Big 12: David King

Oklahoma Sooners spring wrap

May, 1, 2013
5/01/13
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OKLAHOMA SOONERS

2012 record: 10-3

2012 conference record: 8-1 (tied for first, Big 12)

Returning starters: Offense: 7; defense: 4; kicker/punter: 1

Top returners

RB Damien Williams, FB Trey Millard, WR Jalen Saunders, WR Sterling Shepard, C Gabe Ikard, DE/DT Chuka Ndulue, LB Corey Nelson, CB Aaron Colvin

Key losses

QB Landry Jones, WR Justin Brown, WR Kenny Stills, OT Lane Johnson, DE David King, CB Demontre Hurst, FS Tony Jefferson, SS Javon Harris

2012 statistical leaders (*returners)

Rushing: Damien Williams* (946 yards)
Passing: Landry Jones (4,267yards)
Receiving: Kenny Stills (959 yards)
Tackles: Tony Jefferson (119)
Sacks: Chuka Ndulue* (5)
Interceptions: Javon Harris (6)

Spring answers

1. Playmakers abound: The Sooners might have lost leading receivers Kenny Stills and Justin Brown, but there’s plenty of firepower back to support whoever wins the starting quarterback job. Jalen Saunders was actually Oklahoma’s most efficient receiver the second half of last season and seems primed to take over as the go-to target. The Sooners also have several talented up-and-coming receivers who had good springs, led by slot extraordinaire Sterling Shepard. The backfield is even deeper, with leading rushers Damien Williams and Brennan Clay back, to go along with Trey Millard, one of the top all-around fullbacks in the country.

2. Cortez will flank Colvin: The secondary was decimated by graduation and Tony Jefferson’s early entry into the NFL draft. One of those voids was cornerback, where Demontre Hurst had started the previous years. That void at least, however, appears to have been filled. Arizona transfer Cortez Johnson seized the job from the first day of spring drills, and has given the Sooners every indication to believe they’ll have a big, physical corner to pair with All-American candidate Aaron Colvin in the fall.

3. The linebackers will play: In a desperate move to slow down the high-powered passing attacks of the Big 12, defensive coordinator Mike Stoops pulled his linebackers off the field. The plan backfired, as opposing offenses ran at will over the linebacker-less Sooners. This spring, Stoops has renewed his commitment to the linebacker, which, ironically, could be the strength of the defense. Corey Nelson, Frank Shannon and Aaron Franklin are all athletic and capable of generating negative plays, something Oklahoma’s defense sorely lacked last season.

Fall questions

1. Who the QB will be in October: Bob Stoops said he would wait until the fall before naming a starter, and so far, he’s made good on his word. Junior Blake Bell took a lead in the competition during the spring, as expected. But sophomore Kendal Thompson and redshirt freshman Trevor Knight, who both got equal reps as Bell, played well at times, too. It’s hard to see Bell not starting the first game. But if he struggles against a tough September schedule, it’s not unthinkable one of the younger QBs would be given a shot.

2. How the new offense will fare: Looking to utilize the skill sets of their mobile quarterbacks, the Sooners will be running a very different offense from the one Sam Bradford and Landry Jones both operated. Offensive coordinator Josh Heupel kept most of these new plays - including loads of read option -- in his hip pocket during the spring game. But it will be interesting to see how the Sooners -- and just as important, opposing defenses -- adjust to this new era of offense in Norman.

3. Defensive line play: The Sooners went into spring ball with just three defensive tackles on the roster, and little experience at defensive end. The unit showed strides during the spring, with Chuka Ndulue making a smooth transition from end to tackle, and tackle Jordan Phillips coming up big in the spring game. But that was the spring. The defensive line will have to continue to grow rapidly in the fall for the Sooners to have any hope of improving from last year defensively.
Oklahoma's had some pro days turn into quite the ballyhooed affairs in the past. None more so than the 2010 pro day that had anyone who was anyone watching Sam Bradford complete a perfect throwing routine with a reconstructed shoulder after sitting out the season.

Wednesday wasn't anything close to that circus, but the Sooners had plenty of big talents on display for NFL scouts, though Landry Jones' throwing session, choreographed by QB guru George Whitfield, saw him complete 68-of-71 passes.

"62% of Landry Jones passes today were under chaos pressure (off-balance, escapes, retreats), same % as NFL games," Whitfield tweeted on Wednesday.

Jones faces an uphill battle to becoming a first-round selection, but the FBS No. 3 all-time passer certainly has plenty of game tape to fall back on. He definitely helped himself on Wednesday, though, and weighed in on Oklahoma's spring quarterback battle.

"I give the edge to Blake because he's been here longer, but those 2 other guys are just as talented," Jones told reporters.

So did guys like cornerback Demontre Hurst who posted a 4.5 40-yard dash time, faster than everybody in attendance except for former Sooner DB Reggie Smith, who posted a 4.31 time. Running back Dominique Whaley also posted a 4.59 time, the same as receiver Justin Brown, a Penn State transfer. It's good to see Whaley post a nice time after never quite grabbing his starting spot back this season following his leg fracture in 2011 and being passed up on the Sooners' depth chart.

