Big 12: Harrison Jeffers

Big 12 spring football preview

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

Here's a preview of what to expect:

BAYLOR BEARS

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What to watch:
  • Dana Holgorsen's offense in Year 2: Holgorsen didn't get a chance to coach his talented offense at Oklahoma State in its second year. The results could have been crazy. They might be at West Virginia in 2012, and the beginning steps will be taken this spring as Geno Smith & Co. get more and more comfortable with the system and Holgorsen adds more wrinkles.
  • The battle at running back: Sophomore Dustin Garrison hurt his knee in practices leading up to the Mountaineers' 70-33 Orange Bowl win over Clemson, and won't be there for the spring. What does senior Shawne Alston have in store for the spring? Garrison was the featured back last season, but a big spring could help Alston earn a few carries next year.
  • Defense needs help: Najee Goode leaves a big hole at linebacker, and defensive back Eain Smith's exit means the Mountaineers enter the season without two of their top three tacklers from a year ago. Bruce Irvin and Julian Miller's talents on the defensive line will be tough to replace, and in a league that requires a great pass rush, Irvin, Goode and Miller's 19 combined sacks must be replaced somehow.
Here's the next in our look at the Big 12 rankings by position: Running backs.

Last year's class was one of the best in recent history, but this year's class? Unassuming to begin the season. There are a few possible stars looming, but very, very little talent returning. Cyrus Gray ranked seventh in rushing yards last year (thanks to an insane finish), but he's the only player returning to the Big 12 from the conferences' top 10 rushers in 2010.

That's nuts.

The Aggies are the only team with a truly elite backfield tandem, though I could see Oklahoma and/or Oklahoma State joining that group by the end of the year.

The rest of the league? Every team has at least a couple of players to get excited about, and teams 5-10 are all pretty close. No one is really understaffed at the position, but obviously, they're fit to be ranked.

Here's where I have them:

1. Texas A&M

[+] EnlargeTexas A&M's Cyrus Gray
AP Photo/Eric GayCyrus Gray had at least 100 yards rushing in each of A&M's final seven games last season.
I wouldn't have been surprised if Cyrus Gray and Christine Michael were the Big 12's top leading returning rushers this year, but a midseason injury from Michael prevented it from happening. Regardless, his return gives Texas A&M by far the best tandem in the Big 12, and arguably the best in the country. When Mister Jones isn't cranking the Counting Crows on his stereo, he's a pretty good reserve, alongside Ben Malena, who impressed me on my visit to College Station this spring.

2. Oklahoma

Oklahoma will try and replace do-everything forever (or whatever) back DeMarco Murray with a platoon likely led by shifty Florida native Roy Finch. True freshman Brandon Williams made a big impact in spring camp, and Brennan Clay will likely earn a few touches, too. Health concerns raise questions about a pair of other OU backs' knees (Jermie Calhoun, Jonathan Miller), but walk-on Dominique Whaley led the team in rushing in the spring game.

3. Oklahoma State

The Cowboys have a great pair in sophomores Joseph Randle and Jeremy Smith, and a nice set of backs to spell them if needed, too. Kye Staley, once a top-flight recruit, returned this spring after quitting the team following a severe knee injury, and might earn a few touches this spring. Also, Abilene, Texas, native and 2011 ESPNU 150 signee Herschel Sims arrives this fall and may jockey for time and the opportunity to shed a redshirt.

4. Missouri

What the Tigers lack in a truly elite back, they have in depth. Missouri has four backs who are all capable of being very good in the Big 12, even though neither of the four topped 600 yards a year ago. A big reason for that was none of the four got more than 100 carries, but with the carries they did get, every back averaged more than five yards per carry. The platoon approach works for Missouri, but senior De'Vion Moore and junior Kendial Lawrence will lead the way with sophomores Henry Josey and Marcus Murphy not far behind.

5. Kansas

[+] EnlargeKansas' James Sims
John Rieger/US PRESSWIREJames Sims is the No. 2 returning rusher in the Big 12 this season.
Running back will be a strength for Kansas next year, who might have found a second back this spring that perfectly complements power runner James Sims, a rising sophomore who racked up 742 yards last year after not playing in the opener. Believe it or not, he's the Big 12's No. 2 returning rusher, behind A&M's Gray. Darrian Miller burst onto the scene this spring, and figures to be a big part of the team in the fall. I see him being the Jayhawks' biggest home-run threat. DeShaun Sands and Brandon Bourbon offer even more depth at the position.

6. Texas Tech

The Red Raiders lose backfield constant Baron Batch, but have a good group lined up for 2011. Tommy Tuberville's effort to establish a more efficient running game is a realistic possibility with Eric Stephens as the likely feature back, and Aaron Crawford, Ben McRoy and Harrison Jeffers in the mix. True freshman Ronnie Daniels' strong spring likely earned him some time, too, rather than a redshirt.

