Big 12: Donald Stephenson
- Bob Bowlsby's the Big 12's new man, and he talks a big game, but will he be Texas' man, too? Kirk Bohls of the Austin American-Statesman examines the issue. Bowlsby earned plenty of praise after his introductory news conference on Friday. If you want the Big 12 to stabilize, you better hope it's deserved praise, writes Kevin Haskin of the Topeka Capital-Journal.
- The Big 12 just got a new commissioner, but the Big East sounds like it's now on the market for a new head man.
- Matt Hayes of Sporting News ranks the Big 12 coaches from top to bottom. I'm sure you'll all agree.
- New Oklahoma State quarterback Wes Lunt is trying to keep life as normal as possible. Gina Mizell of The Oklahoman explains how.
- NFL.com takes you behind the scenes of Justin Blackmon's draft night. Cool stuff here.
- Cole Manbeck of the Manhattan Mercury introduces you to the newest QB at K-State who impressed at the spring game: Tay Bender.
- A judge refused to dismiss a civil suit against Texas Tech coach Tommy Tuberville.
- Matt Tait of the Lawrence Journal-World offers an update on the tight competition at receiver at Kansas. He also catches up with ex-Jayhawk tight end Tim Biere, who maneuvered his way through the world of undrafted free agency into a contract with the hometown Chiefs.
- Receiver Michael Harrison's future at OSU (or not) looks like it's getting even cloudier.
- Oklahoma offensive lineman Donald Stephenson is living a dream after being drafted by the Kansas City Chiefs.
- This story is insane.
- Loud noises!
- Texas Tech athletic director Kirby Hocutt offers his thoughts on the new Big 12 commissioner.
- Could a new stadium revitalize tourism in Waco?
So, maybe you're not an NFL GM (or maybe you are).
If you're an obsessive fantasy football player (guilty here), you know the tier system well. It's similar to what NFL teams use on draft day, to know when they're getting a player at a value, and when they can afford to wait around. Often, they're broken into position groups.
Our draft guru, Todd McShay, broke down the tier system for this year's draft, and placed players in several groups. Here's who landed where from the Big 12:
Tier 1 -- elite prospects
- Baylor quarterback Robert Griffin III was one of just five prospects.
- OSU receiver Justin Blackmon was one of just two players.
- Texas A&M quarterback Ryan Tannehill was one of 12 players.
- Baylor receiver Kendall Wright was one of 12 players.
- Oklahoma State quarterback Brandon Weeden and Oklahoma linebacker Ronnell Lewis were two of 24 players.
Here's a look at how the notable Big 12 talents did:
Robert Griffin III, Baylor
- 40-yard dash: 4.41 seconds (fastest among QBs)
Terrance Ganaway, Baylor
- 40-yard dash: 4.67 seconds
Fozzy Whittaker, Texas
- 225-pound bench press: 20 reps (T-12 among running backs)
Justin Blackmon, Oklahoma State
- 40-yard dash: DNP
- 225-pound bench press: 14 reps
- 40-yard dash: 4.61 seconds
- 225-pound bench press: 21 reps (second among receivers)
Philip Blake, Baylor
- 40-yard dash: 5.25 seconds (11th among linemen)
- 40-yard dash: 4.94 seconds (best among linemen)
James Hanna, Oklahoma
- 40-yard dash: 4.49 seconds (best among tight ends)
- 225-pound bench press: 24 reps (fourth among tight ends)
Defenders will take the field today and Tuesday. Here's the full schedule.
A few thoughts on these numbers:
- I'd like to be wowed by RG3's 40 time, the fastest among QBs ever at the combine since Michael Vick, but I'm really not. Was there any doubt he'd run a time like that? Other than Vick, was any quarterback anywhere close to Griffin's speed? No. It's amazing, yes. But surprising? No. He's a freak athlete whose mind is just as sharp as his body. We haven't seen a quarterback with his combination of speed and throwing acumen. He didn't throw at the combine, but he'll do so at his pro day in Waco on March 21.
- The bench press numbers for Blackmon (14) and Broyles (21) were eye-popping. There's lots of reasons for it: Broyles' arms are shorter and with his torn ACL, I'm sure he's worked on his upper body almost exclusively in recent months. However, Blackmon's one of the most "football strong" receivers I've ever seen. It'll be interesting to see what Broyles looks like when he comes back. All he can do now is prove to NFL teams his knee is healing.
- A 4.61 40 time for Kendall Wright? What's that about? I would have placed him around the 4.4 range, right next to RG3. I have to think Wright ran an awful time or had some kind of ailment. He's run by a ton of DBs this year for 1,662 receiving yards, and tons of deep balls from RG3. I'm shocked to see a time that slow.
