Big 12: Terrell Resonno
Next up: The Missouri Tigers.
1. Figure out what/if the offense has to change. The Tigers, like Texas A&M, are headed for the SEC, and there are plenty of questions about how well Mizzou's wide-open, fast-paced attack will work in their new league, which is known for having the biggest, strongest and fastest defenses in all of college football. This season especially, those defenses were responsible for the league winning its sixth consecutive national title.
2. Solidify the defensive line. Mizzou's defensive line was the most talented in the Big 12, but was somewhat underwhelming in 2011. It was good, far above average for the Big 12, but nowhere near dominant. Well, defensive lines in the SEC are like quarterbacks in the Big 12: The grade is much stricter. The Tigers lose Jacquies Smith and Terrell Resonno, as well as one of the Big 12's most productive tackles, Dominique Hamilton. Brad Madison is back after a 2011 that had him slowed by injury, but this unit will face much different offenses in 2012, and needs to be better.
3. Develop chemistry on the offensive line. Left tackle Elvis Fisher's status for an additional year from the NCAA after a preseason knee injury is still in flux, but if he's gone, Mizzou's big hole gets even bigger. Guards Jayson Palmgren and Austin Wuebbels are gone, as is right tackle Dan Hoch, one of the team's top talents. The line of scrimmage is where games are won, and though Mizzou's been really solid on the offensive line the past few years, that will have to continue against tougher defensive lines in the SEC.
First, he committed to the Tigers as an ESPNU 150 recruit in 2009. Then, he didn't qualify, and Missouri's coaches helped him get into junior college in California.
Where, of course, he committed to USC and Monte Kiffin in hopes of heading to the NFL.
Missouri's coaches talked him out of that, and after signing his letter of intent in December as the nation's No. 3 overall junior college recruit, had yet to be officially cleared to practice at Missouri.
That changed on Wednesday, when the NCAA opened the gate for Richardson, who suited up for practice on Thursday and spoke with reporters after.
"We were just dotting all the I’s, crossing all the T’s and making sure when I’m here, I’m here to stay," Richardson told reporters. He later added: "I had a big head when I graduated high school, I went to juco and that leveled me out a bit. ... "If anyone tells you humble pies taste good, they’re lying to you."
For now, Missouri has two returning starters entrenched at defensive tackle: Dominique Hamilton and Terrell Resonno. For now, the athletic 6-foot-4, 310-pounder will have to earn his playing time like the rest of his teammates.
"He starts at the bottom, like Jeremy Maclin, everybody starts at the bottom,” Pinkel told reporters on Thursday. "There’s no prima donnas around here and he knows that."
Here are the rest of the position rankings.
Now that we've finished ranking the complete units, we'll start ranking the top 10 at each position very soon leading into the 2011 season.
This is a decent position for the Big 12 this season, and the top half of the league should feel pretty good about their group. There aren't many studs in this group, but there are a whole lot of solid players.
2. Oklahoma -- Oklahoma's defensive tackles are somewhat suspect, but the defensive end combo of Ronnell Lewis (provided he is eligible come fall camp) and Frank Alexander is on par with the best in the Big 12. Both were preseason All-Big 12 selections, but Jamarkus McFarland needs to make good on his potential. Stacy McGee and Casey Walker should both get time at the other tackle spot.
3. Texas -- Defensive end Jackson Jeffcoat is loaded with potential as the nation's former No. 1 recruit. He had a big impact early last season before being slowed by an ankle injury. Alex Okafor moved outside from defensive tackle just before spring and had five sacks in the spring game. Inside, Kheeston Randall is an All-Big 12 favorite, but Ashton Dorsey had a strong spring and could help out with Reggie Wilson opposite Randall.
4. Texas A&M -- The Aggies have one of the best linemen in the league in Tony Jerod-Eddie, but Jonathan Mathis, Eddie Brown Jr. and Ben Bass have a lot to prove around him after the loss of Lucas Patterson, who was outstanding in 2010.
5. Texas Tech -- Sam Fehoko has moved to defensive end from middle linebacker, and should provide some good speed to the front line. Scott Smith looked on his way to an All-Big 12 campaign last season, but was suspended for the remainder of the season by coach Tommy Tuberville and has yet to be officially reinstated. For now, Dartwan Bush and Aundrey Barr will help out at defensive end, outside of Donald Langley, Kerry Hyder and Pearlie Graves. The Red Raiders did snatch a big pickup from departed UNC signee Delvon Simmons, a defensive tackle that could have an impact immediately.
6. Oklahoma State -- Defensive line is the biggest weak spot for the Cowboys, who have a decent set of ends in Jamie Blatnick and former heralded recruit Richetti Jones, but an even bigger question mark at defensive tackle where Christian Littlehead and Nigel Nicholas enter fall camp as starters.
7. Kansas -- Top rusher turned defensive end Toben Opurum came on strong late last season and should be one of the most exciting Jayhawks to watch in 2011, but the rest of the line leaves a bit to be desired. Keba Agostino has the other starting spot at defensive end ahead of Pat Lewandowski, who had a great spring. Patrick Dorsey and John Williams enter fall camp as starters at defensive tackles.
8. Kansas State -- K-State recruited this position hard in its 2011 class. For now, defensive end Brandon Harold will try to bounce back from a disappointing 2010 after a promising 2009. Lance Dunbar and Taylor Martinez think this group is ranked too high, but Meshak Williams could start opposite Harold, while Ray Kibble and Raphael Guidry should be the tackles inside.
9. Baylor -- Tevin Elliott was limited this spring because of offseason shoulder surgery, and Terrance Lloyd exited spring practice as the starter, but I'd expect Elliott to regain the spot by the time the season arrives. Phil Taylor, a first-round pick, is a big loss, but Gary Mason Jr. will try to fill his spot next to Nicolas Jean-Baptiste.
10. Iowa State -- Having a pair of linebackers combine for 241 tackles is a good and bad thing. They've got outstanding linebackers, but the defensive line was the Big 12's worst last season for a unit that ranked 10th in rush defense and had just 11 sacks. That was the fewest sacks in the Big 12 and more than just three teams in all of college football. The good news is all four starters return, but for now, this is where the Cyclones start. Stephen Ruempolhamer has some promise, but Cleyon Laing, Jake McDonough and ends Patrick Neal and Roosevelt Maggitt have a lot to prove. Jacob Lattimer ran into offseason trouble, but re-appeared atop the depth chart released by the Cyclones on Wednesday.
No. 1 on the list was the favorite: Oklahoma.
No. 2 was Texas A&M.
Oklahoma State came in at No. 3.
Why the Tigers will win the Big 12
1. Experience. Missouri returns 105 starts on the offensive line, losing only center Tim Barnes. That's the most in the Big 12 and 11th most in the nation on an offensive line that was fantastic in 2010. Just less than 80 percent of its total lettermen return, eighth-most in college football. That's a lot of guys who have been around, and the Tigers knocked over a big wall last year when they toppled the Sooners. Eliminate Mizzou's curious road hiccup at Texas Tech, and the Tigers would have been back in the Big 12 title game instead of sharing the Big 12 North with Nebraska after a third 10-win season in four years.
2. Dave Steckel. The Tigers' defense has steadily improved under Steckel, who previously coached linebackers under Matt Eberflus. Missouri had its best defense under Gary Pinkel last year, and that could continue this year with a great mix of experience and upside at linebacker, with Will Ebner and Zaviar Gooden set to knock around a few folks. Missouri's defense is noticeably tougher under Steckel, and though the Tigers must replace Aldon Smith and both starting corners, don't expect it to take a big jump back. Though Kip Edwards and E.J. Gaines lack the experience of Carl Gettis and Kevin Rutland, they may prove to be better corners very soon.
