Wednesday, May 9, 2012
What we learned in the Big 12 this spring
By David Ubben
Another spring has come and gone in the Big 12. In this league, it's a long one. Texas Tech kicked things off on February 17, just two weeks after signing day.
Kansas and Kansas State didn't wrap it up until spring games on April 28.
Through it all, we learned a lot. Here's a taste.
Texas is inching much closer to contention: The offense? Well, it's still a work in progress, though David Ash showed some solid progression during the spring. But the defense? It's leading the way for the Longhorns' road back from the 5-7 implosion in 2010. Quandre Diggs and Carrington Byndom might just be the two best cornerbacks in the Big 12, and Alex Okafor and Jackson Jeffcoat are probably the two best defensive ends. Great coverage and a great pass-rush? Sounds like a good start to slowing down Big 12 offenses. Add in junior college man-child Brandon Moore, and solid linebacker play with Jordan Hicks, Demarco Cobbs and Steve Edmond, and the Longhorns have a unit that can help them get back into title contention.
Only one team doesn't know who its quarterback will be: Baylor hardly had a competition to replace RG3. Kansas replaced Jordan Webb with transfer Dayne Crist. Oklahoma State pulled the trigger on a youngster. Texas hasn't officially named him, but Ash has all but sewn up the job in Austin. That leaves Iowa State, which has sophomore Jared Barnett and senior Steele Jantz competing for the job for a second consecutive fall. Anything could happen there.
Mike Gundy has guts: Oklahoma State said goodbye to a mature, big-armed passer in Brandon Weeden, who won 23 games in two seasons. However, the reigning Big 12 champion again will have a big arm at quarterback. Gundy made the league's gutsiest move this spring, handing the reins to 18-year-old Wes Lunt from Illinois. He's one of just six players in the Big 12 from Illinois, and he's a decade younger than Weeden. Robert Griffin III was the league's last true freshman to start a majority of games, but Lunt might be the first to win the job in the spring.
There's a new sherriff in town: The Big 12 knew Chuck Neinas was a quick fix at the commissioner spot, but the league made a quick move in pegging Stanford AD Bob Bowlsby as the new commissioner to replace Dan Beebe, who was fired in September. The Big 12 is likely to cash in on a nice TV deal shortly after Bowlsby takes over, but he'll have to help reconnect a league that must work through some possibly divisive issues like expansion in the near future. He'll also need to manage the relationship between Texas, who he referred to as an "800-pound gorilla," and the rest of its Big 12 brethren. The relationship sounds good now, but over time, issues could arise.
Charlie Weis is making sure KU looks nothing like its 2011 team: Kansas has undergone the biggest change of any team in the Big 12 this offseason. New coach Weis saw a lot of problems at KU, and went about fixing them quickly. He welcomed six Division I transfers, including three from Notre Dame, which included his new quarterback, Crist. He also saw gaping holes along the defensive line and tried to fill them with junior college players and high schoolers who will be challenging for playing time in the fall. Kansas will look a lot different, but will it be better?