Big 12: Dezmon Briscoe

Mailbag: Recruiting, Gabbert, coddling?

May, 11, 2011
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Caesar in Limbo asked: Is there an increasing trend with coaches losing the battle against whining players? Leach, Mangino and I'm sure there's got to be more. Does a weak player just have to point their finger if they feel mistreated? Do these kids need therapy or a boot?! Why won't administrators back their coaches anymore? Could a coach from 20 years ago make it in today's "coddle" culture?

David Ubben: I don't know if I buy that. To some level, sure, we're more sensitive as a culture than ever before, but I also think those two situations are very different, and the issues with the players weren't the only reason Mangino and Leach were let go.

Mangino's was obviously a big part of it, but that controversy also hit in the middle of a seven-game losing streak to end the season, despite still having Todd Reesing, Dezmon Briscoe and Kerry Meier. Like I wrote yesterday, Mangino's coaching style, which I'll just call intense, doesn't come off as well if he's not winning games. Winning solves if not everything, something close to it. (This is the point when I glare in Columbus, Ohio's direction.) If Kansas won 10 games in 2009, does anyone think Mark Mangino would not still be the coach?

In Leach's case, it was pretty clear that he badly strained his relationship with his bosses during his contract negotiations prior to the 2009 season. That relationship between a coach and the administration often gets overlooked. Leach's wasn't good, and he gave the higher-ups a reason to fire him.

Bob Stoops has a fantastic relationship with his AD, Joe Castiglione and the university president, David Boren. If the Adam James situation happened to Stoops, would he still be around?

I think we all know the answer to that question.

These situations are a lot more complex than just a couple whiny, entitled kids getting coaches fired.


Mike in Oklahoma City, Okla., asked: Ubbs, do you think Tyler Gabbert leaving MU has anything to do with his brother's "slide" in the recent NFL draft due to the college system he played for? Do you think he will transfer to a pro style team in response to that?

DU: No, and that's not really the reason for his "slide," per se. The way I see his slide is one team saw Jake Locker as a better fit and better talent than Gabbert, which bumped him out of the top 5-7 where he was projected to go, down to No. 10. In the days leading up to the draft, I'd say it was pretty clear that Cam Newton was going to be the first quarterback taken.

Everyone had questions this year. Can Newton be a true NFL passer? Is Locker accurate enough? Can Gabbert be the same kind of passer after a dropback? I really doubt that had anything to do with Tyler Gabbert's decision.

And besides that, from the moment Blaine Gabbert stepped on Missouri's campus, he had NFL written all over him. Guys with big arms that are 6-foot-5 and 235 pounds tend to, at the very least, get drafted. Tyler Gabbert's career is just beginning, but at 6-foot and 190 pounds, he's going to be fighting uphill to get his chance at the NFL level.


Scott in College Station, Texas asked: David, When do the first 2012 ESPN recruit rankings come out? Thanks

DU: We released them last year around late May and early June, so I'd expect them then, but don't get too worried, Scott. I'm sure your Aggies will be well represented in our ESPNU150, unlike last year.

I'd be very, very surprised if Trey Williams wasn't on it. Matt Davis probably has a good shot, too. Maybe Davante Borque. Our recruiting guys handle that.


Preston in Dallas asked: If Texas has another bad year, and Texas A&M and Oklahoma St. continue to take the next step how do think this will effect recruiting in Texas?

DU: It would help a little bit, but it's going to take a lot of losing for Texas to not be back on top of the recruiting game. For one, players want to play for Mack Brown.

But more than anything, you're battling Texas culture. Players grow up wanting to be Longhorns. That's just a fact. Not all of them, of course, but certainly a majority of kids in one of the richest recruiting banks in the country.

How many kids grow up in Texas dreaming of playing for Oklahoma State? Texas A&M?

They'll grow up, and some will realize that in their personal situation, maybe either school is a better fit or Texas doesn't want them, but there's no changing that Texas is the flagship program in the state. That's one recruiting advantage that takes a whole heck of a lot to negate.

Another losing season, or even 2-3 more isn't going to suddenly allow either school to consistently outrecruit Texas.

Opening spring camp: Kansas

April, 1, 2011
4/01/11
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Schedule: Kansas opens spring practice today with the first of 15 workouts, concluding with the annual spring game set for April 30.

What’s new: Kansas' staff is mostly intact and ready to start Year 2 of the Turner Gill Era in Lawrence. Receivers coach Darrell Wyatt left to coach the same position at Texas, but the Jayhawks brought back David Beaty as receivers coach and co-offensive coordinator after a year away coaching at Rice. He helped coach former Jayhawks stars Dezmon Briscoe and Kerry Meier.

