Dallas Colleges: Blaine Gabbert

ESPN draft expert Mel Kiper has two Big 12 players -- Oklahoma’s Lane Johnson and Texas’ Kenny Vaccaro -- potentially going in the first round of this year’s NFL draft.

Fellow expert Todd McShay has the same two as Kiper and also is optimistic about the chances of West Virginia’s Geno Smith and Tavon Austin.

So let’s split the difference and label the potential Big 12 first-round picks as an optimistic three, with Johnson being the only absolute first-round lock.

Those three would represent the fewest Big 12 players taken in the first round of the NFL draft since 2008. Even if four went, the Big 12 still would have the fewest since 2008.

That year, only Kansas -- yep, the Jayhawks -- managed a first-rounder, Aqib Talib to Tampa Bay with the 20th pick. In the four drafts that followed, the Big 12 has always put at least five players into the first round, including the first four overall picks in 2010.

How well this year’s group of first-round picks will fare might not be known for years. What is known, though, is how well Big 12 players have done when they are selected in the first round. With that in mind, here is a ranking -- from worst to best -- of the Big 12’s best first-round draft classes over the past 10 years.

2008: It’s all about quantity, and a little bit of quality. In 2008, the Big 12 only produced one first-round pick, Talib. He has not produced dramatic returns in the NFL. In the past two years, he has only started nine games. He was somewhat productive for Tampa Bay in the previous three seasons, starting 41 games and playing in 53. But, again, he was the only Big 12 player taken in the first round in 2008.

2006: Vince Young is working out at Texas’ pro day at the end of March. Enough said. Davin Joseph and Michael Huff have been solid producers. But when the No. 3 overall pick is out of the league and having to work out at his alma mater's pro day, it means it was a bad year for the Big 12 in the first round of the NFL draft.

2004: Tommie Harris and Marcus Tubbs, the two defensive tackles taken in the first round, were productive for a few years, with Harris selected to Pro Bowls in 2005, '06 and ’07 before he was beset by injuries. Tubbs lasted four seasons in the NFL. Roy Williams had 5,715 receiving yards but never lived up to the hype he generated coming out of Texas. Rashaun Woods played only two years and had seven career catches.

2005: The lack of numbers might be what hurts this group the most. Cedric Benson, Jammal Brown, Derrick Johnson, Mark Clayton and Fabian Washington all proved they could play at the NFL level. Benson has had three 1,000-yard-plus seasons. Johnson is one of the top linebackers in the game. Brown remains a solid option on the offensive line. Clayton played seven NFL seasons; Washington played six. But there were only five guys selected and that isn't enough to push 2005 to the top of the list.

[+] EnlargeAdrian Peterson
Andy Clayton King/Getty ImagesThe Big 12's 2007 draft class wasn't huge, but did feature 2012 NFL MVP Adrian Peterson.
2009: Every Big 12 player selected in the first round in 2009 has produced and appears to be poised to continue to do so. Only Jason Smith didn’t have a start last year. But the offensive lineman still played in all 16 games for the New York Jets. Michael Crabtree, Brian Orakpo, Josh Freeman, Jeremy Maclin, Brandon Pettigrew and Ziggy Hood are all starters for their respective teams.

2007: It wasn’t the biggest group, but it did include Adrian Peterson, so there could be some quibbling that maybe 2007 should be higher in the rankings. Throw in Aaron Ross and Michael Griffin and the debate could get even more heated. Adam Carriker was also taken this year. He started his career strong but suffered an injury and only played in two games last season.

2003: Kevin Williams has been the standout of this group. The defensive tackle has started every game but four in his 10-year career. Terence Newman has been effective as a defensive back, first in Dallas and last season in Cincinnati. Tyler Brayton played at least 15 games on the defensive line in a nine-year career. Ty Warren played eight solid seasons for New England but tailed off last season with Denver. Andre Woolfolk lasted four seasons, mostly as a reserve.

2011: Von Miller, who was the highest pick among Big 12 players this year, has proved to be the top player so far. Aldon Smith is not far behind. Add in Prince Amukamara, Phillip Taylor, who when healthy is a starter at defensive tackle, a somewhat productive Blaine Gabbert and Nate Solder as well as reliable backups Danny Watkins and Jimmy Smith and this proved to be a successful year for Big 12 first-round selections.

2012: Three quarterbacks, and all were not only starters as rookies but also made huge differences for their respective squads. Clearly, Robert Griffin III made the most dramatic impact, but Ryan Tannehill, with the Dolphins, and Brandon Weeden, with Cleveland, were both solid. Kendall Wright and Justin Blackmon each had 64 catches, for Tennessee and Jacksonville, respectively. Blackmon was targeted more (133 to 104) and had 200 more receiving yards.

2010: This list maybe doesn’t have the star power and is not littered with offensive playmakers, but six of the nine players picked were selected for the 2013 NFL Pro Bowl: Gerald McCoy, Trent Williams, Ndamukong Suh, Earl Thomas, Russell Okung and Jermaine Gresham. And the other three players -- Dez Bryant, Sam Bradford and Sean Weatherspoon -- were vital pieces for their respective teams.
Good to see a handful of Big 12 names called in the first round of the NFL draft on Thursday night.

What did I think? Glad you asked.
  • No surprises in the top two picks, which have both been essentially in the can for weeks. A nice touch by Robert Griffin III with the Redskins socks, but the slogan seemed a little cheesy. Cheesy or not, it's true. Griffin and 31 other gifted athletes caught their dreams on Thursday night. Congratulations to all. Reaching this point isn't easy, even for the most physically gifted players.
  • Well, it looked like Justin Blackmon would catch passes from one former Big 12 rival quarterback (Sam Bradford, St. Louis), but instead, he may do it for another. Former Missouri quarterback Blaine Gabbert gets a much-needed target, but he'll have to re-earn his job after an awful rookie season. St. Louis seemed like a better fit for Blackmon, rather than the Jaguars, but Blackmon's a true game-changer in my book. I think he'll have an effect wherever he goes.
  • Miami got its man in Ryan Tannehill. For as much talk as his inflated draft stock has gotten in the past few weeks, this looked pretty likely. Now, we'll see him in action. Like most others, I love Tannehill's upside. With some experience, he could be great. But he needs time. He wasn't outstanding in college, and he's obviously inexperienced at the quarterback position. There are zero questions from me about his physical skills, but I like the chances for his decision-making -- which had major, major issues in 2011 -- to improve if he gets lots of practice reps rather than being thrown in the fire immediately.
  • Sheesh, WVU. Y'all got on me for saying you wouldn't have a first-rounder in this post, but it was mostly a throwaway phrase, not a prediction. Most places I'd read had Bruce Irvin as a second- or third-rounder. I obviously didn't see him play much, and don't really have any thoughts on his play. But it's not like I was knocking it, either. I don't exactly keep track of the draft stock of players I never really saw play. Sorry about that. When it's things I'm truly covering, I pay attention. Well, most of the time, anyway. Or something. Either way, my mistake on that one.
  • What a great spot in Tennessee for Kendall Wright. I'm not sure I could ever see him carrying an NFL offense, but Wright's good enough to work underneath and stretch the field. I don't buy him much as a game-breaker against No. 1 corners all season, but in a supporting role? Huge, huge pickup for the Titans. As he matures, he may just prove himself as a true No. 1 receiver. His size is the biggest question for me, but he's got great hands and great speed. I just might draft Wright as a late-round sleeper in my fantasy draft next fall.
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  • Huge congrats to Brandon Weeden, too. The guy deserved it. There's no question in my mind he's a first-round talent and a guy who could be a star at the next level. Not many people gave him a chance to be a first-round pick, but I think the more teams saw of him on and off the field, the more they fell in love with him. It's not hard to see why. The age issue probably would have made me wait until the second round to take him, but if he succeeds, nobody will care. Props to Weeden for handling the age issue so well the past two years. Dude's been asked about it no less than 50,000 times, and he always seemed to handle it with grace. Not sure I could do that. I don't know what his career holds, and it's going to be difficult in Cleveland without many offensive weapons around him, but he's a smart, good decision maker with a humongous arm. That's plenty enough to make an impact.

