Big 12: Jake Heaps

Best case, worst case: Kansas

June, 18, 2014
Jun 18
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On Monday, we started our series on the best-case and worst-case scenarios for each Big 12 team.

The premise of these fun posts is to examine what the season may look like if everything fell into place for each school -- the best-case scenario for 2014. Conversely, we’ll also show what might happen if everything goes wrong -- the worst-case scenario. The truth, as usual, should fall somewhere in the middle.

We continue the series today with Kansas.

BEST CASE

Seven wins. Kansas' first winning season since the Mark Mangino era. Let's see how we can make this work.

[+] EnlargeCharlie Weis
John Rieger/USA TODAY SportsAn 8-5 season would result in a lot of celebratory Gatorade baths for Kansas coach Charlie Weis.
Kansas whoops FCS Southeast Missouri State in the opener. That's easy enough. But it will have to be a real butt-whooping, a glorious display of the Jayhawks' potential, because they need a confidence booster before they go on the road to play reigning ACC Coastal Division champion Duke.

In this game, KU gets lucky. Montell Cozart runs around in the pocket enough to trigger some form of potent post-Manziel stress disorder in the Blue Devils that causes receivers to get bafflingly wide open. Cozart takes advantage, Kansas receivers actually catch touchdowns, and it's all so amazing.

The Jayhawks go to 3-0 after taking care of business against Central Michigan. They give Texas a scare akin to 2012 in their Big 12 opener, but come up just short. Good thing there's an easy rebound game the next week against West Virginia. But the game that puts Kansas on the national radar is a startling easy win over Oklahoma State, one that sends the Pokes to 3-3. Kansas, at 5-1, is the talk of the country.

And just as Charlie Weis is being hyped up for doing one of the nation's best coaching jobs, his annual check for $2,054,744 from Notre Dame -- the check he gets to not coach the Fighting Irish -- arrives in the mail. Life is so sweet.

Even road losses at Texas Tech and Baylor can't kill Weis' vibe. KU gets to six wins and bowl eligibility by knocking off Iowa State at home. Weis carries the goal posts out of the stadium himself and throws them into Potter Lake. He begins contract extension negotiations the following Monday.

Fans fear their beloved, revived Jayhawks have run out of magic when they lose to TCU and Oklahoma the next two weeks, but this ain't over. Kansas goes into Manhattan and hands Kansas State a 21-point beatdown as revenge for five straight losses in the rivalry.

The Jayhawks go to the Liberty Bowl and make a rebuilding SEC team (how about Missouri?) look like a "pile of crap" (Weis' words, not mine) to finish the year 8-5. Yes, that's right, 8-5. Weis gets a pay bump to $5 million a year, and the Jayhawks are well on their way to a new dynasty.

WORST CASE

Kansas exits nonconference play with an encouraging 2-1 record after squeaking out wins against Southeast Missouri State and CMU. The Duke game got ugly; let's just not talk about it.

But the offensive transition under new OC John Reagan is a rocky one, and Cozart can't keep up. He gets benched after four straight Big 12 losses in favor of Michael Cummings, who runs a little more but doesn't make much a difference. KU gets back in its rut of changing the game plan every week in a futile attempt to expose opponents' specific weaknesses.

Ben Heeney finishes with an admirable 146 tackles and earns second-team all-conference honors, but the rest of the defense is a work in progress that makes little progress. KU notches one Big 12 win, in overtime at home against Iowa State, but loses the rest to finish 3-9.

Charlie Weis resigns following another rough loss to Kansas State. The search committee moves quickly to replace him, overlooking the next Gus Malzahn and instead hiring former Colorado coach Gary Barnett, who desperately wanted the KU job in 2011.

Oh, and one more thing: The day after Barnett is introduced at Kansas, Miami quarterback Jake Heaps is runner-up for the Heisman Trophy. Life is so cruel.

Previous posts

June 16: Baylor
June 17: Iowa State

Big 12's lunch links

May, 22, 2014
May 22
12:00
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Hugh Jackman as a clown? That would have been a sight to see.

Big 12 lunchtime links

April, 30, 2014
Apr 30
12:00
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A couple former Big 12 stars are constantly reminded about their time at Gruden camp.
The Jayhawks went into spring ball with three quarterbacks in the mix for the starting job.

They came out with one.

[+] EnlargeMontell Cozart
AP Photo/Orlin WagnerSophomore Montell Cozart beat out senior Jake Heaps and UCLA transfer T.J. Millweard to start at quarterback for the Jayhawks.
After the conclusion of spring ball last week, Kansas named sophomore Montell Cozart its starter. Cozart was in a battle with senior and 2013 starter Jake Heaps and UCLA transfer T.J. Millweard.

During the Big 12 spring teleconference on Tuesday, coach Charlie Weis explained why his staff elected to make the call posthaste in a quarterback competition that seemed to be wide open going into spring ball.

“What we didn’t want to do was go into the summertime misleading our players about who the starting quarterback was,” Weis said. “After the spring game, which was really practice 15, we did post-spring evaluations with the whole team; I think in the eyes of the coaching staff, Montell had clearly played better than the other quarterbacks on our team.”