7. Baylor

Baylor loses a 1,200-yard rusher in Jay Finley, and figures to use a thunder-and-lightning approach with 6-foot, 240-pound bowling ball Terrance Ganaway and shifty, 5-foot-9, 205-pound Jarred Salubi. Glasco Martin, a more balanced back, may earn a few carries, too. Regardless of who has the ball, life is good for Baylor backs, who get a bit more room from defenses that are forced to respect Robert Griffin III's legs.

8. Kansas State

The Wildcats' top two rushers, including two-time league rushing champ Daniel Thomas, are gone. Hopes are high for Wichita native and former blue-chip back Bryce Brown, but he's still entrenched in a position battle with John Hubert and Robert Rose heading into fall camp.

9. Texas

Texas brings back a pair of seniors in Fozzy Whittaker and Cody Johnson, but if the Longhorns are going to climb up this ladder by year's end (and they might) it's likely to be on the back of hyped incoming freshman Malcolm Brown, who is on campus and set to begin fall camp. D.J. Monroe might be the fastest player in the Big 12, but he'll have to master the nuances of pass blocking to get more than a few touches every game. Jeremy Hills can offer some depth at the position, too, after Tre Newton was forced to quit the game because of concussions.

10. Iowa State

Shontrelle Johnson showed some flash last year, but he still brings just 35 career carries into his 2011 effort to replace Alexander Robinson. Jeff Woody and James White offer a bit more depth, too. Florida native DeVondrick Nealy might get into the mix if he can put together a strong fall camp.

Spring superlatives: Texas Tech

April, 27, 2011
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Wednesday, we wrap up our series looking at the strongest and weakest position for each team in the Big 12 with the Texas Tech Red Raiders.

Strongest position: Running back

Key returnees: Eric Stephens, Aaron Crawford, Ben McRoy, Harrison Jeffers

Key losses: Baron Batch

Analysis: The Red Raiders may not have any big-time gamebreakers at the position, but they are deep, deep, deep. And hey, maybe Stephens' 86-yard touchdown run in the TicketCity Bowl was a sign of things to come, despite having just one run longer than 30 yards the rest of the season.

Texas Tech has a good mix of size and speed with the platoon, and Crawford should get a good share of carries along with Stephens. The offense also added Ronnie Daniels this spring, a 6-foot-2, 205-pound true freshman who became a starter at fullback by the end of the spring. McRoy is a Floridian, 5-foot-9, 160-pound scatback whose elusiveness could earn him a few touches. Jeffers' bowling-ball tendencies at 5-foot-7, 200 pounds could do the same.

Coach Tommy Tuberville plans to use a few more two-back sets, and it's clear that doing so is a good use of the talent he has on the team. Texas Tech should be solid at quarterback, running back and the offensive line, but running back is the team's deepest position heading into 2011.

Weakest position: Secondary

Key returnees: Safeties Cody Davis, D.J. Johnson and Terrance Bullitt, cornerbacks Tre Porter, Jarvis Phillips, Derrick Mays

Key losses: CB LaRon Moore, S Franklin Mitchem

Analysis: Texas Tech has plenty of potential at the position heading into 2011, but there's no doubt it was the biggest weakness for the Red Raiders in 2010. Under the direction of a new defensive coordinator specializing in stingy secondaries, can that change right away? Chad Glasgow brought his 4-2-5 from TCU, and Texas Tech hopes success will follow after ranking last in the Big 12 in pass defense by 18 yards a game. Those 293 yards per game ranked 118th nationally, better than just Rice and Tulsa.

Injuries forced Texas Tech to play young players that weren't quite ready, but that rushed experienced could pay off soon. Porter and Mays started as freshmen last season, and should begin their sophomore years at the top of the depth chart. The Red Raiders trio of safeties need to prove they're fast enough to slow Big 12 offenses. Davis and converted corner Johnson will handle the traditional safety spots, while Bullitt will play more of a nickel back role close to the line of scrimmage to help the pass rush or stop the run. Texas Tech's offense might not be as potent as it was in 2010, but the defense has to be way, way better, or the Red Raiders won't do much better than this past season's eight wins.

More spring superlatives:

Roundup: Tech offense, UT-A&M moving?

February, 22, 2011
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Texas Tech's spring practice only started on Friday, but there's already plenty of news coming out of Lubbock.

Most importantly, there looks like a clear leader in the quarterback race: junior Seth Doege (get used to it: it's pronounced DAY-gee, with a hard "G").

That's no big surprise. Excuse the (very true) cliché, but there's no replacement for experience, and as the oldest player in the race, he clearly has plenty over the competition, sophomore Jacob Karam and a pair of freshmen, Scotty Young and Michael Brewer.

