Big 12: Kyle Mangan
Three underclassmen to watch:
Jackson Jeffcoat, Soph., DE, Texas: Jeffcoat might be the most exciting sophomore in the entire league. A solid Longhorns defensive line last year already had true freshman Jeffcoat emerge as perhaps the team's best pass-rusher, never more impressive than in an early-season win over Texas Tech. A high ankle sprain, however, derailed any hopes of an All-Big 12 season. This year, that could change in a Big 12 without any truly elite talents on the defensive line.
Ahmad Dixon, Soph., S, Baylor: Dixon was a hometown blue-chip recruit for the Bears, and looks to become one of its biggest playmakers in his first year under new coordinator Phil Bennett. Bennett loves to emphasize speed, and Dixon will take over at nickel back, playing closer to the line of scrimmage in a role that coach Art Briles says is perfect for his skill set.
Three freshmen to watch:
Malcolm Brown, RB, Texas: Brown is probably the biggest name to enter the Big 12 this season, and he'll be worth watching. A physical, bruising, 220-pound runner, Brown may be called upon to help an anemic Texas running game looking for a punch under new coordinator Bryan Harsin.
Donnie Baggs, LB, Texas A&M: Baggs was a relatively unheralded recruit coming out of high school, but made an immediate impact for the Aggies defense after enrolling early and taking part in spring practice. He should be in the conversation for starter at one of the Aggies' inside linebacker spots where Michael Hodges left a void. Baggs may be called upon heavily in fall camp after one of the other contenders at inside linebacker, Kyle Mangan, was arrested last weekend.
Quandre Diggs, CB, Texas: The Longhorns put a second player in this group in Diggs, a freshman who made big noise in spring camp after enrolling early. The depth chart in Austin is still in flux and won't be anything close to concrete until game week approaches, but it'd be shocking if Diggs didn't contribute right away. The secondary lost three NFL corners from last year's team, and there aren't many more experienced players ahead of Diggs that could keep his natural sensibilities for the position off the field.
- Oklahoma is still keeping the memory of Austin Box alive in the program, writes John Hoover of the Tulsa World.
- There are precedents for Texas turnarounds as the Longhorns look to do it again in 2011, writes Kirk Bohls of the Austin American-Statesman.
- Can James Franklin be the leader Missouri needs him to be? His progress suggests that could be the case, writes Harry Plumer of the Columbia Missourian.
- The biggest obstacle to Oklahoma State winning a national title? It's pretty obvious, writes Berry Tramel of The Oklahoman.
- Texas is moving a defensive back to receiver after Malcolm Williams' recent departure, the team's fourth such loss at receiver since mid-June.
- Kansas offensive lineman Jeremiah Hatch has shed lots of weight and earned the respect of his coach, writes J. Brady McCollough of the Kansas City Star.
- Texas A&M linebacker Kyle Mangan was arrested over the weekend for disorderly conduct.
- Don't look for running back by committee to continue to be the case at Missouri, writes Mike DeArmond of the Kansas City Star.
- Oklahoma is tinkering with its secondary and moving around young playmakers Corey Nelson and Tony Jefferson.
- Brandon Harold is gone and may not be back, but Kansas State is still excited about its new defensive line, writes Kellis Robinett of the Kansas City Star.
- The new motto of the Texas Tech defense: Hunt together, kill together, writes Don Williams of the Lubbock Avalanche-Journal.
- Rivals.com offers its preseason breakdown of the whole Big 12.
- Texas' already questionable depth at offensive line took a hit. True freshman Garrett Greenlea has missed time in camp because he has mono.
- It's a whole new year for a Kansas offensive line that was riddled with injuries last year, writes Matt Tait of the Lawrence Journal-World.
- Bob Stoops took part in a panel of ESPN experts discussing change in college sports. See more from this on "SportsCenter" on Aug. 14.
Hodges, who had 115 tackles last season, won't return to College Station, and Miller is busy preparing for his first NFL season after being drafted second overall by the Denver Broncos.
