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Ted Miller looks at how freshman quarterbacks have become more common in college football, and how these "rookie" college players could factor in at several College Football Playoff contenders.
Below are 10 bold predictions for the Big 12 this spring:

1. QB battles linger into the fall: Tight quarterback competitions in Austin, Manhattan, Morgantown, Norman, Waco and even Lubbock and Lawrence emerge as dominant storylines. Baylor's Seth Russell, Texas Tech's Patrick Mahomes and Kansas State's Joe Hubener eventually are named starters before the summer. But the spring fails to bring resolution to the other battles, which all carry over into the fall.

[+] EnlargePatrick Mahomes
John Weast/Getty ImagesPatrick Mahomes will most likely have to compete for his role as the Red Raiders' starting quarterback.
2. TCU's defense struggles for a change: Coach Gary Patterson's defenses perennially have been stout dating to his days as a coordinator in Fort Worth. But this spring, with several new starters in the secondary and at linebacker, a pair of new coordinators and facing off against one of the nation's most explosive passing offenses, the TCU defense takes its lumps. Ultimately, this makes the unit better prepared for the fall. But at times this spring, it's not pretty.

3. Joe Mixon steals the show in Norman: Coach Bob Stoops has already said Mixon won't play in the Sooners' spring game -- the final punishment in his season-long suspension for punching a female student last year. But behind the scenes leading up to the open scrimmage, Mixon flashes the game-breaking ability that made him one of the top running back recruits in the country in 2014. After rushing for more than 1,700 yards as a true freshman last season, Samaje Perine remains the featured running back. But Mixon's talent prompts new coordinator Lincoln Riley to get creative about how to get Mixon on the field, including using him extensively in the slot.

4. Texas seeks grad transfer QB: The spring delivers no great revelation to the quarterback position in Austin, prompting the Longhorns to heavily pursue a graduate transfer quarterback, la Everett Golson or Braxton Miller. Tyrone Swoopes had his moments last season and redshirt freshman Jerrod Heard was highly recruited. But the Texas brass exits spring wondering if the long-term answer at quarterback has yet to step on campus. In the meantime, landing a difference-maker there in the short term becomes priority No. 1.

5. Baylor's LaQuan McGowan keeps scoring TDs: In light of his nifty touchdown grab against Michigan State in the Goodyear Cotton Bowl Classic, Baylor is experimenting with using the 6-foot-7, 410-pound McGowan at tight end and H-back this spring. The experiment turns into a permanent position for McGowan, who caps the spring with another head-turning touchdown reception in Baylor's Friday Night Lights scrimmage.

6. Oklahoma State newcomer Todd Mays steps into the Tyreek Hill role: Mays doesn't possess Hill's world-class speed. But having excelled playing running back, receiver and even quarterback last year for East Mississippi Community College, Mays' versatility proves to be a natural fit in the role Hill manned for the Cowboys in 2014 as a change-of-pace back, dangerous slot receiver and big-play returner.

7. Texas Tech's QB race is tighter than predicted: Mahomes was spectacular for the Red Raiders down the stretch last season, intimating a two-man QB derby with Davis Webb would be a mere formality before Mahomes would be named the starter by spring's end. It's easy to forget, though, that Webb was terrific himself in Tech's 2013 bowl game before a turnover- and injury-plagued season sullied a potential encore campaign. Still, the Red Raiders were pumped about Webb this time last spring for a reason. And with Mahomes splitting time playing baseball -- he's missing Saturday's football workout to travel with the baseball team for a series at Cal State Fullerton -- Webb makes coach Kliff Kingsbury's decision much tougher than anyone anticipated.

8. Iowa State finds its featured back in Mike Warren: Rising senior DeVondrick Nealy was set to become the Cyclones' starting running back in 2015, until he and coach Paul Rhoads stunningly parted ways in early February. After the spring, no one will be left lamenting Nealy's departure. Warren, who redshirted last season in Ames after rushing for more than 2,500 yards and averaging better than 9 yards per carry during his senior season at Lawton (Oklahoma) High School, emerges as the Cyclones' every-down back by the end of the spring, answering the biggest question for an offense that quietly has a chance to be very dangerous this season.

9. Kansas State, West Virginia exit spring with WR concerns: No teams in college football were more decimated by graduation at receiver than K-State and West Virginia. The Wildcats and the Mountaineers between them graduated 359 receptions and 4,966 receiving yards in the forms of Tyler Lockett, Curry Sexton, Kevin White and Mario Alford. With quarterbacks Jake Waters and Clint Trickett gone, too, and without established go-to receivers, the passing games at both schools suffer this spring, leaving the receiver spot a huge question mark.