Cozart appeared in seven games last season after his redshirt was pulled as a freshman. He never got on track with his arm, and completed only 37 percent of his passes. But Cozart sparked the offense with his legs, rushing for 193 yards during a four-game stretch in November.

Weis indicated that if Cozart hadn’t emerged as the obvious starter, the competition could have lingered into the preseason.

But Cozart clearly was the most effective quarterback in Kansas’ spring game, rushing for 70 yards and two touchdowns on just seven carries. And according to Weis, he was also clearly the most effective quarterback throughout the spring.

As a result, Weis saw no benefit in concealing from his players who the starter would ultimately be.

“We just thought it was in the best interest of our quarterbacks and our team to name him,” Weis said. “What would have happened was Jake would have been the leader in the summertime, then we would have come back [and] Montell would have gotten the first reps. We thought we would have mislead our team while they went through a tough, grueling summer. I think that it’s important for the players to know exactly where they stand.”

The Jayhawks know where they stand at quarterback. And now they can move forward around Cozart.

“I think it’s important if a guy has won a job, he should be put as the leader,” Weis said. “And based on 15 practices, not just the spring game, Montell had clearly won the job.”
video
Kansas coach Charlie Weis’ decision to name Montell Cozart as his starting quarterback wasn’t a major surprise.

Those who watched Cozart separate himself from the competition during KU’s spring game could sense this was coming. The sophomore quarterback clearly was the best of the group, using his feet to make plays while also showing progress as a passer in new offensive coordinator John Reagan’s offense. He earned offensive MVP honors by accounting for two touchdowns.

[+] EnlargeMontell Cozart
AP Photo/Orlin WagnerMontell Cozart has been named the starting quarterback for the Jayhawks.
Weis' decision to hand over the future of KU’s offense to Cozart is the right one for several reasons.

First, Cozart has three years of eligibility remaining, giving him time to grow and improve, with some of his ups and downs as a young player likely to pay off later. Jake Heaps, his main competitor heading into the spring game, will be a senior in 2014. Cozart was pulled out of his redshirt as a freshman last season, starting three games and putting any freshman jitters in the past, allowing him to enter this season with knowledge of what to expect.

Second, Cozart brings the best combination of physical traits with his running ability and his passing skills continuing to develop. Earlier in the spring, Weis had talked of playing multiple quarterbacks and using them in different ways this fall, but Cozart’s progress as a passer makes that unnecessary. If he continues to develop as a passer, he could become the complete package behind center. And his spring performance showed he's the best option for now and the future.

Last, Weis' decision to name Cozart the starter just days after the spring game is a sign of confidence. The decision allows the sophomore to settle in as the face of KU’s offense, and it means the coach is confident that he has a quarterback. He said earlier in the spring that a lengthy quarterback battle that lasts deep into preseason camp means “you don’t have one.” If it all works out, Weis’ confidence will breed confidence in Cozart and among his teammates.

Cozart finished his freshman season with 227 passing yards, zero touchdowns and two interceptions in seven games, so it’s not time to cement his spot on the preseason All-Big 12 team quite yet.

But naming Cozart as the starter could be remembered as the first step toward making KU’s offense the most explosive of Weis’ tenure.

Big 12's lunch links

April, 15, 2014
Apr 15
12:00
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Tap, tap. I can't wait for this 30 for 30.

Spring game review: Kansas

April, 14, 2014
Apr 14
4:30
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The time is now for the Kansas program under Charlie Weis. The Jayhawks head coach made several changes to his coaching staff this offseason, including the addition of new offensive coordinator John Reagan. Saturday’s spring game was unique, with the Blue team featuring KU’s first and second-teamers and the White squad featuring the third and fourth-teamers. In addition, all quarterbacks were live, meaning they could be hit, as KU tries to find its starting quarterback. Here’s what happened:

Best offensive performance: After entering the game alongside Jake Heaps as dual front-runners to start at quarterback, Montell Cozart was the best signal-caller on the field. The sophomore finished with 70 rushing yards and two touchdowns along with a game-high 58 passing yards, completing 6 of 10 passes. Cozart didn’t lock himself in as the Jayhawks starter, but Weis was pleased with what he saw.

[+] EnlargeMontell Cozart
AP Photo/Orlin WagnerMontell Cozart made several plays with his legs and showed poise in the pocket in Kansas' spring game.
"I was pleased to see him sit in the pocket,” Weis said. “We know he can bootleg and run on the edge, but it was good to see him show some poise in the pocket."

Best defensive performance: Linebacker Jake Love is a quiet playmaker alongside fellow linebacker Ben Heeney, who garners most of the headlines. Love finished with a game-high 10 tackles, including six solo stops. Love, who averaged 4.8 tackles per game in 2013, picked right up where he left off during the spring game. He could join Heeney to give KU one of the better linebacker duos in the conference.

Best debut: Receiver Nick Harwell’s final numbers were uninspiring. Four receptions for 31 yards won’t send fear into the hearts of Big 12 defensive coordinators. Those same coordinators would be wise to learn the name of the Miami (Ohio) transfer. His playmaking ability was evident and, if the spring game is any indication, Reagan’s offense is likely to try to put the ball in his hands often this fall.