Big 12: Preseason polls vs. final finish

December, 20, 2011
12/20/11
9:13
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You hear it every year, but let's take an official look back at the Big 12 preseason media poll, compared to actual finish by season's end.

Each team's finish is compared with its preseason projection in parentheses.

1. Oklahoma (-3): Oklahoma received 41 of 43 first-place votes, but suffered its first loss at home against Texas Tech on Oct. 22, in its fourth conference game. It finished 6-3 in Big 12 play and 9-3 overall, tied for third with Baylor, but Baylor held the tiebreaker over the Sooners via its 45-38 win on Nov. 19. The Sooners had one final chance to win the Big 12, but lost 44-10 to Oklahoma State on Dec. 3.

2. Texas A&M (-5): Texas A&M earned one first-place vote and was just two total points ahead of Oklahoma State. Essentially, if one more voter had placed A&M No. 3 and OSU No. 2, the teams would have tied for second. The Aggies lost the inside track to what they hoped was a Big 12 title when Oklahoma State erased a 17-point halftime deficit to win at Kyle Field. That was just the start of a season-long trend. A&M would lose four more games with a double-digit halftime lead and another (Texas) with a double-digit first-half lead. The Aggies finished 6-6 and 4-5 in the Big 12, good for seventh in the Big 12.

3. Oklahoma State (+2): The Cowboys were a contender in the preseason, but Texas A&M and Oklahoma looked like more complete teams. Nope. OSU ascended to an outright Big 12 title, beating Oklahoma and Texas A&M in the process. The lone loss to Iowa State (on the road in double overtime) kept them out of the BCS National Championship Game, but didn't keep them from making history.

4. Missouri (-1): Missouri's defense was good, but perhaps not as good as expected in the preseason. Offensively, the passing game missed Blaine Gabbert's arm, but James Franklin's legs filled in nicely. Kansas State and Baylor overachieved, and kept the Tigers from landing right where most expected. The Tigers' 4-1 finish put them fifth in the conference at 7-5 and 5-4.

5. Texas (-1): This was no 5-7 campaign, but Texas slid to a 1-3 finish in part due to offensive injuries. The defense was solid once again, leading the Big 12 in total defense for a fifth consecutive season, and by a wide margin (67 yards per game) this year. Texas got a win against A&M, but finished sixth in the Big 12 with its 7-5 record and 4-5 mark in conference play.

6. Baylor (+3): Robert Griffin III and the Bears did things few thought possible. I was one of a few who had the Bears fifth (Texas was 71 points ahead of Baylor in the preseason poll) and thought they'd finish above the Longhorns, but a third-place finish in the Big 12 surprised just about everyone. That's what happens when you have a Heisman winner at quarterback, and the Big 12's leading receiver and rusher.

7. Texas Tech (-2): The Red Raiders looked like a seven-win team to me in preseason, but injuries knocked them down to a 5-7 team, the first losing season since 1992. Texas Tech amazingly finished just three total points below Baylor in the preseason poll, but then again, Tech had never lost to Baylor in Big 12 play. The Red Raiders bring back a lot next season, but this season was just short of a disaster.

8. Kansas State (+6): Here is your big overachiever this season. The Wildcats lost a heartbreaker in Stillwater to OSU and were blown out at home by Oklahoma. They won the other 10 games for the first double-digit win season since 2003 and an outright second-place finish in the Big 12. They nearly won a share of the Big 12 title, but Oklahoma's Bedlam loss stuck Kansas State in second. The Wildcats will be Big 12 title contenders next season, but will try and shake off a BCS snub to beat Arkansas in the Cotton Bowl.

9. Iowa State (+1): Iowa State is the big testament to the Big 12's depth. The Cyclones knocked off No. 2 Oklahoma State in the biggest win in school history, storming the field to celebrate bowl eligibility along with the nationally televised upset. Three seasons under Paul Rhoads could have equaled three bowl trips if not for one failed fake extra point that was this close to working. Unbelievable run for the Cyclones, who once again, were given no shot to go 6-6 this season.

10. Kansas (0): The Jayhawks were amazingly the only team in the Big 12 that finished where it was picked in the preseason, though they did underachieve by a bit. Kansas started 2-0 before losing its final 10 games, including six losses by at least 30 points. Not pretty. New coach Charlie Weis' first task is simple: Get the Jayhawks out of the basement. Right now, they're buried way, way down there.

Missouri, Texas face off with new identities

November, 9, 2011
11/09/11
10:57
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Henry Josey and Malcolm BrownUS PresswireTexas' Malcolm Brown and Missouri's Henry Josey have revitalized rushing attacks.
Missouri and Texas made their living with NFL quarterbacks behind center over the last half decade. Vince Young and Colt McCoy at Texas and Chase Daniel and Blaine Gabbert at Missouri took the program to new heights and did so with thousands of pass attempts.

This season? Both programs are grounded.

"There’s a little bit of a contrast there with all the wide-open offenses and the quarterbacks and the passing yards we’ve had this year and traditionally in this league the last few years," said Missouri coach Gary Pinkel. "Both of us run the ball here pretty good."

A bit of an understatement, perhaps.

While a pair of wide-eyed, first-year starters in David Ash and James Franklin take snaps, Missouri and Texas have developed the Big 12's top two running games.

"We can throw it well, but we’d like to be at least 50-50 or 60-40 run to pass," Texas coach Mack Brown said. "And if you can run the ball and and stop the run in college football, you’ve got a chance."

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Ted Emrich, Carter Strickland, and William Wilkerson discuss Texas' dominant win over Texas Tech. Can UT pound Missouri like it did Kansas and Texas Tech? Longhorn commitment Johnathan Gray was in attendance Saturday. What did the Aledo RB think of the running game?

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Texas has averaged better than 246 yards a game on the ground this year, enjoying the fruits of consecutive 400-yard weeks on the ground for the first time since 1977.

Missouri, meanwhile, averages just fewer than 245 yards a game this year. The Big 12's next best, Kansas State, averages just 217 yards a game.

