Big 12: Michael Hodges

Big 12 viewer's guide: Week 9

October, 24, 2014
Oct 24
10:00
AM ET
In Week 9 of Big 12 action, Kansas State and TCU will attempt to keep their playoff hopes alive, while Texas and Texas Tech will try to take a step on the road toward bowl eligibility. West Virginia, meanwhile, will look to keep rolling at Oklahoma State, which hopes to bounce back after getting blown out last week.

Those, among others, will be the storylines to watch Saturday in the Big 12:

Texas at No. 11 Kansas State, noon ET (ESPN): If the numbers are any indication, Texas won’t get anything easy in this game. Kansas State has allowed only 19 plays of 20 yards or more, which is the fewest given up by any Big 12 defense. The Longhorns have been better offensively the last two weeks. Still, only Kansas and Iowa State have produced fewer 20-yard-plus plays in the Big 12 than the Longhorns. Running backs Johnathan Gray and Malcolm Brown have also had problems breaking loose from the line of scrimmage. According to ESPN Stats & Information, Texas is averaging 1.4 yards after contact on designed runs, the worst average among Power 5 offenses. The Longhorns will have to be better on the ground to have a chance of pulling the upset in Manhattan, Kansas.

[+] EnlargeClint Trickett
AP Photo/Chris JacksonClint Trickett has thrown 15 touchdown passes and only five interceptions this season.
No. 22 West Virginia at Oklahoma State, 3:30 p.m. ET (ESPN): How much better has West Virginia QB Clint Trickett been this year? He has improved his Total QBR by 29 points from last season, the third-largest increase among Power 5 QBs, according to ESPN Stats & Information. One reason for the dramatic improvement has been the long ball. Trickett has already thrown eight touchdowns on passes of 20 yards or more, tied for third among Power 5 QBs. He had just one such touchdown pass all of last season. Kevin White, the nation’s leading receiver, has been on the other end of the majority of Trickett’s long throws. White tops the country with 16 receptions of 20 yards or more. Oklahoma State, meanwhile, has been even more reliant on throwing deep. Daxx Garman has 35 completions on passes thrown 15 yards or longer, tied for the most by a Power 5 QB. One thing is certain in this game: The ball will be flying downfield often.

Texas Tech at No. 10 TCU, 3:30 p.m. ET (FOX): Trickett isn’t the only Big 12 QB who has been a completely a different player this year. Trevone Boykin’s Total QBR is up 28.7 points from last season, the fifth-largest increase in college football, per ESPN Stats & Information. Thanks in big part to Boykin’s turnaround, the Horned Frogs have featured one of the best big-play offenses in the country. TCU has 13 touchdown drives of three plays of fewer, tied for the most such drives in the country, according to ESPN Stats & Information. Boykin & Co. could add to that total this weekend. Texas Tech's defensive efficiency is the worst among Power 5 teams. Opponents have scored a touchdown on 36 percent of their drives against Tech, the worst percentage of any Power 5 defense. The Red Raiders will probably need their best defensive effort of the year to have any shot at toppling the surging Horned Frogs.

Notes from an up-close look at A&M

August, 15, 2011
8/15/11
9:15
AM ET
COLLEGE STATION, Texas -- There's only so much you can take from a 90-minute workout without pads, but here are a couple quick thoughts and observations from Sunday afternoon's workout inside the indoor facility at Texas A&M.

I'll be there this morning for a live scrimmage with pads, too.
  • Last year, when I visited College Station in the preseason, it was pretty obvious during team work that Jerrod Johnson had a ways to go before he was back to the same player he was in 2009. He obviously never quite got there. This year? Not the case. All the usual suspects looked great. Ryan Tannehill was as good as you'd expect, Jeff Fuller looked great, and Christine Michael showed some nice explosiveness and lateral movement. Cyrus Gray is limited after suffering a minor hamstring injury on the first day of camp, but he's expected to be 100 percent for the season opener against SMU on Sept. 4.
  • Every time I've come to a practice at College Station, I've been impressed with what Jameill Showers had to offer as a backup quarterback, and Sunday was no different. It's a limited sample size, sure, but he throws an outstanding ball, and he made good decisions throughout Sunday's workout in team drills.
  • An offseason arrest didn't put Damontre Moore in the good graces of the coaching staff, and as a result, the possible star had spent the first week of camp working primarily with the third and fourth groups, according to other A&M reporters who had attended earlier practices. On Sunday, however, he was back working with the first team at the Joker position. A good sign for his future, no doubt. The sophomore may have struggled off the field during the offseason, but remember: Von Miller infamously wasn't the personification of a leader early in his career, and left as one of the program's all-time greats -- on and off the field. There's plenty of time for Moore to shore up his act.
  • Inside linebacker is a primary concern for the Aggies this fall camp, especially after they got a preview of a grim future without Michael Hodges this year when Hodges missed the majority of the Cotton Bowl with a knee injury. Garrick Williams is one of the defense's leaders and a returning starter at one of the two spots in the 3-4 scheme, but Donnie Baggs and Jonathan Stewart have been earning lots of time together with the first team -- and without Williams. Coach Mike Sherman's explanation for the approach: "I always like to see guys with the first group, because that's when you get to evaluate them. When you're with the second group, you're going up against the second group of offense. So let's see how they do against the first group guys, so it's really a more accurate evaluation of where they stand. They could be killers in the second group but go to the first group and it's a little bit more challenging, so I want to see them against the better competition."
  • Sherman says he's still trying to sort out who his starter will be, but I like the approach to throw them in with the first-team and see who outperforms the other. Stewart is the more experienced player, but Baggs, a true freshman, has obviously impressed enough to even be in this position. Sherman expects the position to be more solidified early next week.
  • Sherman played it coy when asked about a "rumor" that Texas A&M's coaches met with university president R. Bowen Loftin about the possibility of a move to the SEC. "Rumors? Really? Are you saying it's a rumor? I don't comment on rumors," he said. "You led with a rumor, so..." A poor choice of words, sure, but a fruitless line of questioning, no doubt, regardless of word choice.
  • Safety Trent Hunter did discuss the prospect of the SEC, but only that the team has been told not to discuss it. "Our coaches made a point on the first day. Don't talk about it, don't tweet about it, don't Facebook about it," Hunter said, adding that it hasn't been difficult to focus on the field while rumors swirled. "It's not anything that's going to affect us playing SMU on that first week."
  • Today's scrimmage will be live with plenty of hitting, Sherman says. Should be exciting. I'll have some notes and stats up on the blog later.