On the mend: Linebacker Huldon Tharp returns after missing all of last season with a leg injury just before the season. He'll be just a sophomore, but likely one of the leaders for a linebacking corps that should be pretty strong.

On the move: Former receiver Bradley McDougald played some safety last year, but he'll focus on safety alongside Keeston Terry, who did the same. Former running back and former linebacker Toben Opurum looks like he'll stick at defensive end this spring after playing well down the stretch last season for the Jayhawks defense.

New faces: Offensive lineman Dylan Admire and running back Darrian Miller were two of the top recruits in Kansas' 2011 class, and both are on campus early. Unfortunately for the Jayhawks, the No. 1 player most fans wanted to see suit up this spring won't be there. Quarterback Brock Berglund graduated early and enrolled in classes at the beginning of the semester, but returned home to Colorado last month because of what the school called "personal circumstances." He'll be with the team beginning this fall.

Breaking out: Receiver D.J. Beshears. Turner Gill wants more speed on the field, and Beshears offers that. He's one of the best home-run threats the Jayhawks have, and look for Kansas to find ways to get the ball in his hand and let him make plays. He already got some time in the Wildcat last year, and unless the quarterback play improves quickly, he's likely to see some more.

Don’t forget about: Tight end Tim Biere. He caught four of Kansas' 11 touchdown passes last year, and the burly, 6-foot-4, 260-pounder will be looking for a big senior year after finishing with 19 catches for 228 yards last year, tied for the third-most catches on the team.

All eyes on: The new/young guys. Kansas' current crop of players should improve some this year and help the team get competitive, but if the Jayhawks are going to get back to winning games like they did under Mark Mangino, Gill will have to infuse more talent into the program via recruiting. If young players, not even necessarily freshmen, can show some flashes of potential, there will be a lot more optimism within the program after a long 3-9 season last year that featured five losses by at least 20 points.

Best/worst case rewind: Kansas

January, 24, 2011
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We'll take a look back at what we thought the best- and worst-case scenarios for each team were in August, and how it shook out now that January has arrived.

Next up: Kansas.

Best case: 9-3, with losses to Georgia Tech, Texas A&M, Nebraska. The Jayhawks were aided by a favorable South rotation without Texas and Oklahoma on the schedule.

Worst case: 2-10, with wins over North Dakota State and New Mexico State.

Reality: Kansas was less competitive than even the most pessimistic Jayhawks fans figured their team would be, and the Jayhawks slid to 3-9 with just one conference win. Interestingly enough, the Jayhawks won a game (Georgia Tech) I had as a sure loss in both scenarios, and lost a game (North Dakota State) I had as a sure win in both scenarios. Kansas varied greatly between my best and worst case scenarios, but you're never sure what to expect with a bunch of new players (Hi, Oklahoma State!) and a new coaching staff.

Analysis: Losing the best quarterback in school history (Todd Reesing) and two of its best receivers (Dezmon Briscoe and Kerry Meier) meant Kansas would be rebuilding for sure, especially considering that group managed to go just 5-7 as seniors. The Jayhawks struggled from the beginning, dropping a shocking season opener to North Dakota State at home, 9-6. They rebounded by beating the defending ACC champs, Georgia Tech, but the Yellowjackets, ranked at the time, finished 6-7.

In short, Kansas was who we thought they were. There's no doubt the Jayhawks got better down the stretch, but 55-7 and 59-7 losses to Baylor and Kansas State, two middle-of-the-road teams in the Big 12, were eye-openers. Kansas at the end of the season was about what I expected. I never thought they'd play as poorly as they did early on.

For Kansas, though, the lasting image of its season could be the epic comeback against Colorado. Down 45-17 with 11 minutes to play, the Jayhawks rallied to beat Colorado at home for their lone conference win. It's definitely something to build on. Kansas still has big, big questions at quarterback, but found a reliable option at running back in freshman James Sims. Receivers Daymond Patterson and Chris Omigie showed flashes of potential down the stretch. Linebacker Huldon Tharp missed the entire 2010 season, but he'll be back next year.

Turner Gill has put together a pretty good recruiting class in 2011, and developing that talent will be key to making sure Kansas climbs closer to its best-case scenario in 2011.

