Big 12: Dave Yost

Big 12 lunch links: Yost's unusual coaching trip

April, 21, 2009
4/21/09
12:45
PM ET

Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Griffin

With only two teams still holding spring games, we're nearly down to the bitter end in terms of practices across the Big 12. 

Colorado and Kansas State still have work to do. But there are other stories around the conference today that merit some consideration as well.

  • Dave Matter of the Columbia Tribune writes an outstanding story that delves into the unconventional coaching background of new Missouri offensive coordinator Dave Yost.
  • Former Nebraska All-American linebacker Trev Alberts has emerged as the leading candidate for the Nebraska-Omaha athletic director job, Rob White of the Omaha World-Herald reports. Alberts is set for two days of meetings with school officials and students in Omaha later this week.
  • Dave Curtis of the Sporting News lists Kansas State running back Keithen Valentine and Nebraska wide receiver Curenski Gilleylen as prime examples of "Mr. April" from 2008.
  • Former Texas A&M football coach Jackie Sherrill tells Victoria Advocate reporter Mike Forman why he remembers Texas fans chanting "Poor Aggies" only once during his coaching career.
  • Robert Cessna of the Bryan Eagle proposes a way for Texas A&M athletic director Bill Byrne to make his budget by selling the roughly 200 empty seats in the press box for the Aggies' spring game.
  • An argument with a former girlfriend lead to felony and misdemeanor drug charges for Oklahoma State wide receiver Bo Bowling, the Oklahoman's Scott Wright reports.
  • Fast-rising former Oklahoma tackle Phil Loadholt could sneak his way into the first round of this weekend's NFL draft, according to the Oklahoman's Jake Trotter.
  • David Youngblood of the Oklahoma State Daily O'Collegian writes about the Cowboys' defensive progress this spring.
  • Bobby La Gesse reports for the Omaha World-Herald that new Iowa State defensive coordinator Wally Burnham has started his transformation of the Cyclones' defense, but still has much work to do.
  • Record-breaking Missouri kicker Jeff Wolfert expects to be a free-agent selection in this weekend's draft, but told Randy Covitz of the Kansas City Star he remains confident he can play in the NFL.

Big 12 lunch links: Aggies' ground game scuttled by injuries

April, 16, 2009
4/16/09
11:28
AM ET

Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Griffin

The weekend is coming. If you can't wait for the spring games, here are a few links to get you ready.  

  • Don't look for much of a statement from Texas A&M's running game at Saturday's spring game. The Aggies will have only seven scholarship offensive linemen and two running backs healthy for the workout, Robert Cessna of the Bryan Eagle reports.
  • Texas Tech defensive coordinator Ruffin McNeill worked with a retooled defensive front to accommodate the loss of McKinner Dixon, Don Williams of the Lubbock Avalanche-Journal reports.
  • Quarterback Zac Robinson's playing time will be limited at Saturday's Orange-White game, but most other starters will play in the game, Oklahoma State coach Mike Gundy told the Oklahoman's Scott Wright.
  • Missouri kicking coach Dave Yost expects a stiff three-way battle to replace Jeff Wolfert to play out throughout the summer, Matt Schiffman of the Columbia Missourian reports.
  • Hey, blame them and not me. Sporting News college football writers Matt Hayes and David Curtis will make a lot of Big 12 fans angry after both picked Tim Tebow over either Sam Bradford or Colt McCoy as the best quarterback in college football.
  • Multi-faceted Colorado standout Josh Smith had to overcome an initial fear of returning kicks, Kyle Ringo of the Boulder Daily Camera reports.
  • Tulsa World columnist Dave Sittler opines on the rock-solid Oklahoma defense.
  • Former Oklahoma State defensive back Eric Roark was among the first assistant coaches named Wednesday to Larry Coker's inaugural coaching staff at Texas-San Antonio.

Big 12 lunch links: Daniel working as coach before NFL shot

April, 7, 2009
4/07/09
12:45
PM ET

Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Griffin

Who says you can't go back home again?

Former Missouri quarterback Chase Daniel is disproving that as he helps new offensive coordinator Dave Yost at the Tigers' practices this spring. Columbia Daily Tribune beat writer Dave Matter reports on seeing Daniel's familiar presence at several practices the last few days before the record-breaking former Missouri quarterback goes away to try to make an NFL team.

Daniel has diligently lost weight and looks to be in great shape for his shot at playing football at the next level. But after watching him around the Tigers last week, he appears to be a natural as a football coach.

It wouldn't surprise me to see him get on the quick career path to the coaching profession like former Texas quarterback Major Applewhite or his old high school mentor, Todd Dodge.

As Daniel continues working with Blaine Gabbert and the other Tiger quarterbacks, here are a few other links from across the conference.