Defensive lineman David King posted a solid 4.72 time as well. You can see the full results from the Sooners on Oklahoma's site.

Bigger talents like Tony Jefferson and Kenny Stills didn't run, opting to allow their times at the NFL combine last month to stand. Jones elected to do the same.
We're back ranking the top 10 players at positions across the Big 12. Today, we'll turn our eyes to the defensive lines across the Big 12. Here's what you've missed so far:

Here's what you've missed so far:
Let's get to it.

1. Devonte Fields, TCU: You could make a case for either of these two guys, and Fields wasn't as productive in conference play, but Fields' raw talent is eye-popping. I give him the No. 1 spot on this list after leading the league with 18.5 tackles for loss and 10 sacks.

2. Meshak Williams, Kansas State: Williams' motor runs higher than anyone else's in this league, and the juco transfer made a ton of the talent he was given to win the Big 12's Defensive Lineman of the Year Award. He was second in the league with 10.5 sacks and added 15.5 tackles for loss.

3. Alex Okafor, Texas: Okafor finished his career in unbelievable fashion, making 4.5 sacks and dominating Texas' Alamo Bowl win over Oregon State. That jolted him into the Big 12 title with 12.5 sacks and he was second in the league with 16.5 sacks. His career has been a bit up and down, but this was a fitting crescendo to a big talent.

4. Calvin Barnett, Oklahoma State: Barnett was the league's best interior defensive lineman this year, constantly getting a push and generally being a handful for offensive lines. He fixed his early-season penalty issues and finished with nine tackles for loss.

5. Jake McDonough, Iowa State: McDonough wasn't too far behind. He was a breakout star in the middle for Iowa State this season, pushing his way to two sacks and 5.5 tackles for loss. You can't grade interior linemen on numbers, but watch Iowa State's defense sometime. McDonough freed up a lot of space for the rest of the defense, one of the league's most underrated.

6. Adam Davis, Kansas State: Davis doesn't have the name recognition around the league that Williams did, but he was solid on the other side of the line, ranking fourth in the league with six sacks and eighth in the league with 11.5 sacks. K-State's defense was one of the Big 12's best last year. The D-line was a huge reason why.

7. Kerry Hyder, Texas Tech: Hyder was a breakout star this season for the much-improved Tech defense. He was fifth in the league with 14 tackles for loss and seventh with 5.5 sacks. The 6-foot-2, 281-pounder is versatile along the defensive line and could be due for a big 2013.

8. Jackson Jeffcoat, Texas: Jeffcoat's junior year came to a sad end when he injured his pectoral and underwent surgery, but even with the abbreviated season, he still had four sacks and 9.5 tackles for loss in just six games. Ridiculous. He could be a top 10 pick next April after electing to return to Texas for his senior season in 2013.

9. Stansly Maponga, TCU: Maponga was a little underwhelming this year, but still turned in a solid effort when you look from a wide angle and not from the high expectations he brought in as the Frogs' only preseason All-Big 12 selection and an All-Mountain West first-teamer. He battled injuries all year and finished with four sacks and 6.5 tackles for loss.

10. David King, Oklahoma: Maximus was mighty for the Sooners this season, who needed him to do a lot. Injuries and suspensions forced him to move all over the place on the defensive line. He was inside, outside and every other possible side. He finished with 2.5 sacks this season.

Honorable mention: Dartwan Bush, Texas Tech; Vai Lutui, Kansas State; Chris McAllister, Baylor; Chucky Hunter, TCU

Offseason to-do list: Oklahoma

February, 1, 2013
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Every year, there's lots of turnover and change for every college program. What do the Big 12 teams need to do before next fall? Let's continue our look with the Sooners up in Norman.

1. Figure out if Blake Bell is their guy. All indications are that the BellDozer is about to become the BellThrower, moving his dozing to more of a part-time gig. That said, when he's thrown out of the formation in the last two years, the results haven't been super promising. Still, Bell has a big arm and is likely the heir to Landry Jones as the next Sooners quarterback. Drew Allen's told some close to him he's transferring, though he has yet to officially file paperwork, according to a school official. Bell might face some heat this spring from youngster Trevor Knight, who drew rave reviews for his acting work as Johnny Football on the scout team leading up to the Cotton Bowl. Bell is probably the Sooners' future at the position, but he's got to prove it this spring.

2. Fill about a zillion holes on defense. Oklahoma's defense is depleted, though cornerback Aaron Colvin does return. Safety Tony Jefferson and linebacker Tom Wort left for the draft early, and three starters along the defensive line, including Jamarkus McFarland and David King, are gone. Safety Javon Harris grew up a bit this year, but is gone, too. Defensive coordinator Mike Stoops had his defense in great shape early in the season, but the wheels fell off late against WVU, Oklahoma State and Texas A&M. Can he find suitable replacements for all the whole and keep re-establishing his defense in Norman to get the Sooners back into national prominence?