The rest of the Big 12's bowl misses

December, 15, 2010
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We took a look at how Texas missed a bowl game earlier today, and here's what happened to the Big 12's other three teams home for the holidays:

Colorado

The Buffaloes started hot, finishing their nonconference season at 3-1 with wins over bowl-bound opponents Georgia and Hawaii, but didn't get it done in conference play. The defense held conference opponents under 30 points just three times, and in one of those games, Colorado was shut out. The offense, despite a solid year from Rodney Stewart, just couldn't keep up. Playing the second half of the season without quarterback Tyler Hansen (spleen) didn't help, either. A meltdown at Kansas (blowing a 28-point lead in the game's final 11 minutes) led to coach Dan Hawkins getting fired, and the Buffaloes rallied to win their only two conference games of the year, but to reach a bowl they needed to beat Nebraska in Lincoln with the Huskers playing for a Big 12 North title. That wasn't going to happen.

Iowa State

Iowa State's schedule ended up not being quite as difficult as it seemed in the preseason, thanks to disappointing years from Texas, Texas Tech and Utah, but the Cyclones got a chance to play for a bowl berth against Missouri in their regular season finale. The problem was they had to do it without three-year starter at quarterback Austen Arnaud, and lost 14-0. Iowa State got a lot closer to a bowl game than most thought, and beat Texas for the first time in school history. Nebraska and Iowa State went to overtime in Ames, and when the Cyclones scored what looked like a game-tying touchdown, they faked the extra point. Tight end Collin Franklin was open, but the pass was intercepted, costing the Cyclones a precious sixth win for the second consecutive season.

Kansas

Kansas lost its three best players, receivers Dezmon Briscoe and Kerry Meier and quarterback Todd Reesing, from a 5-7 team in 2009, and 2010 looked like a rebuilding year all along. That's exactly what football fans in Lawrence got. The Jayhawks lost their first three conference games by a combined score of 159-24, but for the most part, they were at least competitive and got a comeback conference win against Colorado. They also found some reliable offensive options in running back James Sims and receiver Daymond Patterson. Expect more uncertainty at quarterback through next season, though.

No breaks for Turner Gill

July, 13, 2010
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Turner Gill already has a difficult task ahead of him, trying to rebuild a program at Kansas from a team that lost its three best players from a 5-7 team in 2009 in quarterback Todd Reesing and receivers Dezmon Briscoe and Kerry Meier.

Those three, along with coach Mark Mangino, saw one of the highest moments in program history, winning the Orange Bowl to cap a 12-1 2007 season. But it also saw one of its lows, a seven-game losing streak to close 2009, capped by Mangino's contract being bought out by the school.

The road back for Gill wasn't made easier this spring, when his two best defenders, linebacker Drew Dudley and defensive end Jake Laptad, had to be held out of contact because of shoulder injuries.

Now, his job's gotten tougher.

The offensive line brought back all five starters from a season ago and was expected to be one of the positions of strength for the Jayhawks. But they'll have to do it without junior tackle Jeff Spikes, who injured his Achilles tendon and will miss the entire 2010 season, according to the Lawrence-Journal World. Spikes started 23 games over the past two seasons -- 10 last season -- and earned third-team All-American status in the 2009 preseason from pundit Phil Steele.

This comes a week after another offensive line starter, tackle Brad Thorson, suffered a broken foot. He's expected to be back for the start of fall camp on Aug. 3., but we'll see how much contact he'll be able to take part in when preseason camp begins.

The good news for Spikes is he'll likely be granted a medical redshirt, and come back next season with two more years of eligibility remaining.

Gill knows how to rebuild, eventually winning a MAC title over No. 12 Ball State in 2008 at Buffalo in his third season at a school that won six games in four seasons before his arrival.

He'll face another tough rebuilding project at Kansas in a much tougher league. He's got a mild quarterback controversy led by Kale Pick and his 2009 leading rusher, Toben Opurum, didn't show up on the post-spring depth chart after battling injuries throughout the spring.

Spikes injury assures the rebuilding job won't get any easier for Gill.

