Big 12: Chris Omigie
Schedule: The first of KU's 15 NCAA-allowed practices will be today, leading up to a spring game in Lawrence on April 13.
What's new: Kansas made some minor shifts in its coaching staff, but the real attraction in Lawrence this spring is the influx of junior college talent. We'll get to that a bit later. The biggest staff change is Clint Bowen stepping up to coach the linebackers, replacing DeMontie Cross, who left for TCU this offseason.
New faces: This list is about to get serious, so buckle up. That's what you have to expect when about three-fourths of your class is junior college transfers. Kansas is bringing in 11 players early this spring.
- CB Colin Spencer
- DT Marquel Combs
- OT Zach Fondal
- OG Ngalu Fusimalohi
- DT Tedarian Johnson
- DE Chris Martin
- CB Dexter McDonald
- DT Ty McKinney
- P/KOS Trevor Pardula
- CB Cassius Sendish
- OL Mike Smithburg
That's obviously a big haul, and KU's focusing on grabbing an immediate talent upgrade. Whether they have one in reality will show up this spring.
All eyes on: Quarterback Jake Heaps. KU seemed like it was set at the position after Heaps and Dayne Crist transferred from major programs following Charlie Weis' hire. Last year's campaign with Crist went poorly and he was benched midway through the season. Heaps would like better results and has already entrenched himself as a leader like Crist did. Will it lead to better results on the field? We may get a feel for that this spring.
Question marks: Kansas needs receiver help and needs it badly. But I like the defense's chances to make some further strides after some improvements last season under Dave Campo. The receiving unit having no touchdown catches last season is inexcusable, though. It just has to be better. Juco transfer Rodriguez Coleman won't be there in the spring, but guys like Chris Omigie, Tre Parmalee and Andrew Turzilli need to show progress this spring and fill in for the losses of Daymond Patterson and Kale Pick.
Breaking out: Defensive tackle Jordan Tavai. There will be a lot of attention paid to Marquel Combs this spring, but Tavai showed up midway through fall camp last season and earned a starting spot by season's end. After going through the offseason program and having a season under his belt, he could be a new man next fall for the Jayhawks. The senior juco transfer could show off some of that progress this spring.
2011 conference record: 0-9
Returning starters: Offense 7; defense 6; P/K (2)
RB James Sims, WR D.J. Beshears, S Bradley McDougald, OL Tanner Hawkinson, DE Toben Opurum, RB Tony Pierson
QB Jordan Webb, RB Darrian Miller, LB Steven Johnson, CB Isiah Barfield, DL Patrick Dorsey
2011 statistical leaders (*returners)
Rushing: James Sims* (727 yards)
Passing: Jordan Webb (1,883 yards)
Receiving: D.J. Beshears* (437 yards)
Tackles: Steven Johnson (119)
Sacks: Toben Opurum* (4)
Interceptions: Bradley McDougald*, Greg Brown* (2)
1. A culture change is underway: Kansas' players have been beaten down over the past two years. Faith that a corner would be turned under Turner Gill wasn't rewarded. Part of what new coach Charlie Weis has to pound into his team is a sense of confidence. He memorably got his team to practice celebrating a win during one of this spring's open practices, producing a video that went viral. Confidence has to be KU's first step back from five wins in two seasons.
2. Recognizable names looking for a new start: Weis isn't the only person looking for a fresh start in Lawrence. KU welcomed six Division I transfers this fall, including starting quarterback Dayne Crist. Jake Heaps is waiting his turn to take the quarterback spot in 2013, but Oklahoma transfer Justin McCay had his appeal to waive the redshirt year denied by the NCAA. He'll be back in 2013, but defensive coordinator Dave Campo brings a big resume to Weis' staff, too.
3. Underrated at receiver: Kansas' receivers were obviously not very productive, but Weis actually left the spring really impressed with the unit. That's a good sign for Crist, and that's even without McCay suiting up. Former quarterback Kale Pick should contribute alongside D.J. Beshears and Daymond Patterson, who sat out the last 11 games of 2011 with a groin injury. JaCorey Shepherd, 6-foot-4 junior Chris Omigie and junior Christian Matthews fill out the unit that had enough depth to move Marquis Jackson to running back.
1. Can Charlie Weis reward the KU administration's faith? Kansas is very different than Notre Dame. It's very different from the Kansas City Chiefs and Florida Gators, too. The prospect of building a team from the bottom up appealed to Weis, and KU athletic director Sheahon Zenger made a hire that was panned by most across the country. Weis will coach with a chip on his shoulder, and the man knows football. Can he prove his detractors wrong?