Aggies coach Mike Sherman, however, says his defense will be even better in 2011 than the unit that ushered in the return of the Wrecking Crew in 2010.
"I do believe that the second year in this defense will make the biggest jump," Sherman said of coordinator Tim DeRuyter's 3-4 scheme, implemented before the 2010 season. "Our guys will have a lot more familiarity and knowledge of the defense and be able to fit in a little bit better."
Sherman isn't looking to replace a talent like Miller, though Damontre Moore will likely fill his role at the Joker position. Hodges' spot is still up for grabs, even more so after Kyle Mangan's struggles in the Cotton Bowl after Hodges left for good in the first quarter with a knee injury.
Last year's team had 15 spring practices and a month of fall camp to learn the new system, but the Wrecking Crew gave up just less than 22 points a game in 2010, down from a Big 12-worst 33.5 in 2009.
"From a scheme standpoint, they'll understand it better," Sherman said. "We have some guys I'm anxious to see out there that will come into their own."
One of those is linebacker Sean Porter, but if Texas A&M is going to return to the prior greatness that's been absent over the past decade, replacing players like Miller and Hodges will have to become commonplace.
"If you're a good program, you have to be able to handle the loss of a player like that," Sherman said. "Oklahoma and Texas have done that over the years. Hopefully, we can do that."
2010 overall record: 9-4
2010 conference record: 6-2
Returning starters: Offense (9), Defense (8) P/K (2)
Top returners: RB Cyrus Gray, WR Jeff Fuller, QB Ryan Tannehill, CB/KR Coryell Judie, RB Christine Michael, WR Ryan Swope, LB Damontre Moore, LT Luke Joeckel
Key losses: LB Von Miller, DE Lucas Patterson, LB Michael Hodges, C Matt Allen
2010 statistical leaders (*returners)
Rushing: Cyrus Gray* (1,133 yards)
Passing: Jerrod Johnson (1,947 yards)
Receiving: Jeff Fuller* (1,066 yards)
Tackles: Michael Hodges (115)
Sacks: Von Milller (10.5)
Interceptions: Dustin Harris*, Coryell Judie* (4)
Three spring answers
1. Gray’s running mate is back on track. Cyrus Gray handled the duties well after Christine Michael went down with a broken leg. Gray finished the season with seven consecutive 100-yard games, but Michael is back and looked good this spring. The Aggies have one of the best running back duos in the country, and it should be better than ever this year.
2. Linebackers looking good. Texas A&M is losing Von Miller and Michael Hodges, but linebackers Sean Porter and Garrick Williams look ready to step into roles as the leaders on the defense. Damontre Moore is likely to replace Miller, while Hodges spot in the middle is up for grabs, with true freshman Donnie Baggs competing to win it alongside Jonathan Stewart and Kyle Mangan. It’s a question mark on a team without many, but the spring had to be encouraging.
3. Offensive line coming together. Texas A&M returns four starters on the line, and loses center Matt Allen. Brian Thomas is likely to replace him and worked most of the spring as the first-team center. On the outside, the Aggies pair of sophomore tackles, Luke Joeckel on the left side and Jake Matthews on the right continue to mature and could be two of the Big 12’s best.
Three fall questions
1. Can the Aggies handle the pressure? There was tons of buzz about the Aggies last year, despite coming off a 6-7 season. After six games, though, Texas A&M was 3-3. Once plenty of folks had written them off, they ripped off an impressive six-game win streak and shared the Big 12 South title. This year, the hype is back, but the Aggies won’t be able to weather a three-game losing streak this time around and still have a shot at the Big 12 title.
2. Will Ryan Tannehill continue his tear? Tannehill replaced the Preseason Big 12 Player of the Year, Jerrod Johnson, midway through the season last year, and helped pace the Aggies during their impressive streak. This time around, with defenses more sure of what to expect from him, can he become a bona fide star? Not to mention that lingering Aggie senior QB curse…
3. How good is Damontre Moore? Von Miller is gone, and Moore looks likely to replace him at the Joker position this year. The Aggies want to see him slide in and re-establish the dominance he showed early in the season when Miller was slowed by an ankle injury, but Miller was perhaps a once-in-a-lifetime player. Moore may be good, but just how good? We’ll find out next year.