Notable play: Cozart’s 60-yard run in the fourth quarter was the longest run of the game and was a glimpse at the reason why he could have the edge in the quarterback race if he continues to develop as a passer. He’s far from a finished product, but the sophomore could be a playmaker for Reagan’s offense.

Developing storyline: Michael Cummings has been the forgotten name in KU’s quarterback battle, yet he looked like the second-best quarterback on the field, outperforming Heaps and UCLA transfer T.J. Millweard. Cummings, playing on the White team, which featured third and fourth-teamers, led his squad on a 12-play, 74-yard drive against the No. 1 defense that resulted in the only points of the first half, a 26-yard receiver pass from Tre’ Parmalee to Andrew Turzilli. Cummings didn't finish with great numbers (3-of-10, 42 yards, INT) but looked like his name should be alongside Heaps and Millweard behind Cozart.

Biggest question answered: The Jayhawks have some playmakers emerging on offense to help offset the loss of running back James Sims. Harwell will be a threat at receiver, Tony Pierson is one of the Big 12’s most explosive threats when healthy and running back Brandon Bourbon more than held his own at Sims’ former spot in the backfield with 12 carries for 96 yards. KU’s offensive line and quarterback play will decide how explosive this offense can be, with multiple playmaking options starting to emerge at running back and receiver.

Quotable: “We still have questions, but we also have a lot more answers now than we did in the beginning of the spring. We've implemented a new offense and we still have a ways to go, but I think it's positive at this stage. We've got to continue raising the bar around here." -- Weis

Spring game preview: Kansas

April, 10, 2014
Apr 10
4:45
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Charlie Weis will face the biggest season of his tenure as Kansas coach in 2014. He has made several changes on his coaching staff with the hope of making drastic improvements in a program that has won four games during his first two seasons. KU holds its spring game on Saturday, the first glimpse at the Jayhawks' offense under new offensive coordinator John Reagan. Here’s what to watch during KU’s spring game:

When: Saturday at 1 p.m. CT

Where: Kansas Memorial Stadium

What to watch for:

  • Quarterbacks will be live: Weis isn’t playin’ around. If the quarterbacks want to win the job, they’ll get the chance to prove it. “The quarterbacks will not be in red,” Weis said of KU's protected jersey color. “Only one guy will have red on and that will be Tony [Pierson]. The quarterbacks will be live. The goal is for them not to get hit, but in the running game they are going to have the ball in their hands.” Jake Heaps and Montell Cozart have risen above the rest in the competition to start, and Weis said he would play both quarterbacks and use them in different ways if the season began today. Heaps is the better passer of the two, while Cozart has the ability to make plays with his feet.
  • [+] EnlargeNick Harwell
    Howard Smith/USA TODAY SportsNick Harwell, who transferred from Miami (Ohio), could be the Jayhawks' top receiver in 2014.
    New offensive coordinator John Reagan’s offense: Some teams elect to go vanilla in the spring game. The Jayhawks aren't one of them. They aren’t planning to hold anything back on Saturday. “John asked me, 'What should I hold?' I said nothing,” Weis said. “Just go ahead and run it. Call plays the way you call plays. You're not really game-planning for this game.” Reagan’s offense will be on full display so it will be interesting to see if any new playmakers emerge alongside Pierson. The opportunity to become a big part of Reagan’s plans is staring every offensive player in the face. Some players will seize it during the spring game, others will not, opening the door for summer arrivals to make an impact.
  • Nick Harwell and hope at the receiver position: Harwell, a transfer from Miami (Ohio), is making a strong impression for the Jayhawks and looks like he could be a key piece in the offense this fall. No Kansas wideout had more than 12 receptions in 2013, so unless someone steps up at that position, it’s unlikely Reagan’s offense can soar in his first season. Harwell and Rodriguez Coleman appear to be the Jayhawks' most talented pass catchers so a strong spring game showing could help them cement their spots.
  • Can the defense take another step forward? The difference between KU’s defense in 2012 and 2013 was like night and day. Last season's version was faster, more athletic and more productive than the 2012 squad. Yet it can still get much, much better after finishing in the bottom half of the league in almost every defensive category. KU is hopeful it has upgraded the overall athleticism on the defense again, especially along the defensive line. And linebacker Ben Heeney is a great place to start as defensive coordinator Clint Bowen builds his defense.
  • Who replaces James Sims? For the first time since 2009, KU won’t have Sims to lean on offensively. The running back rushed for 3,592 yards during his four seasons as a centerpiece in KU’s backfield. Senior Brandon Bourbon gets the chance to solidify his role on Saturday before several other candidates arrive in the summer, including highly-regarded running back signees Corey Avery and Traevohn Wrench.
The Dallas Cowboys of the 1990s captured three Super Bowls on the backs of their triplets. Running back Emmitt Smith churned out yardage between the tackles. Wide receiver Michael Irvin hauled in receptions downfield. And quarterback Troy Aikman captained the unstoppable attack.