2. What will the defensive line look like? This unit was the biggest hole on Kansas' team last season, and handcuffed what Weis saw was an underrated secondary. Weis noted the Jayhawks needed some bigger "muchachos" up front, and noted that reinforcements were on the way. Players that were working with the first team during the spring may be sliding way down the depth chart in the fall. How will it play out? Well, that's what fall camp is for.
3. How will the running back spot shake out? James Sims has led Kansas in rushing for each of the past two seasons, but was suspended for the first three games of 2012 after an OWI arrest. That's bad news for Sims, who had a bunch of competition at KU's best position, even after Darrian Miller was dismissed from the team during the offseason. Jackson and Tony Pierson both made huge impacts in the spring game, and Sims could have serious trouble earning his spot back when he returns in the fall. Weis won't waste first-team reps on Sims during fall camp, and with a new staff, that's a lot of exposure for Pierson, Jackson and Brandon Bourbon.
Remember that depth plays a big part of these rankings. We'll be ranking the top 10 individuals at each position later on before the season begins.
Other position rankings:
2. Oklahoma State
The Cowboys boast the returning Biletnikoff Award winner and 2011 favorite, Justin Blackmon, with a great group around him, too. Slot machine Josh Cooper returns for his senior year, and fellow senior Hubert Anyiam (the team's leading receiver in 2009) is hoping to return to form after being slowed by an ankle injury in 2010. Isaiah Anderson is a shifty speedster, while Michael Harrison and Tracy Moore offer a more aerial approach to receiving.
3. Texas A&M
The Aggies have the Big 12's No. 3 receiver, Jeff Fuller, who is arguably one of the top-five in the college game. But they also have the Big 12's most experienced receiving unit, with guys who won't be surprised by anything they see in Big 12 play. Juniors Ryan Swope and Uzoma Nwachukwu are the team's second and third options, but fellow juniors Kenric McNeal and Brandal Jackson could be bigger pieces of the offense in 2011. Tight end Nehemiah Hicks should see his profile rise in his coming sophomore year.
Top target Kendall Wright will likely end his career as the Bears' leading receiver for all four of his seasons on the field, and 6-foot-4, 220-pound junior Josh Gordon looks like the new Jeff Fuller. Terrance Williams, Lanear Sampson and Tevin Reese round out the Bears' top five, who all had at least 40 catches last season, and all return.
Missouri still lacks a proven big-play threat, but has two pass-catchers who have some of the best hands in the game. Receiver T.J. Moe and tight end Michael Egnew won't drop many passes, and combined to catch 182 for 1,807 yards and 11 touchdowns. Wes Kemp and Jerrell Jackson bring a lot of experience and both had at least 39 catches last season. If Marcus Lucas or Rolandis Woodland can become a consistent downfield threat, Missouri will rise up these rankings by season's end.
6. Texas Tech
Tech's top two receivers, Lyle Leong and Detron Lewis, must be replaced, but the Red Raiders have a few solid candidates to do it. Junior Alex Torres will likely lead the group, but fellow junior Austin Zouzalik and seniors Jacoby Franks and Tramain Swindall will be counted on for more production. Dark horse/juco newcomer Marcus Kennard could blossom into a household name across the Big 12 by season's end.
Sophomore Mike Davis and redshirt freshman Darius White are loaded with potential, but two of the team's top three receivers (James Kirkendoll, John Chiles) are gone, and no Texas receiver caught more than two touchdowns last season. Malcolm Williams and Marquise Goodwin are as different as two receivers could be, but both need to break out to help whoever becomes the Longhorns quarterback next fall.
8. Kansas State
Brodrick Smith will be back this season after breaking his leg in a loss to Nebraska. But two of the team's top three receivers are gone, leaving converted quarterback Chris Harper as the leading returner, though Smith might have held that title if he'd stayed healthy. Sophomore speedster Tramaine Thompson can make plays if he gets the ball with some space.
9. Iowa State
The Cyclones will be breaking in a new quarterback this season and they will need a playmaker to step up. Tight end Collin Franklin led team in receiving last season but he is now gone. Darius Reynolds looks like a possible candidate to fill the role, although incoming slot receiver Aaron Horne might rack up a few catches in space. Darius Darks and Josh Lenz should earn some more targets too.