3. The defensive line. And what's the best way to negate inexperience at corner? How about the Big 12's best defensive line. Brad Madison is arguably the Big 12's best returning pass-rusher, and his counterpart at defensive end, Jacquies Smith, is one of the better ends in the Big 12, too. Missouri also has the best depth of any defensive line, with Michael Sam and Kony Ealy itching to spell Madison and Smith. At defensive tackle, Terrell Resonno could be poised for a breakout year, and blue-chip recruit Sheldon Richardson, if/when he actually makes it to campus, should join Dominique Hamilton at the opposite tackle spot, making sure Missouri's front four are not to be trifled.
Why the Tigers won't win the Big 12
1. The quarterback has never started a game. Sometimes, it's just this simple. James Franklin may blossom into a star at Missouri, but as a first-year starter, he's bound to have a few bad nights. Can Missouri survive them? Its Big 12 title hopes depend on it. If Blaine Gabbert had stayed, Missouri would likely be a top-15 or top-10 team and join Texas A&M and OSU as the chief contenders to knock off Oklahoma. Instead, the Tigers are relegated to a dark horse/wild-card role that depends heavily on how Franklin performs in his first year. The one advantage he has is after Tyler Gabbert's post-spring transfer, fall camp will be more about cementing his role as starter than winning it. Franklin walked in as a true freshman last spring and eventually won the No. 2 job behind Blaine Gabbert. That says a lot, and he earned some playing time last year, but his sophomore season won't be anything like 2010, when he threw all of 14 passes.
2. The passing game is limited. NFL teams knew Blaine Gabbert had a cannon, but he didn't get very many chances to showcase it to college fans last year, and Franklin may be forced to do the same. T.J. Moe and Michael Egnew are a great duo with some of the best hands in the league and a great sense of space, but without a deep threat to keep defenses honest, their production declined late in the season. Danario Alexander and Jeremy Maclin were able to stretch the field for guys like Chase Coffman and Martin Rucker in the past, but Moe and Egnew won't come close to 2010's production if the Tigers can't find someone to haul in a few passes over the top of the secondary.
3. Trips to Norman and College Station are on the schedule. I hear you, Missouri fans. I was there for the destruction of Texas A&M at Kyle Field last year. But that was a very different Texas A&M team than you'll be facing this time around. And the return trip may not be quite as enjoyable. Jerrod Johnson struggled against the Tigers, but the 30-9 loss was his penultimate start and Ryan Tannehill is driving the bus now. Also, don't count on this one being an 11 a.m. kickoff. I'd plan for prime time, and Kyle Field is a very different place at 8 p.m. than at lunch time. Ask Nebraska. Missouri knocked off Oklahoma last year, too, but don't think the Sooners have forgotten the fourth-quarter meltdown in Columbia. Oklahoma gets both of its losses in 2010 -- Missouri and Texas A&M -- in Norman this year, where it carries a 36-game home winning streak, the nation's longest, into 2011.
Here are my votes, and I feel pretty good about all of them. Which would you pick?
Quarterbacks: Oklahoma State
The Cowboys return All-Big 12 first-teamer Brandon Weeden, and the senior will have his top target back, Biletnikoff Award winner Justin Blackmon. He threw for 4,277 yards last season and his quarterback rating of 154.11 was eight points higher than any passer in the Big 12.
Honorable mention: Oklahoma, Baylor
Running backs: Texas A&M
Cyrus Gray was the Big 12's best back late in the conference season, and his running mate re-joins him in the backfield this year after breaking his leg midway through 2010. Christine Michael and Gray form perhaps the best backfield duo in the nation, but by far the best in the Big 12.
Honorable mention: Oklahoma
This one's close, but Oklahoma's depth gives them the edge. Ryan Broyles is narrowly the Big 12's No. 2 receiver and a Biletnikoff finalist in his own right, but Kenny Stills could sneak up on a 1,000-yard season as a sophomore in 2011. Dejuan Miller and Trey Franks are two more solid options, and the Sooners could add a pair of talented freshmen to the rotation in Trey Metoyer and Justin McCay.
Honorable mention: Oklahoma State, Texas A&M, Baylor
Offensive line: Oklahoma State
The line helped running back Kendall Hunter finish second in the Big 12 with 1,548 yards last season, and all five starters return from the unit that gave up the fewest sacks in the Big 12. That's aided by the quick-release approach in the Air Raid offense, but the line boasts the Big 12's best returning lineman, tackle Levy Adcock.
Honorable mention: Texas A&M
Defensive line: Missouri
The Tigers have the Big 12's returning leader in sacks, defensive end Brad Madison, but the unit is deep and talented and could get even more so next season. DT Terrell Resonno, DE Jacquies Smith and DT Dominique Hamilton are all experienced, and defensive ends Michael Sam and Kony Ealy should provide very little dropoff when they're on the field as part of the rotation. The Tigers also welcome a possible game-changer in Sheldon Richardson, a light-footed 6-foot-4, 296-pound defensive tackle and St. Louis native who is the nation's No. 3 juco recruit.
Honorable mention: Texas
The Sooners have one of the favorites for Big 12 Preseason Defensive Player of the Year in senior linebacker Travis Lewis, who is likely to be joined by some combination of Tom Wort, Corey Nelson and Jaydan Bird. Nickel back Tony Jefferson could be poised for a break out year on a national scale after sharing Defensive Freshman of the Year honors last season.
Honorable mention: Iowa State
Cornerbacks: Texas A&M
The Aggies have two of the Big 12's best in Dustin Harris and Coryell Judie, who doubles as perhaps the Big 12's most dangerous return man. The pair combined for eight interceptions last season and 21 passes defended. Terrence Frederick defended 10 passes of his own. Health was a concern for this group in the spring, but they should be ready come fall.
Honorable mention: Oklahoma
Safeties: Oklahoma State
Markelle Martin is a future draft pick and one of the Big 12's hardest hitters, but Johnny Thomas played some of his best football late last season. They combined for 118 tackles last season, and 100 of those were solo stops.
Honorable mention: Kansas State
Punter: Oklahoma State
Quinn Sharp has been one of the Big 12's best punters for the past two seasons, and led the league in punting average at 46.2 yards in 2010.
Grant Ressel has made 43 of 46 field goals over the past two seasons, and the former walk-on should be a contender for the Lou Groza Award as a junior in 2011.
Strongest position: Defensive line
Key returnees: Brad Madison, Jacquies Smith, Terrell Resonno, Dominique Hamilton, Jimmy Burge, Michael Sam
Key losses: Aldon Smith
Analysis: It's hard to believe a spot that loses a first-round draft pick could be the team's strength the following season, but that's the case for Missouri. For all of Smith's raw talent, his sophomore season was an anticlimactic encore to a promising freshman year, mostly because of a broken leg suffered just before conference play began. While he was gone, Madison emerged as a force, eventually leading the team with 7.5 sacks and earning second-team All-Big 12 honors despite playing most of the season as a backup.
But his teammate across the line, Jacquies Smith, was second on the team with 5.5 sacks and tied Aldon Smith with 10 tackles for loss.
Hamilton was enjoying a big year before suffering a broken ankle against Oklahoma. A week later, when the Tigers gave up 307 yards rushing to Roy Helu Jr., it was pretty obvious how much they missed him.
He and Resonno should hold down the middle, but what makes this such a position of strength for the Tigers is their depth.
