With preseason camps less than a week away from opening, we analyze some of the early camp storylines in this week's Big 12 roundtable:
What is the biggest Big 12 storyline to follow early on in camp?
Jake Trotter: Whether Texas QB Jerrod Heard can make a serious run for playing time, or whether Tyrone Swoopes retains command of the job. I think regardless, the Longhorns will probably start Swoopes in the opener at Notre Dame. But if Heard can build off his strong flurry to end the spring, he could force Texas to contemplate using two QBs in South Bend. That could open the door for Heard to take the job from Swoopes full-time. Of course, if Heard struggles early on in camp, the Longhorns could opt to play it safe and stick with Swoopes in a tough opening week environment.
Brandon Chatmon: I’m looking forward to all of the Big 12 battles at the quarterback position but Oklahoma’s stands out the most. Quality quarterback play could be the key for a Sooners’ squad that could find itself in the thick of the Big 12 title race if it plays its cards right. There’s no doubt in my mind that Lincoln Riley was the right man to name offensive coordinator as coach Bob Stoops looked to kick start OU’s offense. But Baker Mayfield or Trevor Knight has to execute Riley's offense with efficiency. The Sooners need someone, be it Mayfield or Knight, to grab the job and run away with it. Then keep running once the season starts.
Max Olson: We shouldn't overlook the fact that the Big 12's preseason favorite, TCU, has to address some important questions on defense in fall practice. We'll see if true freshman Mike Freeze can maintain his lead for the starting middle linebacker job, and the battles at safety and for the No. 2 corner spot are worth following. Having six new starters on D is an issue Gary Patterson isn't taking lightly.
Who is the player who could gain the most from a strong early camp showing?
Trotter: Baker Mayfield could really solidify his standing as the Sooners’ starting quarterback with a strong start. By all accounts, he was Oklahoma’s best QB in the spring. He’s the best fit for Lincoln Riley’s air raid system. And the team seems to have embraced him in the locker room. However, if he struggles early, or if the sore shoulder that bothered him this summer lingers into the fall, then Trevor Knight could reemerge as the man behind center.
Chatmon: I can’t shake the feeling that West Virginia quarterback Skyler Howard has a laundry list of doubters. His 2014 numbers aren’t mind boggling (50.9 completion percentage, 829 passing yards, eight touchdowns), but he sparked a second-half rally against Kansas State before quarterbacking WVU to 37 points in each of his final two starts a year ago. And he should be even better in Year 2 in Dana Holgorsen’s system. If he starts preseason camp by removing all doubt who should be the starter in Morgantown while cementing Holgorsen’s trust that he will take care of the football, it will make WVU a team to keep an eye on.
Olson: I agree with Brandon. Skyler Howard was the first name that came to mind for me, so I'll throw in West Virginia receiver Shelton Gibson as well. He made only one big play last season -- a 47-yard snag against Texas A&M -- but the speedster is going to rack up many, many more as a sophomore. We'll see how the Howard-to-Gibson connection develops in fall practice. If they get rolling and the defense stays healthy, WVU is likely one of the Big 12's five best teams.
What storyline will linger as we get closer to the season?
Trotter: I don’t see Kansas State’s QB quandary getting resolved any time soon. The Wildcats currently have four QBs (Jesse Ertz, Joe Hubener, Jonathan Banks and Alex Delton) all vying for the job, with none holding a real edge heading into August. The Wildcats will first have to gradually whittle the competition down, which could take a good chuck of the preseason. After that, K-State might still not be settled on a starter. This is a competition that could last well into the season.
Chatmon: While Jake is on to something with his suggestion of Kansas State, I expect Texas quarterback battle to linger into the season. I think Heard will rise to the top, eventually. Yet I don’t expect him to start the season opener, with Tyrone Swoopes taking the field against Notre Dame. The only thing I’m really confident about is a feeling neither quarterback is going to grab a stranglehold on the job and keep it throughout the 2015 season.
Olson: Yep, it's Texas. Strong recently said this: "We are better than we think we are." I think that's a pretty apt way of describing where things stand in Austin entering August. The quarterback job isn't the only one up for grabs; who's going to step up at receiver, linebacker, cornerback and along the offensive line? I'm interested to see who breaks out and which young players prove they can handle that first start at Notre Dame. We're really not going to know a ton about this team until that season opener.