Converted defensive back Daymond Patterson is the team's top receiver, but the team's No. 3 receiver junior Bradley McDougald, moved to safety in the middle of the season. Tight end Tim Biere is one of the Big 12's best and led the team with four touchdowns last season. Chris Omigie and D.J. Beshears have some potential, and converted quarterback Christian Matthews keeps showing up in spring games. But all three, along with the rest of the group, would benefit from some consistency at the quarterback spot.
Strongest position: Running back
Key returnees: James Sims, Deshaun Sands
Key losses: Angus Quigley
Analysis: It's a little hard to believe considering Kansas' top running back in 2009, Toben Opurum, plays defensive end now, but the position was a strength in Turner Gill's first year. It should be again in Year 2, only slightly more so than linebacker. To be frank, Kansas wasn't very good at much in 2010, and its 3-9 record showed it. However, the Jayhawks should have great, great depth at the position and a possible 1,000-yard rusher in Sims leading the way. Sims (never forget, Big 12's best headshot) took over as the primary ballcarrier after rushing for 101 yards against Georgia Tech in the Jayhawks' signature win of 2010. He topped 100 yards two more times last season and scored four touchdowns in Kansas' lone conference win of the season, a 52-45 victory against Colorado that featured 35 consecutive Kansas points in the fourth quarter. His 10 scores led the team, and there are several running backs with potential behind him. Sands could get some carries, but two of the Jayhawks' best recruits of the past two classes have been running backs. Brandon Bourbon and Darrian Miller should compete for playing time as well. Dreamius Smith could be a factor, and as the bruiser of the group, Sims could be complemented well in the Kansas running game with a speedier, shifty change-of-pace back.
Weakest position: Quarterback
Key returnees: Jordan Webb, Quinn Mecham
Key losses: None
Analysis: The Jayhawks had a glaring weakness at quarterback in 2010, and it's the biggest area that must improve if Kansas is going to get back to a) being competitive and/or b) winning games consistently in the Big 12.
Consider this: Despite suffering eight of its nine losses by double digits last season, the Jayhawks threw the ball just 353 times. Only Nebraska, with its impressive running trio, threw it fewer times last season. That says plenty about the confidence the Jayhawks have in their passers. It's not surprising that Kansas threw the second-fewest touchdown passes (Texas), had the second lowest completion percentage (Iowa State), threw for the fewest yards and yet threw the third-most interceptions (14) in the league. Not a good combination.
Webb and Mecham don't have many great receiving options, but Daymond Patterson, Chris Omigie and tight end Tim Biere will have to become more consistent targets for the Jayhawks next season. They were shuffled in and out last season. This spring, hopes were high for incoming freshman Brock Berglund, the top player in Colorado, who enrolled early and planned to take part in spring practice, which begins on Friday in Lawrence. Citing personal reasons, however, Berglund went back to Colorado shortly after enrolling and plans to re-enter the university in the fall. That puts a damper on the hopes of Jayhawks fans hoping to see him start the season opener in the fall, but considering Mecham and Webb's struggles last season, it's likely that Berglund will, at the very least, get an opportunity to prove himself in a game next season.
More spring superlatives:
- Tom Kensler of the Denver Post gives a quick profile of Colorado's spectacularly named new quarterback, Stevie Joe Dorman.
- Kansas receiver Chris Omigie was arrested on suspicion of driving under the influence over the weekend, reports George Diepenbrock of the Lawrence Journal-World.
- Big challenges are nothing new for possible new offensive coordinator Tim Beck at Nebraska, writes Brian Christopherson of the Lincoln Journal Star.
- Colleague Bruce Feldman ranks the top impact junior college transfers from 2011 and Missouri signee Sheldon Richardson checks in at No. 2.
- Don't expect veteran assistant Ron Brown to hang up his coaching whistle, writes Steve Sipple of the Lincoln Journal Star. He also gives a note about why no official announcements about coaching vacancies have come down yet.
Next up: Kansas.
Best case: 9-3, with losses to Georgia Tech, Texas A&M, Nebraska. The Jayhawks were aided by a favorable South rotation without Texas and Oklahoma on the schedule.
Worst case: 2-10, with wins over North Dakota State and New Mexico State.
Reality: Kansas was less competitive than even the most pessimistic Jayhawks fans figured their team would be, and the Jayhawks slid to 3-9 with just one conference win. Interestingly enough, the Jayhawks won a game (Georgia Tech) I had as a sure loss in both scenarios, and lost a game (North Dakota State) I had as a sure win in both scenarios. Kansas varied greatly between my best and worst case scenarios, but you're never sure what to expect with a bunch of new players (Hi, Oklahoma State!) and a new coaching staff.
