Big 12: Cory Brandon
Ndamukong Suh won the award in 2009, giving Nebraska nine total winners, four more than any other school since the award's inception in 1946. The school had three consecutive winners from 1981-83 with Dave Rimington winning the trophy in 1981 and 1982 and Dean Steinkuhler winning in 1983. Steinkuhler's son, Baker Steinkuhler, is projected to start for the Huskers at defensive tackle in 2010.
Oklahoma has the second-most awards, with five. Jammal Brown in 2004 was the most recent Sooners' winner.
Texas is among four schools tied for fourth-most all-time with three winners, but hasn't had a winner since Brad Shearer in 1977.
Here's who made this year's list:
- Sam Acho, DT, Texas
- Tim Barnes, C Missouri
- Cory Brandon, T, Oklahoma
- Jared Crick, DT, Nebraska
- Ben Habern, C, Oklahoma
- Kyle Hix, T, Texas
- Ben Lamaak, C, Iowa State
- Ryan Miller, G, Colorado
- Nate Solder, T, Colorado
- Adrian Taylor, DT, Oklahoma
But even if Steele is overrating the Sooners, who finished last season 8-5, it's far from an insane pick. Call it a leap of faith in a group of five guys.
It's not hard to see why they're a top-10 team. They have a deep group of running backs with an experienced feature back. They have a quarterback in Landry Jones who threw for 3,198 yards and 26 touchdowns while being thrust into sudden action when Sam Bradford played only sparingly after suffering a shoulder injury in the season opener. He could be set for a big year.
They also have the conference's best receiver in Ryan Broyles, who caught 15 touchdowns in 2009, second-most in college football. He also emerged as Jones' safety blanket, catching 89 passes and notching fewer than seven receptions in just three games, including a loss to Miami when he was injured after a 37-yard reception on the opening drive.
The defense should have one of the best front fours in the country, headlined by defensive end Jeremy Beal. Junior linebacker Travis Lewis has taken control of the Sooners' leadership role after leading the team in tackles as a freshman and sophomore, and will line up next to a pair of promising young linebackers in Tom Wort and Ronnell Lewis, or experienced junior Austin Box.
The same goes for the secondary, which returns both safeties and should be deep at corner with Demontre Hurst, Jonathan Nelson, Jamell Fleming and Gabe Lynn.
In short, Oklahoma is well above average at nearly every unit.
But there's a unit missing from that breakdown, the unit Steele clearly must have faith in: the offensive line.
I can't speak for Steele's reasons, but if the offensive line doesn't improve -- and that's a big if -- then Steele's prediction is outrageous.
Oklahoma's current offensive line consists of Jarvis Jones, Stephen Good, Ben Habern, Tyler Evans and Cory Brandon. That's absent two NFL draft picks in Trent Williams and Brody Eldridge, along with outgoing senior Brian Simmons.
If last year is any indication, that lineup will change. The Sooners started nine different combinations on the offensive line in 2009, in part because of injury and in part because of injury.
Steele put Good, who started just seven games last season, on his All-Big 12 first team. He put Brandon on his second team. Habern made the third team and Jones, who missed the last four games of last season with a fractured heel, was on his fourth team.
Jones earned an All-Big 12 honorable mention nod, but the others on Steele's list didn't make any postseason lists.
As his preseason poll indicates, he disagrees with those assessments.
And we'll have to wait three more months to find out if he's right. And I'll wait for e-mails from Alabama fans ripping me for not calling Steele a houndstooth-hating fool.
Here's where the rest of the Big 12 sits on Steele's top 25:
No dice for the Tigers or Aggies, who've slipped into the top 25 in a few pre-preseason polls.
Though plenty was made of his comments about Oklahoma as it relates to possible realignment, he also had an interesting comment about running back DeMarco Murray.
In his first season as the team's primary ball-carrier, Murray has set a goal for himself to rush for 1,500 yards, which would be a career high.
OU coach Bob Stoops has even greater expectations.
"I don't think that's enough," Stoops said Tuesday during an OU carvan stop in Tulsa. "I'd sure like to see him at 1,900. Not like we haven't done it. Adrian (Peterson) and Quentin Griffin both were over 1,900. We'll see. Hopefully he can do something like that."
