Big 12: Grady Fowler
Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Griffin
Kansas' magical 12-1 season was one of the feel-good stories of recent college football history. The Jayhawks were picked to finish toward the bottom of the North Division, but emerged as a legitimate national championship contender before losing to Missouri in their regular-season finale. And they didn't let that defeat ruin their season, bouncing back for an impressive victory over Virginia Tech in the Orange Bowl that represented their first BCS bowl victory.
Coach Mark Mangino will be hard-pressed for an encore, particularly as he faces a more difficult schedule that will include all three expected South Division contenders -- after facing none last season. And for good measure, the Jayhawks will travel to South Florida on Sept. 12 in one of the nation's top nonconference games this season.
The Jayhawks will be looking to make history, making bowl trips in back-to-back seasons for the first time in school history. To get there, here are five pressing questions they need to settle.
1. Will the new offensive tackles perform up to standards?
First-team All-American Anthony Collins and three-year starter Cesar Rodriguez both are gone from last season's team. Their replacements will be a pair of redshirt freshmen. Mangino has been intrigued by the development of left tackle Jeff Spikes, who he calls one of the most accomplished offensive lineman he has coached at that stage of his career. And converted guard Jeremiah Hatch has emerged to beat out Matt Darton and Nathan D'Cunha on the right side in a surprise positional victory. Their play will largely determine how successful Kansas' passing game will be.
2. Do the Jayhawks have enough depth at running back?
Leading rusher Brandon McAnderson is gone, but the Jayhawks are expected to fill in for him with a combination of leading returning rusher Jake Sharp or bullish junior-college transfer Jocques Crawford. Angus Quigley also has shown flashes in practice, but the loss of potential backups like Donte Bean, Carmon Boyd-Anderson and Sean Ransburg earlier in camp makes Kansas' depth questionable -- no matter what Mangino says.
3. Who will be Kansas' kicker?
Mangino still hasn't decided on his kicker heading into Saturday's game against Florida International. Sophomore transfer Grady Fowler and Alonso Rojas, who previously had been listed only as a punter, are still battling heading into the opener.
4. How will the Jayhawks handle their schedule?
A much more stringent schedule awaits the Jayhawks than in 2007. Kansas hosts Texas and Texas Tech and visits Oklahoma. The Jayhawks also have a trip to Nebraska -- a place where they haven't won since 1968. So it's understandable why many observers are expecting the Jayhawks to take a step back this season.
5. Who will emerge at tight end?
Derek Fine was one of the nation's most underrated tight ends last season, providing steady blocking and 46 receptions to set a single-season record for Kansas tight ends. Sophomore Bradley Dedeaux earned a tight victory for the opening-game start over redshirt freshman A.J. Steward. Both should see extensive playing time as the season progresses.
Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Griffin
New Baylor coach Art Briles is facing the challenge of his coaching career as he attempts to resuscitate a program that hasn't made a bowl trip since 1994.
The Big 12's South Division will never be a picnic for the Bears, who face the yearly challenge of playing schools like Texas, Oklahoma and Texas Tech.
So it's understandable that a relatively problematic quandary like picking his starter for the Aug. 28 opener against Wake Forest isn't that big of a deal for the new Baylor coach.
Briles has a lot of ways to go in deciding whether to start record-breaking QB Blake Szymanski, transfer Kirby Freeman from Miami or heralded freshman Robert Griffin as his starter.
All have shown flashes in training camp.
Waco Tribune-Herald beat writer John Werner thinks Briles' wavering as far as choosing a quarterback is a good idea. It will make Wake Forest coach Jim Grobe prepare in a lot of different ways when he considers whether Szymanski (the better passer), Griffin (most explosive runner) and Freeman (best combination quarterback and most experienced) will get most of the snaps.
I agree with Werner on this. Indecision might be the best decision for the next couple of weeks. And maybe even up to game time against the Demon Deacons.
Hope there's no hesitancy in diving into this steaming pile of hot links. Dig in, because dithering means you miss out.