We're rolling out our preseason poll this week with five teams each day.

Here's where the Big 12 teams checked in so far.
Our poll was put together based upon ballots submitted by 25 ESPN.com college football analysts, columnists and reporters, including yours truly.

After our poll is finished this week, I'll unveil my personal top 25 ballot on the blog.

Next up is Texas A&M at No. 8.

Texas A&M: The Aggies were a different team last season once converted wide receiver Ryan Tannehill took over at quarterback, winning six straight including a win over Oklahoma. They return the most starters in the Big 12, including their top two running backs and wide receivers. The team is actually losing only nine receptions from its receiving corps from last year. Matt Allen, last year's starting center, is the only change on offense. The defense lost leading tackler Michael Hodges and Von Miller but all three units -- defensive lineman, linebacker and defensive back -- stack up well against the rest of the Big 12. The Aggies' expectations are as high as they have ever been under coach Mike Sherman, but anything less than a Cotton Bowl win will be a huge disappointment. -- Ryen Russillo, ESPN Radio
Time to take a look at a few of the under-the-radar young talents across the Big 12.

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.

[+] EnlargeTexas' Jackson Jeffcoat
Brendan Maloney/US PRESSWIREAs a freshman last season, Texas defensive end Jackson Jeffcoat appeared to be on his way to an all-Big 12 season before an ankle injury.
Corey Nelson, Soph., LB, Oklahoma: Nelson was referred to as the most impressive player in Oklahoma's spring after a quiet freshman year. Now, the Sooners are bending over backwards to try and get Nelson's talent on the field in the midst of a loaded group of linebackers. An earlier experiment featured Nelson at the nickel back spot, and co-Defensive Big 12 Freshman of the Year Tony Jefferson moving from his home at nickel back to free safety alongside sophomore Aaron Colvin, a converted corner, at strong safety. Now, however, with Travis Lewis likely out to begin the season, Nelson will move back to weakside linebacker where he had backed up Lewis, and Jefferson will be back at nickel back.

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.
Heading into the season, I see five teams in the Big 12 with a realistic chance to win the league. I'll be breaking them down in order (which won't be the same as my post-spring power rankings) of their chances to leave the season with the Big 12 title.

No. 1 on the list was the favorites: Oklahoma

Today, we take a look at my No. 2: Texas A&M.

Why the Aggies will win the Big 12

[+] EnlargeRyan Tannehill
AP Photo/Rod AydelotteQuarterback Ryan Tannehill will be crucial to Texas A&M's success in 2011.
1. They've got the most complete offense.

Center Matt Allen is the only offensive starter not returning, but the Aggies have a solid line, headlined by a maturing, but already talented pair of bookends with big potential, tackles Luke Joeckel and Jake Matthews. At the skill positions, you won't find anything close to a weakness. Texas A&M returns the best running back corps in the league and maybe the best 1-2 punch in the nation with Christine Michael and Cyrus Gray. All of the team's top five receivers return, and Jeff Fuller, who chose to return for his senior season, is arguably one of the five best in the country. Ryan Tannehill doesn't have a ton of starts (six) under his belt, but he was great in a tight spot last year, and led the team in receptions his first two years on the field.

2. They're especially strong in great places on defense.

Those places: Secondary and pass-rushers. That's huge in the Big 12. New joker Damontre Moore, defensive end Tony Jerod-Eddie and linebacker Sean Porter should combine for more than 15 sacks this year and tons of quarterback pressures that could result in some big plays for another defensive strength: the secondary. All four starters return, and Terrence Frederick, Coryell Judie are experienced seniors at corner, while Trent Hunter and Steven Campbell hold down the safety spots.

3. They made it hard to win nine games last year.

Texas A&M already won a share of the Big 12 South last year, despite ranking 10th in the Big 12 in turnover margin at minus-5. Its 30 turnovers (15 INTs, 15 fumbles lost) were the most in the Big 12 and 111th most in the nation. You'd have to think that number will drop this year with Tannehill at quarterback. He struggled in the loss to LSU, throwing three interceptions, but he had just three in his six previous games at quarterback, compared to 11 touchdowns. Five of those 30 turnovers came from Jerrod Johnson in a loss to Oklahoma State, and if the Aggies take care of the ball then, or this time around, they're likely Big 12 champions.