10. Baylor, TCU come out still on top: Going into the offseason, TCU and Baylor looked like the clear-cut, top-two teams in the Big 12. Even with both teams carrying uncertainties -- Baylor at quarterback, TCU on defense -- the defending conference co-champs exit spring looking like the class of the league and are voted overwhelmingly to finish first and second in the Big 12 preseason polls in the summer.

Big 12 morning links

March, 6, 2015
Mar 6
9:00
AM ET
Welcome back, Craig Sager. The NBA just wasn't the same without him.
  • Lots of Oklahoma updates on Thursday following the Sooners' spring opening news conference. Bob Stoops announced Joe Mixon will not get to play in the team's April 11 spring game. Stoops says that was one of the terms of Mixon's season-long suspension, though he will be a full participant in practice this spring. OU fans will have to wait until September for Mixon's long-awaited debut.
  • Berry Tramel of The Oklahoman writes that Stoops is considering (or, at least, experimenting with) the idea of moving Mike Stoops off the sideline and up to the press box this fall. His brother was reassigned to coaching outside linebackers this offseason, instead of the secondary, and that duty can be performed up in the box. If you read between the lines, relocating Stoops on game days makes some sense. His sideline tantrums and propensity for yelling at players when this defense struggles is probably not a good look.
  • The early reviews on Davis Webb out of Texas Tech spring ball are positive. Kliff Kingsbury says Webb is throwing the ball well and has been a full participant in practice (in a non-contact role). Patrick Mahomes is going to miss this Saturday's practice for a weekend baseball series. We wrote about this quarterback battle on the blog Thursday and it's probably worth repeating: Don't assume Webb can't win back his job, especially if he does the superior job of avoiding turnovers in scrimmage settings.
  • Want a redshirt freshman to watch this spring? In this Insider piece, Insider Tom Luginbill writes that Texas defensive end Derick Roberson is one of eight second-year players worth keeping an eye on in 2015. Roberson, the No. 78 ranked recruit in the 2014 ESPN 300, has been praised by his Texas teammates for his pass rushing skills. He just needed to put on weight when he arrived in Austin and should now be, at the very least, a dangerous situational threat on passing downs this fall.
  • In recruiting news, Baylor picked up an interesting commitment on Thursday: Raleigh Texada of Frisco Centennial in the Dallas area. Yep, that's the younger brother of TCU starting cornerback Ranthony Texada. The junior defensive back did not hold an offer from the Horned Frogs, at least not yet. Another interesting decision came Thursday night when quarterback Tristen Wallace of DeSoto backed out of his commitment to Texas Tech. Sounds like Ohio State is in the mix, and Texas recently offered as well.

While college football teams don't often resolve major competitions or issues during spring practices -- at least they tend to resist public proclamations -- that's not going to stop us from making predictions. There's just too much juicy goings-on for us to keep quiet. So here are 10 bold predictions, though you might quibble with what degree of boldness we have attained.


(Read full post)


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This spring, the Big 12 is loaded with quarterback competitions. But the three most hotly contested quarterback battles figure to reside in Norman, Morgantown and Austin. We predict the winners of these three competitions in our weekly Big 12 roundtable:

Who will win Oklahoma's QB derby?

Max Olson: I feel like I'd be a fool to bet against Baker Mayfield in this race. I know we've seen glimpses of Trevor Knight's ceiling before, and no question he's exciting on his best days. But if you saw what Mayfield did in the OU spring game last year, you knew this day was coming, right? Sure, the best foe he ever beat at Tech was probably that 4-8 TCU team. But Mayfield is a third-year guy now who's had plenty of time to mature and learn, and I can't discount the fact he's the Oklahoma QB most accustomed to playing in the offense Lincoln Riley will run. I think Mayfield will win the job in August.

Brandon Chatmon: I expect the OU spring competition to end much like TCU’s did 12 months ago, with the overriding summer question being whether the Sooners have anyone who can do the job. The spring will be filled with plenty of ups and downs from all three competitors. I think they do have a guy who can get the job done but, like Max, I think it won’t be decided until just before the season begins. Mayfield is the favorite because people tend to like shiny new toys, but I’m going to go with Knight to hold off Mayfield and keep his job. I like what Mayfield brings to the table, but people are choosing to overlook Knight's positives and focus instead on the mental lapses that plagued him in 2014. I’m betting on Riley to bring consistency and good decision-making to Knight’s game.

Jake Trotter: I don't think Bob Stoops will name a starter until August. But when he's ready to name one, I think it will be Mayfield. I'm not ready to give up on Knight. And Cody Thomas has the tools to be a quality Big 12 quarterback. But given the offense Riley wants to run, Mayfield makes the most sense. He has experience operating the air raid from his time at Tech. And, he's not a retread from last year's disastrous season. Mayfield brings a little bit of savvy and a lot of confidence to the position, too, which is something the Sooners could really use.