Here's what each team across the Big 12 needs. You'll find Texas A&M and Mizzou on the SEC blog and West Virginia on the Big East Blog.
Quarterback: This one's pretty simple. Robert Griffin III is taking his talents to the NFL early. Nick Florence is waiting to take over, and the Bears have Bryce Petty behind him, but more reinforcements at quarterback are needed. Dual-threat quarterbacks, ideally.
Defensive tackle: Baylor already was one of the nation's worst teams (102nd nationally) at stopping the run. Now it'll need to replace both its interior linemen, Nicolas Jean-Baptiste and Tracy Robertson.
Offensive linemen: Baylor's offensive line, meanwhile, has been solid. It loses junior college transfer and two-year starter Robert T. Griffin, as well as All-Big 12 center Philip Blake. John Jones, a reserve guard, also has exhausted his eligibility.
Receiver: This has been a weak spot for the team for several years, and its top overall talent, Darius Reynolds, is gone. Darius Darks is, too. Aaron Horne and Josh Lenz will be the team's best weapons in 2012, but the pair of shifty slot guys will be seniors. This position needs reinforcements.
Defensive back: The DBs have been a quiet strength for ISU, especially in 2011. Cornerback Leonard Johnson and safety Ter'Ran Benton both have exhausted their eligibility, though, and defensive backs coach Bobby Elliott left for Notre Dame. You'll see plenty of new faces in the Cyclones' secondary next year.
Defensive line: Experienced starters Stephen Ruempolhamer and Jacob Lattimer are both gone, and Iowa State has struggled to stop the run consistently the past few seasons.
Quarterback: Kansas landed high-profile transfers Dayne Crist (Notre Dame) and Jake Heaps (BYU), but this is still a huge position of need. Last year's starter, Jordan Webb, left the team. Quinn Mecham is out of eligibility. Heaps is sitting out his NCAA-mandated year after transferring. Crist is the starter, but he badly needs a backup, especially if Brock Berglund's transfer appeal allows him to leave.
Wide receiver: Kansas lacks a big threat at this position. It needs a talent upgrade in a big way. Oklahoma transfer Justin McCay is joining the team, but he's no guarantee to a) be granted immediate eligibility or b) become an impact player.
Defensive tackle: Kansas is thin here, too. Richard Johnson, Patrick Dorsey and Michael Martinovich are gone, and Kansas couldn't stop much of anything on defense. Some push up front could help make everything look better. A late addition to the 2012 class from a junior college seems like a no-brainer. The Jayhawks need physically mature players to contribute immediately.
Offensive line: K-State's offensive line was much better in 2011 and could be again in 2012. It needs help replacing All-Big 12 lineman Clyde Aufner, though. Starter Colten Freeze is also gone.
Defensive line: Kansas State is bringing back about as many starters as anyone in the Big 12, but the biggest losses are along the defensive line. Kick-blocking specialist (five in 2011) Ralph Guidry is gone, along with tackle Ray Kibble. Juco transfer Jordan Voelker exploded onto the scene this year, but he's gone, too.
Defensive backs: Cornerback David Garrett leaves a huge hole behind. Tysyn Hartman may not be as talented as teammate Ty Zimmerman, but his experience leaves a big hole. Zimmerman will have to mentor a younger safety in the near future.
Receiver: The Sooners are thin here in a big way. That was obvious late in the season when Ryan Broyles' storied college career ended a few weeks early with a knee injury. The team also lost Justin McCay (transfer) to Kansas. Jaz Reynolds and Kenny Stills are the likely top two targets, but they need help.
Tight end: This position inspired a bit of panic at the end of the season. Seniors James Hanna and Trent Ratterree are gone. Austin Haywood wasn't allowed back on the team, and two more tight ends left the team for various reasons. That left the Sooners suddenly without a scholarship player at the position returning in 2012.
Offensive line: Starting tackle Donald Stephenson must be replaced, as will guard Stephen Good, who moved in and out of the starting lineup throughout his career. The Sooners bring back a lot of talent and aren't dying for depth there, but those two will leave holes. Three more offensive line starters will be seniors in 2012.
Offensive line: The Cowboys need a whole lot of help here to fill in behind young players stepping into the starting lineup. Starters Levy Adcock, Nick Martinez and Grant Garner are gone. Backup center Casey LaBrue is gone, too. Those are two All-Big 12 linemen who leave big shoes to be filled.
