Big 12: Bront Bird

We've taken a look at the Big 12 offensive skill positions in our position rankings, and we'll circle back along to the lines eventually. For now, though, we'll flip to the defensive side of the ball, starting with linebackers.

There's a lot of turnover in this space, and the bottom half was pretty hard to sort out. We haven't seen a lot of these new faces on the field for extended periods of time, so it's somewhat of a crapshoot. I don't feel like there's a wide gap between teams 7-10, and each of those squads have at least one linebacker who could be due for a huge year and shoot them up this list.

I see Nos. 1-3 possibly being great, with dropoffs before the No. 4 and No. 7 teams.

Also, if you missed them, here are the other position rankings we've done so far.
So, without further ado, here's how I ranked the linebackers. (Nickel backs are included in this list, hybrid DE/LBs will be with defensive lines)

[+] EnlargeTravis Lewis
Matthew Emmons/US PresswireOklahoma's Travis Lewis is the Big 12's top returning defender.
1. Oklahoma -- The Sooners boast the Big 12's top returning defender in Travis Lewis, who has notched at least 100 tackles in each of the past three seasons, and he'll be joined by the Big 12's co-Defensive Freshman of the Year, Tony Jefferson. Tom Wort and Corey Nelson are both loaded with potential, and will fill out the rotation, after the starter at middle linebacker, Austin Box, died on May 19.

2. Iowa State -- The Cyclones boast two of the Big 12's best in Jake Knott and A.J. Klein, who combined for more tackles than any two teammates in the Big 12 last season. They had 241 stops, and, after healing from a broken leg suffered midseason last year, Matt Tau'fo'ou should join them at middle linebacker.

3. Texas -- Texas' offense may be lacking, but the defense will be strong once again, led by two others likely to earn spots as some of the Big 12's best. Keenan Robinson and Emmanuel Acho were Texas' top two tacklers last year with 187 stops, and return as likely captains come fall camp. Texas' depth chart is wide open, but look for former blue-chip recruit Jordan Hicks to emerge as another star this year, despite being forced to sit out spring camp with a broken foot. Dravannti Johnson played some defensive end last year at the Buck position for the Longhorns, but may find his way back to linebacker. Tevin Jackson was ineligible last year, but he's ready for 2011, and could make an impact.

4. Oklahoma State -- The Cowboys "Star" linebacker is occupied by co-Defensive Freshman of the Year Shaun Lewis, and sophomore Caleb Lavey is charged with replacing Orie Lemon, the leader of last year's defense. Oklahoma State has questions on the weak side, but LeRon Furr and Chris Dinkins will compete next fall. Kris Catlin could be a factor, too.

5. Texas A&M -- The Aggies must replace their leading tackler, Michael Hodges, and don't have a clear replacement heading into fall camp. The good news: They've got two others with lots of experience in the linebacking corps that look like budding stars. Garrick Williams should be one of the defense's leaders and Sean Porter returns after making 74 tackles last year to rank third on the team.

6. Missouri -- The Tigers have lots of experience at middle linebacker, where a pair of seniors (albeit frequently injured seniors) Will Ebner and Luke Lambert will be on the field a lot. One of the Big 12's most exciting players, junior Zaviar Gooden, will hold down the weakside and perhaps become a household name by season's end. Sophomores Andrew Wilson and Donovan Bonner, who missed all of last season with a knee injury, will likely compete for strongside duties in fall camp. Andrew Gachkar, the team's leading tackler, is gone, but here's guessing Gooden emerges as the defense's top playmaker.

7. Kansas -- The Jayhawks linebackers were solid last year, and could be pretty good again, despite losing Drew Dudley and Justin Springer, two of the team's top four tacklers. Steven Johnson, the team's leading tackler in 2010, is back and he'll be joined by possible star Huldon Tharp, who missed all of last season with a leg injury. Fellow sophomore Darius Willis earned a starting role after spring.

8. Kansas State -- K-State's front seven struggled last year, but will get a big boost from Arthur Brown. One man won't be enough to totally fix the Wildcats rush defense problems, though. K-State gave up 26 more yards on the ground per game than any other team in the Big 12 (more than 231 per game) but Brown may be playing in a 4-3 next fall rather than the 4-2-5 the Wildcats have employed since Snyder's return. Alex Hrebec, Emmanuel Lamur, Tre Walker and Blake Slaughter will likely fill the rotation along with Brown.

9. Baylor -- Baylor's defensive depth chart, like Texas', is a bit amorphous after bringing in a new coordinator, but Elliot Coffey figures to be the Bears biggest playmaker at linebacker. Chris McAllister should be solid and Ahmad Dixon is promising at nickelback, too. Brody Trahan is a great story, but him going from third-string quarterback to starting linebacker isn't a ringing endorsement for Baylor's depth at the position.

10. Texas Tech -- Tech will be moving to a 4-2-5 this year under new coordinator Chad Glasgow, and could rise up this list, but the Red Raiders lose a lot of talent from last season's team, which ran the 3-4. Bront Bird and Brian Duncan are both gone, and youth will be a big factor with this group. Cqulin Hubert's outstanding potential is matched by his more outstanding first name, and freshman Blake Dees showed promise after arriving early this spring. They'll likely be the rotation at middle linebacker spot alongside Daniel Cobb and Zach Winbush. Terrance Bullitt could be a playmaker at his new safety spot, listed as a strong safety but with plans to spend lots of time near the line of scrimmage, a la nickelback.

Texas Tech spring wrap

May, 6, 2011
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TEXAS TECH

2010 overall record: 8-5

2010 conference record: 3-5

Returning starters: Offense (5), Defense (8) P/K (0)

Top returners: RB Eric Stephens, WR Alex Torres, S Cody Davis, CB Tre Porter, CB Jarvis Phillips, S D.J. Johnson

Key losses: QB Taylor Potts, WR Lyle Leong, WR Detron Lewis, RB Baron Batch, DT Colby Whitlock, LB Brian Duncan, QB Steven Sheffield. LB Bront Bird

2010 statistical leaders (*returners)

Rushing: Baron Batch (816 yards)

Passing: Taylor Potts (3,726 yards)

Receiving: Lyle Leong (926 yards)

Tackles: Bront Bird (106)

Sacks: Brian Duncan (7)

Interceptions: Jarvis Phillips* (4)

Three spring answers

1. Quarterbacks all but settled. It’s not official, per se, but Seth Doege looks likely to slide into the starting spot as the next in a long line of Texas Tech quarterbacks. He has just one career start, but the junior is the most experienced among four Red Raiders quarterbacks vying for the job. He beat out Jacob Karam and Scotty Young this spring, and that figures to continue in the fall.

2. Defensive vision is clear. Texas Tech brought in new defensive coordinator Chad Glasgow from TCU, and he spent the spring installing his 4-2-5 -- a move away from the 3-4 under James Willis last year. That third safety spot, a nickel back, if you will, should be occupied by Terrance Bullitt, who drew praise from coaches for his effort during the spring.