Both teams, best known for slinging it this decade, rank outside the Big 12's top half in passing offense.

"We didn’t need the passing game much the last two weeks. We threw it some and threw it downfield," Brown said. "But we do feel like over the next four weeks here, we’re going to have to be more balanced. We’ll still be physical. We’ll still run the ball, because that’s what we’re doing best right now, but we also feel like when people are stacking the box, it’ll alleviate some of the pressure in the passing game."

Both have the advantage of running quarterbacks. Ash ripped off runs of 47 and 18 yards against Texas Tech and Missouri's Franklin is 11th in the Big 12 with 599 rushing yards, second among quarterbacks behind Kansas State's Collin Klein.

Franklin also leads the team with 10 touchdowns, third in the Big 12. The Tigers' Henry Josey leads the Big 12 in rushing with 1,149 yards, fifth nationally and 234 more yards than any Big 12 back.

The Longhorns are led by freshman Malcolm Brown and his 635 yards, but even though he was sidelined in Saturday's game, fellow freshman Joe Bergeron exploded for 191 yards and three touchdowns on 29 carries.

"We’re doing a pretty consistent job of running the football, but I don’t think our offense is very consistent," Pinkel said of his 4-5 team. "We’re very hot and cold. We’re having to work through that, and we’re not working through it fast enough."

For both coaches, the aim is balance. Brown cited his Rose Bowl champion team in 2004 that was outside the top 100 in passing and second nationally in rushing. With McCoy at the helm, those numbers were reversed.

Texas has shown the ability to do both with its offense, just rarely in the same season.

"We’d like to get back to where we do both really well," Brown said.

The Longhorns finally have the physical running game they looked for last year, but outside of handing it over to offensive coordinator Bryan Harsin and offensive line coach Stacy Searels, Brown couldn't venture a guess as to why it's worked this year and didn't in 2010, when the Longhorns won just five games.

But expect this game to look markedly different than the Big 12 matchups the league has become known for.

"It will be a great test," Brown said, "a real physical game and a fun game to watch."

What we learned in the Big 12: Week 2

September, 12, 2011
9/12/11
1:15
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A look back on the week that was.

Iowa State is once again the Big 12's most endearing program. The Cyclones trailed five times against in-state rival Iowa at Jake Trice Stadium on Saturday. But with a handful of brand-new faces on offense and some of the league's most underrated defensive talents, it rallied to beat the Hawkeyes in triple overtime. The second-biggest crowd ever at Iowa State showed up, and the Cyclones put on a heck of a show for the brand-new scoreboard towering above the Jacobson Building. Did we see Steele Jantz write the first chapter of what could be a legendary legacy at Iowa State? If so, you couldn't ask for a better start, giving coach Paul Rhoads his third landmark victory in three years at Iowa State. Shades of Seneca, no doubt. I had Iowa State last in my power rankings last week. Expect upward movement this week.

[+] EnlargeIowa State's Steele Jantz
Reese Strickland/US PRESSWIREIowa State quarterback Steele Jantz completed 25 of 37 passes for 279 yards and four touchdowns against Iowa.
Oklahoma State is all kinds of legit. Brandon Weeden was even better than he was last year, Justin Blackmon was his usual self and Joseph Randle emerged as a big time running back, nearly notching 100 yards rushing and receiving in a single game. The defense, too, looked great. Arizona isn't a great team, and yes, it was missing Juron Criner, but the Cowboys are looking the part of Big 12 contender. We'll see how they measure up to Tulsa next week (Oklahoma was up on the Golden Hurricane 44-7 entering the fourth quarter) before a huge game in College Station in Sept. 24 that is easily one of the most important games of the year in the Big 12.

Missouri might be a victim of its own success. The stars just haven't quite aligned for the Tigers. Blaine Gabbert absolutely should have left for the NFL, and he'll have success there. But Missouri's most experienced team in a long time is being led by a first-year quarterback in James Franklin. Franklin was big time more often than not in Friday night's OT loss to Arizona State, but Missouri is a top 10 team with Gabbert. Without Gabbert, it may tumble out of or toward the bottom of the top 25. Franklin's going to be very good, but Gabbert was already very good. Franklin took huge steps on Friday night, and showed lots of promise, but Missouri has to wonder what could have been. This isn't a rebuilding year. It could have been "The Year" for Missouri, despite obvious struggles at cornerback throughout the night. Missouri's going to be a very good team, but after Friday? It's pretty clear the Tigers are going to have to wait at least another year before being a major factor in the Big 12 title race. As the only Big 12 team with a loss two weeks into the season, I'll leave it up to you all to crack a "You are the weakest link" joke. There's nothing wrong with a flashback to 2003.

Kansas will be able to scare -- if not beat -- some Big 12 teams this year. Northern Illinois isn't a juggernaut, but last year's Kansas team doesn't win this game. The improvement is there for Turner Gill in Year 2, and it starts at quarterback. Jordan Webb had a big night (281 yards, 3 TD), but it doesn't end there. The Jayhawks are much more athletic everywhere, but especially at the skill positions. Darrian Miller and James Sims combined for 167 yards rushing and three touchdowns. Eight receivers caught passes, led by D.J. Beshears with seven catches for 70 yards and two scores, including the game-winner. Kansas is putting together the nuts and bolts of a team that has what it takes to win the Big 12. They've got a long way to go, but the Jayhawks are headed in the right direction.

Texas is ready to slop for wins. On the field, Texas looked pretty similar to what it had last year. Outside of a freed D.J. Monroe, Malcolm Brown doing a good job of living up to hype and Jaxon Shipley making Big 12 fans groan by catching passes from Case McCoy, Texas is a team with a strong defense and unremarkable offense. But something was obviously different on Saturday night, and it's toughness. Mack Brown drew on his team's experience last year against UCLA in a halftime speech players raved about after the game. Early in the season, it trailed 13-3 to a mediocre team. It was blown out, 34-12. Brown doesn't have to wonder if last year's team would have won Saturday's game. He knows it wouldn't. Why the difference? I'm chalking it up to humility from an awful 2010, and new strength and conditioning coach Bennie Wylie. "If you can get everybody to run up those bleachers at the very top, and everybody on the team finishes? That's how it is, man," said running back D.J. Monroe. Monroe compared losing at home last year -- which Texas did five times -- to having somebody take out his mother. Texas wants to "protect this house," which they spent the summer gaining an intimate knowledge of with a souped-up conditioning regimen from Wylie. "That's a shoutout to Coach Wylie," Monroe said of his comments. "After A&M, it was the worst feeling ever, and we don't want to experience that ever again. If we go out and play our hearts out every single night, I feel like that can be a result."

The Big 12 is the home for drama. And I'm not even talking about the realignment rumpus that dominated the week's headlines. OK, yeah I am. But when Baylor isn't spearheading a litigious standoff that may force Texas A&M's route to the SEC to take a detour through a courtroom, these teams make for some pretty outstanding theater on the field. Texas rallied from a 13-point halftime deficit to beat BYU, 17-16, on a late touchdown. Missouri erased a 14-point, fourth-quarter deficit and missed a game-winning field goal with seconds remaining before losing in overtime to Arizona State. Kansas beat Northern Illinois on a six-yard touchdown pass with nine seconds left that had to be reviewed--and was upheld. But Iowa State topped them all, knocking off rival Iowa in triple overtime, despite trailing on five different occasions throughout the day. Let's do it again next week. College football, we missed you this summer. Never leave us again.

