Big 12: Matt Pryor

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

1. Oklahoma (pre-spring ranking: 1): The Sporting News has listed the Sooners as its preseason No. 1 team in the country, due in large part to Oklahoma’s offensive line. That might be going overboard, but the Sooners have a wealth of experience and depth returning up front, which includes four starters. They’ll get even deeper once guard Tyler Evans is cleared this summer, as expected (he was running this spring). Evans has missed the past two seasons with knee injuries but was a three-year starter before getting hurt.

[+] EnlargeCody Whitehair
John Albright/Icon SMIAfter losing both offensive tackles from last season, Kansas State is switching All-Big 12 guard Cody Whitehair to left tackle.
2. Kansas State (2): K-State responded to losing both tackles from last season by swinging All-Big 12 guard Cody Whitehair to left tackle and slotting juco transfer Luke Hayes at right tackle. With B.J. Finney entering his fourth year as the starting center and more juco offensive line help arriving in the summer, the Wildcats should be more than solid up front.

3. Texas (3): The Longhorns will feature one of the eldest lines in the Big 12, with its projected starting front comprising two seniors and three juniors. Right guard Taylor Doyle emerged this spring at the biggest question spot, but Texas has other options inside with Rami Hammad, Curtis Riser and the versatile Kent Perkins. Center Dominic Espinosa is the anchor of this group, which will be asked to establish itself with the running game in Charlie Strong’s first season.

4. Baylor (4): The Bears are still waiting for left tackle Spencer Drango to return from last season’s back injury, but right tackle Troy Baker showed no lingering effects of the knee injury he suffered last spring. With the depth inside and with Kyle Fuller locking up the center job, there are no weaknesses with this cast -- provided Drango gets healthy and gets back to the field.

5. Oklahoma State (5): The Cowboys are also waiting for their left tackle to return from an injury he suffered last season. Devin Davis has NFL potential but has been slow to recover from an ACL tear last preseason. The Cowboys seemed to also be in a fix at center with their top-two players at the position from last fall moving on from the program with eligibility still remaining. But Paul Lewis slid over from guard this spring and stabilized that spot. Daniel Koenig is an All-Big 12 caliber player and capable of playing tackle or guard. He’ll continue to man left tackle, at least until Davis returns.

6. Texas Tech (6): Tech received some welcome news during spring ball with starting right tackle Rashad Fortenberry being granted an extra year of eligibility. The Red Raiders have one of the best returning tackles in the league on the left side in Le’Raven Clark, and two juco tackles they’re high on in Shaq Davis and Dominique Robertson. With Jared Kaster and Alfredo Morales also returning as starters inside, Tech’s offensive line should be much better than last season's.

7. West Virginia (7): The Mountaineers have the league’s most reliable one-two punch at guard in Quinton Spain and Mark Glowinski, who have 38 career starts together. The rest of the line, however, is a question. Left tackle Adam Pankey impressed coach Dana Holgorsen early in the spring and won a starting job before the Gold-Blue Game. If Pankey pans out, the Mountaineers could be a load up front.

8. Iowa State (8): The Cyclones had disastrous luck with the health of their offensive line last season, but that should pay off in 2014 with so many different players having gotten experience. Left tackle Brock Dagel has immense upside, and center Tom Farniok is an All-Big-type player. But the Cyclones were especially pumped with the development of sophomore right guard Daniel Burton, who is physical and one of the smartest players on the team. If they get better luck with good health, this could wind up being a very a tough and balanced unit.

9. TCU (9): The Horned Frogs welcomed the return of tackle Tayo Fabuluje, who left the team before the start of the season last fall. Fabuluje, however, missed several practices with an ankle injury, allowing redshirt freshman Joseph Noteboom to move ahead of him on the depth chart. Fabuluje will have a chance to earn his spot back in the spring opposite Halapoulivaati Vaitai, who replaced Fabuluje last season. But the way the 2013 season went, the Horned Frogs can’t have too many reliable offensive tackles. Juco transfer Frank Kee impressed during the spring and should lock down a starting spot at guard next to center Joey Hunt, who did a nice job of adapting to the new offense during the spring. With 6-foot-7, 350-pound Matt Pryor also likely to fit in somewhere in the rotation, the Frogs will definitely be bigger up front than they were in 2013 -- and probably better, too.

10: Kansas (10): Because he can get in and out of the pocket, Montell Cozart winning the starting job should help the offensive line. The fact that new offensive coordinator John Reagan is also an offensive line coach should be a boost, as well. The Jayhawks have several battles up front that will continue into the fall, including center, where walk-on Joe Gibson made a huge impression during the spring.
FORT WORTH, Texas -- For years, TCU stuck to an offensive philosophy built around trying to out-physical foes and trick them with play action. That style won the Horned Frogs five conference titles while in the Mountain West and Conference USA. They have not won many Big 12 games.