  • Colorado defensive coordinator Ron Collins is using a 3-4 defense with more regularity as a base defense this spring, Boulder Daily Camera beat writer Kyle Ringo writes.
  • Texas Tech's defense had the upper hand in the Red Raiders' first scrimmage of the spring, according to the Lubbock Avalanche-Journal's Don Williams.
  • Brent Zwerneman of the Houston Chronicle/San Antonio Express-News blogs about Texas A&M running back Bradley Stephens, who is emerging as a prime contender for a starting job this spring.
  • Cedric Golden of the Austin American-Statesman discusses Texas' use of the I formation, Colt McCoy's development and strong secondary depth in his breakdown of the Longhorns' spring practice.
  • Tom Shatel of the Omaha World-Herald writes that he hopes that Nebraska is using the trophy it won as co-North Division champions last season as a doorstop.
  • ESPN.com's Bruce Feldman has Texas ranked as his second-most likely team to win the BCS next season and Oklahoma third, trailing only defending national champion Florida.
  • Iowa State quarterback Austen Arnaud is excited about new coordinator Tom Herman's fast-paced new offensive strategy, Ames Tribune beat writer Bobby La Gesse reports.

Tim's mailbag: ISU will be better, but not bowl-ready

March, 20, 2009
3/20/09
5:00
PM ET

Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Griffin

It wouldn't be a Friday without some letters from the readers. Here are some I got this week.

Brandon from Ames, Iowa, writes: Tim, I'll be a Cyclone fan until I die no matter how bad we get, but is there going to be any hope for a good season this year? Rhoads is making us hopeful, but what should we consider a successful season given our current condition?

Tim Griffin: Brandon, I've been impressed during the times I've talked with Paul Rhoads since he's taken the job. He seems very positive and upbeat and realizes how daunting the job will be. I see a lot of similarities between him and his coaching mentor, Dan McCarney, who hired Rhoads at Iowa State earlier in his coaching career.

I was also impressed by his two hires for coordinators. Both Tom Herman and Wally Burnham are both very respected in the business and will help him tremendously.

But the Cyclones' talent is at the bottom of the North Division and it will be a big challenge for them to escape the cellar in Rhoads' first season. I think a more realistic goal would be for them to win a game or two more than last season's 2-10 record that ended with 10 straight losses. Anything more than that, in my opinion, will be extremely difficult to accomplish.


Austin from Houston writes: Tim, I noticed in your March 13 mailbag that you mentioned Oklahoma hasn't lost at home since 2001. Did you forget that they lost to the mighty TCU Horned Frogs 17-10 on September 3, 2005? I know that all of the Sooner fans as well as Bob Stoops remember that day. On a different note, although we are roughly seven months away from the game, who is your "way too early" pick for the Texas/OU game?

Tim Griffin: Austin, thanks for the catch. I meant to say the Sooners hadn't lost a conference game since 2001. I do remember the TCU game -- I was there that day. The Horned Frogs were able to dominate the Sooners at Owen Field. I had never seen that happen before with Bob Stoops coaching. And I haven't seen it since, either.

As far as my Red River Rivalry pick, if you asked me today, I would have to go with the Longhorns, but just barely. I'll reserve the right to make my final pick the week before the game.

Texas obviously will be smarting after failing to make the Big 12 championship game despite beating the Sooners last season in the celebrated three-way tie for the South Division championship. They couldn't ask for more inspiration coming into the game than that whole scenario.

But one thing that struck me when talking with Oklahoma players last week in Norman was the defense's confidence. The Sooners have nine starters back on their defensive unit, missing only safeties Nic Harris and Lendy Holmes. The Sooners seem comfortable that their defense will be much improved from last season. I thought the Sooners had a great defensive effort against Missouri in the Big 12 game and a good one in the loss to Florida in the Bowl Championship Series title game. Oklahoma's defense wasn't to blame for the Sooners losing that game.

So I think the Sooners' defense will be a little better than most people think this season. It should make for a great matchup at the Cotton Bowl.

Can we play tomorrow?


Robert Holmes from Norman, Okla., writes: Tim, if you were starting a Big 12 team of all the players who are coming back for the 2009 season, who would you pick first?

Tim Griffin: Great question and one that bears a more detailed answer. I'm going to start a daily post on Tuesday where I will count down the 40 most valuable players in the Big 12. I'll have a player a day culminating on May 2, which also coincidentally is the day of the Kansas State spring game -- the last one in the conference.

So start watching for that next week.

And I won't give you my final answer, but it would be safe to expect that a South Division quarterback, like maybe Colt McCoy or Sam Bradford. Keep watching to check who I've picked.


Brandon from Poteet, Texas, writes: Tim, I saw where you were at Baylor yesterday. How do you gauge the Bears' mindset coming into the upcoming season? Is a bowl berth a real possibility? And where did you end up eating on your way home? I would have advised George's if I was you.