3. Figure out an offensive identity. Regardless of who wins the quarterback job, Oklahoma made it clear that the quarterback running game will be a part of the offense next season. Both Mike and Bob Stoops saw firsthand how maddening it is for a defense that has to cover a dual-threat quarterback who is a true dual threat when it comes to his arm, too. Oklahoma has traditionally been married to pocket passers, but that's going to change. Both Bell and Knight can run, and we saw some zone read from Bell in the Cotton Bowl. Trey Millard is the perfect foil for it. Oklahoma's still going to want its quarterbacks to be pass first, but how much running will be required? That probably depends on who wins and how good they are at executing the quarterback run game.

More offseason to-do lists:
Colleague Travis Haney took a look at the 10 teams who will lose the most talent in the country from 2012 to 2013.

There's only one Big 12 team on his list, and it's the 2012 preseason favorite: Oklahoma, which is sitting at No. 3 on a list you probably don't want to see your team on.

Landry Jones is the biggest name gone, but Haney says this might be Bob Stoops' biggest rebuild project ever in more than a decade in Norman.

The team's three most talented players -- Jones, receiver Kenny Stills and safety Tony Jefferson -- are the biggest losses, but don't overlook guys like tackle Lane Johnson and defensive linemen David King and Jamarkus McFarland. Defensive backs Demontre Hurst and Javon Harris won't be easy to replace, either.

Oklahoma was fortunate to keep cornerback Aaron Colvin and do-everything offensive Swiss army knife Trey Millard, who I'd expect to get a whole lot more touches next season. He was criminally underused in the Sooners' offense this past season. Just ask Texas if Millard should get more touches.

Oklahoma's offensive renaissance should be interesting. There won't be major changes, but Stoops is always going to build around what his personnel does best, and next season, likely with Blake Bell at the helm, you can expect the quarterback running game to be featured. It's still likely going to be a pass-first offense, but with Millard and Bell, next season's team might be a little more physical between the tackles.

I'd agree with Haney in that the top of the Big 12 looks really weak for 2013, which may provide opportunity for the Sooners to make a Big 12 title run, despite all the losses.

Lunch links: Bad Bedlam blood gets boiling

November, 20, 2012
11/20/12
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I gotta give you credit. Your mission statement made sense and you didn't use one R. Kelly lyric.

Video: Oklahoma's David King

September, 26, 2012
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video
Jake Trotter talks to Oklahoma defensive lineman David King about the Sooners' loss to Kansas State and where OU goes from here.

Instant Analysis: Oklahoma 24, UTEP 7

September, 2, 2012
9/02/12
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EL PASO, Texas – It was ugly. But it’s a win. The Sooners finally pulled away from UTEP in the fourth quarter to win 24-7.

It was over when: OU running back Damien Williams went over right tackle, cut back across the field, then raced 65 yards for a touchdown, giving the Sooners a 24-7 lead with 2:55 to play. The Sooners entered the fourth quarter clinging to a 10-7 lead.

Game ball goes to: UTEP running back Nathan Jeffrey, who kept the Miners in the game into the fourth quarter. Jeffrey rushed for 177 yards on 21 carries, nearly becoming the first back in a decade to run for more than 200 yards against the Sooners. Jeffrey also scored UTEP’s only touchdown, scooping up a blocked punt and racing 24 yards in the first quarter.

Stat of the game: If the Miners had a reliable field goal kicker, they might have won the game. UTEP missed all three of its field goal attempts, from 45, 31 and 41 yards out. Dakota Warren missed the first two. Steven Valadez misfired on the third, which would have tied the game late in the third quarter.

Unsung hero: Defensive tackle David King, who spearheaded OU’s consistent pass rush up the middle. The Sooners were without both of their starting in defensive tackles Stacy McGee (suspended) and Casey Walker (personal issue), but King, who flipped from end to tackle two weeks ago, made sure that Nick Lamaison never found a rhythm, as the UTEP quarterback completed just 6 of 23 passes for 39 yards.

What we learned about this team: The Sooners have a long way to go to become a Big 12 title contender, much less a national championship one. Especially on the offensive side of the ball. UTEP ranked 104th in the country last season in total defense, but stymied the Sooners for three-and-a-half quarters. The running game was sporadic, and Landry Jones looked out of sync with his new receiving corps. If the Sooners are going to score with the likes of West Virginia and Oklahoma State, they are going to need to make a lot of improvement.
Monday, we looked at the Big 12 team most likely to surprise, but what about the other side of the coin?

Who's most likely to underachieve? Let's ask the people.

Here are my five candidates:

OKLAHOMA

SportsNation

Who will be the Big 12's biggest disappointment?

  •  
    22%
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    13%
  •  
    16%
  •  
    17%
  •  
    32%

Discuss (Total votes: 6,711)

Oklahoma's had the most troublesome preseason camp of anyone in the league, suffering big losses on the offensive line and suspending starting defensive tackle Stacy McGee. The Sooners bring back defensive playmakers in Tony Jefferson and Demontre Hurst, as well as quarterback Landry Jones, but Jones is dealing with a lot of new faces in the receiving corps. The Sooners seem to have at least one annual head-scratching loss. Will the Sooners disappoint and fail to win 10 games, despite starting the season in the top five?