Like with the Cowboys, big-time triplets usually translate to big-time offense. And the Big 12 over the years has showcased several notable ones. Oklahoma’s Jason White, Adrian Peterson and Mark Clayton in 2004. Oklahoma State’s Brandon Weeden, Joseph Randle and Justin Blackmon in 2011. West Virginia’s Geno Smith, Tavon Austin and Stedman Bailey in 2012. Even last season, Baylor boasted one of the best triplets in the country in Bryce Petty, Lache Seastrunk and Antwan Goodley.

So which Big 12 teams will feature the most prolific offensive triplets in 2014? We rank them below:

1. Baylor

QB Bryce Petty, RB Shock Linwood, WR Antwan Goodley

The Bears remain atop this list, even with Seastrunk bolting early for the NFL draft. Despite being Baylor’s third-string running back last season, Linwood still finished sixth in the Big 12 in rushing and shined as the featured back while Seastrunk and Glasco Martin were injured. After totaling 46 touchdowns throwing and rushing, Petty should be even better in his second season as a starter. Goodley is an All-American-caliber wideout.

2. Oklahoma

QB Trevor Knight, RB Keith Ford, WR Sterling Shepard

Knight finally live up to his preseason billing with a sparkling Sugar Bowl performance against Alabama. Knight has the talent and potential to be one of the best dual-threat QBs in the country. Ford was one of the top running back recruits in 2013, and would have played more as a freshman had the Sooners not also had four senior running backs on the roster. Shepard has been a dependable starter the last two seasons, and he already has 96 career receptions going into his junior season. He seems ready to take over for Jalen Saunders as the go-to receiver.

3. Texas Tech

QB Davis Webb, RB Kenny Williams, WR Jakeem Grant

Webb broke out with a tremendous performance in the National University Holiday Bowl, throwing for 403 yards and four touchdowns in an upset of Arizona State. He had his moments during the regular season, too, and could be in for a monster sophomore campaign in Kliff Kingsbury’s air-it-out offense. Williams is a solid pass-catching running back out of the backfield, and he led the Red Raiders with 497 rushing yards and eight touchdowns last season. Williams has been taking first-team snaps at outside linebacker this spring, so he could wind up deferring carries to DeAndre Washington, who has been a capable backup. Grant is electric with the ball, burning Arizona State with a pair of touchdown catches. Grant was sixth in the Big 12 last season in receiving, and with Jace Amaro and Eric Ward gone, should take on an expanded role offensively.

4. Texas

QB David Ash, RB Malcolm Brown, WR Jaxon Shipley

The possibilities of this threesome hinges heavily on the health of Ash, who missed virtually all of the 2013 season with concussion issues. Ash is back with the team this spring, and he has had moments before of performing at a high level. After Johnathan Gray’s Achilles injury, Brown took over as the starting running back and performed admirably, rushing for more than 100 yards in each of Texas’ final three games. Shipley has sure hands, is a precise route runner and is capable of catching 70-plus passes in the right quarterback situation.

5. Kansas State

QB Jake Waters, RB DeMarcus Robinson, WR Tyler Lockett

The Wildcats would be ranked second here if John Hubert had another season of eligibility. But running back is a major question, with no back on the roster holding much experience. Robinson might be the favorite to win the job, but he’ll have to fend off Jarvis Leverett and incoming freshman Dalvin Warmack. Lockett is the best receiver in the Big 12 and one of the best in the country. Waters improved dramatically in his first season as the starter in 2013. If a running back emerges, the Wildcats could surge up this list.

6. Iowa State

QB Grant Rohach, RB Aaron Wimberly, WR Quenton Bundrage

Rohach first must win the starting quarterback derby this spring over Sam B. Richardson. But he played well down the stretch while leading Iowa State to a pair of wins to finish last year. Wimberly was banged up for much of last season, but he can be dynamic when healthy. Bundrage was third in the Big 12 in receiving touchdowns in 2013, and with a little more consistency, could be an all-league receiver. This could be the best triplet combination coach Paul Rhoads has enjoyed in Ames.

7. Oklahoma State

QB J.W. Walsh, RB Desmond Roland, WR Jhajuan Seales

Walsh was fifth in college football in Adjusted Total QBR as a redshirt freshman, but he took a step back as a sophomore and eventually lost the starting gig back to Clint Chelf. If he plays like he did as a freshman, Walsh could be one of the five-best QBs in the league. If he performs like his sophomore season, he could lose the job again. Roland is a touchdown machine and is as good as any back in the league in short-yardage situations. Seales could be on the verge of breaking out in a big way after starting as a freshman.

8. West Virginia

QB Clint Trickett, RB Dreamius Smith, WR Kevin White

The Mountaineers have plenty of weapons, but they will only score more points with more consistent QB play. Trickett tops the projected depth chart for now, but he’ll have to outperform Paul Millard, Skyler Howard and William Crest to stick there. Smith was very impressive at times last season backing up Charles Sims. He’ll get the first crack at starting, but Pittsburgh transfer Rushel Shell will be looming if Smith sputters. White gets the nod as the No. 1 wideout, but Daikiel Shorts and Mario Alford are not far behind as part of a deep and balanced wide receiving corps.

