Big 12: Marcus Mallet

With spring ball done, we’re re-examining and re-ranking the positional situations of every Big 12 team, continuing Tuesday with linebackers. These outlooks will look different in August. But here’s how we see them post-spring:

1. Oklahoma (pre-spring ranking: 1): While the future of inside linebacker Frank Shannon remains unclear, the Sooners have a tailor-made replacement in Jordan Evans ready to go. Shannon was OU’s leading tackler a year ago, but Evans was the defensive MVP of the spring game in his place. Blitzing outside linebacker Eric Striker had a huge spring coming off his three-sack performance in the Allstate Sugar Bowl. And the Sooners had another blitzing linebacker in juco transfer Devante Bond emerge in March, which could give them flexibility to move Striker around. Dominique Alexander, the reigning Big 12 Defensive Freshman of the Year, solidifies OU’s perch atop this positional ranking, even with Shannon’s future in limbo.

2. Texas (2): Steve Edmond sparked controversy with his Baylor comments, but he also impressed coach Charlie Strong this spring with his knack for making tackles. Edmond and Dalton Santos team up to give the Longhorns a reliable combination on the inside. Athletic sophomore Timothy Cole took advantage of his opportunities with the first-team defense during the spring but should fall back into a spot role once Jordan Hicks returns this summer from a second consecutive season-ending injury. This will be a good group of linebackers, but Hicks playing up to his five-star potential is what could make it great.

3. West Virginia (3): After struggling at the “Spur” linebacker spot in 2013, Isaiah Bruce moved back inside this spring, where he starred as a freshman All-American two years ago. Bruce said he didn’t feel as comfortable playing outside and that showed, as he didn’t record a sack last season despite playing off the edge. Taking over in the Spur is converted safety K.J. Dillon, who was as impressive as any West Virginia defender this spring. With the ability to drop back in coverage, attack the run and rush the quarterback, Dillon seems to be a much better fit at the Spur. If he continues to progress at his new spot and Bruce gets back to his old self playing alongside tackling machine Nick Kwiatkoski inside, the Mountaineers will be stout at the second level.

4. Kansas (5): If the Jayhawks finally climb out of the Big 12 cellar for the first time in six years, it will be on the back of Ben Heeney and a Kansas defense that returns nine starters. One of those nine returners is Heeney’s linebacker wingman, Jake Love, who delivered a strong spring game with a scrimmage-high 10 tackles. The Jayhawks have several weaknesses, but the tackling of their linebackers is not one of them.

5. TCU (6): They get overshadowed by the units in front of and behind them, but linebackers Paul Dawson and Marcus Mallet simply fulfill what’s asked of them. The Horned Frogs were surprisingly solid at linebacker last year. They should be even better in 2014.

6. Texas Tech (7): The Red Raiders received a huge boost in the spring from Kenny Williams, who made a seamless -- and voluntary -- position switch from running back to the “Raider” linebacker position. With honorable mention All-Big 12 pick Pete Robertson on the other outside spot and veterans Sam Eguavoen and Micah Awe and Utah transfer V.J. Fehoko manning the middle, the Red Raiders have a solid foundation. Ex-Ohio State linebacker Mike Mitchell, who attended Tech’s spring game, could give the unit another boost in the summer. He was an ESPN 300 recruit last year and could be eligible immediately at his next school.

7. Kansas State (8): Coach Bill Snyder seemed to be reasonably pleased with returners Jonathan Truman and Will Davis, who have locked up two of the linebacker spots. If D'Vonta Derricott, who was in the ESPN Junior College 50 and had offers from Miami, Wisconsin, Arizona State and a host of Big 12 programs, can make an impact at the third linebacker spot, the Wildcats could quickly solidify their biggest question spot defensively.

8. Baylor (4): Middle linebacker Bryce Hager will be fine once he finally recovers from a groin injury. That means Aiavion Edwards, who exited spring as the starter on the weak side, will be the key as the Bears attempt to overcome the graduation of All-Big 12 performer Eddie Lackey. Baylor, though, still has big expectations for juco transfer Grant Campbell, even though he finished spring as a backup on the depth chart. After a shaky first few practices, Campbell began to come on late in spring drills.

9. Oklahoma State (9): The Cowboys picked up a valuable transfer during the spring in former Michigan safety Josh Furman, who will be eligible immediately after getting his degree. Furman isn’t a star, but he has plenty of experience and could be a real asset teamed with juco transfer D'Nerius Antoine at Oklahoma State’s “Star” linebacker spot. On the weak side, fellow juco transfer Devante Averette really shined before suffering some mild injuries at the end of spring ball. The Cowboys will be even better there if 2012 four-star signee Seth Jacobs emerges.