Analysis: Losing the best quarterback in school history (Todd Reesing) and two of its best receivers (Dezmon Briscoe and Kerry Meier) meant Kansas would be rebuilding for sure, especially considering that group managed to go just 5-7 as seniors. The Jayhawks struggled from the beginning, dropping a shocking season opener to North Dakota State at home, 9-6. They rebounded by beating the defending ACC champs, Georgia Tech, but the Yellowjackets, ranked at the time, finished 6-7.
In short, Kansas was who we thought they were. There's no doubt the Jayhawks got better down the stretch, but 55-7 and 59-7 losses to Baylor and Kansas State, two middle-of-the-road teams in the Big 12, were eye-openers. Kansas at the end of the season was about what I expected. I never thought they'd play as poorly as they did early on.
For Kansas, though, the lasting image of its season could be the epic comeback against Colorado. Down 45-17 with 11 minutes to play, the Jayhawks rallied to beat Colorado at home for their lone conference win. It's definitely something to build on. Kansas still has big, big questions at quarterback, but found a reliable option at running back in freshman James Sims. Receivers Daymond Patterson and Chris Omigie showed flashes of potential down the stretch. Linebacker Huldon Tharp missed the entire 2010 season, but he'll be back next year.
Turner Gill has put together a pretty good recruiting class in 2011, and developing that talent will be key to making sure Kansas climbs closer to its best-case scenario in 2011.
That has to feel good for an offense that had just 87 yards of offense in a 20-3 loss to Nebraska last week.
Just three minutes into this week's game, the Jayhawks have 80, and they did it boldly. Quarterback Quinn Mecham hit Chris Omigie on the game's first play for a 36-yard pass and drew a blatant pass interference call in the end zone on a reverse pass by Johnathan Wilson.
Mecham hit tight end Tim Biere for the 12-yard score.
Kansas couldn't ask for a better start, but now comes the hard part: stopping Oklahoma State's offense.
- Kale Pick threw a late 37-yard touchdown pass to lead the Blue team to a 14-10 victory over the White. (Worth noting: he also threw a touchdown pass for the White team. Spring game rules: Love them. Colons as well, apparently.)
- 12,500 fans showed up.
- As noted this morning, Kale Pick made himself the clear favorite with the game-winning score to Christian Matthews. But he also threw a pretty deep ball down the right side for a 72-yard score to Chris Omigie. Pick was frustrated that most people thought of him as just a runner when spring began. Consider that idea officially dead. Except Pick still gets to keep his 4.5 40 time. Of course, the contest is hardly over, but he's planning on asserting himself this summer with his receivers. "We don’t have great timing yet, but it will come this summer," he said.
- Jordan Webb threw the other touchdown pass, a nice throw to tight end Tim Biere into a tight window while he was under pressure. Webb emerged as the other candidate this spring, and had a decent day throwing the ball (8-of-13, 46 yards), but also threw an interception.
- Applying that pressure? Kansas defensive ends, who had a field day on the quarterbacks without actually planting any of them into the Kivisto Field turf, of course. Spring means no contact for the quarterbacks, but Kansas quarterbacks were sacked nine times in the game, including two by Quinton Woods and Kevin Young.
- But what does that mean for the offensive line? They bring back all five starters, but give up nine sacks to a relatively unheralded defense? Probably not a great sign, but again, it's spring. Kansas was 11th in the conference in rushing last season, and gave up 25 sacks, second-most in the conference. Sometimes improvement is assumed, but it doesn't always happen. (See: Kansas 2009 season.) The offensive line will have to show some improvement before it gets penciled in as the strength some see it in Gill's first year.
- On a related note, nice days for running backs Angus Quigley and DeShaun Sands, who both carried the ball seven times for over 30 yards, surpassing four yards per carry. Disappointing day for sophomore Toben Opurum, who ran for just 16 yards on the same number of carries. "There is no clear-cut guy," Gill said of his running backs. "We’re going to keep this thing competitive. We do have some competitiveness at the running back spot and a lot of different areas."
“It was pretty simple. We were just running our base plays. We didn’t get too exotic. We wanted to see execution.” -- Kansas coach Turner Gill on his offense, which ran only 30-40 percent of the playbook.
"I think it’s part of a clean slate, and we’re disappointed by last year. Nobody’s happy about that. We’re doing whatever we can to not let that happen again ... It’s been a big factor. I was sick watching those bowl games over the break. I couldn’t watch all of them. I watched a couple, but I was just sick after we didn’t make it." -- Senior receiver Johnathan Wilson, on last season's failures as a motivator for the spring.