Kansas spring wrap

May, 6, 2010
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2009 overall record: 5-7

2009 conference record: 1-7

Returning starters: Offense (7), Defense (7) P/K (2)

Top returners: RB Toben Opurum, OL Brad Thorson, OL Jeremiah Hatch, LB Drew Dudley, WR Johnathan Wilson, LB Huldon Tharp, DE Jake Laptad

Key losses: WR Dezmon Briscoe, QB Todd Reesing, WR Kerry Meier, S Darrell Stuckey, RB Jake Sharp, S Justin Thornton, Coach Mark Mangino

2009 statistical leaders (*returners)

Rushing: Toben Opurum* (554 yards)

Passing: Todd Reesing (3,616 yards)

Receiving: Dezmon Briscoe (1,337 yards)

Tackles: Darrell Stuckey (93)

Sacks: Jake Laptad* (6.5)

Interceptions: Ryan Murphy* (2)

Three spring answers

1. This is how we do things. Coach Turner Gill set the tone for his program early, speaking out about his curse-free zone at practices and other team functions. That goes for coaches and players. Practices are slightly uptempo, and Gill gave each position a fresh start. Everyone wanted to know how Gill would run his program when spring began, and he gave a good look in his first 15 practices.

2. Pick leads the way. Kale Pick was the only one of Kansas’ six quarterbacks with past experience and looked like the front-runner to win the job. He and Jordan Webb emerged as the front-runners in the final week of practice before Pick took a firm hold of the job with his performance in the spring game. He threw a pair of touchdowns, including a game-winner to Christian Matthews—who he also beat out for the job.

3. Linebackers ready to play. Kansas entered the spring with way more questions on defense than offense. The linebackers answered those early on. Defensive coordinator Carl Torbush feels like he has six or seven linebackers ready to see action in the Big 12, led by Drew Dudley, the Jayhawks leading returning tackler.

Three fall questions

1. Can Gill compete in the Big 12? Gill accomplished a remarkable turnaround at Buffalo, but Kansas isn’t looking to rebuild and get back to winning eight games, Gill’s previous career high for wins in a season. Gill hasn’t competed in the Big 12 since coaching Nebraska’s wide receivers in 2004. Kansas likely won’t compete for any serious titles in 2010, but can he take a step toward doing it in the future?

2. Are the wide receivers ready? Pick is replacing record-holding quarterback Todd Reesing, but he won’t have two NFL draft picks, Dezmon Briscoe and Kerry Meier catching his passes. In their place, senior Johnathan Wilson and sophomore Bradley McDougald. McDougald has moved outside, but both will be counted on for major production this season.

3. Can Kansas find a defense? The Jayhawks finished 2009 on a seven-game losing streak, finishing at 1-7 in conference. During that span, they gave up an average of almost 36 points per game. With no major defensive stars taking the field this season, can Kansas find playmakers and make that number shrink? If they don’t, year one of the Turner Gill era won’t be much fun.

Sorting out the draft for the Big 12

April, 26, 2010
4/26/10
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The Big 12 had 30 players drafted over the weekend, fifth most among the major six conferences.


Here's a look at who went where when:

First round (9):
1. Sam Bradford, QB, Oklahoma (St. Louis)

2. Ndamukong Suh, DT, Nebraska (Detroit)

3. Gerald McCoy, DT, Oklahoma (Tampa Bay)

4. Trent Williams, OL, Oklahoma (Washington)

6. Russell Okung, OL, Oklahoma State (Seattle)

14. Earl Thomas, DB, Texas (Seattle)

19. Sean Weatherspoon, LB, Missouri (Atlanta)

21. Jermaine Gresham, TE, Oklahoma (Cincinnati)

24. Dez Bryant, WR, Oklahoma State (Dallas)

Second round (2):

43. Sergio Kindle, DE, Texas (Baltimore)

44. Lamarr Houston, DT, Texas (Oakland)

Third round (3):
80. J.D. Walton, C, Baylor (Denver)

84. Jordan Shipley, WR, Texas (Cincinnati)

85. Colt McCoy, QB, Texas (Cleveland)

Fourth round (4):

110. Darrell Stuckey, FS, Kansas (San Diego)

115. Phillip Dillard, LB, Nebraska (New York Giants)

121. Keenan Clayton, LB, Oklahoma (Philadelphia)

131. Roddrick Muckelroy, LB, Texas (Cincinnati)

Fifth round (6):

135. Dominique Franks, CB, Oklahoma (Atlanta)

137. Perrish Cox, CB, Oklahoma State (Denver)

141. Joshua Moore, DB, Kansas State (Chicago)

160. Larry Asante, SS, Nebraska (Cleveland)

162. Brody Eldridge, TE, Oklahoma (Indianapolis)

165. Kerry Meier, WR, Kansas (Atlanta)

Sixth round (4):

191. Dezmon Briscoe, WR, Kansas (Cincinnati)

196. Jamar Wall, CB, Texas Tech (Dallas)

198. David Gettis, WR, Baylor (Carolina)

202. Jordan Pugh, DB, Texas A&M (Carolina)

Seventh round (2):