Receiver: Justin Blackmon surprised no one by leaving a year early, and Josh Cooper leaves with perhaps the most underrated career of any receiver in school history. In OSU's offense, there's always room for depth here. Nine receivers had at least 19 catches in 2011. Blackmon and Cooper combined for 192, though.
Defensive ends: The pass rush was solid for Oklahoma State this year, but both starters, Jamie Blatnick and Richetti Jones, are gone. Replacing both is a necessity.
Receiver: Texas lacks a true game-changer at the position, though Jaxon Shipley and Mike Davis may develop into that role in 2012. Former blue-chip recruit Darius White left for Missouri, too.
Quarterback: David Ash and Case McCoy didn't show a ton of potential at quarterback this year, though Ash may grow with an offseason to prepare as starter. Garrett Gilbert got a big chunk of the work in the spring, summer 7-on-7 and fall preseason camp. Even if Ash does grow, the Longhorns need reinforcements at the position.
Linebacker: Two senior impact players are gone. Texas is left trying to replace Emmanuel Acho and Keenan Robinson, though Jordan Hicks may mature into a star in 2012.
Offensive line: TCU's offensive line is headed for some major turnover. OT Robert Deck, OG Kyle Dooley and OG Spencer Thompson are gone. Two more starters, OG Blaize Foltz and C James Fry, will be seniors in 2012.
Defensive linemen: TCU isn't losing a lot at this spot, but Ross Forrest and D.J. Yendrey will be seniors in 2012. The Horned Frogs would be well-served to prepare, and offer some depth next year.
Specialists: TCU will have to break in a pair of new starters on special teams next season. Kicker Ross Evans and punter Anson Kelton have exhausted their eligibility.
Receiver: The Red Raiders' offense requires a lot of depth here. Tramain Swindall is the only loss at the position, but three more (Alex Torres, Cornelius Douglas, Darrin Moore) will be seniors. Douglas moved to cornerback this year after the team was racked with injury, but we'll see whether he moves back this offseason.
Offensive line: Tech has a huge need here. Four players won't be returning in 2012. Lonnie Edwards, Mickey Okafor and center Justin Keown must be replaced.
Defensive linemen: Tech's Donald Langley and Scott Smith are both out of eligibility, and juco transfer Leon Mackey will be a senior.
What’s new: The cornerbacks. Brian Jackson and Dom Franks are gone, but they'll be replaced by some combination of Demontre Hurst, Jamell Fleming Gabe Lynn or incoming freshman Tony Jefferson.
Key battle: The two linebacking spots alongside Travis Lewis. Oklahoma has lots of talent on the defense's second line, but sophomore Ronnell Lewis and redshirt freshman Tom Wort will try to hold off the more experienced junior Austin Box and sophomores Daniel Franklin and Jaydan Bird for the starting spots.
New on the scene: Wide receiver Kenny Stills. The early-enrolling receiver made a splash in the spring and will try to to challenge Dejuan Miller as the No. 2 receiver opposite the conference's best, Ryan Broyles, in the Sooners offense.
Breaking out: Left tackle Donald Stephenson. The 6-foot-6, 285-pound junior sat out all of last season because of eligibility issues, but Oklahoma coach Bob Stoops raved about Stephenson throughout the spring and continued to do so at last week's media days. Stoops says he has comparable talent to last year's left tackle, Trent Williams, who was drafted fourth overall in the NFL Draft.
Don’t forget about: Quinton Carter. One of the conference's hardest hitters, Carter will return for another year patrolling the secondary at free safety. Jonathan Nelson, Marcus Trice and last year's starter Sam Proctor give the Sooners great depth on the defense's back line.
All eyes on: The sidelines. Oklahoma's star power spent most of the season there last season with Heisman winner Sam Bradford and All-American tight end Jermaine Gresham forced to watch. Common sense says it can't happen again, but any more serious, impactful injuries would be increasingly frustrating for Oklahoma.
Quoting: "I really believe, going through a year ago, losing the number of seniors that we did, that we gained experience that you didn't want at the time. That will definitely give us -- make us a better and stronger team coming into this year. More experienced team maybe than we would have been." -- Oklahoma coach Bob Stoops
Though plenty was made of his comments about Oklahoma as it relates to possible realignment, he also had an interesting comment about running back DeMarco Murray.
In his first season as the team's primary ball-carrier, Murray has set a goal for himself to rush for 1,500 yards, which would be a career high.
OU coach Bob Stoops has even greater expectations.
"I don't think that's enough," Stoops said Tuesday during an OU carvan stop in Tulsa. "I'd sure like to see him at 1,900. Not like we haven't done it. Adrian (Peterson) and Quentin Griffin both were over 1,900. We'll see. Hopefully he can do something like that."
