Big 12: Mike Rivera

Stuckey seeks to fulfill legacy

August, 25, 2009
8/25/09
10:05
PM ET
Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Griffin

Whether he's playing football or planning his next career step, Kansas senior safety Darrell Stuckey always says he's ready.

His future career plans are limitless. Maybe an NFL career or work as a sports agent. Or how about a career in public service or even politics? Part of him wonders what it would be like to be an athletic director at a university.

"My philosophy is to be prepared for everything," said Stuckey, whose most immediate challenge is to help Kansas claim its first Big 12 North title. "I like to make a change in the world in what I do and make a difference. It that ends up in public service, so be it. I'm ready for whatever happens."

Stuckey is one of the defensive leaders for the Jayhawks, a speedy All-Big 12 player who is the team's leading returning tackler and has been a pillar for the Jayhawks' defense since claiming a starting position as a redshirt freshman in 2006.

From that vantage point, Stuckey has seen the Kansas program transformed during his college career.

Coming to college, Stuckey wasn't heavily recruited. He decided on the Jayhawks over Kansas State, Northwestern, Tulsa and Wyoming -- among others.

"When I first got here, people wondered why I wanted to go to Kansas," Stuckey said. "I didn't really follow college football, but since I've gotten here, I've seen the philosophy of the players in the program evolve during that time. We've gotten better and it's been fun to be a part of it."

The Jayhawks had never been to back-to-back bowl games when Stuckey arrived. The Jayhawks only dreamed on contending in the North Division and hadn't earned a conference championship since sharing the 1968 Big Eight title with Oklahoma.

"I could tell that players in this program were defeated when I got here," Stuckey said. "This wasn't Texas or OU and they didn't believe it was a place that we could win."

That transformation started in 2005, Stuckey's redshirt season, when the Jayhawks claimed a resounding 42-13 victory over Houston in the Fort Worth Bowl to finish with their first winning season in 10 years.

It was a starting point. The Jayhawks went on to claim a share of the Big 12 North title in 2007, earning a trip to the Orange Bowl. They then beat Virginia Tech to help boost public perception in the program.

And even as the program took a step back in last season's 8-5 campaign, how the season finished help forge the Jayhawks' temerity. Stuckey produced two interceptions and a fumble recovery in the Jayhawks' gritty comeback victory over Missouri in the regular-season finale. They built on that with a win over Minnesota in the Insight Bowl, providing them three bowl victories in the last four seasons.

"The Fort Worth Bowl was an eye-opener for what this program could accomplish," Stuckey said. "We started achieving things in the short term. Then we built on it and kept getting better to where we're at the point where we're at today. As we started winning we saw that the sky was the limit. We've seen that as the evidence for what we can do."

That late surge enables the Jayhawks to enter the 2009 season with more preseason buzz than any time in recent memory. Kansas and Nebraska are fashionable preseason favorites to claim the North title.

To fulfill those expectations, Stuckey will be counted to lead a young defense that is considered one of the program's biggest question marks.

Gone are starting linebackers Joe Mortensen, Mike Rivera and James Holt from last season's unit. But their departure has opened up the opportunity for the Jayhawks to play more of a 4-2-5 defense that will be the team's defense of choice against most of the Big 12's pass-heavy offenses.

""Those guys leaving were a great loss, but it gives us another chance to transition," Stuckey said. "We lost our size in our linebacking corps, but we gain in our speed and athleticism. We couldn't play a 4-2-5 last season. It wasn't an option. But we'll be more effective in the long run by us playing it with the new guys."

The Kansas defense struggled at times last season as they allowed at least 33 points in seven games last season. The Jayhawks ranked 89th nationally in scoring defense and ranked 114th in pass defense, allowing 27 touchdown passes.

But those struggles have provided tangible growth points for Stuckey and his defense that he said he sees every day in practice.

The Jayhawks return all four starters in the secondary and three starters along the defensive front along with heralded junior-college transfer Quintin Woods.

"We learned from our mistakes," Stuckey said. "A baby doesn't learn how to walk until they keep falling, get back up and keep going. You don't learn until you fail."

Those struggles forged a mentality that has the Kansas defense primed for significant improvement this season.

"We're underrated as a unit and still not satisfied with how last season turned out," Stuckey said. "They don't know what to expect from us. We have a chip on our shoulder and are working hard to get ready. We know our capabilities and we're going to show everybody else what we can do."

Three predictions for 2009 Kansas season

August, 4, 2009
8/04/09
6:54
PM ET

Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Griffin

Excitement is booming at Kansas, where the Jayhawks are picked to contend for their first berth in the Big 12 title game.

Before they get to that game, Coach Mark Mangino still has some serious work to shore up his defense after losing starting linebackers Mike Rivera, Joe Mortensen and James Holt. He'll also have to replace three new starters along offensive line before the Jayhawks start making any plans to be heading to Arlington for the title game.

Here are three predictions for the Jayhawks after meeting with their players and coaches last week at the Big 12 media days.

1. Sorry, but the Jayhawks are taking the collar again against the Big 12 South teams. They allowed an average of 47.6 points per game in losses to Texas, Oklahoma and Texas Tech last season. The Texas Tech game would appear the most favorable, but remember that Kansas dropped a humbling 63-21 home loss to the Red Raiders last season. Texas and Oklahoma both are better than the Jayhawks again. If the Jayhawks are going to win North title, they need to sneak a win from the South or go 5-0 against the North. Both are rather sizable goals.

2. Mangino will play a 4-2-5 defense as his base set. Part will be because of all the high-powered passing offenses the Jayhawks will be facing in the conference this season. But part will be because the Jayhawks don't have enough Big 12-caliber talent to stock three linebacker positions on a consistent basis.

3. Transfer defensive end Quintin Woods is absolutely the most important player on the defense. Much is expected out of Woods, a junior-college transfer who signed with Michigan coming out of high school but failed to qualify academically. With the Jayhawks' new five-man secondary, a consistent pass rush is a necessity here. But behind him and returning starter Jake Laptad, there's not much there. Woods and Laptad must be big producers for the Jayhawks' title success. They won't win the North unless they get a noticeable improvement here.

Kansas reportedly lands juco All-America linebacker

June, 29, 2009
6/29/09
9:16
AM ET

Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Griffin

Kansas apparently has shored up its biggest weakness heading into preseason camp.

The Lawrence Journal-World reports that Vernon Brooks, a junior-college All-American linebacker from Blinn College in Brenham, Texas, has decided to play for the Jayhawks. He would be available to join the Jayhawks immediately.

Brooks, a 6-foot, 228-pounder, will fill a hole where the Jayhawks lost three starters from last season. The departure of James Holt, Mike Rivera and Joe Mortensen from last season's team has had coach Mark Mangino scrambling for answers for the last several months.

Mangino has been considering a 4-2-5 defense as his base as one way around the problem. And he's also moved former running back Angus Quigley to the position to bolster talent there.

But Brooks would provide an immediate upgrade in talent at the position. The Journal-World reported he visited Kansas last weekend and picked them over offers from Oklahoma, Tennessee, Auburn and Tulsa.

The Jayhawks will be hoping for better production from Brooks than from another junior-college All-American they recently attracted. Running back Jocques Crawford led the nation's junior college rushers in 2007 at Cisco (Texas) Junior College. After predicting before last season he would rush for 2,000 yards, Crawford struggled finding a niche and produced only 262 yards rushing for the Jayhawks.

Earlier this spring, Crawford was suspended from the team for an undisclosed violation of team rules. His future remains uncertain in the Kansas program.

Blinn College is noted for producing strong athletes like former Kansas State quarterback Michael Bishop, former Texas running back Shon Mitchell and former Kansas State wide receiver Quincy Morgan. Brooks was coached there by Brad Franchione, son of former Texas A&M coach Dennis Franchione.

Brooks' arrival could be a critical personnel addition for the Jayhawks, who have higher expectations heading into the season than at any time in Big 12 history. Mangino has taken the Jayhawks to back-to-back bowl appearances for the first time in school history. The Jayhawks are a fashionable pick to contend in the Big 12 North Division.

