Big 12: Eric Kiesau

Kansas receivers have been simply dreadful during the past two seasons. The Jayhawks pass-catchers have averaged 5.7 receptions and 74.8 receiving yards per game in 24 games over the past two years. During the same span Baylor's receivers have averaged 20.6 receptions and 333.2 receiving yards per game in 26 outings.

Thus, Charlie Weis made a change heading into 2014, hiring former Washington and Cal receivers coach Eric Kiesau to coach KU's receivers. The veteran coach, who has tutored NFL standouts DeSean Jackson and Keenan Allen during his 14-year career, took some time to chat with ESPN.com about his plans for the Jayhawks receivers, Miami (Ohio) transfer Nick Harwell and his growth as a coach.

Heading into this new job what did you want to instill in your guys initially?

The first thing you want to do is try to change the culture and really get them embedded into how to work hard. I can teach them a lot of things, routes, releases, the offense but the actual work ethic it takes to go behind that is what is really important to me.

Looking at the production, or lack thereof from the receivers, how did you approach that with them in your initial meetings?

The big thing is to try not to look too far in the past and try to come up with a clean slate and give them a fresh and new perspective. I think so many people get caught up in the end result, but I think you have to understand the process it takes to get there. When I talk about work ethic, grinding every day and learning the offense it’s also the small steps it takes to become a complete wide receiver and the end result of getting the production you’re talking about.

How have they responded thus far?

Through spring they improved, they definitely got better. We still have a long way to go, I’m not ready to stand on the table and say we’re ready to be an elite group. We have a good group, good guys and they work hard. There’s some talent in there, I just have to continue to kind of bring it out of them and get guys to believe in themselves. Because that’s the second part, once you do start producing and do start catching some balls you start to gain some confidence and believe you can do it and that will translate into Saturday.

How is the leadership at the position? Do you feel like there’s one guy to turn to?

The first guy who comes to mind is Nick Harwell. He hasn’t played a snap of Big 12 football yet but his presence on the team and watching him around the guys, his personality is very contagious and he has the work ethic. When guys see him work and he’s working hard, they want to follow him.

How does he compare to other guys you’ve been around? He seems like he has the potential to change games.

[+] EnlargeNick Harwell
Howard Smith/USA TODAY SportsNick Harwell had 97 catches for 1,425 yards and nine touchdowns during 2011 with Miami (Ohio).
He’s a very, very good receiver. The thing he has that nobody in our group has, is production at the college level. It was at another school but he’s caught 80 balls in a season so he knows what it takes to be successful. To compare him to other players is difficult because every guy is unique and different in their own right. (Harwell had 97 receptions for 1,425 yards and nine touchdowns for Miami (Ohio) in 2011)

What impresses you the most, is it his work ethic or does something else stand out?

His work ethic and his competitive nature. He has a competitive fire about him that, I think, is what makes him great, makes him do good things. It’s that inner drive. I’ve told the guys all along, I can teach you a lot of things but work ethic, trust and that competitive nature comes from within and is kind of where you’re from.

What intrigues you most about the group as a whole?

They’re all just different players. It’s a very unique group where you have a guy like Rod Coleman, long, lean and can run but still very raw at the position; then you have Nick, your seasoned, veteran guy at the Division I level; then you have Tony Pierson, who is a hybrid between the things he did last year and how we’re going to use him. As he gets more comfortable with it, he’ll get better and grow as well. He brings speed and athleticism we’re going to need. One guy who made big strides in the spring was Justin McCay, a big strong physical kid, not necessarily a burner but a big kid who can catch the ball and go up a get a red zone type of guy.

How has the new NCAA rule being able to interact with your players helped you?

It’s been good, really good. Getting some meeting time and classroom time with them has been invaluable. It think it’s just enough, they got it right with the amount of time we have. It’s not too long where kids are getting burned out and not too short, you can still get some work done.

How would you say your coaching style has changed from early in your career until now?

Experiences as a young coach have kind of shaped me to where I am now. I’m much more of a teacher, I take a lot of time to teach the schemes and not necessarily trying to yell and motivate like you used to. Now you’re more of a teacher to get the guys to learn the concepts and master the concepts, I’m taking more of a teaching approach. A lot of guys can yell and scream but if they don’t listen to you, it doesn’t matter. You have to be able to be compassionate and care about them as a person and that can translate into ways to teach them on the field. It makes you a great teacher and communicator because when it’s all said and done, they don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care about them.

Kansas spring wrap

May, 1, 2014
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A recap of what we learned about Kansas this spring as Charlie Weis prepares for his third season as coach.