Why the Aggies won't win the Big 12

1. The defensive losses will be too much.

Damontre Moore should slide in and replace Von Miller. I'd expect him to do well, but what about middle linebacker? Michael Hodges was the heart of the defense in 2010 and its leading tackler. When a knee injury forced him out of the Cotton Bowl against LSU, the Tigers gashed the Aggies' defense, which for the few weeks to end the season, looked like one of the Big 12's best and topped the league in rush defense. Hodges is gone for good now, and the Aggies left spring without a solid replacement. For now, it looks like Jonathan Stewart will slide in, but it could end up being true freshman Donnie Baggs. Either way, A&M won't be as strong there, and teams that can run the ball (i.e., OSU, OU) may take advantage. Lucas Patterson is the only other loss on the defensive side of the ball, but my money is on Hodges being missed the most on the field, even though Miller was the No. 2 pick in the NFL draft.

2. They have to travel to Norman.

Texas A&M has been outscored 107-24 in its last two trips to Norman, and Les Miles at Oklahoma State in 2001 is the only Big 12 coach to ever beat Bob Stoops at Owen Field. The odds are definitely against Mike Sherman becoming the second. The Aggies knocked off Oklahoma in College Station last year, but did it largely on the strength of the linebackers, and Hodges and Miller, who helped orchestrate those three goal-line stops to beat the Sooners, are gone.

3. Hype and the Aggies are not happy bedfellows.

Texas A&M looked like a possible Big 12 South contender last year, but the Aggies lost all three of their first real tests, and nearly lost to Florida International in College Station, erasing a 21-7 fourth-quarter deficit to avoid embarrassment. After being written off by most, they rallied for a share of the Big 12 South, but this year, the attention is back on the Aggies, who will likely be toting a top-15 ranking into the preseason. How will the team handle big games early in the season against Oklahoma State and an early trip to Lubbock before the showdown in Norman? Their recent history suggests "not well."
We've taken a look at the Big 12 offensive skill positions in our position rankings, and we'll circle back along to the lines eventually. For now, though, we'll flip to the defensive side of the ball, starting with linebackers.

There's a lot of turnover in this space, and the bottom half was pretty hard to sort out. We haven't seen a lot of these new faces on the field for extended periods of time, so it's somewhat of a crapshoot. I don't feel like there's a wide gap between teams 7-10, and each of those squads have at least one linebacker who could be due for a huge year and shoot them up this list.

I see Nos. 1-3 possibly being great, with dropoffs before the No. 4 and No. 7 teams.

Also, if you missed them, here are the other position rankings we've done so far.
So, without further ado, here's how I ranked the linebackers. (Nickel backs are included in this list, hybrid DE/LBs will be with defensive lines)

[+] EnlargeTravis Lewis
Matthew Emmons/US PresswireOklahoma's Travis Lewis is the Big 12's top returning defender.
1. Oklahoma -- The Sooners boast the Big 12's top returning defender in Travis Lewis, who has notched at least 100 tackles in each of the past three seasons, and he'll be joined by the Big 12's co-Defensive Freshman of the Year, Tony Jefferson. Tom Wort and Corey Nelson are both loaded with potential, and will fill out the rotation, after the starter at middle linebacker, Austin Box, died on May 19.

2. Iowa State -- The Cyclones boast two of the Big 12's best in Jake Knott and A.J. Klein, who combined for more tackles than any two teammates in the Big 12 last season. They had 241 stops, and, after healing from a broken leg suffered midseason last year, Matt Tau'fo'ou should join them at middle linebacker.

3. Texas -- Texas' offense may be lacking, but the defense will be strong once again, led by two others likely to earn spots as some of the Big 12's best. Keenan Robinson and Emmanuel Acho were Texas' top two tacklers last year with 187 stops, and return as likely captains come fall camp. Texas' depth chart is wide open, but look for former blue-chip recruit Jordan Hicks to emerge as another star this year, despite being forced to sit out spring camp with a broken foot. Dravannti Johnson played some defensive end last year at the Buck position for the Longhorns, but may find his way back to linebacker. Tevin Jackson was ineligible last year, but he's ready for 2011, and could make an impact.

4. Oklahoma State -- The Cowboys "Star" linebacker is occupied by co-Defensive Freshman of the Year Shaun Lewis, and sophomore Caleb Lavey is charged with replacing Orie Lemon, the leader of last year's defense. Oklahoma State has questions on the weak side, but LeRon Furr and Chris Dinkins will compete next fall. Kris Catlin could be a factor, too.

5. Texas A&M -- The Aggies must replace their leading tackler, Michael Hodges, and don't have a clear replacement heading into fall camp. The good news: They've got two others with lots of experience in the linebacking corps that look like budding stars. Garrick Williams should be one of the defense's leaders and Sean Porter returns after making 74 tackles last year to rank third on the team.

6. Missouri -- The Tigers have lots of experience at middle linebacker, where a pair of seniors (albeit frequently injured seniors) Will Ebner and Luke Lambert will be on the field a lot. One of the Big 12's most exciting players, junior Zaviar Gooden, will hold down the weakside and perhaps become a household name by season's end. Sophomores Andrew Wilson and Donovan Bonner, who missed all of last season with a knee injury, will likely compete for strongside duties in fall camp. Andrew Gachkar, the team's leading tackler, is gone, but here's guessing Gooden emerges as the defense's top playmaker.