3. More receivers found. The Red Raiders’ top two receivers, Lyle Leong and Detron Lewis, are gone, but Texas Tech did a good job of filling their roles during the spring. Alex Torres, Eric Ward, Austin Zouzalik and Darrin Moore are the starters, but there’s even more buzz surrounding backup Marcus Kennard, who showed up this spring from junior college.

Three fall questions

1. Is the secondary still a problem? Texas Tech’s secondary gave up more passing yards than all but two teams in college football last year. This offseason was about upgrading the pass rush and improving the speed in the secondary. It’s still early in Tommy Tuberville’s time in Lubbock, and his secondary is still young after injuries forced them to play last year, but we’ll see how much last year’s experience pays off.

2. How good is Seth Doege? It’s easy to assume Doege will step in and be solid, but will that be the case? Taylor Potts was a senior who had played for Mike Leach extensively. Doege is a newbie who hasn’t played extensively since his sophomore year of high school, after being sidelined by a pair of injuries. If Texas Tech’s offensive tradition is going to continue, Doege will keep it going. If it begins to decline, it will do it with Doege. My bet is on the former, but I’d caution assuming that’s the case.

3. Is the running game for real yet? Texas Tech isn’t known for its ability to run the ball, but Tuberville wants that half of the offense to be more efficient and more powerful moving forward. The Red Raiders have a good set of capable backs, and the entire offensive line returns. Does that mean the running game will get a boost?

The Revolving Door: Texas Tech

April, 28, 2011
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We capped off our series looking at the strongest and weakest points of each team in the league heading into 2011, and it's on to the next one.

I've done it. You've done it.

"Hey, is that guy still around?"

Admittedly, even with two fewer teams, it's hard for fans to keep track. Our next series, which we did last year, too, takes a look at two key players for every team in the league that are taking their talents elsewhere, returning to campus, or arriving to try and write a legacy of their own.

So really, this series isn't so much for the fans of the teams in the posts, but more for everyone else. It wouldn't be a bad idea to bookmark this series.

Let's get started.

First up? Texas Tech.

Going:

Taylor Potts, QB
Potts was no fan favorite during his time in Lubbock, but he had a nice senior year and finished his career with a bowl win over Northwestern. Perhaps his finest moment? After being benched for Steven Sheffield midseason, Potts came off the bench against then-No. 12 Missouri to lead a comeback win and the signature game of the Red Raiders' season. That's impressive. Despite the criticism, Potts still threw for 3,726 yards and completed 67 percent of his passes last season, notching 35 touchdowns and just nine picks. Only three quarterbacks in college football threw more touchdowns last season.

Lyle Leong, WR

Leong caught 19 of those touchdowns last season, second nationally to only Oklahoma State's Justin Blackmon. He proved to be a reliable red zone target and caught 74 passes for 926 yards. His career built to his big year as a senior, and despite Texas Tech's usual depth at receiver, his presence will be missed in the passing game. It'll be most evident down in the red zone.

Staying:

Alex Torres, WR

Torres struggled while battling injuries last season after a big freshman year. He finished with just 39 catches, 481 yards and three touchdowns, but if he stays healthy, he's likely to have a 1,000-yard season as a junior in 2011. Clearly, the potential is there, and he's likely to be new quarterback Seth Doege's top target. As a freshman, he had 67 catches for 806 yards and six scores. Here's guessing he clears that number easily this fall.

Cody Davis, S

Davis should be one of the leaders of the Red Raiders defense as its leading returning tackler. As a sophomore in 2010, he made 87 tackles, with 69 solo stops, just two fewer than linebacker Bront Bird, who led the team. Chad Glasgow coached an All-American and a Thorpe Award finalist at safety last season in TCU's Tejay Johnson. He comes to try and shore up a Texas Tech secondary as its defensive coordinator this season. Davis may not have Johnson's athletic ability, but he should look even better with a spring and fall camp under Glasgow's watch.

Coming:

Jace Amaro, TE

For now, Texas Tech's starting tight end is Adam James. A beefed up, 233-pound Adam James, but still. Amaro, meanwhile, was one of the Red Raiders top recruits and one of the nation's best tight ends. Coach Tommy Tuberville wants to have a more capable tight end to help run the ball more effectively, and a strong effort to recruit one paid off in his first full class. Amaro will be a part of a slight change in Texas Tech's offense, but his 6-foot-4, 230-pound frame should fill out plenty a year from now.

Ronnie Daniels, RB

The Red Raiders have two more highly-recruited running backs headed to campus this fall, Bradley Marquez and Kenny Williams, but Daniels made a big impact this spring after enrolling early. Tuberville wants to use more two-back formations, and for now, the 6-foot-1, 195-pounder, is likely to find his way on the field. He showed plenty of prowess carrying the ball and catching it, and if he can prove he's mastered pass blocking as well, he'll definitely make an early impact somehow.

Sizing up the Big 12's returning tacklers

April, 26, 2011
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You can size up Big 12 defenses any way you want, but here's how the Big 12 ranks in terms of experienced tacklers coming back in 2011.

1. Kansas State: The Wildcats bring back all five of their top tacklers, led by senior cornerback David Garrett, who made 92 tackles last year. Cornerback Terrance Sweeney is the only loss for the defense, which struggled last year, but will return eight of its top nine tacklers.

2. Texas: Five of the Longhorns six top tacklers return, led by a pair of linebackers among the best in the Big 12. Keenan Robinson and Emmanuel Acho combined for 187 tackles last year and should be the leaders of a Longhorns defense that lost defensive lineman Sam Acho, who turned in an All-American-caliber season as a senior in 2010. Blake Gideon, Kenny Vaccaro and Christian Scott give the Longhorns good experience at safety, too.

3. Iowa State: Linebacker Jake Knott is the Big 12's leading returning tackler after making 131 stops a year ago. The Cyclones return four of their top five tacklers, including junior linebacker A.J. Klein, who made 111 tackles of his own. Middle linebacker Matt Tau'fo'ou missed the second half of the season with a broken leg, but he'll be back on the field this year. Safety David Sims will be tough to replace.

4. Texas A&M: The Aggies return eight of 11 starters on defense, but two of the three losses (linebackers Michael Hodges and Von Miller) were among the top four tacklers. The other two starting linebackers, Garrick Willams and Sean Porter, will be counted on as more experienced backers this year.

5. Missouri: The Tigers lose two of their top three tacklers, but speedy linebacker Zaviar Gooden, who tied Andrew Gachkar for the team lead with 84 tackles, is back for a Missouri defense that should be one of the Big 12's best next year. Experienced safety Kenji Jackson, a senior who will enter his fourth year on the field as a major contributor, should be one of the team's leaders next year.