Tim Griffin: The Bears seem to be a confident bunch. From interviews with new defensive tackle Phil Taylor to safety Jordan Lake and defensive coordinator Brian Norwood and coach Art Briles, to newcomers like offensive tackle Danny Watkins, I could detect a different attitude from previous seasons. Those players and coaches flatly tell you they will be playing in a bowl game. And it appears that it will be a shock for them if they aren't bowling somewhere in December.

That being the case, the Bears will face a typically difficult South Division schedule. They absolutely must win three games in the nonconference schedule. And a key swing game at Texas A&M on Nov. 21 will be huge for them.

Baylor's 41-21 victory over the Aggies last season in Waco was a convincing one. But remember that the Bears have produced 10 losses and a tie in their last 11 trips to Kyle Field. The last time Baylor won in College Station was on Oct. 20, 1984, when Grant Teaff's team claimed a 20-16 triumph. As of today, that's a string of 8,917 days and counting.

That's a huge gap and won't be easily snapped.

And as far as my meal in Waco, I didn't really have much time after spending a couple of hours finishing my work and getting a late start back home. I hopped right in the car and made it back home in time to eat one of my wife's delicious leftover pulled-pork sandwiches while I switched between President Obama's appearance on Jay Leno and the final minutes of the Illinois-Western Kentucky game late last week.

Maybe next time for George's.


Steve Woodson from Garden City, Kan., writes: Hey Tim. Great blog. I wouldn't think of starting my day without reading it. I've got a quick question for you. Which team would you anticipate to be the "surprise team" in the Big 12 this season? And which team do you expect will take the biggest step backwards from last season.

Tim Griffin: Steve, thanks for the compliments. I think that Colorado is nicely situated with some diminished expectations outside the program after last season's struggles.

I know that coach Dan Hawkins predicted his team would go 10-2 this season, which would be a surprise to almost anybody outside the Colorado program. But I do think if the Buffaloes can stay healthy and have a quarterback to emerge that they've got a great shot to make it back to a bowl game and might even be able to climb into North Division title contention with a few breaks along the way.

And as far as the program I expect to take the biggest step back, I would nominate Texas Tech. Graham Harrell and Michael Crabtree will be missed, obviously. But so will players like Brandon Williams, Louis Vasquez, Daniel Charbonnet, Darcel McBath, Shannon Woods and Rylan Reed. That's a big chunk of talent that had a huge p
art in the Red Raiders' South Division tri-championship team last season to replace at one time.

I still expect the Red Raiders to contend for a bowl appearance as I would peg them about fourth in the Big 12 South behind Texas, Oklahoma and Oklahoma State. But I think seven or eight wins is a more likely victory total for them this season rather than last year's 11-2 mark.


Jackson from Telluride, Colo., writes: Which off-season coaching moves to do you think will prove to be the most important in the Big 12 this season?

Tim Griffin: I'll actually nominate three. Obviously, the hiring of Bill Young as Oklahoma State's new defensive coordinator has huge ramifications. Mike Gundy is counting on him to be able to fashion together enough improvement to push the Cowboys into contention. That will be a tall order for him, even with all of his past success at previous stops.

I'm also very curious how the new staff of Bill Snyder works together at Kansas State. I think the hiring of Vic Koenning was a huge get for Snyder. I'm also intrigued to see how Dana Dimel and Del Miller will work together again as co-offensive coordinators. Both have worked with Snyder before. Are there any changes in their coaching since they lasted coached there? We'll see.

And I'm also very interested to see the work of new Missouri offensive coordinator Dave Yost and defensive coordinator Dave Steckel. Both have been with Gary Pinkel since the beginning at Missouri. But both also represent changes that have come to the program after former offensive coordinator Dave Christensen left for the head coaching job at Wyoming and former defensive coordinator Matt Eberflus left to become the Cleveland Browns' linebackers coach.

Pinkel had never had a change in his coaching staff in the first eight years at Missouri. I'm curious to see how the recent switches will alter the Tigers and Pinkel's schematics, if any.

That's all for this week. Check back next week for more correspondence and keep the questions and answers coming. I appreciate it.

Gauging the Big 12's spring quarterback battles

March, 18, 2009
3/18/09
5:16
PM ET

Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Griffin

The biggest potential issue for any team during spring practice is settling on a starting quarterback. It makes vacation go a lot more smoothly for coaches if they know there's a firmly entrenched starter in place after spring practice concludes.

Here's a look at the quarterback situations in the Big 12, grouped by the level of confidence coaches should have in their players at the position.

No worries: Everything should be great here.