Strongest position: Skill positions
Key returnees: QB Ryan Tannehill, WR Jeff Fuller, RB Cyrus Gray, RB Christine Michael, WR Ryan Swope, WR Uzoma Nwachukwu, WR Kenric McNeal
Key losses: None
Analysis: You can't pick one position out of this group, really. The Aggies have two of the Big 12's best running backs, both with two years of solid experience in the Big 12.
The same is true of the receiving corps, which is deep and experienced with lots of ability to make sure Tannehill's first full season starting (he was 5-1 in six starts last year) goes well.
In that group of receivers is plenty of balance. Jeff Fuller's size (6-foot-4, 215 pounds) makes him one of the best red zone targets in college football, and he caught 12 touchdowns last year. Ryan Swope and Kenric McNeal are some of the league's toughest covers in the slot and Uzoma Nwachukwu is a more balanced receiver with a lot to prove after an underwhelming sophomore year.
Cyrus Gray and Christine Michael are both balanced backs, but Gray's biggest asset is his speed, and Michael is the more powerful back. They complement each other well and could both flirt with 1,000 yards this year. Gray brings a seven-game streak of at least 100 yards rushing into 2011, racked up against defenses like Nebraska, Oklahoma and LSU to close the 2010 season.
The Aggies' backup plan if Tannehill goes down isn't very attractive, with no experience behind him, but he should be among the Big 12's best at the position this year.
Best of all, the offensive line brings back four starters. The Aggies should be among the Big 12's best offenses and defenses, but the biggest asset is its depth and experience at all the skill positions.
Weakest position: Linebacker
Key returnees: Garrick Williams, Sean Porter, Damontre Moore, Kyle Mangan
Key losses: Von Miller, Michael Hodges
Analysis: For the Aggies, linebacker is more of a question mark than a true weakness, but they'll need good players to blossom into great ones if they want to build on last season's strong finish.
Make no mistake, Von Miller and Michael Hodges are huge losses. Miller was the Big 12's best defender last year, and Hodges led the team in tackles, with 115. We already got a preview of what happened to Texas A&M's defense without Hodges in the Cotton Bowl. He went down early with a knee injury and the Aggies fell apart, giving up 41 points to an LSU offense that averaged fewer than 30 last season, ranking ninth in the SEC. It wasn't pretty.
Damontre Moore, at the pivotal Joker position, showed lots of potential last year when Miller was slowed early in the season with an ankle injury, but he was still just a freshman. He'll have to grow up and be counted on for much more as a sophomore this year.
Garrick Williams made 112 tackles last year and should be one of the defense's leaders. Sean Porter may play a bit of the Joker position, but he'll grab another linebacker spot in the Aggies' 3-4 after starting last season and making 74 tackles, third-most on the team.
Replacing Hodges isn't entirely settled yet, but someone will have to step in and be solid in the middle of the defense. Jonathan Stewart and Kyle Mangan played some last year, and freshman Donnie Baggs was in the rotation this spring as well.
More spring superlatives:
Spring practice starts: February 28
Spring game: April 2
What to watch:
- Big changes on defense. Baylor brought in Phil Bennett as its new defensive coordinator, and he says his scheme will be multiple, built to fit the Bears' personnel. Considering the Bears' recent recruiting successes in the secondary, look for a 4-2-5 type of look.
- Recruiting stars: time to shine. Both safeties, Tim Atchison and Byron Landor, are gone. Baylor, though, has two former ESPNU 150 recruits at safety who would be well served to start filling their potential. Prince Kent was a reserve last season and at one time, the nation's No. 51 overall recruit who originally signed with Miami. Ahmad Dixon, meanwhile, was the No. 15 overall prospect in the 2010 class. The opportunity is there. Baylor needs big talent at the position. Briles has recruited it. Can they develop into players who make Baylor a contender?