Blue-chip recruit turned juco prospect Sheldon Richardson has been trying to get to Columbia for years, but it looks like his 6-foot-4, 290-pound athletic frame will finally make it to campus this summer.
As a freshman, end Michael Sam showed big-time potential, making seven tackles for loss and 3.5 sacks. Fellow end Kony Ealy has drawn favorable reviews this spring and looks like he'll get a chance to contribue as a freshman as well.
Tackle Jimmy Burge will be in the rotation as a junior after making 16 tackles last season.
Weakest position: Big-play threats
Analysis: One of the reasons Missouri should still be solid next season, despite losing a likely top 10 pick at quarterback, is its strength nearly everywhere else.
There are small questions at center and in the secondary, but I'd expect Missouri to end up at least solid in both positions with talented players who got some experience last season taking over at both spots. I also believe whoever wins the competition between Tyler Gabbert and James Franklin will at least be decent.
But for Missouri's offense, it's easy to see the biggest weakness lies in a big-play threat, something the offense has had in some way for the better part of the past decade until last season. Missouri ranked fifth in the Big 12 with 63 plays of 20 yards or longer and had just six fewer than the second-place team, Baylor.
But plays longer than 30 yards? The Tigers had just 21, and ranked eighth in the Big 12. Only Iowa State and Kansas had fewer than Missouri's six plays longer than 40 yards, and consider also that two of those plays were 69 and 71-yard runs to open up an early lead against Texas Tech, but the Tigers' offense was stymied the rest of the game in the deflating road loss.
Those six plays also ranked 106th nationally. There are worse things to have as a weakness for sure, but Missouri's offense will suffer next season if someone can't soften up defenses. Marcus Lucas, a 6-foot-5 sophomore receiver, is one name that comes up constantly in that group, but the fact right now is, Missouri has no proven big-play threats.
Underneath routes are hugely important for the Tigers' top two pass-catchers, Michael Egnew and T.J. Moe, and late in the season, defenses focused on the duo, causing dips in their production.
The good news for Missouri? Egnew and Moe had all of five receptions combined in 2009. Last season, they had 182.
Can Missouri find another under-the-radar player to help provide a more rounded offense?
More spring superlatives:
Spring practice starts: February 28
Spring game: April 2
What to watch:
- Big changes on defense. Baylor brought in Phil Bennett as its new defensive coordinator, and he says his scheme will be multiple, built to fit the Bears' personnel. Considering the Bears' recent recruiting successes in the secondary, look for a 4-2-5 type of look.
- Recruiting stars: time to shine. Both safeties, Tim Atchison and Byron Landor, are gone. Baylor, though, has two former ESPNU 150 recruits at safety who would be well served to start filling their potential. Prince Kent was a reserve last season and at one time, the nation's No. 51 overall recruit who originally signed with Miami. Ahmad Dixon, meanwhile, was the No. 15 overall prospect in the 2010 class. The opportunity is there. Baylor needs big talent at the position. Briles has recruited it. Can they develop into players who make Baylor a contender?
- Running back competition. Jay Finley topped 1,200 yards in 2010, but he's gone. Who steps into his void? Terrance Ganaway is a bowling ball at 5-foot-11, 235 pounds, but the shifty Jarred Salubi could get a good amount of carries, too. They could begin to share carries this spring.
Spring practice starts: March 22
Spring game: April 16
What to watch:
- Quarterback competition. It should be a good one in Ames this spring. Jerome Tiller is the name most recognize after getting lots of meaningful time and starts because of injuries to Austen Arnaud over the past two seasons. But juco transfer Steele Jantz sounds confident he can win the job. Rising sophomore James Capello and redshirt freshman Jared Barnett will compete, too.
- Paging Cyclone receivers. Iowa State had one of the most underwhelming receiving corps in the league during the past season, and three of its top five pass-catchers won't return in 2011. Of those three, however, one is a tight end (Collin Franklin) and another is a running back (Alexander Robinson). The new quarterback will need some help, and Darius Darks and Darius Reynolds will need to provide it as seniors.
- Shontrelle's time or not? Freshman Shontrelle Johnson looked like the running back with the most pop behind Robinson for most of 2010, but two other freshmen running backs jockeyed for carries, too. Paul Rhoads is hardly handing the job over to Johnson, but spring could be the time when he really separates himself from the pack.
Spring practice starts: April 1
Spring game: April 30
What to watch:
- What are they doing behind center? Kansas never got much consistent play out of the quarterback position last year, but freshman Brock Berglund is one of the 2011 class' top recruits, and enrolled early to compete in the spring with Jordan Webb and Quinn Mecham. With a building program like Kansas, there's perhaps some value in handing the program to a younger player like Webb or Berglund, but they'll have to earn it. Doing so will start in the spring, but don't expect the Jayhawks to have a set-in-stone starter by spring's end.
- Top linebacker back on the field. Huldon Tharp missed all of 2010 with a foot injury, but he says he's 100 percent and ready to get back on the field. As a freshman in 2009, he was fifth on the team in tackles, with 59, and looked like one of the league's possible budding stars. Now, he'll get his chance to join fellow linebacker Steven Johnson as one of the team's top tacklers, and he'll do it as a sophomore after redshirting in 2010.
- Toben rising? Turner Gill raised plenty of eyebrows when he moved his team's leading rusher in 2009, Toben Opurum, to linebacker in fall camp, and eventually slid him up to defensive end. But toward the end of 2010, Opurum started showing some major signs of growth at the position. We'll get a better idea this spring if he's one of the league's most unlikely new stars at defensive end.
Spring practice starts: April 6
Spring game: April 30
What to watch:
- Prodigal Kansan sons come home. There's no doubt that the Wichita native Brown brothers are the main attraction at Kansas State this spring, a season after transferring back home. Bryce Brown, the running back, was the nation's No. 8 prospect in the 2009 class. Arthur Brown, the linebacker, was the nation's No. 6 prospect in the 2008 class. Bryce transferred from Tennessee and Arthur from Miami. The Wildcats are pinning much of their hopes on the duo, and we'll get a good sense of what they can provide soon.
- Quarterback competition. Carson Coffman is gone, and two new faces will challenge for the job: juco transfer Justin Tuggle and Daniel Sams. Sammuel Lamur is also up for the gig. Collin Klein may or may not be; Bill Snyder hasn't explicitly confirmed a past comment from Sams saying Klein had moved to receiver. Don't expect a starter to be named by spring's end, but a general order could start to form.
- Can the defense show improvement? Kansas State had the Big 12's worst overall defense last year, and the worst rushing defense in college football, giving up 3,008 yards on the ground. Coordinator Chris Cosh looks like he'll still be around in 2011, and defensive backs David Garrett and Tysyn Hartman are solid pieces to try and build around. But this young maturing defense must get better to make a bowl game again with so many questions on offense. That starts in the spring.
Spring practice starts: March 8
Spring game: April 16
What to watch:
- Franklin comes alive! Blaine Gabbert bolted to the NFL early, and Missouri has a gaping hole a quarterback. The position, however, is surrounded by a lot of quality talent that likely makes the Tigers a Top 25 team. There's no understating the importance of the position for the Tigers, and that will begin to be decided in the spring. James Franklin, a rising sophomore, saw spot duty in 2010 as more of a runner, and may have the inside track on the job, but Tyler Gabbert, Blaine's younger brother, and Ashton Glaser should make it an interesting competition in the spring. If neither of them impress early, don't count out incoming freshman Corbin Berkstresser.
