- Jake Trotter, College Football
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Below is what we learned about the Big 12 this spring:
1. The Red River quarterback battles remain muddled: Instead of unlocking answers at quarterback, Texas and Oklahoma exited the spring with little clarity at the position. In Austin, redshirt freshman Jerrod Heard showed promise by outplaying returning starter Tyrone Swoopes in the spring game. Still, Heard didn't do quite enough over the spring to unseat Swoopes. "He’s closed the gap," Texas coach Charlie Strong said. "But Ty is still the No. 1 guy." Oklahoma's quarterback trio of Baker Mayfield, Trevor Knight and Cody Thomas struggled in the Sooners' spring game, collectively tossing four interceptions. Mayfield holds a slight edge over the incumbents. But like Texas, quarterback remains a question in Norman.
2. Baylor has a new -- and very large -- weapon: LaQuan McGowan dazzled college football last season when he caught a TD pass in the Cotton Bowl as a 400-pound offensive guard. Now, McGowan has transformed into a 400-pound tight end. McGowan had another reception in the Bears' spring game, showing off an agility that defied his size. This season he should give the Bears a devastating edge blocker. And an unprecedented mammoth receiving threat.
3. Skyler Howard is the man in Morgantown: West Virginia expected redshirt freshman William Crest to give Howard a run for the starting job. Instead, Howard effectively ended the competition well before the spring game, prompting the Mountaineers to experiment with Crest at other positions. The dual-threat Howard sparked the Mountaineers with his wheels after replacing Clint Trickett late last season. If his accuracy improves, West Virginia could remain dangerous offensively, even with receivers Kevin White and Mario Alford in the NFL.
4. TCU should be just fine in the secondary: Gary Patterson is not an easy man to impress. But he came away from spring practice pleased with the development of his secondary, which faced the task of replacing all-conference performers Kevin White, Sam Carter and Chris Hackett. "All four of the top corners are better than what we had a year ago, except we had (White)," said Patterson, referring to returning starter Ranthony Texada, Torrance Mosley, Corry O’Meally and Nick Orr. At safety, Derrick Kindred has taken over as the leader of the unit. Denzel Johnson and Kenny Iloka, who played key backup roles in 2014, won the other starting roles. TCU ranked third nationally in defensive completion percentage last year. There might not be much of a drop-off in 2015.
5. Oklahoma's Sterling Shepard has help at receiver: The Sooners were dreadful at wide receiver last season, especially after Shepard went down with a groin injury in early November. The arrival of junior-college transfer DeDe Westbrook and redshirt freshman Mark Andrews, however, seems to have shored up a unit that desperately needed help. Westbrook is a lightning quick option in the slot; Andrews has the size to outmuscle opponents. Both should play major roles in the Air Raid attack alongside Shepard.
6. Mike Mitchell should strengthen Texas Tech’s run defense: Stopping the run was Texas Tech’s biggest weakness last season, a predominant reason why the Red Raiders went 4-8 and missed out on a bowl. The run defense, however, has a chance to be improved, thanks in large part to Mitchell, who turned turned heads this spring with his tackling prowess. "Athletically, he’s as physically gifted as anybody you’ll see," coach Kliff Kingsbury said of the Ohio State transfer. With Micah Awe also delivering a banner spring, Tech could have a solid one-two punch at linebacker, which alone figures to make the Red Raiders much tougher to run against than last season.
7. Oklahoma State is solidified at quarterback again: Since Brandon Weeden graduated in 2011, the Cowboys have been playing musical quarterbacks, rotating through Wes Lunt, J.W. Walsh, Clint Chelf and Daxx Garman with mixed results. Finally, Oklahoma State has a clear-cut two-deep at the position again, with promising sophomore Mason Rudolph firmly established as the starter, and a healthy Walsh serving as his backup. Outside TCU, nobody in the league seems to be stronger at the position than the Cowboys.
8. Kansas State has offensive skill issues: Virtually any offense charged with replacing a record-setting quarterback and a pair of 1,000-yard receivers would struggle to replace them. That was certainly the case for Kansas State this spring. Neither Joe Hubener nor Jesse Ertz separated in the quarterback competition; in fact, highly touted true freshman Alex Delton turned the derby into a three-way battle. In the spring game, only Deante Burton and Kyle Klein finished with more than 30 yards receiving, despite the Wildcats running 132 plays. "We turned the ball over, got penalized, did not run it very well. ... and did not throw the ball very well," coach Bill Snyder said. Not surprisingly, the Wildcats have a ways to go offensively without quarterback Jake Waters and rceivers Tyler Lockett and Curry Sexton.
9. Iowa State has a run-stuffer: After ranking 123rd in run defense last season, Iowa State desperately needed to add a difference-maker to its defensive line this spring. Junior-college transfer Demond Tucker answered that call, dominating the Cyclones' spring game from the inside. "When he puts his hands on you, you know it," coach Paul Rhoads said. With Tucker now manning the middle, run defense could cease to be a weakness for Iowa State in 2015.
10. David Beaty has his work cut out in Lawrence: Beaty’s first spring game as Kansas’ coach was an unmitigated disaster. Despite donning a non-contact jersey, quarterback Michael Cummings was hit low early on and exited with a knee injury. After the scrimmage, Beaty also announced that his top returning rusher (sophomore Corey Avery) and his top returning receiver (senior Rodriguez Coleman) had been suspended indefinitely, terming their futures as "uncertain." The Jayhawks were already going to be short on playmakers. Losing Cummings, Avery or Coleman for any length of time could be devastating to hopes of a quick turnaround in Beaty’s first season.
Quarterback competitions will continue into August for Texas and Oklahoma.