10. Iowa State (10): The Cyclones remain in transition mode at linebacker while working to replace the production of departed All-Big 12 performer Jeremiah George. Redshirt freshman and former QB Alton Meeks was one of the defensive surprises of the spring; he currently sits atop the depth chart at middle linebacker. The other big defensive surprise was walk-on senior Drake Ferch, who beat out returning starter Jared Brackens on the strong side. Jevohn Miller is the third starting linebacker, but he figures to be a placeholder on the weak side until Luke Knott returns from last year’s season-ending hip injury.
Over the next two weeks, we’ll be analyzing the depth charts of every Big 12 team coming out of the spring. We continue today with TCU, which released an official two-deep after wrapping up spring ball. After its recent addition at QB, here’s our take on what the Horned Frogs’ depth chart now looks like:

OFFENSE (projected starter in bold)

QB: Matt Joeckel (Sr.) OR Trevone Boykin (Jr.), Zach Allen (RFr.)

Joeckel announced last month he will transfer from Texas A&M to TCU, but the paperwork isn’t officially done so TCU has made no formal announcement. When he does arrive in Fort Worth, expect Joeckel to become the frontrunner for the QB spot due to his experience running the Air Raid offense. Boykin will fight for his job but is versatile enough to be a legitimate contributor at receiver. Freshmen Foster Sawyer and Grayson Muehlstein arrive in the summer.

[+] EnlargeCatalon
Jim Cowsert/Fort Worth Star-Telegram/Getty ImagesB.J. Catalon is the most experienced player in a crowded, unsettled TCU backfield.
RB: B.J. Catalon (Jr.) OR Kyle Hicks (RFr.) OR Aaron Green (Jr.) OR Trevorris Johnson (RFr.)

The three-OR move isn’t about Gary Patterson refusing to tip his hand. It’s more a sign that the Horned Frogs will rely on a committee of backs, and by the end of spring Catalon, Hicks and Green had all suffered injuries. The competition to find that No. 1 back continues in the fall, and freshman Shaun Nixon will be in the mix then, too.

WR-X: Ja'Juan Story (Jr.) OR Kolby Listenbee (Jr.)

WR-H: Ty Slanina (So.), Deante' Gray (Jr.)

WR-Y: David Porter (Sr.), Cameron Echols-Luper (So.), Griffin Gilbert (So.)

WR-Z: Josh Doctson (Jr.), Jordan Moore (Jr.)

TCU will need several of these guys to step up to make the high-speed passing game thrive. Two-year starter Brandon Carter is not listed on the post-spring depth chart but is still a member of the program. The athletic Moore might’ve finally found his position after moving over from running back. Gilbert moved over from tight end and could be a factor, while Cliff Murphy and Buck Jones are now the options at tight end in short-yardage situations. This group gets better and deeper in the summer when touted signees Emanuel Porter and Corey McBride show up.

LT: Halapoulivaati Vaitai (Jr.), Tayo Fabuluje (Sr.)

LG: Jamelle Naff (Jr.), Bobby Thompson (Jr.)

C: Joey Hunt (Jr.), Brady Foltz (Jr.), Patrick Morris (So.)

RG: Frank Kee (Jr.), Matt Pryor (RFr.)

RT: Joseph Noteboom (RFr.), Aviante Collins (Jr.)

Patterson felt much better about the strength and depth of this group following spring ball. Noteboom was the surprise of the group, and Kee made a big impression coming out of junior college. Collins was listed as the starter at left tackle entering the spring, but “Big V” Vaitai impressed, and Fabuluje should contribute again after leaving the team last fall. Don’t be surprised if Thompson eventually wins the job at left guard. TCU adds four freshmen, and each one could redshirt if the depth holds up.

DEFENSE

LE: James McFarland (Jr.), Josh Carraway (So.), Bryson Henderson (RFr.)

DT: Chucky Hunter (Sr.), Mike Tuaua (Jr.)

DT: Davion Pierson (Jr.), Tevin Lawson (So.)

RE: Devonte Fields (So.), Terrell Lathan (Jr.)