9. TCU

QB Trevone Boykin, RB B.J. Catalon, WR Josh Doctson

Boykin is back at quarterback again after splitting time at receiver the last two seasons. Boykin struggled as the starting QB last season but got little help from his offensive line or receivers. Reports are that he has been sharp this spring in the new Doug Meacham/Sonny Cumbie offense. Catalon is a solid cog at running back, and he averaged 5.3 yards per carry despite playing in an anemic attack last year. Brandon Carter was supposed to be the No. 1 receiver last season -- and still could be in 2014 -- but he wasn’t reliable on or off the field. In Carter’s stead, Doctson surfaced after transferring in from Wyoming, and led the Horned Frogs with 36 receptions and 440 receiving yards.

10. Kansas

QB Jake Heaps, RB Brandon Bourbon, WR Nick Harwell

Harwell should give Kansas what it hasn’t had in a long time -- a go-to receiver. Harwell was the nation’s second-leading receiver in 2011 at Miami (Ohio), and he should give the Kansas offense a much needed shot in the arm. Heaps lost time to freshman Montell Cozart last fall, but he has reasserted himself this spring amid a three-way competition with Cozart and UCLA transfer T.J. Millweard. Bourbon is battling Taylor Cox and Darrian Miller to see who replaces All-Big 12 running back James Sims.

Big 12 lunchtime links

March, 26, 2014
Mar 26
12:00
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I'm guessing Justin Gilbert's agent is going to suggest he stop doing this until after the NFL draft.
The last time Kansas’ offense really soared, John Reagan was a driving force behind it all as the Jayhawks' offensive line coach and run-game coordinator.

During 2007 and 2008, the Jayhawks recorded their highest winning percentages, best points-per-game averages, yards-per-play averages and highest yards-per-game totals since 2004. In 2007, KU went 12-1 while averaging 42.8 points per game, 6.3 yards per play and 479.8 yards per game. In 2008, KU went 8-5 while averaging 33.4 points per game 5.95 yards per play and 432.4 yards per game.

[+] EnlargeJake Heaps
John Rieger/USA TODAY SportsNew OC John Reagan expects his up-tempo offense to benefit Jake Heaps and all the Kansas QBs.
Reagan was a key member of the coaching staff during that span, spending five years (2004-2009) on the offensive staff during his first stint at KU. With Todd Reesing triggering the offense, KU committed to an up-tempo offense and strong running game to become a winner in the Big 12.

This spring, Reagan returned to Lawrence, Kan., as offensive coordinator and with a hope of using that blueprint to re-ignite the offense.

Ripples of the offensive changes have been on display during the early portion of KU’s spring football practices, in which returning offensive players are noticing the change in style and tempo. Quarterbacks Montell Cozart, Jake Heaps and T.J. Millweard have spent minimal time under center in Reagan’s up-tempo, no-huddle attack, but the Jayhawks are also focusing on being efficient while going fast.

“Like Coach Reagan said, we can go 100 miles per hour, but we have to perfect going 100 miles per hour before we can speed it up,” Cozart told The Topeka Capital-Journal. “So the offense is doing pretty well, and we’ll be able to put a lot more pressure on defenses this year.”

Reagan’s plan to amp up the offense shouldn’t be a surprise. KU’s most productive offensive seasons since 2004 were also its fastest during that span. Kansas ran 987 offensive plays in 2007 and 945 offensive plays in 2008 with those seasons ranking as the times it surpassed 900 during that span.

An up-tempo attack, commitment to the running game and taking advantage of the running ability of KU’s quarterbacks could make the offense more explosive in 2014, particularly if playmakers emerge alongside running back/receiver Tony Pierson.

“There definitely are a lot of new things we’re doing in this offense that keep me excited,” Cozart told The Topeka Capital-Journal.

At KU, a return to the past could greatly improve its future.
Kansas kicked off its spring football drills on Thursday with a lot of work to be done. The Jayhawks’ to-do list is lengthy, with finding a quarterback and offensive playmakers sitting atop of it.

Offensive returner ready to take next step: New offensive coordinator John Reagan wants to use the spring to find playmakers for his offense. Receiver Rodriguez Coleman showed signs of playmaking ability, averaging 26 yards per catch while finishing third on the team with 208 receiving yards on eight catches. He was inconsistent and never emerged as a staple in KU’s game plans, but he has talent, and this spring provides the opportunity to show Reagan he wants to be a major part of the offense.

Defensive returner ready to take the next step: Cornerback Kevin Short didn’t play in one snap in 2013, but this spring he could emerge as KU’s No. 3 cornerback and give the Jayhawks defense options and versatility alongside starters JaCorey Shepherd and Dexter McDonald. Short, who signed in February 2013 but was ruled ineligible in September, is a big cornerback (6-foot-2, 182 pounds) with athleticism and return skills.

[+] EnlargeCozart
John Rieger/USA TODAY SportsKansas quarterback Montell Cozart hopes to get a chance to build on his freshman season.
Redshirt freshman to watch: Tight end Ben Johnson could emerge as a player who deserves playing time this spring. If that happens, he could join Jimmay Mundine to give the Jayhawks two talented pass catchers at tight end.