6. Oklahoma State: The Cowboys lose two of their three top tacklers, but bring back a pair of solid safeties in Markelle Martin and Johnny Thomas. Leading tackler Orie Lemon made 133 stops last year, and replacing his leadership might be harder than replacing his production on the field. Sophomore Shaun Lewis is the Big 12's reigning co-Defensive Freshman of the Year and looks poised for a huge encore at the Cowboys' "star" linebacker spot.

7. Oklahoma: Three of Oklahoma's top five tacklers, including both starting safeties, are gone. It could have been worse, but linebacker Travis Lewis decided to stick around for his senior season and chase a national title. All-Big 12 corner Jamell Fleming was fourth on the team in tackles, and currently isn't enrolled. Coach Bob Stoops has been cryptic about Fleming's status in the future, and it's hard to tell if he'll be back or not after a reported academic misconduct incident.

8. Texas Tech: Injuries forced that Red Raiders to play a lot of young talent too early last year, but three of their top six tacklers won't be back in 2011. Linebackers Bront Bird (106 tackles) and Brian Duncan are the most notable absences, along with defensive tackle Colby Whitlock. Sam Fehoko and Blake Dees should anchor the middle of the defense this year, and the secondary has lots of quality young talent returning. Cody Davis, Tre Porter, D.J. Johnson and Jarvis Phillips are all back.

9. Kansas: Steven Johnson, the team's leading tackler last season, returns after making 95 stops last year, but Kansas loses all four of its next top tacklers. That includes linebacker Justin Springer, but my guess? Huldon Tharp, who missed all of last season with a foot injury, will lead the Jayhawks in stops this year.

10. Baylor: The Bears take the biggest hit in the Big 12 when it comes to returning tacklers. The team's top five in stops last season were all seniors. Six of the top seven are gone, and senior linebacker Elliot Coffey is the leading returner. He made 61 tackles last year, and missed three games with a sprained ankle.

What to watch in the Big 12 this spring

February, 16, 2011
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Springtime is almost here. And here's a look at what to expect across the Big 12 when it gets into full swing here in the next couple weeks.

BAYLOR BEARS

Spring practice starts: February 28

Spring game: April 2

What to watch:
  • Big changes on defense. Baylor brought in Phil Bennett as its new defensive coordinator, and he says his scheme will be multiple, built to fit the Bears' personnel. Considering the Bears' recent recruiting successes in the secondary, look for a 4-2-5 type of look.
  • Recruiting stars: time to shine. Both safeties, Tim Atchison and Byron Landor, are gone. Baylor, though, has two former ESPNU 150 recruits at safety who would be well served to start filling their potential. Prince Kent was a reserve last season and at one time, the nation's No. 51 overall recruit who originally signed with Miami. Ahmad Dixon, meanwhile, was the No. 15 overall prospect in the 2010 class. The opportunity is there. Baylor needs big talent at the position. Briles has recruited it. Can they develop into players who make Baylor a contender?
  • Running back competition. Jay Finley topped 1,200 yards in 2010, but he's gone. Who steps into his void? Terrance Ganaway is a bowling ball at 5-foot-11, 235 pounds, but the shifty Jarred Salubi could get a good amount of carries, too. They could begin to share carries this spring.
IOWA STATE CYCLONES

Spring practice starts: March 22

Spring game: April 16

What to watch:
  • Quarterback competition. It should be a good one in Ames this spring. Jerome Tiller is the name most recognize after getting lots of meaningful time and starts because of injuries to Austen Arnaud over the past two seasons. But juco transfer Steele Jantz sounds confident he can win the job. Rising sophomore James Capello and redshirt freshman Jared Barnett will compete, too.
  • Paging Cyclone receivers. Iowa State had one of the most underwhelming receiving corps in the league during the past season, and three of its top five pass-catchers won't return in 2011. Of those three, however, one is a tight end (Collin Franklin) and another is a running back (Alexander Robinson). The new quarterback will need some help, and Darius Darks and Darius Reynolds will need to provide it as seniors.
  • Shontrelle's time or not? Freshman Shontrelle Johnson looked like the running back with the most pop behind Robinson for most of 2010, but two other freshmen running backs jockeyed for carries, too. Paul Rhoads is hardly handing the job over to Johnson, but spring could be the time when he really separates himself from the pack.
KANSAS JAYHAWKS

Spring practice starts: April 1

Spring game: April 30

What to watch:
  • What are they doing behind center? Kansas never got much consistent play out of the quarterback position last year, but freshman Brock Berglund is one of the 2011 class' top recruits, and enrolled early to compete in the spring with Jordan Webb and Quinn Mecham. With a building program like Kansas, there's perhaps some value in handing the program to a younger player like Webb or Berglund, but they'll have to earn it. Doing so will start in the spring, but don't expect the Jayhawks to have a set-in-stone starter by spring's end.
  • Top linebacker back on the field. Huldon Tharp missed all of 2010 with a foot injury, but he says he's 100 percent and ready to get back on the field. As a freshman in 2009, he was fifth on the team in tackles, with 59, and looked like one of the league's possible budding stars. Now, he'll get his chance to join fellow linebacker Steven Johnson as one of the team's top tacklers, and he'll do it as a sophomore after redshirting in 2010.
  • Toben rising? Turner Gill raised plenty of eyebrows when he moved his team's leading rusher in 2009, Toben Opurum, to linebacker in fall camp, and eventually slid him up to defensive end. But toward the end of 2010, Opurum started showing some major signs of growth at the position. We'll get a better idea this spring if he's one of the league's most unlikely new stars at defensive end.
KANSAS STATE WILDCATS

Spring practice starts: April 6

Spring game: April 30

What to watch:
  • Prodigal Kansan sons come home. There's no doubt that the Wichita native Brown brothers are the main attraction at Kansas State this spring, a season after transferring back home. Bryce Brown, the running back, was the nation's No. 8 prospect in the 2009 class. Arthur Brown, the linebacker, was the nation's No. 6 prospect in the 2008 class. Bryce transferred from Tennessee and Arthur from Miami. The Wildcats are pinning much of their hopes on the duo, and we'll get a good sense of what they can provide soon.
  • Quarterback competition. Carson Coffman is gone, and two new faces will challenge for the job: juco transfer Justin Tuggle and Daniel Sams. Sammuel Lamur is also up for the gig. Collin Klein may or may not be; Bill Snyder hasn't explicitly confirmed a past comment from Sams saying Klein had moved to receiver. Don't expect a starter to be named by spring's end, but a general order could start to form.
  • Can the defense show improvement? Kansas State had the Big 12's worst overall defense last year, and the worst rushing defense in college football, giving up 3,008 yards on the ground. Coordinator Chris Cosh looks like he'll still be around in 2011, and defensive backs David Garrett and Tysyn Hartman are solid pieces to try and build around. But this young maturing defense must get better to make a bowl game again with so many questions on offense. That starts in the spring.
MISSOURI TIGERS