7. Kansas -- The Jayhawks linebackers were solid last year, and could be pretty good again, despite losing Drew Dudley and Justin Springer, two of the team's top four tacklers. Steven Johnson, the team's leading tackler in 2010, is back and he'll be joined by possible star Huldon Tharp, who missed all of last season with a leg injury. Fellow sophomore Darius Willis earned a starting role after spring.

8. Kansas State -- K-State's front seven struggled last year, but will get a big boost from Arthur Brown. One man won't be enough to totally fix the Wildcats rush defense problems, though. K-State gave up 26 more yards on the ground per game than any other team in the Big 12 (more than 231 per game) but Brown may be playing in a 4-3 next fall rather than the 4-2-5 the Wildcats have employed since Snyder's return. Alex Hrebec, Emmanuel Lamur, Tre Walker and Blake Slaughter will likely fill the rotation along with Brown.

9. Baylor -- Baylor's defensive depth chart, like Texas', is a bit amorphous after bringing in a new coordinator, but Elliot Coffey figures to be the Bears biggest playmaker at linebacker. Chris McAllister should be solid and Ahmad Dixon is promising at nickelback, too. Brody Trahan is a great story, but him going from third-string quarterback to starting linebacker isn't a ringing endorsement for Baylor's depth at the position.

10. Texas Tech -- Tech will be moving to a 4-2-5 this year under new coordinator Chad Glasgow, and could rise up this list, but the Red Raiders lose a lot of talent from last season's team, which ran the 3-4. Bront Bird and Brian Duncan are both gone, and youth will be a big factor with this group. Cqulin Hubert's outstanding potential is matched by his more outstanding first name, and freshman Blake Dees showed promise after arriving early this spring. They'll likely be the rotation at middle linebacker spot alongside Daniel Cobb and Zach Winbush. Terrance Bullitt could be a playmaker at his new safety spot, listed as a strong safety but with plans to spend lots of time near the line of scrimmage, a la nickelback.

Mailbag: QB change, best D, new rivalries

May, 27, 2011
5/27/11
2:15
PM ET
Good questions this week. Much appreciated on my end. If yours didn't get answered, or you were too lazy to ask it, feel free to send it my way.

Paul in Oklahoma City asked: Ubbs...who do you see taking over at QB at OSU after Weeden leaves? A lot of people think JW Walsh will but is there any chance Clint Chelf or Johnny Deaton take over instead?

David Ubben: It's pretty tough to tell early on, and we haven't had much chance to see these guys. J.W. Walsh's head was still spinning when I visited Stillwater the spring, but when the game slows down for him, we'll get a better feel of how good he could be.

It should be a pretty fun competition, but experience like Chelf got last season and probably will get this season is impossible to duplicate. Too many times people lose sight of the importance of the backup quarterback race and making sure you have a guy that's ready. Landry Jones narrowly beat out Drew Allen in 2009, and like the Sooners learned the hard way, the old adage of "You're only one play away" is a cliche that's far from meaningless.


Kevin Bright in Oklahoma City asked: David, Should the Sooners trade Westbrook? How will the loss of Murry effect the Thunder? You know he scored a bunch of touchdowns to get them to the Western Conference Finals? And speaking of the Finals why did Stoops go small and allow the Mavs all those rebounds. And do you think Scott Brooks would leave for the Ohio State job if Tressel gets handed his gold pants? I am so confused, is it August yet? Any way, no way Alabama is going to beat the Thunder next year! Sooners should be #1. Always have been, always will be. At least to me. And sometimes in the polls. You da man.

DU: Ha. I'm not sure why, but this e-mail made me laugh. I had to share. But seriously ... is it August yet?


Keyser Soze in Houston asked: Big 12 talk is always about the offense. Tell me which teams you think are going to do the most damage on the defensive side of the ball. NU is out so the conference is losing some of the little defensive credibility it had. Texas played pretty well considering they had no offense to give them a breather, but they have to replace the secondary. A&M started off pretty porous but was playing pretty impressive late in the year, unfortunately they have von miller to replace. Missouri could be pretty good and an unconfirmed rumor says tubberville can teach red raiders to spell tackle.

DU: I generally think Oklahoma, Missouri, Texas and Texas A&M will battle it out for the Big 12's best defense. Tech is still a year away on both sides of the ball, but if they can stick around and win 7-8 games this season, the Red Raiders could be in position for a Big 12 title run in 2012.

Those first four defenses are pretty complete, with a few minor problems. Whoever fixes them the best will come out on top. The Aggies have to figure out how to replace Michael Hodges, which I actually think will be harder to do than replacing Miller. Missouri has to make sure its new corners are as good as the coaches think they are.

Texas' secondary, as you mentioned, is really young. But there's no denying Texas' ability to pump out DBs and getting Duane Akina back was huge for the Horns. Oklahoma has some inexperience in the secondary and some questions at defensive tackle, but I doubt those two positions will drop below average at worst.


Lou in USA asked: You seem to post on the comment section more than the other bloggers. What do you think of the new format? I personally like it.

DU: I like it a lot. I think it'll make it easier for people to carry on conversations about linear topics without a lot of distraction. That's what the comments section is all about, and helping accomplish that is a good thing.

Everyone on the Internet generally hates every change at first, but they get used to it over time. I'm sure the comments section will be the same.