228. Reggie Stephens, OL, Iowa State (Cincinnati)

250. Zac Robinson, QB, Oklahoma State (New England)

When you arrange those by team, Oklahoma comes out on top, with seven selections.
1. Oklahoma (7)

2. Texas (6)

3. Oklahoma State (4)

T-4. Nebraska (3)

T-4. Kansas (3)

6. Baylor (2)

T-7. Iowa State (1)

T-7. Kansas State (1)

T-7. Missouri (1)

T-7. Texas Tech (1)

T-7. Texas A&M (1)

12. Colorado (0)

KU receivers filling big shoes

April, 26, 2010
4/26/10
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LAWRENCE, Kan. -- Kansas' offense returns eight starters from its 2009 team, and two who left, receivers Dezmon Briscoe and Kerry Meier, were drafted over the weekend.

They took with them a combined 444 receptions, 5,549 yards and 49 touchdowns.

[+] EnlargeJohnathan Wilson
Ronald Martinez/Getty ImagesThe Jayhawks are counting on Johnathan Wilson to help replace Kerry Meier and Dezmon Briscoe.
So, no pressure, guys.

Senior Johnathan Wilson and sophomore Bradley McDougald racked up over 30 catches each last season, and look to be the most obvious candidates to take over as the primary targets for Kale Pick, currently leading the race to replace quarterback Todd Reesing.

"Early in my years, I just kind of sat back and let the older guys do more of the talking. I took a bigger role now," Wilson said. "I’m a veteran."

Said McDougald: "I can be a go-to player. I want to show coaches that I’m working just like everyone else is. That even though I’m a young guy, I can be counted on in clutch situations."

For him, the spring has meant a move outside, away from the slot where he learned from Meier during his freshman season. He caught 33 passes a year ago for 318 yards but is still waiting for his first score.

"I’m not working against safeties. I’m not working against linebackers," McDougald said. "I’m working on faster corners that are up pressing, so working a lot of new techniques, getting off the line, getting off the jam."

McDougald went without a catch in Saturday's spring game, but the move outside should be simpler than playing both safety and receiver like he did as a freshman.

"I think Bradley can be a really good deep threat for us," Pick said.

He can't do that if he's stuck on the line. It's something new for him, and receivers coach Darrell Wyatt has shown each of the receivers plenty of tape on some of the NFL's best such as Larry Fitzgerald, Santonio Holmes and Andre Johnson, as well as a handful of receivers he'd coached previously.

"Donald Driver helped me the most, because of how he works," McDougald said.

McDougald and Wilson won't have to do it alone. Chris Omigie caught four passes for 97 yards and a score. Christian Matthews, who began the spring as one of six quarterbacks, caught the game-winning score for his only reception of the day in Saturday's game. But he impressed Pick in the process.

"He only played receiver for a week and beats one of our corners for a touchdown," Pick said.

Kansas won't throw as much as they did under Reesing, at least this season, but without Briscoe and Meier, there should be plenty of catches to go around.

Lunch links: Draft Day Special

April, 22, 2010
4/22/10
12:30
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Anybody sick of expansion speculation yet?

How about a day off? Part of me wishes the first 10 picks could be presented with giant blank checks on stage after they get their "No. 1" jersey. I'm still holding out hope it happens this year.

Lunch links: OU's Lewis talking up spring game

April, 16, 2010
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The Revolving Door: Kansas

April, 8, 2010
4/08/10
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Here, we'll take a look at a couple of key players going, staying and coming for each team in the Big 12.


Going:

Todd Reesing, QB

Reesing entered Kansas undersized and underrecruited. He left as the most prolific passer in school history and an Orange Bowl champion. His 11,194 career passing yards are fifth-most in Big 12 history. A logjam of six candidates, currently led by Kale Pick, Jordan Webb and Christian Matthews, will vy to be Reesing's replacement next fall.

Dezmon Briscoe, WR

A first-team All-Big 12 performer a season ago, Briscoe was a big-time receiver for his final two seasons in Lawrence. As a junior, the 6-foot-3, 200-pounder caught 92 passes for 1,407 yards and 15 touchdowns. His encore last season featured 84 catches for 1,337 yards. That was good enough for ninth in the nation in receptions per game.


Staying:

Bradley McDougald and Johnathan Wilson, WRs

McDougald and Wilson might not be the next Meier and Briscoe, but both posted solid numbers in 2009 and will need to see those numbers grow to support a new starter at quarterback. Wilson caught 35 passes for 449 yards and McDougald caught 33 passes for 318 yards.