  • Baylor: Robert Griffin is solidly in command and should only be better in his second season as the starter.
  • Oklahoma: Hard to complain with defending Heisman Trophy winner Sam Bradford still in charge.
  • Texas: Colt McCoy is still one of the top three returning quarterbacks in the nation, but John Chiles' position change makes the Longhorns' depth a little weak until Garrett Gilbert arrives this summer.
  • Kansas: Todd Reesing ready for his senior season with almost every school passing record in his crosshairs.
  • Oklahoma State: Bigger, stronger Zac Robinson might not want to run as much as the old Zac Robinson did.

Solid: A starter is firmly entrenched but he needs to pick up his effort this season.

  • Iowa State: It will be interesting to see what Austen Arnaud does working with new coordinator Tom Herman. Will it be more like Herman's Rice offense in recent seasons? And will Arnaud be suited for that?
  • Texas A&M: Talk of a quarterback controversy here will be likely that. Look for Jerrod Johnson to take control of the team during the spring and Ryan Tannehill to be back catching passes.
  • Texas Tech: Even though Taylor Potts has never started a game before, Mike Leach is confident in what he will be able to do.

Red alert: Lack of a proven starter is a major cause for concern for each of these schools.

  • Missouri: Blaine Gabbert appears to have taken the lead, but still has to prove his ability to consistently run the offense -- with a new coordinator in Dave Yost, to boot.
  • Colorado: Cody Hawkins and Tyler Hansen both have had college success, but haven't been able to do it consistently. Matt Ballenger also will be a factor in what should be an intriguing and wide-open battle without a true favorite.
  • Kansas State: Where have you gone Josh Freeman? New coach Bill Snyder will have to wade through the process of finding a starter with little-used Carson Coffman and junior college transfer Daniel Thomas favored to win out.
  • Nebraska: The biggest positional question from making the Cornhuskers an overwhelming preseason choice to win the Big 12 North. After Patrick Witt bailed on Bo Pelini last month, it left Zac Lee, Kody Spano and incoming freshman Cody Green poised to replace Joe Ganz. Lee enters as the favorite, but will he be able to maintain that edge throughout spring practice?

We'll check these again at the end of spring practice to see how they've changed.

Ranking the best of the Big 12's nonconference games

March, 4, 2009
3/04/09
6:44
PM ET

Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Griffin

By my count, after looking at the upcoming calendar, we are now only 183 days from the start of the college football season.

I know that seems like an excruciating wait. And it is.

And there's still a lot of discussion time to go before the season starts.

Not only does it excite me about the start of the season, but it also got me looking at a calendar. Hence, the countdown.

Here is my ranking of the Big 12's best nonconference games a little less than six months out.

1. Georgia at Oklahoma State, Sept. 5: Everything could converge for Oklahoma State in the Cowboys' season opener. An experienced offensive team looking to build its defense will be meeting a Georgia team breaking in a new quarterback. This game might attract the first true sellout in the history of expanded T. Boone Pickens Stadium.

2. Nebraska at Virginia Tech, Sept. 19: The Cornhuskers' defense will be much improved than they were in the Hokies' 35-30 win in Lincoln last season. But Bo Pelini's hopes of springing an upset will depend on whoever is playing quarterback for them by that point of the season.

3. Oklahoma at Miami, Oct. 3: Dolphin Stadium has been a chamber of horrors for the Sooners in two recent BCS title game losses, but they should be ready against a Miami team that could be beat up after playing Florida State, Georgia Tech and Virginia Tech before this game.

4. BYU vs. Oklahoma (at Arlington, Texas), Sept. 5: The first college game to be played in the Dallas Cowboys' new stadium could be a big test for Oklahoma's rebuilt offensive line. This should be an entertaining game between two of the nation's top 20 teams in passing offense, total offense and scoring last season.

5. Illinois vs. Missouri (at St. Louis), Sept. 5: The Tigers won't have nearly as much firepower back as last year and Juice Williams will be primed for the Illini. It could be a rough first baptism for new Missouri coordinators Dave Yost and Dave Steckel.

6. Arkansas vs. Texas A&M (at Arlington), Oct. 3: Two old Southwest Conference rivals rekindle their storied rivalry for the 66th time -- but the first since the Razorbacks bolted the SWC for the Southeastern Conference after the 1991 season. The fact that the game will be playing out at the new Dallas Cowboys' Stadium only adds to its mystique.

7. Texas Tech at Houston, Sept. 26: This game will be coming the week after Texas Tech travels to Texas in its first road game. It could be dicey for the Red Raiders, although they won their last two games at Houston against the Cougars in the final days of the Southwest Conference. Tech averaged 45 points per game in those games -- and that was long before Mike Leach had taken over the program. I'm expecting a shootout in this one with both teams combining for more than 1,000 yards.

8. Houston at Oklahoma State, Sept. 12: First team to 50 points wins this one. And I bet Houston defensive coordinator John Skladany still remembers that Oklahoma State's Kendall Hunter, Dez Bryant and Zac Robinson pulled the 200-200-300 yardage feat in terms of rushing, receiving and passing in OSU's 56-37 victory last season.