- Running back competition. Jay Finley topped 1,200 yards in 2010, but he's gone. Who steps into his void? Terrance Ganaway is a bowling ball at 5-foot-11, 235 pounds, but the shifty Jarred Salubi could get a good amount of carries, too. They could begin to share carries this spring.
Spring practice starts: March 22
Spring game: April 16
What to watch:
- Quarterback competition. It should be a good one in Ames this spring. Jerome Tiller is the name most recognize after getting lots of meaningful time and starts because of injuries to Austen Arnaud over the past two seasons. But juco transfer Steele Jantz sounds confident he can win the job. Rising sophomore James Capello and redshirt freshman Jared Barnett will compete, too.
- Paging Cyclone receivers. Iowa State had one of the most underwhelming receiving corps in the league during the past season, and three of its top five pass-catchers won't return in 2011. Of those three, however, one is a tight end (Collin Franklin) and another is a running back (Alexander Robinson). The new quarterback will need some help, and Darius Darks and Darius Reynolds will need to provide it as seniors.
- Shontrelle's time or not? Freshman Shontrelle Johnson looked like the running back with the most pop behind Robinson for most of 2010, but two other freshmen running backs jockeyed for carries, too. Paul Rhoads is hardly handing the job over to Johnson, but spring could be the time when he really separates himself from the pack.
Spring practice starts: April 1
Spring game: April 30
What to watch:
- What are they doing behind center? Kansas never got much consistent play out of the quarterback position last year, but freshman Brock Berglund is one of the 2011 class' top recruits, and enrolled early to compete in the spring with Jordan Webb and Quinn Mecham. With a building program like Kansas, there's perhaps some value in handing the program to a younger player like Webb or Berglund, but they'll have to earn it. Doing so will start in the spring, but don't expect the Jayhawks to have a set-in-stone starter by spring's end.
- Top linebacker back on the field. Huldon Tharp missed all of 2010 with a foot injury, but he says he's 100 percent and ready to get back on the field. As a freshman in 2009, he was fifth on the team in tackles, with 59, and looked like one of the league's possible budding stars. Now, he'll get his chance to join fellow linebacker Steven Johnson as one of the team's top tacklers, and he'll do it as a sophomore after redshirting in 2010.
- Toben rising? Turner Gill raised plenty of eyebrows when he moved his team's leading rusher in 2009, Toben Opurum, to linebacker in fall camp, and eventually slid him up to defensive end. But toward the end of 2010, Opurum started showing some major signs of growth at the position. We'll get a better idea this spring if he's one of the league's most unlikely new stars at defensive end.
Spring practice starts: April 6
Spring game: April 30
What to watch:
- Prodigal Kansan sons come home. There's no doubt that the Wichita native Brown brothers are the main attraction at Kansas State this spring, a season after transferring back home. Bryce Brown, the running back, was the nation's No. 8 prospect in the 2009 class. Arthur Brown, the linebacker, was the nation's No. 6 prospect in the 2008 class. Bryce transferred from Tennessee and Arthur from Miami. The Wildcats are pinning much of their hopes on the duo, and we'll get a good sense of what they can provide soon.
- Quarterback competition. Carson Coffman is gone, and two new faces will challenge for the job: juco transfer Justin Tuggle and Daniel Sams. Sammuel Lamur is also up for the gig. Collin Klein may or may not be; Bill Snyder hasn't explicitly confirmed a past comment from Sams saying Klein had moved to receiver. Don't expect a starter to be named by spring's end, but a general order could start to form.
- Can the defense show improvement? Kansas State had the Big 12's worst overall defense last year, and the worst rushing defense in college football, giving up 3,008 yards on the ground. Coordinator Chris Cosh looks like he'll still be around in 2011, and defensive backs David Garrett and Tysyn Hartman are solid pieces to try and build around. But this young maturing defense must get better to make a bowl game again with so many questions on offense. That starts in the spring.