What about West Virginia's QB battle?

Olson: The William Crest bandwagon was filling up quickly last year in Morgantown even when he didn't play, and it's easy to see why. Is he better than Geno Smith and Pat White combined, as some WVU fans seem to believe? Not yet. We got such a limited opportunity to see him play in 2014 (four pass attempts and five rushes vs. Towson), but as long as his shoulder holds up, I think he's the long-term solution for this program.

Chatmon: Skyler Howard made great strides toward securing the starting job after Clint Trickett’s head injuries forced him to retire. Howard was solid in three starts to end the season, particularly with his eight touchdowns without an interception. But with five quarterbacks in the battle to permanently replace Trickett, this competition looks poised to extend into the preseason. Among those candidates, I have no doubt Crest is the future at the position with his unique skill set and mature approach, but I think Howard will start when the Mountaineers kick off the season Sept. 5 against Georgia Southern. Whether he keeps that starting spot throughout 2015 is the overriding question.

Trotter: Howard did some nice things filling in for Trickett late last season. But there's a reason why Crest beat him out for the No. 2 quarterback job coming out of the preseason. Howard can make plays outside the pocket, both with his arm and feet. But I'm skeptical his accuracy will be sharp enough to hold off Crest this spring. Crest is loaded with potential, and I see him ultimately beating out Howard again.

Who will emerge from Texas' QB competition?

Olson: Of these three, the Texas battle is the one I feel least confident about. I say that because I'm just not sure where Tyrone Swoopes and Jerrod Heard stand in the eyes of their coaches. Shawn Watson repeatedly said during the season that Heard was nowhere near ready. And it's hard to predict which Swoopes we're going to see this spring. A long competition will benefit both guys. I'd give a tiny edge to Heard ultimately being the choice, but I don't assume he's in the lead at this moment.

Chatmon: At Texas, Heard gets the nod over Swoopes despite Swoopes having the edge in experience. Heard seems like the right choice and the Longhorns' best hope of finding an answer at the quarterback position this spring, and I expect him to emerge atop the depth chart after shining in spring practices on the 40 acres. The question remains why Heard didn’t get a chance with the UT offense experiencing plenty of bumps in 2014, but I’m betting he shows he should have gotten that chance by separating himself this spring.

Trotter: Considering Heard is a complete unknown, I'll go with Swoopes here. But I don't feel great about it. Swoopes had his moments last season but struggled down the stretch, leading Texas to finish its season with a thud. Yet despite Swoopes' struggles, Heard never got a shot. Apparently, he wasn't ready. Will he be ready this spring? That's anyone's guess.
Under Bob Stoops, Oklahoma has never had a quarterback competition so wide open.

Trevor Knight, Baker Mayfield and Cody Thomas all own Big 12 starting experience. Redshirt freshman Justice Hansen is a former ESPN 300 signee. And all four will be operating with some degree of a clean slate due to the arrival of new offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach Lincoln Riley, who has been tasked with reviving the air raid in Norman.

SportsNation

Who will win Oklahomas QB battle?

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Discuss (Total votes: 2,862)

So, who will emerge from this competition?

We’re putting that question to you in our weekly Big 12 poll.

In one tumultuous season, Knight went from being Oklahoma’s long-term answer at quarterback to one with a murky future, at best. He led the Big 12 with three pick-six interceptions, and tossed another pick that was returned to the 1-yard line, igniting Baylor’s 48-14 rout of the Sooners in Norman. In that game, Knight also suffered a transient quadriplegia injury, which leads to pain and numbness. After sitting out Oklahoma’s final three regular-season games, Knight returned for the Russell Athletic Bowl. But he looked completely out of sorts, and in the worst performance of his career, threw three picks, as Clemson destroyed the Sooners, 40-6. A winter to recover from the injury scare and a change of position coach from Josh Heupel to Riley could revive Knight’s career this spring. But to have any chance of remaining a starter, Knight will have to display the confidence and poise he showed late in the 2013 season.

Riley, however, is sure to give a strong look to Thomas and Mayfield, as well.

Underscoring his belief that he can win the job, Thomas gave up baseball -- he would have been a starting outfielder for the Sooners -- this spring to focus solely on football. While Knight was injured, Thomas filled in as the starter to mixed results. Thomas was a natural operating the zone-read, which sparked Oklahoma’s ground game. But he also struggled throwing the ball, and finished the season with a completion rate of just 45.5 percent, which ranked lasted among Big 12 quarterbacks that made at least one start. Thomas will have to be much more accurate to have any chance of winning a job in Riley’s system -- though it’s also possible that Riley’s system might boost Thomas’ completion percentage.