I've talked about Murray plenty on the blog. I think you'd have a tough time finding a more talented running back in the conference. An easier task: finding a more productive back. He's topped 1,000 yards just once in his career, and that was in 2008 when he sat out the Big 12 and national championship games with an injured hamstring. Murray and Chris Brown complemented each other well, but Murray never seemed to get enough touches. Offensive coordinator Kevin Wilson said he wanted DeMarco to touch the ball 25 times a game last season. There's a lot that goes into that number, but Murray got 25 touches in a game just twice, and eclipsed 20 in just two other games.
If he's going to flirt with 2,000 yards (1,000 more than the number I think he flirts with this season) three things have to happen:
1) He has to stay healthy. He did that, for the most part, last season. He missed just one game (a road win over Kansas) with an ankle injury. That's been the biggest knock on him throughout his career, and if he goes down again, that knock will continue. It's worth noting that the injury criticisms are probably a little unfair. In three seasons, he's missed six games. The problem has been when he's missed games. In 2007, he missed the Bedlam game, the Big 12 championship and the Fiesta Bowl loss to West Virginia. In 2008, like I mentioned earlier, it was the Big 12 and national championships.
2) He needs more carries. With a struggling offensive line in 2009, Oklahoma constantly worked the flats against good defenses with Murray and receiver Ryan Broyles, their two biggest playmakers in space. He can get receptions there whenever he wants them, but Stoops sounds like he wants to pound it with Murray, who isn't lacking for size at 6-foot-1 and 214 pounds.
He only carried the ball 171 times in 2009. He'd have to average 11.1 yards per carry with that number of carries to hit 1,900 yards. Good luck with that.
But he has to prove he's productive enough to warrant those additional carries. Stoops isn't going to give him the ball because he's DeMarco Murray. He'll have to earn them with his play in games and in practice, and if he doesn't, there's plenty of backs behind him such as Jermie Calhoun or Mossis Madu ready to pick up the slack, not to mention incoming freshmen Roy Finch and Brennan Clay.
3) The offensive line has to improve. This is far from a given, especially after losing their three best blockers from last year's team in Trent Williams, Brody Eldridge and Brian Simmons. But Ben Habern and Tyler Evans have to stay healthy and consistent, and they need help from guys like Donald Stephenson, Jarvis Jones and Cory Brandon.
- The senior-picked teams were supposed to be even, but the White team beat the Red team 23-0 in a game with real scoring.
- Landry Jones threw two touchdown passes on 17 of 34 passing for 211 yards for the White team.
- 16,481 fans showed up to a rainy, chilly Owen Field.
- First and foremost, Oklahoma may have found an answer to its problems at receiver. Granted, it thought the same thing last season with Adron Tennell, but the upside of early enrollee Kenny Stills has to be encouraging. Stills had impressed all spring and won spring game MVP honors after catching six passes for 84 yards and a touchdown. Ryan Broyles doesn't necessarily need help to produce, but Jones might. Stills should contribute early for the unit that struggled throughout last season. Dejuan Miller would be the likely No. 2 at the position, but he had an underwhelming day with just one catch for 38 yards.
- Kind of a bizarre display by senior linebacker Travis Lewis, who had some fun talking smack all week and backed it up during the game so he could talk some more afterward. Lewis even playfully picked up a penalty flag and tossed it at offensive lineman Cory Brandon. He had two sacks and correctly predicted a White team shutout, showing up to postgame interviews in all white, including a white hat and dark sunglasses. Lewis was just having fun because it's spring, but defensive coordinator Brent Venables says the flamboyance isn't permanent.
- Oklahoma fans wanted to see The Hammer, Ronnell Lewis, have a big day, but redshirt freshman linebacker Tom Wort stole the show with a sack and a Bosworthian red Mohawk. Ronnell Lewis did have a tackle for loss and forced a fumble.
- The weather didn't help, but Oklahoma is far from settled at kicker. Jimmy Stevens made three field goals inside 40 yards, but his 39-yarder clanged off the upright before making it through. Walk-on Patrick O'Hara is the likely starter after taking starting job from Stevens, a kicker who set the national record with 50 career field goals during his high school career. But O'Hara missed two 43-yarders. It's a good bet that whoever starts the season at kicker for the Sooners won't finish it.
"I'm going to hold the mustard. Whoever wants mustard for their hot dog, I'm gonna have it."
-- Oklahoma linebacker Travis Lewis, on Monday night's post-spring meal. The winning team, Lewis' White squad, gets steak. The losers get hot dogs and baked beans.