I've talked about Murray plenty on the blog. I think you'd have a tough time finding a more talented running back in the conference. An easier task: finding a more productive back. He's topped 1,000 yards just once in his career, and that was in 2008 when he sat out the Big 12 and national championship games with an injured hamstring. Murray and Chris Brown complemented each other well, but Murray never seemed to get enough touches. Offensive coordinator Kevin Wilson said he wanted DeMarco to touch the ball 25 times a game last season. There's a lot that goes into that number, but Murray got 25 touches in a game just twice, and eclipsed 20 in just two other games.
If he's going to flirt with 2,000 yards (1,000 more than the number I think he flirts with this season) three things have to happen:
1) He has to stay healthy. He did that, for the most part, last season. He missed just one game (a road win over Kansas) with an ankle injury. That's been the biggest knock on him throughout his career, and if he goes down again, that knock will continue. It's worth noting that the injury criticisms are probably a little unfair. In three seasons, he's missed six games. The problem has been when he's missed games. In 2007, he missed the Bedlam game, the Big 12 championship and the Fiesta Bowl loss to West Virginia. In 2008, like I mentioned earlier, it was the Big 12 and national championships.
2) He needs more carries. With a struggling offensive line in 2009, Oklahoma constantly worked the flats against good defenses with Murray and receiver Ryan Broyles, their two biggest playmakers in space. He can get receptions there whenever he wants them, but Stoops sounds like he wants to pound it with Murray, who isn't lacking for size at 6-foot-1 and 214 pounds.
He only carried the ball 171 times in 2009. He'd have to average 11.1 yards per carry with that number of carries to hit 1,900 yards. Good luck with that.
But he has to prove he's productive enough to warrant those additional carries. Stoops isn't going to give him the ball because he's DeMarco Murray. He'll have to earn them with his play in games and in practice, and if he doesn't, there's plenty of backs behind him such as Jermie Calhoun or Mossis Madu ready to pick up the slack, not to mention incoming freshmen Roy Finch and Brennan Clay.
3) The offensive line has to improve. This is far from a given, especially after losing their three best blockers from last year's team in Trent Williams, Brody Eldridge and Brian Simmons. But Ben Habern and Tyler Evans have to stay healthy and consistent, and they need help from guys like Donald Stephenson, Jarvis Jones and Cory Brandon.
The only thing the 2009 Oklahoma offensive line did more than get penalized was get injured.
In a season filled with disappointment, the offensive line began the season as a concern, and remained one throughout. Thinning numbers at nearly every position didn’t help, and after Trent Williams suffered a concussion before the season finale, Oklahoma was forced to start walk-on Brian Lepak, though he did perform well.
But the struggling line will lose its three best blockers from last season: Williams, Brian Simmons and Brody Eldridge.
For improvement, the Sooners need players like junior Stephen Good and sophomore Tyler Evans to fulfill their potential. Freshman Bronson Irwin enrolled early and will be in spring camp for the Sooners, and junior Donald Stephenson returns from a year-long suspension. He's drawn praise from Bob Stoops for his early work.
Strong: Defensive end
Oklahoma could once again contend for the best defensive line in college football, but its real strength is on the ends.
Senior Jeremy Beal had 11 sacks (fourth-most in school history) last season after grabbing 8.5 as a sophomore. Now, his senior season will be his third as starter after two consecutive appearances on the All-Big 12 first team.
Frank Alexander played extensively (nine starts) in his first two seasons and likely assumes a permanent starting role as a junior. Seven of his 23 tackles last season were for a loss and he also notched 1.5 sacks.
As a freshman, Alexander was named an All-Big 12 honorable mention performer and had five tackles as a starter in the national title game.
More Weak & Strong:
Spring practice starts: March 16
Spring game: April 10
1. Quarterback Robert Griffin III's surgically repaired right knee. Griffin hasn't played since tearing the ACL in his right knee in the third game of the '09 season. He recently said he's ahead of schedule in rehabilitation, but probably won’t do much during spring practice. He'll wear a heavy knee brace and won’t participate in contact drills.
2. New linebackers. The Bears lost strongside linebacker Antonio Jones and middle linebacker Joe Pawelek, who combined to make 190 tackles last season. Senior Earl Patin, who also has played some defensive end during his career, is poised to replace Pawelek in the middle. But Patin will have to hold off highly regarded youngsters Chris McAllister and LeQuince McCall, who redshirted in ’09. Senior Chris Francis is probably the top candidate to replace Jones on the strong side.