Yet while Knight and Thomas started last year, the quarterback that watched from the sidelines could actually be the favorite in the competition.

Mayfield won Big 12 Offensive Freshman of the Year honors in 2013 before transferring in from Texas Tech. While Knight struggled in Oklahoma’s spring game last year, Mayfield shined, completing all 10 of his pass attempts. Still, Mayfield has much to prove. Though he won the Red Raiders’ starting job as a walk-on true freshman, he was also up-and-down at times. That said, coming from Tech -- the same place Riley developed his offensive chops -- Mayfield has the most experience in the system Riley wants to install.

Though Mayfield, Thomas and Knight could quickly turn this into a three-way competition because of their experience, Hansen shouldn’t be completely discounted. He was, after all, the No. 9 QB recruit in the country in 2014, and given Oklahoma’s struggles at the position last season, Riley would be prudent to cast a wide net in his evaluation. With a blistering start to the spring, perhaps Hansen can wedge his way into the discussion.

Either way, this will be fascinating quarterback derby to follow.

Let us who you think will win it by casting a vote in the poll.
Shortly after taking over as coach at Oklahoma in 1999, Bob Stoops inspected the practice fields. There, he was mortified to find chicken bones littering the grounds, remnants of a lax policy that had permitted fans to tailgate on Saturdays where the Sooners practiced during the week. Stoops quickly realized he had much work ahead that spring to overhaul a football culture gone haywire.

In the 16 years since, never has Stoops faced a more critical spring than the one he will embark on this weekend.

After five years of trending in the wrong direction, Oklahoma has arrived at another crossroads. The Sooners are coming off an 8-5 season in which they suffered two of the most embarrassing defeats -- 48-14 to Baylor and 40-6 to Clemson -- of the Stoops era.

[+] EnlargeBob Stoops
Tom Pennington/Getty ImagesGetting Oklahoma back atop the Big 12 standings will be a difficult task for coach Bob Stoops.
Oklahoma’s top recruiter, Jerry Montgomery, has bolted town. The rest of the coaching staff has been completely revamped, leaving offensive line coach Bill Bedenbaugh as the only assistant holding the same duties he did last year.

The funding for an ambitious $400 million stadium renovation has come to a crawl, raising concerns as to whether it will ever be completed.

Quarterback is a total unknown. The pass defense has been in a perpetual spiral.

Baylor and TCU have surpassed the Sooners as the current class of the Big 12. Texas is back to dominating the recruiting trail.

And, for the first time since that chicken bone-clearing offseason, Oklahoma could open unranked in the preseason polls.

The pressure will be on Stoops and his Sooners this spring. To begin reversing this tide of recent decline.

"I’m more determined than ever to get Oklahoma back in the position to competing for national championships like we have so many other times," Stoops said this offseason.

Whether that will happen will hinge heavily on 31-year-old offensive coordinator Lincoln Riley, who has been charged with bringing the Mike Leach air raid attack back to Norman this spring.

To clear a spot for Riley, Stoops fired Josh Heupel, who, from being Stoops’ first quarterback recruit in 1999 to Sam Bradford’s position coach, had been an integral piece of Oklahoma’s resurgence in Stoops’ early days. Yet as the Sooners struggled to regain their footing over the past five years, they lost their offensive identity under Heupel along the way, prompting Stoops the make the most drastic coaching change of his tenure.

Save for one bowl game, Riley has never called plays for a Power 5 conference offense. And he’s young enough to be Stoops’ son. But Stoops’ future and Oklahoma’s fortunes are now on Riley’s shoulders. All eyes will be on him this spring as he attempts to rehabilitate an offense that desperately needs to uncover an immediate and long-term answer at quarterback.

Trevor Knight, Baker Mayfield, and Cody Thomas will all be vying to be that answer in what figures to be Oklahoma’s most wide open -- and intriguing -- quarterback competition of this millennium.

Knight was supposed to be the Sooners’ quarterback of the future. But after a disastrous 2014 season in which he led the Big 12 in pick-six interceptions and suffered a scary transient quadriplegia injury, he could be Oklahoma’s quarterback of the past.

In three games relieving Knight, Thomas failed to gain a stranglehold on the job, as he finished last in the Big 12 in completion percentage.

That leaves Mayfield, who walked-on at Texas Tech before transferring to Oklahoma, where he sat out last season. Given his Tech ties, Mayfield has experience operating the system Riley will be installing. And he was the 2013 Big 12 Offensive Freshman of the Year. But after cruising through the non-conference, Mayfield also struggled against Big 12 competition that season. And he has not played in game in two years.