KANSAS STATE

Can Kansas State truly disappoint if no one expects the Wildcats to succeed? The Big 12's second-place team a season ago returns its core, but finds itself outside the preseason top 20 and picked to finish sixth in the Big 12. Kansas State has the potential to win the conference, but will the SnyderCats regress after some magic in 2011? That means a 6-7-win season in Manhattan.

OKLAHOMA STATE

Hopes are high for Oklahoma State, despite the loss of Brandon Weeden and Justin Blackmon. The biggest reason? The Cowboys' Air Raid offense and a defense that returns lots of big talents, headlined by cornerbacks Justin Gilbert and Brodrick Brown, as well as linebacker Shaun Lewis. But do you believe enough receivers will emerge, and that true freshman quarterback Wes Lunt can handle his first year of major college football? Or will OSU slide down the Big 12 standings and win 6-7 games after winning the Big 12 last season?

TCU

TCU is joining the Big 12 and looks like it has the offense to compete, but do the Horned Frogs have enough defense? Offseason departures for drug arrests and academics have the Frogs razor thin at linebacker, and last season was disappointing for a secondary that has had big expectations the past few years. Disappointment for the Horned Frogs, picked in the preseason's top 15, would mean about six wins.

WEST VIRGINIA

The Mountaineers have the league's biggest headliners on offense in quarterback Geno Smith, and receivers Stedman Bailey and Tavon Austin. The Mountaineers are buzzing around the top 10 to start the season, but their 70-point outburst in the Orange Bowl has diverted attention from losses along their front seven and some ugly games last season, including defeats against Syracuse and Louisville, and poor performances against Pitt and South Florida. Will West Virginia fail to contend for a league title, falling to a 7-8 win season?

There's also the option of Texas and Baylor, but we can only have five teams in the poll results. Would you pick someone else who isn't on our poll as the most likely Big 12 team to disappoint?

Mailbag: Big East, UT vs. OU, WVU, top LBs

August, 3, 2012
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Thanks for all the emails this week. Here's where you can reach me if you've got more to say.

RTXC1 in Denison, Texas, wrote: So OU is the "best and deepest" team in the league, despite the WRs, DBs, and DL all having holes. However Texas isn't in consideration, while there is only 1 position in question (minus K & P), being the QB? Although this is an offensive league, Texas is the deepest team on paper and semi-decent play by [David] Ash or [Case] McCoy puts Texas right ahead of everyone else. 11-1, Big 12 Champs, with OU as the only slip up. Book it!

David Ubben: Texas is deep defensively, but you might be giving a little too much credit to the receivers.

That said, the concerns for the Sooners have a lot more potential than that of the Longhorns, and the problem much less glaring. We don't know for sure what Trey Metoyer offers the Sooners, but I don't have much doubt that he'll at least be an impact player. Kenny Stills should be OK with some time to prepare for life without Ryan Broyles.

The defensive line has question marks, but not quite holes. R.J. Washington and David King should be good, just not outstanding. Either way, Oklahoma is good enough everywhere else to outweigh all those other issues and stake a claim as the Big 12's best team.

Texas? If it had a quarterback in the top four or five of the Big 12, the Longhorns would be terrifying. Alas, they don't. They're really good elsewhere, but time and time again, we've seen teams with great quarterbacks win this league. Then, you look at a team like Nebraska in 2009 and 2010 fall short without a consistent passer. My guess is Texas befalls the same fate. Great season. Probably nine or 10 wins, but not enough offense to take home the big trophy.


John in Woodbridge, N.J., wrote: Hello David, I figure I take a look at the Big 12 conference and see what was said about West Virginia and TCU. I am laughing here and this is why. Two of your top four is West Virginia (from BE) and TCU (almost BE this year). This doesn't say much about this conference and why you guys get any special treatment. WV is going to steamroll this sorry conference and Rutgers has beaten up your conference in two bowl games (Kansas State and Iowa St). Looking forward to beating you in another bowl or two.

DU: Ouch. Well, for one, West Virginia and TCU are two good teams from a year ago that return the core of their respective squads. The Mountaineers are also a reigning conference champion, yet neither is picked to win the Big 12. That says a little something, no?

The Big East has Pinstripe Bowl bragging rights, sure, but it's worth noting that Syracuse and Rutgers both finished fourth in the Big East in their respective seasons.

Kansas State finished in a tie for seventh in 2010, and Iowa State in eighth place in the first year of a 10-team Big 12. That means a little something, no?

West Virginia might win the league, and the conversation about what that means in regards to the Big 12 strength is an interesting one. The ultimate truth reached by the end of that conversation, though? It won't be anything remotely close to "The Big East is better than the Big 12."

Top to bottom, these two leagues aren't even close.

I'm also curious as to what "special treatment" the Big 12 has received of late.