[+] EnlargeDevonte Fields
Jerome Miron/USA TODAY SportsNow healthy, Devonte Fields is working to returning to his All-Big 12 form of 2012.
Fields is listed as the backup right end on TCU’s official post-spring depth chart, but that’s more a measure for motivation. The former Big 12 AP Defensive Player of the Year is healthy and hungry. Hunter and Pierson forms one of the Big 12’s better defensive tackle combos. McFarland, Carraway and Lathan will all compete for the left end job, and Lathan and Tuaua can play several spots on the line.

MLB: Jonathan Anderson (Sr.), Paul Whitmill (RFr.)

SLB: Marcus Mallet (Sr.) OR Paul Dawson (Sr.), Sammy Douglas (So.)

The Horned Frogs bring back their entire linebacker corps this fall and have some nice pieces for these two starting spots. Dawson will continue to push Mallet and let the team with 91 tackles in 2013. It’ll be interesting to see what Douglas, a special teams contributor last season, and Whitmill can provide in their second year in the program.

CB: Kevin White (Sr.), Travoskey Garrett (Jr.)

CB: Ranthony Texada (RFr.), Cyd Calvin (RFr.)

SS: Sam Carter (Sr.), Denzel Johnson (So.), George Baltimore (RFr.)

FS: Derrick Kindred (Jr.), Geoff Hooker (Sr.), Steve Wesley (RFr.)

WS: Chris Hackett (Jr.), Kenny Iloka (Jr.)

With Jason Verrett gone, White is the leader of the corners now, and TCU needs several others to be ready to contribute by August. Texada was consistently praised by his coaches this spring and is the favorite to take the vacant starting spot after redshirting last season. Carter, Hackett and Kindred form a talented safety trio, but don’t sleep on Iloka and Johnson. Both are expected to see the field a lot in 2014.

Q&A: TCU DC Dick Bumpas

March, 26, 2014
Mar 26
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Dick Bumpas is entering his 11th season as TCU’s defensive coordinator and knows there’s plenty that must get addressed in spring ball if this 11th year will be a resurgent one for the Horned Frogs.

But the coach who has worked with Gary Patterson at four other schools in the past knows what this program is capable of if everyone can shake off the disappointment of last season’s 4-8 campaign and move forward and embrace some competition.

Bumpas recently spoke with ESPN.com about replacing Jason Verrett, getting Devonte Fields back and finding contributors at several other spots.

Is the spring, for you about installing or just getting everyone back up to speed?

[+] EnlargeDick Bumpas
Andrew B. Fielding/USA TODAY SportsLongtime TCU defensive coordinator Dick Bumpas is in the unfamiliar position of needing his unit to bounce back in 2014.
Bumpas: It’s back to the basics. You can build a house a hundred times, but unless you have a good foundation, you’re going to have to build it a hundred times. We’re going back to fundamentals and that way hopefully next year the kids will be schooled in the fundamentals of the game and ready to go.

It seems like that house will be back in good shape going into 2014.

Bumpas: Well, I haven’t counted up the numbers, but I do know we’ve got a lot of kids coming back. The one thing that’s been my experience is the kid who’s played a while is better than he was the year before. So hopefully that’ll have some merit. We’re just excited about it. We’ll have to wait and see.

Tell me about where Devonte Fields is right now.

Bumpas: Well, his foot seems in pretty good shape. It tweaks him every once in a while. I’m excited about him. I think he’s hopefully going to continue where he left off. It was very frustrating for him to come back and break the dang thing and have to sit out a year, but he’s starting to look like his old self and he should have a good year.

What do you think that setback did not only for how hungry he is but also another year of maturity?

Bumpas: Yeah, I think that’s the one thing, too. Being away from football made him appreciate it a lot more. He really enjoys football and I think that’s even more so because he can get where he wants to get to. He just loves football and when he doesn’t have it, it’s very frustrating.

Replacing Jason Verrett is a big one, but what are the areas where you have to address question marks this spring?

Bumpas: You can’t really replace a kid like Jason Verrett. He’s such a special kid. But we’ve got some good, young kids at that position, and the thing right now is it’s exciting to watch them compete and that’s all we can ask for. I think there’s going to be some healthy competition for that spot and, really, every position. When that happens, everyone gets better.

I’m sure you’re getting phone calls from NFL guys inquiring about Verrett. What is the way you sell him to those guys when they ponder whether he’s a first-rounder?

Bumpas: Well, if I’m not mistaken, he only gave up one touchdown pass last year and, with the people he played against, I think that’s a pretty good résumé. Now it just really gets down to, OK, what are you looking for? If you’re looking for a guy that competes and will play hard, he’ll do that, he’ll go cover that guy, he’ll support the run. He’s done everything we’ve asked him to do. Whoever gets him will get a real good one.