Drew Dudley, LB

Dudley, with 88 stops a season ago, is the Jayhawks' leading returning tackler. On a defense devoid of big-time talent, he's the most likely candidate to emerge as a household name on defense.

Runner-up: Jacob Branstetter, K. A two-year starter, Branstetter booted a 57-yard field goal last season against Oklahoma.


Coming:

Brandon Bourbon, RB

Never mind his automatic qualifier on the All-Name team. Bourbon is a balanced running back, running a 4.48 40-yard dash at 6-foot-2 and 208 pounds. His time could be coming soon, but he could earn at least a few carries in his first season on campus.


Keeston Terry, WR

Terry isn't coming from far away, only a few miles east across the state line in Blue Springs, Mo., but the 6-foot-2, 179-pound receiver could give the Jayhawk receivers some additional depth. Missouri and Kansas State were both after one of the top receivers in the state of Missouri. Turner Gill got him.

More Revolving Door

Saturday means spring practice in Lawrence

March, 25, 2010
3/25/10
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Kansas will begin spring practice on Saturday, officially bringing the Big 12's second new coach onto the practice field.

Turner Gill can finally get a closer look at the players he'll rely on to replace the offensive stars the Jayhawks lost from 2009.

Fifteen starters return, but among those lost are quarterback Todd Reesing, receivers Dezmon Briscoe and Kerry Meier, and running back Jake Sharp. Safety Darrell Stuckey's departure also leaves a hole in the secondary Gill will have to replace.

Junior college quarterback Quinn Mecham has enrolled early and will compete with Kale Pick to replace Reesing. Whoever wins the job could have the advantage of playing behind an offensive line that returns all five starters.

Headlining that group is tackle Tanner Hawkinson, who was a Freshman All-American in 2009, as well as being named All-Big 12 honorable mention.

They'll be eager to improve on a poor performance in 2009. Kansas allowed 32 sacks last season, second most in the Big 12, and Jayhawks running backs averaged just 3.5 yards per carry, tied for ninth in the conference. In conference games, that number dropped to just 2.4 yards per carry, the second worst in the conference.

But the entire team will be ready to erase memories of a disappointing end to a season that began with promise. The Jayhawks won their first five games and reached No. 15 in the ESPN/USA Today poll before losing their final seven games and finishing last in the Big 12 North.

Dating back to Mark Gottfried in 1982, no Kansas head coach has had a winning record in his first season. Gill's opportunity at changing that begins this weekend.

Reserved Lewis shooting for starter

March, 16, 2010
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NORMAN, Okla. -- Ronnell Lewis probably could have danced to celebrate his special teams dominance of Stanford in the Sun Bowl -- twice leveling kick returners and making everyone who watched wince. He could have done it again when he slammed Cardinal fullback Owen Marecic to the turf after an incomplete pass later in the game.

[+] EnlargeRonnell Lewis
J.P. Wilson/Icon SMILewis is looking for a starting role this season.
He didn’t. Didn’t do it after plowing full-speed into Kansas receiver Dezmon Briscoe’s chest on a return earlier in the season, either. That hit, Lewis’ favorite as a Sooner, forced Briscoe briefly to the sidelines while the Jayhawk offense took the field.

No one would have blamed him for pumping a fist or screaming at his opponent lying below him. But he backed off, and even a parade of helmet slaps and playful shoulder shoves from teammates could barely slow his retreat to the huddle or sideline, each time itching to do it again.

“I go out there and hit and that’s all the talking I do,” Lewis said. “I’m no trash talker.”

Lewis, a sophomore, could get a lot more chances to do his talking in 2010, with two linebacker spots vacated by Ryan Reynolds and Keenan Clayton. Lewis is working at both inside and outside linebacker this spring, and could permanently assume one of those spots this fall.

“He’ll be a big part of what we’re doing,” said defensive coordinator Brent Venables. “We’d be fools not to include him.”

Lewis’ persona, one Venables labels “mature” and “low maintenance,” stems from his roots in Dewar, Okla., the 919-person town where Lewis played eight-man football until his senior season, when the team upgraded to the 11-man game. Lewis treks 100 miles west virtually every weekend, back to the people he grew up around and a son he’s helping grow up.

“He doesn’t have a real big social network,” Venables said. “When he’s not doing school or football, that’s where he is.”

