Dallas Colleges: Bryce Brown

Assessing the Big 12's needs filled: Part I

February, 7, 2013
2/07/13
8:07
AM CT
Signing day has come and gone, but we'll have plenty of coverage looking at each Big 12 team's class. This morning, we'll look at how each team filled its needs.

BAYLOR

Needs filled: Prerogative No. 1 for Baylor is fixing its defense, and the Bears are getting some help at linebacker in prep transfer Brian Nance, Raaquan Davis (No. 28 outside linebacker) and Travon Blanchard (No. 37 OLB). Future defensive tackle Andrew Billings was a home-grown talent who should compliment Javonte Magee well up front in the years to come. The Bears also need to keep the offensive machine humming. They seem to have done that with their two top signees, Robbie Rhodes, the nation's No. 3 receiver, and Chris Johnson, the nation's No. 5 dual-threat passer who coach Art Briles raved about in his signing day presser.

Holes remaining: Debate their quality all you'd like, but the Bears lost players in the secondary like Chance Casey and Mike Hicks, and cornerback Joe Williams will be a senior. There's not a lot of strength at defensive back in this class, unless Taion Sells (No. 46 safety) and Alfred Pullom (No. 67 safety) can blossom in Waco.

IOWA STATE

Needs filled: Rodney Coe comes to Ames via junior college and will try and replace some losses along the defensive line, but the biggest need for the Cyclones has been offensive playmakers. Aaron Wimberly checks in via the juco ranks at running back, but can ISU develop Texas receivers Brandon Harris and Bryan Ajumobi into major weapons at the Big 12 level?

Holes remaining: The Cyclones lost a pair of starters at linebacker and signed just one linebacker in this class, Florida native Brian Mills. Besides that, Iowa State did a nice job of bringing in big bodies along the defensive line and filling some offensive line holes, too, headlined by in-state prospect Jake Campos, who Iowa State swiped from Mizzou.

KANSAS

Needs filled: I'll be honest here, KU could use a big talent upgrade at pretty much every position on the field, other than running back. It's all about the jucos for the Jayhawks. Marquel Combs could be a major player up front to help KU stop the run and collapse pockets, but KU got a pair of big-time playmakers at receiver, too, in Ishmael Hyman and Rodriguez Coleman. Chris Martin offers another solid option as a pass-rusher. The Jayhawks also added a pair of quarterbacks in Montell Cozart and Jordan Darling.

Holes remaining: Did KU get enough high-quality linemen to replace its three lost starters? Ahongalu Fusimalohi is a juco transfer and Joey Bloomfield is the nation's No. 118 offensive tackle, but replacing solid starters like Tanner Hawkinson and Trevor Marrongelli is no easy task.

KANSAS STATE

Needs filled: K-State basically lost its entire defense from last year, so any defenders will be greatly appreciated. Four of the classes' top five signees are defenders, highlighted by inside linebacker Nick Ramirez and juco corner Nate Jackson. Inside linebacker Tanner Wood and juco defensive end Devon Nash will also help fill the Wildcats' big losses defensively.

Holes remaining: The Wildcats are solid at running back this year, but it could be looking a bit thin in the future. John Hubert will be a senior this year and Bryce Brown didn't pan out, so K-State might have used a running back in this class. It didn't happen. K-State was shut out at the position.

OKLAHOMA

Needs filled: Defensive line was the biggest one, and the Sooners grabbed two pass-rushers in the ESPN 300, D.J. Ward and Matt Dimon. Those two should pay off big, and Ward has enrolled early. Hatari Byrd also gives the Sooners an answer in the secondary while the nation's No. 3 running back, Keith Ford, helps provide solid depth at running back.

Holes remaining: Oklahoma lost Tom Wort to the NFL draft and Corey Nelson will be a senior next year, but Oklahoma didn't stock this class with a single linebacker. The Sooners don't put many traditional linebackers on the field and has converted a lot of safeties into outside linebackers, but still.

Big 12 spring football preview

February, 21, 2012
2/21/12
11:36
AM CT


Spring football is already under way at Texas Tech, but in the coming weeks, the Big 12's other nine programs will join the Red Raiders in taking the field as a team for the first time since January, December, or November for some.