- Here is the new secondary. Same as the old secondary? After years of pass defense being one of the Tigers' biggest weaknesses, it became a strength in 2010 behind the leadership of senior corners Kevin Rutland and Carl Gettis. But the Tigers lose them and safety Jarrell Harrison. Rutland emerged as one of the team's most impressive players last spring, but was Missouri's success in the secondary a one-time thing or the beginning of a welcome trend?
- Time to dominate the trenches? Missouri played without likely first-round pick Aldon Smith for much of the previous season, but the defensive and offensive lines for the Tigers were as good as ever in 2010. How will they look in 2011? Impact juco transfer Sheldon Richardson won't be enrolled by the spring, but the four returning starters on the offensive line should get some solid work against Brad Madison, Jacquies Smith and Terrell Resonno.
Spring practice starts: March 21
Spring game: April 16
What to watch:
- Freshmen on display. Coach Bob Stoops hasn't been shy about saying his 2010 recruiting class was his best ever, but it could look even better after this spring. Two of his best emerging recruits, Justin McCay and Geneo Grissom, didn't even play in 2010, and could start to make an impact. The same goes for Corey Nelson, who will try to earn some more time somewhere backing up star Travis Lewis.
- Is there a golden boot in Norman? Jimmy Stevens was much more accurate in 2010, finishing 19-for-23, but his attempts outside 45 yards were sparse. The good news is he missed none of his 53 extra points. Field goals have been a bit of an adventure for the past couple years, but continuing in the spring what he started last year would be a good sign for Oklahoma. The Sooners are strong everywhere and need good special teams play to reach their lofty title goals.
- Are the Sooners' backs back? Roy Finch missed the Fiesta Bowl with a stress fracture, and his durability is certainly questionable entering 2011. When he's healthy, he looks like the next star in the Sooners' backfield, but they'll need some depth behind the 5-foot-8, 173-pounder. Jermie Calhoun, Jonathan Miller and Brennan Clay have all looked good at times, but there should be some good competition from newcomers Brandon Wegher, an Iowa transfer who'll be in camp this spring and eligible next season, and blue-chip recruit Brandon Williams, who enrolled early.
Spring practice starts: March 7
Spring game: April 16
What to watch:
- Every piece of the offense. The spring in Stillwater is all about keeping or improving upon the status quo. Had it kept Dana Holgorsen, there'd be little doubt that would happen, but Oklahoma State must make the most of its five returning offensive linemen, quarterback Brandon Weeden and receiver Justin Blackmon. The opportunity for a historic season is there, but they'll have to pick up the nuances of the new offense quickly in the spring like they did last year.
- What about the kicker? Dan Bailey won the Lou Groza Award as the nation's top kicker in 2010, but he's gone. Oklahoma State needs to fill that role quickly, and we'll likely know who will get the nod after the spring.
- Who steps up on the defensive line? The Cowboys lose three starters up front on defense, including All-Big 12 performer Ugo Chinasa and tackles Chris Donaldson and Shane Jarka. Can senior Richetti Jones become a star in the Big 12? We'll have a good idea if he, or any of the Cowboys' other defensive linemen, can by the end of April.
Spring practice starts: February 24
Spring game: April 3
What to watch:
- New coaches and their students/players. Texas has five new coaches. Although it's hard to get a good read early on, how they relate with the players on the field, in the film room and around the facilities will have a big impact on how the 2011 season plays out in Austin. The young-blooded coordinators could serve themselves well by relating to players and the players will need to spend plenty of extra time learning new schemes and plays.
- Quarterback competition ... or not? Mack Brown says the gig is open and it is, for now. Garrett Gilbert can close it with a strong spring. If Garrett struggles on the field or has difficulty grasping the new system, the door will be wide open for Connor Wood or Case McCoy to step in and close it. Gilbert didn't get much help, but he did very little in 2010 to inspire a lot of breathing room with McCoy and Wood clamoring for playing time.
- And you've got to defend the pass, too. Texas loses its top three cornerbacks to the NFL, and only Carrington Byndom and A.J. White got much meaningful playing time last season. Younger players can earn some rare early playing time with a strong spring. Will anyone step up?
Spring practice starts: March 22
Spring game: April 16
What to watch:
- New linebackers in the running. Spring isn't so scary when you bring back nine defensive starters, but the two Texas A&M lost were the heart of its defense. Linebackers Michael Hodges and Von Miller are gone. Kyle Mangan didn't look fantastic when forced into action during the Cotton Bowl, but the time is now for Damontre Moore and Dominique Patterson, a pair of sophomores, to make their impact.
- Tannehill's tuning things up. Quarterback Ryan Tannehill played about as well as anyone could have hoped late last season, but he'll need it to continue his performance with a solid spring nailing down the timing with his receivers, who all return. He's already got a leg up on last year's quarterback, Jerrod Johnson, who was held out of team drills last spring after shoulder surgery that eventually derailed his senior season.
- Christine's back. Christine Michael missed the second half of the season with a broken leg, giving way to Cyrus Gray's rise among Big 12 backs. It should make Texas A&M's depth at the position even more impressive, but we'll see how Michael looks coming back from the injury.
Spring practice starts: February 19
Spring game: March 26
What to watch:
- Past defending that pass defense. Texas Tech had the Big 12's worst pass defense last season, but has a pair of big potential players at cornerback in rising sophomores Tre Porter and Jarvis Phillips. Starters LaRon Moore and Franklin Mitchem are gone, but if returning starters Cody Davis and Will Ford can continue to mature, the defense should improve in the area most important for success in the Big 12.
- And they're off! There's a four-man quarterback derby set in Lubbock this spring between Seth Doege, Jacob Karam, Michael Brewer and Scotty Young. I don't expect it to be settled until midway through fall camp, similar to last season, but there should be a solid front-runner and more clarity after spring. Coach Tommy Tuberville was extremely impressed with Doege and Karam last spring after Taylor Potts and Steven Sheffield went down with injuries.
- Time to find new stars. Most of the big names on Texas Tech's defense are gone. Colby Whitlock, Bront Bird, Brian Duncan will all continue their careers elsewhere. The leaders on the defense will have to begin to emerge in the spring. Is it Scott Smith? Cody Davis? A younger, unexpected player? We'll find out. Sometimes these types of situations aren't as easy to predict as they might seem, like Missouri's strength in 2010 emerging in the secondary.
Before I offer my pick, here's a few thoughts and observations that emerged from selecting those teams.
- In comparing the divisions, there are several lopsided positions. The Big 12 South is every bit the quarterback oasis we thought it was, while the North, outside of Blaine Gabbert's arm and Taylor Martinez's legs, is a bit of a wasteland. All five quarterbacks in the South -- plus Steven Sheffield -- would represent the North after Gabbert, and based on the way Martinez played in conference games, maybe him, too.
- The same goes for the South and receivers. Somehow, Jeff Fuller couldn't make the South team, because he's got a pair of Biletnikoff finalists ahead of him. T.J. Moe and Scotty McKnight can get open in the middle of the field and both catch everything, but it's clear that all the big, fast receivers are in the South. The three aforementioned receivers, plus Kendall Wright, Lyle Leong, Detron Lewis and maybe Ryan Swope could have represented the North.
- Meanwhile, the running backs are the opposite, like we thought at the beginning of the year. Kendall Hunter is the league's best, but DeMarco Murray might have been bumped off the South team by a number of North backs, including Rodney Stewart, Daniel Thomas, Roy Helu Jr. Murray racks up a lot of catches and is probably more dangerous in the open field than any of those previous three, but those three got it done between the tackles way more often than Murray.