Spring practice starts: March 8

Spring game: April 16

What to watch:
  • Franklin comes alive! Blaine Gabbert bolted to the NFL early, and Missouri has a gaping hole a quarterback. The position, however, is surrounded by a lot of quality talent that likely makes the Tigers a Top 25 team. There's no understating the importance of the position for the Tigers, and that will begin to be decided in the spring. James Franklin, a rising sophomore, saw spot duty in 2010 as more of a runner, and may have the inside track on the job, but Tyler Gabbert, Blaine's younger brother, and Ashton Glaser should make it an interesting competition in the spring. If neither of them impress early, don't count out incoming freshman Corbin Berkstresser.
  • Here is the new secondary. Same as the old secondary? After years of pass defense being one of the Tigers' biggest weaknesses, it became a strength in 2010 behind the leadership of senior corners Kevin Rutland and Carl Gettis. But the Tigers lose them and safety Jarrell Harrison. Rutland emerged as one of the team's most impressive players last spring, but was Missouri's success in the secondary a one-time thing or the beginning of a welcome trend?
  • Time to dominate the trenches? Missouri played without likely first-round pick Aldon Smith for much of the previous season, but the defensive and offensive lines for the Tigers were as good as ever in 2010. How will they look in 2011? Impact juco transfer Sheldon Richardson won't be enrolled by the spring, but the four returning starters on the offensive line should get some solid work against Brad Madison, Jacquies Smith and Terrell Resonno.
OKLAHOMA SOONERS

Spring practice starts: March 21

Spring game: April 16

What to watch:
  • Freshmen on display. Coach Bob Stoops hasn't been shy about saying his 2010 recruiting class was his best ever, but it could look even better after this spring. Two of his best emerging recruits, Justin McCay and Geneo Grissom, didn't even play in 2010, and could start to make an impact. The same goes for Corey Nelson, who will try to earn some more time somewhere backing up star Travis Lewis.
  • Is there a golden boot in Norman? Jimmy Stevens was much more accurate in 2010, finishing 19-for-23, but his attempts outside 45 yards were sparse. The good news is he missed none of his 53 extra points. Field goals have been a bit of an adventure for the past couple years, but continuing in the spring what he started last year would be a good sign for Oklahoma. The Sooners are strong everywhere and need good special teams play to reach their lofty title goals.
  • Are the Sooners' backs back? Roy Finch missed the Fiesta Bowl with a stress fracture, and his durability is certainly questionable entering 2011. When he's healthy, he looks like the next star in the Sooners' backfield, but they'll need some depth behind the 5-foot-8, 173-pounder. Jermie Calhoun, Jonathan Miller and Brennan Clay have all looked good at times, but there should be some good competition from newcomers Brandon Wegher, an Iowa transfer who'll be in camp this spring and eligible next season, and blue-chip recruit Brandon Williams, who enrolled early.
OKLAHOMA STATE COWBOYS

Spring practice starts: March 7

Spring game: April 16

What to watch:
  • Every piece of the offense. The spring in Stillwater is all about keeping or improving upon the status quo. Had it kept Dana Holgorsen, there'd be little doubt that would happen, but Oklahoma State must make the most of its five returning offensive linemen, quarterback Brandon Weeden and receiver Justin Blackmon. The opportunity for a historic season is there, but they'll have to pick up the nuances of the new offense quickly in the spring like they did last year.
  • What about the kicker? Dan Bailey won the Lou Groza Award as the nation's top kicker in 2010, but he's gone. Oklahoma State needs to fill that role quickly, and we'll likely know who will get the nod after the spring.
  • Who steps up on the defensive line? The Cowboys lose three starters up front on defense, including All-Big 12 performer Ugo Chinasa and tackles Chris Donaldson and Shane Jarka. Can senior Richetti Jones become a star in the Big 12? We'll have a good idea if he, or any of the Cowboys' other defensive linemen, can by the end of April.
TEXAS LONGHORNS

Spring practice starts: February 24

Spring game: April 3

What to watch:
  • New coaches and their students/players. Texas has five new coaches. Although it's hard to get a good read early on, how they relate with the players on the field, in the film room and around the facilities will have a big impact on how the 2011 season plays out in Austin. The young-blooded coordinators could serve themselves well by relating to players and the players will need to spend plenty of extra time learning new schemes and plays.
  • Quarterback competition ... or not? Mack Brown says the gig is open and it is, for now. Garrett Gilbert can close it with a strong spring. If Garrett struggles on the field or has difficulty grasping the new system, the door will be wide open for Connor Wood or Case McCoy to step in and close it. Gilbert didn't get much help, but he did very little in 2010 to inspire a lot of breathing room with McCoy and Wood clamoring for playing time.
  • And you've got to defend the pass, too. Texas loses its top three cornerbacks to the NFL, and only Carrington Byndom and A.J. White got much meaningful playing time last season. Younger players can earn some rare early playing time with a strong spring. Will anyone step up?
TEXAS A&M AGGIES

Spring practice starts: March 22

Spring game: April 16

What to watch:
  • New linebackers in the running. Spring isn't so scary when you bring back nine defensive starters, but the two Texas A&M lost were the heart of its defense. Linebackers Michael Hodges and Von Miller are gone. Kyle Mangan didn't look fantastic when forced into action during the Cotton Bowl, but the time is now for Damontre Moore and Dominique Patterson, a pair of sophomores, to make their impact.
  • Tannehill's tuning things up. Quarterback Ryan Tannehill played about as well as anyone could have hoped late last season, but he'll need it to continue his performance with a solid spring nailing down the timing with his receivers, who all return. He's already got a leg up on last year's quarterback, Jerrod Johnson, who was held out of team drills last spring after shoulder surgery that eventually derailed his senior season.
  • Christine's back. Christine Michael missed the second half of the season with a broken leg, giving way to Cyrus Gray's rise among Big 12 backs. It should make Texas A&M's depth at the position even more impressive, but we'll see how Michael looks coming back from the injury.
TEXAS TECH RED RAIDERS

Spring practice starts: February 19

Spring game: March 26

What to watch:
  • Past defending that pass defense. Texas Tech had the Big 12's worst pass defense last season, but has a pair of big potential players at cornerback in rising sophomores Tre Porter and Jarvis Phillips. Starters LaRon Moore and Franklin Mitchem are gone, but if returning starters Cody Davis and Will Ford can continue to mature, the defense should improve in the area most important for success in the Big 12.
  • And they're off! There's a four-man quarterback derby set in Lubbock this spring between Seth Doege, Jacob Karam, Michael Brewer and Scotty Young. I don't expect it to be settled until midway through fall camp, similar to last season, but there should be a solid front-runner and more clarity after spring. Coach Tommy Tuberville was extremely impressed with Doege and Karam last spring after Taylor Potts and Steven Sheffield went down with injuries.
  • Time to find new stars. Most of the big names on Texas Tech's defense are gone. Colby Whitlock, Bront Bird, Brian Duncan will all continue their careers elsewhere. The leaders on the defense will have to begin to emerge in the spring. Is it Scott Smith? Cody Davis? A younger, unexpected player? We'll find out. Sometimes these types of situations aren't as easy to predict as they might seem, like Missouri's strength in 2010 emerging in the secondary.
Tags:

Baylor Bears, Iowa State Cyclones, Kansas Jayhawks, Kansas State Wildcats, Missouri Tigers, Oklahoma Sooners, Oklahoma State Cowboys, Texas Longhorns, Texas A&M Aggies, Texas Tech Red Raiders, Colby Whitlock, Corey Nelson, Ahmad Dixon, Brennan Clay, Jacob Karam, Darius Reynolds, Christine Michael, Von Miller, Alexander Robinson, Kyle Mangan, Chris Cosh, Steven Sheffield, Turner Gill, Tysyn Hartman, Bill Snyder, Bront Bird, Case McCoy, Brandon Williams, Dan Bailey, Justin Blackmon, Franklin Mitchem, Richetti Jones, James Capello, Connor Wood, Shane Jarka, Ryan Tannehill, Terrance Ganaway, Byron Landor, Cody Davis, Travis Lewis, Cyrus Gray, Scotty Young, Chris Donaldson, Bryce Brown, Jerome Tiller, Brian Duncan, LaRon Moore, Toben Opurum, Darius Darks, Paul Rhoads, Brad Madison, Art Briles, Kevin Rutland, Carrington Byndom, Sheldon Richardson, Bob Stoops, Jerrod Johnson, Blaine Gabbert, Jay Finley, Jared Barnett, Taylor Potts, Huldon Tharp, Jimmy Stevens, Arthur Brown, Mack Brown, Jarvis Phillips, Garrett Gilbert, Tyler Gabbert, Jordan Webb, Jermie Calhoun, Collin Franklin, Phil Bennett, Jacquies Smith, Jarred Salubi, Collin Klein, Tim Atchison, Carl Gettis, Seth Doege, Ugo Chinasa, Terrell Resonno, Carson Coffman, Aldon Smith, Brandon Weeden, David Garrett, Justin McCay, James Franklin, Corbin Berkstresser, Geneo Grissom, Quinn Mecham, Scott Smith, Tre Porter, Shontrelle Johnson, Prince Kent, Damontre Moore, Michael Brewer, A.J. White, Brock Berglund, Ashton Glaser, Michael Hodges, Brandon Wegher, Steele Jantz, Jonathan Miller, Justin Tuggle, Daniel Sams, Dominique Patterson

Texas Tech Red Raiders season recap

December, 7, 2010
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Mike Leach and Tommy Tuberville are both winning head coaches. Anybody can see they did it in different ways. The transition from a decade of Leach to Tuberville had the looks of a rocky one from the beginning, hence the reason I picked the Red Raiders to finish last in a brutal Big 12 South division that looked likely to land all six teams in bowl games back in August.

Tuberville's offense never established the running game Leach's offenses usually lacked, but the Red Raiders still stuck pretty close to Tuberville's declaration of a 60-40 pass/run ratio, with 561 passes (61.7%) and 408 runs (39.3 %), though that number was the fewest attempts in the Big 12.

Coordinator James Willis' aggressive, high-risk/high-reward defense was more often the former. Texas Tech ranked seventh in the Big 12 in turnovers forced (22), while giving up over 30 points a game to rank 10th in the Big 12 and dead last in total defense by more than 22 yards a game.

Texas Tech's 7-5 record is its worst since 2006, but if the Red Raiders get some consistent play out of a new quarterback, it's easy to see them improving on that record next season.

Offensive MVP: Lyle Leong, receiver. The senior didn't have the most catches on the team, but his 17 touchdowns rank second nationally. He offered Taylor Potts a reliable option in the red zone, and had three games with three touchdowns, and another two with a pair of touchdowns.

Defensive MVP: Brian Duncan, linebacker. Duncan finished with seven sacks, four more than any other player on the team, and made 12 tackles for loss, also the most on the team. His 58 tackles were just fourth on the team, and you could make an argument for Cody Davis, Colby Whitlock or even Bront Bird in this spot.

Turning point: The Red Raiders' 52-38 loss at Iowa State on Oct. 2. A week earlier, it had failed to beat the undefeated Longhorns at home, but allowed just 24 points and looked pretty solid on defense against what ended up being a pretty poor offense. The loss to the Cyclones made it evident that this wasn't the Texas Tech team we were used to seeing, and giving up 52 points to the Cyclones made it clear that the defense would be a liability for most of the season.

What's next: Just like last offseason, there's another quarterback derby on tap for the Red Raiders. This won't feature two seniors, but a pair of guys will battle during bowl practices, spring and fall. I wouldn't expect a starter between Jacob Karam and Seth Doege to be named before the fall. Doege has a bit of an edge with some experience during the 2009 season, but it'll be close. The Red Raiders have a solid recruiting class full of defensive talent headed to Lubbock next fall. They lose a lot of experience on defense in seniors Bird, Whitlock and Duncan, but young talent in the secondary like freshmen Tre' Porter and Jarvis Phillips, and sophomore Davis, looks ready to make a lot of noise in the Big 12. I'd expect the Red Raiders to take a slight step back on offense, but be more sound defensively, and less susceptible to big plays.

Mailbag: All-Name team and top freshmen

August, 20, 2010
8/20/10
4:15
PM ET
Have a good weekend, everybody. There's a decent chance Texas Tech names its starting QB over the weekend, and if that happens, we'll have it here, so keep checking back.

Michael in Raytown, Mo., writes: How long does MU give Pinkel if he continues to get beat down by OU and UT? I mean going to a bowl game every year is great and all, but I'm sick of us having good /very good years then getting slapped down by OU and UT. I know MU will probably never have the same level of talent overall as OU/UT but other inferior talent teams find a way to beat them--what gives?

David Ubben: Gary Pinkel's struggles against Texas and Oklahoma aren't a deal breaker. His job security is as good as it's ever been, and nothing Texas or Oklahoma do is going to change that. Missouri fans sometimes forget where the program was before he came. The Tigers had two winning seasons from 1984 to 2000, when Pinkel arrived. He's guided them to five consecutive bowls and won an impressive 30 games in three seasons. Finally getting over the hump and beating Texas or Oklahoma would be a big step for the program, but it's foolish to suggest Pinkel's job depends on it.


Wes in Hampton, Va., writes: There are plenty major games lined up for the Big XII this year. Do you see any teams with any major "snake in the grass" games? i.e. Nebraska @ Washington?

DU: There are definitely quite a few. I'll define them as games that fans are counting as sure wins that they might warrant a second look.

1) Nebraska at Iowa State -- For all the talk about turnovers, Iowa State still beat Nebraska in Lincoln without Austen Arnaud and Alexander Robinson, among others. It's foolish to think the Huskers over the Cyclones in Ames is a gimme.

