Big 12: Brian Mitchell

2012 record: 7-6
2012 Big 12 record: 4-5
Returning starters: Offense: 3; defense: 6; kicker/punter: 0

Top returners: S Karl Joseph, LB Isaiah Bruce, OL Quinton Spain, RB Andrew Buie, RB Dustin Garrison, DL Will Clarke, S Darwin Cook

Key losses: WR Tavon Austin, QB Geno Smith, WR Stedman Bailey, C Joe Madsen, LB Terence Garvin, LB Josh Francis, OG Jeff Braun

2012 statistical leaders (*returners)

Passing: Geno Smith (4,198 yards)
Rushing: Andrew Buie* (850 yards)
Receiving: Stedman Bailey (1,627 yards)
Tackles: Karl Joseph* (102)
Sacks: Terence Garvin (6)
Interceptions: Karl Joseph*, Isaiah Bruce* (2)

Spring answers:

1. Passing weapons found. The Mountaineers sorted out their receivers and found some solid replacements for Tavon Austin and Stedman Bailey to help ease the transition to a new quarterback. K.J. Myers and Connor Arlia had solid springs, along with newcomer Kevin White, a junior college transfer. Jordan Thompson closed with a big spring game, but he has to prove he can do it in a real game.

2. Corners hit the reset button. Cornerbacks coach Daron Roberts is gone, replaced by Brian Mitchell. Pat Miller graduated, but the corners are strating from scratch this spring. Brodrick Jenkins reclaimed his starting spot, and a pair of young players in Nana Kyeremeh and Brandon Napolean should be in the rotation on the opposite side, too. This was the biggest problem area for the defense last season, which looked completely overmatched against Big 12 offenses.

3. Strength in (backfield) numbers. Dana Holgorsen has a reputation as a guy who wants to throw it all around the yard, but that's not necessarily true. This year, he may prove it. WVU will throw it plenty, but running back may be this team's biggest strength. Dustin Garrison is finally healthy and 2012 leading rusher Andrew Buie returns. Juco transfer Dreamius Smith provides even more help at the position. WVU couldn't run the ball consistently last season, but look for them to do it often in the fall.

Fall questions

1. Who's the quarterback? The spring closed with a quarterback competition coach Dana Holgorsen described as "wide open." Texas natives Paul Millard and Ford Childress are neck and neck, and that competition will extend into the fall. Millard has more experience. Childress has more arm strength. This one will be unpredictable going into fall. Anything could happen.

2. Is the defense adjusting? All the leadership and experience this season is on the defensive side of the ball, a stark change from last year's team, where the components of the passing game were better than just about anyone in the Big 12. The new league's offenses got the best of WVU's defense last season, but can they prove they learned from those bumps in the road? No guarantees on that one.

3. Sorting out the offensive line. Joe Madsen leaves a big hole at center for the Mountaineers, and just two starters return from last year's unit. Ron Crook came from Stanford to replace departed OL coach Bill Bedenbaugh and the battle to replace Madsen at center is one of the most interesting. Senior Pat Eger closed the spring as the starter, beating out redshirt freshman Tyler Orlosky, but juco transfer Stone Underwood will muddy up that race come fall.
We'll take a look at some of the Big 12's breakout stars this spring, but we'll move forward with a series looking at guys who will be stepping into bigger roles this season and what they have to provide. Some are going from being role players to starters. Some are going from starter to star. Some from stars to bona fide superstars.

Let's finish up with West Virginia.

West Virginia's spring steps forward: Cornerback Brodrick Jenkins

West Virginia's defense had a whole bunch of issues last season, but cornerback was definitely one of the biggest. In fairness, WVU didn't manage much of a pass rush, but the secondary's cover skills left a lot to be desired in a league with receiver talent that absolutely demands it.

Jenkins will be a senior this season and the Mountaineers' lone returning starter at cornerback with Pat Miller gone. Position coach Daron Roberts was fired at the end of last season and replaced with Brian Mitchell, but West Virginia's secondary has a chance to become something of a strength in 2013. Safeties Karl Joseph and Darwin Cook return, and Joseph was the defense's best overall player last season. They'll be much less effective if the cornerback play doesn't improve, however. That's got to start with Jenkins, who made 31 tackles last season but intercepted just one pass, breaking up only two more.

He's got to be better. This isn't the Big East anymore. Any deficiencies in the secondary will be found and exposed by the Big 12's offenses, both in scheme and talent. Offenses in this league make you cover the whole field, and players in the secondary obviously cover the most ground. If you're strong there in the Big 12, you can definitely make an impact. If you're not, even with the best offensive skill talent in the league, you'll be spinning your wheels. West Virginia experienced that firsthand last season.

The cornerbacks were a frustration last season, but WVU's defense can make moves in the right direction if Jenkins closes his career with a strong 2013, his second season as a full-time starter.

See more Big 12 spring steps forward.
Only a few more minutes, folks. It's now or never on the Big 12 Blog Readers pool.
West Virginia's spring practice is already underway. Let's take a closer look.