9. Colorado at West Virginia, Sept. 26: The Mountaineers will be looking for payback after last season's overtime loss in Boulder that was settled by their kicking woes.

10. Missouri at Nevada, Sept. 26: Actually, I think this might be a better game than most. Colin Kaepernick should have the pistol firing for the Wolf Pack. It might be a tougher game than you might think for a young Missouri defense playing its first true road game.

11. Kansas State at UCLA, Sept. 19: This was the kind of game that Bill Snyder used to try to avoid back in the salad days of the Kansas State program. But a victory here could legitimize his early work as he rebuilds the program anew.

12. Kansas at UTEP, Sept. 12: This will be the biggest nonconference test for the Jayhawks and perhaps a tricky one. Todd Reesing should be able to score against the Miners, but the rebuilt Kansas defense could be in for test facing UTEP quarterback Trevor Vittatoe on his home field. The Sun Bowl ought to be rocking for this one.

A couple of factors struck me as interesting as I looked at these games.

First, the Big 12 will have only two home games in these dozen pivotal contests. Oklahoma State hosts both of them. Three more will be played at neutral sites. But the other seven games will be road contests for the Big 12 team.

It means the conference will have an early chance to prove its mettle nationally, or fall behind.

Also, did you notice a significant team is missing from this list?

That's right. Maybe that's why Texas is ranked as the conference's top team coming into the season.

But the Longhorns assuredly won't get much BCS bounce from a quartet of nonconference games featuring Louisiana-Monroe, Wyoming, UTEP and Central Florida.

Mack Brown better hope the South Division is as tough as usual in 2009. Because he's not going to get much sympathy in a head-to-head comparison with most other national powers when nonconference schedules are compared.

What to watch at Big 12 spring practices

February, 13, 2009
2/13/09
10:00
AM ET

Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Griffin

The Big 12 should again be loaded in 2009. And the spring will feature several key positional battles and holes to fill that will go a long way in determining whether Oklahoma can make history and claim a fourth-straight championship this season.

Here a look at each team and three major items to watch in spring practice.

NORTH DIVISION

Colorado Buffaloes

Spring practice begins: March 31

Spring game: April 25

What to watch:

  • The health of the team: The Buffaloes' players lost a combined total of 121 games to due to illness or injury last season. Some players like tight end Riar Geer, guards Devin Head, Maxwell Tuioti-Mariner and Mike Iltis, linebacker Jon Major and cornerback Jalil Brown will be limited during the spring because of past injuries. But others like tackle Ryan Miller, tailback Rodney Stewart and cornerback Benjamin Burney should be good to go throughout the spring. Coach Dan Hawkins won't push things, but it will be good to have as many regulars as possible practicing again.
  • The return of Darrell Scott: The conference's most publicized running back recruit of 2008 never could get untracked, rushing for disappointing totals of 343 yards and 3.9 yards per carry last season. The spring will give him a chance to show why he was one of the nation's top recruits in the Class of 2008.
  • Settle the kicking game: After Colorado kickers combined to shank 11 of 17 attempts last season, it might be the last chance for Aric Goodman or Jameson Davis to show what they can do after their struggles last season and the arrival of heralded recruit Zach Grossnickle in the fall.

Iowa State Cyclones

Spring practice begins: March 24

Spring game: April 18

What to watch:

  • Paul Rhoads' early assimilation: After his hiring last Dec. 23, Rhoads has concentrated on recruiting and building a coaching staff. Being able to work on the field with his team will likely be a relief for him after such a hectic start.
  • Help in the secondary: The Cyclones lose starters Chris Singleton and Brandon Hunley from a unit that ranked in the bottom 10 nationally in pass efficiency defense and pass defense. Rhoads' specialty is defense, but he'll have his work cut out with his new unit.
  • Finding another starter at wide receiver: Darius Darks is back after an impressive freshman season, but Rhoads needs to find a replacement for 2008 leading receiver R.J. Sumrall. Look for Sedrick Johnson, Marquis Hamilton and Houston Jones all to have their chances at the starting unit during the spring.

Kansas Jayhawks

Spring practice begins: March 9

Spring game: April 11

What to watch:

  • Finding starters at linebackers: The Jayhawks must completely rebuild their linebacking corps as James Holt, Mike Rivera and Joe Mortensen all are gone from last season. Arist Wright and Dakota Lewis are in the mix because of their experience. A bigger wild card could be converted running back Angus Quigley, who turned heads with his defensive instincts and tackling in work before the Jayhawks' bowl game last season.
  • Get a consistent kick returner: The mystifying struggles of Marcus Herford last season resulted in a drop of more than 8 yards per kick return as the Jayhawks fell from seventh in 2007 to 118th nationally last season. Dezmon Briscoe showed flashes of being a productive returner late in the season, but more work from different players will be needed in the spring to shore up the area.
  • Rebuild the center of the offensive line: Losing starting guards Chet Hartley and Adrian Mayes along with center Ryan Cantrell will be the biggest offensive concern this spring for the Jayhawks. Carl Wilson and Sal Kapra should get a long look at guard and Brad Thorson will given the first shot at center.