2) Oklahoma at Cincinnati -- Probably not viewed as a gimme, but Oklahoma fans see a team that lost its coach, Brian Kelly, and its two best offensive players, quarterback Tony Pike and receiver Mardy Gilyard. I see a team that went 2-5 away from Owen Field last year and still has to prove it can perform on the road, especially Landry Jones.

3) Texas A&M at Baylor -- Baylor might be playing to end its bowl drought, and it'll be ready to go in Waco. The Aggies' defense can't play like it did most of last year against Robert Griffin and Kendall Wright this year. If it does, it'll leave with a frustrating loss.


Jess in Oklahoma asks: What odds do you give Kenny Stills on being offensive newcomer of the year in the Big XII

DU: As a true freshman, he'd be a "Freshman of the Year," rather than newcomer, which are two separate awards, but he's got a pretty good shot to win it. The opportunity in Oklahoma's receiving corps is there, and he's already impressed coaches in practice and fans in the spring game.


Roderick in Denver writes: David, we've seen enough Top XX lists to make our eyes bleed this summer, but how about one more? What are your Top 10 Names in the Big 12? Could be cool, weird, just sounds like a football player, or a personal favorite. Here's a starter kit.

PK Zach Grossnickle of Colorado, DT Stephen Ruempolhamer of ISU, LB Blake Slaughter of KSU, CB Dijon Washington of Nebraska, DT Chris Littlehead of OSU, RB Foswhitt Whittaker of Texas, WR Uzoma Nwachukwu of A&M, RB's Christine Michael and Mister Jones of A&M.

DU: That's a great list. I should mention, Baylor having two Robert Griffins might be my favorite name-related story in the Big 12 right now.

But here are a few additions, my favorite names across the conference:

Trevor Marrongelli, OL, Kansas: As I mentioned in a video earlier this week, he's nothing to spread on toast. He's Kansas' starting right guard.

Oladipo Fajimolu, DL, Kansas State: A native of Nigeria, Fajimolu did a lot in high school: Football, basketball, shot put, javelin, discus, soccer, badminton and table tennis.

Gahn McGaffie, WR, Missouri: It's pronounced "John." As someone with an oft-butchered name, I can relate, and I imagine it's been pronounced correctly on the first attempt about 6 percent of the time. Him scoring a game-winning touchdown is screaming for a "He's Gahn" headline.

Forrest Shock, WR, Missouri: Needed nickname: "Agent Orange" or "The Lumberjack."

Currenski Gilleylen, WR, Nebraska: They say to never trust a man with two first names. I trust any man with two last names.

Yoshi Hardrick, LT, Nebraska: Legitimately nicknamed after the dinosaur, and you won't find a better one in the Big 12.

Hubert Anyiam, WR, Oklahoma State: Find me another player with three words in seven letters in one last name. In order. Fantastic. For reference, it's pronounced "ANNIE-ehm."

Jackson Jeffcoat, DE, Texas: Alliteration is always good, and for more on why he's on the list, see Nebraska's first entry.

Tony Jerod-Eddie, DL, Texas A&M: Does anyone know what you're supposed to do about guys with three first names?

Beau Blankenship, RB, Iowa State: Boom. Sounds tough.

Bront Bird, LB, Texas Tech: Anybody want to mess with him? I don't.

LeQuince McCall, LB, Baylor: Four capital letters, one goal: cracking the Bears' depth chart.

Who'd I miss?


Brett in Kansas City asks: Hey David, do you see K-State getting into a bowl this season and if so what bowl do you think it will be?

DU: I like their chances a lot. You should look into the Pinstripe Bowl. Could be a nice trip.

The Big 12's top 10 linebackers

August, 4, 2010
8/04/10
10:15
AM ET
We've already looked at the conference's best quarterbacks, running backs and wide receivers. Let's flip across the other side of the ball and take a look at the conference's top 10 linebackers.

Part two will be up this afternoon.

6. Emmanuel Acho, Texas

The slightly lesser-known half of the Acho brothers, Emmanuel Acho should join his brother Sam as two of the key cogs in one of the nation’s best defenses. He made just two starts last season, but 36 of his 45 tackles were solo and he also added 9.5 tackles for loss, two sacks, two forced fumbles and an interception. He’ll have a bigger role for the Longhorns in 2010, and will be itching for it after being held out of the spring game after offseason surgery. Expect him to move up from the All-Big 12 honorable mention he earned as a sophomore.

7. Will Ebner, Missouri

Ebner is one of the hardest hitters on this list, and he’ll have a chance to deliver plenty of said hits after taking over the starting job at middle linebacker last season for the injured Luke Lambert. His 78 tackles earned him an All-Big 12 honorable mention. He earned the respect of the coaches for his hard hitting from the first day he arrived on campus, and he’ll use a stout 6-foot-1, 230-pound frame to do it this season.

8. Drew Dudley, Kansas

Dudley hasn’t had a chance to showcase his talent for the new Kansas coaching staff after being forced to sit out of contact drills during the spring. He left the spring as the backup to Justin Springer in the middle of the defense, but once he’s back in camp this fall and healthy, he should reclaim his spot and help the Jayhawks defense once again. With 88 tackles in 2009, he begins his senior season as the team’s leading returning tackler.

9. Bront Bird, Texas Tech

Bird has to deal with a position change -- a move from the outside to the inside of defensive coordinator James Willis’ 3-4 -- but has the talent to make the adjustment. He also has the size; he gained 12 pounds to move to 252 pounds on his 6-foot-3 frame. He should surpass his 56 tackles from a year ago and solidify his status as one of the best linebackers in the Big 12.

10. Huldon Tharp, Kansas

Tharp earned Freshman All-American honors after making 59 tackles as a true freshman in 2009. At 6-foot, 217 pounds, he'll be one of the most talented players on the Kansas defense and will anchor the weak side.

Lunch links: Beebe's radical agent solution

July, 26, 2010
7/26/10
12:30
PM ET
Football, Cornell-Hofstra. Slaughter. Then quick nap at my place, and we hit the tizzown.

Fresh Faces: Texas Tech

June, 30, 2010
6/30/10
4:30
PM ET
Today we'll start a new series highlighting players with low profiles conference-wide with a good chance to change that this fall. Up first, the Red Raiders.

Harrison Jeffers and Eric Stephens, RB

Texas Tech's depth at running back has gotten some mention on the blog, and Jeffers and Stephens are the reasons why. They'll be star Baron Batch's backups this season, but could be budding stars themselves. Last season, they combined to rush for 571 yards on 84 carries (6.8 yards per carry). With Texas Tech planning on running the ball more than they have for a decade, Jeffers and Stephens should be the beneficiaries.

Justin Keown, C

It might be odd to put a senior on this list, but Keown received his first big chunks of meaningful playing time last season. Then, this spring, he beat out Chris Olson, who finished the season as the starting left tackle, to win the starting center job. Keown filled in well for Stephen Hamby when the starter was injured periodically in 2009, and has a good chance to become a staple at the position for the entire season with a solid fall camp.