“I think he has a huge upside,” KU coach Charlie Weis said. “He hasn't played a down yet, so you can't anoint anyone at this point, but I think that Ben Johnson could be pressing [to play].”

Most significant position battle: Reagan needs someone to trigger the Jayhawks offense at quarterback. Jake Heaps, Michael Cummings, Montell Cozart and T.J. Millweard are the main contenders for the starting position, and Weis hopes the competition is settled this spring. It’s Heaps' last chance to prove himself as a quality college quarterback, Cummings is the forgotten man, Cozart hopes to put his freshman mistakes behind him and Millweard is looking to show he is the future at quarterback after transferring from UCLA before the 2013 season.

Key midterm enrollee: Offensive lineman Keyon Haughton could provide depth, and he adds competition along the offensive line during the spring. At 6-2 and 309 pounds, the junior brings terrific size to KU’s offensive front.

Question that could be answered: Weis hopes the quarterback competition ends before the summer. He was very candid in saying a prolonged quarterback derby wouldn’t be the ideal scenario because “it means you don’t have one.” KU has talent and options at the position, but if the Jayhawks can’t get better play from that position in 2014, their chances for a breakout season under Weis will decrease.

Question that won’t be answered until fall: Who will replace James Sims at running back? Brandon Bourbon and Darrian Miller saw spot duty behind Sims last season, but KU signed three quality running back prospects in junior college transfer De'Andre Mann and freshmen Traevohn Wrench and Corey Avery. It would be a major surprise if the starting running back spot is finalized heading into summer workouts.
The quarterback position was supposed to be a position of strength and certainty for Kansas heading into the 2013 season. Instead, Jake Heaps struggled and true freshman Montell Cozart replaced Heaps in the lineup, starting KU’s final three games. Heading into this spring, the starting quarterback spot is wide open.

[+] EnlargeJake Heaps
AP Photo/Orlin WagnerKansas quarterback Jake Heaps will look to regain his starting spot in a wide-open spring race.
Departed: None.

Spring contenders: Senior Jake Heaps, sophomore Montell Cozart, sophomore T.J. Millweard, junior Michael Cummings, redshirt freshman Jordan Darling.

Summer contenders: None.

The skinny: After watching his offense sputter around the Big 12 in 2013, head coach Charlie Weis hopes to sit back and watch a starter emerge under center for the Jayhawks this spring.

“I don't think you can come in with any preconceived notion,” Weis said of the spring quarterback battle. "There will be some people that will say, ‘Well, I'll be surprised if it doesn't go deep into August,’ and that's never a good thing. It's never a good thing if it goes deep into August because it means you don't have one. Any time there is a quarterback competition that goes to the end, I had one, trust me, it means you don't have [a quarterback].”

Weis has his fingers crossed that he has at least one quarterback.

Heaps and Cozart had their opportunities in 2013 and didn’t exactly take the job and run away from the competition. Cozart is an athletic quarterback who needs to improve his passing skills to become a difference-maker in the Big 12. Heaps can excel as a passer but doesn’t bring the mobility Cozart can provide.

Therefore, a lot of eyes will turn to Millweard, a UCLA transfer who joined the program shortly before the 2013 season. He was a four-star recruit as the No. 91 player in the ESPN 150 when he signed with UCLA as a member of the Class of 2012. At 6-foot-4, 255 pounds with terrific passing skills, Millweard could rise to the top of the depth chart, particularly if he proves to be a dual-threat quarterback who can combine mobility and passing skills.

This is a wide-open race, particularly with every quarterback on the roster starting from square one in a new system under first-year offensive coordinator John Reagan.

“Who is going to put us in the best position to score touchdowns, that is what it all comes down to," Weis said.

Prediction: Millweard rises to the top of the depth chart. Without a college snap under his belt, Millweard is inexperienced but could have the best upside of all the quarterbacks on campus. With Reagan and Weis searching for playmakers and using the spring to find the guys who will be the foundation of KU’s offense in 2014, don’t be surprised if Millweard begins to separate himself from the competition and heads into the summer as the main man under center.
Going into the 2013 season, quarterback was as big a question across the Big 12 as it had ever been.

Bryce Petty quickly proved to be the answer at Baylor. Kansas State’s Jake Waters, Texas Tech’s Davis Webb and Oklahoma’s Trevor Knight also eventually cemented their status as starters.

SportsNation

Which of these veteran QBs is most likely to be his teams starter in 2014?

  •  
    43%
  •  
    13%
  •  
    5%
  •  
    10%
  •  
    29%

Discuss (Total votes: 3,932)

But the rest of the teams in the league went into the offseason with quarterback still a question. Yet not without experienced options.

Texas’ David Ash was the most experienced quarterback returning to the league last year. Ash, however, suffered a concussion in the Longhorns’ second game and only appeared in one more game before being shut down for the season. Case McCoy took over and led Texas to five straight wins. But McCoy is now gone, and Ash’s health is still a concern.