Matthew in Rolla asked: Hey David! I read the article about Big 12 rivalries that "should be." How about Missouri vs. Arkansas or Iowa?

DU: Missouri needs one, but it's best nonconference rivalry (Illinois) just ended. Arkansas already plays its old SWC rival, Texas A&M, and with an SEC schedule looming, doesn't need to add Missouri. The same with Iowa, who plays Iowa State every year in nonconference anyway.

In theory, those games would be great, but Iowa and Arkansas are busy with other series to add Missouri. The Tigers have a nice marquee nonconference matchup in probably Pac-12 South favorite Arizona State this year, but finding a geographic rival outside of Illinois would be a nice move in the future.


Larry Scott in Walnut Creek, Calif., asked: David, in my massive marketing deal for the 12-Pack, I used a company called Pac-12 Media Enterprises and that company is a for-profit holding company for the conference. Does creating a FOR-profit company to collect hundreds of millions of dollars for NON-profit educational institutions make you nervous?

DU: I'll just say this: yes.


Matt in Dallas: Should the conference look at each team playing a 4-4-1 "Big 12" schedule? As in 4 home games, 4 away games, and 1 neutral site? If so, which teams should play which and where should they play the games?

DU: Yeah, teams definitely need to look into doing that. It can be tough to fill the seats in games like that (see: Missouri versus Kansas and Iowa State versus Kansas State at Arrowhead last season) but playing five away games in conference seems like a rough deal for coaches.

As the league's strength fluctuates, somebody is going to get completely hammered on a road schedule one of these years, too. Could see some really good teams lose 2-4 games as a result.

The Big 12's top returning TD makers

May, 24, 2011
5/24/11
10:30
AM ET
Inspired by (read: ripped off) our friends over at the SEC blog, we'll take a look today at who brings back the most scoring in the league.

It's also an interesting look at exactly how many times teams crossed the goal line last season, a total stat that, for whatever reason, doesn't get looked at very much.

It's obviously no guaranteed predictor of success, but it's an interesting look at the boiled down "returning starters" number we always hear about in the months leading up to the season.

1. Texas A&M -- 93.6 percent
47 offensive touchdowns (44 return)
28 passing touchdowns (15 return)
28 receiving touchdowns (27 return)
19 rushing touchdowns (17 return)

2. Missouri -- 88.9 percent
45 offensive touchdowns (40 return)
17 passing touchdowns (1 returns, James Franklin)
17 receiving touchdowns (17 return)
28 rushing touchdowns (23 return)

3. Kansas -- 87.5 percent
24 offensive touchdowns (21 return)
11 passing touchdowns (11 return)
11 receiving touchdowns (9 return)
13 rushing touchdowns (12 return)

4. Texas -- 79.3 percent
29 offensive touchdowns (23 return)
10 passing touchdowns (10 return)
10 receiving touchdowns (7 return)
19 rushing touchdowns (16 return)

5. Oklahoma State -- 72.6 percent
62 offensive touchdowns (45 return)
36 passing touchdowns (36 return)
36 receiving touchdowns (35 return, Colton Chelf)
26 rushing touchdowns (10 return)

6. Baylor -- 70.8 percent
48 offensive touchdowns (34 return)
23 passing touchdowns (23 return, including one by WR Kendall Wright)
23 receiving touchdowns (21 return)
25 rushing touchdowns (13 return)

7. Oklahoma -- 59 percent
61 offensive touchdowns (36 return)
38 passing touchdowns (38 return)
38 receiving touchdowns (29 return)
23 rushing touchdowns (7 return)

8. Texas Tech -- 35.7 percent
56 offensive touchdowns (20 return)
39 passing touchdowns (none return)
39 receiving touchdowns (11 return)
17 rushing touchdowns (9 return)

9. Iowa State -- 34.5 percent
29 offensive touchdowns (10 return)
14 passing touchdowns (1 returns, Jerome Tiller)
14 receiving touchdowns (6 return)
15 rushing touchdowns (4 return)

10. Kansas State -- 26.8 percent
56 offensive touchdowns (15 return)
16 passing touchdowns (1 returns, Collin Klein)
16 receiving touchdowns (9 return)
40 rushing touchdowns (6 return)

A couple thoughts/notes:
  • In the total numbers, we counted the guys who crossed the goal line, since you obviously can't count passing touchdowns twice.
  • You can see here why I still think Texas Tech is a year away from being a big factor.
  • Iowa State and Kansas State have tough tasks ahead replacing the production of Daniel Thomas for the Wildcats and Austen Arnaud and Alexander Robinson for the Cyclones. I don't think I told anyone anything they didn't know, but it's a little sobering to see the numbers on paper here.
  • Pretty clear to see that Missouri brings back a lot, and if it can get some good play from James Franklin, the Tigers could be in for a great season. The same is true for Texas A&M, as complete of a returning team as there is in the country. The upside isn't as high as Oklahoma, of course, but the Aggies' focus has to be replacing center Matt Allen and a pair of stout linebackers in Von Miller and Michael Hodges.
  • Not sure what the big gap between the top seven and the bottom three is all about, but it's there, so ... there you go.
  • Shocking to see how far Texas fell in one of the simplest offensive stats in football. In 2009, Texas had 29 passing touchdowns and 28 rushing touchdowns, compared to 29 total in 2010. Talk turnover margin all you'd like, and it certainly factors into that number, but Texas won't win many more games unless that number sees a big boost in 2011.
  • I didn't realize OSU edged out in-state rival OU with 62 scores to the Sooners' 61. I'd expect those two to be joined at the top by the Aggies next season.
  • Additionally, I'm not sure Kansas State's offense got enough respect last season. Those 56 scores are nothing to scoff at, especially when you compare them to other offenses that most people would consider significantly better than the Wildcats (i.e., Texas Tech, Missouri, Baylor, Texas A&M). Is that truly the case? Perhaps not.