3. Safety. The Bears must replace both of their starting safeties, including All-Big 12 performer Jordan Lake, who started 36 games in a row. Junior college transfer Byron Landor and sophomore Mike Hicks will get the first looks in the spring. But they'll have to hold off incoming freshman Ahmad Dixon, one of the top prospects to ever sign with Baylor, after he arrives for fall camp.
Spring practice starts: March 6
Spring game: April 10
1. Michigan transfer Toney Clemons. Buffaloes coach Dan Hawkins called Clemons his team's most exciting receiver while he sat out the '09 season under NCAA transfer rules. The cousin of Arizona Cardinals receiver Steve Breaston, Clemons could bring an interesting dynamic to the CU offense. His arrival couldn't come at a better time, either, after Markques Simas was suspended indefinitely for violating team rules.
2. Linebacker. The Buffaloes must replace their two most productive linebackers after losing Marcus Burton and Jeff Smart. The departed seniors combined to make 105 solo tackles and 6.5 sacks last season. Senior Michael Sipili is the top candidate to replace Burton in the middle, and sophomore Jon Major might get the first crack at replacing Smart on the weak side.
3. Offensive line. The unit's inconsistency has dogged Hawkins' offense in each of his first four seasons. Eight offensive linemen had significant playing time in '09, so the Buffs are looking for more stability up front. The return of sophomore guard Maxwell Tuioti-Mariner from a pair of knee injuries, and early arrival of junior college transfer Eric Richter might shore up the interior line.
Iowa State Cyclones
Spring practice starts: March 23
Spring game: April 17
1. Linebackers. The Cyclones lost each of their starting three linebackers: Josh Raven, Jesse Smith and Fred Garrin. Junior Jacob Lattimer is in line to replace Raven on the strong side, and two highly regarded sophomores are in line to fill the other spots. A.J. Klein, who had 17 tackles in 13 games as a freshman, might get the unenviable task of replacing Smith, who led the Big 12 in tackles in '09. Jake Knott, who had 23 tackles as a freshman, is the top candidate to start on the weak side.
2. Wide receiver. Iowa State lost leading receiver Marquis Hamilton, who had 50 catches for 606 yards with four touchdowns in '09. Tight end Derrick Catlett, another top receiving threat, also is gone. The good news: Junior Darius Reynolds returns from a broken leg that caused him to miss all but four games last season. Reynolds, who earned the moniker "Money" for his big-play potential, had 13 catches for 72 yards before he was hurt in practice in late September. Junior college tight end Ricky Howard enrolled in classes in January and will participate in spring practice.
3. Defensive line. Two starters will have to be replaced after ISU lost right end Christopher Lyle and tackle Nate Frere. Lyle led the team with five sacks in '09; Frere was a pretty good run-stopper. Sophomores Cleyon Laing and Roosevelt Maggitt will get strong looks at end, and senior Austin Alburtis and sophomore Jake McDonough will move into the tackle rotation.
Spring practice starts: March 27
Spring game: April 24
1. Quarterback. New Kansas coach Turner Gill might have one heck of a competition on his hands. Sophomore Kale Pick is a mobile option, after averaging 11.9 yards per rushing attempt in 2009. Junior college transfer Quinn Mecham, who enrolled in classes at Kansas in January, threw for 3,091 yards with 40 touchdowns and 11 interceptions at Snow College in Utah last season.
2. Wide receiver. The Jayhawks have to replace departed stars Kerry Meier and Dezmon Briscoe, which will be no easy task. The duo combined to catch 186 passes for 2,322 yards with 17 touchdowns last season. Bradley McDougald and Johnathan Wilson were proven targets last season, but younger players such as Chris Omigie and incoming freshman Keeston Terry will have to help this fall.
3. Secondary. The Kansas defense gave up too many big passing plays and didn't create enough turnovers last season. The Jayhawks will have to replace strong safety Darrell Stuckey, who led them with 93 tackles in '09. Senior Phillip Strozier will get the first crack at replacing the heart and soul of the Kansas defense.
Kansas State Wildcats
Spring practice starts: March 21
Spring game: April 24
1. Oregon transfer Chris Harper. In 2008, Harper played wide receiver and quarterback for the Ducks as a freshman. He became the first Oregon player in eight years to run, pass and catch a touchdown in the same season. Harper, a native of Wichita, Kan., might figure into Kansas State's quarterback or wide receiver plans after sitting out the '09 season under NCAA transfer rules.
2. Quarterback battle. Harper and two other players will probably battle to replace departed senior Grant Gregory. Senior Carson Coffman, who started the '09 season at quarterback, figures to be back in the mix, along with junior college transfer Sammuel Lamur.