Spring practice starts: March 8
Spring game: April 16
What to watch:
- Franklin comes alive! Blaine Gabbert bolted to the NFL early, and Missouri has a gaping hole a quarterback. The position, however, is surrounded by a lot of quality talent that likely makes the Tigers a Top 25 team. There's no understating the importance of the position for the Tigers, and that will begin to be decided in the spring. James Franklin, a rising sophomore, saw spot duty in 2010 as more of a runner, and may have the inside track on the job, but Tyler Gabbert, Blaine's younger brother, and Ashton Glaser should make it an interesting competition in the spring. If neither of them impress early, don't count out incoming freshman Corbin Berkstresser.
- Here is the new secondary. Same as the old secondary? After years of pass defense being one of the Tigers' biggest weaknesses, it became a strength in 2010 behind the leadership of senior corners Kevin Rutland and Carl Gettis. But the Tigers lose them and safety Jarrell Harrison. Rutland emerged as one of the team's most impressive players last spring, but was Missouri's success in the secondary a one-time thing or the beginning of a welcome trend?
- Time to dominate the trenches? Missouri played without likely first-round pick Aldon Smith for much of the previous season, but the defensive and offensive lines for the Tigers were as good as ever in 2010. How will they look in 2011? Impact juco transfer Sheldon Richardson won't be enrolled by the spring, but the four returning starters on the offensive line should get some solid work against Brad Madison, Jacquies Smith and Terrell Resonno.
Spring practice starts: March 21
Spring game: April 16
What to watch:
- Freshmen on display. Coach Bob Stoops hasn't been shy about saying his 2010 recruiting class was his best ever, but it could look even better after this spring. Two of his best emerging recruits, Justin McCay and Geneo Grissom, didn't even play in 2010, and could start to make an impact. The same goes for Corey Nelson, who will try to earn some more time somewhere backing up star Travis Lewis.
- Is there a golden boot in Norman? Jimmy Stevens was much more accurate in 2010, finishing 19-for-23, but his attempts outside 45 yards were sparse. The good news is he missed none of his 53 extra points. Field goals have been a bit of an adventure for the past couple years, but continuing in the spring what he started last year would be a good sign for Oklahoma. The Sooners are strong everywhere and need good special teams play to reach their lofty title goals.
- Are the Sooners' backs back? Roy Finch missed the Fiesta Bowl with a stress fracture, and his durability is certainly questionable entering 2011. When he's healthy, he looks like the next star in the Sooners' backfield, but they'll need some depth behind the 5-foot-8, 173-pounder. Jermie Calhoun, Jonathan Miller and Brennan Clay have all looked good at times, but there should be some good competition from newcomers Brandon Wegher, an Iowa transfer who'll be in camp this spring and eligible next season, and blue-chip recruit Brandon Williams, who enrolled early.
Spring practice starts: March 7
Spring game: April 16
What to watch:
- Every piece of the offense. The spring in Stillwater is all about keeping or improving upon the status quo. Had it kept Dana Holgorsen, there'd be little doubt that would happen, but Oklahoma State must make the most of its five returning offensive linemen, quarterback Brandon Weeden and receiver Justin Blackmon. The opportunity for a historic season is there, but they'll have to pick up the nuances of the new offense quickly in the spring like they did last year.
- What about the kicker? Dan Bailey won the Lou Groza Award as the nation's top kicker in 2010, but he's gone. Oklahoma State needs to fill that role quickly, and we'll likely know who will get the nod after the spring.
- Who steps up on the defensive line? The Cowboys lose three starters up front on defense, including All-Big 12 performer Ugo Chinasa and tackles Chris Donaldson and Shane Jarka. Can senior Richetti Jones become a star in the Big 12? We'll have a good idea if he, or any of the Cowboys' other defensive linemen, can by the end of April.