What we learned in the Big 12: Week 1

September, 4, 2011
9/04/11
10:41
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[+] EnlargeLandry Jones
AP Photo/Sue OgrockiLandry Jones and Oklahoma opened the season with a strong performance against Tulsa.
1. Oklahoma is clicking, and deserves the No. 1 spot for now. Oklahoma was good everywhere and great in a few spots before racing to a 44-7 lead entering the fourth quarter against a 10-win team from a year ago. Bob Stoops is happy with all three phases of his team. Outside of Travis Lewis, the Sooners are pretty healthy and have two weeks to prepare for a showdown in Tallahassee with Florida State on Sept. 17. Life is good in Norman.

2. Baylor is going to be tough to beat. Much tougher than in 2010. What part do you want to be most impressed by? Baylor's rapid-fire offense that racked up a 47-23 lead in the fourth quarter against TCU? Or the gutsiness it showed after a pair of three-and-outs and a fumble cost them that lead, and the Bears rallied? Harp on that rough fourth quarter if y0u must, but the real Baylor is a lot closer to what we saw the rest of the game, and the Bears answered a huge test. Impressive. I picked the Bears to finish fifth in the Big 12 and called them a sleeper to win 10 games. I'm still feeling good about that, and Baylor is on my top 25 ballot for Week 2.

3. James Franklin is a work in progress. Franklin doesn't have the raw skill that Chase Daniel or Blaine Gabbert had, but he's a smart player that will have to figure out what works for him as he goes along. His mechanics aren't pretty, which is a bit jarring at Missouri after watching Blaine Gabbert for two seasons, but he's got the ability to win a lot of games. For now, his decision-making and accuracy need a lot of work, but as long as he can avoid big mistakes, Missouri is good enough to go a long way with him running the show.

4. The bottom of the Big 12? Well, it's not very good. At least not yet. Goodness, Big 12 North. For facing an uncertain conference future, you're sure not playing like it. Kansas took care of business and looked good, but the Jayhawks have a historic hoops program that should keep them afloat if the Big 12 breaks up. But Iowa State and Kansas State both needed late-game heroics to beat FCS opponents. I don't know if anyone's told them yet, but it's going to get a lot tougher very quickly. All three have to be better.

5. There is hope for Texas' offense. The Longhorns racked up 506 yards of offense, including 277 through the air and 239 on the ground. Here's guessing Texas leans on more of a running identity this season, but I loved what Malcolm Brown was able to do. He might never win a Heisman, but he's heading for a solid career in Austin. Additionally, Jaxon Shipley is the real deal. The best news, though? This offense looks like it at least has a direction and knows what it wants to be, which last season's team couldn't claim at any point.

What to watch in the Big 12: Week 1

September, 1, 2011
9/01/11
12:00
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Here are ten things I'm keeping an eye on in Week 1 of Big 12 football.

1. Garrett Gilbert. Everything else aside, Gilbert is ultimately the one guy who will decide how far Texas gets this season. Or, at least whoever Texas' quarterback is by midseason. Gilbert needs to play well to a) make sure he's that guy and b) help Texas rebound from last year's debacle.

[+] EnlargeGarrett Gilbert
Brendan Maloney/US PresswireThe success of Texas' season likely rides on the shoulders of Garrett Gilbert ... or his replacement.
2. Does Baylor have a second go-to receiver? Josh Gordon is a huge loss. Everything pointed to a breakout year for the big receiver, but who's going to emerge as Robert Griffin III's other top target. Baylor has talent at the position, but it's going to help if one receiver makes his presence clear. Terrance Williams? Tevin Reese? Lanear Sampson? Bueller?

3. Oklahoma's safeties. Javon Harris and Aaron Colvin have a ton of potential, but they've got a tough test in Week 1. Last year, Oklahoma broke in two brand new corners against Utah State and nearly was upset on its home field. G.J. Kinne is a stud, and with both of last year's safeties in the NFL, are Harris and Colvin up for the task?

4. Weeden2Blackmon. Here's the deal: This game won't be close. But I love watching these two play. And they're going to be putting up some big highlights for the first time in eight months. Football! Finally!

5. James Franklin's arm. We've seen Franklin run plenty as a freshman playing behind Blaine Gabbert. But Missouri will go about as far as Franklin's arm will take them. His teammates have been impressed with what he's down through the air in the offseason. Will he validate them in the opener?

6. Steele Jantz's legs. Nobody outside Ames has really seen Jantz, a transfer from a California junior college, do much. But he won the starting job over the more experienced Jerome Tiller (before he was ruled academically ineligible for the season) and has Cyclones fans excited. Is he the dynamic playmaker Iowa State's offense has been missing?

7. Kansas State's running backs. Bill Snyder called it the closest competition on the team. The WIldcats have three co-starters, and third on the list is the Big 12 transfer with the most hype: Bryce Brown. Will he establish himself as the clear replacement for Daniel Thomas, who led the Big 12 in rushing the past two seasons?

8. Kansas' point total. Kansas simply needs to show it can execute. It did it against New Mexico State last year and briefly against Colorado, but this is largely the same team from last year, with a handful of new faces added. How much better is the offense? Good enough to compete in the Big 12? Because the Jayhawks weren't close in 2010.

9. Texas A&M's linebackers. Most of the attention is paid to quarterback Kyle Padron, but the Mustangs' 230-pound, rumbling running back Zach Line is no joke, either. He had at least 94 yards rushing in six of the past seven games in 2010, and the Aggies have a big hole at middle linebacker that Jonathan Stewart will try to fill.

10. Texas Tech's playcalling. Tommy Tuberville wants a new commitment to the running game, but where will that show up? The Red Raiders have what I think will be a good QB, but lots of unanswered questions at receiver next to a deep stable of running backs and a good offensive line. I'm also excited to see what freshman tight end Jace Amaro can do.

The Big 12's first Heisman Watch of 2011

August, 10, 2011
8/10/11
3:00
PM CT
video

We're all about the Heisman race here on ESPN.com today, and here's your first look at the Big 12 contenders for the Heisman Trophy entering the 2011 season.

1. Landry Jones, QB, Oklahoma: Jones joins Stanford's Andrew Luck as one of the prohibitive favorites for the award entering the season. Such is life for a guy quarterbacking the nation's No. 1 team coming off a 12-win season with 4,718 yards and a league-best 38 touchdown passes.

[+] EnlargeLandry Jones
Tim Heitman/US PresswireLandry Jones passed for 4,718 yards and 38 touchdowns for Oklahoma last season.
2. Brandon Weeden, QB, Oklahoma State: On the national stage, Weeden is a dark horse for the award. He'll likely put up the numbers necessary (4,277 yards, 34 TD in 2010) to win, but the Cowboys will have to win more than last year's 11 games.