Three things we learned in the spring:

1. Montell Cozart is the guy. Weis named the sophomore his starting quarterback after reviewing the Jayhawks’ spring practice performances. Not only did Cozart star in the spring game, he separated himself in the other 14 spring practice sessions and convinced Weis to name him the starter now so the team would know who would lead the offense this fall.

2. Receiver Nick Harwell could make a big difference. The Miami (Ohio) transfer looked like a legitimate difference-maker during the spring. Harwell clearly proved he should be a guy who new offensive coordinator John Reagan will try to get the ball as much as possible in 2014.

3. KU’s defense should be improved. The Jayhawks return several starters on defense and appear faster and more athletic than last season. Linebacker Ben Heeney is one of the league's most underrated defenders and a veteran secondary should be able to better handle the passing offenses in the conference.

Three questions for the fall:

1. Who will replace running back James Sims? Sims was KU’s offense for much of his four-year stint in the Jayhawks' backfield. Senior Brandon Bourbon looks like he can contribute but will have to hold off a star-studded group of running back signees set to arrive in the summer.

2. Will KU’s defense live up to lofty expectations? The defense was vocal about its desire to be the best defense in the Big 12 this season. That’s a lofty goal for a defense that finished in the bottom third in the Big 12 in nearly every category.

3. Will the coaching changes pay off? Weis brought in Reagan to run the offense and added receivers coach Eric Kiesau. The veteran head coach has made a point to take a step back from the offense and take more of a CEO approach this season. We’ll see if it pays off.

One way-too-early prediction:

Cozart will validate Weis’ decision to name him the starter with a strong sophomore season. If he shows he can be a "pass first, run second"-style quarterback, Cozart will cause some real problems for Big 12 defenses this fall.
A year after winning the Orange Bowl, the Kansas Jayhawks featured one of the best wide receiver tandems in the country in 2008.

Dezmon Briscoe ranked third in college football in receiving yards. Wingman Kerry Meier tied Texas Tech’s Michael Crabtree for seventh nationally in receptions.

[+] EnlargeTony Pierson
John Rieger/USA TODAY SportsTony Pierson has had to learn how to beat coverage and run routes after switching from running back to receiver.
Yet in the four seasons since Briscoe and Meier departed, the position of wide receiver has been an utter disaster in Lawrence, Kan. The Jayhawks haven’t featured a top-20 receiver in the Big 12, much less the country.

But thanks to a key transfer and a key position change, Kansas could be on its way back to returning respectability to the position.

And maybe more.

This spring, the Jayhawks’ previously beleaguered receiving corps has gotten two major boosts. One from ex-Miami (Ohio) standout Nick Harwell; the other out of former Kansas running back Tony Pierson, who switched positions during the offseason.

“With both guys, you can see the rest of the group gravitating toward them,” said new Kansas wide receiver coach Eric Kiesau, who was hired to revive a position group that has come up with just three touchdowns catches combined since Oct. 22, 2011.

With such paltry production out of its receiving corps, the Jayhawks have struggled mightily on offense in recent years. Even though it featured All-Big 12 running back James Sims, Kansas still ranked last in the league in scoring by almost 10 points last season.

But even with Sims gone, the Jayhawks could be improved next season. Harwell and Pierson lined up at receiver is a big reason why.

Harwell arrived at Kansas last summer, after being dismissed from Miami earlier that spring.

In 2011, while the Jayhawk receivers were struggling just to haul in a touchdown pass, Harwell was the nation’s second-leading receiver, averaging almost 130 receiving yards per game for the RedHawks. He also caught 97 receptions and nine touchdowns that season.

Despite missing three games the following year as a junior, Harwell still finished with 68 catches and 870 receiving yards.

“He has something very valuable, and that’s experience at the college level,” Kiesau said. “He’s learning a new system, a new coaching style, and things are different for him. But he’ll progress fine. I’m not worried about him at all. He has all the intangibles you look for. He’s a great person, he has great work ethic, the other guys want to follow him. He has a lot of upside, and should really help us next year for sure.”

Harwell admits he’s had to shake off some rust this spring after sitting out last season due to transfer rules. But he says sitting out made him that much hungrier to make a difference.

“It was tough watching us go 3-9 last year, and be unable to make an impact. The most I could bring to the team was positive energy, and work hard on the scout team,” Harwell said. “This spring, I’m trying to bring leadership with the way I play. I’m trying to do everything right, and not give the coaches anything negative to say about me. I want to catch every ball thrown my way.”

[+] EnlargeCharlie Weis
John Rieger/USA TODAY SportsCharlie Weis is looking for ways to generate more production from his wide receivers.
Harwell, however, isn’t the only Jayhawk receiver out there with a track record of producing big plays. That’s because Pierson has joined the receiving unit full time after spending the last three seasons at Kansas primarily as a halfback, where he had a 6.2 yards per carry career average.