Texas has to replace quarterback Colt McCoy and star receiver Jordan Shipley. Oklahoma loses 2008 Heisman Trophy winner Sam Bradford and tight end Jermaine Gresham, who didn't play much at all last season, and Oklahoma State said goodbye to quarterback Zac Robinson and receiver Dez Bryant.
With spring practice right around the corner, here's a look at five position battles to watch in the Big 12 this spring:
1. Oklahoma State quarterback
Robinson leaves after breaking most of the school's passing records. He'll probably be replaced by 26-year-old junior Brandon Weeden, who was a second-round draft choice of the New York Yankees in the 2002 amateur baseball draft. Weeden played well at times last season, when he filled in while Robinson was hurt. If Weeden can grasp new offensive coordinator Dana Holgorsen's spread offense quickly, he should hold off heralded incoming freshman Nathan Sorensen during fall camp.
2. Texas defensive line
The bad news for Texas defensive coordinator Will Muschamp: star defensive end Sergio Kindle and tackle Lamarr Houston departed for the NFL draft. The good news: ends Sam Acho and Eddie Jones, who combined for 15 sacks in 2009, are both coming back. Jones might be the leading candidate to replace Kindle, but he'll have to hold off Russell Carter and promising sophomore Alex Okafor. Replacing Houston's productivity might be more problematic. Sophomore Calvin Howell, who had four tackles and one sack in 2009, was the No. 2 tackle at season's end.
3. Oklahoma offensive line
The Sooners were banged up on the offensive line last season, which contributed to their unexpected slide to 8-5. Now, OU coach Bob Stoops has to replace left tackle Trent Williams, right guard Brian Simmons and center/tight end Brody Eldridge. Will the Sooners stick with their starting tackles against Stanford in the Sun Bowl? Converted tight end Eric Mensik and rising senior Cory Brandon started against the Cardinal. Junior Jarvis Jones, who split time between guard and tackle last season, is recovering from a broken heel and might not be ready for the start of spring practice. Junior Donald Stephenson, who was suspended all of last season, might be the wild card. Junior Stephen Good and senior Tavaris Jeffries have to get better in the interior line if OU is going to improve up front in 2010.
4. Kansas quarterback
Todd Reesing, who broke about every passing mark in the Kansas record book, is gone after starting the last three seasons. Sophomore Cale Pick might remind new coach Turner Gill of his playing days at Nebraska. Pick averaged 11.9 yards per rushing attempt in seven games last season, while throwing only five passes. Pick will have to hold off junior college transfer Quinn Mecham, who enrolled in classes in January. Mecham threw for 3,091 yards with 40 touchdowns and 11 interceptions at Snow College in Utah last season.
5. Nebraska defensive line
How do you replace one of the best defensive tackles in school history? That's the dilemma Cornhuskers coach Bo Pelini will face when his team opens spring practice. All-American Ndumakong Suh is gone, along with senior defensive end Barry Turner. The good news for Nebraska is that it played several young players on the defensive line last season. Starting tackle Jared Crick had 9.5 sacks and 15 tackles for loss and was a star in his own right. Sophomore Baker Steinkuhler and junior Terrence Moore will battle for the other tackle spot. Sophomore Cameron Meredith, who had five tackles for loss and 1.5 sacks in limited time last season, is the top candidate to replace Turner on the edge.
But the most surprising element of the story will be his replacement.
Senior All-America tackle Trent Williams will slide from left tackle into the starting position at center after Lepak sustained a sprained knee in bowl practice that will keep him out of the Sooners' Dec. 31 Sun Bowl against Stanford.
Earlier this season, Ben Habern and Brody Eldridge started at center for the Sooners.
"I'm done counting them," Oklahoma coach Bob Stoops told reporters about the many injuries at the position this season. "Too many."
Williams worked there during summer practice and showed strong intuitive abilities at the position. But Sooners coaches preferred to keep him at tackle where he was one of the best players in the nation.
The Sooners will start the same tackle rotation in the bowl game as in their 27-0 victory over Oklahoma State in their final regular season game. Williams missed that game with a concussion suffered earlier that week, with Cory Brandon starting at Williams' left tackle and converted tight end Eric Mensik starting on the right side. That group helped the Sooners produce 143 yards rushing against an OSU defense that came into the game ranked fourth nationally against the run.
And while it's not an ideal situation against the Cardinal, Williams is one of the Big 12's most versatile athletes along the offensive line. Look for him to thrive at his new position as he's been able to do most of his college career.
Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Griffin
Here's a look at the naughty and nice across the conference in the first game of the season.
