Big 12: Spring superlatives 2012

Spring superlatives: Texas Tech

May, 7, 2012
Time to continue our series breaking down each team's best and worst positions entering the 2012 season. Texas Tech is up next.

More spring superlatives:
Strongest position: Quarterback

Seth Doege had a really strong start last year, pacing himself alongside the Big 12's best quarterbacks and setting the NCAA single-game record for completion percentage against New Mexico. Offensively, Doege can make it all run. Last year, it all just crumbled around him. His top two running backs got hurt. His best receivers couldn't stay healthy and receiver Alex Torres suffered a major knee injury late in the year.

When it was all over, Doege was third in the Big 12 in passing yards per game and topped 4,000 yards. Not bad, even though Tech stumbled to a 5-7 season. OC Neal Brown was really happy with what Doege did, the Red Raiders just had to rely on him too much. Putting up 28 touchdown passes to 10 interceptions is nothing to shrug off.

Weakest position: Linebacker

The good news? Tech knows who its best linebacker is. The bad news? He's a lightly recruited juco transfer named Will Smith who came in and made a huge impact. The Red Raiders found a good one in Smith, who could start for a lot of teams, but he illustrates the point that Tech had the league's worst linebacking unit in 2011.

New coordinator Art Kaufman is charged with revitalizing the unit. Coach Tommy Tuberville is moving back to the 4-3, where he's more comfortable, and moving away from the 4-2-5. We'll see if Daniel Cobb can help Smith, who won the middle linebacker job in the spring, make the defense look a lot better in 2012.

Spring superlatives: TCU Horned Frogs

April, 10, 2012
Time to continue our series breaking down each team's best and worst positions entering the 2012 season. TCU is up next.

More spring superlatives:
Strongest position: Running back

Simply put, this position is pretty absurd for TCU. The Horned Frogs have by far the deepest set of running backs in the league. Ed Wesley, Waymon James and Matthew Tucker all topped 700 yards rushing but each got at least 120 carries and not more than 123. That's crazy balance.

The Horned Frogs may not have a gamebreaker in the unit, and they put those numbers up in the Mountain West, but it's still impressive. Casey Pachall spearheads a great passing attack, but the Horned Frogs are more than capable of getting physical on the ground. Balance has been a benchmark of Gary Patterson's program, and it'll be especially true this year. Nobody in the Big 12 can boast anything close to three 700-yard rushers coming back, and TCU will use them all liberally.

Weakest position: Safety

TCU's safeties outpace the linebackers here, but after Tanner Brock got mixed up in the campus drug sting, there's a big question mark at both positions. Tank Carder was a stalwart at the position for the past three seasons, including the Rose Bowl win in 2010, but he's gone now. Brock missed 2011 with an injury, but the former All-American was expected back. He almost certainly will not return.

Safeties Tekerrein Cuba and Johnny Fobbs are both gone, and the position was already a trouble spot last year. You saw plenty of it in the loss to Baylor that opened the season. Devin Johnson, a likely starter this season, was also arrested in the drug sting and barring a stunning turn of events, won't be with the team this year. Now, it's up to sophomores Sam Carter, Jonathan Anderson and juniors Elisha Olabode and Trent Thomas to fill the void.

The good news? Coach Chad Glasgow is back to coach them after a year coordinating the defense at Texas Tech. The Horned Frogs were the nation's leader in total defense in 2008, 2009 and 2010 with Glasgow. That'll change in their new home in the Big 12, but hopes are still high.

Spring superlatives: Texas

April, 3, 2012
Time to continue our series breaking down each team's best and worst positions entering the 2012 season. Texas is up next.

More spring superlatives:
Strongest position: Defensive end

Look out for these guys. Jackson Jeffcoat and Alex Okafor just might take both of the All-Big 12 spots by the end of the season. The same might be true for Texas' cornerbacks, who were narrowly edged out for my "strongest position" on the Longhorns. Okafor and Jeffcoat combined for 29.5 tackles for loss last season as first-year starters, both ranking in the Big 12's top eight. They also had 14 sacks, both in the top seven in the league. No defensive line duo was more productive, and that should continue this season. Jeffcoat, the No. 1 overall recruit in the 2010 class, has a bit more upside, but both of these guys have potential to win the Big 12 Defensive Player of the Year in 2012. Texas will have the luxury this season to rush just four players and drop back seven in coverage, but still get plenty of pressure on quarterbacks. The biggest reason why: Okafor and Jeffcoat. When that happens, the defense can at times look impenetrable.