Kansas State Wildcats:

Spring practice begins: April 6

Spring game: May 2

What to watch:

  • Bill Snyder's return to coaching: The wily Snyder will be facing the biggest challenge of his professional career after returning after a three-year coaching sabbatical. The Wildcats aren't as bad as they were in 1989 when Snyder originally took over, but the Big 12 is a much tougher than the Big Eight was in those days. And it will test the patience and legendary work ethic of Snyder to get the Wildcats back into Big 12 title contention in the immediate future.
  • The quarterback battle: New offensive coordinator Andy Ludwig is one of the conference's most notable hirings after his strong recent work at Utah. Ludwig will be challenged as he looks at Carson Coffman or junior-college transfer Daniel Thomas to replace Josh Freeman as his starting quarterback.
  • Looking for a defensive turnaround: The Wildcats were woeful last season, ranking among the bottom 10 teams nationally in rushing defense, scoring defense and total defense and 106th nationally in pass defense. It will likely try the patience of new coordinator Chris Cosh, who will be looking for replacements along the defensive front for Brandon Balkcom and Ian Campbell. One potential playmaker could be Jeff Fitzgerald, who started 13 games for Virginia in 2007.

Missouri Tigers

Spring practice begins: March 10

Spring game: April 18

What to watch:

  • The changing of the guard on offense -- and then some: Gone are all-time greats like Chase Daniel, Jeremy Maclin and Chase Coffman, along with productive receivers Tommy Saunders and Earl Goldsmith. Offensive coordinator Dave Christensen has left for the Wyoming coaching job, meaning that Dave Yost takes over as the coordinator along with Blaine Gabbert at quarterback, Andrew Jones at tight end and Jerrell Jackson as the featured receiver. Collectively, it will be the largest transformation in Gary Pinkel's coaching tenure at Missouri.
  • Finding a pass rush: Three starters are gone along the defensive front as productive starters Stryker Sulak, Tommy Chavis and Ziggy Hood all are gone from last year. Look for redshirt defensive end Aldon Smith to get in the fight for playing time immediately, along with holdover Brian Coulter at defensive end if he can recover quickly from labrum surgery. Terrell Resonno and Dominique Hamilton will get a long look at defensive tackle before the arrival of heralded "tight end" Sheldon Richardson in the summer.
  • Secondary assistance: The Tigers need help after losing starting safeties Justin Garrett and William Moore and cornerback Tru Vaughns from last year's team. Considering all of the prolific offenses in the Big 12, this will capture much of defensive coordinator Matt Eberflus' attention as newcomers like safety Jarrell Harrison and cornerback Robert Steeples will show what they can do.

Nebraska Cornhuskers

Spring practice begins: March 21

Spring game: April 18

What to watch:

  • The battle for quarterback: One of the nation's most intriguing quarterback battles will play out during the spring. Incoming freshman Cody Green arrived in college early intent to battle for the starting job and become the first four-year starting quarterback for the Cornhuskers since Eric Crouch. Holdovers Patrick Witt, Zac Lee and redshirt freshman Kody Spanos all are in the hunt to replace Joe Ganz. Witt has more experience, but it's not much more than any other contender. It should be interesting to see how offensive coordinator Shawn Watson handles the competition.
  • Find starters at wide receiver: The Cornhuskers lose starters Nate Swift and Todd Peterson who combined for 125 receptions last season as the team's two major receiving threats. Menelik Holt has more experience than any other returner, although coaches are salivating about the chance to work with Antonio Bell, a 2008 recruit who wasn't on the team last season while he got his grades in order.
  • Rebuild the right side of the offensive line: Powerful blockers Matt Slauson at guard and tackle Lydon Murtha both are gone from last season, leaving a huge void for offensive line coach Barney Cotton to fill. Marcel Jones and D.J. Jones should get the first crack at the starting jobs during the spring.

SOUTH DIVISION

Baylor Bears

Spring practice begins: March 3

Spring game: April 4

What to watch:

  • Competition at offensive tackle: The Bears will be looking for two new starting tackles to replace Don Gay and Jason Smith along the offensive line. Sophomore Joe Korbel figures to get a look at one of the positions, but beyond him it's anybody's guess who will replace the talented pair that combined for 73 career starts.
  • New starters on the left side of the defensive line: Starting defensive end Leon Freeman and defensive tackle Vincent Rhodes both will be gone after their eligibility expired. The only holes in Baylor's front seven will be found there as Jameon Hardeman and Zac Scotton will challenge at defensive end and Sam Sledge at defensive tackle.
  • Better production in their pass defense: The Bears struggled mightily last season and could never seem to produce big plays when they needed them, ranking 103rd in pass defense, 84th in sacks and 109th in tackles for losses. Another spring learning the concepts of defensive coordinator Brian Norwood should benefit them and perhaps serve as a catalyst for a bowl berth with significant improvement.