And adding a junior-college All-American -- even long after spring practice is over -- shouldn't hurt those hopes.

Kansas' South schedule could be its biggest liability

June, 5, 2009
6/05/09
12:24
PM ET

Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Griffin

No team in the Big 12 has sparked a greater disparity of opinions coming into the season than Kansas.

My colleague Mark Schlabach has pegged them as his No. 22 team in the country in his preseason poll.

Other preseason polls haven't been as kind, picking the Jayhawks to finish as low as fourth in the Big 12 North.

The Jayhawks have the most explosive offense in the North with the return of key players like quarterback Todd Reesing, tailback Jake Sharp, wide receivers Dezmon Briscoe and Johnathan Wilson and versatile wide receiver/quarterback Kerry Meier. They also return three starters along the defensive line and all four starters in the secondary.

The biggest personnel liability that most observers discount for the Jayhawks are their linebackers and offensive line. The Jayhawks lose productive starters like James Holt, Mike Rivera and Joe Mortensen at linebacker from last season. And they are looking for two new starting guards as coach Mark Mangino attempts to break in redshirt freshman Tanner Hawkinson at left tackle to protect Reesing's blind side.

But as much as personnel might worry those predictors, I still think the biggest concern that most have is the Jayhawks' brutally tough schedule of cross-division games -- they face all three of the defending South Division tri-champions.

They will host Oklahoma on Oct. 24, travel to Texas Tech on Oct. 31 and visit Texas on Nov. 21.

At the same time, Nebraska will host Texas Tech on Oct. 17 and Oklahoma on Nov. 7, around a road game at Baylor on Oct. 31.

It's clear that even though Nebraska must travel to Kansas on Nov. 14, the Cornhuskers have the more favorable schedule.

Mangino realizes that the schedule remains the biggest question, particularly after three resounding losses to those South opponents by a combined margin of 143-59 last season.

"Hey, let's face it. We've won some games against the South teams. But we've got to do better," Mangino said. "We've got to beat some more South Division teams. And until we do that, that kind of talk will persist.

"It's true and it's a fact of life. I don't hide from it  and our program doesn't hide from it. The fact is until you start beating those South Division teams, you're going to have that kind of talk."

It may mean the best team in the North doesn't win the division title because of the disparity in conference schedules.

Mangino has done a masterful job of building Kansas during his coaching tenure. The Jayhawks qualified for a bowl game in back-to-back seasons for the first time in school history the past two seasons. And they could be poised for even more this season as more preseason hype surrounds the program.

But Mangino realizes that developing the program is far from over.

"We're still a work in progress," Mangino said. "I don't want to belabor that point. But just by the nature of the conference we play in, we are always in construction."

Particularly when he's facing a "murderer's row" of South Division opponents like this season.

Kansas will need defense for Big 12 success

June, 4, 2009
6/04/09
4:01
PM ET

Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Griffin

Kansas checks in at No. 22 in the preseason rankings compiled by my colleague Mark Schlabach.

The Jayhawks are ranked that high because of a potent offense keyed by quarterback Todd Reesing and a strong cast of offensive weapons around him.

The biggest concern about the Jayhawks has been their defense and specifically the loss of starting linebackers James Holt, Mike Rivera and Joe Mortensen from last season.

Any time you have to replace consistent producers like them, it's a big worry. But it might not necessarily be as troublesome for Kansas as you might expect.

First, Coach Mark Mangino is tinkering with a 4-2-5 defense that he expects he will use in most base situations. It's a good idea because of the heavy aerial attacks in the Big 12, but also because the four players he started in the final six games of the season all return. That group is keyed by a potential big-time producer in strong safety Darrell Stuckey, free safety Phillip Strozier and starting cornerbacks Justin Thornton and Daymond Patterson.

But the biggest reason I expect the Jayhawks to improve will be their depth up front along the defensive line. I really like Jake Laptad at defensive end who is one of the most underrated defensive linemen in the league. And I expect junior college transfer Quinton Woods to be an immediate force on the other side.

The Jayhawks also have a nice set of experienced tackles returning in Jamal Greene and Caleb Blakesley. Their experience will help them immeasurably in their second season together as starters.

It will be interesting to see how much the Jayhawks' statistics are altered with the losses at linebacker. Needless to say there's a lot of pressure on returnees like Dakota Lewis and Arist Wright. And I'm intrigued how much playing time that converted running back Angus Quigley will receive.

Another factor that will be interesting in the team's development will be what the addition of veteran co-defensive coordinator Bill Miller means to the group. Bill Young had all kinds of success with the defense and got much of the acclaim for the team that won the Orange Bowl two seasons ago.

When Young left, it was left to first-year coordinator Clint Bowen to start his program. There were some rocky parts along the way, considering they allowed at least 33 points in seven of their final 11 games.

Development in the defense will be the biggest key in the Jayhawks fulfilling their high preseason ranking and determining whether they will be able to contend for their first berth in the Big 12 championship game.

It won't necessarily be a surprise because Kansas' defense might not be as depleted as some might presume.

These Big 12 positions need the most help

May, 26, 2009
5/26/09
9:55
AM ET

Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Griffin

All questions aren't settled during the course of spring practice as teams still have much work to upgrade their weaknesses heading into the season.

Obviously, some will receive a boost from incoming freshmen who will arrive later. But here's how each team's biggest liability shakes out heading into the summer.

Baylor: The Bears are desperately looking for help at offensive tackle after losing No. 2 overall draft pick Jason Smith and Dan Gay as their starters. Former Canadian firefighter Danny Watkins has established himself at Smith's old position protecting Robert Griffin's blind side. And on the right side, junior Chris Griesenbeck and redshirt freshmen Cameron Kaufhold are competing for the starting job with Tyler Junior College's Phillip Blake and Blinn College's Marquis Franklin set the arrive later this summer.

Colorado: Wide receiver has been a question mark for the Buffaloes throughout Dan Hawkins' coaching tenure. The Buffaloes return four scholarship wide receivers and had a chance to work out several new players with Scotty McKnight injured during the spring. Josh Smith and Markques Simas are the top playmakers coming out of the spring. Non-scholarship players like Jason Espinoza and Ryan Maxwell emerged, but the Buffaloes definitely need a big upgrade at the position from their arriving freshman class.

Iowa State: The Cyclones will be facing a big hole at left tackle, where two-year starter Doug Dedrick departs. It could be filled by Matt Hulbert, who started two games last season when Dedrick was hurt. Or it could be massive 354-pound junior Hayworth Hicks or freshman Brayden Burris at the position. Whoever emerges will face a huge challenge in filling Dedrick's experience as he protects the blind side of the Iowa State quarterbacks.

Kansas: Coach Mark Mangino will be facing a few huge rebuilding job at linebacker, where the Jayhawks lose key contributors Joe Mortensen, Mike Rivera and James Holt from last season. Mangino is talking about using a two-linebacker set as his base defense with fifth-year senior Jake Schermer and senior Arist Wright getting the starting jobs leaving spring practice. Sophomore Steven Johnson and converted running back Angus Quigley were competing for playing time during the spring and another boost is expected when junior linebacker Justin Springer, who is recovering from a torn ACL last season, returns in the fall.

Kansas State: Carson Coffman appeared to have claimed the starting job at quarterback -- at least for a few weeks -- after a strong effort during the latter stages of spring practice. But Coffman's late binge has to be tempered considering he is playing against the weak Kansas State secondary. So it's fair to say there are some lingering questions at the position. Coffman apparently has beaten back the challenge of challengers Collin Klein, Joseph Kassanavoid, Trey Scott and Milton McPeek. But the arrival of South Florida transfer Grant Gregory and heralded junior-college transfer Daniel Thomas will mean more competition in the summer.

Missouri: The Tigers will be facing a challenge of replacing NFL first-round draft pick Evander "Ziggy" Hood at defensive tackle to play opposite nose tackle Jaron Baston. Redshirt sophomore Terrell Resonno appeared to have claimed the job out of the spring, with Dominique Hamilton, Chris Earnhardt and converted linebacker George White perhaps earning their way into the rotation.