Sam Fehoko, LB

Fehoko, a former defensive end, beat out freshman Brandon Mahoney to win a starting spot next to the established Brian Duncan and Bront Bird heading into his junior season. Fehoko could still have some tough competition from redshirt freshman Aundrey Barr -- Duncan's backup on the edge of the 3-4 -- if Barr moves to a spot inside, but Fehoko's experience should give him the edge. Fehoko made 19 tackles last season and that number will definitely grow in 2010 if he enters the season with a firm grasp on the starting position.

Texas Tech spring wrap

May, 6, 2010
5/06/10
6:00
AM ET
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.

Big 12 spring game recap: Texas Tech

April, 20, 2010
4/20/10
8:45
AM ET
What happened:
  • Redshirt freshman Jacob Karam and sophomore Seth Doege combined for 47-of-68 passing, 530 yards and five touchdowns, playing in place of a pair of quarterbacks expected to compete for the starting job at the beginning of spring, Taylor Potts and Steven Sheffield. Potts had surgery on his hand just days after Sheffield had surgery to repair the same bone in his foot he broke last season. Both are expected to throw again by June.
  • Two teams loosely defined as the first and second team played to a 24-24 tie.
  • "Several thousand" fans showed up to see the Red Raiders play in cold, wet conditions.
What we learned:
  • Texas Tech validated that it's one of the conferences deepest teams at running back. Baron Batch, Harrison Jeffers and Aaron Crawford won't have a ton of carries, but they'll have more to go around than were up for grabs last season. Batch carried the ball just six times for 38 yards. Crawford and Jeffers combined for 108 yards on 31 carries.
  • The same goes for the Red Raider receivers. Alex Torres highlighted the day with 10 catches for 115 yards, but once again, they'll have a lot of viable options. Detron Lewis, Lyle Leong and Austin Zouzalik won't be starved for catches. Cornelius Douglas showed some potential to contribute on Saturday, too, with 106 yards receiving, highlighted by a 64-yard score in the second quarter. But caution, it's still only one game and it's April. Douglas enters 2010 with a lot to prove before he finds himself in the same breath as the receivers above him.
  • Watching Texas Tech? Playing for Texas Tech? Defending Texas Tech? Buckle up. Offensive coordinator Neal Brown debuted the "NASCAR" offense on Saturday, but clearly both quarterbacks felt comfortable running the no-huddle scheme that operates much faster than last season's version under Mike Leach. The Red Raiders rush to the line of scrimmage and snap the ball quickly to wear down and confuse opposing defenses. "They line up and just snap it over and over and over again," linebacker Bront Bird told the Fort Worth Star-Telegram. "It gets pretty rough out there."
They said it:

"Our players have been through a lot the last six months and it was good to see the fans come out and support them."

- Red Raiders coach Tommy Tuberville

Big 12 South recruiting needs

January, 21, 2010
1/21/10
12:18
PM ET
Here's a look at what each of the South Division teams need to address in terms of recruiting with signing day fast approaching.

Baylor

Defensive line: After losing starters Jason Lamb and Trey Bryant and having Phil Taylor and Earl Patin entering their senior seasons, the Bears need to add immediate depth. Xavier Ruben and Anthony Gonzales will help shore up the deficiencies and the Bears still are in the hunt for top prospects like Carlos Thompson and Byran Jones.

Secondary: Starters Jordan Lake and Jeremy Williams have graduated and four juniors in the two-deep roster will start their senior seasons. Coach Art Briles has already lured surprising strength in the defensive backfield with Ahmad Dixon, Tyler Stephenson and Prince Kent. That trio makes it one of the finest positional groupings for Baylor in recent history.

Robert Griffin’s redshirt season has lessened the immediate need at quarterback: With Griffin now having three years of eligibility remaining, recruits now see only a two-season window to play. But another Robert Griffin should help the Bears as well. Baylor coaches see the other Griffin, a junior college transfer from Coriscana Junior College, being able to contend for the starting position at right tackle from his first day in the program.

Oklahoma

Running back: With Chris Brown graduating and DeMarco Murray entering his senior season, the Sooners need some producers at the position. Bob Stoops has never hesitated to playing top freshman players in the past if they can help. Don’t be surprised if top recruits like Brennan Clay and Roy Finch get an early chance in 2010 with the Sooners.

Receiver: Ryan Broyles is entrenched in the slot, but the Sooners are looking all over for pass catchers who can challenge existing players. Recruits Kenny Stills, Joe Powell, Julian Wilson and Sheldon McClain all should challenge this summer to battle their way into the rotation.

Defensive tackle: Injuries and NFL declarations have riddled the Sooners’ depth at the postion. Gerald McCoy will leave early for the NFL draft with JaMarkus McFarland ready to take over. Adrian Taylor was set at the other position, but his nasty ankle injury sustained in the Sun Bowl has depleted the Sooners’ depth. Redshirt sophomore Casey Walker and four incoming freshmen are all that is in place as far as depth at the critical position.

Oklahoma State

Offensive line: The Cowboys lose four senior starting offensive linemen from the Cotton Bowl team, including the left side of their offensive line in tackle Russell Okung, guard Noah Franklin and center Andrew Lewis, as well as right tackle Brady Bond. Mike Gundy needs some immediate help at the position, both from existing players and incoming ones.

Defensive tackle: Starters Swanson Miller and Derek Burton both will graduate and top backups Shane Jarka and Chris Donaldson both will be senior this season. Defensive coordinator Bill Young needs to find some defensive linemen who can challenge for playing next season.

Linebackers: Young also will have to rebuild this group after the underrated group of Andre Sexton, Donald Booker and Patrick Lavine helped sparked the Cowboys’ surprising defensive growth last season. All will be gone this season, putting pressure to add some more contributors to add to the returning mix of players including James Thomas, Tolu Moala and Justin Gent.

Texas

Defensive end: With Sergio Kindle graduating and Sam Acho and Eddie Jones both entering their senior season, the Longhorns need a talent boost here. It also just happens to be the position where top target Jackson Jeffcoat would immediately fill the rather sizable hole.

The left side of the offensive line: Tackle Adam Ulatoski, guard Charlie Tanner and center Chris Hall combined for 114 starts during their careers.The Longhorns has some strong arriving talent, but they’ll still miss the leadership and savvy that this trio provided over the years.

Quarterback: Even with Garrett Gilbert seemingly entrenched as the Longhorns’ quarterback of the future, the Longhorns added depth with the commitments of Connor Wood and Colt’s little brother Case McCoy. It will make for some interesting competition this spring and fall as the rotation sorts itself out.

Texas A&M

Defensive end: The Aggies received a huge boost when Von Miller announced he would return for his senior season, but A&M needs to prepare for his departure -- particularly after losing starting defensive end Matt Moss and Miller’s backup Matt Featherston as departing seniors from 2009.