After two years in his new league and a 6-12 record in Big 12 play, TCU coach Gary Patterson knew it was time for a new approach.

[+] EnlargeGary Patterson
Kevin Jairaj/USA TODAY SportsTCU coach Gary Patterson brought in new coordinators Doug Meacham and Sonny Cumbie to change the team's offense.
“We’re going to a style of offense that I thought evened the playing field,” Patterson said.

He went out and landed a pair of offensive coordinators who know Big 12 ball to design a hybrid Oklahoma State-Texas Tech scheme that Patterson says will still have “some of the old TCU” in the run game.

But this is the new TCU. No playbook, no huddle, no looking back.

The struggles of 2013 weren’t the lone motivator for Patterson’s change of plans, but the evidence was hard to ignore. Last season, TCU’s offense hit 10-year lows in points per game (25.1) and yards per play (5.03) and 10-year highs in turnovers (30) and three-and-outs (49).

The Horned Frogs had an offense that averaged 8.8 points in the first half of games, behind an offensive line that Patterson admits got “pushed around” at times due to injuries and departures. You can’t keep up with high-speed Big 12 offenses that way.

Another motivator? Patterson’s belief that a seemingly unexciting Horned Frogs offense wasn’t helping his cause in recruiting.

“I had watched too many skill players leave the city. Right now, they don’t know what this offense is about,” Patterson said. “Right now, they think TCU has a defensive coach. But to be honest with you, I have no problem winning 45-31.”

He’s putting his full trust in Doug Meacham and Sonny Cumbie to build up the new-look offense, so much so that Patterson says he’s taken a hands-off approach to the transition. He just tried to defend it in spring practice, and that wasn’t fun.

Meacham spent eight years learning and teaching one of the nation’s finest spread offenses at Oklahoma State, then left to run his own at Houston in 2013. TCU’s new playcaller has already served as an OC at five other schools in his career.

He’ll collaborate with Cumbie, a Mike Leach disciple who coached the past four years at Texas Tech and will oversee the TCU quarterbacks.

As Tech’s quarterback in 2004, Cumbie put up 70 points on the Frogs -- two touchdowns more than a Patterson-led TCU team has ever given up. And yes, that came up in the job interview.

Both are respected offensive minds and recruiters in the Dallas-Fort Worth Metroplex, and previous coordinators Rusty Burns and Jarrett Anderson are still on staff and have a say in game plans.

“Their relationship is awesome,” Patterson said. “I think the whole group has meshed real well. They’ve brought a lot of energy and new ideas.”

[+] EnlargeTy Slanina
Kevin Jairaj/USA TODAY SportsHorned Frogs receiver Ty Slanina caught 19 passes for 184 yards and a touchdown as a freshman last season.
Installing the new attack meant coming up with new terminology, since at least three other Big 12 programs run similar sets, and new answers to how to outsmart opponents.

“It’s not so much you don’t know what’s coming, but can you out-execute it?” Patterson said. “It’ll be very important for us to be able to run the football, because I think going in that’s where our strengths are -- our offensive line and our running backs and our quarterback can run, especially Trevone [Boykin].”

The offensive line should be better and much, much bigger. Six of TCU’s best exiting spring ball -- Halapoulivaati Vaitai, Tayo Fabuluje, Frank Kee, Matt Pryor, Joseph Noteboom and Aviante Collins -- average 6-foot-5 and 315 pounds.

TCU’s top running backs all got hurt in spring ball -- literally -- but there are options there with B.J. Catalon, Aaron Green, Kyle Hicks, incoming freshman Shaun Nixon and a few others.

At receiver, Patterson says TCU has the guys needed to stretch a defense. Whether or not Brandon Carter returns, the staff is excited about speedsters like Deante' Gray and Kolby Listenbee and incoming freshmen Emanuel Porter and Corey McBride to go along with David Porter, Josh Doctson, Cameron Echols-Luper, Ty Slanina and Jordan Moore.

“I think we’ll have enough weapons to be able to move the football,” Patterson said.

Quarterback is still the question mark, especially if the versatile Boykin isn’t the choice. No matter who runs the show, the initial goal will be simple: first downs, points and a tempo that causes trouble.

“They’ve been awfully fast this spring,” Patterson said. “The biggest thing is to go fast enough to make people uncomfortable.”

That, after all, is the goal here: An offense that can prove as challenging as Patterson’s stingy defenses. The Horned Frogs’ mission for transformation isn’t guided by some sort of “if you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em” sentiment.

No, this is adaptation, and it’s necessary. After its first two Big 12 seasons ended in frustration, TCU is working on a new way to beat ‘em.

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