- Speaking of tackles, are there any good defensive tackles in the Big 12 North outside of Jared Crick? There are a lot of ends, so I put three on the team. Outside of maybe Nebraska's Baker Steinkuhler and Missouri's Terrell Resonno, there aren't many guys to fear in the middle of Big 12 North defenses. Could that perhaps be an explanation for the success of backs like Stewart, Thomas, and Helu? Can't hurt.
So what would happen?
Like we mentioned before, you'd see both teams rely on their strengths. If Blaine Gabbert is stepping back and throwing the ball 45 times to guys like McKnight and Moe all day, he's going to need a ton of completions to do it. The safer bet is to rely on those backs and a pretty strong offensive line. Ricky Henry and Zach Kendall might be two of the best run blockers in the Big 12, and their ballcarrier teammates benefited, so have them lead the way at the two guard positions.
It'd be a bit of a throwback offense for Gabbert, who is used to the spread at Missouri and in high school, but hey, it's only one game, right? He'll be OK. If the North was going to pull the upset, it'll have to do it with downhill running.
Meanwhile, expect the South to mix in plenty of those downhill runs with wide-open passing like most of them are used to. Swing passes to backs like Hunter and Murray would work well, and Ward served nicely as a lead blocker for Hunter.
Can you imagine the "backs" or "diamond" formation with Hunter, Murray and Ward? That's scary.
Through the air, how fantastic would Amukamara vs. Blackmon on one side and Broyles vs. Dennard on the other be? I want this game to happen. Somebody get Boone Pickens on the phone.
This game would be closer than it might seem coming in because of the North's salty secondary. That said, give me the boys down South by a touchdown.
South 27, North 20.
David Ubben: The logo's not exactly lighting it up like the Pac-12's, which might be the best logo in sports outside of the Jumpman, but I don't have a huge problem with the Big Ten's. As for the division names, I feel about like most do. A little lofty, no? Not exactly the people's choice.
If it makes a move to change the names, which sounds possible after Delany's comments this week, it'd be a nice chance for the league to endear itself and shed some of the elitist perception that emerged during the expansion brouhaha over the summer.
Jay in Austin, TX asks: Why is Will Muschamp such a hot commodity? His defense gave up 30 or more points in 4 games this year. They also gave up 20 or more points 7 times. They lost 7 games and really only had 1 impressive win (over Nebraska on the road) and no bowl game. He had some great talent around him too. I know the offense is a problem but sometimes that defense just looked pathetic Should Florida fans be concerned?
DU: Well, first off, since when did giving up 20 points or more become an indictment of a defense? And when your quarterback is throwing 17 picks and 10 touchdowns, you're out on the field plenty more than you'd like to be. That said, you're a little too wrapped up in 2010. This was a historically bad year for Texas, but the defense was pretty good most of the time. They had some poor stretches, but I'd hardly call them pathetic. And in the past, he's had some just amazing defenses. Like, you know, last year, when they got to the national championship (the second trip of Muschamp's career) and ranked third in total defense. Everyone around the SEC knows how good his defenses were at LSU and Auburn, too.
His pick for an offense coordinator will be a big, big decision, but I wouldn't be too concerned about his coaching future. As with any first-time head coach, there's always some slight reservation, but like I wrote when he was hired, there might not be another coordinator in the country more ready to be a head coach.
Brett in Kansas City asks: Hey David, correct me if I'm wrong but did West Virgina hire Dana Holgorsen as a coach in waiting. Did they learn anything from what happened at Texas less than a week earlier?
DU: Well, this is a very different situation. The kicker at Texas was Muschamp never knew when he'd be able to take over, and outside of a few anonymous reports during the year, there was never any indication that Mack Brown was being pressured to offer any kind of definitive timing.
Holgorsen knows he'll take over in 2012. That presents a whole other set of awkward problems and odd team dynamics for 2011, but when it's all over, Holgorsen should be in a good spot. It didn't sound like Muschamp was looking to go anywhere, but if Florida calls you, most guys are going to pick up the phone and give the Gators a good, long listen.
And then leave.
So yeah, they learned plenty. If Holgorsen hadn't been given a definite timeline, I don't know if he would have taken the job. Everyone involved would probably be better off if West Virginia just moved Bill Stewart into an administrative role after this season, but if the Mountaineers have a disappointing 2011 season, it's up to the next similar situation to learn from this one.
And on a side note, there's some major drain on great coordinators in the Big 12 this year. We'll see what that means next year. Barring their replacements, it could mean worse football. But it seems like everybody's leaving and nobody's coming.
Ben in CoMo asks: With the addition of Sheldon Richardson and the likely return of both Jaquis and Alden Smith, along with our D'line backup's (who led in sacks btw), won't most opposing offenses be scared senseless, and if they aren't shouldn't they be? MU is poised to have the best D in the Big 12 if they can replace their DB's with comperable or better players in 2011. Also, will 2011 bring a 10-2, 11-1, 12-0 or worse record for my Tigers during regular season play?
DU: We'll see about the best defense in the Big 12, because replacing those corners is easy to do in theory, difficult in practice. That's been a big problem for Missouri under Gary Pinkel. The two senior corners this year, Carl Gettis and Kevin Rutland, really struggled before having fantastic seasons in 2010. Is that just simple player development, better coaching from coordinator Dave Steckel, or a little of both?
Next year, with guys like E.J. Gaines, Kip Edwards and Trey Hobson, we'll get a better idea of what to expect from Missouri's secondary in the years to come.
That said, you're right about the front four. That rotation with Jacquies and Aldon Smith (assuming they both return), Sheldon Richardson, Terrell Resonno, Michael Sam, Brad Madison and Jimmy Burge could be pretty scary.
Wally Washington in Dallas, Texas asks: My Brother,Can you explain why the loser of the Big 12 Championship doesn't play in the 2nd best bowl tie in? You would think a division winner should be automatic to either the BCS game or fall to the next level Bowl. For example, Nebraska should be playing in the Cotton Bowl this year. Or in a better year be the next choice for an at-large bid for a BCS game. Enlighten me.
DU: I actually get this question a lot. It seems like a lot of fans don't quite understand. The bowl system is not a meritocracy, and they don't have to pick teams via standings. It's about making money. Fans more excited about their team and more likely to go watch their teams are going to make more money. Period. Outside of Oklahoma, I don't think any fan base in the Big 12 is more excited about their team than Texas A&M. Six consecutive wins, with two over top 10 teams will do that. And they're three hours away from the Cotton Bowl with a huge alumni base in Dallas. That's a big deal, and a big factor, fair or otherwise.
And if you're running the Cotton Bowl, you think fans of Oklahoma or Nebraska are going to be willing to travel back to the same stadium and the same city a month later after losing the Big 12 Championship? Not happening.
The Cotton Bowl sold out its ticket allotment for both schools really, really quickly. It didn't want an Arkansas-Texas A&M rematch back in Cowboys Stadium (the same game would have taken place three times in the same stadium within a year) but they got LSU when Arkansas got into the BCS. It's a great matchup with two great fan bases and the best Big 12 bowl matchup. I'd say the Cotton Bowl did pretty well.
KCC in Missouri asks: Dubbs, Absolutely love the blog, and as a huge husker fan I'm definitely gonna miss it. My question is when do I have to stop reading you and go to Ritt's big 10 blog, and how do we say good bye? A "thanks for everything", fist bump, awkward hug or what?