His family, friends and Dewar natives don’t recognize him as “The Hammer,” the nickname Lewis’ hits earned him and one he calls just “all right.” But when he is recognized in Norman or Oklahoma City, the country kid in him takes over, the one who wouldn’t dare be rude to a stranger, provided they weren’t trying to return a kickoff.

“All I can do is tip my hat and say, ‘Thanks,’” he said. “That was then. This is now. I’m looking forward to next season.”

For Lewis, it would be tough not to want 2010 to arrive quickly. It could be the one that establishes him as another great Oklahoma linebacker.

“He’s helped us by picking things up a lot better,” Venables said. “We talked about that today -- what it’s like sitting in the meeting room today versus last spring, and he’ll continue that development and making those leaps and bounds of improvement mentally. That will transition to physical play, to be more sure of himself and be more consistent.”

Getting a chance to showcase that improvement will mean a spring and fall spent proving he’s the one who should be sitting atop one of the depth chart spots at linebacker for a talented corps which also features the more experienced juniors Travis Lewis and Austin Box, as well as sophomores Jaydan Bird and Daniel Franklin.

“It’s one thing to go out there on special teams … and occasionally get out there when you’re ahead by three touchdowns,” Venables said. “It’s another thing to prepare and invest and play at a high level. It takes a lot -- it takes a huge commitment and the discipline to do it with consistency every day. It is a process. If anywhere along the line guys don’t invest in the process, you’ll get exposed.”

If that preparation goes as Venables hopes it does, and 2010 is a season of success for the sophomore linebacker, Lewis won’t be the one letting everyone know it.

Pre-spring Big 12 Power Rankings

March, 5, 2010
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1. Texas

Texas has plenty of question marks, namely at receiver. Repeating as Big 12 champs would be a lot easier if one of its talented running backs emerges to flirt with 1,000 yards and takes some of the pressure off first-year starter Garrett Gilbert. Tre’ Newton is the most likely candidate, but Foswhitt Whittaker, or Fozzy Bear as I prefer to refer to the running back, wins if the tiebreaker is best name.

2. Oklahoma

The defense will be fearsome again, even after losing both starting cornerbacks and defensive tackle Gerald McCoy. DeMarco Murray looks to take on an expanded role in the run game, but the offensive line will have to improve quickly for his increased touches to translate into increased yardage.

3. Nebraska

Nebraska finally made it back to the Big 12 title game after a two-year run by Missouri representing the North. Even after Ndamukong Suh’s exit, the teeth of the Husker D should be strong, with junior defensive tackle Jared Crick and sophomore defensive tackle Baker Steinkuhler mucking up the front lines. Both will be on display during the spring. The offense had one of its best performances of the season against Arizona in the Holiday Bowl, but enters the spring with plenty to prove.

4. Missouri

Blaine Gabbert will continue to mature along with his young receivers, who lose the lanky Danario Alexander. Gabbert could put up gawdy numbers as a junior, but he’ll need the secondary to improve if the Tigers can challenge for the North.

5. Texas A&M

The Aggies looked like a trainwreck at moments in 2009, (48-point loss to Kansas State? What? 55-point loss to Oklahoma? Ouch.) but their entertaining offense will take a backseat to Tim DeRuyter’s new 3-4 defense as the main attraction for spring.

6. Kansas State

The dark horse to win the North in 2010 came within a game of matching up with Texas in Dallas in 2009. Year 2 of the Bill Snyder Reboot could be fun to watch. The Wildcats had the fewest turnovers (18) of any team in the Big 12 last season, but losing Brandon Banks removes some of K-State’s explosiveness on offense.

7. Oklahoma State

Oklahoma State hoped they could make a run at the Big 12 South last season, but got embarrassed in losses to Texas and Oklahoma. A South title in 2010 might be a stretch, but the spring could set up another solid season for Mike Gundy’s Cowboys.

8. Baylor

Finding replacements for All-Big 12 defenders Joe Pawelek and Jordan Lake should be the prime concern for the spring, but it will definitely be good to see Robert Griffin III get back on the field.

9. Texas Tech

What injustice! The Red Raiders below the Bears? Tommy Tuberville is a good coach, but the transition to Tech could be a difficult one. Don’t be surprised if the Red Raiders prove me wrong, but somebody’s got to finish last in a great South division. There won’t be an easy win for anyone against South teams this season. I mentioned this in Thursday's chat, but I’m interested to see how Tuberville’s second go-around with the spread offense (see: Tony Franklin) goes. Easing up on his trigger finger might be a good idea.