Jack McFadden in Hope Mills, N.C., wrote: Mr. Ubben, I thought you were at least a professional, in training. Well you may be -- but a gentleman you are not! ERINN wrote you on the 27th trying to explain to you the true colors of WVU. Your retort was -- " that this was the sillest email you ever had" and I paraphrase your comment. How dare you pretend to be a professional and your intellect demonstrates your ignorance. For your information, WVU Colors " Old Gold and Blue" pre-date you, ERINN, ESPN and the Internet. So put that in your Funk and Wagnall, you probably never heard of that either, and stuff a sock in your opinonated clap trap! Otherwise You have a Nice Day! Sincerely, JDM

Ralph Daughtery in Jacksonville, Fla., wrote: Hi Ubbs, WVU fan here. Your answer to the blue and gold email was funny but oh so true. I didn't know about Pitt having the same colors as the reason anyone ever says blue and gold someone will very seriously post, no, it is Old Gold and Blue, and it is sacred. Bill Stewart used to say Old Gold and Blue all the time, hopefully Holgs thinks the same way you do. He just ordered a new all-gray uniform. Will that be gray and gray or Old Gray and Gray? Btw, we need to schedule Pitt instead of a cupcake as far as Pitt goes.

DU: Can't please everybody, I guess. I actually got more emails this week about that email from Erinn than about anything else I wrote over the past week. Plenty of people on both sides of the debate inside and outside West Virginia. Fascinating stuff.

Bottom line: Colors are colors. The order of listing them (and adding an inconsequential "Old" before them) is pretty irrelevant. Call it tradition if you want. That's all fine.

The insistence is still a little silly, and won't endear you to your new conference mates, who somehow, some way, won't all be enlightened to the nuances of West Virginia's school color listing.


Matthew Braunschweig in Denver wrote: Can't ya just give the Cyclones a little love?

DU: Hey, I try. I think ISU's going to be a solid team. The sad truth for the Cyclones, though? The Big 12 is just scary, scary deep this season. I like Iowa State's chances to reach up and nab somebody, I just don't really have a feel for who that's going to be. I don't see anyone too susceptible, and I'd be pretty surprised to see the Cyclones qualify for another bowl in a deeper, better conference than they played in last season.

The biggest problem for Iowa State is its offense, which enters the season without knowledge of who its quarterback will be. Even after that's settled, it might not stay that way through the season, and it's telling about the gap between the play at Iowa State's QB spot and the Big 12 teams in the upper half of the league in that category.


Zach in Tulsa, Okla., wrote: I was very surprised to see Shaun Lewis (hope I spelled his name right) and Alex Elkins of Oklahoma State left out of even being mentioned for pre-season All-Big 12. Are they even on your radar?

DU: They're on my "radar," per se, but I just think there's an pretty clear, large gap between the Big 12's top three linebackers and the rest of the league. I voted K-State's Arthur Brown as my preseason Defensive Player of the Year, and you could make a case for Iowa State's Jake Knott and A.J. Klein for the award, too.

Texas' Jordan Hicks, Oklahoma's Tom Wort and Lewis are sort of in the next echelon of linebackers in this league, but not near the same level of those first three guys I mentioned.


Six Big 12 DEs up for Ted Hendricks Award

July, 31, 2012
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The Ted Hendricks Award, given annually to college football's top defensive end, has released its preseason watch list, and six Big 12 defensive ends are on the list. Here they are:
Good list there. All deserving. I might add David King at Oklahoma and Will Clarke at West Virginia, but I don't think I could see either of those guys ultimately winning the whole thing.

Brian Orakpo (2008) is the last Big 12 player to win the award, but TCU's Jerry Hughes won the award as a member of the Mountain West in 2009.

No school has had multiple players win the award since its inception in 2002, but ESPN analyst David Pollack won the award twice at Georgia, back in 2003 and 2004.

More awards watch lists:
To begin the season, I see six teams with a legitimate chance to win the Big 12. Today begins a series looking at why each team will or will not win the league. We'll start with the prohibitive favorite, Oklahoma.

Why the Sooners will win the Big 12

[+] EnlargeLandry Jones
Matthew Emmons/US PresswireLandry Jones gives Oklahoma experience at quarterback, but he'll be throwing to several untested targets this season.
1. They've been there before: Never, ever underestimate the importance of experience. Oklahoma lost a lot from last season's team, but it still boasts essentially a four-year starter at quarterback in Landry Jones, receiver Kenny Stills, and defenders like Tony Jefferson, Tom Wort, and Demontre Hurst. They were all key cogs in a 2010 title run that included a gutsy comeback on a neutral site against a very good Nebraska team. Oklahoma has a lot on its to-do list, but outside of a trip to West Virginia, the Sooners won't encounter anything too foreign this season.

2. Its secondary is fierce, and revitalized: Texas probably has the league's best overall secondary, but Oklahoma's not far behind. Cornerback Hurst and safety Aaron Colvin are solid, and fellow safety Tony Jefferson might, by the end of the season, have a case for being the league's best overall defender after moving back to safety from nickel back. Fellow safety Javon Harris re-emerged this spring after a midseason benching, but still must prove he can prevent the big play in the fall. The best news of all for the unit? Coordinator Mike Stoops is back in Norman coaching them after nearly a decade as the Arizona head coach.