"We just got a lot of new terminology. People at new positions and just different faces that weren’t there last season. But I think things are going along nicely." -- Sophomore running back Toben Opurum, on the changes with the new coaching staff
Turner Gill will give a first look at how he and coordinators Carl Torbush and Chuck Long run their program, and will no doubt be watched closely after Mark Mangino’s resignation amid allegations of player abuse.
On the field, sophomore quarterback Kale Pick will look to cement a spot at starter, but JUCO transfer Quinn Mecham arrives with 40 touchdowns last season at Snow College in Utah on his resume.
Though once fall arrives, Gill might not have to pick, and Kansas could very well employ both Pick, a runner who averaged almost 12 yards per carry last season, and Mecham, a more precise passer.
Who catches those passes could be another question mark. Dezmon Briscoe and Kerry Meier are gone, and Johnathan Wilson, Bradley McDougald and Chris Omigie have to prove they're ready this spring. If they don’t, those opportunities might not be there long in the fall. Of Kansas' 18 signees in 2010, four are wide receivers.
Spring practice starts: March 16
Spring game: April 10
1. Quarterback Robert Griffin III's surgically repaired right knee. Griffin hasn't played since tearing the ACL in his right knee in the third game of the '09 season. He recently said he's ahead of schedule in rehabilitation, but probably won’t do much during spring practice. He'll wear a heavy knee brace and won’t participate in contact drills.
2. New linebackers. The Bears lost strongside linebacker Antonio Jones and middle linebacker Joe Pawelek, who combined to make 190 tackles last season. Senior Earl Patin, who also has played some defensive end during his career, is poised to replace Pawelek in the middle. But Patin will have to hold off highly regarded youngsters Chris McAllister and LeQuince McCall, who redshirted in ’09. Senior Chris Francis is probably the top candidate to replace Jones on the strong side.
3. Safety. The Bears must replace both of their starting safeties, including All-Big 12 performer Jordan Lake, who started 36 games in a row. Junior college transfer Byron Landor and sophomore Mike Hicks will get the first looks in the spring. But they'll have to hold off incoming freshman Ahmad Dixon, one of the top prospects to ever sign with Baylor, after he arrives for fall camp.
Spring practice starts: March 6
Spring game: April 10
1. Michigan transfer Toney Clemons. Buffaloes coach Dan Hawkins called Clemons his team's most exciting receiver while he sat out the '09 season under NCAA transfer rules. The cousin of Arizona Cardinals receiver Steve Breaston, Clemons could bring an interesting dynamic to the CU offense. His arrival couldn't come at a better time, either, after Markques Simas was suspended indefinitely for violating team rules.
2. Linebacker. The Buffaloes must replace their two most productive linebackers after losing Marcus Burton and Jeff Smart. The departed seniors combined to make 105 solo tackles and 6.5 sacks last season. Senior Michael Sipili is the top candidate to replace Burton in the middle, and sophomore Jon Major might get the first crack at replacing Smart on the weak side.
3. Offensive line. The unit's inconsistency has dogged Hawkins' offense in each of his first four seasons. Eight offensive linemen had significant playing time in '09, so the Buffs are looking for more stability up front. The return of sophomore guard Maxwell Tuioti-Mariner from a pair of knee injuries, and early arrival of junior college transfer Eric Richter might shore up the interior line.
Iowa State Cyclones
Spring practice starts: March 23
Spring game: April 17
1. Linebackers. The Cyclones lost each of their starting three linebackers: Josh Raven, Jesse Smith and Fred Garrin. Junior Jacob Lattimer is in line to replace Raven on the strong side, and two highly regarded sophomores are in line to fill the other spots. A.J. Klein, who had 17 tackles in 13 games as a freshman, might get the unenviable task of replacing Smith, who led the Big 12 in tackles in '09. Jake Knott, who had 23 tackles as a freshman, is the top candidate to start on the weak side.
2. Wide receiver. Iowa State lost leading receiver Marquis Hamilton, who had 50 catches for 606 yards with four touchdowns in '09. Tight end Derrick Catlett, another top receiving threat, also is gone. The good news: Junior Darius Reynolds returns from a broken leg that caused him to miss all but four games last season. Reynolds, who earned the moniker "Money" for his big-play potential, had 13 catches for 72 yards before he was hurt in practice in late September. Junior college tight end Ricky Howard enrolled in classes in January and will participate in spring practice.