3. Robert Griffin III, QB, Baylor: Griffin has entrenched himself as one of the league's most valuable players to his team, even as Baylor has quietly gotten more talented and deeper at every position since Griffin came to Waco with coach Art Briles. With Baylor's reputation, if the Bears rack up wins and flirt with being a Big 12 contender late in the season, it will work to Griffin's advantage.

4. Cyrus Gray, RB, Texas A&M: Gray may not get the total touches necessary to win the trophy after the return of his running mate in the backfield, Christine Michael. If he does, though ... look out. Gray closed the season with seven consecutive games of 100 yards rushing against defenses like LSU, Nebraska and Oklahoma, and that could continue well into 2011.

5. James Franklin, QB, Missouri: Franklin is a big question mark entering 2011, but if he plays well, all the pieces are there for him to have a big year and sneak into the Heisman race late. Blaine Gabbert's stats in 2010 were modest, but Missouri is a team built to make a run at 10-plus wins and contend for a conference title. If Franklin controls the offense and nears what Gabbert did in 2010 (3,186 yards, 16 TDs), he could get some buzz for the trophy late in the season.

The Big 12 quarterback superlatives

August, 9, 2011
8/09/11
1:00
PM CT
Today is all about the quarterback at ESPN.com, but it's time to introduce you to each of the Big 12's passers.

Best in class: Brandon Weeden, Oklahoma State

Weeden is everything you want in a quarterback. He's a good decision-maker with a huge arm that's about as accurate as they come in the college game. He led the Big 12 with 8.4 yards per attempt in 2010, his first year as a starter, and helped Oklahoma State win a school-record 11 games.

Sorest postgame arm: Landry Jones, Oklahoma

Jones is a close, close second in the Big 12 and wouldn't surprise anyone by surpassing Weeden, but Jones threw 617 passes in 2010, more than any quarterback in the nation. Part of that number is the high volume of short passes in Oklahoma's offense that it views as an extension of the running game, but Jones piled up big numbers with those throws, leading the Big 12 with 4,718 yards and 38 touchdowns to just 12 interceptions. Without workhorse DeMarco Murray in the fold this season, don't look for those pass attempts to dip much, if at all.

[+] EnlargeRobert Griffin III
Thomas Campbell/US PresswireBaylor quarterback Robert Griffin III completed 67 percent of his 454 passes in 2010.
Most misperceived: Robert Griffin III, Baylor

Griffin has a well-deserved rep as a dual-threat quarterback, but he also completed 67 percent of his 454 passes in 2010, good for eighth in the nation and second in the Big 12 behind Taylor Potts by one-tenth of a percentage point. Griffin can still giddy-up after knee surgery in 2009, but he's a much more mature passer than he gets credit for, and he's got one of the league's best receiving corps to help him out.

Most pressure: Garrett Gilbert, Texas

I'm going all-in with Gilbert as the Longhorns' opening-day starter against Rice, but Gilbert better perform and do it early, because if not, the hook that never arrived in 2010 will do exactly that, giving Case McCoy, Connor Wood or David Ash a chance. Gilbert's 10 touchdowns to 17 interceptions in 2010 were eye-popping, but he'll try to improve on that in a new offense under Bryan Harsin from Boise State.

Most indecision: Iowa State

The Cyclones have an open gig after three-year starter Austen Arnaud left, but the job sounds like it's still wide open between junior Jerome Tiller, who played some during a few of Arnaud's injuries the past two seasons, and juco transfer Steele Jantz. Coach Paul Rhoads says Jared Barnett is still a factor in the race, but Iowa State plans to officially name its starter on Aug. 20, exactly two weeks before its season opener.

Best story: Seth Doege, Texas Tech

Doege grew up in West Texas and dreamed of becoming the next great passer in red and black. As soon as Texas Tech began recruiting him, he committed, but missed his final two seasons of high school football with knee injuries. The Red Raiders stuck with him during two frustrating runs of rehab while others took a pass, and five years after his last season as full-time starter, the junior is finally getting his shot to do what he wanted to do since well before high school.

Smartest quarterback: Ryan Tannehill, Texas A&M

Tannehill has just six starts under his belt, but they were memorable last season, helping rescue the Aggies from a 3-3 start, including an 0-2 start in conference play. The Aggies ended up co-Big 12 South champions, earning a berth in the Cotton Bowl. But Tannehill did it all despite missing parts of spring practice for labs for his biology major, which he hopes to use to eventually attend medical school and become an orthopedic surgeon. Tannehill graduated in May with a 3.59 GPA, and ask any of his teammates who the smartest guy on the team is. There's no contest.

Best supporting cast: James Franklin, Missouri

Franklin will fill the void left behind by Blaine Gabbert, but he'll do it with the most help of any first-year starter in the league, and any first-year starter Gary Pinkel has ever prepared. The Tigers return one of the league's best defenses, four offensive linemen, and every single receiver from last season's team. He also returned four running backs, but one of the reserves, Marcus Murphy, will likely redshirt after needing shoulder surgery. Still, the Tigers are ready-made contenders if Franklin can get the job done.

Biggest passer: Collin Klein, Kansas State

Klein used his legs to earn a solid chunk of playing time in 2010, but the 6-foot-5, 233-pounder (see him in real life here) will have to be more than just hard to tackle for the Wildcats to get back to the postseason in 2011 after reaching the Pinstripe Bowl in 2010. That was their first bowl appearance since 2006, but Klein has a lot to prove after throwing just 18 passes last season, compared to his 76 carries for 432 yards and six scores. Making matters more difficult: Workhorse back Daniel Thomas, who had a Big 12-high 595 carries over the past two seasons and led the league in rushing both years, is in the NFL now.

Most work to do: Jordan Webb, Kansas

The Jayhawks were the Big 12's worst passing team in 2010, failing to reach 2,000 yards, and Texas was the league's only other team to throw more interceptions than touchdowns. Webb earned the most time, and seized control of the starting job ahead of Quinn Mecham over the summer, but he completed just 56 percent of his passes last season, better than only Colorado's Cody Hawkins.

Big 12 position rankings: Quarterback

June, 20, 2011
6/20/11
10:45
AM CT
We'll kick off our look today at the position rankings for each team in the Big 12 before looping back around to rank the top 10 at every position in the Big 12.

We'll start at the most obvious position: Quarterback, a position that I'd argue is more important in the Big 12 than in any other conference.

Depth will be a huge factor in these rankings, though at quarterback, it's the toughest to gauge, considering how little we see of backup quarterbacks.

Here's how each Big 12 team ranks at the quarterback position:

[+] EnlargeLandry Jones
Mark J. Rebilas/US PresswireLandry Jones leads the Big 12's deepest and best group of quarterbacks.
1. Oklahoma

Oklahoma learned the hard way in 2009 about the importance of the backup quarterback, but even in his limited experience, Drew Allen has impressed Bob Stoops after narrowly losing out on the backup job behind Sam Bradford in 2009. Landry Jones is a great one, and with his opportunities, has become a Heisman Trophy favorite. Could Allen have done the same if he had beaten out Jones in 2009? Blake Bell, the nation's No. 3 quarterback in the 2010 class, will likely be Oklahoma's No. 3 in 2011.