Quarterback, however, isn’t the Sooners’ only pressing concern.

When defensive coordinator Mike Stoops came back to Norman two years ago, he was supposed to bring the ferocious Oklahoma defenses of the early 2000s with him. Instead, the Sooners have been a sieve on that side of ball since his return, ranking ninth in the league in pass defense last season. It got so bad that Sooner fans booed through an embarrassing sequence against Baylor, in which quarterback Bryce Petty completed all nine pass attempts on a cinch of a scoring drive with Oklahoma’s overmatched defensive backs playing 10 yards off the ball.

Bob Stoops has taken his brother off manning defensive backs, and brought in Kerry Cooks from Notre Dame. But Cooks’ task of whipping a secondary into shape this spring is daunting, because the unit features only one proven difference-maker -- cornerback Zack Sanchez.

Oklahoma’s task of challenging for a Big 12 title next season is even more daunting.

TCU and Baylor are top 10 teams. Oklahoma State toppled the Sooners in Norman last season. And a Week 2 trip to Tennessee could thwart the Sooners before they even get going.

Oklahoma won’t have chicken bones on its practice field. But once again, Bob Stoops has plenty of work ahead.

Oklahoma will open its spring drills this weekend. Below is a preview of what to look for from the Sooners this spring:


Offensive returner ready to take next step: From Vince Carter to Jon Cooper to Gabe Ikard, the Sooners have enjoyed a strong run of All-American-caliber centers. Ty Darlington could be in the next in that line after shining in his first season as a starter. The Sooners had some struggles last year, but offensive line was not one of them. Neither was center. With Oklahoma breaking in three new starters up front and transitioning to a different offense, Darlington will be integral to the Sooners having any chance at a bounce-back season. He appears ready for that challenge.

Defensive returner ready to take next step: Strong safety Steven Parker was thrown into the fire as a true freshman last year and had his share of struggles along with the rest of an Oklahoma secondary that finished ninth in the league in defending the pass. Still, as a former ESPN 300 recruit, Parker has the pedigree to develop into an elite safety. With a year of experience under his belt, he should be much steadier in his second season on campus.

Redshirt freshman to watch: Joe Mixon was the gem of the 2014 signing class and was expected to give the Sooners a huge lift in the backfield. Instead, he was suspended all of last season after he punched a female student in the face, and fellow freshman Samaje Perine gave the Sooners the backfield boost. Mixon has since returned to the team. And though Perine is the established starter after rushing for more than 1,700 yards last season, Mixon is a big talent whose versatile skill set warrants a role in the offense. It will be interesting to see how new coordinator Lincoln Riley uses him this spring out of the air raid.

Most significant position battle: Never before in the Bob Stoops era have the Sooners featured a quarterback derby this wide open. Trevor Knight, Baker Mayfield and Cody Thomas all bring Big 12 starting experience to the table, giving Riley several options. Even though he sat out last season after transferring in from Texas Tech, Mayfield could have the inside track to the starting job. The former Big 12 Offensive Freshman of the Year operated a version of the offense in Lubbock that Riley will be installing.

Key midterm enrollee: After Sterling Shepard suffered a groin strain in early November, the Oklahoma receiving corps was exposed and the passing attack fell apart. Shepard is back from the injury, but the Sooners desperately need another pass-catching target to take the pressure off Shepard. Enter Dede Westbrook, who was one of the top junior-college recruits in the country. Whether in the slot or on the outside, Westbrook could provide the Sooners with a much-needed No. 2 receiver alongside Shepard.

Question that could be answered: Other than picking a quarterback, the biggest challenge Riley faces this spring is figuring out how to utilize Perine, a bruising runner between the tackles, out of the air raid system. Easing the degree of difficulty, Riley has a track record of running the ball more than some of his air raid play-calling counterparts. The Sooners should exit spring ball with a good feel about how they'll be able to still feature Perine despite the new offense.

Question that won’t be answered until fall: In 2007, there was little doubt that Sam Bradford would win the three-way quarterback battle with Keith Nichol and Joey Halzle. And still, Bob Stoops waited until two weeks before the season opener to name Bradford the starter. This quarterback competition is far more muddled than that one was. It would be a surprise if Stoops didn't let this quarterback derby play out into the preseason, as well.