Trevone Boykin has 15 career starts at quarterback for TCU. But it’s not clear what his position will be in 2014 with the new offensive regime of coordinators Doug Meacham and Sonny Cumbie. When Casey Pachall returned from injury, Boykin was effective as a receiver and a short-yardage, situational quarterback. But Pachall is now gone, and Boykin is the only returning quarterback with any experience, though talented freshmen Grayson Muehlstein and Foster Sawyer are on the way.

Jake Heaps was one of the most highly touted quarterback recruits coming out of high school four years ago. When Heaps transferred from Brigham Young to Kansas, he was supposed to solidify a position that had been a mess since Todd Reesing. Instead, Heaps’ completion percentage hovered around 49 percent, and he eventually lost snaps to true freshman Montell Cozart. Now in final season, Heaps is in a three-way battle with Cozart and UCLA transfer T.J. Millweard.

Like Heaps, Clint Trickett transferred with two years of eligibility left, jumping from Florida State to West Virginia. After originally losing the job to Paul Millard -- and then Ford Childress -- Trickett got the nod against Oklahoma State, and led the Mountaineers to one of the most stunning upsets of the entire Big 12 season. Trickett, however, only won one more game the rest of the year, and was banged up much of time. Now, Trickett is out for the spring after undergoing shoulder surgery to repair a torn labrum, opening the door for junior-college transfer Skyler Howard or Millard to gain ground.

J.W. Walsh, lastly, has too had his moments. Not many of them came last season, though. After leading the Big 12 in Adjusted QBR as a redshirt freshman, Walsh’s completion percentage dropped seven points as a sophomore, causing him to lose the job back to Clint Chelf. Walsh will have to fend off incoming freshman Mason Rudolph, who was the eighth-rated pocket-passing quarterback recruit in the country and has enrolled early to participate in spring ball.

So, we put the question to you. Which of these veteran quarterbacks is most likely to be his team’s starter in 2014?

Spring preview capsules: Big 12

February, 24, 2014
Feb 24
10:00
AM ET
Spring football is rapidly approaching.

Here's a team-by-team look at what to watch in the Big 12 this spring:

Baylor

Spring start: Feb. 28

Spring game: April 5

What to watch: Who will replace Lache Seastrunk? The Bears' running back was the engine that helped keep the Baylor offense balanced and defenses honest. Shock Linwood will step in, but is he ready to handle the burden of keeping the offense balanced? . . . Baylor, the 2013 regular-season champion, has to find key replacements on a defense that is losing half of its starters. But several second-teamers -- including Jamal Palmer, Shawn Oakman, Andrew Billings and Orion Stewart -- are poised to fill the void . . . The Bears need to replace guard Cyril Richardson along the offensive line. Several candidates, including junior college transfer Jarell Broxton, will battle for the job. Baylor has arguably the league's best group of skill position players, but that will mean nothing if its offensive line takes a step backward.

Iowa State

Spring start: March 10

Spring game: April 12

What to watch: New offensive coordinator Mark Mangino arrives in Ames to bring more points and creativity to the Cyclones’ offense. The spring is the first opportunity for Mangino to get a feel for the playmakers and the players to get a feel for Mangino’s expectations . . . The quarterback competition is another thing to keep an eye on. Grant Rohach ended the season as the starter, but Sam B. Richardson could take his job back with a strong spring. And there are other young quarterbacks on campus who could insert themselves into the mix . . . Defensively, the Cyclones need to replace linebacker Jeremiah George and safety Jacques Washington, who finished 1-2 in tackles in the Big 12 in 2013 and finished their careers with 59 career starts combined. Iowa State seems to always have quality linebackers, so finding a replacement for Washington could be the defense’s top priority in the spring.

Kansas

Spring start: March 4

Spring game: April 12

What to watch: Shuffling the offensive coaching staff has been the theme of the offseason. New offensive coordinator John Reagan, who was a KU assistant from 2005 to 2009, returns to the Jayhawks after running Rice’s offense last season. The spring is Reagan’s first chance to identify the playmakers who will be the foundation of his offense this fall. Expect wide-open competition across the board after KU finished 115th in the FBS in points scored ... The quarterback position will grab the headlines, with T.J. Millweard joining the competition with Jake Heaps and Montell Cozart, who each started games in 2013. Millweard transferred to KU from UCLA before the 2013 season.

Kansas State

Spring start: April 2

Spring game: April 26

What to watch: Finding John Hubert’s replacement sits high on the Wildcats’ priority list. The former running back carried the ground attack for the past three seasons, and there’s no clear favorite to step into his shoes. Will someone step up during spring football? . . . What will happen with quarterback Daniel Sams? The Wildcats have a proven Big 12 playmaker in Sams, a junior, and another proven quarterback in Jake Waters. Sams is an exceptional open-field runner who started two games in 2013, but look for Kansas State to start exploring ways to have both on the field together this spring . . . Replacing Ty Zimmerman’s playmaking and leadership on defense is another key this spring. The defense has to replace several starters in the secondary and at linebacker. Keep an eye on junior college defensive back Danzel McDaniel, who has the versatility to step in at several different spots.