Nebraska: After the graduation of top receivers Todd Peterson and Nate Swift from last season, the Cornhuskers need to fill both positions. Leading returning receiver Menelik Holt appears to have a hammerlock on one position, but Niles Paul lost a chance to take a big step forward after missing the spring after he was suspended for driving under the influence. Antonio Bell was the biggest surprise, but converted I-back Marcus Mendoza, Chris Brooks, Wes Cammack and Curenski Gilleylen all showed flashes during the spring.

Oklahoma: There was concern before spring practice, considering the Sooners were replacing four-fifths of their starting offensive line with only Trent Williams back from last season's starters. And it got worse when Bob Stoops called out the young replacements because of their lack of diligence in their preseason conditioning. Williams emerged at left tackle with Brian Simmons and Stephen Good at guards, redshirt freshman Ben Habern at center and either LSU transfer Jarvis Jones or Cory Brandon at right tackle. The depth took a hit when center Jason Hannan left early in training camp and sophomore guard Alex Williams chose to leave after spring practice. The group struggled against the Sooners' talented defensive line, allowing Sam Bradford to be touch-sacked twice in three possessions in the spring game and produced only 27 rushing yards in 52 carries.

Oklahoma State: The loss of veteran center David Washington produced a huge hole in the center of the Cowboys' interior line. Andrew Lewis returns to his natural position, leaving Oklahoma State needing two new starters at guard. Noah Franklin and Jonathan Rush have staked claims to the starting positions with Anthony Morgan and Nick Martinez getting repetitions inside. This group needs to improve if it hopes to equal the standards of previous seasons, when the Cowboys led the Big 12 in rushing each of the last three seasons.

Texas: The tight end was rarely used for the Longhorns after Blaine Irby dislocated his kneecap last season against Rice. He still wasn't ready to go during the spring as Greg Smith, Ahmard Howard, Ian Harris and D.J. Grant all got work. None of them emerged. And with Irby's return remaining iffy, it means the Longhorns again could reduce the use of the tight end and utilize four-receiver sets when they want to move the ball. Don't look for the Longhorns to use the tight end much unless this production improves.

Texas A&M: T
he Aggies were wracked with injuries during the spring as projected starters Lee Grimes, Kevin Matthews and Lucas Patterson were sidelined all spring as A&M was down to only nine healthy offensive linemen for some practices. It still doesn't excuse the lack of offensive production for A&M's starting unit, which produced only 9 yards rushing on 24 carries against Texas A&M's first-string defense. Coach Mike Sherman will be counting on immediate production from an impressive group of incoming freshman at fall practice, but it's fair to characterize the Aggies' offensive line as the team's biggest spring concern -- especially after allowing 39 sacks last season and ranking last in the conference in rushing yards per game.

Texas Tech: The loss of productive starters Daniel Charbonnet and Darcel McBath left a gaping hole at safety for the Red Raiders. Junior Franklin Mitchem earned the free safety position leaving spring practice and redshirt freshman Cody Davis emerged at strong safety. Jared Flannel, Brett Dewhurst and converted linebacker Julius Howard also got some snaps at safety. It will still be a challenge to combat the explosive Big 12 defenses with such an inexperienced group at the position.

Five early questions for Big 12 teams

May, 18, 2009
5/18/09
10:15
AM ET

Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Griffin

Here's a look at the Big 12's most pressing early concerns as teams break for the summer for a couple of weeks before returning in June to begin conditioning drills to prepare for the upcoming season:

1. Can Texas find a running game? The Longhorns are still looking for a featured back after no player really emerged during the spring. Cody Johnson had the best early production before he was slowed late in training camp with a hamstring injury. Neither Vondrell McGee or Fozzy Whittaker jumped forward during the spring. Heralded freshman Chris Whaley will get his chance once fall practice begins, but likely won't be counted on early. But filling the hole is important. The Longhorns desperately need somebody as they likely can't challenge for a national championship if Colt McCoy again is their leading rusher.

2. Is Oklahoma's offensive line capable of playing at a level to win conference championships and beyond? After being called out before spring practice for its lack of diligence in conditioning, Oklahoma's offensive line had an uneven spring practice. Four new starters need to emerge along with Trent Williams, who returns and moves to left tackle to protect Sam Bradford's blind side. The unit's growth will determine much of the Sooners' offensive success -- even with the return of talented skill-position players like Bradford, Chris Brown, DeMarco Murray, Jermaine Gresham and Ryan Broyles already in place.

3. Is Oklahoma State's defense really good enough to compete for the Big 12 title? Veteran defensive coordinator Bill Young was counted on to boost production in a unit that didn't seem ready late last year after being blistered for averages of 58.5 points and 593 yards per game in late-season losses to Texas Tech and Oklahoma. The Cowboys have another season of experience and some strong individual players like Perrish Cox and Andre Sexton. But unless they find a pass rush, their hopes of challenging for their first Big 12 South title will be dubious.

4. Can Kansas find linebackers who will enable them to contain Big 12 defenses? The Jayhawks lost three capable playmaking linebackers in James Holt, Mike Rivera and Joe Mortensen from last season. Coach Mark Mangino has hinted that he's considering a 4-2-5 alignment to better combat the Big 12's spread offenses. But he still has to hope that Jake Schermer and Arist Wright prove to be capable replacements -- or it could be a long season for the Jayhawks against their tough schedule of Big 12 South power teams like Oklahoma, Texas and Texas Tech.

5. How much will Texas Tech miss Graham Harrell and Michael Crabtree? Most are thinking that the loss of Harrell and Crabtree will be too much for the Red Raiders to overcome. But Texas Tech coach Mike Leach has quietly -- at least for him -- maintained that he likes his current group of replacements. Taylor Potts will have more experience coming into the program than any of the one-year players who preceded Harrell. All that group (Sonny Cumbie, B.J. Symons and Cody Hodges) did was average nearly 4,943 yards and 38.3 touchdown passes per season in their only season starting, so maybe Leach's comments should be considered. And at wide receiver, the Red Raiders won't have the overall star power of Crabtree, but will still have capable replacements in players like Detron Lewis, Lyle Leong, Edward Britton, Alex Torres, Adrian Reese and Tramain Swindall who should be ready.

Kansas spring wrap

May, 14, 2009
5/14/09
9:40
AM ET

Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Griffin

Kansas Jayhawks
2008 overall record: 8-5

2008 conference record: 4-4

Returning starters

Offense: 8, defense: 7, kicker/punter: 2

Top returners

QB Todd Reesing, RB Jake Sharp, WR Dezmon Briscoe, WR Kerry Meier, C Jeremiah Hatch, DE Jake Laptad, S Darrell Stuckey.

Key losses

C Ryan Cantrell, G Adrian Mayes, LB James Holt, LB Mike Rivera, LB Joe Mortensen.

2008 statistical leaders (* returners)

Rushing: Jake Sharp* (860 yards)
Passing: Todd Reesing* (3,888 yards)
Receiving: Dezmon Briscoe* (1,407 yards)
Tackles: James Holt (105)
Sacks: James Holt (10)
Interceptions: Darrell Stuckey* (5)

2009 Schedule
Sept. 5 Northern Colorado
Sept. 12 at UTEP
Sept. 19 Duke
Sept. 26 Southern Mississippi
Oct. 10 Iowa State
Oct. 17 at Colorado
Oct. 24 Oklahoma
Oct. 31 at Texas Tech
Nov. 7 at Kansas State
Nov. 14 Nebraska
Nov. 21 at Texas
Nov. 28 Missouri (at Kansas City)

Spring answers

1. Todd Reesing: The most productive quarterback in Kansas history appears ready to have his team ready to challenge for the North title after a strong spring. The Jayhawks will have most of their offensive weapons back from last season. But the biggest reason for their title hopes emanates from the confidence of Reesing, who comes into the season as the North's best quarterback.

2. Jake Shermer: Fears about the lack of returning experience at linebacker were alleviated by Shermer's development over the spring in the Jayhawks' new 4-2-5 defense. The redshirt senior showed good instincts as he worked with senior Arist Wright at the starting positions.