I know Coach Patterson has said he’s encouraged by what Ranthony Texada is doing at corner. What do you think of him and where you do stand with those other options?

Bumpas: Ranthony is doing a lot of good things, and the one thing he does have, he’s a really fast kid. You can’t coach them to run faster. If you start with that as a base, you can throw in a lot. We have a lot of strong possibilities back there, and we’re excited about it. We have one guy who’s been an injury-prone kid in Travoskey Garrett, he really hasn’t played a whole lot because he’s been banged up a lot. But he’s another kid that I think will come on and really have a chance to compete for some playing time. And of course with Kevin White back that gives us three pretty good kids, and as long as you’ve got three of them, that’s good competition.

You had inexperience at linebacker last year, so how is that group coming along?

[+] EnlargeDevonte Fields
Jerome Miron/USA TODAY SportsThe return of DE Devonte Fields from a foot injury that sidelined him most of last season will be a key for the Horned Frogs.
Bumpas: It wasn’t necessarily that they were young in age, which they were, but they really hadn’t played much linebacker. Jonathan Anderson is getting to be a senior but only one year at linebacker. Paul Dawson, he’s got a chance to improve. Last year was really his first year. You have two young kids. Paul Whitmill has looked better and better every day, and there’s Sammy Douglas. I tell you, the one veteran kid who gets overlooked is Marcus Mallet. He knows what to do.

When you went back to the 2013 film, are there things you find that you know will be solved by this season?

Bumpas: We’re certainly hoping so. But we will find out. The hurry-up offenses create some problems for you that, if you’re not careful, you’ll give up some big plays because you weren’t ready for the ball to be snapped. We’re just trying to eliminate that, and then it’s about who people are trying to pick on, and what are they trying to pick on. Where do they want to throw the ball, and where are they trying to take advantage?

Do you get the sense your players feel like they have some unfinished business and are unsatisfied by 2013?

Bumpas: I think they were frustrated last year. They lost so many close games, and that’s a great motivator. It makes people work harder, makes people pay more attention. When you go back and look at what could’ve been, I think they’re motivated and where you like them to be.

Big 12 pre-spring breakdown: LBs

February, 25, 2014
Feb 25
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As we await the start of spring ball, we’re examining and ranking the positional situations of every team in the Big 12, continuing Tuesday with linebackers. Some of these outlooks will look different after the spring. But here’s how we see the linebacking corps going into the spring:

[+] EnlargeDominique Alexander
William Purnell/Icon SMIDominique Alexander was a star as a true freshman and leads a loaded Oklahoma linebacking corps.
1. Oklahoma: After a couple of lean years, the Sooners are loaded at linebacker again. Dominique Alexander was the Big 12 Defensive Freshman of the Year, Frank Shannon led the defense in tackles as a sophomore, and Eric Striker is budding into the most ferocious blitzing linebacker in the country (just ask Alabama). Jordan Evans played extensively as a true freshman, too. This is an athletic group that can cover, stop the run and get to the quarterback.

2. Texas: This will be as deep as any linebacking corps in the league, with starters Peter Jinkens, Dalton Santos and Steve Edmond all returning off a unit that improved dramatically after the rocky nonconference start. After allowing a school-record 550 yards rushing to BYU, Texas had the Big 12’s fourth-best rush defense in conference games. Whether this group can take another step up will depend on what happens with Jordan Hicks, who enters his fifth year in the program after suffering season-ending injuries in back-to-back years. Hicks was the No. 1 linebacker in the country coming out of high school and has played well when healthy.

3. West Virginia: This will be the strength of the defense, as Brandon Golson, Isaiah Bruce, Jared Barber and Nick Kwiatkoski all return with significant starting experience. Kwiatkoski was West Virginia’s leading tackler last season, and Bruce was a freshman All-American the season before. Wes Tonkery and Jewone Snow also have starting experience, and Shaq Petteway, who missed last season with a knee injury, was a key rotation player the previous year. This level of experience and production with give the new defensive regime of Tony Gibson and Tom Bradley a foundation to build around.

4. Baylor: Bryce Hager is one of the best returning linebackers in the league. He was a second-team all-conference pick two years ago and would have earned similar honors last season had he not missed the final three games of the regular season with a groin injury. Grant Campbell, a three-star juco signee, is already on campus and will vie for the vacancy of departing All-Big 12 linebacker Eddie Lackey. Kendall Ehrlich and Aiavion Edwards are the only other players at the position with any meaningful experience, but Raaquan Davis, a former four-star recruit who redshirted last season, could be a factor.