Tight end: Starter Jamie McCoy graduated and top replacements Kenny Brown and Craig Raschke both will be seniors next season. Adding at least one player would be beneficial as the Aggie coaches hope they can find a combination blocker/receiving threat at the position like McCoy was.

Offensive tackle: The Aggies lose bookend senior starters Michael Shumard and Lee Grimes. They do have Stephen Barrera and Danny Baker in the depth chart but would like more depth to help the line develop.

Texas Tech

Defensive line: The Red Raiders’ biggest need is at defensive end where all three players in the two-deep roster -- Brandon Sharpe, Ra’Jon Henley and Daniel Howard were seniors. At defensive tackle, Richard Jones departs as a senior and Colby Whitlock will be a senior next season. New coordinator James Willis needs to find some productive players in the trenches quickly.

Linebackers: Starters Bront Bird and Brian Duncan will be back as seniors next season, but Tech loses departing starter Marlon Williams on the other side. They need some depth to help build for the future at the position.

Quarterback: Taylor Potts and Steven Sheffield will wage one of the closest-watched battles for playing time in the nation during the spring and summer. But both will be seniors, meaning the Red Raiders need to prepare for their departure by grooming some young talent like Scotty Young, a recent commitment at the position.

Sheffield wasn't slowed down by his injury or oversized shoes

November, 18, 2009
11/18/09
5:51
PM ET
Texas Tech quarterback Steven Sheffield played last week, only four weeks after undergoing surgery on a broken left foot.

While Sheffield could not complete last week’s game against Oklahoma State, his teammates were amazed as his courage by trying to play through the injury -- particularly as his injured foot was protected by material that coach Mike Leach described as “something Forrest Gump would have worn.”

Sheffield was fitted with an orthopedic shoe, but teammates marveled at his ability to run despite the injury and his equipment.

“To go out there on a broken foot, that says a lot about a guy,” Tech linebacker Bront Bird said. “His shoe looked like a clown shoe. It was about a size 16 with all kinds of padding and stuff like that. He was hobbling around out there.”

And senior tackle Marlon Winn, who is 6-foot-6 and more than 300 pounds, said his shoes aren’t nearly as big as those worn by the junior quarterback.

“I think it is an amazing thing. It’s something I’ve never seen anything like it,” Winn said. “The amount of work and craftsmanship that went into that thing is awesome. You have to see it in person. It’s really cool and it’s bigger than mine -- way bigger than mine.”

Quarterback Taylor Potts started the game and played the first four series in the Red Raiders’ 24-17 loss. Sheffield entered the game midway through the second quarter and played until the middle of the fourth quarter, completing 16-of-23 passes for 117 yards, a touchdown and two interceptions. He lost 19 yards on his only rushing attempt against the Cowboys.

Tech’s starting quarterback for Oklahoma is expected to be a game-time decision.

Ten good minutes with Texas Tech LB Bront Bird

October, 23, 2009
10/23/09
9:00
AM ET
Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Griffin

 
 Karl Anderson/Icon SMI
 Linebacker Bront Bird has become one of the mainstays of the Texas Tech defense.

Texas Tech linebacker Bront Bird has developed into one of the steadiest players on the Red Raiders’ fast improving defense.

We caught up with Bird for a few minutes to talk about the recent development of his team’s defense over the past several weeks heading into their game Saturday night against Texas A&M. Here are some of his thoughts going into the game.

What has the Tech defense been playing with so much confidence recently?

Bront Bird: We’ve been playing pretty well in recent games. As a team, we’re gaining a little swagger. We want to go out and play the best we can play. And in the last two games, the defense has really played well.

Your team beat Kansas State by 52 points. That same Kansas State team turned around and beat Texas A&M by 48 points last week. Is that going to affect your preparations for the Aggies this week?

BB: That’s just one of those things. You can’t really pay any attention to who you have beaten or who somebody else has played. Coach Leach has sign that we respect everybody and fear no one. Regardless of what they have done, we have to approach it like they’ll come out ready to play. And if we don’t do that, we run the chance of getting embarrassed. We need to play our very best to make sure that doesn’t happen.

Texas Tech had a strong performance against Nebraska last week. That came at the same time there was a lot of talk about the Cornhuskers and what they had done defensively in the games previous to that one. Was their some satisfaction that your defense outplayed the Cornhuskers’ defense in that game?

BB: One thing that Coach McNeill (Texas Tech defensive coordinator Ruffin McNeill) said was that we wanted to leave the game as the best defense on the field. We tried to do that. Nebraska had a lot of hype and it was deserved. Watching their front four was something. I don’t remember seeing them blitz in the entire game. Their front was big, strong and athletic. But we tried to be the best defense on the field.

Considering all the offensive battles that have taken place across the Big 12 in recent years, was it different having an old-fashioned defensive battle?

BB: It was so much fun. It was one of those things where both defenses felt the same way. We just felt like they wouldn’t score on us. I’m sure their defense felt the same way. They got a three-and-out and then we would get one. But I’m proud of our offense that they had a sense of timing and scoring early like they did. That helped us win the game.

What has it meant for you to have McNeill as your defensive coordinator, specifically as he has helped develop your skills?

BB: When he first came in as the defensive coordinator I was in my redshirt season. Later that year, he told me he wanted to pull my redshirt. When he asked, I told him I would do it if he promised me I could play. I’ve always had a lot of trust in him and what he does for us. He loves the people he’s around and the coaches and just loves being part of the team. He’s jumping around and giving us chest bumps to get us excited out there. He’s a special coach.

You have played both defensive end and linebacker this season. Which position do you prefer?

BB: I still play six or seven snaps a game at defensive end, I did it in the last game. To tell you the truth, I like them both. At defensive end you are just trying to work to get off the snap. And at linebacker, you get to see the entire play. At defensive end, it’s more of a one-on-one battle. I like playing both of them. It’s a blessing what Coach McNeill has done in letting me play both.

Your mother passed away recently, soon after Coach McNeill’s mother passed away as well. Did you gain some common ground with him in your relationship because of your shared losses?

BB: When my mom passed way, he was the first guy I talked to. He completely understands what happened and what I was going through at the time. We still talk about it. I think it helped us bond closer together. He understands what I’ve gone through. We have a better relationship because of it.

Your team has done a remarkable job of overcoming the struggles of your earlier two-game losing streak. How were you able to accomplish that?

BB: It’s just one of those deals where we had to decide if we would let negative things overcome us or if we would step up and rise to the challenge. That’s what we’ve done and we’ve played the same way nearly every week after that.

Coach Leach has done an unusual coaching decision of naming new captains every week, based on the vote of players. Do you think that helps the team?

BB: I like it, because it puts a lot on us and holds us all accountable. If you’re not playing well and not leading you can be replaced. I think since it’s elected every week, if you have been a part of being a captain you’d like to stay on and hold that spot. It makes you work harder.

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