3. Johnathan Wilson: This tall, athletic wide receiver took advantage of Dezmon Briscoe's suspension to have a big spring, finishing with seven catches for 133 yards and a touchdown in the spring game. With Briscoe's return and the full-time transfer of Kerry Meier to wide receiver, the Jayhawks arguably have the best collection of wide receivers in the conference, if not college football.

Fall questions

1. Linebackers: No matter who plays there, the Jayhawks will face a huge talent loss with the departure of James Holt, Mike Rivera and Joe Mortensen -- three of their four leading tacklers last season. The new alignment and new starters will remain the biggest defensive question throughout the summer.

2. Left tackle: Sophomore Jeremiah Hatch was moved from left tackle to center, where he played in high school. The vacancy created a starting job for converted defensive end Tanner Hawkinson, who arrived at college as a tight end. Considering he will be protecting Reesing's blind side, Hawkinson will be under a lot of scrutiny.

3. Unfamiliar role as title contenders: The Jayhawks are considered among the North Division favorites and start the season with higher expectations than any season in recent memory. But is the team mentally prepared for that? Already, Briscoe and running back Jocques Crawford have been suspended from the team for undisclosed violations of team rules. Is this a Kansas team that made back-to-back bowl trips for the first time in school history, or one that feels a sense of entitlement because of the high predictions? We'll see as the season plays out.

Big 12 lunch links: Leach stirring it up again

April, 28, 2009
4/28/09
12:41
PM ET

Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Griffin

We just thought the Texas Tech-Texas A&M rivalry couldn't get any more vituperative and nasty.

Tech coach Mike Leach, who in the past has teased the Aggies with his plans of starting "Mike's Pirate School," modeled along the lines of A&M's Corps of Cadets, has added some more fire this week with his comments about A&M quarterback Stephen McGee.

Leach was angry about how his own quarterback, record-breaking Graham Harrell was not drafted while McGee was picked by Dallas in the fourth round of the draft. McGee saw action in only three games as a starter last season.

Leach's barbs at the Aggies and McGee provided much fodder for day-after draft stories across the Big 12.

Leach remained unapologetic about his remarks about McGee, Texas A&M coach Mike Sherman and McGee's draftability, Dallas Morning News reporters Brian Davis and Chuck Carlton report.

Bryan Eagle columnist Robert Cessna writes that Leach was wrong in his pointed criticisms of McGee and A&M's handling of the quarterback.

And Austin American-Statesman beat writer Randy Riggs has Sherman's response to Leach, where the A&M coach says the Tech coach is in no position to comment about his relationship with McGee.

All of this only ensures that the Oct. 24 game in Lubbock between the two bitter rivals will be that much more anticipated.

Here are some other stories from across  the conference, with a lot less indignation.

  • The Des Moines Register's Randy Peterson reports that some ticket prices to the Iowa-Iowa State game on Sept. 12 in Ames will be going down to $60 per seat.
  • Gregg Doyel of CBSSports.com wonders if Harrell was too productive for his own good.
  • Colorado's season-ticket sales are holding steady, despite a rise in some ticket prices and the declining economy, the Boulder Daily Camera's Kyle Ringo reports.
  • The Omaha World Herald's Tom Shatel weighs in on the alleged Cody Glenn ticket- scalping case and the free-agent competition between Chase Daniel and Joe Ganz for playing time with the Washington Redskins.
  • Sam Bradford and Zac Robinson shared their faith together at the Fellowship of Christian Athletes Banquet in Oklahoma City and also planned an upcoming golf game, the Daily Oklahoman reports.
  • The Columbia Tribune's Dave Matter reports that Chase Daniel went against his rooting instincts as a fan when he opted for a contract offer from the Washington Redskins.
  • Iowa State tackle Doug Dedrick had already agreed to a free-agent contract with the Houston Texans before the NFL draft was completed, Ames Tribune reporter Bobby La Gesse writes.
  • Nebraska officials told the Lincoln Journal-Star's Brian Christopherson they found no evidence to back up Cody Glenn's claims of ticket scalping.
  • It was understandable that former Kansas linebacker Mike Rivera ended up signing with the Chicago Bears, the Kansas City Star's Brady McCullough reports. Rivera has owned a jersey of Bears linebacker Brian Urlacher since high school.
  • Oklahoman columnist Berry Tramel reports that Sam Bradford is the clear No. 1 pick among quarterbacks in the 2010 draft.

Update on the Big 12's undrafted free agents

April, 27, 2009
4/27/09
6:44
PM ET

Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Griffin

I've gotten a couple of messages today wondering where all of the Big 12's free agents have ended up.

The most complete and accurate listing I've found is on the fine website nepatriotsdraft.com. (Hat tip to The Ralphie Report.com). Here's what they have as of late Monday afternoon.

The Big 12's greenest units

March, 17, 2009
3/17/09
1:37
PM ET

Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Griffin

Every team is green someplace. Here are the specific areas of the most inexperience for each Big 12 team.

Baylor offensive tackle: The Bears need to break in two new starters after losing Jason Smith and Dan Gay.

Colorado defensive line: Help is needed along the defensive front where the Buffaloes lose starting defensive end Maurice Lucas, starting defensive tackle George Hypolite and starting nose tackle Brandon Nicolas.

Iowa State defensive line: Coach Paul Rhoads desperately wants somebody to emerge on the defensive line where the Cyclones lose starting defensive tackle Michael Tate, starting defensive end Kurtis Taylor and top backup defensive back Travis Ferguson.

Kansas linebackers: Even as Mark Mangino is contemplating going to a two-linebacker base defense because of the Big 12's spread offenses, he still needs to find those two players. The Jayhawks lose starters James Holt, Mike Rivera and Joe Mortensen at the position from last season.

Kansas State quarterback: Josh Freeman departed for the NFL early, leaving Carson Coffman and junior college transfer Daniel Thomas to compete for the starting job. It's not a pleasant introduction back to football for returning KSU coach Bill Snyder.

Missouri skill-position players: The Tigers need a quick infusion of playmakers after losing quarterback Chase Daniel, wide receiver/kick returner Jeremy Maclin and tight end Chase Coffman. All of them arguably were the greatest players at their respective positions in Missouri history. Blake Gabbert will receive first look at quarterback and Andrew Jones will work at tight end. It could take several players to fill in for what Maclin did.

Nebraska quarterback: It will be tough for the Cornhuskers to replace all that Joe Ganz did for them, both as a playmaker and a leader at quarterback. Zac Lee will get the first shot, along with freshman Cody Green and redshirt freshman Kody Spano. Maybe the Cornhuskers really could use former Miami quarterback Robert Marve next season.

Oklahoma offensive line: The departure of starting center Jon Cooper, tackle Phil Loadholt and guards Duke Robinson and Brandon Walker means that Sam Bradford will have an inexperienced group protecting him next season. Trent Williams moves to left tackle and Bob Stoops likes his incoming talent, if not its early work habits.

Oklahoma State defensive tackles: The Cowboys ranked last in the conference in sacks last season and lost starting defensive tackles Tonga Tea and Jeray Chatham. It will mean that new defensive coordinator Bill Young will need somebody to step up in the trenches to help shore up that weakness.

Texas defensive line: The major question dogging the Longhorns' national title hopes will be rebuilding a defensive front that loses All-American defensive end Brian Orakpo, defensive tackle Roy Miller, defensive tackle Aaron Lewis and defensive end Henry Melton from last season.

Texas Tech offensive line: New quarterback Taylor Potts will be relying on a retooled offensive line protecting his blind side after left tackle Rylan Reed, left guard Louis Vasquez and center Stephen Hamby all departed from last year.

Texas A&M running backs: The Aggies' offensive backfield will need to restock players: Michael Goodson left school early to declare for the NFL draft and fullbacks Jorvorskie Lane and Nick LaMantia are gone. Look for Cyrus Gray to get most of the work this spring with heralded freshman Bradley Stephens arriving in the summer.

Tim's mailbag: Big 12's most underrated assistants considered

March, 13, 2009
3/13/09
5:03
PM ET

Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Griffin

Here's a representative batch of letters and e-mails I got this week.

Steve Delaney from Wichita, Kan., writes: Hey, Tim, we always hear about Will Muschamp or Brent Venables as the top coordinators in college football. Do you have a Big 12 coordinator who you consider to be among the underrated gems in the country?