This spring, while Harwell has been refining his receiving skills, Pierson has been focused on developing his.

“He is very raw,” Kiesau said of Pierson, who has little experience running routes downfield or fighting off press coverage despite being a reliable receiver out of the backfield. “It’s not his fault, he just hasn’t had a lot of time practicing the position.

“But he’s a guy I’m really fired up about. He's such a bright-eyed kid who wants to learn, wants direction. Already, he’s gotten a lot better.”

Pierson and Harwell have challenged each other to be better.

“We compete against each other every practice,” Harwell said. “He pushes me, and I push him.”

The two have also been pushing the rest of their position group. Harwell vocally; Pierson quietly.

So far, the results have been conspicuous.

And with Harwell and Pierson commanding so much of the defensive attention, that has eased the pressure off the other receivers like Rodriguez Coleman, who has been finding himself open this spring like never before.

“When you line up in formation, most attention -- even our defense -- goes to Harwell first and Tony second,” coach Charlie Weis said.

“It's really not that complicated.”

Squeezing production out of its receiving corps has felt complicated for Kansas since Briscoe and Meier roamed the field. But with the new duo of Harwell and Pierson, those days could finally be at an end.

“Having two reliable guys that can get open and make explosive plays,” Harwell said, “that’s going to be a big positive for our offense this season.”

Lunch links: School TV networks in motion

July, 12, 2010
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I'm a year older now, but unfortunately for you, no wiser.

Colorado QB race starts with a chart

April, 5, 2010
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BOULDER, Colo. -- Cody Hawkins doesn’t need to ask Dan Hawkins for an update on where he stands in the quarterback competition. Neither does fellow candidate Tyler Hansen, and he’s not asking offensive coordinator Eric Kiesau either, who said the competition will likely last until fall.

They don’t need to. All either needs to do is take a glance at The Chart—the one keeping track of every single throw they make at any point during a practice.

“They have everything charted out, from Practice One to the first scrimmage,” Cody Hawkins said. “You can go down and if you want to review the whole practice, they have guys who that’s specifically their job, they’re charting us.”

The chart is essentially a glorified quarterback rating, reflecting each quarterback’s completion percentage, touchdown passes, touchdown drive percentage and a handful of other stats—most importantly, interceptions.

“You’ve got statistics in front of you that say, ‘Hey, this guy’s doing better than you’ on this day, but tomorrow I’m going to come out here and I’m going to do a lot better,” Hansen said. “It definitely adds a lot more competition to it.”

The Buffaloes only used the chart for scrimmages last season. Now, every time a live ball leaves a quarterback’s hands, it goes into each player’s bank. With Hawkins challenging to regain his status at starter, its importance is obvious.

“This is unbelievable,” Hansen said. “We weigh every rep.”

Said Hawkins: “It gives you the opportunity to really compete yourself and gauge yourself. When you’re out there on the field, you don’t get a great chance because you’re so caught up in your own competition and your own job, just to see exactly what it looks like from an outsider’s perspective, you know exactly where you need to improve.”

With only a handful of bystanders to watch each practice instead of tens of thousands cheering them on inside Folsom Field, each practice now feels a little more like game day. Scrimmage time or a flown-in opponent not necessary.

“You’ve definitely gotta go into practice saying, ‘Every play matters,’” Hansen said. “You’ve got to be 100 percent focused on every play, because every rep goes into your official score. It definitely makes you focus a lot more.”

Both quarterbacks are chasing a completion percentage of 70 and hopes of marching into the end zone each time they take control of the offense during a scrimmage.

But both says they have plenty to improve that won’t show up on any chart. For Hansen, it’s stepping into a role as vocal leader. For Hawkins, it’s trusting his teammates and playing within himself.

“Because I was here a bit longer than a lot of guys and I played since I was a freshman, that I probably put too much of a burden on myself and tried to make things happen, just because we had younger guys who were just getting the hang of things around me,” Hawkins said. “But now I’ve got to realize that I’ve got some experienced guys around me and if I play within myself, then I think this the time when I can just go out and do what I do and if it turns out I’m the best guy, I’m the best guy.”

But who knows who’ll end up being the best guy when the spring ends? To find out, start with the chart.

Simmons' arrival should boost Colorado's ground-based offense

August, 26, 2009
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Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Griffin

Colorado's depleted wide receiving corps received a huge boost Tuesday when heralded junior college transfer Andre Simmons was back at practice with his new team.