Big 12 morning links

March, 5, 2015
Mar 5
9:00
AM ET
This should be an interesting 30 for 30. I'm looking forward to it.
  • Sam Richardson has grown into a strong leader for Iowa State, writes Bobby La Gesse of the Ames Tribune. Richardson's leadership can be seen on and off the practice field for the Cyclones heading into his fifth season. Richardson is easily the Big 12's most overlooked returning quarterback. Richardson's 56.2 career completion percentage must improve, but if it does, he could help the Cyclones return to a bowl game.
  • Those who have worked with Marcus Arroyo have plenty of praise for Oklahoma State's new assistant coach, reports Kyle Frederickson of The Oklahoman. Change has come to the Cowboys coaching staff and Arroyo is an intriguing hire as a guy who was calling plays for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers last season and has experience as a offensive coordinator. Mike Gundy clearly wanted to supplement the offensive coaching staff by adding creative, experienced minds and looks like Arroyo fits the bill.
  • Baylor offensive tackle Spencer Drango decided to return to Waco to get better. Becoming a unanimous All-American, winning the Outland Trophy and allowing zero sacks are among the goals for Drango, who could have left early for the NFL. Drango is one of the reasons I consider the Bears alongside TCU as a favorite in the conference. His return along with the rest of BU's offensive line will make life easier for whoever wins the starting job for Art Briles' team.
  • This look back at TCU's Class of 2012 is a reminder of how well Gary Patterson's program evaluates on the recruiting trail. Derrick Kindred, Joey Hunt and James McFarland are among the three-star recruits who have developed into key pieces of the Horned Frogs team. That should make TCU fans rest easy despite the fact the Horned Frogs did not sign a player in the ESPN 300 in the Class of 2015.
  • On the other side of the equation this look at Oklahoma's Class of 2012 isn't pretty for Sooners fans. Sure the class included standouts Sterling Shepard, Eric Striker and Charles Tapper but it also featured names like Gary Simon, John Michael McGee and Taylor McNamara who never became impact players for the Sooners. OU's recruiting is moving in a much better direction in recent years but it's a revealing glimpse at OU's struggles to evaluate a few years ago.
A closer look at a few important position battles in the Big 12 entering spring practice:

Baylor: Middle linebacker
Aiavion Edwards vs. Grant Campbell

Replacing Bryce Hager, one of the Big 12’s most underappreciated stars, won’t be easy. He was the quarterback of Baylor’s defense, and his successor inherits a lot of responsibility. Edwards started five games last season while Campbell, a junior college transfer, served as Hager’s top backup. They’ll be aided by the return of exciting sophomore Taylor Young, who took Edwards’ job at weakside linebacker last year. Defensive coordinator Phil Bennett is going to let Edwards and Campbell keep competing until the right fit is found, and it’s been a good battle so far.

[+] EnlargeTrevor Knight
Jackson Laizure/Getty ImagesTrevor Knight will need to find consistency this offseason to earn the nod as Oklahoma's starting QB.
Oklahoma: Quarterback
Trevor Knight vs. Baker Mayfield vs. Cody Thomas

The great variable here is new offensive coordinator Lincoln Riley and the Sooners’ transition to Air Raid-style football. All three of his QB candidates have starting experience in the Big 12. Knight needs to stay healthy and get much more consistent. Mayfield has experience in this scheme and needs to show the spark he provided Texas Tech as a freshman in 2012. And Thomas, who dropped baseball to focus on winning this job, just needs to keep pushing them. All three are in for a rigorous offseason of learning under Riley’s watch.

Oklahoma State: Running back
Rennie Childs vs. Sione Palelei

Chris Carson, the touted juco signee who flipped from Georgia, doesn’t arrive in Stillwater until the summer. Neither does freshman Jeff Carr. That means Childs, Palelei and the rest of the Cowboys' backs have the spring to prove they deserve carries this fall. Childs has rushed for 483 yards and five scores as a reserve over the past two years, while the speedy Palelei redshirted last year. Carson seems like the safe bet to be this group’s workhorse when he arrives, but somebody has to tote the rock this spring.

TCU: Cornerback
Corry O’Meally vs. DeShawn Raymond vs. Nick Orr vs. Cameron Echols-Luper

The Horned Frogs are expected to have a wide-open battle for the spot Kevin White held down for three years, and all four of these guys bring different traits to the table. O’Meally and Orr played as reserves in their first year as Frogs. Raymond, a four-star early enrollee, would be TCU’s biggest option here at 6-foot-1. And Echols-Luper, a prolific returner, just switched from receiver to corner this offseason. There’s not a lot of experience among this group, but there is a lot of potential.

Texas: Quarterback
Tyrone Swoopes vs. Jerrod Heard

Swoopes started 12 games last season and at times showed flashes of an exciting future. He also struggled mightily against TCU and Arkansas to end the year. How much better can he get as a junior? Heard, a redshirt freshman, was nowhere near ready to play last year in the eyes of co-offensive coordinator Shawn Watson. We’ll see how both respond to playing in a higher-tempo offense this spring, and whether ESPN 300 signee Kai Locksley tests them in the summer. Texas badly needs stability and leadership at this spot as well as a much-improved line.