Hot: Missouri’s defense. After being torched for 451 yards and five touchdown passes last season against Juice Williams, a simpler Missouri defense squeezed the Illinois quarterback. Williams passed for 179 yards and no touchdown passes in Saturday’s game against the Tigers.
Not: Colorado’s offense. The Buffaloes had trouble with the play clock all night long and produced only 29 rushing yards on 21 carries. And that’s from a Buffalo offense that was thought to have one of the Big 12 North’s most potent running games. It was the worst rushing performance for the Buffaloes since producing minus-27 yards against Florida State in 2007.
Hot: Iowa State’s offensive execution. Despite playing most of the game without headset communications between the press box and sidelines, the Cyclones did not commit an offensive penalty in their first game utilizing offensive coordinator Tom Herman’s hurry-up attack.
Not: Oklahoma offensive line. First, they allowed the pressure that ended up getting Sam Bradford hurt. And they were flagged with three false starts on Oklahoma’s opening possession, major penalties on the first play of the first two second-half drives and six penalties by Oklahoma tackle Cory Brandon.
Hot: Oklahoma State’s defense: After allowing Georgia to convert two first downs on an 80-yard scoring drive to start the game, veteran coordinator Bill Young masterfully turned the tables from that point. After that scoring drive, the Cowboys defense allowed only 177 yards and 2-for-10 on third-down conversions.
Not: Kansas State’s special teams. This unit -- typically the strength of Ron Prince’s teams the last several seasons -- nearly cost the Wildcats the game in a closer-than-expected victory over Massachusetts. A muffed punt by Brandon Banks led to one UMass touchdown and a blocked punt that was returned for a touchdown made the game much closer than Bill Snyder was hoping his coaching return would be.
Hot: Texas redshirt freshman running back D.J. Monroe. He returned a kickoff 89 yards for a touchdown the first time he touched the ball and added 64 rushing yards on nine carries to lead the Longhorns' victory over Louisiana-Monroe.
Not: Colorado running back Darrell Scott. The Buffaloes’ top 2008 recruit hardly was a factor in the Buffaloes’ loss to Colorado State. Scott had two touches -- one carry and one reception -- and produced only 15 total yards.
Hot: Baylor wide receiver David Gettis. After struggling to produce in previous seasons, Gettis came through in a big way in the Bears’ victory over Wake Forest. He produced a game-high five receptions for 65 yards, including an 8-yard TD grab that was his first touchdown since 2006.
Not: Texas running back Vondrell McGee. His starting position might be short lived if he continues to struggle protecting the ball. McGee had a pair of fumbles, a rarity for Texas considering the last time that a Longhorn running back fumbled came in the 2007 Baylor game.
Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Griffin
Both Colorado and Oklahoma were careful not to reveal too much in open practices Thursday.
The Buffaloes scored only one touchdown -- a 1-yard jaunt by tailback Demetrius Sumler -- in a 126-play scrimmage that accounted for 579 total yards.
"We didn't do anything we've been doing in practice," Hawkins said. "When I was looking at the ready list today, it was unbelievably vanilla."
Hawkins completed 21 of 29 passes for 184 yards and no interceptions in his battle with Tyler Hansen, who completed 10 of 15 passes for 137 yards.
Hawkins also was the leading rusher in the scrimmage with 58 yards coming on scrambles. Sumler accounted for a team-high 37 yards to pace the rushing backs. And tailback Darrell Scott led the receivers with six catches for 47 yards.
Oklahoma coach Bob Stoops allowed the public to watch the first hour of the Sooners' work Thursday evening.
The Sooners' special teams showed flashes during the brief glimpse of their work. Sophomore kicker Jimmy Stevens producing field goals of 50 and 53 yards while the crowds were watching.
And redshirt freshman Tress Way appeared to outkick Cameron Kenney in the battle for the punting job, the Tulsa World reported. Kenney also started in the Sooners' three-wide receiver groupings in Thursday's practice.
With projected starting center Ben Habern still hobbling, sophomore Stephen Good worked with the Sooners' first unit that also included tackles Trent Williams and Cory Brandon and guards Brian Simmons and Jarvis Jones. Williams, the team's most experienced returnee at offensive line, also got a few snaps at center.
And on defense, middle linebacker Ryan Reynolds appears to be rounding into form after missing the second half of last season with a knee injury. Reynolds wore pads, but was replaced by Mike Balogun during the team parts of the drill.
Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Griffin
All questions aren't settled during the course of spring practice as teams still have much work to upgrade their weaknesses heading into the season.
Obviously, some will receive a boost from incoming freshmen who will arrive later. But here's how each team's biggest liability shakes out heading into the summer.
Baylor: The Bears are desperately looking for help at offensive tackle after losing No. 2 overall draft pick Jason Smith and Dan Gay as their starters. Former Canadian firefighter Danny Watkins has established himself at Smith's old position protecting Robert Griffin's blind side. And on the right side, junior Chris Griesenbeck and redshirt freshmen Cameron Kaufhold are competing for the starting job with Tyler Junior College's Phillip Blake and Blinn College's Marquis Franklin set the arrive later this summer.
Colorado: Wide receiver has been a question mark for the Buffaloes throughout Dan Hawkins' coaching tenure. The Buffaloes return four scholarship wide receivers and had a chance to work out several new players with Scotty McKnight injured during the spring. Josh Smith and Markques Simas are the top playmakers coming out of the spring. Non-scholarship players like Jason Espinoza and Ryan Maxwell emerged, but the Buffaloes definitely need a big upgrade at the position from their arriving freshman class.
Iowa State: The Cyclones will be facing a big hole at left tackle, where two-year starter Doug Dedrick departs. It could be filled by Matt Hulbert, who started two games last season when Dedrick was hurt. Or it could be massive 354-pound junior Hayworth Hicks or freshman Brayden Burris at the position. Whoever emerges will face a huge challenge in filling Dedrick's experience as he protects the blind side of the Iowa State quarterbacks.
Kansas: Coach Mark Mangino will be facing a few huge rebuilding job at linebacker, where the Jayhawks lose key contributors Joe Mortensen, Mike Rivera and James Holt from last season. Mangino is talking about using a two-linebacker set as his base defense with fifth-year senior Jake Schermer and senior Arist Wright getting the starting jobs leaving spring practice. Sophomore Steven Johnson and converted running back Angus Quigley were competing for playing time during the spring and another boost is expected when junior linebacker Justin Springer, who is recovering from a torn ACL last season, returns in the fall.
Kansas State: Carson Coffman appeared to have claimed the starting job at quarterback -- at least for a few weeks -- after a strong effort during the latter stages of spring practice. But Coffman's late binge has to be tempered considering he is playing against the weak Kansas State secondary. So it's fair to say there are some lingering questions at the position. Coffman apparently has beaten back the challenge of challengers Collin Klein, Joseph Kassanavoid, Trey Scott and Milton McPeek. But the arrival of South Florida transfer Grant Gregory and heralded junior-college transfer Daniel Thomas will mean more competition in the summer.
Missouri: The Tigers will be facing a challenge of replacing NFL first-round draft pick Evander "Ziggy" Hood at defensive tackle to play opposite nose tackle Jaron Baston. Redshirt sophomore Terrell Resonno appeared to have claimed the job out of the spring, with Dominique Hamilton, Chris Earnhardt and converted linebacker George White perhaps earning their way into the rotation.
Nebraska: After the graduation of top receivers Todd Peterson and Nate Swift from last season, the Cornhuskers need to fill both positions. Leading returning receiver Menelik Holt appears to have a hammerlock on one position, but Niles Paul lost a chance to take a big step forward after missing the spring after he was suspended for driving under the influence. Antonio Bell was the biggest surprise, but converted I-back Marcus Mendoza, Chris Brooks, Wes Cammack and Curenski Gilleylen all showed flashes during the spring.
Oklahoma: There was concern before spring practice, considering the Sooners were replacing four-fifths of their starting offensive line with only Trent Williams back from last season's starters. And it got worse when Bob Stoops called out the young replacements because of their lack of diligence in their preseason conditioning. Williams emerged at left tackle with Brian Simmons and Stephen Good at guards, redshirt freshman Ben Habern at center and either LSU transfer Jarvis Jones or Cory Brandon at right tackle. The depth took a hit when center Jason Hannan left early in training camp and sophomore guard Alex Williams chose to leave after spring practice. The group struggled against the Sooners' talented defensive line, allowing Sam Bradford to be touch-sacked twice in three possessions in the spring game and produced only 27 rushing yards in 52 carries.
