Big 12: Jordan Tavai

Opening camp: Kansas

August, 8, 2013
Kansas begins its season a week later than the rest of the Big 12, which means a late start for preseason camp, too. Let's have a closer look.

Schedule: Players reported on Wednesday and the first practice is scheduled for today. The Jayhawks open their season at home against South Dakota on Sept. 7.

Setting the scene: It's all about improvement for Kansas, and there's only one way to go when you're coming off a 1-11 season with the lone win coming against an FCS team. KU's efforts to bring in almost 20 junior college transfers in the offseason has been well documented by now, and ultimately, the outcome of that rebooting strategy will shape Weis' tenure in Lawrence. Weis is hopeful that BYU tranfer Jake Heaps will have a different season than Dayne Crist, who never showed the ability to be the player KU hoped he would be. The defense was better in 2012 and should improve with more speed and experience this year. On the other side of the ball, though, the lack of a serviceable passing game will make it a long season in Lawrence.

All eyes on: The new guys. Kansas simply hasn't had the necessary talent to compete in the Big 12 in the past three years, but a few FBS transfers and the previously mentioned juco transfers have given them a talent boost. The question is, can those guys be who KU needs them to be and can Weis pull this team together and make it work? There are high hopes for guys like OU transfer receiver Justin McCay and jucos Cassius Sendish and Marquel Combs, as well as a pair of talents who returned to Kansas -- DB Dexter McDonald and RB Darrian Miller--after being kicked off the team before the 2012 season. Ultimately, they hold the key to KU's season.

Breaking out: DL Jordan Tavai. The juco transfer didn't get to join the Jayhawks until fall camp was already underway last season, but didn't take long to win a starting spot and held it down for all 12 games last season. The transition obviously wasn't easy, though he finished the year with 19 tackles. After a spring of practice and offseason in the strength program, he could be due for a much better second year in Lawrence as a senior this fall, especially considering the amount of upgrades along the defensive line this year.

Key battle: Buck. Toben Opurum held down the hybrid linebacker/defensive end spot well last season, and KU thought it had an impact player in juco transfer Chris Martin. He was dismissed after an offseason arrest and the guy who might have been KU's best overall defender was gone before his career at KU really started. Now, sophomores Michael Reynolds and Ben Goodman are battling to fill the void this month.

Instant upgrade: Trevor Pardula. Weis was appalled at his special teams last season, especially the kicking game. Now, he hopes Pardula is the answer. He's likely to handle both placekicking and punting duties. The former soccer player comes to KU from, yes, junior college.

On the move: Tony Pierson. KU's got to figure out exactly how and how much it wants to use him. There's so much depth at running back, and Pierson is the team's best threat for the big play. He's a running back at heart, but he could do a lot of damage in the slot. He proved his ability to catch the ball last season, hauling in 21 balls for 291 yards, mostly out of the backfield. Weis said this spring he saw some Tavon Austin in Pierson, and wanted him to earn some time lining up as a receiver. I'm betting this is one experiment that goes very, very well. The more touches for Pierson, the better.

Outlook: Kansas has its 21-game losing streak in Big 12 play hanging over its head, as well as a road losing streak that goes all the way back to early 2009 when it beat UTEP. The Jayhawks are also stuck on a 21-game losing streak to FBS teams. Weis obviously doesn't have a problem with folks voting the Jayhawks last in the Big 12, but KU's looking to turn close calls like it had last season against Texas and Texas Tech into wins to get off those streaks. It also has a good chance to end the road streak in a game against Rice on Sept. 14.

Quotable: Weis, on his recruiting philosophy. "I needed guys that could play now because, if not, I'm going to be ranked tenth in the league every year. So I needed to go with that high volume. I think that in the long-range plan and the plan that we've laid out as a coaching staff, that sliding scale should start working in the other direction where the majority of the players you bring in are high school players and then you fill the desired holes or gaps you need with those junior college players."