Oklahoma Sooners

Spring practice begins: March 3

Spring game: April 11

What to watch:

  • Help at wide receiver: After losing Juaquin Iglesias, Quentin Chaney and Manuel Johnson from last season's BCS title-game runner-up, the Sooners desperately need some players to emerge this spring. Ryan Broyles assumes the No. 1 position, although junior college receiver Cameron Kenney will help, along with Brandon Caleb from last season's two-deep roster. It will also be noteworthy to watch the work of running back Mossis Madu, who will receive some work at slot receiver.
  • Competition in the offensive line: Trent Williams is the only returning starter from last season for a talented veteran group that will lose four starters who combined for 149 starts during their college career. The Sooners aren't devoid of talent, but it's just untested. It means they need a big lift this spring from players like tackle Cory Brandon, guards Brian Simmons and Alex Williams and center Jason Hannan.
  • New look at safety: Nic Harris and Lendy Holmes seemingly had been at Oklahoma since
    the days of Brian Bosworth. That's a little bit of an exaggeration, but the Sooner duo combined for 83 starts and provided steady, efficient defense throughout their careers. Quinton Carter and Desmond Jackson appear poised to take over for them, although it will be impossible for the Sooners to match their experience.

Oklahoma State Cowboys

Spring practice begins: March 9

Spring game: April 18

What to watch:

  • Bill Young's work: Oklahoma State has the offense to challenge for the Big 12 championship. But the success of the season ultimately will be determined by the defense generated by new defensive coordinator Bill Young. The Cowboys return six starters but must improve drastically after last season's late collapse that saw them blistered for 56, 61 and 42 points among their final three games of the season.
  • Help at safety and defensive tackle: The Cowboys lose starters Tonga Tea and Jeray Chatham at tackle and starting safeties Quinton Moore and Ricky Price. Those key positions in the heart of Oklahoma State's defense will command much of Young's attention. He's particularly excited about the play of Swanson Miller and Shane Jarka and Johnny Thomas at safety. But other players need to step up when they get their chance.
  • Develop depth at wide receiver: Dez Bryant accounted for a larger percentage of completions than any other wide receiver in the Big 12. His absence this spring as he recovers from knee surgery will enable others to have a chance to play and become acclimated with the first-string offense. The Cowboys' depth at the position is aggravated after Bo Bowling was suspended after his arrest earlier this week. It will provide players like Hubert AnyiamJosh Cooper and DeMarcus Conner an opportunity to work with Zac Robinson while Bryant and Bowling are gone.

Texas Longhorns

Spring practice begins: Feb. 27

Spring game: April 5

What to watch:

  • Build consistency in the running game: The Longhorns ranked 41st nationally in rushing last season -- their worst national ranking since 2002 -- and relied on Colt McCoy as their primary running threat. That dangerous strategy has to change this season if the Longhorns have any legitimate national title contenders. Key tasks during the spring will be to build cohesion in an offensive line that loses only starter Cedric Dockery from last season and additional work for Fozzy Whittaker, who struggled with injuries most of his freshman season last year.
  • Rebuild the defensive front: The Longhorns had the nation's most productive pass rush, leading the country with an average of 3.62 sacks per game last season. It will be a challenge to replace key players like Brian Orakpo, Roy Miller and Henry Melton. But defensive coordinator Will Muschamp liked what he saw in limited playing time for players like Sam Acho, Russell Carter, Ben Alexander, Michael Wilcoxson, Kheeston Randall and Eddie Jones. Those players, along with possibly Sergio Kindle getting more playing time at defensive end, will be key to Texas' defensive hopes this season. And incoming freshmen Dominique Jones, Alex Okafor and Kyle Kriegel all arrived at college early to challenge for immediate playing time.
  • Build confidence with young receivers: Leading receiver Quan Cosby graduated and Jordan Shipley will miss spring work after recovering from shoulder surgery. It will give McCoy a chance to build confidence in some of the younger members of his receiving corps, most notably Brandon Collins, Dan Buckner, Malcolm Williams and James Kirkendoll.