Tim Griffin: That's a great question. I think the best example of a coordinator who doesn't get the kind of national respect he probably deserves is Shawn Watson of Nebraska. He did a good job of orchestrating Colorado's offenses in the Gary Barnett era with a variety of journeyman quarterbacks like Robert Hodge and Bobby Pesavento. And he appeared to do the same thing with the Cornhuskers with Joe Ganz last season. It will be interesting how he handles the Cornhuskers' presumed lack of quarterbacking depth and proven production this season.

I also think Greg Davis at Texas does a consistently outstanding job for the Longhorns. I know it's been fashionable for many of the message board fans to knock him over the years. But look at the improvement and the change in Colt McCoy's game over the last several years to indicate how good Davis really is as an offensive coach.


Nick from Hastings, Neb., writes: What have you heard about the Cornhuskers' pro day? I'm kind of interested to know how Joe Ganz did considering he wasn't invited to the combine or any postseason all- star games.

Tim Griffin: The most notable news that came out of Nebraska's pro day were the shots that Ganz took at Patrick Witt, who announced last month he was leaving school.

But as far as on-the-field performance, Lydon Murtha again had good workouts, even though he only went through positional drills. The scouts I talked to love his combination of speed and size and expect him to be an underrated pick.

Matt Slauson had a nice time in the 40-yard dash, but lost some ground when he strained his pectoral muscle during his bench press.

Marlon Lucky had a fast initial 40-yard time, although he pulled a muscle on the second one.

And Ganz took the battery of tests for the assembled pro scouts. I think it's going to be interesting to see where he goes.

I know his measurable (height, weight and speed) don't measure with some of the other top available quarterbacks. But the leadership he showed with the Nebraska program -- best exhibited in his gutty performance against Clemson in the Gator Bowl -- were impressive to me. It will be interesting to see if an NFL team takes a chance on him with a draft pick , although I'm hearing it's more likely he'll end up being a free agent.


Steve Landis from Kansas City writes: Tim, I was interested in your recent study about homecourt advantage. Why do you think Oklahoma has been so strong at home over the years under Bob Stoops?

Tim Griffin: I know the Sooners haven't lost a home game since 2001. And they consistently have played better, with a better record, than any other Big 12 team. Probably the best reason is because they always seem to have some of the conference's very best players.

But here's an underrated reason why I think that Texas' and Oklahoma's home Big 12 records always seem better than everybody else's.

Namely, the Sooners never have to play Texas in Norman and the Longhorns don't face Oklahoma in Austin. I'm not saying that those teams would regularly win on their opponents' home fields. But I still think they would be the toughest Big 12 challenger on a consistent basis and both likely would have won there over the years.

So I'm wonder how much you can quantify Oklahoma's and Texas' home records with the fact that Texas never travels to Normal or Oklahoma to Austin. It's something I think needs to be considered when you look at extending winning streaks for both the Sooners and Longhorns.


Bobby from Fort Worth writes: Tim, do you see Oklahoma and Texas playing to see who represents the Big 12 in the national championship game? I don't see anyone beating either one of these teams. The only thing I'm worried about is if Florida and USC can run the table and get to the championship game if Oklahoma or Texas runs the table.

Tim Griffin: Bobby, I think the Sooners and Longhorns have the best chance to represent the Big 12 in a national title game. Oklahoma State obviously has a better collection of talent coming back and a favorable schedule. But I still don't know if the Cowboys have the defensive depth to contend with the Sooners and Longhorns.

As to your concerns about the Big 12 being left out if there were a multiteam logjam with undefeated teams, here's a little nugget to remember: A Big 12 team with an undefeated regular-season record has always ended up playing for the national championship in the BCS era. And I don't see that ending as long as the Big 12 South is as strong as it appears to be. I think the South's strength should catapult an undefeated winner into a BCS title game.


Stevie U. from Galveston, Texas, writes: Tim, an old Jayhawker, here. What do you think of Kansas' chances of finally bringing home a Big 12 North title after what you've seen in practice so far.

Tim Griffin: Steve, I haven't seen much, but I have kept up with the Jayhawks from afar. Everybody is questioning their linebackers after the departure of James Holt, Joe Mortensen and Mike Rivera from last year. And I think that remains a legitimate concern, particularly in a conference where offenses will be as predominant as the Big 12.

But I'm also a little taken aback at the move of starting left tackle Jeremiah Hatch to center and the apparent insertion of converted defensive end Tanner Hawkinson into the mix at left tackle.

I know that Kansas coach Mark Mangino has been among the most successful in plugging holes in the starting lineup with players from other positions.

But I still consider left tackle kind of a sacred spot. Whoever emerges there will be protecting quarterback Todd Reesing's blind spot. And Reesing will remain only an unblocked blitz away from a serious injury. So it will be interesting to see who finally emerges there. I think the development of the Kansas offensive line will be the Jayhawks' biggest offensive question heading into the season.


T. B. from Houston writes: Tim, you've criticized the Big 12's fifth tiebreaker for three-way ties a couple times recently. But each time you criticize it, you offer no alternative. Do you have any ideas regarding what may be a better system?

Tim Griffin: I like the SEC rule where a three-way tie is settled by taking the two highest-ranked teams in the BCS poll and then determining a winner by head-to-head results. I think this provides a fairer way to determine the winner. And it also gives the conference a shot at having its top team in terms of BCS with at least a head-to-head chance of playing for a national championship.

I know I've heard some Big 12 officials saying that it is very important to get the team with the highest BCS ranking to move forward. That might be true, but at least in a multiteam tie, the SEC's rule would provide some type of mechanism for a t
eam that might have beaten that team with the highest ranking to receive some credit for it.

But I'm guessing we won't have a three-way divisional tie like we had last season in the South for a long time.

And for that, I bet Big 12 commissioner Dan Beebe would be greatly relieved.

Thanks again for all of the correspondence and keep them coming. I'll be glad to answer any and all questions.

Tim's mailbag: How much will Kansas miss those linebackers?

March, 3, 2009
3/03/09
6:09
PM ET

Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Griffin

We'll be going to a different schedule the next few weeks in which we'll break up the questions. Some will appear on Tuesdays and others will appear on the traditional Friday slot.

Here are some of the best ones I've received over the past several days.

Andrew from Clemson, S.C., writes: Tim, with Kansas getting so much off-season hype to win the Big 12 North, do you think some are underestimating the loss of the members of their offensive line and linebackers from last season? I know here in Clemson after we saw what happens with a young offensive line and linebacker corps.

Tim Griffin: You raise a very good point. That rebuilding is the major reason why I'm a little hesitant to pick the Jayhawks for the North title. Even with Todd Reesing, Dezmon Briscoe, Kerry Meier, Jake Sharp and all the rest, the play of the Kansas defense will be critical.

I'm thinking the Jayhawks will miss Joe Mortensen, James Holt and Mike Rivera. And the loss of guards Chet Hartley and Adrian Mayes and center Ryan Cantrell could be even more of a challenge, considering they anchored of the Jayhawks' line.

I'm also a little leery about the Jayhawks' cross-division opponents. Drawing Texas, Oklahoma and Texas Tech will mean the Jayhawks will be playing three of the four likely toughest South opponents.

It won't be easy. And that's why I think the North will be an interesting race.


John from Austin writes: Tim, I wrote you a couple of weeks ago how Texas doesn't seem to be in the running for guys who like to make the dramatic "hat" choices on ESPN (to announce where they are committing). But I was thinking about the 19 2010 commitments the school has already attracted. Most of them show up, maybe we are cradle robbers instead of the "hat guys?"

Tim Griffin: Or maybe Mack Brown and his staff feel like they can circumvent the whole "hat process" by picking his recruiting targets early and signing them. It looks like he's done a pretty good job so far -- at least this spring anyway.


Abe Clark from Durham, N.C., writes: I'm curious if you misread a question in your last chat? You ranked the best teams in the Big 12 last year as Texas, Oklahoma, Oklahoma State and Nebraska. Did you think the ranking was for the upcoming season? Where's the love for one of the best Texas Tech teams in history?

