Big 12: Rashad Fortenberry

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

10: Kansas (10): Because he can get in and out of the pocket, Montell Cozart winning the starting job should help the offensive line. The fact that new offensive coordinator John Reagan is also an offensive line coach should be a boost, as well. The Jayhawks have several battles up front that will continue into the fall, including center, where walk-on Joe Gibson made a huge impression during the spring.

Big 12 lunchtime links

March, 3, 2014
Mar 3
12:00
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Look who's back!
With spring practice off and rolling, plenty of questions surround the league’s programs. And while many of those won’t be fully answered until the season begins in the fall, here are some of the biggest ones Oklahoma State, TCU, Texas, Texas Tech and West Virginia will face this spring:

Can freshman impact OSU's QB race?

Junior quarterback J.W. Walsh has made eight starts for the Cowboys over the last two seasons. But even with Clint Chelf now gone, Walsh still will have to fight for a job with freshman Mason Rudolph already on campus. Rudolph, who enrolled early to participate in spring ball, threw for more than 4,300 yards and 64 touchdowns his final year of high school and is one of the most highly-touted quarterback recruits ever to sign with the Cowboys. In high school, Rudolph played in an offensive scheme similar to Oklahoma State’s, which is what first interested him in the Cowboys. That should ease his transition to the college level. Of course for now, the job is Walsh’s to lose. But Rudolph has the talent and the skill set to begin applying pressure on Walsh as soon as this spring.

How will TCU adapt to the offensive overhaul?

TCU conducted its first spring practice over the weekend, and the exit polls suggested the Horned Frogs went through offensive drills fast. Like really fast. Tired of ranking near the bottom of the Big 12 in offense, Gary Patterson shook up his coaching staff and brought in Sonny Cumbie and Doug Meacham to install an up-tempo offensive system that resembled those of Texas Tech (Cumbie) and Oklahoma State (Meacham). As Patterson admitted after the first practice, there will be a learning curve for his players to picking up this new offensive style. But the quicker quarterback Trevone Boykin can adapt, the better off TCU will be going into 2014.

How will Texas look different under Strong?

The last time Texas had a coach other than Mack Brown running a spring practice, Bill Clinton was still president. The Charlie Strong era will begin in earnest with the start of spring practice in Austin. How will the players adjust to the new schemes of assistants Shawn Watson, Joe Wickline and Vance Bedford? How will the veterans react to their new position coaches? Who will thrive with the new staff? Who will falter? Those pivotal questions will begin to be answered this spring.

Can Texas Tech get by with only one scholarship QB?

With starting right tackle Rashad Fortenberry getting an extra year of eligibility over the weekend, the Red Raiders seem to be in good shape across the board offensively. Of course, that could change real quick should QB Davis Webb incur any kind of injury this spring. With Baker Mayfield at Oklahoma and Michael Brewer headed to Virginia Tech, the Red Raiders will be down to just one scholarship quarterback until Patrick Mahomes arrives in the summer. Though coach Kliff Kingsbury has said that Tech has a couple of capable walk-ons, an injury to Webb would hamper the spring development of an offense that will have big goals in the fall. Coming off a breakout performance in the bowl game, Webb also needs to continue developing this spring. But he also needs to remain healthy for the betterment of himself and the team.

Who will get carries for West Virginia?

Even with Charles Sims gone, the Mountaineers still enjoy a stable of capable of running backs. But where will Sims’ carries go? After rushing for 494 yards last season, Dreamius Smith is starting out the spring atop the depth chart. But he’ll have to fend off several comers to remain there. Wendell Smallwood came on strong late during his freshman season and finished the year averaging 5.7 yards per carry. Rushel Shell also joins the fray this spring after transferring over from Pittsburgh. Shell, who set a Pennsylvania high school rushing record, was formerly the No. 26 overall recruit in the 2012 recruiting class. There are still others. Dustin Garrison and Andrew Buie are still around after leading the Mountaineers’ in rushing in 2011 and 2012, respectively. Oh yeah, West Virginia will also add four-star signee Donte Thomas-Williams in the summer. Good luck to the running back who dares to take a play off in this crammed competition.
Kliff Kingsbury’s first season as coach at Texas Tech featured plenty of superlatives. The Red Raiders got off to a torrid start and jumped into the top 10 of the polls. Then, after opening 7-0, Texas Tech nosedived with five straight losses to close out the regular season.