Simmons was unable to take part in practice drills with his new team as school officials conducted a final review of his academic records and the process leading up to his enrollment.

Colorado coaches hope that Simmons will be able to work with his new teammates as soon as Wednesday to provide additional firepower for a wide receiving corps that will be depleted for the start of the season because of a player transfer and suspension.

Simmons reported with the rest of the Buffaloes on Aug. 6 but has not been able to work out with the team because of an eligibility issue.

On Tuesday, the transfer from Independence (Kan.) Community College appeared without pads and talked with his teammates and coaches throughout the Buffaloes' practice as they prepare for their Sept. 6 opener against Colorado State.

He's exactly what the Buffaloes need to fill their biggest positional void. The Buffaloes have already lost prime playmaker Josh Smith, who transferred to UCLA earlier this summer. And sophomore Markques Simas has been suspended for Colorado's first two games of the upcoming season for an undisclosed violation of team rules.



The 6-foot-3, 210-pound Simmons is counted as the kind of athletic, speedy receiver who will provide a deep threat for a Colorado offense that ranked 81st nationally and 11th among Big 12 teams in passing last season. Colorado returns only one starting wide receiver -- junior Scotty McKnight.

Simmons, a native of Blackville, S.C., was the lone junior college transfer among Colorado's signees after producing 91 receptions during his two seasons at Independence.
"He'll give an instant boost to the wide receiver position, and not to take anything away from the current guys, but he's going to have that vertical speed," Colorado offensive coordinator Eric Kiesau told cubuffs.com.His talents as a kick returner should immediately help fill the absence for Smith, who set a school record with 1,568 return yards last season.

While it's doubtful that Simmons will be able to have much of an immediate contribution, he should be ingrained in the Buffaloes' offense by the time conference play begins.

He and Simas will provide some balance to an offense that figures initially to be heavily ground-based with Darrell Scott, Rodney Stewart and Demetrius Sumler.

That balance will be the key if Colorado hopes to be a dark horse contender in a North Division race that figures to be extremely wide open.

The Buffaloes have a favorable schedule with home games against divisional challengers Nebraska, Kansas and Missouri.

And the arrival of Simmons definitely won't hurt their chances.

Big 12 links: '12th man ruckus' attracted A&M's punter

August, 7, 2009
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Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Griffin

After watching my first practice of the season Thursday, I came to a quick revelation after only a few minutes.

Practice assuredly is easier to follow in an air-conditioned facility like Baylor opened yesterday than watching from the grass fields and 102-degree temperatures that we experienced earlier in the afternoon.

There's really no comparison.

While I enjoy some air-conditioned surroundings from my house, here are some lunchtime links to send you charging into the weekend.

Hawkins returns to his coaching roots

July, 29, 2009
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Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Griffin

IRVING, Texas -- The late departure by former Colorado offensive coordinator Mark Helfrich to Oregon resulted in a hole in Dan Hawkins' staff that he decided would be better settled with his own personal interest.

Hawkins inserted former Colorado receivers coach Eric Kiesau as his coordinator and will handle coaching wide receivers himself when the Buffaloes report for their first practice of preseason camp on Aug. 7.

"I'm really excited," Hawkins said. "I love coaching and I love teaching. I coached the tight ends when I was the head coach at Boise State. It's always great to be in the trenches. I think every five years, every head coach ought to go back and be an assistant."

Hawkins hopes the new duties will help invigorate his coaching skills as well as provide him with a more hands-on feel for his team.

"Every head coach will tell you that as you go along in this profession, sometimes you wake up and you're not doing as much coaching as I want to," Hawkins said. "In terms of the position, I really like those guys a lot."

Hawkins is expected to have a challenge boosting production at the position, particularly after the departure of Josh Smith. The Buffaloes' top deep threat left the program after spring practice and will transfer to UCLA.

But Hawkins said the Buffaloes could get better production than expected, particularly if junior wide receiver Scotty McKnight blossoms in his role as Colorado's top receiver.

"Obviously, Scotty is a guy who's been around and been battle-tested for us, and we'll rely a lot on him," Hawkins said. "But I do think the young guys have a chance to make some plays for us."

Hawkins will coach Colorado wide receivers in 2009

June, 1, 2009
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Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Griffin

Colorado coach Dan Hawkins made a variety of announcements Monday, most notably that he will be serving as the Buffaloes' wide receivers coach in addition to his head coaching duties.

Hawkins will instruct defensive coaching intern Ashley Ambrose in his transition into becoming a college assistant coach during 2010. Ambrose is a former 13-season NFL veteran who also served as a coaching intern with the Atlanta Falcons in 2006.