Texas Tech: Defensive tackle
Rika Levi vs. Keland McElrath vs. Demetrius Alston vs. Breiden Fehoko

What’ll makes this group fun to watch is the influence of their new position coach, fiery co-defensive coordinator Mike Smith. He’ll push Tech’s big men like never before. Levi didn’t play up to the hype last year, but he’s looking much better this spring now that he’s dropped 20 pounds. Tech fans will be clamoring to see Fehoko, Tech’s top-rated signee, on the field as soon as possible. Anthony Smith, Marcus Smith and the injured Donte Phillips are also in the mix. Considering Tech’s inability to stop the run last year, finding the right combo here is important.

West Virginia: Quarterback
Skyler Howard vs. William Crest vs. Paul Millard

Howard showed dramatic improvement leading up to his three-game audition to end 2014. He lost two of those three, but threw eight TDs and played with confidence when he got his shot. West Virginia fans are rightfully excited about Crest, a dual-threat redshirt freshman whose first year was cut short by a shoulder issue. Millard and true freshmen Chris Chugunov and David Sills are also battling for this job, giving Dana Holgorsen better QB depth than he’s had in a while. If Crest proves he’s ready to lead now, he might run away with this race.

Big 12 morning links

March, 4, 2015
Mar 4
9:00
AM ET
Congrats to the Jayhawks. Eleven straight Big 12 titles ain't easy.
  • Chuck McGill of the Charleston Daily Mail shares the story of West Virginia assistant JaJuan Seider, whose 14-year-old son was diagnosed with cancer and had two tumors removed in January. Jaden Seider is currently in chemotherapy -- fortunately, his cancer was 100-percent treatable -- and fans from both West Virginia and Marshall have rallied to show their support with a #SeiderStrong hashtag. Jade sure sounds like one tough kid. Be sure to give this one a read.
  • Baker Mayfield has beaten the odds before, so why can't he win the job at Oklahoma? Jason Kersey of The Oklahoman does a nice job of tracing Mayfield's competitive streak and perseverance back to his days at Lake Travis High in Austin, where he earned the starting job after an injury and never gave it up. Those who know him best are confident Mayfield will find a way to become QB No. 1 at OU. He's the guy I'd bet on right now, too, based on that mean streak and his now-convenient knowledge of Air Raid concepts.
  • Art Briles shared some wonderful news on Tuesday: the great 400-pound behemoth LaQuan McGowan is getting work at tight end and H-back this spring. Briles says the Bears will try to experiment with him in non-conference play if possible. The staff is hesitant to let him loose this spring in case he injures someone, which is a reasonable fear. Though McGowan's TD against Michigan State got all the glory, I liked how Baylor found ways late in the season to use McGowan as a bonus blocker in goal-line power sets. Why not see what else he can do?
  • As expected, a lot of eyes at Iowa State are on junior college transfer Desmond Tucker right now. The Cyclones expect the defensive tackle to take a starting job, but he'll have to earn it first. Bobby La Gesse of the Ames Tribune offers a good breakdown of where Tucker stands and what he's working on (hands first) as he tries to prove himself. ESPN's No. 3 rated juco DT prospect is already displaying impressive athleticism and could make a big impact once he gets all caught up.
  • Best of luck to former West Virginia quarterback Clint Trickett, who's reportedly set to become the new quarterbacks coach at Eastern Mississippi Community College. Trickett is following in his father's and brother's footsteps and diving right into the coaching world after concussions ended his playing days at WVU. Trickett consistently earned praise during his stint at WVU for his knowledge of the game, and this is no small-time gig. EMCC has won three NJCAA titles in the last four years and its last QB, Chad Kelly, signed with Ole Miss.

Big 12 Tuesday mailbag

March, 3, 2015
Mar 3
4:00
PM ET
In Tuesday's mailbag, Tom Bradley's departure, a May signing day and Kansas State's record are among the topics. As always, thanks for your questions (and thanks for not asking about expansion this time around). To submit questions for next week's mailbag, click here.

Scott in Edgewater, Maryland, writes: Tom Bradley left for UCLA, is this going to negatively effect West Virginia, and why did he leave after just one year?

Brandon Chatmon: I think it hurts the Mountaineers, no question about it. Bradley brought tons of experience and a veteran presence to the WVU coaching staff while helping solidify the defense. It’s a big loss for Dana Holgorsen’s program but not one that is impossible to overcome. As far as why, who wouldn’t want to go to UCLA? Sign me up.