DU: Hey man, just do what feels right. Shoulder pat, awkward side hug, crushing bear hug, whatever strikes you. Maybe shed a few tears. I won't tell anyone.
- Kansas State has more at stake in tonight's game against Kansas, writes Kevin Haskin of the Topeka Capital-Journal.
- Kansas coach Turner Gill is still learning what this whole Sunflower Showdown is all about, writes Tully Corcoran of the Topeka Capital-Journal, who also had me back on their podcast to talk K-State/Kansas, Nebraska and surprises in the Big 12.
- Oklahoma State is having to explore some other options at receiver because of injuries, writes John Helsley of The Oklahoman.
- DeMarco Murray is on the verge of breaking a 41-year-old Oklahoma record.
- Iowa State cornerback Ter'ran Benton is returning to Norman, Okla., for the first time since being hospitalized there after a car crash in November.
- This is more than just one game. The Big 12's pride is on the line when Texas plays Nebraska, writes Cedric Golden of the Austin American-Statesman.
- The reason behind Missouri defensive tackle Terrell Resonno's success? It's all in the visor, writes Dave Matter of the Columbia Tribune.
- Texas Tech is losing some depth at defensive end. After suspending Scott Smith for the season last week, freshman end Aundrey Barr is out for the season with a knee injury.
- Baylor's blog has a few things about this week's game you won't find in the game notes.
- Oklahoma State receiver Justin Blackmon has a special relationship with a young leukemia-stricken girl, writes Jenni Carlson of The Oklahoman. And here's a happy birthday to his quarterback, Brandon Weeden, who turns 27 today.
- Colorado defensive end Marquez Herrod has been nominated for a courage award.
- Elsewhere in Boulder, the Buffs are prepared to trot out a starting kicker on Saturday who has never played in a college football game, writes the Daily Camera's Kyle Ringo.
- Look for the Longhorns to throw the ball against Nebraska, writes Jimmy Burch of the Fort Worth Star-Telegram.
Taylor Martinez, QB, Nebraska: He might even deserve two. Martinez rushed for 241 yards and threw for 128 more, accounting for five touchdowns in Nebraska's 48-13 beatdown of Kansas State.
Justin Blackmon, WR, Oklahoma State: Blackmon wasn't even open on a few of his big catches against Louisiana-Lafayette in the Cowboys' 54-28 win. Blackmon has obviously earned the trust of quarterback Brandon Weeden, who threw up jump balls to Blackmon several times on Friday night -- once for a 43-yard touchdown into double coverage and another touchdown on a fade route in the back of the end zone. Blackmon finished with 13 catches for 190 yards -- both career highs -- and the two touchdowns.
Missouri's defense: It's tough to pick out a single player from the unit, who used a big effort from all 11 guys to shut out Colorado in Missouri's 26-0 win. They limited Colorado to 311 yards -- just 61 on the ground -- and forced a turnover. Defensive tackle Terrell Resonno blocked a field goal, and the Tigers also forced a safety after a flag for intentional grounding on Colorado's Tyler Hansen. These guys are giving up just more than 11 points a game. It's time to start considering them one of the conference's best defenses.
Taylor Potts, QB, Texas Tech: He completed 42 of 59 passes for 462 yards and four touchdowns with just one interception. His fourth touchdown helped give the Red Raiders a 17-point lead in its 45-38 win over Baylor at the Cotton Bowl.
Brandon Weeden, QB, Oklahoma State: He threw five touchdown passes and topped 350 yards. Three of his touchdowns were from longer than 20 yards in his first road start, earning the win over the Ragin' Cajuns.
Zaviar Gooden, LB
Gooden has earned a reputation as Missouri's most athletic player, with a 4.37 40-time, a 405-pound bench press and a 40-inch vertical jump at 6-foot-2 and 225 pounds. This season, he'll take that onto the field as a probable first-year starter at outside linebacker for the Tigers. As one of the most-used reserves from last season, Gooden notched 30 tackles -- including at least three in six of his final seven games -- and appeared in all 13 games. He'll play in the strongside spot to replace fellow linebacker Andrew Gachkar, who moved to the middle to fill the hole left by first-round pick Sean Weatherspoon. Gooden also wears the honorary No. 25 jersey, given to a Missouri linebacker as a tribute to former Tiger Aaron O'Neal, who died during a voluntary workout in the July 2005. He'll pass it on to another linebacker when his career ends.
T.J. Moe, WR
Moe was one of Missouri's sudden stars during the spring. The former quarterback caught just two passes all of last season while battling an injury, but he rebounded this spring, hauling in 12 passes for 85 yards. He also caught more passes through all five spring scrimmages than any receiver on the Tigers roster. The 6-foot, 190-pound sophomore came to Missouri as the state's Gatorade Player of the Year and should offer some additional depth at receiver behind Jerrell Jackson and Wes Kemp. Junior quarterback Blaine Gabbert has to be pleased with that development after losing the nation's leading receiver, Danario Alexander, from last year's team.
Terrell Resonno, DT
Resonno earned significant playing time in 2009 -- including a start in the season opener against Illinois -- but he'll likely be counted on as a starter in his junior season with 27 games of experience. A physical, 6-foot-5, 295-pounder, Resonno sticks out quickly on Missouri's front line, and should have a big impact on the Tigers run defense in 2010. He made 13 tackles as a sophomore, including 1.5 for loss. He also had a career high three tackles in a loss to Texas, later tying the career high with three more against Baylor.
More Fresh Faces:
Spring practice starts: March 16
Spring game: April 10
1. Quarterback Robert Griffin III's surgically repaired right knee. Griffin hasn't played since tearing the ACL in his right knee in the third game of the '09 season. He recently said he's ahead of schedule in rehabilitation, but probably won’t do much during spring practice. He'll wear a heavy knee brace and won’t participate in contact drills.
2. New linebackers. The Bears lost strongside linebacker Antonio Jones and middle linebacker Joe Pawelek, who combined to make 190 tackles last season. Senior Earl Patin, who also has played some defensive end during his career, is poised to replace Pawelek in the middle. But Patin will have to hold off highly regarded youngsters Chris McAllister and LeQuince McCall, who redshirted in ’09. Senior Chris Francis is probably the top candidate to replace Jones on the strong side.
3. Safety. The Bears must replace both of their starting safeties, including All-Big 12 performer Jordan Lake, who started 36 games in a row. Junior college transfer Byron Landor and sophomore Mike Hicks will get the first looks in the spring. But they'll have to hold off incoming freshman Ahmad Dixon, one of the top prospects to ever sign with Baylor, after he arrives for fall camp.
Spring practice starts: March 6
Spring game: April 10
1. Michigan transfer Toney Clemons. Buffaloes coach Dan Hawkins called Clemons his team's most exciting receiver while he sat out the '09 season under NCAA transfer rules. The cousin of Arizona Cardinals receiver Steve Breaston, Clemons could bring an interesting dynamic to the CU offense. His arrival couldn't come at a better time, either, after Markques Simas was suspended indefinitely for violating team rules.
2. Linebacker. The Buffaloes must replace their two most productive linebackers after losing Marcus Burton and Jeff Smart. The departed seniors combined to make 105 solo tackles and 6.5 sacks last season. Senior Michael Sipili is the top candidate to replace Burton in the middle, and sophomore Jon Major might get the first crack at replacing Smart on the weak side.
3. Offensive line. The unit's inconsistency has dogged Hawkins' offense in each of his first four seasons. Eight offensive linemen had significant playing time in '09, so the Buffs are looking for more stability up front. The return of sophomore guard Maxwell Tuioti-Mariner from a pair of knee injuries, and early arrival of junior college transfer Eric Richter might shore up the interior line.