Offensive coordinator Neal Brown told reporters after the first practice that Doege led by a decent margin. As long as he keeps doing what he's doing, I'd be surprised if he didn't win the job.


According to a report in the Austin American-Statesman, the Lone Star Showdown may move from its annual date on Thanksgiving to championship weekend, possibly being played alongside the in-state rivalry to the north, Bedlam.

Both sides told the Statesman they're open to the move "if it's critical to the television deal."

If I remember correctly (and usually I do), I suggested this needed to happen months ago when the league first started talking about moving games to championship weekend. The response:

"RABBLERABBLETRADITIONRABBLERABBLE!!"

Look: I get that "it's the way it's always been done." The game has been centered around Thanksgiving weekend every year since 1901 and played on Thanksgiving 63 times.

That said, there's no concrete reason it has to be. We're not talking about the Red River Rivalry, which has to be in early October to be part of the State Fair of Texas, which provides the game a uniqueness found nowhere else in college sports.

As long as the Aggies and Longhorns close their regular seasons against each other, I don't see the big deal. As cool as it is to have the game on TV on Thanksgiving night, it's still a bit inconvenient to have an on-campus game during a holiday break.

This move should happen, featuring two of the best rivalries in the Big 12 on championship weekend, giving the league plenty of relevance while the Pac-12 and Big Ten debut their championship games next season.


The Apocalypse hasn't quite arrived, Texas Tech fans. But perhaps it's close.

The shotgun is taking a few steps closer to center. The Pistol could be a bigger piece of the Texas Tech offense this year.

By 2013, Tommy Tuberville will have the triple option installed and he'll have swindled you all!

Or something like that.

Tuberville has made it clear he wants to run the ball, but that's a lot more fun when the run is effective. To do it, Tuberville wants a different kind of running game that isn't so east-west.

"We’ve got to do something a little bit downhill," Tuberville told reporters after spring practice over the weekend. “We did that a little last fall and it worked pretty good. We’re kind of looking at different things in the running game."

The Red Raiders have the backs to establish a downhill run with hard runners like Eric Stephens, Aaron Crawford and Harrison Jeffers, but it won't matter if they can't block it.

With all five starters back on the offensive line, Tech fans have to feel good about running it at least a little better than they did in 2010.

Opening camp: Texas Tech

August, 6, 2010
8/06/10
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Schedule: Practice starts Saturday

What’s new: The defense. New coach Tommy Tuberville brought in James Willis as his defensive coordinator. Willis coached the linebackers at Alabama and won a national title in 2009. He brought with him an aggressive, blitzing 3-4 scheme that's almost the complete opposite of what the Red Raiders used for a decade under Mike Leach.

Key battle: Quarterback. Steven Sheffield and Taylor Potts will resume their abbreviated battle from the spring for the starting job, and Tuberville hopes to make a decision after the second scrimmage, trusting that one will stand out. Sheffield has the fan vote, but Potts has more experience.

New on the scene: The offensive line. Texas Tech must replace three starters up front, but it left the spring with Terry McDaniel, Lonnie Edwards, Justin Keown, Deveric Gallington and LaAdrian Waddle as starters.

Breaking out: Safety Cody Davis is the team's second-leading returning tackler, but it's been hard to make headlines on defense while playing for Texas Tech. Under Tuberville, that might change. Davis' 81 tackles as a freshman were already impressive, but this year, others outside Lubbock might take notice, especially if the Red Raiders see defensive success under Willis.

Don’t forget about: Running back Baron Batch. He's topped 750 yards in each of the past two seasons and should get more carries this year as one of the team's most talented players under a coach who loves to run the ball. Tech's offense will still the the Air Raid, but this year's version will be faster and around a 60-40 pass-run ratio, slightly more balanced than the 68-32 ratio (669 passes, 319 rushes) in 2009. Eric Stephens and Harrison Jeffers are quality backups who'll earn a few of those carries, too.

All eyes on: The quarterback battle. It's worth mentioning twice. Tuberville won't be flipping starters unless there's an injury, so one guy should be set up to put up big numbers, while the other is forced to spend his senior season on the bench. Not an easy situation for Potts, Sheffield or Tuberville to be in.

Quoting: "First thing I did when I went in to them, when I first talked to them, I apologized to them for what they went through because players are there to get an education and have fun playing college football, and they went through a season that was hectic and coach leaves and the bowl game was a mess in terms of it wasn't about them, it was about who's going to be the coach. So we had to get our players back. So it's really been good." -- Texas Tech coach Tommy Tuberville

The Big 12's top 10 running backs

July, 12, 2010
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We ranked the conference's top 5 quarterbacks last week, but we'll have a deeper look this afternoon at a position that requires more depth: running back.