Texas A&M spring wrap

May, 6, 2011
5/06/11
6:30
AM ET
TEXAS A&M

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.

The Revolving Door: Texas A&M

May, 3, 2011
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I've done it. You've done it.

"Hey, is that guy still around?"

Even with two fewer teams, it's hard to keep track. Our next series, which we did last year, too, takes a look at two key players for every team in the league that are taking their talents elsewhere, returning to campus, or arriving to try and write a legacy of their own.

So really, this series isn't so much for the fans of the teams in the posts, but more for everyone else. It wouldn't be a bad idea to bookmark this series.

Next up: Texas A&M

Going:

Von Miller, LB

Miller will go down as not only one of the best Aggies of all-time, but one of the most beloved. Throughout the draft process (which concluded with him being drafted No. 2 overall), he gave credit to his coaches and teammates and talked extensively about how much he loved Texas A&M and his time there. He led the Big 12 in sacks the past two seasons, and led the nation in 2009. As the lynchpin of the Aggies' 3-4 scheme in 2010, he spent more time in coverage, but his combination of size (6-foot-4, 255 pounds) and speed (4.4 40-yard dash) is found almost nowhere. No player was more integral in the return of the Wrecking Crew in 2010. And to top it all off, at the end of his introductory news conference with the Denver Broncos, he gave a "Gig 'em."

Michael Hodges, LB

Hodges came to Texas A&M as a walk-on. He didn't play at all in 2008, but coordinator Joe Kines gave him a shot in 2009, and Hodges rewarded him with an All-Big 12 honorable mention season after starting nine games in his first real season on the field. Last year, as a senior, Hodges emerged as one of the defense's leaders and led the team with 115 tackles. Hodges missed most of his last game, the Cotton Bowl, with a knee injury, and the Wrecking Crew suffered in his absence. Hodges wasn't blessed with the measurables of his teammate, Miller, but he made the most of what he had and always seemed to be around the ball. Fans admire that, and like Miller, he'll go down as one of the most beloved Aggies of all-time, too.

Staying:

Jeff Fuller, WR

Fuller took some time after the Aggies bowl game to make his decision, but his decision to stay has further amped up the anticipation in College Station for what could be a special year this fall. The 6-foot-4, 215-pounder is one of the Big 12's best red zone targets, and just finished the first 1,000-yard receiving season in school history, adding 12 touchdowns, too. He'll further etch his name into the record books in 2011, and there's no reason to believe he won't have the second 1,000-yard receiving season in school history. Fuller wants to refine his route running and become a better run-after-catch threat, making himself a more complete receiver, and he should be better than ever next year.

Cyrus Gray, RB

Entering last year, Gray was largely considered the lesser half of the Aggies' stellar running back duo. Not anymore. After Christine Michael went down with a broken leg, Gray uncorked one of the greatest stretches by any running back in Texas A&M history. He rushed for 100 yards in seven consecutive games, the first time any Aggie had done that since Darren Lewis had a 10-game streak in 1988. Gray brings his seven-game streak into 2011, which boasts big games against defenses like LSU, Oklahoma, Nebraska and Texas.

Coming:

Johnny Manziel, QB

Could Manziel be the next Ryan Tannehill? He enrolled early, impressed coaches and did the same with fans when he completed 8 of 9 passes for 115 yards and two touchdowns. He'll be in a three-man race this fall to back up Tannehill, but Manziel has nice wheels, too. He rushed for 1,674 yards as a senior in high school, and if he doesn't win the backup job, could he find his way on the field as a receiver? We'll find out this fall.

Brandon Alexander, DE

Alexander committed to Texas A&M days before signing day, despite strong interest from Texas and a late visit to Arkansas, and was one of the Aggies' top recruits. The 6-foot-6, 230-pound Brenham, Texas, native was one of the best defensive ends in the country and gives Texas A&M a possible top-flight pass-rusher in a quarterbacks' league that demands teams have them.

Click here for more from The Revolving Door.

Spring superlatives: Texas A&M

April, 26, 2011
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The ninth in our series looking at the strongest and weakest position for each team in the Big 12: The Texas A&M Aggies.

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:

Sizing up the Big 12's returning tacklers

April, 26, 2011
4/26/11
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You can size up Big 12 defenses any way you want, but here's how the Big 12 ranks in terms of experienced tacklers coming back in 2011.

1. Kansas State: The Wildcats bring back all five of their top tacklers, led by senior cornerback David Garrett, who made 92 tackles last year. Cornerback Terrance Sweeney is the only loss for the defense, which struggled last year, but will return eight of its top nine tacklers.

2. Texas: Five of the Longhorns six top tacklers return, led by a pair of linebackers among the best in the Big 12. Keenan Robinson and Emmanuel Acho combined for 187 tackles last year and should be the leaders of a Longhorns defense that lost defensive lineman Sam Acho, who turned in an All-American-caliber season as a senior in 2010. Blake Gideon, Kenny Vaccaro and Christian Scott give the Longhorns good experience at safety, too.