"I was educated as a teacher and spent the majority of my professional life in the trenches as a teacher-coach," Hawkins said. "My first year at Boise as head coach, I also coached the tight ends. I am extremely excited about rolling up my sleeves and being a position coach again."

Hawkins becomes the first Colorado head coach to also serve as a position coach since Bill McCartney, who directed the Buffaloes' quarterbacks in 1993. Hawkins technically replaces Eric Kiesau, the former Colorado receivers coach who was promoted to offensive coordinator last month after Mark Helfrich left for a similar position at Oregon. Helfrich also coached the quarterbacks, which Kiesau will now do.

Hawkins also announced he has hired Bob Foster, as Colorado's outside linebackers coach. Foster, 68, has four decades of coaching experience and was the defensive coordinator at Californa-Davis when Hawkins was a player and coach there. He has also served as a defensive consultant for Hawkins when he was head coach at Willamette and later served as an assistant at Oregon and California.

Colorado also announced that former Michigan wide receiver Toney Clemons has enrolled in summer school at Colorado. 

Clemons played two seasons in the Michigan program, including 11 catches for 101 yards last season. He will sit out the 2009 season as a redshirt before becoming eligible next season.

Former Colorado wide receiver Kendrick Celestine has re-enrolled in school and could return to the team. Celestine played in the first two games of the 2008 season and then quit for personal reasons on Sept. 21.

"We take a great deal of pride in mentoring our guys to achieve excellence as a person, student, and athlete," Hawkins said. "Sometimes that comes with some hard lessons to learn. Should Kendrick recognize what he left behind and the opportunities he can have here -- we certainly welcome him back."

Hawkins also announced that seven players won't return this fall to the team for assorted reasons. Two are lettermen, senior guard Devin Head and junior wide receiver/return specialist Josh Smith.

Head, who played in 27 career games with 17 starts, is academically ineligible, with Smith is looking to transfer, likely to a school in California.

Smith told Hawkins he plans to work on furthering both his music (singing and production) and football careers.

Smith set Colorado records for kickoff returns (50) and yards (1,286) last season. He produced 52 receptions for 838 yards (16.1 per reception) and three touchdowns in two seasons.

Redshirt freshman tight end Ryan Wallace has sought his release to transfer closer to his Bowling Green, Ky., home, with sophomore linebacker Lynn Katoa likely to transfer to a junior college. Three walk-ons also won't be back, including junior fullback Matt Burgner, freshman wide receiver Marion Brown and junior offensive lineman Evan Eastburn.

Smith's departure robs Colorado of top deep threat

May, 31, 2009
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Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Griffin

Josh Smith apparently has decided that the career route to becoming the next Jay-Z or Fifty Cent can be furthered by attending a school other than Colorado.

Smith and tight end Ryan Wallace have announced they are leaving the school. The move snatches away one of Colorado's top receivers and a developing player in Wallace who many thought could turn into a serviceable Big 12 tight end.

Smith announced that he's leaving Colorado because he wants to pursue a musical career after producing rap demos and CDs since high school. Schools that have the music major he's interested in are Arizona State and USC.

Additionally, the Boulder Camera reported that Smith spent time in the Phoenix area with Arizona State quarterback Samson Szakacsy recording tracks. That seemingly would provide a neat entry into the Sun Devils program if Smith should choose to continue playing at his new school.

Smith's departure comes after he dropped on the team's depth chart over the spring. The Buffaloes aren't exactly loaded at the position and Smith was expected to challenge for a starting job this spring.

But he struggled at times as Markques Simas and Dustin Ebner zoomed past him at his "X" wide receiver position and Scotty McKnight and walk-on Jason Espinoza are fixtures on the other side.

The other question will be how this affects the Buffaloes' relationship with heralded running back Darrell Scott, who is Smith's nephew.

Scott had a strong spring after struggling during his freshman season last year. He reportedly tried to talk Smith out of transferring.

And Wallace was listed at fifth-string on the Buffaloes' post-spring depth chart but was thought to have a good future with the program. He becomes the third member of the heralded 2008 recruiting class to leave Colorado, joining linebacker Lynn Katoa and wide receiver Chance Blackmon.

Colorado's biggest offensive weakness is its lack of breakaway threats. Smith is the team's best deep threat and top kickoff returner.

With a heavy ground-based attack, new offensive coordinator Eric Kiesau hopes to build more of a vertical play-action passing game. He already will be making a tough choice between quarterbacks Cody Hawkins and Tyler Hansen and taking away his best deep threat won't help the offense's productivity.

The Colorado offense ranked last in the Big 12 last season in total offense and scoring. Smith was a critical element in plans for coach Dan Hawkins, who vowed his team would "win 10 games with no excuses" this season after a disappointing 5-7 record last year.