1. Daniel Thomas, Kansas State

[+] EnlargeDaniel Thomas
Sean Sewell/Icon SMIDaniel Thomas led the Big 12 in rushing with 1,265 yards last season.
Thomas led the Big 12 in rushing without much of an offense around him. But the juco transfer preparing for his second season in the Big 12 is hardly a Cinderella story. Thomas, a former quarterback with still plenty of potential to fulfill, was a Florida commit before having to complete his academic requirements in junior college. Once completed, he enrolled at Kansas State and rolled to a Big 12 Newcomer of the Year award in 2009.

2. DeMarco Murray, Oklahoma

Murray lacks the staggering production of a few other backs on this list, but he doesn't lack the talent. He's surpassed 700 yards in all three seasons at Oklahoma and scored 43 touchdowns, while also establishing himself as a reliable pass-catching threat. This season, Oklahoma coach Bob Stoops says 1,900 yards is possible for his starter, who has shared carries for his entire career. The senior has a reputation for being injury-prone, but Murray's missed just six games in his career, including just one last season, although those six games have included two Big 12 Championships, a Fiesta Bowl and a national championship game.

3. Alexander Robinson, Iowa State

Robinson helped push the Cyclones to a 7-6 record last season, a five-game improvement from 2008. His 1,193 rushing yards were third-most in the Big 12 behind Thomas and Oklahoma State's Keith Toston, and paced Iowa State while quarterback Austen Arnaud struggled at times in 2009. The 5-foot-9, 187-pounder should challenge for the league rushing title in 2010 as the focus of the Cyclones offense.

4. Roy Helu Jr., Nebraska

A shoulder injury suffered late in a win over Missouri limited Helu at times last season, but he still managed to be one of just four backs in the Big 12 to top 1,000 yards. Helu Jr. surrendered carries late to star freshman Rex Burkhead, but he should get plenty of touches in 2010 behind the conference's best offensive line.

5. Kendall Hunter, Oklahoma State

Hunter is one of the league's most explosive backs, and is back to 100 percent after a nagging ankle injury that caused a frustrating 2009 season. He showed flashes in the season finale in the Cotton Bowl of the talent that contributed to his 1,555 yards in 2008, and if he plays like that in 2010, he'll put up big numbers again. His carries (241 in 2008) should go down, but his receptions will be way up in new offensive coordinator Dana Holgorsen's offensive scheme.

6. Baron Batch, Texas Tech

Batch's impressive 14 rushing touchdowns in 2009 were the league's most, and he also caught 57 passes for 395 yards. For Batch, it should be business as usual, but with a few more carries under new coach Tommy Tuberville. Batch should also help shepherd two young backs who could earn some time this season, Harrison Jeffers and Eric Stephens.

7. Christine Michael, Texas A&M

Michael has the potential to move way up this list after rushing for 844 yards as a freshman. He'll split carries with Cyrus Gray once again, but Michael, who came to Texas A&M as the nation's No. 4 running back, still has a lot of potential to fulfull. How much he taps into it will decide how many more carries he receives as a sophomore.

8. Rodney Stewart, Colorado

Stewart was one of the bright spots on an offense that struggled in 2009, scoring just over 20 points a game, second-fewest in the league. Stewart rushed for 804 yards -- fifth-most in the Big 12. Nicknamed "Speedy," the 5-foot-6, 170-pound Stewart should be the focus again of the Buffaloes offense after receiving 198 carries, also the fifth-most in the conference.

9. Derrick Washington, Missouri

Washington's numbers dipped in 2009, and he received more carries in an offense that lost playmakers like Jeremy Maclin, Chase Coffman and Chase Daniel. He scored seven fewer touchdowns (10) than in 2008 (17), and rushed for just 865 yards, 171 fewer than he did as a sophomore. But he still ranked sixth in the conference in rushing and should be the primary ball carrier for the third consecutive season for the Tigers.

10. Cyrus Gray, Texas A&M

Gray and the Aggies' offense must overcome three new starters on the offensive line, but he rushed for 757 yards in 2009, and the talent at receiver and quarterback for the Texas A&M limits the pressure to produce for Gray and Michael.

Fresh Faces: Texas Tech

June, 30, 2010
6/30/10
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Today we'll start a new series highlighting players with low profiles conference-wide with a good chance to change that this fall. Up first, the Red Raiders.

Harrison Jeffers and Eric Stephens, RB

Texas Tech's depth at running back has gotten some mention on the blog, and Jeffers and Stephens are the reasons why. They'll be star Baron Batch's backups this season, but could be budding stars themselves. Last season, they combined to rush for 571 yards on 84 carries (6.8 yards per carry). With Texas Tech planning on running the ball more than they have for a decade, Jeffers and Stephens should be the beneficiaries.