Nobody is focusing on the losing streak anymore, though. Not after the Red Raiders hammered Arizona State in the National University Holiday Bowl in one of the biggest upsets of the bowl season.

As he prepares for the opening of spring practice, Kingsbury took time to speak with ESPN.com about the impact of that bowl win, his incoming recruiting class and the unexpected departures of quarterbacks Baker Mayfield and Michael Brewer:

What was the biggest need you wanted to fill in this class?

[+] EnlargeKliff Kingsbury
Brad Davis/Icon SMIKliff Kingsbury brought a youthful excitement to Texas Tech in his first season as head coach.
Kingsbury: We felt like with the starters we were losing on defense, we needed immediate help on that side of the ball. This was a defensively heavy class. We have several jucos who can make an impact right away. That was the biggest deal, finding instant impact defensive players, especially defensive linemen to shore up our run defense, which really cost us during that five-game (losing) stretch. I felt like we did that.

How did you get Nigel Bethel II (ESPN 300 cornerback) all the way from Miami?

Kingsbury: It was huge. That was a relationship (cornerbacks coach) Kevin Curtis had worked on. He stayed with it even after Nigel committed to Miami. He was a Miami kid, but when he came out to a game, he loved the atmosphere and enjoyed the visit. We played up the fact that we play in a conference that throws more than anyone. We play a lot of man coverage, where you can do your thing. He was excited about getting a chance to do that in the Big 12.

What drew you to your quarterback in this class, Patrick Mahomes?

Kingsbury: He has that playmaking ability. He’s a winner. When you watch his games, he refuses to lose. If it’s fourth-and-8, he’ll run for a first down. He’s still raw at the position, having played three sports his whole life. He hasn’t just focused on football. But we feel like in our system, his mechanics will improve. He’s just scratching the surface of the quarterback he can be. You can’t teach his playmaking ability and ability to extend the play. He’s a fun player to watch.

Mahomes is also a pretty big baseball prospect. What is the plan if he gets drafted high?

Kingsbury: If he’s that type of prospect, and the money is such, we want him to do what’s best for his family and his career. But I know he wants to play college quarterback, and that’s his intention right now. We’ve brought in some walk-on kids, and we’ve had success with that in the past. I feel like even if we don’t have a bunch of scholarship guys, we have depth at the position.

How was pursuing this recruiting class different from your first one at Tech?

Kingsbury: When we came in late last year, everything was more on blind faith. We had to tell kids what we were going to be, what was coming. At least we had a product this year they could see. They could watch our games, see our coaches, see our stands, see our uniforms. We actually had a product to sell. The reception has been good. They see we’re here with a purpose, that this university is something special to us.

How critical was the bowl win to changing the tenor of the offseason?

Kingsbury: It was huge. We knew during that stretch we didn’t play good football. We had minuses in turnover margin and all the penalties. We didn’t play our game. But for an entire month, we focused on what got us to 7-0. Really got back to the basics. We didn’t let (the players) go home. And they bought into it and worked hard and wanted to win the bowl game. And they did. There’s a different vibe around this facility, and everyone is excited about starting spring ball.

Especially in light of his bowl game performance, how good can Davis Webb be for you?

[+] EnlargeDavis Webb
Donald Miralle/Getty ImagesKliff Kingsbury expects quarterback Davis Webb to make a leap as a sophomore.
Kingsbury: The success he had in that bowl game against one of the top defenses showed what he can be. He endured not being named the starter, battled, and worked to be the starter. When his opportunity came, when his name was called, he made the most of it. He has a tremendous skill set, and without having any competition this spring to push him, it’s on him to see how good he can be.

Where can he improve the most?

Kingsbury: The biggest thing with Davis was just the big mistake throughout the game. The three-four plays he made that you just can’t make. You can throw for a bunch of yards, but it’s those three-four catastrophic plays you’ve got to avoid. But he’ll get there. That comes with growing up and being a true freshman.

You’ve had two quarterbacks (Mayfield and Brewer) leave since the end of the regular season. Is there anything you would have done differently with them?