Even with Smith's drop on the depth chart, it's still not a good situation for the Buffaloes or their ability to stretch the field with Smith leaving.

Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Griffin

Welcome back to the work week after the long Memorial Day weekend.

Here are some Big 12 links to get you through the malaise.

Big 12 teams facing summer work

May, 18, 2009
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Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Griffin

The spring semester is ending across the Big 12. Most teams will take the rest of the month of May off. Intensive conditioning work will begin again next month and continue throughout the summer as Big 12 squads prepare for the upcoming season.

Here's a look at several teams with the most immediate work this summer facing them when they return.

Colorado: The Buffaloes will have to settle on a quarterback before the start of the season. Several variables are involved, including the close race between Tyler Hansen and Cody Hawkins for the starting job in spring practice, Hansen's broken thumb in the spring game and new offensive coordinator Eric Kiesau working into his new job. If the Buffaloes are to fulfill the spoiler role that some are predicting in the North Division, they need to make a real push before training camp starts in August.

Iowa State: Oh, so much work and so little time to do it. New Iowa State coach Paul Rhoads lamented he couldn't have 30 spring practices rather than the 15 mandated by the NCAA in order to help transform his program. Rhoads needs a lot of work to rebuild ISU's defense from a unit that ranked 110th in scoring defense, 112th in total defense, 116th in pass defense and 117th in pass efficiency defense. The summer will be critical as the Cyclones try to prepare for another run of high-powered Big 12 offenses.

Kansas State: Bill Snyder will be facing a big challenge to return the Wildcats to the role of a Big 12 North challenger again. His first chore will be sorting through a quarterback battle that should rage throughout training camp as South Florida transfer Grant Gilbert and heralded junior-college transfer Daniel Thomas arrive to challenge Carson Coffman. Both will be facing a crash course in learning Del Miller's offensive strategy after Coffman made a strong late push in training camp to earn the No. 1 job. And that's just the start of Snyder's work.

Oklahoma: After being called out by Coach Bob Stoops before spring practice for their lack of diligence in conditioning drills, it would behoove Oklahoma offensive linemen to stay in shape this summer. The Sooners' offensive line remains the most glaring question as the three-time defending Big 12 champions prepare this summer. Stephen Good got the start at left guard and Ben Habern flourished at center. Cory Brandon and LSU transfer Jarvis Jones also showed some development, but need much more. The group will need to work hard through strength coach Jerry Schmidt's summer drills to keep from earning Coach Bob Stoops' wrath - again.

Texas A&M: Coach Mike Sherman was nowhere near playing with a full deck after struggling through spring practice with 20 players who sat out the spring game from a group of Aggie players were treated with 19 off-season surgeries. Surprisingly, none of the Aggies' freshman class enrolled early or they could have gone a long way to staking a claim for immediate playing time. Sherman has estimated that 60 to 65 percent of those freshmen players will be able to contribute immediately. Defensive coordinator Joe Kines urged those players to arrive in shape for a shot at immediate playing time - even with their lack of college experience.

Post-spring Big 12 power rankings still have Texas at No. 1

May, 15, 2009
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Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Griffin

After spring practice, there's been a little movement in my pre-spring power rankings. Here's where I think schools are slotted heading into the summer.

 
  Kenny Felt/Icon SMI
  Sergio Kindle was switched to defensive end this spring and dominated early practices.

1. Texas: Colt McCoy is back bigger and stronger than ever. But the real improvement during the spring for the Longhorns came in the secondary, where they have legitimate two-deep talent. Sergio Kindle was a natural at defensive end and incoming freshman Alex Okafor was better than advertised as a prime pass-rusher. The running game is still a question and depth at defensive tackle could be iffy. But the Longhorns still remember how 2008 played out -- at least if the asterisk-marked Big 12 championship hung in their team room is any indication. February pre-spring ranking: 1.

2. Oklahoma: Gerald McCoy talks about the Oklahoma defense being the best in the nation and they could be with nine returning starters. And the Sooners could improve even more if Auston English and Ryan Reynolds make strong comebacks from injuries. The biggest question remains the four new starters along the offensive line who will be charged with blocking for Heisman Trophy winner Sam Bradford. That turnover remains the primary question that could stymie the Sooners' hopes of an unprecedented fourth straight Big 12 title. February pre-spring ranking: 2.