3. Defensive line. The Wildcats have a couple of gaping holes to fill up front defensively. End Jeff Fitzgerald, who had 40 tackles and 10 tackles for loss in '09, has to be replaced, along with tackles Daniel Calvin and Chidubamu Abana. Junior college transfer Javonta Boyd, who has already enrolled in classes, could help in the interior line.
Spring practice starts: March 9
Spring game: April 17
1. Wide receiver. The Tigers have to replace Danario Alexander, who led the country with 1,781 receiving yards in 2009. Juniors Jerrell Jackson and Wes Kemp both caught more than 20 passes last season, but younger players like T.J. Moe and Rolandis Woodland are going to have to contribute more. Incoming freshman Marcus Lucas could help in the fall.
2. Linebacker. The Tigers bring back two of their starting three linebackers, but three-time All-Big 12 selection Sean Weatherspoon is the one who left. Sophomore Donovan Bonner heads into spring camp as the top candidate to replace Weatherspoon on the weak side, and Will Ebner and Andrew Gachkar are back at the other linebacker spots.
3. Defensive line. Two starters are gone on the defensive front: end Brian Coulter and nose tackle Jaron Baston. At least the Tigers know they’re set at one side, with end Aldon Smith coming back after totaling 19 tackles for loss and 11.5 sacks in '09. Marcus Malbrough and Jacquies Smith will battle for starting end, and Terrell Resonno could move into the vacant tackle spot.
Spring practice starts: March 24
Spring game: April 17
What to watch:
1. Will quarterback Zac Lee keep his starting job? After Lee was plagued by inconsistency throughout the '09 season, offensive coordinator Shawn Watson is expected to open the competition during spring practice. Sophomore Cody Green, senior Latravis Washington and freshman Taylor Martinez will all be given a fair chance to win the job.
2. Defensive tackle. Nebraska fans won't see All-American Ndamukong Suh commanding double-team blocks along the line of scrimmage. Even after losing one of the most decorated players in school history, the Cornhuskers figure to be pretty good up front. Jared Crick and Baker Steinkuhler will man the middle, with Pierre Allen and Cameron Meredith entering spring camp as the favorites at ends.
3. Rex Burkhead. The sophomore burst onto the scene after Roy Helu Jr. was hurt early in the Huskers' 33-0 rout of Arizona in the Pacific Life Holiday Bowl, rushing for 89 yards with one touchdown. Burkhead was very explosive running out of the Wildcat package, so look for Watson to try and utilize him even more to make the Nebraska attack less predictable.
Spring practice starts: March 8
Spring game: April 17
1. Offensive line. The Sooners have a lot of questions up front on offense, after left tackle Trent Williams and right guard Brian Simmons departed. Will junior Donald Stephenson finally be ready to contribute at left tackle after being suspended for all of the ’09 season? Will center Ben Habern be ready after breaking his leg late in the ’09 season? When will Jarvis Jones return from a broken heel?
2. Linebacker Ronnell Lewis. The sophomore had a break-out game in the Sooners’ 31-27 victory over Stanford in the Sun Bowl, finishing with six tackles and a forced fumble. With starting linebackers Keenan Clayton and Ryan Reynolds departing, Lewis will assume a starting role on the strong side. Redshirt freshman Tom Wort is projected to start in the middle, with junior Travis Lewis starting on the weak side.
3. Secondary. The Sooners have shuffled their defensive backs after losing cornerbacks Dominique Franks and Brian Jackson. Sophomore Demontre Hurst is in line to replace Franks at field cornerback, and senior Jonathan Nelson has moved from strong safety to boundary cornerback. Junior Sam Proctor is expected to replace Nelson at strong safety, and senior Quinton Carter is back at free safety.
Oklahoma State Cowboys
Spring practice starts: March 8
Spring game: April 17
1. Quarterback Brandon Weeden. The 26-year-old junior is the top candidate to replace Zac Robinson, who broke nearly every OSU passing record. Weeden was a second-round choice of the New York Yankees in the 2002 amateur baseball draft. If he can grasp new offensive coordinator Dana Holgorson's spread offense quickly, the Pokes' passing game should again be potent in 2010.
2. Defense. Defensive coordinator Bill Young will have his hands full this spring trying to replace nine starters. The only returning starters are defensive end Ugo Chinasa and strong safety Markelle Martin. The Pokes have to replace three starters on the defensive line, three linebackers and three defensive backs. Three newcomers -- linebacker Caleb Lavey and defensive backs Devin Hedgepeth and Malcolm Murray -- will get early looks in spring camp.