3. Iowa State: Linebacker Jake Knott is the Big 12's leading returning tackler after making 131 stops a year ago. The Cyclones return four of their top five tacklers, including junior linebacker A.J. Klein, who made 111 tackles of his own. Middle linebacker Matt Tau'fo'ou missed the second half of the season with a broken leg, but he'll be back on the field this year. Safety David Sims will be tough to replace.

4. Texas A&M: The Aggies return eight of 11 starters on defense, but two of the three losses (linebackers Michael Hodges and Von Miller) were among the top four tacklers. The other two starting linebackers, Garrick Willams and Sean Porter, will be counted on as more experienced backers this year.

5. Missouri: The Tigers lose two of their top three tacklers, but speedy linebacker Zaviar Gooden, who tied Andrew Gachkar for the team lead with 84 tackles, is back for a Missouri defense that should be one of the Big 12's best next year. Experienced safety Kenji Jackson, a senior who will enter his fourth year on the field as a major contributor, should be one of the team's leaders next year.

6. Oklahoma State: The Cowboys lose two of their three top tacklers, but bring back a pair of solid safeties in Markelle Martin and Johnny Thomas. Leading tackler Orie Lemon made 133 stops last year, and replacing his leadership might be harder than replacing his production on the field. Sophomore Shaun Lewis is the Big 12's reigning co-Defensive Freshman of the Year and looks poised for a huge encore at the Cowboys' "star" linebacker spot.

7. Oklahoma: Three of Oklahoma's top five tacklers, including both starting safeties, are gone. It could have been worse, but linebacker Travis Lewis decided to stick around for his senior season and chase a national title. All-Big 12 corner Jamell Fleming was fourth on the team in tackles, and currently isn't enrolled. Coach Bob Stoops has been cryptic about Fleming's status in the future, and it's hard to tell if he'll be back or not after a reported academic misconduct incident.

8. Texas Tech: Injuries forced that Red Raiders to play a lot of young talent too early last year, but three of their top six tacklers won't be back in 2011. Linebackers Bront Bird (106 tackles) and Brian Duncan are the most notable absences, along with defensive tackle Colby Whitlock. Sam Fehoko and Blake Dees should anchor the middle of the defense this year, and the secondary has lots of quality young talent returning. Cody Davis, Tre Porter, D.J. Johnson and Jarvis Phillips are all back.

9. Kansas: Steven Johnson, the team's leading tackler last season, returns after making 95 stops last year, but Kansas loses all four of its next top tacklers. That includes linebacker Justin Springer, but my guess? Huldon Tharp, who missed all of last season with a foot injury, will lead the Jayhawks in stops this year.

10. Baylor: The Bears take the biggest hit in the Big 12 when it comes to returning tacklers. The team's top five in stops last season were all seniors. Six of the top seven are gone, and senior linebacker Elliot Coffey is the leading returner. He made 61 tackles last year, and missed three games with a sprained ankle.

Notes from A&M practice

April, 1, 2011
4/01/11
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COLLEGE STATION, Texas -- It's tough to plan around which practices I'll get to see when I come to campuses during the spring or preseason camp, but it was a pretty ideal situation at Texas A&M on Wednesday. The team was in full pads, practiced for about an hour and a half, and the vast majority of it was 11-on-11 team drills.

Texas A&M's practices are open to the public, something that's increasingly rare in college football, but there were probably 70-80 fans who made it to the afternoon workout on a gorgeous day for spring football. To my knowledge, the only teams in the new Big 12 that open up spring practice to fans are Texas A&M, Missouri and Baylor.

Additionally, it takes a lot for women's hoops to generate buzz, but there was definitely a bit out at practice. The Aggies beat rival Baylor, featuring arguably the game's biggest star, 6-foot-8 Brittney Griner, in Dallas earlier this week to reach the first Final Four in school history. I'm sure there will be plenty of maroon in the stands in Indianapolis this weekend. (More on that here from colleague Mechelle Voepel.)

But back to football.

A few thoughts and observations from practice:

Two guys a bit under the radar who had great days: Receiver Kenric McNeal and running back Ben Malena. With all the skill-position talent at Texas A&M, both get a bit overshadowed, but Malena, at least for one day, looked every bit as good a runner as the backs ahead of him on the depth chart, Christine Michael and Cyrus Gray. He has a lot of development to do in things like feeling creases in the line but when he got a chance to get to the second level and let his instincts take over, he was giving the defense fits. He looked solid in the open field.

Additionally, McNeal has a reputation as a shifty slot receiver who works best underneath, but he was stretching the field on Thursday like I hadn't seen from him before. His two longest plays of the year (27 and 32 yards) came late last season, but he had a couple of deep catches in the end zone after slipping past the safeties and bringing it in behind the defense. He got open a few more times, and quarterback Ryan Tannehill missed a couple of deep balls to him, but it has to be encouraging for the offense to see him break a few off like that.

Michael looking confident on healed leg

[+] EnlargeChristine Michael
AP Photo/Dave EinselChristine Michael is working his way back from a broken tibia he suffered against Texas Tech.
Michael was one guy I wanted to see, and it was tough to get a read on his mobility -- he didn't get into the open field very much. But one encouraging sign was he didn't look like he was shying away from contact at all. That's exactly what A&M wants to see. Michael brings a mean running style that no other back on the roster can provide. Early in the conference season last year, he was running over plenty of linebackers. He looks like he wants to get back to doing exactly that, and he did it on Thursday, dragging a couple of defenders at times.