Breaking down spring camp: Kansas

March, 5, 2013
Kansas will be the next Big 12 team to take the field for spring practice later today. Time for a closer look.

Schedule: The first of KU's 15 NCAA-allowed practices will be today, leading up to a spring game in Lawrence on April 13.

What's new: Kansas made some minor shifts in its coaching staff, but the real attraction in Lawrence this spring is the influx of junior college talent. We'll get to that a bit later. The biggest staff change is Clint Bowen stepping up to coach the linebackers, replacing DeMontie Cross, who left for TCU this offseason.

New faces: This list is about to get serious, so buckle up. That's what you have to expect when about three-fourths of your class is junior college transfers. Kansas is bringing in 11 players early this spring.
  • CB Colin Spencer
  • DT Marquel Combs
  • OT Zach Fondal
  • OG Ngalu Fusimalohi
  • DT Tedarian Johnson
  • DE Chris Martin
  • CB Dexter McDonald
  • DT Ty McKinney
  • P/KOS Trevor Pardula
  • CB Cassius Sendish
  • OL Mike Smithburg

That's obviously a big haul, and KU's focusing on grabbing an immediate talent upgrade. Whether they have one in reality will show up this spring.

All eyes on: Quarterback Jake Heaps. KU seemed like it was set at the position after Heaps and Dayne Crist transferred from major programs following Charlie Weis' hire. Last year's campaign with Crist went poorly and he was benched midway through the season. Heaps would like better results and has already entrenched himself as a leader like Crist did. Will it lead to better results on the field? We may get a feel for that this spring.

Question marks: Kansas needs receiver help and needs it badly. But I like the defense's chances to make some further strides after some improvements last season under Dave Campo. The receiving unit having no touchdown catches last season is inexcusable, though. It just has to be better. Juco transfer Rodriguez Coleman won't be there in the spring, but guys like Chris Omigie, Tre Parmalee and Andrew Turzilli need to show progress this spring and fill in for the losses of Daymond Patterson and Kale Pick.

Breaking out: Defensive tackle Jordan Tavai. There will be a lot of attention paid to Marquel Combs this spring, but Tavai showed up midway through fall camp last season and earned a starting spot by season's end. After going through the offseason program and having a season under his belt, he could be a new man next fall for the Jayhawks. The senior juco transfer could show off some of that progress this spring.
The big day is so, so close. National signing day will get started bright and early Wednesday morning, but it's time to take a look at where the Big 12 teams sit with one day left before players can officially sign.

This will change quickly in the next couple days, but here's how they look before things get real crazy. Here's how the rankings looked two weeks ago, when we last updated the Big 12 scorecard.

This scorecard is written in pencil. Tomorrow, players will sign in ink.

1. Texas Longhorns

National ranking: No. 3
Total commits: 27
ESPNU 150 commits: 11
Key commits: RB Johnathan Gray, DT Malcom Brown, WR Cayleb Jones, QB Connor Brewer
Latest news: Texas recently added the nation's No. 1 inside linebacker, former Tennessee commit Dalton Santos. That may help its national ranking, which fell from No. 2 to No. 3 since our last update. The Longhorns also added No. 14 ATH Daje Johnson, a former TCU commit. Both were ESPNU 150 prospects. Texas also added defensive end Bryce Cottrell, who had previously been committed to Oregon.

2. Oklahoma Sooners

National ranking: No. 10
Total commits: 20
ESPNU 150 commits: 5
Key commits: RB Alex Ross, WR Sterling Shepard, WR Durron Neal, OL Ty Darlington, WR Trey Metoyer
Latest news: Oklahoma surpassed Texas A&M since our last update, and added Sam Grant, the nation's No. 18 TE. David Smith, the nation's No. 124 ATH, also joined the fold for the Sooners. One of the nation's top juco offensive tackles, Will Latu also pledged to Oklahoma and could make an immediate impact. Oklahoma swiped Zack Sanchez on Monday, a cornerback who had been committed to Baylor since July.