3. Oklahoma has more talent than anyone else: This one's pretty simple. If you line up every team in the league, truly examining everybody's two-deep, Oklahoma stands tall as the league's best team, especially at important positions like quarterback and the secondary. There are some questions along the defensive line, but the Sooners have solid athletes with potential. The same is true of the receivers, and running back will be a strength, even if Dominique Whaley isn't 100 percent next season. The linebackers are loaded again, and so is the offensive line, which might be the most important aspect of this year's team. If these games were played on paper, Oklahoma would be the champs.

Why the Sooners won't win the Big 12

1. Does Landry Jones have enough help? Ryan Broyles is gone, and Oklahoma's passing game seemed to self-destruct when he was gone. There's a lot of talent back, but offseason suspensions mean Stills will be flanked by a horde of freshmen targets. Can Trey Metoyer, Sterling Shepard, Durron Neal and Courtney Gardner be enough? And can Jones string together enough solid games to lead Oklahoma to a Big 12 title? The solid offensive line gives some reason to believe he will.

2. There won't be enough pass rush: Ronnell Lewis and Frank Alexander were an absolute terror last season, even though both were plagued by injuries, and Lewis' season shut down early. Now, they must be replaced. R.J. Washington and David King have plenty of potential, but Lewis and Alexander were mostly experienced, known entities. Washington and King have never been relied on as heavily as they will be this season. Can they handle the load? Oklahoma's Big 12 title hopes -- and defensive passing statistics -- probably depend on it.

3. The pool of Big 12 title suitors is too deep: Oklahoma's the best team on paper, sure, but the Big 12 is going to be brutal, and wide open. Eight (maybe nine) teams could legitimately beat the Sooners. That's just one game. Five others (we'll get to them later in the series) have the chance to prove they're better than the Sooners over the course of a 12-game schedule. Will they do it? Ultimately, that might be up to the Sooners.

Big 12 spring football preview

February, 21, 2012
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Spring football is already under way at Texas Tech, but in the coming weeks, the Big 12's other nine programs will join the Red Raiders in taking the field as a team for the first time since January, December or November for some.

Here's a preview of what to expect:

BAYLOR BEARS

Spring practice start date: March 19
Spring game: April 14

What to watch:
  • Nick Florence: It's not official, but the Baylor quarterback job is Florence's to lose. That means he inherits the unenviable task of replacing the school's first Heisman winner. He replaced RG3 in 2009 with mixed results, but showed some major potential in a win over Texas Tech when RG3 took a shot to the head and sat out the second half. Can he keep the bowl streak alive at Baylor? We'll get an idea this spring.
  • The defense's progression: You didn't need to see much more than the 67-56 Alamo Bowl win over Washington to know the Bears needed some work on defense. In the month of November, Baylor became the first team in FBS history to win four consecutive games in a single season while also giving up at least 30 points in each of those games. The defense can't make Florence pick up the slack to that level. Year 2 under Phil Bennett must be better. Baylor has no excuses. The Bears have the athletes on campus necessary to be at least a decent defense.
  • The team's attitude/motivation: Baylor played with a lot of purpose the past two seasons, and made history in both, cracking a 16-year bowl drought and winning 10 games this year. Is that fire still there? Baylor has to prove it is without RG3 (and Kendall Wright) carrying the team on the field, emotionally and mentally.
IOWA STATE CYCLONES

Spring practice start date: March 20
Spring game: April 14

What to watch:
  • The quarterback battle: Or is it? Jared Barnett looked like the man of the future in Ames late in the season, leading the Cyclones to an historic upset of No. 2 Oklahoma State. But in the ugly Pinstripe Bowl loss to a mediocre Rutgers team, Barnett's inaccuracy posed big questions. He was benched and Steele Jantz stepped in, though he didn't play much better than Barnett. Turnovers were an issue for Jantz early on, but Barnett has to bounce back in the spring to make sure the job doesn't come open.
  • The receivers: Darius Reynolds was the big-play man for the Cyclones, but he's gone. It's going to be tough to replace him. Slot receivers Aaron Horne and Josh Lenz were productive, but did little to stretch defenses like Reynolds did. Can ISU find someone to fill the void?
  • The new man at left tackle: Iowa State had the luxury of having a future pro, Kelechi Osemele, at left tackle for the past three seasons. He earned All-Big 12 nods in each of those seasons, but he's gone now. Junior Carter Bykowski was behind Osemele on the depth chart, but will the converted tight end be the new man at tackle for the Cyclones?
KANSAS JAYHAWKS

Spring practice start date: March 27
Spring game: April 28

What to watch:
  • Uh, everything?: I mean, what's not to watch at KU? Charlie Weis steps in for the fired Turner Gill and tries to build KU up from nothing. The Jayhawks were one of the worst teams in Big 12 history last season, losing six games by at least 30 points. Weis will speak his mind and watching him rebuilding the Jayhawks is going to be fun. It all starts next month -- on the field, at least.
  • KU's new pass-catch combo: Dayne Crist is on campus, and so is Oklahoma transfer Justin McCay, a former blue-chip recruit who didn't quite catch on in Norman. Quarterback and receiver were arguably the two biggest positions of need for KU last year, and we'll get a preview of what could be a productive combo next season. McCay isn't officially eligible for the 2012 season yet -- he needs the NCAA to waive its mandated redshirt year after a transfer -- but the coaching staff is confident he'll have it granted.
  • The uncertainty on the depth chart: When a new staff comes in, you never know what to expect. Kansas' leading rusher in its final season under Mark Mangino, Toben Opurum, is now one of its best defensive linemen. Look for Weis to shake things up, too. Where? Who knows?
KANSAS STATE WILDCATS