Kingsbury: No, I wouldn’t. I feel like I’ve always had great relationships with all the quarterbacks I’ve coached. Unfortunately those situations didn’t work out. I had great relationships with them. I think if you asked them, they’d say they enjoyed playing for me. For some reason, it didn’t work out. I’ll be pulling for them the rest of their careers. But as far as doing something different -- the season was what it was.

It seemed to me like both times you were surprised by their decisions. Is that accurate?

Kingsbury: In both cases, I didn’t see it coming. It was news to me when it did come. In talking to them both wanted a fresh start. I’m not going to hold it against them if they want to go somewhere else to play. We want kids that want to be here and want to be at Texas Tech.

It seems like Texas Tech fans want to know how you’re going to replace Jace Amaro. Obviously you can’t replace a player like that. But how do you plan to replace his production?

Kingsbury: We’ll just have a different look on offense. He was such a big target, a tough matchup on defense. If you got the ball close to his frame, he’d pull it in. He was great in run-game blocking. You just don’t replace a first-team All-American tight end who broke the (FBS tight end) receiving record. So we’ll be a little smaller, but with more speed. We’ve got a lot of guys coming back who have made a lot of catches here.

Even though he hasn't played much yet, do you think Reginald Davis can be a difference maker for you next season?

Kingsbury: I do. He’s a kid that came from a smaller class in high school. He played quarterback there, so he’s still learning the nuances of playing wide receiver. But his skill set is tremendous. He’s a great athlete; has great football knowledge. He showed flashes all last year. We’re going to find ways to get him the ball. He’s had a great offseason so far, and we’re expecting big things from him next year.

I know you guys have applied for a medical redshirt to get one final season for (starting right tackle) Rashad Fortenberry (who only played in three games in 2012 when he had back issues). Have you heard anything yet?

Kingsbury: Think the date we'll hear back is the beginning of March. That’s when we’ll know.

What about your other tackle, Le'Raven Clark (All-Big 12 as a sophomore) -- can he be an NFL starter down the line?

Kingsbury: He definitely has the potential. He’s a guy that continues to get better. He’s beginning to understand how good he can be. We’re excited about the offensive line we have coming back. We’ve got guys that have played in big games. We’re bringing in some junior college tackles that can play right away. I think we’ll see a big improvement up front. We didn’t run the ball as well as we wanted. We didn’t protect the quarterbacks very well, either.

What were your thoughts on the proposed rule changes to slow down the game?

Kingsbury: I hated it, obviously. I’ve been confused why it was even brought up. To throw it on players’ safety is ridiculous. There’s no data that says anything about high-tempo offenses causing more injuries. I’m baffled by it a bit, but I don’t think it’s going to pass.

Why didn’t you participate in the slam-dunk contest with some of your players at halftime of the basketball game last week?

Kingsbury: I didn’t want to end up on SportsCenter’s Not Top Ten.

Big 12 pre-spring breakdown: OL

February, 21, 2014
Feb 21
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As we wait for the start of spring ball, we’re examining and ranking the positional situations of every team, continuing Friday with offensive line. Some of these outlooks will look different after the spring. But here’s how we see the offensive lines at the moment:

1. Oklahoma: The Sooners lose their captain in All-American Gabe Ikard, who kept the line together through several moving pieces. Those pieces, however, are almost all back. Tyrus Thompson and Daryl Williams are steady veterans at tackle. Inside, guards Dionte Savage and Nila Kasitati both started the Sugar Bowl, and former starter Tyler Evans returns after sitting out the last two years with injury. The Sooners also have been grooming Ikard’s replacement at center in Ty Darlington, who has played well in a reserve role the last two years. Even without Ikard, this is a seasoned unit.

[+] EnlargeJoe Wickline
AP Photo/Sue OgrockiJoe Wickline's move from the OSU staff to Texas is an important storyline in the Big 12.
2. Kansas State: The Wildcats will be stout inside. Guard Cody Whitehair and center BJ Finney are All-Big 12 caliber. Veteran starters Cornelius Lucas and Tavon Rooks are gone at tackle, but Bill Snyder signed two of the top 15 juco tackles in the country in A.J. Allen and Luke Hayes. If Allen and Hayes can solidify the bookends, K-State could be stout up front.