Iowa State Cyclones
Spring practice starts: March 23
Spring game: April 17
1. Linebackers. The Cyclones lost each of their starting three linebackers: Josh Raven, Jesse Smith and Fred Garrin. Junior Jacob Lattimer is in line to replace Raven on the strong side, and two highly regarded sophomores are in line to fill the other spots. A.J. Klein, who had 17 tackles in 13 games as a freshman, might get the unenviable task of replacing Smith, who led the Big 12 in tackles in '09. Jake Knott, who had 23 tackles as a freshman, is the top candidate to start on the weak side.
2. Wide receiver. Iowa State lost leading receiver Marquis Hamilton, who had 50 catches for 606 yards with four touchdowns in '09. Tight end Derrick Catlett, another top receiving threat, also is gone. The good news: Junior Darius Reynolds returns from a broken leg that caused him to miss all but four games last season. Reynolds, who earned the moniker "Money" for his big-play potential, had 13 catches for 72 yards before he was hurt in practice in late September. Junior college tight end Ricky Howard enrolled in classes in January and will participate in spring practice.
3. Defensive line. Two starters will have to be replaced after ISU lost right end Christopher Lyle and tackle Nate Frere. Lyle led the team with five sacks in '09; Frere was a pretty good run-stopper. Sophomores Cleyon Laing and Roosevelt Maggitt will get strong looks at end, and senior Austin Alburtis and sophomore Jake McDonough will move into the tackle rotation.
Spring practice starts: March 27
Spring game: April 24
1. Quarterback. New Kansas coach Turner Gill might have one heck of a competition on his hands. Sophomore Kale Pick is a mobile option, after averaging 11.9 yards per rushing attempt in 2009. Junior college transfer Quinn Mecham, who enrolled in classes at Kansas in January, threw for 3,091 yards with 40 touchdowns and 11 interceptions at Snow College in Utah last season.
2. Wide receiver. The Jayhawks have to replace departed stars Kerry Meier and Dezmon Briscoe, which will be no easy task. The duo combined to catch 186 passes for 2,322 yards with 17 touchdowns last season. Bradley McDougald and Johnathan Wilson were proven targets last season, but younger players such as Chris Omigie and incoming freshman Keeston Terry will have to help this fall.
3. Secondary. The Kansas defense gave up too many big passing plays and didn't create enough turnovers last season. The Jayhawks will have to replace strong safety Darrell Stuckey, who led them with 93 tackles in '09. Senior Phillip Strozier will get the first crack at replacing the heart and soul of the Kansas defense.
Kansas State Wildcats
Spring practice starts: March 21
Spring game: April 24
1. Oregon transfer Chris Harper. In 2008, Harper played wide receiver and quarterback for the Ducks as a freshman. He became the first Oregon player in eight years to run, pass and catch a touchdown in the same season. Harper, a native of Wichita, Kan., might figure into Kansas State's quarterback or wide receiver plans after sitting out the '09 season under NCAA transfer rules.
2. Quarterback battle. Harper and two other players will probably battle to replace departed senior Grant Gregory. Senior Carson Coffman, who started the '09 season at quarterback, figures to be back in the mix, along with junior college transfer Sammuel Lamur.
3. Defensive line. The Wildcats have a couple of gaping holes to fill up front defensively. End Jeff Fitzgerald, who had 40 tackles and 10 tackles for loss in '09, has to be replaced, along with tackles Daniel Calvin and Chidubamu Abana. Junior college transfer Javonta Boyd, who has already enrolled in classes, could help in the interior line.
Spring practice starts: March 9
Spring game: April 17
1. Wide receiver. The Tigers have to replace Danario Alexander, who led the country with 1,781 receiving yards in 2009. Juniors Jerrell Jackson and Wes Kemp both caught more than 20 passes last season, but younger players like T.J. Moe and Rolandis Woodland are going to have to contribute more. Incoming freshman Marcus Lucas could help in the fall.
2. Linebacker. The Tigers bring back two of their starting three linebackers, but three-time All-Big 12 selection Sean Weatherspoon is the one who left. Sophomore Donovan Bonner heads into spring camp as the top candidate to replace Weatherspoon on the weak side, and Will Ebner and Andrew Gachkar are back at the other linebacker spots.
3. Defensive line. Two starters are gone on the defensive front: end Brian Coulter and nose tackle Jaron Baston. At least the Tigers know they’re set at one side, with end Aldon Smith coming back after totaling 19 tackles for loss and 11.5 sacks in '09. Marcus Malbrough and Jacquies Smith will battle for starting end, and Terrell Resonno could move into the vacant tackle spot.
Spring practice starts: March 24
Spring game: April 17
What to watch:
1. Will quarterback Zac Lee keep his starting job? After Lee was plagued by inconsistency throughout the '09 season, offensive coordinator Shawn Watson is expected to open the competition during spring practice. Sophomore Cody Green, senior Latravis Washington and freshman Taylor Martinez will all be given a fair chance to win the job.
2. Defensive tackle. Nebraska fans won't see All-American Ndamukong Suh commanding double-team blocks along the line of scrimmage. Even after losing one of the most decorated players in school history, the Cornhuskers figure to be pretty good up front. Jared Crick and Baker Steinkuhler will man the middle, with Pierre Allen and Cameron Meredith entering spring camp as the favorites at ends.
3. Rex Burkhead. The sophomore burst onto the scene after Roy Helu Jr. was hurt early in the Huskers' 33-0 rout of Arizona in the Pacific Life Holiday Bowl, rushing for 89 yards with one touchdown. Burkhead was very explosive running out of the Wildcat package, so look for Watson to try and utilize him even more to make the Nebraska attack less predictable.
Spring practice starts: March 8
Spring game: April 17
1. Offensive line. The Sooners have a lot of questions up front on offense, after left tackle Trent Williams and right guard Brian Simmons departed. Will junior Donald Stephenson finally be ready to contribute at left tackle after being suspended for all of the ’09 season? Will center Ben Habern be ready after breaking his leg late in the ’09 season? When will Jarvis Jones return from a broken heel?
2. Linebacker Ronnell Lewis. The sophomore had a break-out game in the Sooners’ 31-27 victory over Stanford in the Sun Bowl, finishing with six tackles and a forced fumble. With starting linebackers Keenan Clayton and Ryan Reynolds departing, Lewis will assume a starting role on the strong side. Redshirt freshman Tom Wort is projected to start in the middle, with junior Travis Lewis starting on the weak side.
3. Secondary. The Sooners have shuffled their defensive backs after losing cornerbacks Dominique Franks and Brian Jackson. Sophomore Demontre Hurst is in line to replace Franks at field cornerback, and senior Jonathan Nelson has moved from strong safety to boundary cornerback. Junior Sam Proctor is expected to replace Nelson at strong safety, and senior Quinton Carter is back at free safety.
Oklahoma State Cowboys
Spring practice starts: March 8
Spring game: April 17
1. Quarterback Brandon Weeden. The 26-year-old junior is the top candidate to replace Zac Robinson, who broke nearly every OSU passing record. Weeden was a second-round choice of the New York Yankees in the 2002 amateur baseball draft. If he can grasp new offensive coordinator Dana Holgorson's spread offense quickly, the Pokes' passing game should again be potent in 2010.