Texas A&M

Spring practice begins: March 26

Spring game: April 18

Spring practice ends: April 24

What to watch:

  • Additional development of young talent: The Aggies were one of the nation's youngest teams last season as 10 true freshmen combined to see action in 90 games and start in 41 of them. The spring will provide an additional opportunity for those young players and others on the roster to gain much-needed experience.
  • Improvement of the pass rush: The biggest hole on defense for the Aggies will be at defensive end where Michael Bennett, Amos Gbunblee and Cyril Obiozor accounted for most of the playing time last season from a group that ranked 11th in the Big 12 and 100th nationally in sacks. Paul Freeney is poised to assume one of the starting positions there. The other side looks like a wide-open battle that will play out throughout the spring and into summer camp.
  • Find a running back: Coach Mike Sherman will be looking at Keondra Smith, Cyrus Gray and Bradley Stephens for the role as the Aggies' featured running back -- for a few weeks anyway. Whoever wins that battle may celebrate a kind of pyrrhic victory as heralded running back Christine Michael arrives for fall camp as the Aggies' likely featured back. But Sherman likely will be working on building depth in the spring.

Texas Tech Red Raiders

Spring practice begins: March 25

Spring game: April 18

Spring practice ends: April 20

What to watch:

  • Any passing game regression?: Graham Harrell and Michael Crabtree rewrote the national record book as one of the most prolific pass-and-catch
    combinations in NCAA history. But yet, the Red Raiders always have always had a potent passing attack with Mike Leach in charge. It will be interesting to see Taylor Potts' development at quarterback and the growth of wide receivers like Detron Lewis, Lyle Leong, Edward Britton, Rashad Hawk and Tramain Swindall as they try to fill those big shoes for the Red Raiders.
  • Find a pass-rushing threat: Defensive end Brandon Williams is turning pro after leading the Big 12 with a school-record 12 sacks last season. McKinner Dixon was a big performer in spot duty last season and could be ready to emerge, as is junior-college transfer Daniel Howard.
  • Rebuild the left side of the offensive line: Rylan Reed and Louis Vasquez were the two most decorated linemen in Texas Tech history during their careers. The productive duo will be missed, along with starting center Stephen Hamby. Chris Olson at left tackle and Lonnie Edwards at left guard aren't nearly as big or experienced as Reed and Vasquez. Growth during the spring for the unit will be important as the Red Raiders prepare for a difficult September schedule.
Tags:

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Maclin's departure leaves huge hole for Missouri

January, 9, 2009
1/09/09
12:45
PM ET

Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Griffin

There was no real surprise Friday when Missouri's Jeremy Maclin announced that he will be leaving college early to declare for the NFL draft.

Maclin is as ready as he'll ever be. And his position as a receiver/kick returner places him in jeopardy on any single play. So declaring for the NFL was the smart decision for him to make.

The scouts I talk to think that Maclin's game will translate well to the next level. But I'm wondering if a player can truly be an effective receiver and a kick returner in the NFL in today's game. It will be interesting to see which way Maclin's career veers after he starts playing on Sundays. I'm betting he'll do only one.

Maclin leaves as one of the most productive players in Missouri history. Tiger fans will always remember the way he left school with a scintillating performance in the Valero Alamo Bowl victory over Northwestern in his final game.

His 75-yard punt return kick-started a lagging Missouri effort. And he punctuated his career by catching the game-winning touchdown pass in overtime.

His departure creates a gaping hole for the Tigers, who already lose the most productive pass-and-catch combination in school history with Chase Daniel and Chase Coffman leaving school.

Maclin's return would have helped the Tigers stay competitive in what I think will be an evenly balanced North Division. But expected starting quarterback Blaine Gabbert will have to find some other targets to make Missouri a North title contender.

Jerrell Jackson will get the first opportunity to replace Maclin. And receivers like Jared Perry, Danario Alexander, Wes Kemp and tight end Andrew Jones figure to get many opportunities in new coordinator Dave Yost's offense.

Stability marks Pinkel's coaching staff

August, 7, 2008
8/07/08
4:32
PM ET

Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Griffin

COLUMBIA, Mo. -- Missouri's coaching staff has been able to maintain unusual cohesiveness as a staff with no turnover in head coach Gary Pinkel's eight-season tenure.

All nine members of Pinkel's assistant coaches arrived with him at Missouri in 2001. None has left for another job.

"They always joked with us before that nobody else wanted us," Missouri quarterbacks coach David Yost said, chuckling. "Now, Coach Pinkel is keeping us together. We have great coaches and we always won't be together. But as long it as happens, it's a great deal for us."

Yost serves as the recruiting coordinator for the Tigers. The staff's continuity has helped the Tigers becoming an emerging recruiting power in recent years in the St. Louis area and in Texas. It's helped them attract Heisman candidates like QB Chase Daniel from Southlake Carroll High School in suburban Dallas and WR/KR Jeremy Maclin from Kirkwood, Mo.

"It's a great advantage because we've been around each other and know each other so well," Yost said. "People are familiar with us where we're going to after eight years. [Cornerbacks] coach [Cornell] Ford has been recruiting St. Louis for eight years now. It helps him and the rest of us with the relationships we've built."

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