Spring practice start date: April 4
Spring game: April 28

What to watch:
  • Collin Klein's maturation: Kansas State's quarterback could be fun to watch this spring and next fall. His throwing motion isn't pretty, but his accuracy improved in a big way throughout the season. If that continues at a pace anything close to what we saw last year, K-State's going to be a load for everyone. Look out.
  • Developing depth at running back: John Hubert is back, and so is seldom-used Angelo Pease. Bryce Brown is gone, though. Klein handles a lot of the heavy lifting in the running game, but it'd be some nice insurance if K-State could establish some more depth in the backfield. Making Klein carry the ball 300 times again is tempting fate.
  • Stars becoming superstars: Kansas State brings back more starters than all but seven teams in college football, so this team is going to look remarkably similar in 2012 to the way it did last year. However, it should get better. And its two transfers could look dominant this spring. Cornerback Nigel Malone and linebacker Arthur Brown emerged as stars last year, but we could see the duo emerge as true game-changers this spring. Look out, Big 12 offenses.
OKLAHOMA SOONERS

Spring practice start date: March 8
Spring game: April 14

What to watch:
  • New faces on, off the field: Mike Stoops' arrival as the defensive coordinator was the biggest news this offseason in the Big 12, and Brent Venables, who had been at OU for all of Bob Stoops' tenure, left for Clemson rather than become co-defensive coordinator. Hopes are high that Stoops can revitalize Oklahoma's defense. He was in charge when the Sooners rode a dominant D to the 2000 national title, and the Sooners have the talent to win it all in 2012. Receiver Trey Metoyer joins the team this spring, and could be a major contributor immediately. Two of the team's four new tight ends are also enrolled early.
  • QB Blake Bell's role: The Belldozer is back … but so is full-time quarterback Landry Jones. How will the balance between the duo look this spring? And what new wrinkles will we see in Oklahoma's simple, yet near-unstoppable short-yardage formation that scored 13 touchdowns in the second half of 2011?
  • The battle at defensive end: Oklahoma must fill two huge holes at defensive end. Big 12 Defensive Player of the Year Frank Alexander is gone, as is possible first-round pick Ronnell Lewis. R.J. Washington contributed late and has potential, but David King filled in for Lewis in the final three games of the season. The duo could be great, but it could also be pretty pedestrian. We'll get an idea this spring, but Lewis and Alexander set a high, high bar.
OKLAHOMA STATE COWBOYS

Spring practice start date: March 12
Spring game: April 21

What to watch:
  • The quarterback battle: This will easily be the highest-profile, highest-quality quarterback battle in the Big 12. It won't be at the level of Texas Tech in 2010, but it won't be too far off. Clint Chelf, J.W. Walsh and Wes Lunt will go head to head. All have plenty of potential, though Lunt may have the most. The big-armed true freshman also has the least experience. Anything could happen here.
  • Which receivers rise: Justin Blackmon and Josh Cooper leave huge holes behind. It's not every day a two-time Biletnikoff Award winner walks on campus. Hubert Anyiam is gone, too. Michael Harrison is unlikely to play for the 2012 season, but the school has offered no confirmation on his status. He had the most potential, but OSU is deep at the position. Who emerges as the top target? Isaiah Anderson? Tracy Moore? Josh Stewart? Anything could happen there, too.
  • Defense needs a leader: Safety Markelle Martin has been the heart of the defense the past two seasons, but his big-hitting days are over. Who becomes the new voice of the defense? It needs to find leadership this spring heading into summer voluntary workouts.
TEXAS LONGHORNS

Spring practice start date: Feb. 23
Spring game: April 1

What to watch:
  • The quarterback competition: I still think having a competition at the spot, which Texas says it will, isn't the best option, but David Ash and Case McCoy will go at it alongside early-enrolling freshman Connor Brewer. If Ash secures the job, expect an announcement heading into summer officially anointing the sophomore.
  • More sophistication on both sides of the ball: The progression is natural and likely. Offensive coordinator Bryan Harsin and defensive coordinator Manny Diaz had good first years in Austin, but this is Year 2. The spring won't be devoted to learning the playbook. It's time to master it. Both units could look markedly different, and much more refined next fall. Deny it all you like: Texas is back on its way to the top after a rough two years.
  • Maturing offensive weapons: Last season, the Longhorns relied on two true freshman running backs (Malcolm Brown/Joe Bergeron), a freshman/sophomore rotation at quarterback and its top receiver (Jaxon Shipley) was a true freshman. No. 2 (Mike Davis) was a sophomore. I hope I don't have to tell you what freshmen and sophomores do in college football. Look. Out.
TCU HORNED FROGS