2. Defense. Defensive coordinator Bill Young will have his hands full this spring trying to replace nine starters. The only returning starters are defensive end Ugo Chinasa and strong safety Markelle Martin. The Pokes have to replace three starters on the defensive line, three linebackers and three defensive backs. Three newcomers -- linebacker Caleb Lavey and defensive backs Devin Hedgepeth and Malcolm Murray -- will get early looks in spring camp.
3. Offensive line. The Cowboys will have to replace star left tackle Russell Okung, left guard Noah Franklin, center Andrew Lewis and right tackle Brady Bond. Juniors Nick Martinez, Casey LaBrue and Grant Garner will be the top candidates to fill open starting spots.
Spring practice starts: Feb. 26
Spring game: April 4
1. Quarterback Garrett Gilbert. The sophomore was thrust into action after Colt McCoy injured his shoulder against Alabama in the Citi BCS National Championship Game and played admirably well in tough circumstances. The Longhorns might change their identity on offense with a young quarterback under center, so developing a running game to take pressure off Gilbert might be a top priority.
2. Defense. The unit is in good hands with coordinator Will Muschamp, but he'll have to replace many of the star players from 2009. End Sergio Kindle, tackle Lamarr Houston, linebacker Roddrick Muckelroy and safety Earl Thomas are all gone. Younger players such as end Alex Okafor and tackle Tyrell Higgins will have to turn it up a notch during spring practice.
3. Wide receiver. Jordan Shipley, who was McCoy's favorite target, also departed. Seniors James Kirkendoll and John Chiles, junior Malcolm Williams and sophomore Marquise Goodwin will have to be more consistent in their route running and pass catching. Other receivers such as D.J. Monroe and DeSean Hales will be trying to crack the receiver rotation during the spring, before talented freshmen like Darius White, Mike Davis and Demarco Cobbs arrive on campus.
Texas A&M Aggies
Spring practice starts: March 23
Spring game: April 17
1. New defensive coordinator Tim DeRuyter, who built one of the country’s best units at Air Force last season. He inherits an A&M defense that was woefully porous last season and will switch to a 3-4 scheme. Nine starters are coming back on defense, including pass-rushing specialist Von Miller. DeRuyter will spend the spring trying to install his system and getting his players comfortable with it.
2. Offensive line. The Aggies must replace three starting offensive linemen: left tackle Michael Shumard, center Kevin Matthews and right tackle Lee Grimes. Juniors Joe Villavisencio and Danny Baker and sophomore Stephen Barrera have to be ready to step up this spring.
3. Special teams. The Aggies’ special teams weren’t so special last season, as they ranked 104th in net punting, 91st in kickoff return defense and 49th in kickoff returns among FBS teams. Aggies coach Mike Sherman is putting a new emphasis on special teams, which cost his team dearly in its 44-20 loss to Georgia in the Independence Bowl.
Texas Tech Red Raiders
Spring practice starts: March 7
Spring game: April 17
1. Quarterbacks. With former Auburn coach Tommy Tuberville replacing Mike Leach at Texas Tech, senior quarterbacks Taylor Potts and Steven Sheffield figure to start spring camp on a level playing field. Potts started 10 games last season, throwing for 3,440 yards with 22 touchdowns and 13 interceptions. Sheffield started two games and threw for 1,219 yards with 14 touchdowns and four picks. New offensive coordinator Neal Brown, who was hired from Troy, runs a version of the spread offense, but Tuberville will probably incorporate more of a traditional running game into the offense.
2. Defensive line. New defensive coordinator James Willis has to replace three starters on his defensive front: ends Brandon Sharpe and Daniel Howard and tackle Richard Jones. Making matters worse, the top two reserve ends in 2009 were seniors, along with the backup nose tackle.
3. Offensive line. O-line coach Matt Moore, who was retained from Leach's staff, has to replace three starters: center Shawn Byrnes, right guard Brandon Carter and right tackle Marlon Winn. Juniors Justin Keown and Mickey Okafor and sophomore LaAdrian Waddle will probably be given first crack at replacing them. Incoming junior college transfer Scott Smith could play stand-up end in Tech's 3-4 scheme, and junior college defensive tackle Donald Langley might also have an impact in spring practice.
Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Griffin
Missouri coach Gary Pinkel said he prepared for two scenarios when recruiting heralded nose tackle/tight end Sheldon Richardson.
The Tigers' top product in their 2009 recruiting class failed to qualify to attend Missouri. Instead, he is expected to start summer classes today at the College of the Sequoias, a junior college in Visalia, Calif.
Pinkel told the Columbia Tribune that Richardson is expected to return to the Missouri program for the start of the 2011 season. He compared Richardson's path to the Tigers as similar to former tailback Damien Nash, who needed two years at Coffeyville (Kan.) Community College before arriving at Missouri.
"There was an A plan and a B plan," Pinkel told the Tribune. "If the A plan works, that's fine. Let's roll. If not, [Richardson] can still graduate from Mizzou. He can still be a great football player. He can still accomplish all his goals. There's just a little detour here.
"He's going to do Plan B. He can still be a great player and still graduate from college, which at Mizzou, he will."
Pinkel said that his staff prepared for the eventuality that Richardson might not qualify. He will be the only member of Missouri's recruiting class who did not qualify academically.
"We didn't wake up one day and say, 'Oh my gosh!'" Pinkel said. "We were aware of what's happening a year and a half ago, as we are with all our kids."
The loss of Richardson for the next two years is a big loss for the Tigers, who could have really used one of the nation's top defensive line prospects. But Pinkel and his coaches are obviously preparing to make sure he arrives two years from now.
His loss for the upcoming season places more pressure on projected starting sophomore tackle Terrell Resonno, Andy Maples, converted tight end Bart Coslet and Jimmy Burge to replace Ziggy Hood.
It will be one of the biggest challenges for new defensive coordinator Dave Steckel, who will have to wait for Richardson for two seasons.
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.
BIG 12 SCOREBOARD
Final Illinois 18 Louisiana Tech 35 Final Rutgers 40 North Carolina 21 Final North Carolina State 34 UCF 27
Final Nevada 3 Louisiana-Lafayette 16 Final Utah State 21 UTEP 6 Final 22 Utah 45 Colorado State 10 Final Western Michigan 24 Air Force 38 Final South Alabama 28 Bowling Green 33
Final Marshall 52 Northern Illinois 23 Final Navy 17 San Diego State 16
Final Central Michigan 48 Western Kentucky 49 Final Fresno State 6 Rice 30
1:00 PM ET Cincinnati Virginia Tech 2:00 PM ET 15 Arizona State Duke 3:30 PM ET Miami (FL) South Carolina 4:30 PM ET Boston College Penn State 8:00 PM ET Nebraska 24 USC
2:00 PM ET Texas A&M West Virginia 5:30 PM ET Oklahoma 17 Clemson 9:00 PM ET Arkansas Texas
3:00 PM ET Notre Dame 23 LSU 6:30 PM ET 13 Georgia 21 Louisville 10:00 PM ET Maryland Stanford
12:30 PM ET 9 Ole Miss 6 TCU 4:00 PM ET 20 Boise State 10 Arizona 8:00 PM ET 7 Mississippi State 12 Georgia Tech
12:00 PM ET 19 Auburn 18 Wisconsin 12:30 PM ET 8 Michigan State 5 Baylor 1:00 PM ET 16 Missouri 25 Minnesota 5:00 PM ET 2 Oregon 3 Florida State 8:30 PM ET 1 Alabama 4 Ohio State
12:00 PM ET Houston Pittsburgh 3:20 PM ET Iowa Tennessee 6:45 PM ET 11 Kansas State 14 UCLA 10:15 PM ET Washington Oklahoma State