10. Kansas

Turner Gill loses a lot of offense without Todd Reesing, Kerry Meier and Dezmon Briscoe. Sophomore running back Toben Opurum could emerge as one of the conference’s young stars this spring.

11. Colorado

Tyler Hansen and Toney Clemons bring some excitement to the Buffaloes spring, but the offensive line is also a concern. Maxwell Tuioti-Mariner returns from injury to help talented lineman Nate Solder protect Hansen and pave the way for running back Rodney Stewart, one of just three scholarship backs who will practice this spring.

12. Iowa State

The Cyclones depleted defense (only four starters return) could make it tough for Austen Arnaud to produce wins no matter how well he plays. Plenty of spots up for grabs there, and linebacker Jake Knott is one to watch as a new starter. Paul Rhoads impressed with a bowl win last season, but what does it say about a team when its best win (Nebraska) came by only two points when it forced eight turnovers and committed none?

Thanks for the support the first week, fans. Enjoy the weekend.

Big 12 North breakdown: Nebraska tough to unseat

March, 5, 2010
3/05/10
8:00
AM ET
Some of you have asked for it, and since it makes sense to do it early on, I’ll be breaking down the Big 12 over the next couple of days. Today, I’ll give my take on the North and South races. Tomorrow, I’ll put them together for my own pre-spring power rankings.

Update: My pre-spring power rankings will go up later this afternoon.

Here's how I see the North shaking out next fall:

1. Nebraska
The Huskers will do without the services of the House of Spears, but the Pelini brothers’ defense was hardly built around one player. Replacing linebacker Phillip Dillard and safeties Matt O’Hanlon and Larry Asante won’t be easy, but the Nebraska defense should still be stout.

As for the offense, last season’s home loss to Iowa State in which the Huskers had more turnovers (8) than points (7) would suggest the only way to go is up.

To repeat in the North, the Huskers must defend Memorial Stadium, where they’ll get to face Missouri and Texas.

2. Missouri
Missouri returns 18 starters, including junior quarterback Blaine Gabbert, who threw for 3,593 yards and 24 touchdowns as a sophomore.

He’ll need support from still-maturing senior corners Carl Gettis and Kevin Rutland, who gave up 427 yards passing to Baylor freshman quarterback Nick Florence (almost 200 more yards than he had in any other game last season) in an ugly home loss to the Bears, negating Gabbert’s career high of 468 yards.

For Missouri, taking back the North will mean surviving a difficult early conference schedule, which opens with Colorado but then forces the Tigers to play at Texas A&M before hosting Oklahoma. The next week, they travel to Lincoln for another showdown with Nebraska that would give the winner the inside track at a North title.

3. Kansas State
The Wildcats busted in their bowl-or-bust game against Nebraska to close out last season, but will try and rebound with a run at the North title. They’ll miss Brandon Banks’ kick returns, but Daniel Thomas (1,265 yards in 2009) wouldn’t mind getting his number called almost 250 times again like he did last season. For Kansas State, the earlier the uncertainty ends at quarterback, the better. Three candidates enter spring with a chance to start.

4. Kansas
The personnel behind Kansas’ missing offensive firepower last season is gone. Kansas standouts QB Todd Reesing, receivers Dezmon Briscoe and Kerry Meier and running back Jake Sharp won’t return, and new coach Turner Gill will try to patch back together a team that finished last season on a seven-game losing streak after winning its conference opener against Iowa State.

Sophomore running back Toben Opurum provides a nice foundation for Gill’s new offense after playing well when Sharp sat out or was slowed with injuries.

5. Iowa State
Paul Rhoads’ team showed progress in 2009, finishing the season with a win over Minnesota in the Insight Bowl for the program’s first winning season since 2005. He’ll try to improve on that with only four defensive starters returning this season.

Quarterback Austen Arnaud and running back Alexander Robinson return, but on the Cyclones’ schedule, so do Oklahoma and Texas. They’ll also face Utah, Iowa and Northern Illinois in nonconference games. Returning to a bowl for a second consecutive season won’t be easy.

6. Colorado
The Buffaloes didn’t earn much respect around the conference after giving up 54 points to Toledo in an early-season loss in 2009. They finished with three close losses at Iowa State and Oklahoma State before finishing the season with a home loss to North champ Nebraska.

If Colorado wants to dig itself out of the North basement, it’ll need Tyler Hansen to play like he did in the first half of a win over Kansas in Hansen’s first start, when the Buffaloes charged to a 24-3 second-quarter lead behind two Hansen touchdowns.

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