Oklahoma State: The loss of veteran center David Washington produced a huge hole in the center of the Cowboys' interior line. Andrew Lewis returns to his natural position, leaving Oklahoma State needing two new starters at guard. Noah Franklin and Jonathan Rush have staked claims to the starting positions with Anthony Morgan and Nick Martinez getting repetitions inside. This group needs to improve if it hopes to equal the standards of previous seasons, when the Cowboys led the Big 12 in rushing each of the last three seasons.
Texas: The tight end was rarely used for the Longhorns after Blaine Irby dislocated his kneecap last season against Rice. He still wasn't ready to go during the spring as Greg Smith, Ahmard Howard, Ian Harris and D.J. Grant all got work. None of them emerged. And with Irby's return remaining iffy, it means the Longhorns again could reduce the use of the tight end and utilize four-receiver sets when they want to move the ball. Don't look for the Longhorns to use the tight end much unless this production improves.
Texas A&M: T
he Aggies were wracked with injuries during the spring as projected starters Lee Grimes, Kevin Matthews and Lucas Patterson were sidelined all spring as A&M was down to only nine healthy offensive linemen for some practices. It still doesn't excuse the lack of offensive production for A&M's starting unit, which produced only 9 yards rushing on 24 carries against Texas A&M's first-string defense. Coach Mike Sherman will be counting on immediate production from an impressive group of incoming freshman at fall practice, but it's fair to characterize the Aggies' offensive line as the team's biggest spring concern -- especially after allowing 39 sacks last season and ranking last in the conference in rushing yards per game.
Texas Tech: The loss of productive starters Daniel Charbonnet and Darcel McBath left a gaping hole at safety for the Red Raiders. Junior Franklin Mitchem earned the free safety position leaving spring practice and redshirt freshman Cody Davis emerged at strong safety. Jared Flannel, Brett Dewhurst and converted linebacker Julius Howard also got some snaps at safety. It will still be a challenge to combat the explosive Big 12 defenses with such an inexperienced group at the position.
Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Griffin
The spring semester is ending across the Big 12. Most teams will take the rest of the month of May off. Intensive conditioning work will begin again next month and continue throughout the summer as Big 12 squads prepare for the upcoming season.
Here's a look at several teams with the most immediate work this summer facing them when they return.
Colorado: The Buffaloes will have to settle on a quarterback before the start of the season. Several variables are involved, including the close race between Tyler Hansen and Cody Hawkins for the starting job in spring practice, Hansen's broken thumb in the spring game and new offensive coordinator Eric Kiesau working into his new job. If the Buffaloes are to fulfill the spoiler role that some are predicting in the North Division, they need to make a real push before training camp starts in August.
Iowa State: Oh, so much work and so little time to do it. New Iowa State coach Paul Rhoads lamented he couldn't have 30 spring practices rather than the 15 mandated by the NCAA in order to help transform his program. Rhoads needs a lot of work to rebuild ISU's defense from a unit that ranked 110th in scoring defense, 112th in total defense, 116th in pass defense and 117th in pass efficiency defense. The summer will be critical as the Cyclones try to prepare for another run of high-powered Big 12 offenses.
Kansas State: Bill Snyder will be facing a big challenge to return the Wildcats to the role of a Big 12 North challenger again. His first chore will be sorting through a quarterback battle that should rage throughout training camp as South Florida transfer Grant Gilbert and heralded junior-college transfer Daniel Thomas arrive to challenge Carson Coffman. Both will be facing a crash course in learning Del Miller's offensive strategy after Coffman made a strong late push in training camp to earn the No. 1 job. And that's just the start of Snyder's work.
Oklahoma: After being called out by Coach Bob Stoops before spring practice for their lack of diligence in conditioning drills, it would behoove Oklahoma offensive linemen to stay in shape this summer. The Sooners' offensive line remains the most glaring question as the three-time defending Big 12 champions prepare this summer. Stephen Good got the start at left guard and Ben Habern flourished at center. Cory Brandon and LSU transfer Jarvis Jones also showed some development, but need much more. The group will need to work hard through strength coach Jerry Schmidt's summer drills to keep from earning Coach Bob Stoops' wrath - again.
Texas A&M: Coach Mike Sherman was nowhere near playing with a full deck after struggling through spring practice with 20 players who sat out the spring game from a group of Aggie players were treated with 19 off-season surgeries. Surprisingly, none of the Aggies' freshman class enrolled early or they could have gone a long way to staking a claim for immediate playing time. Sherman has estimated that 60 to 65 percent of those freshmen players will be able to contribute immediately. Defensive coordinator Joe Kines urged those players to arrive in shape for a shot at immediate playing time - even with their lack of college experience.
Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Griffin
NORMAN, Okla. -- Maybe it was a premeditated thought to shake up his team.
Or maybe just one particular troublesome area.
But Oklahoma coach Bob Stoops said that nothing special went into his pre-spring blast at what he thought was an underachieving offensive line after the Sooners' winter conditioning drills.
"You know me, I'm not much to sit there and act like everything's great if it isn't," Stoops said. "The bottom line was that I felt like they didn't do very well at all. Other guys before them have done great. They need to perform to that level."
Stoops knocked the work ethic and attitude of his offensive line, which loses four starters from last season and returns only Trent Williams from last season's starting group.
"If they aren't doing it, they don't need to be talked about in a positive way like everybody else," Stoops said. "When you start spring ball you have to talk about the positions. It's either that (boosting them up) or lying. And I'm not much lying or mincing my cabbages. I just put it out because that's how I feel."
Oklahoma offensive coordinator Kevin Wilson said he's seen improvement in the young line over the first several practices. But the current group's biggest task is to improve its consistency on a daily basis.
"I wouldn't say they really have because we've only had three practices to date," Wilson said Tuesday. "You can get mad at your child and punish and penalize them and they'll do well for the short term. The real deal will be the long term."
Williams has moved to to left tackle where he can protect the blind side of quarterback Sam Bradford. Heralded transfer Jarvis Jones from LSU and returning junior Cory Brandon will battle for the starting job at right tackle.
Sophomore Stephen Good and Brian Simmons are the starters at the guards and redshirt freshman Ben Habern and Jason Hannan are hooked up in a tight battle at center.
"In the short term they've looked very good and physically they are really good," Wilson said. "It's just learning how to come to work and play at a championship level every day. I know they've been in trouble, but we're just asking them to be consistent. We're trying to push them to be consistent."
Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Griffin
Oklahoma coach Bob Stoops left little doubt about the area of his offense that needs the most improvement as the Sooners prepare for the spring practice.
Stoops singled out an inexperienced offensive line that returns only tackle Trent Williams from last season as his biggest concern.
Unlike many coaches in spring news conference settings, Stoops didn't sugarcoat his feelings about the rebuilt offensive line.
"Losing four of our five starters, that's where another major issue will be. And we'll see," Stoops said. "Those guys at this point -- whether their work ethic or attitude -- those are the things that need to improve."
Stoops ripped into the group after they have fallen behind other parts of the team in early conditioning drills.
"They haven't had the winter that everybody else has had," Stoops said. "Right now, they are the weak link of our team. We'll see if they can respond and can have the kind of spring and summer to help us become a team that can contend for a title. They will be a big part whether we will or will not, depending on their attitude and work habits."
The Sooners' offensive line was a key part of a record-breaking offense that scored at least 58 points in its final six Big 12 Conference games last season. The Sooners led the nation in scoring and ranked third in total offense, passing offense and sacks allowed.
But the loss of starters like tackle Phil Loadholt, guards Duke Robinson and Brandon Walker and center Jon Cooper -- a group that combined for 149 career college starts -- makes it an entirely different proposition for the new offensive group this season.
The Sooners' rebuilt offensive line began working at spring practice Tuesday trying to reach their coach's exacting standards.
Williams is expected to move to left tackle where he can protect the blind side of quarterback Sam Bradford. Heralded transfer Jarvis Jones from LSU and returning junior Cory Brandon will battle for the starting job at right tackle.
Sophomore Stephen Good is expected to have the nod at left guard with Brian Simmons starting the spring No. 1 at right guard. Sophomore Alex Williams will be the primary reserve at both positions. Jason Hannan and redshirt freshman Ben Habern are hooked up in a tight battle at center.
Stoops put all of them on notice that he's expecting immediate improvement throughout the spring.
"They have been very inconsistent in how they work," Stoops said. "We'll just see if they can develop that toughness and attitude to get it done."
Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Griffin
Spring practice is a time for competition across college football. Clashes for jobs are as much a part of offseason work as gassers and not hitting quarterbacks in inter-squad games and scrimmages.
Some of the spring competition across the Big 12 will be particularly notable. Here are some positional battles that bear watching over the next few weeks.
Nebraska quarterback: Even though Patrick Witt left, there still should be an intense battle between Zac Lee, Kody Spano and heralded freshman Cody Green to replace Joe Ganz. Don't expect this battle to be settled until shortly before the season -- perhaps the major reason Witt decided to leave for another opportunity.