3. Texas A&M Aggies

National ranking: No. 12
Total commits: 22
ESPNU 150 commits: 5
Key commits: OLB Jordan Richmond, RB Trey Williams, ATH Bralon Addison, QB Matt Davis
Latest news: The nation's No. 33 defensive end, Polo Manukainiu, became a late addition to the Aggies' class, and the nation's No. 30 safety, Edward Pope, also gave new coach Kevin Sumlin a commitment.

4. Texas Tech Red Raiders

National ranking: No. 17
Total commits: 26
ESPNU 150 commits: 3
Key commits: WR Reginald Davis, WR Dominique Wheeler, OT Michael Starts, QB Clayton Nicholas
Latest news: The Red Raiders added juco cornerback Ola Falemi to their class, but look out for Tuberville on signing day. Switches on the big day are no surprises with him at Tech.

5. Baylor Bears

Total commits: 22
ESPNU 150 commits: 0
Key commits: ATH Corey Coleman, OT Kyle Fuller, DT Javonte Magee, OLB Brian Nance
Latest news: Baylor swiped Kansas QB commit Seth Russell, No. 47 nationally at the position, to make a big wave across the Big 12. It also grabbed cornerback Patrick Levels out of Dallas. Nance and Magee both pledged to Baylor after the new year.

6. Missouri Tigers

Total commits: 18
ESPNU 150 commits: 1
Key commits: OG Evan Boehm, QB Maty Mauk, ILB Donavin Newsom, OLB Torey Boozer
Latest news: Missouri may be in the lead in the DGB sweepstakes after hosting the nation's No. 1 receiver on a visit on the final weekend of the recruiting season. The nation's No. 105 ATH John Gibson and No. 151 DT, Harold Brantley, are the latest additions to Mizzou's class.

7. Oklahoma State Cowboys

Total commits: 21
ESPNU 150 commits: 1
Key commits: TE Dominic Ramacher, OLB Jeremiah Tshimanga, OT Michael Wilson, QB Wes Lunt
Latest news: OSU has added five commits since our last update, including Wilson, the nation's No. 22 offensive tackle. Receiver Chance Allen (No. 141) joins the squad as well. CB Kevin Peterson came to OSU after originally committing to Oklahoma. OSU also added receiver Jhajuan Seales. Juco offensive tackle Chris Grishby committed on Jan. 22.

8. Iowa State Cyclones

Total commits: 21
ESPNU 150 commits: 0
Key commits: OT Daniel Burton, WR P.J. Harris, WR Quan West, ATH Damien Lawry
Latest news: The Cyclones have two fewer commits than the last time we checked in, but added Devlyn Cousin, the nation's No. 154 defensive tackle.

9. Kansas State Wildcats

Total commits: 18
ESPNU 150 commits: 0
Key commits: WR Vernon Vaughn, DT Travis Britz, RB Jarvis Leverett, QB Tavarius Bender
Latest news: Kansas State added five commitments in the last two weeks, highlighted by Demonte Hood, the nation's No. 111 DT. RB Charles Jones is headed to Manhattan via Louisiana, too. S Donovan Starks is coming from Crosby, Texas, and receiver Judah Jones is a Wildcat after wrapping his high school career at power Evangel Christian in Louisiana. OT Ellwood Clement gave K-State five juco players in this class, low by Bill Snyder's standards.

10. Kansas Jayhawks

Total commits: 18
ESPNU 150 commits: 0
Key commits: TE Jordan Smith, OG Brian Beckmann, S Gregg Allen, DT Tyler Holmes
Latest news: New coach Charlie Weis has added four commits since our last update. QB Seth Russell, the team's top commit, is gone, but the Jayhawks have the QB spot settled for the next three years with transfers Dayne Crist and Jake Heaps. Greg Allen (No. 89 safety) is the top new addition, and Charles Brooks gives the class a second tight end. The Jayhawks also added a pair of juco defensive tackles that figure to have immediate impacts, Chaquil Reed and Jordan Tavai.