3. Defensive line. Two starters will have to be replaced after ISU lost right end Christopher Lyle and tackle Nate Frere. Lyle led the team with five sacks in '09; Frere was a pretty good run-stopper. Sophomores Cleyon Laing and Roosevelt Maggitt will get strong looks at end, and senior Austin Alburtis and sophomore Jake McDonough will move into the tackle rotation.
Spring practice starts: March 27
Spring game: April 24
1. Quarterback. New Kansas coach Turner Gill might have one heck of a competition on his hands. Sophomore Kale Pick is a mobile option, after averaging 11.9 yards per rushing attempt in 2009. Junior college transfer Quinn Mecham, who enrolled in classes at Kansas in January, threw for 3,091 yards with 40 touchdowns and 11 interceptions at Snow College in Utah last season.
2. Wide receiver. The Jayhawks have to replace departed stars Kerry Meier and Dezmon Briscoe, which will be no easy task. The duo combined to catch 186 passes for 2,322 yards with 17 touchdowns last season. Bradley McDougald and Johnathan Wilson were proven targets last season, but younger players such as Chris Omigie and incoming freshman Keeston Terry will have to help this fall.
3. Secondary. The Kansas defense gave up too many big passing plays and didn't create enough turnovers last season. The Jayhawks will have to replace strong safety Darrell Stuckey, who led them with 93 tackles in '09. Senior Phillip Strozier will get the first crack at replacing the heart and soul of the Kansas defense.
Kansas State Wildcats
Spring practice starts: March 21
Spring game: April 24
1. Oregon transfer Chris Harper. In 2008, Harper played wide receiver and quarterback for the Ducks as a freshman. He became the first Oregon player in eight years to run, pass and catch a touchdown in the same season. Harper, a native of Wichita, Kan., might figure into Kansas State's quarterback or wide receiver plans after sitting out the '09 season under NCAA transfer rules.
2. Quarterback battle. Harper and two other players will probably battle to replace departed senior Grant Gregory. Senior Carson Coffman, who started the '09 season at quarterback, figures to be back in the mix, along with junior college transfer Sammuel Lamur.
3. Defensive line. The Wildcats have a couple of gaping holes to fill up front defensively. End Jeff Fitzgerald, who had 40 tackles and 10 tackles for loss in '09, has to be replaced, along with tackles Daniel Calvin and Chidubamu Abana. Junior college transfer Javonta Boyd, who has already enrolled in classes, could help in the interior line.
Spring practice starts: March 9
Spring game: April 17
1. Wide receiver. The Tigers have to replace Danario Alexander, who led the country with 1,781 receiving yards in 2009. Juniors Jerrell Jackson and Wes Kemp both caught more than 20 passes last season, but younger players like T.J. Moe and Rolandis Woodland are going to have to contribute more. Incoming freshman Marcus Lucas could help in the fall.
2. Linebacker. The Tigers bring back two of their starting three linebackers, but three-time All-Big 12 selection Sean Weatherspoon is the one who left. Sophomore Donovan Bonner heads into spring camp as the top candidate to replace Weatherspoon on the weak side, and Will Ebner and Andrew Gachkar are back at the other linebacker spots.
3. Defensive line. Two starters are gone on the defensive front: end Brian Coulter and nose tackle Jaron Baston. At least the Tigers know they’re set at one side, with end Aldon Smith coming back after totaling 19 tackles for loss and 11.5 sacks in '09. Marcus Malbrough and Jacquies Smith will battle for starting end, and Terrell Resonno could move into the vacant tackle spot.
Spring practice starts: March 24
Spring game: April 17
What to watch:
1. Will quarterback Zac Lee keep his starting job? After Lee was plagued by inconsistency throughout the '09 season, offensive coordinator Shawn Watson is expected to open the competition during spring practice. Sophomore Cody Green, senior Latravis Washington and freshman Taylor Martinez will all be given a fair chance to win the job.
2. Defensive tackle. Nebraska fans won't see All-American Ndamukong Suh commanding double-team blocks along the line of scrimmage. Even after losing one of the most decorated players in school history, the Cornhuskers figure to be pretty good up front. Jared Crick and Baker Steinkuhler will man the middle, with Pierre Allen and Cameron Meredith entering spring camp as the favorites at ends.
3. Rex Burkhead. The sophomore burst onto the scene after Roy Helu Jr. was hurt early in the Huskers' 33-0 rout of Arizona in the Pacific Life Holiday Bowl, rushing for 89 yards with one touchdown. Burkhead was very explosive running out of the Wildcat package, so look for Watson to try and utilize him even more to make the Nebraska attack less predictable.