Spring practice start date: Feb. 25
Spring end date: April 5

What to watch:
  • Can TCU shut out the scandal? Four team members were arrested in a recent drug sting and kicked off the team. How much of a distraction will that be for a program undergoing the most monumental change in its history? Quantifying the effects of the scandal will be pretty impossible, and we've got no idea how they'll handle the change, but will it be on players' minds?
  • The offense tightens up: The Horned Frogs' offense is absolutely loaded and ready to go for 2012. Quarterback Casey Pachall returns and brings his top three weapons (Josh Boyce, Skye Dawson and Brandon Carter) with him. Running backs Waymon James, Ed Wesley and Matthew Tucker each topped 700 yards rushing in 2011 and all return. The spring will be all about fine-tuning an already stellar offense, and it'll be fun to watch.
  • Replacing departed starters: All-America linebacker Tanner Brock was among the four football players arrested and booted from the team, as was all-conference defensive tackle D.J. Yendrey and likely starting safety Devin Johnson. Those were unforeseen losses, but TCU can't feel sorry for itself. Gary Patterson has no choice but to find new faces to fill those holes.
TEXAS TECH RED RAIDERS

Spring practice start date: Feb. 17
Spring game: March 24

What to watch:
  • Once again, a new defense: Texas Tech sounds like a broken record these days when it comes to defensive coordinators. This time, Art Kaufman will be stepping to the microphone as the fourth defensive coordinator in Lubbock in four years. He's bringing a 4-3, a shift back to what Ruffin McNeil ran in 2009. Chad Glasgow's 4-2-5 and James Willis' 3-4 failed miserably in 2011 and 2010, respectively, the first two years under Tommy Tuberville.
  • The battle at running back: No one knows yet if Eric Stephens will be back next season. There's still a long way to go in his rehab from a dislocated knee he suffered last season in a loss to Texas A&M. DeAndre Washington is also out this spring after tearing his ACL against Missouri. Harrison Jeffers hung up his cleats. Who will prove to be reliable this spring? Look for the Red Raiders to try to use sophomore Bradley Marquez, freshman Javares McRoy and junior SaDale Foster in a manner similar to the way Oregon uses scatback De'Anthony Thomas, with lots of short passes and bubble screens to get them the ball in space, where they can use their speed and shiftiness to make plays.
  • Team health: Tuberville said earlier this month that the team is missing 15 players this spring. It can't afford any more injuries. It's already going to be tough to get enough done this spring, but Tech can't start getting banged up.
WEST VIRGINIA MOUNTAINEERS

Spring practice start date: March 11
Spring game: April 21

What to watch:
  • Dana Holgorsen's offense in Year 2: Holgorsen didn't get a chance to coach his talented offense at Oklahoma State in its second year. The results could have been crazy. They might be at West Virginia in 2012, and the beginning steps will be taken this spring as Geno Smith & Co. get more and more comfortable with the system and Holgorsen adds more wrinkles.
  • The battle at running back: Sophomore Dustin Garrison hurt his knee in practices leading up to the Mountaineers' 70-33 Orange Bowl win over Clemson, and won't be there for the spring. What does senior Shawne Alston have in store for the spring? Garrison was the featured back last season, but a big spring could help Alston earn a few carries next year.
  • Defense needs help: Najee Goode leaves a big hole at linebacker, and defensive back Eain Smith's exit means the Mountaineers enter the season without two of their top three tacklers from a year ago. Bruce Irvin and Julian Miller's talents on the defensive line will be tough to replace, and in a league that requires a great pass rush, Irvin, Goode and Miller's 19 combined sacks must be replaced somehow.

SoonerNation: Fiver players to watch

December, 28, 2011
12/28/11
12:31
PM ET
Brandon Chatmon : Landry Jones, Corey Nelson and David King are among the five Sooners to watch Friday in the Insight Bowl.

Chatmon: The Sooners expect a physical game on Friday against Iowa.

Bob Przybylo : George Kittle, whose dad is the tight ends coach for Oklahoma, could walk-on in 2012.

DE Ronnell Lewis likely finished at OU

December, 19, 2011
12/19/11
3:57
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Oklahoma defensive end Ronnell Lewis won't suit up for the Sooners against Iowa in the Insight Bowl, and his career at Oklahoma is likely finished.

Coach Bob Stoops said Monday that Lewis will miss the Dec. 30 Insight Bowl because of academic issues. Stoops also said he expects Lewis to declare for the NFL draft.

"I don't want to come out and speak for him, but we've talked and I feel it's in his best interest to go on to the NFL," Stoops said. "It hasn't been formalized yet, but we expect that to happen. And I'm all for it. He needs to do that. We're hopeful that will all go the right way."

Lewis put together an All-Big 12-caliber season in his first year as a full-time starter for the Sooners, but suffered an MCL sprain in a loss to Baylor. He missed the following week's game against Iowa State, but could have suited up against Oklahoma State. He was suspended because of academic issues, however.

Lewis is ranked No. 18 in the latest edition of Mel Kiper's Big Board. He is the fourth-ranked outside linebacker by Scouts Inc.

David King has started in Lewis' absence. Oklahoma's other defensive end, Frank Alexander, won Big 12 defensive player of the year honors.

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