3. Offensive line. The Cowboys will have to replace star left tackle Russell Okung, left guard Noah Franklin, center Andrew Lewis and right tackle Brady Bond. Juniors Nick Martinez, Casey LaBrue and Grant Garner will be the top candidates to fill open starting spots.
Spring practice starts: Feb. 26
Spring game: April 4
1. Quarterback Garrett Gilbert. The sophomore was thrust into action after Colt McCoy injured his shoulder against Alabama in the Citi BCS National Championship Game and played admirably well in tough circumstances. The Longhorns might change their identity on offense with a young quarterback under center, so developing a running game to take pressure off Gilbert might be a top priority.
2. Defense. The unit is in good hands with coordinator Will Muschamp, but he'll have to replace many of the star players from 2009. End Sergio Kindle, tackle Lamarr Houston, linebacker Roddrick Muckelroy and safety Earl Thomas are all gone. Younger players such as end Alex Okafor and tackle Tyrell Higgins will have to turn it up a notch during spring practice.
3. Wide receiver. Jordan Shipley, who was McCoy's favorite target, also departed. Seniors James Kirkendoll and John Chiles, junior Malcolm Williams and sophomore Marquise Goodwin will have to be more consistent in their route running and pass catching. Other receivers such as D.J. Monroe and DeSean Hales will be trying to crack the receiver rotation during the spring, before talented freshmen like Darius White, Mike Davis and Demarco Cobbs arrive on campus.
Texas A&M Aggies
Spring practice starts: March 23
Spring game: April 17
1. New defensive coordinator Tim DeRuyter, who built one of the country’s best units at Air Force last season. He inherits an A&M defense that was woefully porous last season and will switch to a 3-4 scheme. Nine starters are coming back on defense, including pass-rushing specialist Von Miller. DeRuyter will spend the spring trying to install his system and getting his players comfortable with it.
2. Offensive line. The Aggies must replace three starting offensive linemen: left tackle Michael Shumard, center Kevin Matthews and right tackle Lee Grimes. Juniors Joe Villavisencio and Danny Baker and sophomore Stephen Barrera have to be ready to step up this spring.
3. Special teams. The Aggies’ special teams weren’t so special last season, as they ranked 104th in net punting, 91st in kickoff return defense and 49th in kickoff returns among FBS teams. Aggies coach Mike Sherman is putting a new emphasis on special teams, which cost his team dearly in its 44-20 loss to Georgia in the Independence Bowl.
Texas Tech Red Raiders
Spring practice starts: March 7
Spring game: April 17
1. Quarterbacks. With former Auburn coach Tommy Tuberville replacing Mike Leach at Texas Tech, senior quarterbacks Taylor Potts and Steven Sheffield figure to start spring camp on a level playing field. Potts started 10 games last season, throwing for 3,440 yards with 22 touchdowns and 13 interceptions. Sheffield started two games and threw for 1,219 yards with 14 touchdowns and four picks. New offensive coordinator Neal Brown, who was hired from Troy, runs a version of the spread offense, but Tuberville will probably incorporate more of a traditional running game into the offense.
2. Defensive line. New defensive coordinator James Willis has to replace three starters on his defensive front: ends Brandon Sharpe and Daniel Howard and tackle Richard Jones. Making matters worse, the top two reserve ends in 2009 were seniors, along with the backup nose tackle.
3. Offensive line. O-line coach Matt Moore, who was retained from Leach's staff, has to replace three starters: center Shawn Byrnes, right guard Brandon Carter and right tackle Marlon Winn. Juniors Justin Keown and Mickey Okafor and sophomore LaAdrian Waddle will probably be given first crack at replacing them. Incoming junior college transfer Scott Smith could play stand-up end in Tech's 3-4 scheme, and junior college defensive tackle Donald Langley might also have an impact in spring practice.
Texas has to replace quarterback Colt McCoy and star receiver Jordan Shipley. Oklahoma loses 2008 Heisman Trophy winner Sam Bradford and tight end Jermaine Gresham, who didn't play much at all last season, and Oklahoma State said goodbye to quarterback Zac Robinson and receiver Dez Bryant.
With spring practice right around the corner, here's a look at five position battles to watch in the Big 12 this spring:
1. Oklahoma State quarterback
Robinson leaves after breaking most of the school's passing records. He'll probably be replaced by 26-year-old junior Brandon Weeden, who was a second-round draft choice of the New York Yankees in the 2002 amateur baseball draft. Weeden played well at times last season, when he filled in while Robinson was hurt. If Weeden can grasp new offensive coordinator Dana Holgorsen's spread offense quickly, he should hold off heralded incoming freshman Nathan Sorensen during fall camp.