Spring practice starts: March 8
Spring game: April 17
1. Offensive line. The Sooners have a lot of questions up front on offense, after left tackle Trent Williams and right guard Brian Simmons departed. Will junior Donald Stephenson finally be ready to contribute at left tackle after being suspended for all of the ’09 season? Will center Ben Habern be ready after breaking his leg late in the ’09 season? When will Jarvis Jones return from a broken heel?
2. Linebacker Ronnell Lewis. The sophomore had a break-out game in the Sooners’ 31-27 victory over Stanford in the Sun Bowl, finishing with six tackles and a forced fumble. With starting linebackers Keenan Clayton and Ryan Reynolds departing, Lewis will assume a starting role on the strong side. Redshirt freshman Tom Wort is projected to start in the middle, with junior Travis Lewis starting on the weak side.
3. Secondary. The Sooners have shuffled their defensive backs after losing cornerbacks Dominique Franks and Brian Jackson. Sophomore Demontre Hurst is in line to replace Franks at field cornerback, and senior Jonathan Nelson has moved from strong safety to boundary cornerback. Junior Sam Proctor is expected to replace Nelson at strong safety, and senior Quinton Carter is back at free safety.
Oklahoma State Cowboys
Spring practice starts: March 8
Spring game: April 17
1. Quarterback Brandon Weeden. The 26-year-old junior is the top candidate to replace Zac Robinson, who broke nearly every OSU passing record. Weeden was a second-round choice of the New York Yankees in the 2002 amateur baseball draft. If he can grasp new offensive coordinator Dana Holgorson's spread offense quickly, the Pokes' passing game should again be potent in 2010.
2. Defense. Defensive coordinator Bill Young will have his hands full this spring trying to replace nine starters. The only returning starters are defensive end Ugo Chinasa and strong safety Markelle Martin. The Pokes have to replace three starters on the defensive line, three linebackers and three defensive backs. Three newcomers -- linebacker Caleb Lavey and defensive backs Devin Hedgepeth and Malcolm Murray -- will get early looks in spring camp.
3. Offensive line. The Cowboys will have to replace star left tackle Russell Okung, left guard Noah Franklin, center Andrew Lewis and right tackle Brady Bond. Juniors Nick Martinez, Casey LaBrue and Grant Garner will be the top candidates to fill open starting spots.
Spring practice starts: Feb. 26
Spring game: April 4
1. Quarterback Garrett Gilbert. The sophomore was thrust into action after Colt McCoy injured his shoulder against Alabama in the Citi BCS National Championship Game and played admirably well in tough circumstances. The Longhorns might change their identity on offense with a young quarterback under center, so developing a running game to take pressure off Gilbert might be a top priority.
2. Defense. The unit is in good hands with coordinator Will Muschamp, but he'll have to replace many of the star players from 2009. End Sergio Kindle, tackle Lamarr Houston, linebacker Roddrick Muckelroy and safety Earl Thomas are all gone. Younger players such as end Alex Okafor and tackle Tyrell Higgins will have to turn it up a notch during spring practice.
3. Wide receiver. Jordan Shipley, who was McCoy's favorite target, also departed. Seniors James Kirkendoll and John Chiles, junior Malcolm Williams and sophomore Marquise Goodwin will have to be more consistent in their route running and pass catching. Other receivers such as D.J. Monroe and DeSean Hales will be trying to crack the receiver rotation during the spring, before talented freshmen like Darius White, Mike Davis and Demarco Cobbs arrive on campus.
Texas A&M Aggies
Spring practice starts: March 23
Spring game: April 17
1. New defensive coordinator Tim DeRuyter, who built one of the country’s best units at Air Force last season. He inherits an A&M defense that was woefully porous last season and will switch to a 3-4 scheme. Nine starters are coming back on defense, including pass-rushing specialist Von Miller. DeRuyter will spend the spring trying to install his system and getting his players comfortable with it.
2. Offensive line. The Aggies must replace three starting offensive linemen: left tackle Michael Shumard, center Kevin Matthews and right tackle Lee Grimes. Juniors Joe Villavisencio and Danny Baker and sophomore Stephen Barrera have to be ready to step up this spring.
3. Special teams. The Aggies’ special teams weren’t so special last season, as they ranked 104th in net punting, 91st in kickoff return defense and 49th in kickoff returns among FBS teams. Aggies coach Mike Sherman is putting a new emphasis on special teams, which cost his team dearly in its 44-20 loss to Georgia in the Independence Bowl.