Also, I love your blog and your insights.

Tim Griffin: Sorry about that. I did think the question was for the upcoming season. Some of those questions in our chats are a little like the lightning round from "Password," for some of my more television-savvy readers. We try to crank as many out as we can. I'll try to read them a little more clearly next time.

As far as last season, here would be my final Big 12 rankings: Texas, Oklahoma, Texas Tech, Oklahoma State, Missouri, Nebraska, Kansas, Colorado, Kansas State, Baylor, Texas A&M and Iowa State.

And also I agree that arguably, the last Texas Tech team was the best in the history of the school. The Red Raiders' 10-0 start and No. 2 ranking late last season also made it one of the most memorable seasons as well -- both for Texas Tech fans and Mike Leach's pocketbook with the new contract extension.


Steve from Roanoke, Va., writes: Just wondering what you think about Oklahoma's defense. Will they be much better than last season?

Tim Griffin: I do think the Sooners' defensive unit will be a backbone for the team. The Sooners have nine starters back and some key producers like Gerald McCoy, Travis Lewis, Frank Alexander, Dom Franks, Keenan Clayton, Auston English and Jeremy Beal. The defense will be particularly important in the Big 12 where offenses will again be so predominant. The team with the best defense might end up as the best team, because I think many teams will have big offensive units.

I think the biggest key for the Sooners will be the play of their new safeties after starters Nic Harris and Lendy Holmes both departed. The play of Quinton Carter and Sam Proctor will be critical as the projected starters. And also keep an eye open for a contribution from rangy redshirt freshman Joseph Ibiloye, who has turned heads in winter workouts.


John S. from Williamsport, Pa., writes: Who do you believe assumes power in the North? Missouri loses Chase Daniel, Jeremy Maclin and all of the guys on defense. With the staff changes in Columbia, it looks like they will be taking a step back. My guess is Nebraska or Kansas. Who do you think?

Tim Griffin: I'm thinking that Nebraska would be my slight favorite over Kansas, mainly because of the Cornhuskers' cross-division schedule compared to Kansas'. But it wouldn't surprise me if Colorado creeps into contention and I still think Missouri and Kansas State will be representative teams that have their moments, too. I give Nebraska a slight edge, but I want to take a close look at their quarterbacks this spring before I anoint the team heading into the summer.


Jason Peters from Oklahoma City writes: Tim, what would you consider are the greatest teams in Big 12 history? And are my Sooners included on the list?

Tim Griffin: Most definitely. They aren't the best team, but are among several of the best. Here's how I would rank them.

1. 2005 Texas
2. 2000 Oklahoma
3. 1997 Nebraska
4. 2004 Oklahoma (Maybe higher if Mike Stoops coached them all season)
5. 1999 Nebraska

Keep the letters and e-mails coming and I'll try to answer a representative sampling of them later this week. Thanks again for writing.

What to watch at Big 12 spring practices

February, 13, 2009
2/13/09
10:00
AM ET

Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Griffin

The Big 12 should again be loaded in 2009. And the spring will feature several key positional battles and holes to fill that will go a long way in determining whether Oklahoma can make history and claim a fourth-straight championship this season.

Here a look at each team and three major items to watch in spring practice.

NORTH DIVISION

Colorado Buffaloes

Spring practice begins: March 31

Spring game: April 25

What to watch:

  • The health of the team: The Buffaloes' players lost a combined total of 121 games to due to illness or injury last season. Some players like tight end Riar Geer, guards Devin Head, Maxwell Tuioti-Mariner and Mike Iltis, linebacker Jon Major and cornerback Jalil Brown will be limited during the spring because of past injuries. But others like tackle Ryan Miller, tailback Rodney Stewart and cornerback Benjamin Burney should be good to go throughout the spring. Coach Dan Hawkins won't push things, but it will be good to have as many regulars as possible practicing again.
  • The return of Darrell Scott: The conference's most publicized running back recruit of 2008 never could get untracked, rushing for disappointing totals of 343 yards and 3.9 yards per carry last season. The spring will give him a chance to show why he was one of the nation's top recruits in the Class of 2008.
  • Settle the kicking game: After Colorado kickers combined to shank 11 of 17 attempts last season, it might be the last chance for Aric Goodman or Jameson Davis to show what they can do after their struggles last season and the arrival of heralded recruit Zach Grossnickle in the fall.

Iowa State Cyclones

Spring practice begins: March 24

Spring game: April 18

What to watch:

  • Paul Rhoads' early assimilation: After his hiring last Dec. 23, Rhoads has concentrated on recruiting and building a coaching staff. Being able to work on the field with his team will likely be a relief for him after such a hectic start.
  • Help in the secondary: The Cyclones lose starters Chris Singleton and Brandon Hunley from a unit that ranked in the bottom 10 nationally in pass efficiency defense and pass defense. Rhoads' specialty is defense, but he'll have his work cut out with his new unit.
  • Finding another starter at wide receiver: Darius Darks is back after an impressive freshman season, but Rhoads needs to find a replacement for 2008 leading receiver R.J. Sumrall. Look for Sedrick Johnson, Marquis Hamilton and Houston Jones all to have their chances at the starting unit during the spring.

Kansas Jayhawks

Spring practice begins: March 9

Spring game: April 11

What to watch:

  • Finding starters at linebackers: The Jayhawks must completely rebuild their linebacking corps as James Holt, Mike Rivera and Joe Mortensen all are gone from last season. Arist Wright and Dakota Lewis are in the mix because of their experience. A bigger wild card could be converted running back Angus Quigley, who turned heads with his defensive instincts and tackling in work before the Jayhawks' bowl game last season.
  • Get a consistent kick returner: The mystifying struggles of Marcus Herford last season resulted in a drop of more than 8 yards per kick return as the Jayhawks fell from seventh in 2007 to 118th nationally last season. Dezmon Briscoe showed flashes of being a productive returner late in the season, but more work from different players will be needed in the spring to shore up the area.
  • Rebuild the center of the offensive line: Losing starting guards Chet Hartley and Adrian Mayes along with center Ryan Cantrell will be the biggest offensive concern this spring for the Jayhawks. Carl Wilson and Sal Kapra should get a long look at guard and Brad Thorson will given the first shot at center.

Kansas State Wildcats:

Spring practice begins: April 6

Spring game: May 2

What to watch:

  • Bill Snyder's return to coaching: The wily Snyder will be facing the biggest challenge of his professional career after returning after a three-year coaching sabbatical. The Wildcats aren't as bad as they were in 1989 when Snyder originally took over, but the Big 12 is a much tougher than the Big Eight was in those days. And it will test the patience and legendary work ethic of Snyder to get the Wildcats back into Big 12 title contention in the immediate future.
  • The quarterback battle: New offensive coordinator Andy Ludwig is one of the conference's most notable hirings after his strong recent work at Utah. Ludwig will be challenged as he looks at Carson Coffman or junior-college transfer Daniel Thomas to replace Josh Freeman as his starting quarterback.
  • Looking for a defensive turnaround: The Wildcats were woeful last season, ranking among the bottom 10 teams nationally in rushing defense, scoring defense and total defense and 106th nationally in pass defense. It will likely try the patience of new coordinator Chris Cosh, who will be looking for replacements along the defensive front for Brandon Balkcom and Ian Campbell. One potential playmaker could be Jeff Fitzgerald, who started 13 games for Virginia in 2007.