3. Oklahoma State: Mike Gundy looks to have the conference's most balanced offense -- even as Dez Bryant recovered from knee surgery this spring. The big question remains the defense. New coordinator Bill Young started work on the defensive line as his first order of business before branching out to the rest of the unit. The Cowboys can score with anybody, but Young's work improving the defense will determine whether OSU can contend for its first Big 12 South title and be a legitimate factor in the BCS race. February pre-spring ranking: 3.

4. Nebraska: Quarterback Zac Lee's early grasp of the offense looked impressive this spring, but he'll have to build on that quick study if the Cornhuskers are to contend for Bo Pelini's first North title. There are still some holes at wide receiver and along the right side of the offensive line, but the Cornhuskers are improving their talent level -- particularly on defense. I make them a slight favorite in the North Division, mainly because of a more favorable schedule of cross-division rivals. February pre-spring ranking: 4.

5. Kansas: Anticipation is soaring for the Jayhawks, who finish the spring with legitimate hopes of their first undisputed Big 12 North title. Todd Reesing is the North's best quarterback and the return of Dezmon Briscoe from his suspension would give Reesing his best offensive weapon. The line will have less experience than any team in the conference, but has some heralded talent in place. The biggest defensive question will be replacing three starting linebackers who were the heart of last season's defense. Mark Mangino has hinted at a 4-2-5 defense that may be better suited for combating the Big 12's explosive offenses. Their hopes will depend on navigating the North's toughest stretch of South Division opponents. February pre-spring ranking: 5.

6. Texas Tech: Coach Mike Leach has a new five-year contract but will be facing some heavy lifting. This will be his most significant offensive rebuilding job during his coaching tenure as he replaces the prime weapons of last season's South Division tri-champion. Taylor Potts won't be as productive as Graham Harrell, but he has more experience coming into the position than most of Leach's previous starting quarterbacks. The star power at wide receiver will be lacking without Michael Crabtree, but the spring showed the Red Raiders still have much talent and should be deeper throughout the receiver rotation. McKinner Dixon's spring suspension, coupled with Brandon Williams' defection to the NFL, makes pass rushing iffy. And the Red Raiders are looking for two new safeties from an inexperienced group. It all adds up to a challenging rebuilding job for Leach. February pre-spring ranking: 6.

7. Colorado: The Buffaloes remain the Big 12's mystery team and Tyler Hansen's thumb injury only accentuates that uncertainty. New offensive coordinator Eric Kiesau will be taking over this summer. And while he's been around the program for three years, it's still a concern taking the top job. The offense looked fine in the spring game, particularly a bruising rushing game keyed by Darrell Scott and Rodney Stewart. The defensive line remains the biggest question on the other side of the ball and we won't know how that group will play until the season begins. Dan Hawkins confidently picked the Buffaloes to go 10-2 after last season. They'll be better than last season's 5-7, but I'm not sure they will live up to their coach's optimism. February pre-spring ranking: 8.

8. Missouri: It was tough to get a handle on the Tigers during the spring. Blaine Gabbert had some moments, but his numbers weren't that impressive. But those struggles were understandable considering he was throwing to some inexperienced receivers while Danario Alexander and Jared Perry recovered from injuries. The turnover in both coordinators from last season will be interesting to watch. And with all of the thoughts about the huge personnel losses on offense, the Tigers also will lose a lot on defense. I still think the Tigers will go bowling this year, but will be better suited for a run at the 2010 North title than this season. February pre-spring ranking: 7.

9. Baylor: Optimism is flowing along the Brazos with Bears backers -- with good reason if Robert Griffin can duplicate his freshman success. The biggest offensive question remains his protection with two new offensive tackles. On defense, the Bears have a lot of talent returning and Phil Taylor looks like the real deal at
defensive tackle -- their biggest defensive need. Art Briles is changing the culture at Baylor, but it will be interesting to see if he can really push them into bowl contention -- not an easy task in the Big 12 South. February pre-spring ranking: 9.

10. Texas A&M: Credit Mike Sherman for thinking outside the box. The idea to move Von Miller to the "jack" position on defense was a master stroke -- if Miller can hold up to the pounding he'll face in the trenches. It was hard to get a gauge on A&M's running game with so many injuries in their offensive line. When healthy -- and with the arrival of heralded freshman Christine Michael -- the Aggies should be much better than last season. Same for a secondary that appeared overmatched in the spring, but was crippled by injuries at cornerback. It will be a long road back to Big 12 contention, but look for A&M to be more respectable this season. February pre-spring ranking: 11.