Justin Keown, C

It might be odd to put a senior on this list, but Keown received his first big chunks of meaningful playing time last season. Then, this spring, he beat out Chris Olson, who finished the season as the starting left tackle, to win the starting center job. Keown filled in well for Stephen Hamby when the starter was injured periodically in 2009, and has a good chance to become a staple at the position for the entire season with a solid fall camp.

Sam Fehoko, LB

Fehoko, a former defensive end, beat out freshman Brandon Mahoney to win a starting spot next to the established Brian Duncan and Bront Bird heading into his junior season. Fehoko could still have some tough competition from redshirt freshman Aundrey Barr -- Duncan's backup on the edge of the 3-4 -- if Barr moves to a spot inside, but Fehoko's experience should give him the edge. Fehoko made 19 tackles last season and that number will definitely grow in 2010 if he enters the season with a firm grasp on the starting position.

Who's most prepared for an injury?

June, 9, 2010
6/09/10
11:00
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Few teams make it through a season without getting banged up. So which units around the Big 12 are best prepared for an injury?

1. Texas Tech quarterbacks. It doesn't take much research to see the potential here. Texas Tech proved this spring it may be able to roll with four different quarterbacks. Steven Sheffield and Taylor Potts both had success in spots last season, but suffered injuries that ended their springs early. In their place came Jacob Karam and Seth Doege, who impressed coaches by stepping in and taking advantage of the opportunity. In one scrimmage this spring, the two combined for 10 touchdown passes. Doege also got plenty of playing time against Kansas and Texas A&M last season.

2. Texas cornerbacks. The Longhorns have three future NFL players in Curtis Brown, Chykie Brown and Aaron Williams. In a league that's not afraid to pass, they'll spend a lot of time on the field together, but it would take a few injuries to slow this group.

3. Nebraska running backs. Roy Helu Jr. is the most experienced of the group, but Rex Burkheadproved late last season he could be counted on for plenty of production, too. But what tips the Huskers over the edge here is rumbler Dontrayevous Robinson, a 230-pounder who should get some carries in spots in 2010. Helu topped 1,000 yards last season and Burkhead has a legitimate chance to do the same this season.

4. Baylor quarterbacks. Silver Lining City right here. No one liked seeing Robert Griffin III go down with his college career on the rise, but as a result, the Bears have a young, but seasoned backup in Nick Florence behind him. Florence struggled in stretches during his freshman season, but he also threw for 427 yards, three touchdowns and no interceptions in Baylor's lone conference win, an upset of Missouri in Columbia. Hardly a consolation, but Florence is a luxury for Baylor that not every team has.

5. Texas A&M receivers. The Aggies had five receivers with at least 35 catches last season. We've written about them here before, and it may happen again. Ryan Swope and Kenric McNeal may join that group this season, but don't look for Uzoma Nwachukwu, Jeff Fuller and Ryan Tannehill to leave. Between those five, Jerrod Johnson won't be lacking for targets in 2010.

6. Texas Tech running backs. Baron Batch is the headliner after rushing for 884 yards in 2010, but new offensive coordinator Neal Brown will look to run the ball more than Texas Tech usually has to utilize their depth this season. Sophomores Harrison Jeffers and Eric Stephens will give the Red Raiders plenty of options. In one scrimmage this spring, Jeffers scampered for 139 yards and two touchdowns on nine carries.

Texas Tech spring wrap

May, 6, 2010
5/06/10
6:00
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2009 overall record: 9-4

2009 conference record: 5-3

Returning starters: Offense (7), Defense (6) P/K (2)

Top returners: QB Steven Sheffield, WR Detron Lewis, QB Taylor Potts, RB Baron Batch, WR Alex Torres, CB LaRon Moore, DT Colby Whitlock, LB Brian Duncan, LB Bront Bird

Key losses: DE Brandon Sharpe, OL Brandon Carter, CB Jamar Wall, OL Marlon Winn, LB Marlon Williams, DE Daniel Howard

2009 statistical leaders (*returners)

Rushing: Baron Batch* (884 yards)

Passing: Taylor Potts* (3,440 yards)

Receiving: Detron Lewis* (844 yards)

Tackles: Brian Duncan* (87)

Sacks: Brandon Sharpe (15)

Interceptions: Franklin Mitchem*, LaRon Moore*, Jamar Wall (2)

Three spring answers

1. Business as usual. The offense will remain the same under new coordinator Neal Brown, like he said it would. Other than differences in terminology and how plays are relayed to the quarterback, the offense will be similar to former coach Mike Leach’s. One big difference is that quarterbacks will have the green light to tuck the ball and run if the opportunity arises.