Oklahoma right tackle: Although the Sooners' offensive line should be their most pressing concern this spring, there will be notable competition at one position. Trent Williams has moved to left tackle to protect Sam Bradford's blind side. That will leave Cory Brandon and heralded LSU transfer Jarvis Jones battling for snaps on the other side.
Texas running back: The Longhorns have to develop some kind of running threat to keep from using Colt McCoy too much again as a runner. Without a dominant back, it looks like Mack Brown again will opt for a rotation-by-committee setup. Fozzy Whittaker has impressed coaches with his breakaway burst, but must stay healthy. Vondrell McGee will get his chance, but better learn how to pick up blitzes better. Redshirt freshman Tre' Newton has shown flashes of becoming the next Chris Ogbonnaya because of his receiving abilities. Cody Johnson might be the best move-the-pile runner if he can stay in shape. And all of this is before heralded incoming freshman Chris Whaley arrives this summer.
Colorado quarterback: Cody Hawkins arrives as the favorite because of his experience, but burning Tyler Hansen's redshirt last season indicated the need at that point of the season for a change. Both will compete for the job along with true freshmen Clark Evans and Matt Ballenger, who appear to have some of the qualities of both of last season's starters.
Texas Tech kicker: Matt "Lynwood" Williams was one of the best stories in college football when he joined Texas Tech's team after coaches discovered him in an in-game kicking promotion. Williams converted 33 straight extra points, but wasn't counted on to kick field goals very often. Donnie Carona, who received a rare scholarship offer from Mike Leach before last season, could be poised to challenge if he can forget about last season's struggles. And Blinn College kicker Brad Hicks will try to walk-on at the position. Whoever emerges has to boost Tech's kicking after the Red Raiders converted only seven field goals to tie for the second fewest in the Big 12. The Red Raiders' field-goal conversion rate was 54 percent -- second worst in the conference.
Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Griffin
One of the most interesting parts of spring practice will be watching potential replacements emerge in key situations across the Big 12.
Here are some of the key departures from around the conference and some of the players who will compete to try to fill those vacancies.
|Brian Orakpo's pass-rushing skills will be missed by Texas.|
- Texas Tech wide receiver Michael Crabtree -- The Red Raiders will miss the two-time Biletnikoff winner. Lyle Leong will get the first shot and should be challenged by Jacoby Franks and 6-foot-4 Rashad Hawk. Top returning receivers Detron Lewis and Tramain Swindall will remain inside as slot receivers, meaning that other players will have to emerge at Crabtree's old featured slot.
- Texas' pass-rushing specialist replacing Brian Orakpo -- Texas coaches are hoping that Sergio Kindle will ratchet up his play to Orakpo-like levels as he moves to a near permanent status as a pass-rushing specialist at defensive end. Sam Acho will get most of the work on the other side during the spring with Eddie Jones battling back from shoulder and ankle surgery, meaning the spotlight will be on Kindle this spring.
- Jeremy Maclin's talents at Missouri -- It likely will take several players to cover what the multi-purpose Maclin provided as a receiver, rusher and kick return threat. Among the players who will get a look at a variety of roles include Wes Kemp, Jerrell Jackson, Gahn McGaffie and Rolandis Woodland.
- Oklahoma fills a depleted offensive line -- Only tackle Trent Williams will be back as a starter for the Sooners' unit, which will lose key producers like guards Duke Robinson and Brandon Walker, center Jon Cooper and mammoth tackle Phil Loadholt. The four departing starters combined for 149 starts during their college careers. Replacements like tackle Cory Brandon, guards Alex Williams and Brian Simmons and center Jason Hannan are presumed to be talented, but are still very inexperienced. That's not a comforting thought for returning Oklahoma quarterback Sam Bradford -- at least until spring practice begins.
- Kansas State replaces Ron Prince -- Sure, the Wildcats made only one bowl trip in Prince's three-season tenure before he was fired. But it will still be a huge test for legendary Kansas State coach Bill Snyder to match the success he produced earlier in his career after his sabbatical during the Prince years. It will especially be challenging this season with the loss of quarterback Josh Freeman and offensive coordinator Andy Ludwig, who went packing late last week for a similar position at California after only six weeks at Kansas State. Junior-college transfer Daniel Thomas and Carson Coffman will compete to replace Freeman. And it's anybody's guess whom Snyder will find to replace Ludwig with the start of spring practice approaching on April 6.