3. Texas: The Longhorns return veteran center Dominic Espinosa, who has 39 career starts. But with three starters gone, the Longhorns really need the light to come up for Desmond Harrison. The talent is there, and if Harrison can put it all together, he’ll give Texas a much-needed bookend on the left side. There’s potential elsewhere in freshman guard Rami Hammad and sophomore tackle Kent Perkins, who could both earn starting roles this spring. The biggest addition to this group will be new assistant Joe Wickline, who worked magic with the offensive lines in Stillwater.

4. Baylor: The Bears need left tackle Spencer Drango to make a healthy recovery from his back injury. After Drango was injured in November, Baylor struggled at times to keep quarterback Bryce Petty upright. Departing unanimous All-American guard Cyril Richardson is irreplaceable, though Desmine Hilliard had a solid sophomore season at right guard. Sophomore Kyle Fuller looks ready to take over at center, but the Bears will need another piece or two to emerge. The skill talent is in place for the Baylor offense to keep humming. How the players up front perform will determine whether it will.

5. Oklahoma State: The key for the Cowboys here will be a healthy return of left tackle Devin Davis. Davis might have been Oklahoma State’s best lineman last season, but suffered a torn ACL during a preseason that knocked him out for the year. Davis has NFL ability, and if he resumes his role, that will allow Daniel Koenig to move back to right tackle. The O-line in Stillwater was something never to worry about because of Wickline’s masterful track record of mixing and matching to get a right fit. It will be interesting to see how the line performs next season with Wickline now at Texas.

[+] EnlargeLe'Raven Clark
John Albright/Icon SMITexas Tech's Le'Raven Clark is one of the best offensive tackles in the Big 12.
6. Texas Tech: The Red Raiders have an NFL talent in left tackle Le'Raven Clark, who earned All-Big 12 honors as a sophomore. Despite Clark, the Red Raiders line struggled last year, giving up 33 sacks (second-worst in the Big 12). But it should be improved in 2014. Juco tackles Dominique Robertson (ESPN JC 50) and Shaq Davis are on the way, and 2013 RT starter Rashad Fortenberry could be back, too, if the NCAA grants him a medical hardship waiver. Losing guard Beau Carpenter to dismissal hurts, but Baylen Brown has starting experience. Brown, Alfredo Morales, James Polk and center Jared Kaster all return after combining for 31 starts along the interior last season.

7. West Virginia: The good news is that the Mountaineers should be superb inside. Quinton Spain is one of the best returning guards in the league, and Mark Glowinski had a solid season at the other guard spot. Tackle, however, is the biggest question on the entire squad going into the spring, outside QB. Coach Dana Holgorsen said Friday that guard Marquis Lucas would be swinging to the outside to compete with Adam Pankey, Marcell Lazard and Sylvester Townes.

8. Iowa State: A healthy Tom Farniok at center would go a long way in stabilizing an inconsistent offensive line that gave up a Big 12-high 38 sacks last season. Farniok was never healthy last year, and it showed. The Cyclones are excited about the potential of Brock Dagel as a cornerstone at left tackle. Jacob Gannon will battle Jake Campos for the other tackle spot, while Jamison Lalk, Oni Omoile and juco transfer Wendell Taiese will compete for the guard spot opposite Daniel Burton. Under the new offensive regime, this line could enjoy huge improvement from 2013.

9. TCU: The line was one of many reasons why the TCU offense struggled so much in 2013. Getting Matt Pryor on the field would be a big help. Pryor is massive at 6-foot-7, 350 pounds, and could fill a need a tackle. Getting Tayo Fabuluje back after a year away from football could help, too, assuming he’s not too rusty. Juco guard Frank Kee, who chose the Horned Frogs over Oklahoma, could fill a spot inside immediately. True freshman Ty Barrett, the prize in a hotly contested recruiting battle, could challenge for time quickly, too.

10. Kansas: John Reagan takes over at offensive coordinator and line coach, and he’ll have some talented newcomers to weave into the rotation. Devon Williams and Keyon Haughton both arrived as three-star guards from Georgia Military College. Haughton is already on campus and could start right away. Freshman Jacob Bragg, the No. 3 center recruit in the country, could vie for time immediately, too, at the vacancy at center (2013 backup center Dylan Admire has moved to fullback/tight end).
If you missed it yesterday, take a look back at our first spring practice live blog.
Texas Tech's record stood at 5-2, but its hopes were much higher.