Missouri Tigers

Spring practice begins: March 10

Spring game: April 18

What to watch:

  • The changing of the guard on offense -- and then some: Gone are all-time greats like Chase Daniel, Jeremy Maclin and Chase Coffman, along with productive receivers Tommy Saunders and Earl Goldsmith. Offensive coordinator Dave Christensen has left for the Wyoming coaching job, meaning that Dave Yost takes over as the coordinator along with Blaine Gabbert at quarterback, Andrew Jones at tight end and Jerrell Jackson as the featured receiver. Collectively, it will be the largest transformation in Gary Pinkel's coaching tenure at Missouri.
  • Finding a pass rush: Three starters are gone along the defensive front as productive starters Stryker Sulak, Tommy Chavis and Ziggy Hood all are gone from last year. Look for redshirt defensive end Aldon Smith to get in the fight for playing time immediately, along with holdover Brian Coulter at defensive end if he can recover quickly from labrum surgery. Terrell Resonno and Dominique Hamilton will get a long look at defensive tackle before the arrival of heralded "tight end" Sheldon Richardson in the summer.
  • Secondary assistance: The Tigers need help after losing starting safeties Justin Garrett and William Moore and cornerback Tru Vaughns from last year's team. Considering all of the prolific offenses in the Big 12, this will capture much of defensive coordinator Matt Eberflus' attention as newcomers like safety Jarrell Harrison and cornerback Robert Steeples will show what they can do.

Nebraska Cornhuskers

Spring practice begins: March 21

Spring game: April 18

What to watch:

  • The battle for quarterback: One of the nation's most intriguing quarterback battles will play out during the spring. Incoming freshman Cody Green arrived in college early intent to battle for the starting job and become the first four-year starting quarterback for the Cornhuskers since Eric Crouch. Holdovers Patrick Witt, Zac Lee and redshirt freshman Kody Spanos all are in the hunt to replace Joe Ganz. Witt has more experience, but it's not much more than any other contender. It should be interesting to see how offensive coordinator Shawn Watson handles the competition.
  • Find starters at wide receiver: The Cornhuskers lose starters Nate Swift and Todd Peterson who combined for 125 receptions last season as the team's two major receiving threats. Menelik Holt has more experience than any other returner, although coaches are salivating about the chance to work with Antonio Bell, a 2008 recruit who wasn't on the team last season while he got his grades in order.
  • Rebuild the right side of the offensive line: Powerful blockers Matt Slauson at guard and tackle Lydon Murtha both are gone from last season, leaving a huge void for offensive line coach Barney Cotton to fill. Marcel Jones and D.J. Jones should get the first crack at the starting jobs during the spring.

SOUTH DIVISION

Baylor Bears

Spring practice begins: March 3

Spring game: April 4

What to watch:

  • Competition at offensive tackle: The Bears will be looking for two new starting tackles to replace Don Gay and Jason Smith along the offensive line. Sophomore Joe Korbel figures to get a look at one of the positions, but beyond him it's anybody's guess who will replace the talented pair that combined for 73 career starts.
  • New starters on the left side of the defensive line: Starting defensive end Leon Freeman and defensive tackle Vincent Rhodes both will be gone after their eligibility expired. The only holes in Baylor's front seven will be found there as Jameon Hardeman and Zac Scotton will challenge at defensive end and Sam Sledge at defensive tackle.
  • Better production in their pass defense: The Bears struggled mightily last season and could never seem to produce big plays when they needed them, ranking 103rd in pass defense, 84th in sacks and 109th in tackles for losses. Another spring learning the concepts of defensive coordinator Brian Norwood should benefit them and perhaps serve as a catalyst for a bowl berth with significant improvement.

Oklahoma Sooners

Spring practice begins: March 3

Spring game: April 11

What to watch:

  • Help at wide receiver: After losing Juaquin Iglesias, Quentin Chaney and Manuel Johnson from last season's BCS title-game runner-up, the Sooners desperately need some players to emerge this spring. Ryan Broyles assumes the No. 1 position, although junior college receiver Cameron Kenney will help, along with Brandon Caleb from last season's two-deep roster. It will also be noteworthy to watch the work of running back Mossis Madu, who will receive some work at slot receiver.
  • Competition in the offensive line: Trent Williams is the only returning starter from last season for a talented veteran group that will lose four starters who combined for 149 starts during their college career. The Sooners aren't devoid of talent, but it's just untested. It means they need a big lift this spring from players like tackle Cory Brandon, guards Brian Simmons and Alex Williams and center Jason Hannan.
  • New look at safety: Nic Harris and Lendy Holmes seemingly had been at Oklahoma since
    the days of Brian Bosworth. That's a little bit of an exaggeration, but the Sooner duo combined for 83 starts and provided steady, efficient defense throughout their careers. Quinton Carter and Desmond Jackson appear poised to take over for them, although it will be impossible for the Sooners to match their experience.

Oklahoma State Cowboys

Spring practice begins: March 9

Spring game: April 18

What to watch:

  • Bill Young's work: Oklahoma State has the offense to challenge for the Big 12 championship. But the success of the season ultimately will be determined by the defense generated by new defensive coordinator Bill Young. The Cowboys return six starters but must improve drastically after last season's late collapse that saw them blistered for 56, 61 and 42 points among their final three games of the season.
  • Help at safety and defensive tackle: The Cowboys lose starters Tonga Tea and Jeray Chatham at tackle and starting safeties Quinton Moore and Ricky Price. Those key positions in the heart of Oklahoma State's defense will command much of Young's attention. He's particularly excited about the play of Swanson Miller and Shane Jarka and Johnny Thomas at safety. But other players need to step up when they get their chance.
  • Develop depth at wide receiver: Dez Bryant accounted for a larger percentage of completions than any other wide receiver in the Big 12. His absence this spring as he recovers from knee surgery will enable others to have a chance to play and become acclimated with the first-string offense. The Cowboys' depth at the position is aggravated after Bo Bowling was suspended after his arrest earlier this week. It will provide players like Hubert AnyiamJosh Cooper and DeMarcus Conner an opportunity to work with Zac Robinson while Bryant and Bowling are gone.

Texas Longhorns

Spring practice begins: Feb. 27

Spring game: April 5

What to watch:

  • Build consistency in the running game: The Longhorns ranked 41st nationally in rushing last season -- their worst national ranking since 2002 -- and relied on Colt McCoy as their primary running threat. That dangerous strategy has to change this season if the Longhorns have any legitimate national title contenders. Key tasks during the spring will be to build cohesion in an offensive line that loses only starter Cedric Dockery from last season and additional work for Fozzy Whittaker, who struggled with injuries most of his freshman season last year.
  • Rebuild the defensive front: The Longhorns had the nation's most productive pass rush, leading the country with an average of 3.62 sacks per game last season. It will be a challenge to replace key players like Brian Orakpo, Roy Miller and Henry Melton. But defensive coordinator Will Muschamp liked what he saw in limited playing time for players like Sam Acho, Russell Carter, Ben Alexander, Michael Wilcoxson, Kheeston Randall and Eddie Jones. Those players, along with possibly Sergio Kindle getting more playing time at defensive end, will be key to Texas' defensive hopes this season. And incoming freshmen Dominique Jones, Alex Okafor and Kyle Kriegel all arrived at college early to challenge for immediate playing time.
  • Build confidence with young receivers: Leading receiver Quan Cosby graduated and Jordan Shipley will miss spring work after recovering from shoulder surgery. It will give McCoy a chance to build confidence in some of the younger members of his receiving corps, most notably Brandon Collins, Dan Buckner, Malcolm Williams and James Kirkendoll.

Texas A&M

Spring practice begins: March 26

Spring game: April 18

Spring practice ends: April 24

What to watch:

  • Additional development of young talent: The Aggies were one of the nation's youngest teams last season as 10 true freshmen combined to see action in 90 games and start in 41 of them. The spring will provide an additional opportunity for those young players and others on the roster to gain much-needed experience.
  • Improvement of the pass rush: The biggest hole on defense for the Aggies will be at defensive end where Michael Bennett, Amos Gbunblee and Cyril Obiozor accounted for most of the playing time last season from a group that ranked 11th in the Big 12 and 100th nationally in sacks. Paul Freeney is poised to assume one of the starting positions there. The other side looks like a wide-open battle that will play out throughout the spring and into summer camp.
  • Find a running back: Coach Mike Sherman will be looking at Keondra Smith, Cyrus Gray and Bradley Stephens for the role as the Aggies' featured running back -- for a few weeks anyway. Whoever wins that battle may celebrate a kind of pyrrhic victory as heralded running back Christine Michael arrives for fall camp as the Aggies' likely featured back. But Sherman likely will be working on building depth in the spring.