2. Oklahoma State

Brandon Weeden's profile spiked when he led the Cowboys to a comeback win over Colorado on a Thursday night game in 2009. He took over as the starter shortly after, but going into that game Weeden was a third-stringer. Alex Cate transferred after it became evident that Weeden would be the starter in 2010, and behind Weeden is Clint Chelf and two solid recruits: Johnny Deaton and J.W. Walsh, who was the nation's No. 10 QB (just outside the ESPNU 150) in 2011 and enrolled early.

3. Texas A&M

Ryan Tannehill is entrenched at the starting spot, with a lot of youth behind him. Matt Joeckel and Jameill Showers will try to hold off incoming freshman Johnny Manziel for the No. 2 spot this fall. Manziel was impressive during the spring, and will contend for the starting job in 2012, but he'll likely redshirt unless he wins the backup job.

4. Texas Tech

Seth Doege looks ready to grab the reins for two seasons, barring injury. Jacob Karam is probably ready to start in the Big 12 right now, he's just not as good as Doege. Behind them are two promising prospects with upside and development to do: Scotty Young and Michael Brewer. The Red Raiders are the last of the Big 12 teams who have truly solid depth at quarterback.

5. Baylor

Robert Griffin III will probably hold every school record for quarterbacks by the time he leaves Waco, but the Bears need to find a true replacement behind him. Nick Florence filled in well in 2009 when Griffin missed the final nine games with a knee injury, but he's a junior like Griffin and their eligibility will expire simultaneously. Redshirt freshman Bryce Petty and 2012 commit Jared Johnson could battle for the spot in 2013.

6. Missouri

The Tigers depth took a hit after Tyler Gabbert's transfer following spring practice, but expectations are high for sophomore James Franklin, who got a bit of experience in 2010 behind Blaine Gabbert. Senior Jimmy Costello quit the team after last season to focus on an impending fall enlistment in the Army, but rejoined after the Gabbert brothers' departures from Columbia. He's likely to be the backup, with Ashton Glaser and walk-on Ryan Howerton filling out the rest of the quarterback spots. Corbin Berkstresser, a 6-foot-3, 218-pound quarterback from Kansas City that ESPN ranked No. 43 at his position, will arrive in the fall, too.

7. Texas

How long until we see a quarterback make the kind of plays Garrett Gilbert made against Alabama in the national championship? Those kinds of long scores were rare last year, but the Longhorns will have a competition this fall that sounds like it's pretty open heading into camp. If Gilbert wins, he'll likely have a much shorter leash in 2011 than he did in 2010, before Case McCoy or Connor Wood gets a crack, and dark horse true freshman David Ash could make things interesting, too.

8. Kansas State

Collin Klein made a nice move toward winning the job with a strong spring game performance. But coach Bill Snyder says he still didn't see a ton of separation between Klein and his backups, Sammuel Lamur and Boston College transfer Justin Tuggle, who spent last year replacing Cam Newton at Blinn College in Texas.

9. Iowa State

James Capello transferred after the spring, but Iowa State's race has likely boiled down to two men: Jerome Tiller and Steele Jantz. Jantz, a juco transfer, is the wild card and Tiller will need to show that his struggles in spot duty last season were temporary. He didn't show the progress you'd expect from a maturing player when he played for an injured Austen Arnaud in a few games early and late in 2010. Jared Barnett is still battling in Ames, but him winning the job would be a huge upset.

10. Kansas

The Jayhawks could use a couple more years of Todd Reesing. The Jayhawks saw a huge drop off at the quarterback position in 2010, as Jordan Webb, Quinn Mecham and Kale Pick all got time under center. Kansas will likely run its offense through a strong group of running backs, but unless newcomer Brock Berglund shows potential and proves he's the best of the group, expect Kansas to remain near the bottom of the Big 12 by the end of 2011.
The NFL draft has come and gone, and I hope you're all prepared for no more NFL anything for awhile. I know I'm not.

Anyway, here's how the Big 12 shook out over the weekend, with a few thoughts to follow.

First round (8)


Second round (2)
Third round (2)
Fourth round (6)
Fifth round (3)
Sixth round (1)
Seventh round (8)

Here's how the Big 12 teams ranked in terms of total draftees:

1. Nebraska - 7
2. Baylor - 4
2. Colorado - 4
2. Oklahoma - 4
2. Texas - 4
6. Missouri - 3
7. Kansas State -1
7. Oklahoma State - 1
7. Texas A&M - 1
7. Texas Tech - 1
11. Iowa State - 0
11. Kansas - 0

And the major conferences (counting where players actually played):

SEC - 38
Pac-12 - 33
Big 12 - 30
Big Ten - 29
ACC - 35
Big East - 22

  • Texas A&M had just one player drafted, but the Aggies will have plenty next year, including a handful of possible first-rounders. Cyrus Gray, Ryan Tannehill and Jeff Fuller could all go very early in 2012, depending on what happens between now and then.
  • [+] EnlargeJeremy Beal
    Matthew Emmons/US PresswireOklahoma defensive end Jeremy Beal was drafted in the seventh round by Denver.

  • Interesting that Miller went 245 selections before the Big 12's Defensive Player of the Year, according to the media, Jeremy Beal. Also an interesting coincidence? The same team drafted both. I do think Beal will have a productive NFL career, and there's no denying what he did at Oklahoma, but the measurables were never quite there for Beal. What's not measurable? How difficult he is to block. That said, Miller was my vote for the Big 12's Defensive Player of the Year.
  • Good to see some hard-working, perhaps under-respected guys get drafted. This was an important year for that, considering those left over won't be able to get into NFL minicamps until the lockout ends and won't be able to do anything to further their NFL careers besides work out on their own. I'll have a post later today on some of those snubs. There's no guarantee that late-drafted guys like Baron Batch, Scotty McKnight, Jay Finley or Eric Hagg will catch on in the the pros, but I'd be willing to guarantee they'll do everything in their power to maximize what opportunities they get.
  • One of the most interesting selections? Mikail Baker. He wasn't invited to the combine, and played just one full season on defense at Baylor after working as a kick returner and a cornerback in 2009 before a season-ending knee injury. You don't see that kind of impressive athleticism at Baylor traditionally.
  • Let the debate continue: Kendall Hunter vs. DeMarco Murray. Murray getting drafted 40-some spots earlier only intensified that discussion, if you ask me.
  • Also, what's more impressive from Art Briles? That Baylor had four picks, the most in school history since 1996? Or that despite those four picks, Baylor's returning an even better team than last season, when it ended a 16-year bowl drought?
  • Colorado's draft, meanwhile? Not exactly a ringing endorsement for Dan Hawkins' coaching job in Boulder.
  • Alex Henery didn't win the Lou Groza Award, but his fourth-round selection makes him the earliest kicker draft pick since 2006. Will that end the state of Nebraska's blood feud against respectable OSU kicker Dan Bailey, who did win the Lou Groza Award? I doubt it. (Save your emails. For the 100th time, I agree, Nebraska fans. Henery > Bailey.)
  • A few guys who went way lower than I thought they would. In order of my surprise level: Beal, Gabbert, Amukamara, Hagg, Hunter.
  • A few guys who went way higher than I thought, in the same order: Aldon Smith, Batch, Gachkar, Baker.
The last time Texas and Oklahoma didn't have a first-round pick?