5. Kansas: Middle linebacker Ben Heeney was a second-team All-Big 12 selection after finishing fourth in the league in tackles per game. His wingman, Jake Love, got beat out by juco transfer Samson Faifili during the preseason but took over when Faifili suffered an injury and was solid. As long as Heeney remains healthy, the Jayhawks will be solid here.

6. TCU: Projected to be the Achilles’ heel of the TCU defense last season, Paul Dawson, Marcus Mallet and Jonathan Anderson actually gave the position stability. Dawson led the Horned Frogs with 91 tackles, Mallet was third with 70 and Anderson was fourth with 66. All three will be seniors in 2014 and should give the Horned Frogs a solid, reliable linebacking unit again.

7. Texas Tech: The Red Raiders and their 3-4 scheme graduate two very productive players in Will Smith and Terrance Bullitt. Smith was second in the Big 12 in tackles, and Bullitt led all Big 12 linebackers in pass breakups. Austin Stewart and Micah Awe go into the spring as the favorites to replace Bullitt and Smith, respectively. Two starters do return in Sam Eguavoen and Pete Robertson, who was honorable mention All-Big 12 thanks to his impact off the edge. Tech also has several intriguing young players, including Jacarthy Mack, Malik Jenkins and Kahlee Woods, who will all be second-year players.

8. Kansas State: The Wildcats lose two stalwarts to graduation in captains Blake Slaughter and Tre Walker. The only returner is former walk-on Jonathan Truman, who was second on the team in tackles from the weak side. The Wildcats will be hoping for big things from D'Vonta Derricott, an ESPN JC 50 signee who had offers from Miami and Wisconsin, among many others. Will Davis, who was Slaughter’s backup as a freshman last season, could thrive if he secures the starting role in the middle.

9. Oklahoma State: The Cowboys are somewhat decimated here with the graduations of all-conference veterans Shaun Lewis and Caleb Lavey. The only returning starter, Ryan Simmons, could move inside, which would open the door for hard-hitting jucos D'Nerius Antoine and Devante Averette to start on either side of him. Seth Jacobs, who was a four-star recruit two years ago, should jump into the rotation, and the Cowboys could get an instant boost from freshman Gyasi Akem, who was an ESPN 300 signee. The potential ascension of this group, though, hinges on what Antonie and Averette accomplish.

10. Iowa State: The Cyclones graduate their defensive cornerstone in Jeremiah George, who was a first-team all-conference performer after leading the Big 12 with 133 tackles. Replacing George won’t come easy. But there’s reason to believe that Luke Knott can become Iowa State’s next cornerstone at the position. The younger brother of Cyclone LB great Jake Knott, Luke Knott started five games as a freshman and quickly racked up 45 tackles before suffering a season-ending hip injury, which required surgery. If he makes a full recovery, Knott has the talent to become the next in a growing line of All-Big 12 Iowa State linebackers. Seniors Jevohn Miller and Jared Brackens, who combined for 19 starts last season, flank Knott with experience.

Big 12's unsung heroes: Week 5

September, 30, 2013
9/30/13
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Here are the unsung heroes in the Big 12 during Week 5.

Defensive end Nick Kron, Iowa State: The sophomore wasn’t dominant nor did he have eye-popping numbers. Yet he recovered two fumbles in the Cyclones’ 38-21 win over Tulsa. He was consistently around the football and ready to pounce when Golden Hurricane quarterback Cody Green got sloppy with his ball handling on Thursday night. Kron added one tackle and one tackle for loss as ISU secured its first win of the season.

Linebacker Marcus Mallet, TCU: Teammate Sam Carter grabbed the headlines with his two interceptions but Mallet was a beast in the middle of the Horned Frogs’ defense. The junior had 10 tackles including four tackles for loss, one sack and one fumble forced in TCU’s 48-17 win over SMU. If Mallet is a consistent, productive player in the middle for the Horned Frogs, they should be one of the Big 12's top defenses.

Running back Charles Sims, West Virginia: The Houston transfer was overshadowed by the gutsy performance from quarterback Clint Trickett but led the Mountaineers with 157 all-purpose yards. Sims had 82 receiving yards, 60 rushing yards and 15 kick return yards in WVU’s 31-20 win over Oklahoma State. Sims averaged 6.17 yards per touch on offense. He's been the Mountaineers most consistent and explosive offensive player this season.