2. Texas defensive line
The bad news for Texas defensive coordinator Will Muschamp: star defensive end Sergio Kindle and tackle Lamarr Houston departed for the NFL draft. The good news: ends Sam Acho and Eddie Jones, who combined for 15 sacks in 2009, are both coming back. Jones might be the leading candidate to replace Kindle, but he'll have to hold off Russell Carter and promising sophomore Alex Okafor. Replacing Houston's productivity might be more problematic. Sophomore Calvin Howell, who had four tackles and one sack in 2009, was the No. 2 tackle at season's end.
3. Oklahoma offensive line
The Sooners were banged up on the offensive line last season, which contributed to their unexpected slide to 8-5. Now, OU coach Bob Stoops has to replace left tackle Trent Williams, right guard Brian Simmons and center/tight end Brody Eldridge. Will the Sooners stick with their starting tackles against Stanford in the Sun Bowl? Converted tight end Eric Mensik and rising senior Cory Brandon started against the Cardinal. Junior Jarvis Jones, who split time between guard and tackle last season, is recovering from a broken heel and might not be ready for the start of spring practice. Junior Donald Stephenson, who was suspended all of last season, might be the wild card. Junior Stephen Good and senior Tavaris Jeffries have to get better in the interior line if OU is going to improve up front in 2010.
4. Kansas quarterback
Todd Reesing, who broke about every passing mark in the Kansas record book, is gone after starting the last three seasons. Sophomore Cale Pick might remind new coach Turner Gill of his playing days at Nebraska. Pick averaged 11.9 yards per rushing attempt in seven games last season, while throwing only five passes. Pick will have to hold off junior college transfer Quinn Mecham, who enrolled in classes in January. Mecham threw for 3,091 yards with 40 touchdowns and 11 interceptions at Snow College in Utah last season.
5. Nebraska defensive line
How do you replace one of the best defensive tackles in school history? That's the dilemma Cornhuskers coach Bo Pelini will face when his team opens spring practice. All-American Ndumakong Suh is gone, along with senior defensive end Barry Turner. The good news for Nebraska is that it played several young players on the defensive line last season. Starting tackle Jared Crick had 9.5 sacks and 15 tackles for loss and was a star in his own right. Sophomore Baker Steinkuhler and junior Terrence Moore will battle for the other tackle spot. Sophomore Cameron Meredith, who had five tackles for loss and 1.5 sacks in limited time last season, is the top candidate to replace Turner on the edge.
Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Griffin
It might be a little quieter at Memorial Stadium this season, at least if a directive from the Nebraska athletic department is enforced.
Lee Barfknecht of the Omaha World-Herald reports that skybox holders at Memorial Stadium have received word that there will be stricter enforcement of the campus law that forbids alcohol possession on campus.
No beer or whiskey in those prime seats might lead to a more sedate crowd -- at least in what some Nebraska insiders refer to as "Lexus Lane."
But something tells me that if Bo Pelini's team is as good as expected, the rest of the stadium might drown them out.
We won't know about that until early September at the Cornhuskers' first game. Until then, here are some notable stories from across the conference.
- Mark Hasty of Fanhouse.com wonders if the Big 12 can rebound after last season's disappointing bowl performance.
- Randy Riggs of the Austin American-Statesman writes about how Texas A&M defensive coordinator Joe Kines has simplified his defensive scheme in hopes of improving the defense's production.
- Colorado is intent on improving its ability to block kicks this spring, the Boulder Daily Camera's Kyle Ringo reports.
- Robert Cessna of the Bryan Eagle is sticking to his 6-6 prediction for Texas A&M next season.
- Backup Oklahoma offensive tackle Donald Stephenson turned himself into Norman police after a municipal warrant was issued for his failure to pay a previous speeding ticket, the Oklahoman's Jake Trotter reports.
- Backup Texas Tech quarterback Steven "Sticks" Sheffield is intent on earning a scholarship to get his parents off the hook for tuition, the Lubbock Avalanche-Journal's Don Williams writes.
- Michael Crabtree and Brian Orakpo are among players who will serve as cover athletes for different platforms of EA Sports' NCAA Football, the Business Wire reports.
- Former Kansas State quarterback Josh Freeman tells Joshua Kinder of the Manhattan Mercury he isn't looking back at his decision to declare for the NFL draft.
- John Whisler of the San Antonio Express-News profiles backup Iowa State quarterback Jerome Tiller, who has emerged as one of the Cyclones' biggest spring surprises.
- Lydon Murtha and Matt Slauson hope to renew the reputation of Nebraska's offensive line as a pipeline to the NFL, the Omaha World-Herald's Rich Kaipust reports.