The Red Raiders had seen a close loss to what would be a 10-win Kansas State team and a five-point loss to top-25 Texas A&M, but bounced back for a season-making upset at No. 1 Oklahoma on Oct. 22.

The Sooners hadn't lost in Owen Field to a Big 12 team in 10 years, but Texas Tech did it, and the Red Raiders flew back home to Lubbock with smiles on their faces.

Those would be the last postgame smiles for the season's remainder. The Red Raiders didn't win again. What happened?

"I thought we were a decent team," coach Tommy Tuberville told ESPN.com this week. "and then the bottom fell out on injuries."

The bottom line about that bottom falling out? Texas Tech lacked the necessary depth for a Big 12 season — and it showed.

"When you don’t have depth, that’s when it starts showing up — when you have injuries," Tuberville said. "If we hadn’t had injuries, we probably would have been a little bit better team, but those are things you can’t control."

No side of the ball was spared. In the Texas A&M loss, the Red Raiders lost their leading rusher and best pass blocker, Eric Stephens to a serious knee injury. His backup, DeAndre Washington, suffered the same fate weeks later in a loss to Missouri. Receivers Marcus Kennard and Darrin Moore were hampered by various injuries throughout the season.

"There was one time last year we started five kids on defense that weren’t on scholarship," Tuberville said. "We just didn’t have them here. They hadn’t been recruited."

There's no time to complain. Texas Tech had its first losing season in two decades, finishing 5-7 and sitting at home while half of college football prepped for bowl games.

This spring, the main goal was clear: Develop depth by any means necessary.

The Red Raiders signed nine junior-college prospects and half enrolled in the spring.

[+] EnlargeTommy Tuberville
Sue Ogrocki/AP PhotoTommy Tuberville tapped the juco ranks for depth after Texas Tech unravelled last season.
"At our position as coaches, that’s a coaching move, in terms of going out and finding not just starters, but depth players, and that’s the reason we went out and took some junior-college guys," Tuberville said. "We had to have immediate help at some positions, whether it was starter or backup or third team. So, our depth chart looks better. I think 17 or 18 true freshmen coming in in June will enhance it."

The Red Raiders got help at running back in SaDale Foster, who finished atop the depth chart for Tech's depleted running back corps at the end of spring.

Linebackers Chris Payne and Will Smith established themselves as contributors; Smith was the team's best linebacker when spring practice concluded Saturday. Rashad Fortenberry, another junior-college signee from Mississippi, adds a solid tackle to an offensive line in need of help.

"Defensively, whatever we do is going to be better. We didn’t coach, we didn’t play, we didn’t act like a good defense last year. We looked like we were in shell shock all year long in terms of playing against teams that had great players. This conference last year, offensively, was unbelievable from top to bottom," Tuberville said. "We knew we were going to be very short defensively experience-wise, and then we get people hurt. And then we’re playing against some of the better players to play in this conference. I think we’re going to be better in matchups. That’s what you look for, is matchups in college football."

Tech hopes strategic decisions during a trying 2011 season pay off down the line.

"We didn’t take the redshirt off a few guys because they probably wouldn’t have been any better. But they’ve got the talent. We redshirted them and we saved them, and now they’ve got four years to play," he said. "It’s going to help us in the long run. It didn’t help us in the immediate future, but it’ll help us in the long run. That’s what we’re building for. We’re building to make this team start to be strong at a certain point."

That point hasn't arrived, but Tech should be well ahead of where it was in 2011 after top-25 recruiting classes in 2011 and 2012, combined with the quick-fix juco signings.

"We’ve just been a disaster in terms of depth. The parts hadn’t been there to work with," Tuberville said.

He says Texas Tech is still one more recruiting class away from being where it needs to be in terms of athletic ability, but the talent necessary to win is on campus now.

The goal for fall is to develop the depth Tuberville and his staff have established.

"Are we ready to compete for a championship? No, not really, just because of inexperience. I think we’re going to have some talent that can make some plays on both sides of the ball that we haven’t had in the last couple of years," Tuberville said. "I think we’re going to be much more competitive in terms of each position with a little bit more depth."

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