2. Let's run this town. Brown says the Red Raiders will run more next season. The main reason is his offense’s depth at running back. Texas Tech has three running backs who could be factors in leading rusher Baron Batch, as well as sophomores Harrison Jeffers and Eric Stephens. The pass will still be king in Lubbock, but the running game will likely be featured more than it ever was under Leach.

3. Taking out their aggression. Former defensive coordinator Ruffin McNeill is gone to East Carolina. He took with him his bend-but-don’t-break defensive approach. Now, Texas Tech will be dictating the action with former Alabama linebackers coach James Willis coordinating the defense. He helped the Crimson Tide win a national title in 2009 with his blitz-happy schemes that force defenses to make difficult throws instead of preventing the big play at the cost of giving up underneath passes.

Three fall questions

1. What happens once the QBs become healthy again? Steven Sheffield and Taylor Potts’ battle for the QB job ended early this spring when Sheffied re-broke his foot and Taylor Potts suffered a serious laceration to his throwing hand. Both underwent surgery midway through the team’s 15 practices and did little to settle the quarterback debate. Sheffield likely had a slight edge when the two were injured, but they’ll pick up where they left off—this time with more urgency—in the fall.

2. What happens if Brown’s offense stalls? The offense, even directed by two inexperienced quarterbacks, flourished late in the spring. But if Sheffield or Potts are unable to complete a high enough percentage of their passes or move the ball, will the Red Raiders depend even more on the run? If the offense doesn’t continue its run of piling up gawdy numbers against Big 12 defenses, will the spread return in 2011?

3. Will Tech fans embrace Tommy Tuberville? Mike Leach was perhaps the most beloved figure in the history of the program. Among the fans, at least. Will the fans cozy up to his less colorful, less quotable replacement? If he wins, it’ll be easy. Tuberville’s been historically more successful than Leach, but the bar in Lubbock has been set by Leach, who won more games than any coach in Texas Tech history.

The Big 12's offensive spring risers

May, 5, 2010
5/05/10
10:00
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Every spring has its movers. Nobodies earning their first real on-field action. Backups blossoming into featured roles. Starters becoming stars. There’s a few of each on this list, which looks at the spring risers on offense for each team in the conference. We'll look at the defensive risers later this week.

No longer unknowns

Luke Joeckel, LT, Texas A&M

When was the last time an offensive lineman became the story of the spring? That’s exactly what Joeckel did in College Station, enrolling early and leaving spring as the starting left tackle for one of college football’s best offenses. Joeckel came to the Aggies as the No. 6 tackle prospect in the country and No. 83 on the ESPNU 150, but he didn’t make his coaches wait long for him to make good on his potential.

Taylor Martinez, QB, Nebraska

This spring, Martinez made sure there was no debate in Lincoln over who was the Huskers’ fastest quarterback. But now he’ll have a chance this fall to prove he’s the Huskers’ best quarterback, alongside Cody Green, who struggled in the spring game, and Zac Lee, who sat out the spring after surgery on his throwing arm. Martinez stole the show at the Red-White game, throwing for two touchdowns and running for 60 yards on nine carries.

Marshall Musil, FB, Oklahoma

Musil was a non-factor in 2009, buried on the depth chart behind starter Matt Clapp. But the redshirt freshman surpassed senior Brandon Crow to leave the spring as the starter, and had a memorable day in a rainy spring game. With DeMarco Murray held out of action as a precautionary measure, Musil ran for 92 yards and a workman-like 29 carries. He might not get that many carries all of next season, but he proved that if he needs to, he can be counted on.

Justin Britt, OL, Missouri

With left guard Austin Wuebbels fighting off back spasms, Missouri coaches got a long look at the redshirt freshman this spring, who also worked at right guard. He could find time in the rotation after his impressive performance at left guard, or even start as the replacement for three-year starter and All-Big 12 performer Kurtis Gregory, the lone lost lineman for the Tigers.

Toney Clemons, WR, Colorado


Clemons, a Michigan transfer, had sky-high expectations coming into this spring, before he finally becomes eligible this fall. He delivered, impressing his teammates enough to be selected first in the team’s draft for the spring game, where he caught four passes for 33 yards.

Looking for a bigger role

Harrison Jeffers, RB, Texas Tech

Jeffers is the third man in a crowded, talented and young Red Raiders backfield, but he played well this spring with starter Baron Batch limited as a precaution. He led the team in rushing in the spring game with 68 yards, and in an earlier scrimmage, ran for 139 yards and two touchdowns on just nine carries.

Fozzy Whittaker, RB, Texas

Whittaker carried the ball just 53 times for 212 yards last season, but has overcome a handful of other backs to become one of the two featured runners for the Longhorns, alongside Tre’ Newton. Four Longhorns rushed for more yards than Whittaker last season. It’s possible none do it in 2010.

