting 22 features just three sophomores, including special teams. Knott and Klein join Burris as the other two. Just four starters return on defense, but hopes are high that Knott and Klein will be reasons that the drop-off from Jesse Smith, who led the Big 12 with 135 stops a season ago, won't be too dramatic. The two combined for 40 tackles as freshmen, and still have plenty to learn, but they'll do it as starting outside linebackers likely flanking fellow first-year starter and juco transfer Matt Tau'fo'ou in the middle.
Darius Reynolds, WR
The 6-foot-3, 190-pound juco transfer looked like a strong candidate for Big 12 Offensive Newcomer of the Year in 2009, catching 13 passes in his first two games as a Cyclone. But Reynolds, who'll be a junior in 2010, suffered a knee injury that ended his season and hurt Iowa State's depth at receiver. He's back this season and will try to recapture some of the excitement he gave fans in his debut.
More Fresh Faces:
Unfortunately, I haven't figured out how to split into a third David Ubben, so posting on the blog will be a little light this afternoon.
- Oklahoma State defensive coordinator Bill Young says his MLB, Orie Lemon, is the nation's best.
- No experience? No problem for Oklahoma's young linebackers embracing bigger roles this season.
- People are, quite literally, looking up to Kansas State's receiving corps this spring.
- Nebraska offensive coordinator Shawn Watson has no plans to tip his hand for awhile in regards to the quarterback race.
- A practice for Texas A&M over the weekend looked a little smashmouth, and the defense came out on top. And Aggie QB Jerrod Johnson got a little taste of scrimmage over the weekend, too, making a few live throws.
- Iowa State may have a breakout star in OL Brayden Burris.
- The changes on offense have been kind to Oklahoma State running back Travis Miller, who's campaigning for playing time with his play this spring.
Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Griffin
All questions aren't settled during the course of spring practice as teams still have much work to upgrade their weaknesses heading into the season.
Obviously, some will receive a boost from incoming freshmen who will arrive later. But here's how each team's biggest liability shakes out heading into the summer.
Baylor: The Bears are desperately looking for help at offensive tackle after losing No. 2 overall draft pick Jason Smith and Dan Gay as their starters. Former Canadian firefighter Danny Watkins has established himself at Smith's old position protecting Robert Griffin's blind side. And on the right side, junior Chris Griesenbeck and redshirt freshmen Cameron Kaufhold are competing for the starting job with Tyler Junior College's Phillip Blake and Blinn College's Marquis Franklin set the arrive later this summer.
Colorado: Wide receiver has been a question mark for the Buffaloes throughout Dan Hawkins' coaching tenure. The Buffaloes return four scholarship wide receivers and had a chance to work out several new players with Scotty McKnight injured during the spring. Josh Smith and Markques Simas are the top playmakers coming out of the spring. Non-scholarship players like Jason Espinoza and Ryan Maxwell emerged, but the Buffaloes definitely need a big upgrade at the position from their arriving freshman class.
Iowa State: The Cyclones will be facing a big hole at left tackle, where two-year starter Doug Dedrick departs. It could be filled by Matt Hulbert, who started two games last season when Dedrick was hurt. Or it could be massive 354-pound junior Hayworth Hicks or freshman Brayden Burris at the position. Whoever emerges will face a huge challenge in filling Dedrick's experience as he protects the blind side of the Iowa State quarterbacks.
Kansas: Coach Mark Mangino will be facing a few huge rebuilding job at linebacker, where the Jayhawks lose key contributors Joe Mortensen, Mike Rivera and James Holt from last season. Mangino is talking about using a two-linebacker set as his base defense with fifth-year senior Jake Schermer and senior Arist Wright getting the starting jobs leaving spring practice. Sophomore Steven Johnson and converted running back Angus Quigley were competing for playing time during the spring and another boost is expected when junior linebacker Justin Springer, who is recovering from a torn ACL last season, returns in the fall.