Spring practice starts: February 24
Spring game: April 3
What to watch:
- New coaches and their students/players. Texas has five new coaches. Although it's hard to get a good read early on, how they relate with the players on the field, in the film room and around the facilities will have a big impact on how the 2011 season plays out in Austin. The young-blooded coordinators could serve themselves well by relating to players and the players will need to spend plenty of extra time learning new schemes and plays.
- Quarterback competition ... or not? Mack Brown says the gig is open and it is, for now. Garrett Gilbert can close it with a strong spring. If Garrett struggles on the field or has difficulty grasping the new system, the door will be wide open for Connor Wood or Case McCoy to step in and close it. Gilbert didn't get much help, but he did very little in 2010 to inspire a lot of breathing room with McCoy and Wood clamoring for playing time.
- And you've got to defend the pass, too. Texas loses its top three cornerbacks to the NFL, and only Carrington Byndom and A.J. White got much meaningful playing time last season. Younger players can earn some rare early playing time with a strong spring. Will anyone step up?
Spring practice starts: March 22
Spring game: April 16
What to watch:
- New linebackers in the running. Spring isn't so scary when you bring back nine defensive starters, but the two Texas A&M lost were the heart of its defense. Linebackers Michael Hodges and Von Miller are gone. Kyle Mangan didn't look fantastic when forced into action during the Cotton Bowl, but the time is now for Damontre Moore and Dominique Patterson, a pair of sophomores, to make their impact.
- Tannehill's tuning things up. Quarterback Ryan Tannehill played about as well as anyone could have hoped late last season, but he'll need it to continue his performance with a solid spring nailing down the timing with his receivers, who all return. He's already got a leg up on last year's quarterback, Jerrod Johnson, who was held out of team drills last spring after shoulder surgery that eventually derailed his senior season.
- Christine's back. Christine Michael missed the second half of the season with a broken leg, giving way to Cyrus Gray's rise among Big 12 backs. It should make Texas A&M's depth at the position even more impressive, but we'll see how Michael looks coming back from the injury.
Spring practice starts: February 19
Spring game: March 26
What to watch:
- Past defending that pass defense. Texas Tech had the Big 12's worst pass defense last season, but has a pair of big potential players at cornerback in rising sophomores Tre Porter and Jarvis Phillips. Starters LaRon Moore and Franklin Mitchem are gone, but if returning starters Cody Davis and Will Ford can continue to mature, the defense should improve in the area most important for success in the Big 12.
- And they're off! There's a four-man quarterback derby set in Lubbock this spring between Seth Doege, Jacob Karam, Michael Brewer and Scotty Young. I don't expect it to be settled until midway through fall camp, similar to last season, but there should be a solid front-runner and more clarity after spring. Coach Tommy Tuberville was extremely impressed with Doege and Karam last spring after Taylor Potts and Steven Sheffield went down with injuries.
- Time to find new stars. Most of the big names on Texas Tech's defense are gone. Colby Whitlock, Bront Bird, Brian Duncan will all continue their careers elsewhere. The leaders on the defense will have to begin to emerge in the spring. Is it Scott Smith? Cody Davis? A younger, unexpected player? We'll find out. Sometimes these types of situations aren't as easy to predict as they might seem, like Missouri's strength in 2010 emerging in the secondary.
Texas A&M finished its season as the Big 12's best rush defense, reclaiming the "Wrecking Crew" nickname in the process.
"We had to mix it up," said Tigers offensive coordinator Gary Crowton. "We felt like if we could loosen them up with some big passes, we'd be able to run the football."
Few figured the Tigers would have the kind of success they did doing both, but they did. Quarterback Jordan Jefferson had thrown four touchdown passes in 12 games entering Friday's Cotton Bowl, including just two in his past 11 games.
"I thought he threw the ball about as good as I've seen him throw on tape," Texas A&M coach Mike Sherman said. "He was decisive, aggressive and accurate."