- Jake Trotter of the Oklahoman went back to Youngstown,Ohio, to delve into Oklahoma coach Bob Stoops' early football background. "He probably would be the ideal symbol of Youngstown," his old coach Don Bucci told Trotter. "I hate to say that, because I'm sure he thinks he was pretty talented. But he was someone with just very average talent, but had a competitiveness and a toughness that nothing was going to stop him from being successful. That's Bobby Stoops, and that would be Youngstown."
- The Boulder Daily Camera's Kyle Ringo addresses the state of the Buffaloes in his weekly chat, with particular attention to uniforms, Darrell Scott and the crowded battle at cornerback.
- Iowa State struggled mightily last season with its special teams. That's leading coach Gene Chizik to considering using leading 2007 rusher Alexander Robinson as his prime kickoff returner.
- The Kansas City Star's J. Brady McCullough profiles Kansas WR/backup QB/P Kerry Meier, who might be the conference's most versatile player.
- The St. Louis Post-Dispatch's Stu Durando writes about the amazing stability on Missouri coach Gary Pinkel's staff. No assistants have left Pinkel's staff since he took over in 2001.
- If it's Tuesday it's got to be time for "First downs and second guesses" from the Omaha World-Herald's Tom Shatel. Among the topics are the remembrances of how Tampa Bay All-Star OF Carl Crawford was almost a Cornhusker and the recent collective struggles of formerly dominant programs Miami, Florida State and Nebraska.
- Missouri offensive linemen were feeling pretty good after Monday's practice. The unit held up reasonably well against the Tigers' No. 1 defensive front and they were treated to popsicles after practice.
- Oklahoma All-Big 12 DE Auston English returned to practice Monday after missing all of the Sooners' previous work this summer while recovering from an appendectomy.
- Oklahoma State coach Mike Gundy says he won't decide until the weekend whether he or co-offensive coordinator Gunter Brewer end up calling plays this year. Former offensive coordinator Larry Fedora, now coach at Southern Mississippi, was the Cowboys' playcaller last season.
- Some things never change -- like hard-nosed fullbacks populating the Nebraska program. Thomas Lawson is No. 1 at the position and sophomore Joseph Mackovicka appears ready to continue his family lineage at the position, following older brothers Jeff and Joel.
- Healthy WR Adron Tennell could be ready to crack Oklahoma's receiving rotation, according to the Tulsa World's Guerin Emig.
- Veteran Omaha World-Herald Big 12 reporter Lee Barfknecht picks Missouri to win the national championship.
- Massive 250-pound converted high school quarterback Orie Lemon has emerged as Oklahoma State's likely starting middle linebacker.
- Kansas' kicking depth has taken a hit after projected starter Stephen Hoge left the team to concentrate on academics and Jacob Brandstetter's status is iffy because of eligibility issues transferring from the Air Force Academy. That leaves Grady Fowler or P Alonso Rojas as the most likely survivor at the position.
- Competition remains tight between Fozzy Whittaker, Vondrell "The Bulldozer" McGee and Chris Ogbonnaya for the starting tailback job at Texas.
- Kansas State will likely use a committee of wide receivers to help replace Jordy Nelson's school-record 122 receptions.
- The Associated Press' Eric Olson has a good story about Cody Glenn's transformation from I-back to linebacker.
- Kansas lost to Missouri in the showdown for the North Division title last November at Arrowhead Stadium. Yet Kansas still is displaying its co-championship trophy for the division title at its football complex, according to the Kansas City Star's Jeffrey Flanagan.
- Denver Post beat writer Tom Kensler blogs about the alleged Parade All-America jinx haunting Colorado this season. Watch out Darrell Scott.
- The Bryan-College Station Eagle's Robert Cessna reported that QB Jerrod Johnson was getting some work as a tight en
d in some formations. And third-string QB Ryan Tannehill made several nifty catches in the team's scrimmage. Sounds to me that Stephen McGee has a hammer lock on the starting QB job.
- Left-footed K Donnie Carona, who rushed for more than 800 yards last season in high school, is looking forward to concentrating on special teams at Texas Tech. He's in a tight battle with senior Cory Fowler to replace Alex Trlica as the Red Raiders' kicker.