Oklahoma

Spring start: March 8

Spring game: April 12

What to watch: With Trevor Knight poised to start at quarterback in 2014, Blake Bell moves to tight end after starting eight games under center in 2013. Bell’s transition to tight end will be the talk of the spring, with the senior’s commitment to the program and OU's need for help at the position . . . The battle to be the starting running back is another storyline, with sophomores Keith Ford and Alex Ross hoping to make a statement this spring before ESPN 300 running backs Joe Mixon and Samaje Perine arrive in the summer. Ford forced his way into the lineup as a freshman before an injury slowed him . . . The Sooners will be looking to shore up the secondary after the departure of All-Big 12 cornerback Aaron Colvin and starting safety Gabe Lynn. Sophomore Stanvon Taylor could be set to replace Colvin, while sophomores Hatari Byrd and Ahmad Thomas will battle to replace Lynn.

Oklahoma State

Spring start: March 10

Final spring practice: April 5

What to watch: Incoming freshman Mason Rudolph enrolled early to participate in spring football with the hope of replacing quarterback Clint Chelf. J.W. Walsh has won a lot of games in a Cowboys uniform, but will have to hold off stern competition to earn the starting spot as a junior . . . The Cowboys lose seven seniors off one of their best defenses in recent memory. The overall quality might be upgraded, but spring football will be the first chance to see if those talented yet inexperienced defenders are ready to step into the fire. Defensive end Jimmy Bean, linebacker Ryan Simmons and cornerback Kevin Peterson could emerge as the foundation of the defense . . . Who will step up at receiver? The Cowboys lose three of their top four receivers, with Jhajuan Seales as the lone returnee. But several youngsters appear poised to step in, including sophomore Marcell Ateman and redshirt freshman Ra'Shaad Samples.

TCU

Spring start: March 1

Final spring practice: April 5

What to watch: Doug Meacham and Sonny Cumbie have arrived to take over as co-offensive coordinators at TCU. The Horned Frogs need a jump start and could get it from the “Air Raid”-style offense the duo will bring to the table. This spring will be an important first step in improving the offense . . . Who will be the quarterback? Trevone Boykin started several games in 2013 but might actually be TCU’s top receiver. Tyler Matthews, a redshirt freshman, also saw time under center, but he faces stiff competition. Don’t expect the battle to end until fall camp . . . TCU needs someone to step up in the secondary, with Jason Verrett NFL-bound after spending the past two seasons as one of the Big 12’s top coverage cornerbacks. Ranthony Texada and Travoskey Garrett are among several young defensive backs who could try to fill the void.

Texas

Spring start: March 18

Spring game: April 19

What to watch: David Ash's health will be one of the main storylines of Texas’ first spring under coach Charlie Strong. Ash has the talent to be a key piece of the puzzle, but head injuries are always tough to overcome. If Ash is 100 percent healthy, the Longhorns will feel better about the overall status at quarterback . . . Strong has talked of instilling a tough mindset in Austin since he arrived in January, and spring football will be the first real taste of what the Longhorns’ new coach is trying to bring to the program . . . Where are the playmakers? Texas has a talent-laden roster, but didn’t have the exceptional talent who could consistently change games. This spring gives several returning skill players, including receiver Jaxon Shipley and all-purpose standout Daje Johnson, the chance to become the foundation of the offense in 2014.

Texas Tech

Spring start: March 5

Spring game: April 12

What to watch: Davis Webb's health is the No. 1 priority for the Red Raiders, who have seen three quarterbacks leave the program since the beginning of the 2013 season. Coach Kliff Kingsbury could have the toughest job of the spring as he tries to manage the lack of quarterbacks with the desire to have a productive spring for the roster as a whole . . . The Red Raiders have some consistency among the defensive coaching staff, meaning they could improve in 2014 despite losing multiple starters, including defensive tackle Kerry Hyder, linebacker Will Smith and safety Tre' Porter. Tech could start seeing dividends of that continuity . . . The Red Raiders have to replace Jace Amaro and Eric Ward, who combined to catch 189 passes for 2,299 yards and 15 touchdowns last season. Jakeem Grant and Bradley Marquez made a bunch of plays in 2013 and Devin Lauderdale, a junior college transfer and early enrollee, will get the chance to show why he had Texas Tech fans buzzing when he initially signed in February 2013.

West Virginia

Spring start: March 2

Spring game: April 12

What to watch: Finding a quarterback is critical for the Mountaineers, who have talent at the skill positions but won’t transform into an explosive offense without efficient quarterback play. Clint Trickett is recovering from shoulder surgery, meaning Paul Millard, junior college transfer Skyler Howard and former receiver Logan Moore will run the offense this spring . . . Tony Gibson takes over as WVU’s defensive coordinator after coaching the safeties in 2013. His promotion allows some continuity on the defense after former DC Keith Patterson left for Arizona State after the season . . . Replacing defensive tackle Shaq Rowell and defensive end Will Clarke, who started 56 combined career games for WVU, won’t be easy. The Mountaineers will lean heavily on veteran juniors Isaiah Bruce and Karl Joseph, who have started since their freshman seasons.

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