Braden Wilson, FB, Kansas State

Kansas State coach Bill Snyder gushed on Wilson’s effort this spring, saying “he may make a mistake, but he's doing it at 120 miles an hour. I just love the way he practices.” He was the lead blocker for the Big 12’s leading rusher, Daniel Thomas, as a freshman, and also rushed for 110 yards on just 11 carries. Look somewhere else for a sophomore slump.

Philip Blake, OL, Baylor

Blake moved from tackle to center this spring, and impressed Baylor coach Art Briles. High praise in reaching for a high bar set by the man he’s replacing, three-year starter and All-American J.D. Walton, who was drafted in the third round of last month’s NFL Draft.

Kale Pick, QB, Kansas

Pick began the spring as a pigeon-holed runner with five quarterbacks looking to take his job. He left as his team’s best passer and a much heavier front-runner for the starting gig, while keeping his versatility as a runner. He gave the fans in the spring game a nice preview of what could be on the way, throwing a gorgeous 72-yard touchdown pass and a 37-yarder for the win. Those assured no one will see him as just a runner anymore.

Stars shining brighter

Kendall Hunter, RB, Oklahoma State

Common sense said new offensive coordinator Dana Holgorsen’s spread offense meant fewer touches for running back Kendall Hunter. While it might mean fewer carries, it won’t mean fewer touches. Holgorsen said Hunter was even better than he thought he’d be, and coach Mike Gundy forecasted about 250 touches for the senior in 2010. Of those, 170 would be rushes, but the offense will look to get the shifty Hunter in space where he can make tacklers miss. If Gundy’s prediction comes true, it won’t be hard for Hunter to eclipse his disappointing numbers as a junior.

Austen Arnaud, QB, Iowa State

Arnaud saw his production drop across the board in 2009, even as his team enjoyed its most successful year at quarterback. But Iowa State coach Paul Rhoads says Arnaud was his team’s most improved player and will be looking for more big wins with big numbers as a senior.

Big 12 spring game recap: Texas Tech

April, 20, 2010
4/20/10
8:45
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What happened:
  • Redshirt freshman Jacob Karam and sophomore Seth Doege combined for 47-of-68 passing, 530 yards and five touchdowns, playing in place of a pair of quarterbacks expected to compete for the starting job at the beginning of spring, Taylor Potts and Steven Sheffield. Potts had surgery on his hand just days after Sheffield had surgery to repair the same bone in his foot he broke last season. Both are expected to throw again by June.
  • Two teams loosely defined as the first and second team played to a 24-24 tie.
  • "Several thousand" fans showed up to see the Red Raiders play in cold, wet conditions.
What we learned:
  • Texas Tech validated that it's one of the conferences deepest teams at running back. Baron Batch, Harrison Jeffers and Aaron Crawford won't have a ton of carries, but they'll have more to go around than were up for grabs last season. Batch carried the ball just six times for 38 yards. Crawford and Jeffers combined for 108 yards on 31 carries.
  • The same goes for the Red Raider receivers. Alex Torres highlighted the day with 10 catches for 115 yards, but once again, they'll have a lot of viable options. Detron Lewis, Lyle Leong and Austin Zouzalik won't be starved for catches. Cornelius Douglas showed some potential to contribute on Saturday, too, with 106 yards receiving, highlighted by a 64-yard score in the second quarter. But caution, it's still only one game and it's April. Douglas enters 2010 with a lot to prove before he finds himself in the same breath as the receivers above him.
  • Watching Texas Tech? Playing for Texas Tech? Defending Texas Tech? Buckle up. Offensive coordinator Neal Brown debuted the "NASCAR" offense on Saturday, but clearly both quarterbacks felt comfortable running the no-huddle scheme that operates much faster than last season's version under Mike Leach. The Red Raiders rush to the line of scrimmage and snap the ball quickly to wear down and confuse opposing defenses. "They line up and just snap it over and over and over again," linebacker Bront Bird told the Fort Worth Star-Telegram. "It gets pretty rough out there."
They said it:

"Our players have been through a lot the last six months and it was good to see the fans come out and support them."

- Red Raiders coach Tommy Tuberville

Red Raiders come rushing back

September, 26, 2009
9/26/09
11:16
PM ET

Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Griffin


In the middle of the second quarter, Texas Tech appeared flummoxed by Houston's small, quick defense.

But the Red Raiders turned the game around since that point, taking advantage of a little-used facet of their offense.

Tech rushed for 102 yards on their final two drives of the half, capping both with touchdown runs to claim a 21-13 halftime lead over No. 17 Houston.

The running game suits Taylor Potts, who is finding things a little bit easier since the change. Potts has hit all five passes for 42 yards as the Red Raiders' potent offensive appears to have been rousted after sleepwalking through the first quarter.