That was 1998.

The following year, Kansas State and Texas A&M battled for the Big 12 title, with the Aggies earning a berth in the Sugar Bowl.

Every year since, the Sooners or Longhorns have played for a Big 12 title -- winning nine of 12 championships -- and at least one program had a first-rounder the following April.

[+] EnlargeVon Miller
Jerry Lai/US PresswireVon Miller, the No. 2 overall pick, was the first Aggie taken in the first round since 2003.
That streak ended on Thursday night. In a new 10-team Big 12, could we see a new champion come fall? Texas or Oklahoma have won every Big 12 title since 2004.

Oklahoma will be a tough out next year, likely to open the season atop the polls. Next year, they're sure to have at least one first-round pick, and perhaps more. Texas struggled to a 5-7 season in 2010 and will start anew with a handful of fresh faces on the coaching staff in 2011.

But Oklahoma and Texas aside, it's impossible to ignore the rise that other programs in the Big 12 have experienced, culminating in a historic night for three programs.

Excusing Texas' last season, this year's first round is more about Big 12 programs building something big than Oklahoma or Texas eroding.

Want to give your program added credibility? Draft picks are second only to wins in doing so. Nights like these schools had will pay off on the recruiting trail in the future.

Baylor topped the list, adding its second and third first-round picks in Big 12 history. Before Jason Smith in 2009, the Bears hadn't had one. The last time two players from the program were picked in the first round in the same year? 1957.

Phil Taylor and Danny Watkins both were drafted earlier than projected, with Taylor headed to the Cleveland Browns and Watkins the Philadelphia Eagles. Along the way, Watkins provided one of the night's signature moments when his five Canadian firefighter buddies cheered him on from the stands with Watkins pointing in their direction from the stage.

Missouri is further along in its own rise, adding a pair of top 10 picks after having none since Justin Smith went fourth overall in 2001. Aldon Smith pulled a surprise, going seventh overall to the San Francisco 49ers, significantly earlier than most mock drafts had placed him, and shockingly, ahead of his quarterback. Blaine Gabbert followed three picks later, when the Jacksonville Jaguars selected him at No. 10.

That gave the Tigers five first-round picks in three years after Smith had previously been the lone first-rounder for Mizzou since the Big 12 began in 1996.

Von Miller went No. 2 to the Denver Broncos, the Aggies first first-round pick since 2003.

Missouri's come the closest of any team in that group to a Big 12 title, reaching the Big 12 title game in 2007 and 2008, where it lost to Oklahoma.

Will either of the three teams eventually reach a Big 12 title? Who knows. But it's clear that all three programs have coaches that are getting them closer and closer.

All three teams are deeper than ever, well-equipped to weather this talent drain. Texas A&M should start the season in the top 15 and looks like a title contender. Despite losing Gabbert, Missouri is better than ever nearly everywhere else. Baylor is building on its first bowl appearance since 1994 and has a great chance to exceed its seven wins from 2010.

Texas and Oklahoma have run the Big 12 on the field for a long time. There are no guarantees in this game, but last night's draft is more evidence that their monopoly could be in jeopardy.
Springtime is almost here. And here's a look at what to expect across the Big 12 when it gets into full swing here in the next couple weeks.

BAYLOR BEARS

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.
IOWA STATE CYCLONES

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.
KANSAS JAYHAWKS

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.
KANSAS STATE WILDCATS

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.
MISSOURI TIGERS

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.
OKLAHOMA SOONERS

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.
OKLAHOMA STATE COWBOYS

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.
TEXAS LONGHORNS

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?
TEXAS A&M AGGIES

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.
TEXAS TECH RED RAIDERS

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.
Tags:

Oklahoma Sooners, Oklahoma State Cowboys, Texas Longhorns, Baylor Bears, Texas Tech Red Raiders, Texas A&M Aggies, Kansas Jayhawks, Kansas State Wildcats, Mack Brown, Von Miller, Bob Stoops, Art Briles, Taylor Potts, Garrett Gilbert, Steven Sheffield, Jerrod Johnson, Blaine Gabbert, Brandon Weeden, Brian Duncan, Turner Gill, Jarvis Phillips, Phil Bennett, Travis Lewis, Justin Blackmon, Ryan Tannehill, Jay Finley, Cyrus Gray, Collin Klein, Jerome Tiller, Paul Rhoads, Christine Michael, Quinn Mecham, Carson Coffman, Ahmad Dixon, Byron Landor, Jarred Salubi, Terrance Ganaway, Corey Nelson, Dan Bailey, Damontre Moore, Bront Bird, Cody Davis, Colby Whitlock, Michael Hodges, Kyle Mangan, Bill Snyder, Carl Gettis, Chris Donaldson, Franklin Mitchem, LaRon Moore, Shane Jarka, Tre Porter, Ugo Chinasa, Sheldon Richardson, Ashton Glaser, James Franklin, Tyler Gabbert, A.J. White, Aldon Smith, Alexander Robinson, Arthur Brown, Brad Madison, Brandon Wegher, Brandon Williams, Brennan Clay, Brock Berglund, Bryce Brown, Carrington Byndom, Case McCoy, Chris Cosh, Collin Franklin, Connor Wood, Corbin Berkstresser, Daniel Sams, Darius Darks, Darius Reynolds, David Garrett, Dominique Patterson, Geneo Grissom, Huldon Tharp, Jacob Karam, Jacquies Smith, James Capello, Jared Barnett, Jermie Calhoun, Jimmy Stevens, Jonathan Miller, Jordan Webb, Justin McCay, Justin Tuggle, Kevin Rutland, Michael Brewer, Prince Kent, Richetti Jones, Scott Smith, Scotty Young, Seth Doege, Shontrelle Johnson, Steele Jantz, Terrell Resonno, Tim Atchison, Toben Opurum, Tysyn Hartman

Talking expansion, new stars, and future

February, 8, 2011
2/08/11
3:24
PM CT
Thanks for all the questions in the chat today. It was a good one. Here's the transcript if you missed it. And a few highlights:

Nick Thompson in Columbia, Mo., asked: How will Missouri transition from James Franklin to Blaine Gabbert? What impact will losing Gabbert have on the Missouri offense and what will Franklin have to do to step in effectively?

David Ubben: Well, that's assuming Franklin wins the job, which is absolutely not a given right now. I've said it a few times, but it's going to come down to accuracy and decision-making more than anything. I'm not sure Franklin's running ability will do much for him. In 2010, it allowed him to offer a change of pace to Missouri's offense and get some playing time, but the full-time starter has to be the guy who can deliver the ball to playmakers most often.


Ben in Las Vegas asked: You've mentioned that ideal targets for Big 12 expansion back to 12 teams are the Arizona teams. Is that even remotely possible or just the ideal? Any movement in that direction at all?