Texas Tech Red Raiders
Spring practice starts: March 7
Spring game: April 17
1. Quarterbacks. With former Auburn coach Tommy Tuberville replacing Mike Leach at Texas Tech, senior quarterbacks Taylor Potts and Steven Sheffield figure to start spring camp on a level playing field. Potts started 10 games last season, throwing for 3,440 yards with 22 touchdowns and 13 interceptions. Sheffield started two games and threw for 1,219 yards with 14 touchdowns and four picks. New offensive coordinator Neal Brown, who was hired from Troy, runs a version of the spread offense, but Tuberville will probably incorporate more of a traditional running game into the offense.
2. Defensive line. New defensive coordinator James Willis has to replace three starters on his defensive front: ends Brandon Sharpe and Daniel Howard and tackle Richard Jones. Making matters worse, the top two reserve ends in 2009 were seniors, along with the backup nose tackle.
3. Offensive line. O-line coach Matt Moore, who was retained from Leach's staff, has to replace three starters: center Shawn Byrnes, right guard Brandon Carter and right tackle Marlon Winn. Juniors Justin Keown and Mickey Okafor and sophomore LaAdrian Waddle will probably be given first crack at replacing them. Incoming junior college transfer Scott Smith could play stand-up end in Tech's 3-4 scheme, and junior college defensive tackle Donald Langley might also have an impact in spring practice.
Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Griffin
Baylor: Signing class can be found here.
Breakdown: 23 high school, four junior college, one FBS transfer
Positions: 7 OL, 5 WR, 5 DB, 4 DL, 3 ATH, 3 LB, 2 RB
Where they came from: Texas 25, Canada 2, Bahamas 1, Louisiana 1.
The stud: ATH Darius Jones, Marshall, Texas -- Versatile high school quarterback ranked as the No. 76 player on the ESPNU 150 and as the nation's fourth-best athlete by Scouts Inc. Coach Art Briles beat Oklahoma for this commitment and he's already salivating about using Jones as a slot receiver because of his speed.
Recruiting-class sleeper: DE Rico Forbes, Houston (St. Pius) -- Briles is hoping for a contribution from this native of the Bahamas who was too old to play as a senior in high school because he was already 19 years old. Coaches see the 270-pounder, a one-time Texas A&M oral commitment, as being able to develop into a dominant player if he can get his college transcripts in order.
The one who got away: WR Chris Omigie of Arlington (Lamar) was a vital recruit for the Bears because of his playmaking abilities.The lanky wide receiver would have been a nice fit as a deep threat for several years, but instead decided on an offer from Kansas.
Needs addressed: Offensive line, wide receivers, secondary.
Didn't get it: A breakaway running threat.
Scouts Inc. grade: C (ninth in the Big 12, sixth in South Division).
My take: Briles has surrounded quarterback Robert Griffin with several notable athletic receivers and the makings of an offensive line. But the Bears attracted only 12 true defensive players in the class and will likely transition several of their athlete recruits into defensive roles. It remains their biggest need for the future - particularly with standouts like Joe Pawelek and Jordan Lake entering their senior seasons.
Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Griffin
Try reading these links wearing a tuxedo. It will almost make you feel like you're present at the inaugural ball tonight.
- Sam Bradford's dad, Kent, tells the Kansas City Star's Blair Kerkhoff that his son was never close to leaving college football for the NFL.
- Incoming freshmen wide receiver recruits Erick McGriff and Chris Omigie provide much-needed size to Kansas' wide receiving corps, the Daily Kansan's Stephen Montemayor writes.
- The Lincoln Journal-Star's Steve Sipple caught up with former Nebraska I-back Marlon Lucky to talk about his big performance in Saturday's East-West Shrine game.
- Barry Jackson of the Miami Herald writes that Miami defensive coordinator Bill Young could double his salary if he accepts the reported $700,000 per year deal that Oklahoma State coach Mike Gundy is offering him to join the Cowboys as defensive coordinator. And the Daily Oklahoman's Scott Wright reports that Young "is torn" by the Oklahoma State offer, considering his wife is from Oklahoma and he is a graduate of the school.
- Dave Krieger of the Rocky Mountain News imagines what could have been if Texas and USC had met in a championship game to cap a meaningful college football playoff system.
- Tom Dienhart of Rivals.com lists former Kansas State head coach Ron Prince and former San Diego State coach and one-time Oklahoma offensive coordinator Chuck Long in the mix for Miami's vacant offensive coordinator position.