The attitude change appears to have taken the steam out of the record crowd at Robertson Stadium. Those fans have been surprised that the Cougars have been whipped in the trenches by Tech's massive offensive line.

In the second half, I'm looking for Baron Batch and Harrison Jeffers to continue to be used in the manner late in the first half. Unless Houston defensive coordinator John Skladany can find an antidote to this power game, I like the Red Raiders chance to continue their late domination.

Running game ignites Texas Tech offense

September, 26, 2009
9/26/09
10:51
PM ET

Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Griffin


Texas Tech's running game was its secret weapon last season.

The Red Raiders' ability to run the ball reduced pressure on Graham Harrell and opened up the passing game even more.

In the first three games, Tech had averaged only 28.7 yards rushing per game to rank 118th nationally. If they were ever going to become a more potent offense, they needed some production.

The running has come tonight. Harrison Jeffers sparked a touchdown drive with a 35-yard inside reverse and Baron Batch capped that drive with an easy touchdown roll through a gasping Houston defense. Tech accounted for 62 yards of rushing on that scoring possession to reclaim a 14-10 lead.

Tech should have the advantage in the trenches. The Red Raiders' offensive line is much bigger than Houston and should be able to run the ball if they were so inclined, even though run blocking isn't exactly stressed in Mike Leach's program.

Batch had rushed for 65 yards combined in his first three games. If he keeps his current pace, he should eclipse that by halftime.

Watch for these freshmen across the Big 12

August, 27, 2009
8/27/09
3:36
PM ET
Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Griffin

We're headed down to the final week of camp as two-deep rosters are getting set for next weekend's openers across the conference.

A collection of talented freshmen have emerged at Big 12 programs so far in training camp. Here's a look at one newcomer to remember from each Big 12 team as
we head into the start of the season.


Baylor: Imposing 6-foot-6 freshman wide receiver Willie Jefferson has already played his way into the Bears' rotation at receiver. He's shown a knack for making acrobatic, leaping catches and has made a quick connection with Robert Griffin in the Bears' offense.


Colorado: Freshman defensive end Forrest West is mature enough physically to compete for playing time immediately from early in the season. Coaches rave about his quick learning abilities and his physical skill. They think he can position himself into the rotation early in the season.


Iowa State: Freshman middle linebacker A.J. Klein, who turned 18 in July, has already turned heads because of his physical play and knack for roaming from sideline to sideline for tackles. He's now No. 2 on the Cyclones' depth chart behind starter Jesse Smith and should see playing time from early in the season.


Kansas: Coach Mark Mangino has already said that freshman wide receiver Bradley McDougald performed better than any freshman he's had in his program. The converted defensive back is already earning snaps at wide receiver -- improving the Jayhawks in speed and talent at an already stacked position.


Kansas State: Freshman cornerback Thomas Ferguson has been an early producer at workouts and has a good chance to see playing time immediately because of the new 4-2-5 defensive alignment favored by coordinators Chris Cosh and Vic Koenning.


Missouri: Freshman running back Kendial Lawrence will get immediately playing time, despite the stacked roster in front of him with Derrick Washington and De'Vion Moore. Lawrence can provide a speedy element for the Tigers to be looking for after rushing for 2,679 yards and scoring 43 touchdowns last season as a high school senior.


Nebraska: Freshman I-back Rex Burkhead, who was impressive early and has kept getting better. With Quentin Castille being kicked off the team, Burkhead now is the No. 2 I-back on the roster behind starter Roy Helu Jr.


Oklahoma: Freshman cornerback DeMontre Hurst has emerged as one of the surprises at camp. Hurst had two interceptions at the Sooners' recent scrimmage and should have had another.


Oklahoma State: Freshman safety Daytawion Lowe, who has shown well at several recent practices despite playing one of the team's deepest positions. Lowe will play in the Cowboys' defensive rotation.


Texas: Freshman quarterback Garrett Gilbert has staked his claim for the backup position behind Colt McCoy, taking advantage of Sherrod Harris' slow recovery from knee surgery. Look for Gilbert to get playing time this season and position himself for a strong bid for Texas' 2010 starting job.


Texas A&M: Freshman linebacker Sean Porter played a lot with the first-team defense in the Aggies' most recent scrimmage. A&M coaches have been impressed with his speed and athletic ability and he's playing at a position of need for his team.


Texas Tech: Running back Eric Stephens has emerged in the Red Raiders' rotation behind Baron Batch and Harrison Jeffers. Coach Mike Leach has described the 5-foot-8, 185-pound Stephens as "built for combat." Look for him to be used immediately in the running game and also as a kick returner.

Big 12 lunch links: Hands-on Hawkins working with CU WRs

August, 13, 2009
8/13/09
12:45
PM ET

Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Griffin

On the road again, just like Willie Nelson sings about.

But I just can't wait to get these lunch links to you, either.

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