Weakest position: Quarterback

It's a sad state of affairs at quarterback for Texas right now. Blue-chip recruit Garrett Gilbert flopped, and the Longhorns have scrambled since. For now, Case McCoy and David Ash are what's left behind, and it wasn't pretty last season. Quarterback is the biggest hole for a team that's otherwise complete.

For Texas, that's a huge hole, especially considering the talents like Vince Young and Colt McCoy that filled it previously, sending Texas to national title games. Ash is the presumed starter for 2012, but from my perspective, no team in the Big 12 is weaker at quarterback. Kansas hopped the Longhorns when it brought in Notre Dame transfer Dayne Crist. Ash could show some major development after an offseason with a lot of first-team reps -- reps he didn't get as a fourth-string true freshman leading up to the 2011 season -- but he's got a long way to go to even meet the average production for Big 12 quarterbacks.

Spring superlatives: Oklahoma

March, 23, 2012
Time to continue our series breaking down each team's best and worst positions entering the 2012 season. Oklahoma is up next.

More spring superlatives:
Strongest position: Quarterback

Landry Jones can put up big numbers, but it'd be interesting to see what Blake Bell could do, too, if an offense had to depend on him.

Bell rushed for 13 touchdowns in the Belldozer package in the second half of the season, but he can throw the ball, too. OU's strategy is sound: If you're throwing it, why take the ball out of Jones' hands? It should be interesting to see how (if?) the Belldozer is used in 2012, but Jones' shortcomings aside, few programs can boast a three-year starter and Heisman contender at quarterback.

Oklahoma can, and the Sooners exercise their biggest strength often. Jones threw the ball 562 times last year -- only three quarterbacks in college football had more attempts.

Weakest position: Safety

The potential for this spot is high, mostly because new defensive coordinator Mike Stoops seems intent on moving nickel back Tony Jefferson back to free safety, a more traditional spot.

Jefferson, though, has been a major impact player at nickel back, and Stoops' willingness to move him says plenty about the need at safety. That and the game tape from losses to Baylor and Oklahoma State late in the season. Javon Harris had high-profile struggles in the loss to Baylor, but we'll see how Aaron Colvin and Quentin Hayes fit in to the safety spot alongside Jefferson, too.

Jefferson has All-America potential, and he'll be playing a position he's more used to. But for now, giving up big plays has still been a weakness for this defense. Improvement is needed at safety.

Spring superlatives: Kansas State

March, 15, 2012
Time to continue our series breaking down each team's best and worst positions entering the 2012 season. Kansas State is up next.

More spring superlatives:
Strongest position: Linebacker

K-State must replace converted safety Emmanuel Lamur, but the Wildcats have a great base in the middle of the defense. Senior Arthur Brown will be on the short list of Big 12 Defensive Player of the Year candidates in 2012, and his partner in crime, Tre Walker, has tons of potential and good speed.

Brown holds down the middle while Walker, a junior, roams the weak side. Who takes over on the strong side? Like Lamur, K-State needs someone with great speed. Watch for that battle this spring. The Wildcats start spring practice on April 4.

Weakest position: Wide receiver

I'll preface this by saying Kansas State doesn't have what I'd call a true weakness at any position. There are few positions in which the team truly excelled (I'd point to offensive line and cornerback as the team's best positions in 2011), but relative to the rest of the Big 12, the Wildcats need help at wide receiver.

Part of the low numbers for the position is Kansas State's offense, which threw the ball just 290 times last year, the fewest attempts in the Big 12. Three teams in the league (Oklahoma, Oklahoma State, Texas Tech) literally doubled Kansas State's pass attempts.

Still, K-State returns its three leading receivers, so there's hope at the position. Tyler Lockett is a shifty speedster, but Chris Harper and Tramaine Thompson are the best pure receivers on the team. Beyond that duo, however, K-State lacks much additional, reliable depth at the position.

Spring superlatives: Kansas

March, 14, 2012
Time to continue our series breaking down each team's best and worst positions entering the 2012 season. Kansas is up next.

More spring superlatives: Strongest position: Running back

I won't sugar coat this. Kansas wasn't very good at very much the past two seasons. However, it has a deep stable of running backs that could start for a lot of teams in the Big 12. That's highlighted by James Sims, who has led the team in rushing the past two seasons and returns for his junior season in 2012. Darrian Miller was kicked off the team, but Tony Pierson is a shifty back from East St. Louis who provides a nice balance to Sims' powerful style. Add Brandon Bourbon to the mix? You've got a pretty nice backfield.