11. Kansas State: I wonder if Bill Snyder has ever had second thoughts since returning to coaching. His rebuilding job with this team pales next to what he originally faced back in 1989, but the Big 12 is a more difficult challenge than that old Big Eight was. Carson Coffman claimed the starting job with a late push in the spring, but will be challenged by Grant Gregory and Daniel Thomas later in the summer. The running game needs somebody to emerge as Keithen Valentine and Jarell Childs alternated spring work. The defense has a long way to go, although Vic Koenning's 4-2-5 appears to better suit the talent on hand. Snyder's acumen should help them in some close games, but it still will be a huge challenge to get them back into bowl contention. February pre-spring ranking: 10.

12. Iowa State: Paul Rhoads is a realist. It's hard not to be after he took a look at his defensive players and realized how far the Cyclones have to come in order to be a force in the North. Look for them to make steps this season thanks to his enthusiasm, but still facing a huge climb in order to be competitive with all of the explosive Big 12 offenses. The Cyclones should be productive on offense with new coordinator Tom Herman. Backup quarterback Jerome Tiller looks like he's ready to push Austen Arnaud after a strong spring game. And Alexander Robinson could emerge as one of the Big 12's most underrated players as a versatile run-catch option. February pre-spring ranking: 12.

Colorado spring wrap

May, 14, 2009
5/14/09
9:50
AM ET

Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Griffin

Colorado Buffaloes
2008 overall record: 5-7

2008 conference record: 2-6

Returning starters

Offense: 9, defense: 6, kicker/punter: 1

Top returners

QB Cody Hawkins, RB Darrell Scott, WR-KR Josh Smith, DE Marquez Herrod, LB Jeff Smart, CB Jimmy Smith, CB Benjamin Burney.

Key losses

WR Patrick Williams, C Daniel Sanders, DT George Hypolite, NT Brandon Nicolas, LB Brad Jones.

2008 statistical leaders (* returners)

Rushing: Rodney Stewart* (622 yards)
Passing: Cody Hawkins* (1,892 yards)
Receiving: Scotty McKnight* (519 yards)
Tackles: Jeff Smart * (118)
Sacks: Brad Jones (7)
Interceptions: Ryan Walters, Shaun Mohler *, Cha'pelle Brown* (2)

Spring answers

2009 Schedule
Sept. 5 Colorado State
Sept. 11 at Toledo
Sept. 19 Wyoming
Oct. 1 at West Virginia
Oct. 10 at Texas
Oct. 17 Kansas
Oct. 24 at Kansas State
Oct. 31 Missouri
Nov. 7 Texas A&M
Nov. 14 at Iowa State
Nov. 19 at Oklahoma State
Nov. 27 Nebraska

1. Running backs: Darrell Scott struggled with injuries all season long in a disappointing freshman season. Rodney Stewart picked up the slack before he sustained a broken leg late in the season. Both looked strong during the spring along with Demetrius Sumler and Brian Lockridge -- a group that helped the Buffaloes produce 270 rushing yards in the spring game.

2. Growth in the secondary: The Buffaloes had to find three new starters this spring. Jimmy Smith showed flashes of being a lockdown cornerback, and safeties Patrick Mahnke and Anthony Perkins look ready to immediately battle for starting positions in fall practice.

3. Offensive line finally healthy: Call this one of the team's most underrated strengths after the strong spring development of tackles Nate Solder and Bryce Givens, guard Ryan Miller and center Mike Iltis. This group could potentially be the North Division's best if it can remain healthy.

Fall questions

1. Who will play quarterback? Cody Hawkins and Tyler Hansen finished the spring in a virtual dead heat. The development of Hansen will be set back after he underwent surgery after breaking his thumb in the spring. And the position is further scrambled after the departure of coordinator Mark Helfrich for Oregon after the spring. Eric Kiesau was hired quickly to replace him, but a new coach is involved with an uncertain mix of players. Not a good sign.

2. Find some receivers: Scotty McKnight's spring injury gave the backups a chance to play. Markques Simas showed some flashes of cracking the rotation, and arriving players like Andre Simmons, Terdema Ussery and Jarrod Darden will have plenty of chances to crack the rotation when fall practice starts. Or, it could be a couple of walk-on receivers jumping into their place.

3. Unsettled defensive front: The Buffaloes will really miss the contributions of players like George Hypolite and Brandon Nicolas in the trenches. Coaches spent most of the spring tinkering with a 3-4 front, but aren't sure if it will fit their current personnel. Colorado will need big contributions from sophomore nose tackle Eugene Goree, senior defensive tackle Taj Kaynor and junior defensive end Marquez Herrod to help fill the gaps.

Big 12 lunch links: Stoops faces tough call on Chaisson

May, 8, 2009
5/08/09
12:57
PM ET

Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Griffin

While the coaches are away in Phoenix playing golf, the Big 12 links keep rolling in.

Here are some of the most notable to get us ready for the weekend.

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