DU: I haven't heard many real conversations about it happening, and I don't think it will, but it's the only expansion move the Big 12 can make, should it choose to in the future, that would be a solid step forward, rather than just spinning its wheels. I should be clear, the Big 12 isn't looking to expand, but if you can convince the Arizona schools that they can make more money in the Big 12, which is possible, I could see them being talked into joining the league.


Martin in Dallas asked: Can you give your reasoning on why you think the Big 12 remains the same in 5 years, or just a wild guess?

DU: In short, Texas is getting exactly what it wants in the Big 12, money upon money and good scheduling/competition. Texas A&M and Oklahoma don't exactly have "open" invitations to the SEC. I don't see anyone actually leaving. What are the other schools without networks going to do? Leave? That's insane. Complain about Texas all you want, but schools like Iowa State and Kansas State can't do anything about it. Texas A&M would like to, but doesn't have the options it did this summer.


Gary in Syracuse asked: Care to offer a brief evaluation of Dan Beebe's job performance over the past twelve months?

DU: Not as bad as everyone thinks it was. He gets a bad rap. What, exactly, what he supposed to do to keep Nebraska or Missouri from leaving? He inherited a lot of problems, and it was a minor miracle that he convinced Texas and the rest of the Pac-16 crew to stay anyway. Worked hard to do it and succeeded.


Reece in Texas asked: With the new schedules in the Big 12 how hard will it be for the middle tier schools to win the Big 12?

DU: It was always hard for teams in the South, but a North team, in a clunker year, could slip into the Big 12 title game and get a shot at a South team. Now, you've got to outplay everybody, and nobody with fewer than 10 wins or so is winning this league. So, it's going to get a lot tougher.


Allan in Stillwater asked: If Hubert Anyiam comes back healthy and plays to his potential, does OSU have the best receiving core in the nation? Blackmon, Cooper, Anyiam, Tracy Moore, and Harrison... surely there isn't a better group out there.

DU: Oh yeah, it's up there. Anyiam gets overlooked, and he could be a quiet sleeper for an all-conference type season in 2011. If guys like Moore and Harrison keep developing, these guys could be incredible.

Top 10 moments of 2010 in the Big 12

January, 18, 2011
1/18/11
12:46
PM CT
It's a difficult task to narrow down a season into 10 moments. My definition of the "top" 10 is the 10 moments that we'll look back on from this season and remember them, good or bad. So, here goes.

1. A&M makes the switch. College football can be a cruel game. Texas A&M entered the season with the Big 12's Preseason Offensive Player of the Year, Jerrod Johnson, hoping to lead the Aggies to their first Big 12 title since 1998. But offseason surgery sapped the zip from his throwing shoulder and produced an ugly start to his season, leading the Aggies to switch to Ryan Tannehill. Tannehill set the school record for passing yards in his first start, a win over Texas Tech, and helped the Aggies finish the regular season with six consecutive wins and a berth in the Cotton Bowl.

2. Texas' loss to UCLA. The red flags were there. Texas looked uninspired in wins over Wyoming and Rice, but looked dominant on defense in a road win over Texas Tech. Then the cellar-dwelling Bruins and their Pistol offense came to town. The Longhorns got rolled 34-12 in their own stadium. The loss shocked just about everyone, but it was a sign of what was to come: a 5-7 season the Texas faithful would rather forget.

3. Don't call it a comeback. Actually, you could probably call it a comeback. It was no Cam Newton in the Iron Bowl, but Landry Jones helped rally Oklahoma from a 17-0 deficit to Nebraska in the Big 12 Championship to knock off the Huskers, 23-20. The win gave Oklahoma its seventh Big 12 title of the decade.

[+] EnlargeTaylor Martinez
AP Photo/Charlie RiedelTaylor Martinez's career night included 241 rushing yards and five touchdowns.
4. T-Magic runs wild. Kansas State packed Bill Snyder Family Stadium for a Thursday night game with its eyes on an upset of the undefeated Huskers. Taylor Martinez had other ideas. The Nebraska quarterback ran for 241 yards and five touchdowns, injecting himself into the Heisman race and making people think very seriously about Nebraska as a national title contender. Who would have thought Martinez would go the season's final nine games without a rushing touchdown after scoring 10 in the first four? Yes, K-State ended up finishing the season as the Big 12's worst defense, but Martinez put on a show and previewed what Nebraska fans hope is to come in the future.

5. We got a tip drill. Oklahoma quarterback Landry Jones thought he'd thrown it away cleanly. Not so, said Brodrick Brown. The Oklahoma State corner skied for Jones' pass headed for the sideline, tipped it back inbounds to his teammate, linebacker Shaun Lewis, who caught it as one of Jones' three interceptions in the first half of the Big 12 South's deciding game.

6. Taylor Martinez's injury. Nebraska already had a loss on its record, but one harmless-looking hit late in the first half of a big win changed Nebraska's season. Martinez was running laterally looking for a crease in the defense when Missouri safety Kenji Jackson flew in from the secondary and laid a hit on his lower body. Martinez sat the entire second half, and later revealed he had a sprained ankle. The freshman quarterback was never the same, and aggravated the injury again in a loss to Texas A&M.

7. Saluting your fans is bad, mmmmk. Adrian Hilburn made one of the biggest plays of Kansas State's season, catching a short pass and taking it 30 yards for a possible game-tying score with his team down eight. But after scoring, he saluted a group of Kansas State fans in the stands, and the official tossed a flag for excessive celebration after telling Hilburn he'd made the "wrong choice, buddy." The 15-yard penalty moved the Wildcats back, and Carson Coffman's pass on the conversion fell incomplete. Kansas State lost by two.

8. Moe's miracle. Missouri's season already looked off the rails. Blaine Gabbert threw a pair of fourth-quarter interceptions. The Tigers trailed San Diego State 24-20 with a minute to play and 68 yards between them and the end zone. Don't worry about it, said T.J. Moe. The sophomore receiver caught a short pass, made two defenders slam into each other and sprinted for the game-winning score that helped Missouri jump out to a 7-0 start to its season. Teammate Carl Gettis told Moe in the end zone, "Thank you for saving our season."

9. Last five minutes of Bedlam. Bedlam lived up to its moniker with a crazy finish that ended with the Sooners on top. Four touchdowns were scored within 92 seconds in the game's final five minutes. Oklahoma State scored to get within two points with just over four minutes to play, but on 3rd-and-long, Landry Jones found Cameron Kenney over the middle for an 86-yard touchdown pass. The ensuing kickoff? Oklahoma State's Justin Gilbert took it 89 yards to get back within two. But 17 seconds later, Jones found tight end James Hanna down the left sideline for a 76-yard touchdown that all but sealed the Sooners' win.

10. The Jayhawks win one for the ages. Kansas and Colorado were the Big 12's only teams still without a win in conference play. Something had to give. Few figured the Buffaloes 28-point lead would be what buckled. Colorado led 45-17 with just over 11 minutes to play, but the Jayhawks scored a frenzied 35 points to finish with a 52-45 win, their only conference win of the season. Buffaloes coach Dan Hawkins never got to coach another game for Colorado after being fired following the loss.

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