Kansas State: Carson Coffman appeared to have claimed the starting job at quarterback -- at least for a few weeks -- after a strong effort during the latter stages of spring practice. But Coffman's late binge has to be tempered considering he is playing against the weak Kansas State secondary. So it's fair to say there are some lingering questions at the position. Coffman apparently has beaten back the challenge of challengers Collin Klein, Joseph Kassanavoid, Trey Scott and Milton McPeek. But the arrival of South Florida transfer Grant Gregory and heralded junior-college transfer Daniel Thomas will mean more competition in the summer.
Missouri: The Tigers will be facing a challenge of replacing NFL first-round draft pick Evander "Ziggy" Hood at defensive tackle to play opposite nose tackle Jaron Baston. Redshirt sophomore Terrell Resonno appeared to have claimed the job out of the spring, with Dominique Hamilton, Chris Earnhardt and converted linebacker George White perhaps earning their way into the rotation.
Nebraska: After the graduation of top receivers Todd Peterson and Nate Swift from last season, the Cornhuskers need to fill both positions. Leading returning receiver Menelik Holt appears to have a hammerlock on one position, but Niles Paul lost a chance to take a big step forward after missing the spring after he was suspended for driving under the influence. Antonio Bell was the biggest surprise, but converted I-back Marcus Mendoza, Chris Brooks, Wes Cammack and Curenski Gilleylen all showed flashes during the spring.
Oklahoma: There was concern before spring practice, considering the Sooners were replacing four-fifths of their starting offensive line with only Trent Williams back from last season's starters. And it got worse when Bob Stoops called out the young replacements because of their lack of diligence in their preseason conditioning. Williams emerged at left tackle with Brian Simmons and Stephen Good at guards, redshirt freshman Ben Habern at center and either LSU transfer Jarvis Jones or Cory Brandon at right tackle. The depth took a hit when center Jason Hannan left early in training camp and sophomore guard Alex Williams chose to leave after spring practice. The group struggled against the Sooners' talented defensive line, allowing Sam Bradford to be touch-sacked twice in three possessions in the spring game and produced only 27 rushing yards in 52 carries.
Oklahoma State: The loss of veteran center David Washington produced a huge hole in the center of the Cowboys' interior line. Andrew Lewis returns to his natural position, leaving Oklahoma State needing two new starters at guard. Noah Franklin and Jonathan Rush have staked claims to the starting positions with Anthony Morgan and Nick Martinez getting repetitions inside. This group needs to improve if it hopes to equal the standards of previous seasons, when the Cowboys led the Big 12 in rushing each of the last three seasons.
Texas: The tight end was rarely used for the Longhorns after Blaine Irby dislocated his kneecap last season against Rice. He still wasn't ready to go during the spring as Greg Smith, Ahmard Howard, Ian Harris and D.J. Grant all got work. None of them emerged. And with Irby's return remaining iffy, it means the Longhorns again could reduce the use of the tight end and utilize four-receiver sets when they want to move the ball. Don't look for the Longhorns to use the tight end much unless this production improves.
Texas A&M: T
he Aggies were wracked with injuries during the spring as projected starters Lee Grimes, Kevin Matthews and Lucas Patterson were sidelined all spring as A&M was down to only nine healthy offensive linemen for some practices. It still doesn't excuse the lack of offensive production for A&M's starting unit, which produced only 9 yards rushing on 24 carries against Texas A&M's first-string defense. Coach Mike Sherman will be counting on immediate production from an impressive group of incoming freshman at fall practice, but it's fair to characterize the Aggies' offensive line as the team's biggest spring concern -- especially after allowing 39 sacks last season and ranking last in the conference in rushing yards per game.
Texas Tech: The loss of productive starters Daniel Charbonnet and Darcel McBath left a gaping hole at safety for the Red Raiders. Junior Franklin Mitchem earned the free safety position leaving spring practice and redshirt freshman Cody Davis emerged at strong safety. Jared Flannel, Brett Dewhurst and converted linebacker Julius Howard also got some snaps at safety. It will still be a challenge to combat the explosive Big 12 defenses with such an inexperienced group at the position.