Schedule: West Virginia began the first of its 15 NCAA-allowed spring practices on Sunday, which will conclude on April 20 with the annual Blue-Gold Spring Game at Milan Puskar Stadium.

What's new: To quote one Andy Dwyer: "Ummm, A WHOLE LOT!" To my knowledge, there aren't any super straws roaming around Morgantown, but there are a whole lot of new changes on offense and on the defensive coaching staff. We'll tackle each of those a bit later in the post.

New faces: Seven players from the 2013 recruiting class will be practicing this spring for the Mountaineers, headlined by a pair of juco signees who could have an immediate impact. Receiver Kevin White is a 6-foot-4, 210-pounder from a junior college in Pennsylvania, who could help boost a depleted receiving corps, and Kansas native Dreamius Smith, a 5-10, 215-pound running back, is in Morgantown after a huge juco career that included a national title. They'll be joined by QB Chavas Rawlins, RB Wendell Smallwood, WR Daikiel Shorts, S Malik Greaves and LB Hodari Christian.

All eyes on: The quarterbacks. Geno Smith grew into an NFL first-round pick under Dana Holgorsen, but he's gone, and WVU will have one of the highest-quality quarterback competitions in the league. Texas natives Paul Millard and Ford Childress will go head to head this spring. Millard has the experience, and if I were guessing, I'd say Childress has the fan vote. Holgorsen and his staff's vote is the only one that matters, and they'll be campaigning all spring. This one looks like it'll be tight, but I liked what I saw from both when I visited Morgantown last spring and saw them up close.

Much to prove: Nobody's got more to prove than the defense, which proved exactly nothing in its first year in the Big 12. It looked unprepared to handle the high-powered offenses, and outside of some good debuts from freshmen Karl Joseph and Isaiah Bruce, looked pretty short on overall talent. Keith Patterson is taking the play-calling reins from Joe DeForest and cornerbacks coach Daron Roberts was shown the door in favor of Brian Mitchell, who will try and fix a problem position from 2012.

Question marks: WVU had one of the best receiving duos in Big 12 history last season with Tavon Austin and Stedman Bailey stringing together seasons that were certainly worthy of a Biletnikoff Award in several other seasons. They're gone, and transfers mean five of WVU's top six receivers are all gone, leaving sophomore and spring 2012 breakout star Jordan Thompson behind as the top target after a quiet 2012 season once the fall arrived. It needs to find targets fast, and that could be influenced heavily by which guys develop chemistry with which quarterbacks, and which QB eventually wins the job.

Don't forget about: DL Will Clarke. He wasn't super strong last season, but he's a physical freak who might progress in Year 2 of this defensive scheme. The 6-7, 273-pounder moved to defensive tackle last year, and made 6.5 tackles for loss with 1.5 sacks. It didn't meet his expectations, but as a fifth-year senior in 2013, he might go out with a bang.

Lunch links: Texas nixes Thurs. game vs. Huskers

January, 26, 2010
1/26/10
1:14
PM ET
How about a few hot Big 12 links for your lunchtime edification?

My doctor tells me that these nuggets are better than orange juice or hot chicken soup to keep away the common cold.

So here's to your health by reading these.

Big 12 links: Jeffcoat, McNeill, Leavitt could be on Stoops' radar

January, 19, 2010
1/19/10
12:45
PM ET
In the middle of all of the stuff we're putting together looking back at the past decade, there's still some news across the Big 12.

Here are some of the conference's most notable headlines for your noontime edification.

McNeill, Riley sent packing in Texas Tech coaching change

January, 14, 2010
1/14/10
9:46
AM ET
The coaches who were most directly responsible for helping direct Texas Tech to the Red Raiders' victory over Michigan State in the Valero Alamo Bowl won't be a part of Tommy Tuberville's new staff.

Interim coach/defensive coordinator Ruffin McNeill and inside receivers coach Lincoln Riley were among six coaches who were let go by Tuberville.

McNeill worked as the interim coach after Mike Leach was fired the week before the game. And Riley served as the Red Raiders' offensive coordinator, juggling the quarterback switch where Steven Sheffield was inserted in place of Taylor Potts in the middle of the fourth quarter to direct the comeback victory.

Other coaches from Leach's staff who won't be retained include running backs coach Clay McGuire, safeties coach Carlos Mainord, cornerbacks coach Brian Mitchell and special teams coordinator Eric Russell.

Among former members of Leach's staff who survived the coaching switch included offensive line coach Matt Moore, defensive ends coach Charlie Sadler and Sonny Cumbie, who is a graduate assistant for the offense. Wide receivers coach Dennis Simmons also will be retained in some capacity with Tuberville's staff.

McNeill directed the transformation of the Red Raiders' defense over the last 2 1/2 seasons. The Red Raiders finished 2009 ranked fourth nationally in sacks, but only 94th in turnover margin.

Alabama associate head coach/linebacker coach James Willis appears to have the inside track on becoming Tuberville's new defensive coordinator. The Fort Worth Star-Telegram reported that Willis has been Lubbock the last two days with his family attempting to get settled in the area.

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