Kansas got a big upgrade at quarterback in Dayne Crist's transfer, but the running backs have carried the offense the past couple seasons, and very well could do it again in 2012 with a lack of receiving options.

Weakest position: Defensive back

You really could pick any unit on Kansas' defense in 2011, but I'll go with the defensive backs for one big reason. The Jayhawks didn't stop much of anything last year, ranking ninth in both pass defense and rushing defense. However, trailing by big numbers last year meant teams ran a lot. Kansas faced the fifth-most rushing attempts in the Big 12 last year, but only Texas Tech (314) faced fewer pass attempts than Kansas (375) last year.

It's not all the defensive backs. Kansas didn't get much of anything resembling a pass rush and gave up almost 44 points a game, the most in college football.

Still, this unit had holes all over the place, and an underwhelming set of cornerbacks and safeties had no chance against dynamic weapons all across the Big 12. It gave up lots of big plays, lots of plays underneath and a whole lot of yardage everywhere.

Spring superlatives: Iowa State

March, 9, 2012
Time to continue our series breaking down each team's best and worst positions entering the 2012 season. Iowa State is up next.

More spring superlatives: Strongest position: Linebacker

This one is clear. Iowa State topped our position rankings at linebacker, and for good reason. Or, perhaps more accurately, two good reasons.

Big 12 co-Defensive Player of the Year A.J. Klein and teammate Jake Knott make up the best 1-2 punch at linebacker of any team in the country, and sophomore C.J. Morgan should fill out the unit heading into the spring. Knott was banged up all over throughout the 2011 season, but he and Klein were still the most productive duo of any linebackers in the Big 12.

They combined for 231 tackles and finished second and fourth in the Big 12 in tackles. Even scarier for the rest of the Big 12? They'll both be back and be third-year starters in 2012. Look out, especially if Knott stays healthy during the season.

Weakest position: Defensive line

If you want to know why Iowa State had such trouble stopping opposing offenses last year, point to this unit. Additionally, its most productive members are gone after last season.

Patrick Neal and Jacob Lattimer combined for 6.5 sacks, and are gone. As is tackle Stephen Ruempolhamer, who added five tackles for loss and 2.5 more sacks.

End Roosevelt Maggitt returns, as does tackle Jake McDonough, but Iowa State has big holes in a trouble spot for the defense.

Spring superlatives: Baylor

March, 8, 2012
We'll kick off a new series today we've done in the past.

In "Spring Superlatives," we'll break down each team's best and worst positions entering the 2012 season. We'll kick it off with Baylor.

Strongest position: Wide receiver

Don't fret too much about losing Kendall Wright, Bears. The team lost an NFL-caliber receiver in Josh Gordon before the season and loses Wright, a 1,600-yard receiver, after the year.

Coach Art Briles, however, keeps reloading at the position and new quarterback Nick Florence will have plenty of targets next season. Terrance Williams tops that list, and NFL draft guru Mel Kiper Jr. lists him as the nation's No. 1 NFL prospect at receiver among players eligible for the 2013 draft.

Wright put together a Biletnikoff Award-caliber season last year, but Williams quietly put together a 59-catch, 957-yard, 11-touchdown season and finished fifth in the Big 12 in receiving.

That makes him the leading returning receiver in the Big 12. Who's No. 2? Funny you ask. How about Tevin Reese, another Baylor receiver who racked up 877 yards and seven scores on 51 catches.

West Virginia has a pair in Tavon Austin and Stedman Bailey who were more productive in the Big East, but we'll see how they measure up.

Lanear Sampson fills out Baylor's receiving corps after grabbing 42 balls for 572 yards.

Weakest position: Safety

Baylor gave up loads and loads of big plays last year; they were one of four Big 12 teams to give up more than 200 plays longer than 10 yards. No Big 12 team gave up more plays of longer than 30, 40 or 50 yards, too.

Mike Hicks and Sam Holl both return. Is this good news or bad news for the Bears? Expectations will be low for the duo, but every year we see second- and third-year starters take big steps forward on the field. Baylor needs those guys to do that.

The duo combined for 218 tackles, and both picked off three passes, combining to break up six passes. Those numbers aren't good enough considering the yardage and points Baylor's defense gave up. Fixing this position has to be goal No. 1 during the spring.