With Jefferson keeping the Aggies honest, LSU rolled over the Wrecking Crew for 288 rushing yards. Running backs Stevan Ridley and Spencer Ware both topped 100 yards, and Jefferson made a handful of plays with his legs, extending drives on third down on plenty of occasions and finishing with 67 yards on 12 carries.
"For our run game, I thought we were doing a really good job of dominating the line of scrimmage," Crowton said.
Early on, the Aggies were up 10-0, but with one torque of a knee they were down a leader. Senior linebacker Michael Hodges suffered a sprained ACL in the first quarter, and Texas A&M's leading tackler never returned.
"He is the heart and soul of our defense in many ways," Sherman said. "At the same time, you can't use that as a reason why we didn't perform the way we should have been capable of performing. ... One guy gets hurt, another guy has to step in and make the play."
His replacement, Kyle Mangan, managed just four tackles, the same amount Hodges had already accumulated in the first quarter.
"I think Kyle, put in the situation he was in, he played well," defensive end Lucas Patterson said. "You can't replace a player like Hodges."
With Jefferson having one of his best games of the year, and the Aggies patching together a run defense that often looked out of character, there was little expectation after Texas A&M's 10-0 lead had evaporated that chants of "Wrecking Crew" would make an encore in Cowboys Stadium.
Early on, it might have. Jefferson's first deep pass -- and the Tigers first attempt to soften the defense -- was interecepted with one hand by Coryell Judie. But Jefferson's first of three connections in the end zone with senior receiver Terrence Toliver assured an end to the Aggies' six-game winning streak.
"I came back with the next deep ball call when we got in the right situation," Crowton said. "Jordan stood in there, took a big hit, but got the touchdown. I knew we'd be alright from that point on because we were going to run the ball. We pound it in there."
The Aggies had no answer for the majority of the night. Gaps went unfilled and runners sliced through wide lanes. The Tigers ran the ball 55 times, and averaged 5.2 yards per carry.
"Our offensive line came to play," LSU coach Les Miles said. "Our offensive line said this is a challenge they wanted. I think they played to that challenge."
Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Griffin
I'll admit I'm a sucker for any achievement award. Give me an All-American squad -- either preseason or after the season is over with -- and I'll peruse it with diligence as I look for familiar players and teams.
And I've seen a bunch of them so far this season in a variety of magazine and Web sites.
But one of my most favorite ones has always been College Football News' redshirt freshman All-America team. It provides an early look at some of the more notable freshmen to watch around the country, both offensively and defensively.
Richard Cirminiello's team had a lot of familiar names from Big 12 schools that merit some watching. Here's a list of his first-team selections from the Big 12.
T -- Tanner Hawkinson, Kansas
C -- Ben Habern, Oklahoma
T -- Bryce Givens, Colorado
DT -- Baker Steinkuhler, Nebraska
LB -- Sean Fisher, Nebraska
LB -- Douglas Rippy, Colorado
S -- Joseph Ibiloye, Oklahoma
It bodes well for the Big 12's passing games if both tackles come from the conference. In particular, I'm intrigued with the selection of Hawkinson, a converted high school tight end who moves over from defense to protect Todd Reesing's blind side.
Oklahoma players tell me that Habern has the skill to perhaps be one of the best at his position at Oklahoma if he can keep developing. And Fisher and Rippy both have the ability to be playmakers in defenses that struggled to make many key stops last season.
Honorable mention selections included quarterback Landry Jones of Oklahoma, tackle Mark Buchanan of Texas, guards Trevor Marrongelli and John Williams of Kansas, defensive end Dravannti Johnson of Texas, defensive tackle Stacy McGee of Oklahoma, linebacker Kyle Mangan of Texas A&M and punters Quinn Sharp of Oklahoma State and Tress Way of Oklahoma.
It wise to keep an eye on these redshirt freshman. Remember that Michael Crabtree won the Biletnikoff Award as a redshirt freshman in 2007. Sam Bradford won the first of two Big 12 titles as a redshirt freshman in the same season. And Travis Lewis developed into one of the most play-making linebackers in the nation as a redshirt freshman last season.