Aaron Terhume in Lenexa, Kansas, writes: With K-State's hardest games at home next year (TCU, Oklahoma, Baylor & West Virginia) what are the odds of an 8+ win season for the CATS?

BC: It feels like you’re overrating the home-field advantage a tad here, Aaron. The Wildcats still have to replace Jake Waters, Tyler Lockett, Ryan Mueller and B.J. Finney, who were among the best in the Big 12 at their positions. I think the home field will help but 7-8 wins sounds about right before spring football kicks off and we start finding out some answers about the 2015 version of Bill Snyder’s team. Anything above eight could be asking a lot from Snyder and company.


J.J. in Tumalo, Oregon, writes: With its continuing squishy soft out of conference schedule do you agree that Baylor leaves itself no margin of error? A weak SOS will always justify the College Football Playoff Committee kicking Baylor to the curb and 0-2 in its last bowl games does not help the cause.

BC: I agree on both counts. The Bears have decided to minimize their margin of error with their stance on nonconference scheduling and bowl losses to Central Florida and Michigan State, with the nation watching, doesn’t help matters. None of this is something Art Briles' program can’t overcome, however. I don’t think many people would be shocked to see the Bears in the College Football Playoff in 2015 even though they aren’t maximizing their potential routes to the playoff.


Jamie in Austin, Texas, writes: Haven't we heard this song before? Texas Tech quarterback looks great early in his career, gets loads of hype, the fanbase gets super pumped for his prospects, and then… Kliff Kingsbury shuffles the deck and that QB doesn't even finish the season as the starter. Baker Mayfield, Davis Webb, now possibly Patrick Mahomes. Is it time that we pause before we start hyping Tech QBs up?

BC: Well, Jamie, I haven’t seen too many posters touting Mahomes as the Big 12 preseason offensive player of the year. He was extremely impressive to end his freshman season but I’d agree some folks on the fringe who need to take a step back before anointing him as the Big 12’s next elite passer. And when it comes to Kingsbury, I can’t blame him for tinkering with his quarterbacks -- neither Mayfield or Webb were taking care of the ball. Mahomes, in his short time, did a better job protecting the ball (16 TDs, 4 INTs) than either of those other two quarterbacks.


rtXC in Denison, Texas, writes: Are you guys as tired of the coaching carousel extending past signing day as the fans are? Here's my suggestion: move signing day to the first Wednesday of May. By that time, all NFL and NCAA staffs should be complete, with the players getting to see exactly what the new staff members bring to the table throughout spring practice and in the spring games. Gives players more time to sort things out, while giving new staffs more time to get things together. The first season of this change would provide an extra long recruiting cycle, but after that things would feel normal again, while protecting both parties, coaches and players alike. Thoughts?

BC: It’s an interesting idea but I don’t know that moving signing day to May really addresses the problem, which is the natural desire of coaches (or anyone for that matter) to progress in their careers. Coaches are going to leave during players/recruits careers, which is why prospects are repeatedly told to pick the school not the coach. Just because the coach would be there on a May signing day doesn’t mean they would be there five years down the road or even one year down the road. The only answer is players picking the best place/environment to excel, regardless of the coaches.


Cole in Oklahoma City writes: With Riley coming to OU and establishing a new offense, would you take the bet Joe Mixon has more total offense than Samaje Perine since Samaje is more of bruiser type back? And also given OU comes back to what they're known for, who wins the Big XII? My prediction is TCU, OU, Texas, Baylor, Ok St and so on. TCU and OU will probably be the Big XII title game.

BC: I’d bet on Mixon because he’s more versatile, allowing Riley to use him in so many different ways. I’d imagine we will see that duo on the field together plenty of times in 2015 -- both are too talented to waste on the sidelines. TCU and Baylor remain the clear favorites for me with Oklahoma State as the next candidate after that top two. OU has to prove themselves title ready before I'm willing to put them up there with TCU or Baylor.

A telltale sign of spring practice is a depth chart filled with ORs.

Coaches preach year-round competition, but it's a theme that resonates strongest during the 15 practices each spring. It's the first chapter of a team's story, and position battles often form subplots for the coming season.

Not every position will be settled by the end of the spring. Some of the nation's most intriguing spots, like the quarterback positions for national champion Ohio State and runner-up Oregon, likely won't be decided until preseason camp because of lingering injuries (Braxton Miller, J.T. Barrett) or impending arrivals (Vernon Adams). But the spring provides clues about which players can take the OR away and cement themselves into key roles.

As teams continue to begin spring ball, here are 12 position competitions to track around the country (in alphabetical order). Not surprisingly, the list is quarterback heavy but features a few other spots of intrigue.


(Read full post)


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