Texas Tech Red Raiders

Spring practice begins: March 25

Spring game: April 18

Spring practice ends: April 20

What to watch:

  • Any passing game regression?: Graham Harrell and Michael Crabtree rewrote the national record book as one of the most prolific pass-and-catch
    combinations in NCAA history. But yet, the Red Raiders always have always had a potent passing attack with Mike Leach in charge. It will be interesting to see Taylor Potts' development at quarterback and the growth of wide receivers like Detron Lewis, Lyle Leong, Edward Britton, Rashad Hawk and Tramain Swindall as they try to fill those big shoes for the Red Raiders.
  • Find a pass-rushing threat: Defensive end Brandon Williams is turning pro after leading the Big 12 with a school-record 12 sacks last season. McKinner Dixon was a big performer in spot duty last season and could be ready to emerge, as is junior-college transfer Daniel Howard.
  • Rebuild the left side of the offensive line: Rylan Reed and Louis Vasquez were the two most decorated linemen in Texas Tech history during their careers. The productive duo will be missed, along with starting center Stephen Hamby. Chris Olson at left tackle and Lonnie Edwards at left guard aren't nearly as big or experienced as Reed and Vasquez. Growth during the spring for the unit will be important as the Red Raiders prepare for a difficult September schedule.
Tags:

Quentin Chaney, Houston Jones, Ian Campbell, Sergio Kindle, Lydon Murtha, Jerrell Jackson, Menelik Holt, Cyril Obiozor, Will Muschamp, Brad Thorson, Ziggy Hood, Nate Swift, Rodney Stewart, Mike Iltis, Brandon Balkcom, Lonnie Edwards, Barney Cotton, Brian Norwood, Riar Geer, Christine Michael, Justin Garrett, Joe Korbel, Don Gay, Ryan Cantrell, Andy Ludwig, Josh Cooper, Aric Goodman, James Kirkendoll, Trent Williams, Chris Cosh, Quan Cosby, Tru Vaughns, Nebraska Cornhuskers, Jameon Hardeman, Joe Ganz, Mike Rivera, Sam Sledge, Ryan Broyles, Roy Miller, Cameron Kenney, Bill Snyder, Kyle Kriegel, Eddie Jones, Sedrick Johnson, Baylor Bears, Chase Coffman, Brandon Williams, Ben Alexander, Leon Freeman, Texas Longhorns, Jeff Fitzgerald, Marcus Herford, Vincent Rhodes, Mossis Madu, Malcolm Williams, Dez Bryant, Oklahoma State Cowboys, Kody Spanos, Jason Smith, Colt McCoy, William Moore, Stryker Sulak, Brandon Caleb, Johnny Thomas, Ryan Miller, Texas Tech Red Raiders, Michael Bennett, Tommy Saunders, Louis Vasquez, Quinton Moore, Cory Brandon, Adrian Mayes, Missouri Tigers, Darrell Scott, Colorado Buffaloes, R.J. Sumrall, Patrick Witt, Jason Hannan, Shane Jarka, Maxwell Tuiot-Mariner, Matt Slauson, Tommy Chavis, Chase Daniel, Cyrus Gray, McKinner Dixon, Zac Scotton, Chet Hartley, Eric Crouch, Devin Head, Dakota Lewis, Zac Lee, Robert Steeples, James Holt, Sal Kapra, Cody Green, Matt Eberflus, Chris Singleton, Dave Christensen, Oklahoma Sooners, Spring what to watch, Andrew Jones, Michael Wilcoxson, Manuel Johnson, Dan Hawkins, Todd Peterson, Mike Leach, Kansas State Wildcats, Tonga Tea, Russell Carter, Edward Britton, Dan Buckner, Darius Darks, Alex Williams, Michael Crabtree, Juaquin Iglesias, Angus Quigley, Shawn Watson, Marquis Hamilton, Carl Wilson, Paul Freeney, Paul Rhoads, Bradley Stephens, Kansas Jayhawks, Jon Major, Joe Mortensen, Stephen Hamby, Brian Coulter, Sheldon Richardson, Detron Lewis, Bo Bowling, Lendy Holmes, Bill Young, Zac Robinson, Hubert Anyiam, Sam Acho, Blaine Gabbert, Brandon Collins, Jameson Davis, Antonio Bell, Taylor Potts, Daniel Thomas, Iowa State Cyclones, Alex Okafor, Desmond Jackson, Graham Harrell, Benjamin Burney, Keondra Smith, Brian Bosworth, Lyle Leong, Cedric Dockery, Dezmon Briscoe, Earl Goldsmith, Fozzy Whittaker, Nic Harris, Henry Melton, Brian Simmons, Amos Gbunblee, Daniel Howard, Dominique Jones, Jordan Shipley, Chris Olson, Rashad Hawk, Jarrell Harrison, D.J. Jones, Dave Yost, Brian Orakpo, Ricky Price, Jeray Chatham, Swanson Miller, Brandon Hunley, Jeremy Maclin, Terrell Resonno, Tremain Swindall, Josh Freeman, Carson Coffman, Gary Pinkel, Zach Grossnickle, DeMarcus Conner, Kheeston Randall, Aldon Smith, Marcel Jones, Dominique Hamilton, Arist Wright, Rylan Reed, Jalil Brown, Quinton Carter, Mike Sherman, Texas A&M Aggies

Most memorable recruiting stories in Big 12 history

January, 30, 2009
1/30/09
11:25
AM ET

Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Griffin

The Big 12 has been dotted by several intriguing recruiting stories during its brief history. Here are some of my personal favorites.

1. Oklahoma's Jamar Mozee spurns Kansas State: Mozee, a bruising running back from Blue Springs, Mo., was an apparently solid commitment for Kansas State until late in the 1999 recruiting period. But as signing day approached, Mozee followed several of the Kansas State assistants who had been recruiting him as they joined Bob Stoops' fledgling program at Oklahoma. The late switch earned the wrath of Wildcat fans everywhere, but also provided Stoops one of his top early recruits. Mozee never materialized for the Sooners like expected, but his recruitment fueled an intense early rivalry between the two schools.

2. Kansas' underrated class of 2004: Unheralded prospects like Aqib Talib and Anthony Collins were barely recruited by most powers, but developed into All-Americans while working with coach Mark Mangino's staff by the time they left college. Defensive starters Joe Mortensen, Mike Rivera and Charlton Keith also didn't catch much recruiting attention, but also became key starters for the Jayhawks' team that made history by claiming the 2008 Orange Bowl and making back-to-back bowl trips for the first time in school history. It also made some recruiting analysts blush, considering they missed so badly with this group.

3. Ryan Perrilloux heads for home: Perrilloux committed to Texas before his senior season and was presumed to be the natural successor for Vince Young after recording a slew of records in his senior season at East St. John's High School in Reserve, La. Throughout the recruiting process, Perrilloux remained committed to Texas. But he made a late switch, signing with the first recruiting class of LSU coach Les Miles. Perrilloux's career never materialized and he was kicked off the LSU team for violating team rules after several earlier legal skirmishes. And his departure opened a place on Texas' roster for Colt McCoy, who developed into a Heisman Trophy runner-up with the opportunity.

4. Darrell Scott picks family and the Buffaloes: The nation's top running back recruit waited until the last minute before choosing Colorado and Texas, following his uncle Josh Smith, a wide receiver/kick returner who already was on the Buffaloes' roster. Scott apparently had given the Longhorns a private commitment which changed when running backs coach Ken Rucker became the team's director of high school relations and player development and was replaced by Major Applewhite. His announcement was carried live on ESPNU, where he became Colorado's highest-ranking recruit since Marcus Houston in the 2000 recruiting class.

5. Travis Lewis chooses Oklahoma: Not all of the most heated battles take place over five-star recruits. Lewis had played little linebacker in Lee High School in San Antonio and had barely even played defense. But several schools saw promise in his unique combination of speed and size, leading to a spirited recruiting battle that intensified as the 2007 signing day approached. Lewis eventually decided on Oklahoma from a fervent group of suitors that also included Oklahoma State and fast-closing Nebraska. After a redshirt season, Lewis developed into an All-Big 12 linebacker and the conference's freshman defensive player of the year in 2008.

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