Safety Shamiel Gary, Oklahoma State: The Cowboys safety has looked like a different player this season. He’s been solid in OSU’s secondary and made several key open field tackles against WVU to keep the Pokes in the game. The senior finished with nine tackles, one tackle for loss and one pass breakup. Improved safety play is critical for the Cowboys as they look to rebound against Kansas State this weekend and insert themselves back into the Big 12 title hunt.

Defensive end Geneo Grissom, Oklahoma: The most overlooked starting defensive lineman on the Sooners’ squad, Grissom has been solid throughout the season. He lead OU defensive linemen with six tackles including 0.5 tackles for loss in OU’s 35-21 win over Notre Dame. Grissom has joined Charles Tapper and Jordan Phillips to give the Sooners a much improved defensive front in 2013. Now that they have gained respect, it will be critical for Grissom and company to continue to improve throughout the season if OU wants to make a BCS bowl appearance.

Note: Baylor, Kansas, Kansas State, Texas and Texas Tech had byes in Week 5.

TCU Horned Frogs spring wrap

May, 1, 2013
5/01/13
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2012 record: 7-6
2012 Big 12 record: 4-5
Returning starters: Offense: 6; defense: 9; kicker/punter: 2

Top returners: DE Devonte Fields, CB Jason Verrett, WR Brandon Carter, S Sam Carter, S Elisha Olabode, RB Waymon James, K Jaden Oberkrom, RB B.J. Catalon

Key losses: WR Josh Boyce, LB Kenny Cain, DE Stansly Maponga, C James Fry, OG Blaize Foltz, RB Matthew Tucker, WR Skye Dawson

2012 statistical leaders (*returners)

Passing: Trevone Boykin* (2,054 yards)
Rushing: B.J. Catalon* (584 yards)
Receiving: Josh Boyce (891 yards)
Tackles: Kenny Cain (86)
Sacks: Devonte Fields* (10)
Interceptions: Jason Verrett* (6)

Spring answers

1. Offensive line getting straightened out. James Fry and Blaize Foltz were big losses on the interior of the offensive line, and replacing them was a big concern for the Frogs' quiet spring. The spring ended with senior Eric Tausch atop the depth chart at center and sophomore Jamelle Naff winning the right guard job to replace Foltz. Tausch started at left guard last season and moved over, but sophomore Joey Hunt slid up to replace him. Neither Naff nor Hunt have much experience (Hunt earned his lone career start in a loss to Iowa State), but they'll be leaned on this season.

2. New targets acquired. Josh Boyce and Skye Dawson took their talents to the next level, leaving the Frogs in search of a pair of new starters. LaDarius Brown and Brandon Carter were sure things, but strong springs helped fellow juniors Cam White and David Porter win starting jobs at receiver. There aren't many open gigs for a team returning 15 starters, but that's one that will have a big impact.

3. Mallet dropping the hammer. Junior Marcus Mallet emerged late last season and finished with five tackles for loss and a forced fumble among his 18 stops. Now, he looks like the likely candidate to replace departed Kenny Cain and a possible breakout talent on a loaded TCU defense. The 6-foot-1, 216-pounder finished atop the depth chart after a good spring.

Fall questions

1. Is Casey Pachall back to his old self? It's probably safe to operate under the assumption that Pachall will win his job back in fall camp, but beating out Trevone Boykin isn't the same as leading the Big 12 in passing efficiency, like he was last year before his DUI arrest that ended his season. You don't win a Big 12 title with average quarterback play, which brings me to my next question.

2. Can TCU really handle a Big 12 schedule? TCU was competitive last year, sure, and only had one game that it wasn't competitive in. But TCU's not trying to be competitive. It didn't come to the Big 12 to do that. It came to win, and it's proven exactly nothing in that realm just yet. Managing a difficult week-to-week schedule is one thing. Winning just about every week is another. Ask K-State's 2012 team and Oklahoma State's 2011 squad how easy that is.

3. Is the defense for real? On paper, this unit should be absolutely dominant after finishing No. 1 in the Big 12 in total defense and returning nine starters, including Big 12 Defensive Player of the Year Devonte Fields at defensive end. That sounds like Texas' defense from last year, who fell off the map and allowed more rushing yards than any team in school history. Sometimes, you just never really know. This is a new season and last year means nothing. Prove it again.

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