I don't think the mental side of returning from the injury will be an issue. He's never been quite as shifty as Cyrus Gray, but he runs with power that you won't find anywhere else in the Big 12, and considering how the rest of the league defended the run during the bowl season -- especially power runners -- the Aggies will once again be glad he's on their team this fall.

Wrecking Crew missing a few members

Diehard A&M fans are surely already aware, but the Aggies' defense is missing quite a few key pieces this spring, especially in the back seven. Defensive backs Terrance Frederick and Coryell Judie are both sidelined after offseason shoulder surgery and linebacker Sean Porter is out with an injury to his left foot from earlier in spring practice.

Lionel Smith is also out for spring ball.

Former Aggies on hand

It's always good to see alums and former coaches on hand for spring practice. Former Aggies linebacker Michael Hodges was milling around the practice field. He's one of just three defensive starters (Von Miller, Lucas Patterson) the Aggies have to replace this spring.

Additionally, former Aggies coach R.C. Slocum was in attendance.

What to watch in the Big 12 this spring

February, 16, 2011
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Springtime is almost here. And here's a look at what to expect across the Big 12 when it gets into full swing here in the next couple weeks.

BAYLOR BEARS

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.
IOWA STATE CYCLONES

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.
KANSAS JAYHAWKS

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.
KANSAS STATE WILDCATS

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.
MISSOURI TIGERS

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.
OKLAHOMA SOONERS

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.
OKLAHOMA STATE COWBOYS

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.
TEXAS LONGHORNS

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?
TEXAS A&M AGGIES

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.
TEXAS TECH RED RAIDERS

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.
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A sincere apology to a few Big 12 players

February, 14, 2011
2/14/11
3:45
PM ET
We kicked off our top 25 list today, but unfortunately, it's only a top 25 list.

Narrowing it down was incredibly difficult, and there were a ton of talents that didn't quite make the cut.

For that, I'm sorry. I legitimately feel awful about all of them.

Every guy on this list is a top-25 caliber player who just couldn't get inside my list. If somebody else made one, I'd be fine with them being on it. But this time, they didn't make mine. There are a lot of great players in this league, and I could only recognize 25.

But here are the rest who came so, so close, in no particular order.

Rodney Stewart, RB, Colorado: Rushed for 1,316 yards to rank third in the Big 12. My biggest reason for leaving him off? His 4.54 yards per carry ranks 17th in the Big 12. He got it done this year, but he got 290 carries to do it. Other backs were more deserving.

Ricky Henry, OG, Nebraska: Nebraska's running offense was fearsome early this year, and despite some late struggles, still finished No. 1 in the Big 12. Henry was a big reason why, but other linemen slid on the list before him.

Jimmy Smith, CB, Colorado: His 68 tackles were second on the team, and he broke up four passes, but it was hard to put Smith on the list over the cornerbacks who made it, even though the position is extremely important in the Big 12.

Roy Helu Jr., RB, Nebraska : Helu finished with another 1,000-yard season, but I didn't have very many running backs on the list. Helu had a great year, and I don't mean this as a knock on him, but I was more impressed with his 1,145 yards last year without much help. Defenses spent so much time defending Taylor Martinez, holes for Helu formed that weren't there in 2009.

T.J. Moe, WR, Missouri: Moe has my title as the toughest cover in the Big 12, and his time in the top 25 is coming. Just not yet.

Kendall Wright, WR, Baylor: Wright's production might have been higher had Baylor not found other receivers to give Robert Griffin III some help, but other emerging receivers pushed Wright off the list after he made our preseason list.

Colby Whitlock, DT, Texas Tech: Whitlock had a nice year with 57 stops and two tackles for loss, but it wasn't a great year for defensive tackles in the Big 12.

Cyrus Gray, RB, Texas A&M and Jay Finley, RB, Baylor: Great years, obviously, but like I said, I just didn't put a lot of running backs on the list.

Taylor Martinez, QB, Nebraska: Never would have believed in October that he wouldn't make this list, but he wasn't a top 25 player in conference play. He works well for Nebraska in its offense, but plenty of other quarterbacks are above the freshman.

Andrew McGee, CB, Oklahoma State: Led the Big 12 in interceptions, with five, but defending the pass is about blanketing receivers, not picking off passes. That's not to say picking them off is a bad thing, but other corners were better at shutting down opposing receivers.

Jake Knott, LB, Iowa State: Racked up plenty of tackles, third in the Big 12 with 130, and he's a great player, but the book on how to beat Iowa State was out early. Running the ball against the Cyclones weak front four was effective, and opponents did it 512 times this year. Only 22 teams in college football faced more rushing attempts, and no Iowa State lineman made more than 40 tackles this year.

Michael Hodges, LB, Texas A&M: Hodges was the heart of Texas A&M's defense, and racked up 115 tackles, but other linebackers slid above him on the list.

Jamell Fleming, CB, Oklahoma: Fleming was all over the place after some early season struggles, and I wouldn't be surprised to see him on the list next year.

So, that's my list of close calls. Again, I felt terrible about not including every single one of those players, and if you want to make your own top 25 list and put them on it, they all definitely deserve it. But I can only fit 25 guys on my list, and putting one of these players on it would only mean another got snubbed.

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