Here's a preview of what to expect:

BAYLOR BEARS

Spring practice start date: March 19
Spring game: April 14

What to watch:
  • Nick Florence: It's not official, but the Baylor quarterback job is Florence's to lose. That means he inherits the unenviable task of replacing the school's first Heisman winner. He replaced RG3 in 2009 with mixed results, but showed some major potential in a win over Texas Tech when RG3 took a shot to the head and sat out the second half. Can he keep the bowl streak alive at Baylor? We'll get an idea this spring.
  • The defense's progression: You didn't need to see much more than the 67-56 Alamo Bowl win over Washington to know the Bears needed some work on defense. In the month of November, Baylor became the first team in FBS history to win four consecutive games in a single season while also giving up at least 30 points in each of those games. The defense can't make Florence pick up the slack to that level. Year 2 under Phil Bennett must be better. Baylor has no excuses. They have the athletes on campus necessary to be at least a decent defense.
  • The team's attitude/motivation: Baylor played with a lot of purpose the past two seasons, and made history in both, cracking a 16-year bowl drought and winning 10 games this year. Is that fire still there? Baylor has to prove it is without RG3 (and Kendall Wright) carrying the team on the field, emotionally and mentally.
IOWA STATE CYCLONES

Spring practice start date: March 20
Spring game: April 14

What to watch:
  • The quarterback battle: Or is it? Jared Barnett looked like the man of the future in Ames late in the season, leading the Cyclones to a historic upset of No. 2 Oklahoma State. But in the ugly Pinstripe Bowl loss to a mediocre Rutgers team, Barnett's inaccuracy posed big questions. He was benched and Steele Jantz stepped in, though he didn't play much better than Barnett. Turnovers were an issue for Jantz early on, but Barnett has to bounce back in the spring to make sure the job doesn't come open.
  • The receivers: Darius Reynolds was the big-play man for the Cyclones, but he's gone. It's going to be tough to replace him. Slot receivers Aaron Horne and Josh Lenz were productive, but did little to stretch defenses like the Reynolds did. Can ISU find someone to fill the void?
  • The new man at left tackle: Iowa State had the luxury of having a future pro at left tackle, Kelechi Osemele, for the past three seasons. He earned All-Big 12 nods in each of those seasons, but he's gone now. Junior Carter Bykowski was behind Osemele on the depth chart, but will the converted tight end be the new man at tackle for the Cyclones?
KANSAS JAYHAWKS

Spring practice start date: March 27
Spring game: April 28

What to watch:
  • Uh, everything?: I mean, what's not to watch at KU? Charlie Weis steps in for the fired Turner Gill and tries to build KU up from nothing. The Jayhawks were one of the worst teams in Big 12 history last season, losing six games by at least 30 points. Weis will speak his mind and watching him rebuilding the Jayhawks is going to be fun. It all starts next month -- on the field, at least.
  • KU's new pass-catch combo: Dayne Crist is on campus, and so is Oklahoma transfer Justin McCay, a former blue-chip recruit who didn't quite catch on in Norman. Quarterback and receiver were arguably the two biggest positions of need for KU last year, and we'll get a preview of what could be a productive combo next season. McCay isn't officially eligible for the 2012 season yet -- he needs the NCAA to waive its mandated redshirt year after a transfer -- but the coaching staff is confident he'll have it granted.
  • The uncertainty on the depth chart: When a new staff comes in, you never know what to expect. Kansas' leading rusher in its final season under Mark Mangino, Toben Opurum, is now one of its best defensive linemen. Look for Weis to shake things up, too. Where? Who knows?
KANSAS STATE WILDCATS

Spring practice start date: April 4
Spring game: April 28

What to watch:
  • Collin Klein's maturation: Kansas State's quarterback could be fun to watch this spring and next fall. His throwing motion isn't pretty, but his accuracy improved in a big way throughout the season. If that continues at a pace anything close to what we saw last year, K-State's going to be a load for everyone. Look out.
  • Developing depth at running back: John Hubert is back, and so is seldom-used Angelo Pease. Bryce Brown is gone, though. Klein handles a lot of the heavy lifting in the running game, but it'd be some nice insurance if K-State could establish some more depth in the backfield. Making Klein carry the ball 300 times again is tempting fate.
  • Stars becoming superstars: Kansas State brings back more starters than all but seven teams in college football, so this team is going to look remarkably similar in 2012 to the way it did last year. However, it should get better. And its two transfers could look dominant this spring. Cornerback Nigel Malone and linebacker Arthur Brown emerged as stars last year, but we could see the duo emerge as true game-changers this spring. Look out, Big 12 offenses.
OKLAHOMA SOONERS

Spring practice start date: March 8
Spring game: April 14

What to watch:
  • New faces on, off the field: Mike Stoops' arrival as the defensive coordinator was the biggest news this offseason in the Big 12, and Brent Venables, who had been at OU for all of Bob Stoops' tenure, left for Clemson rather than become co-defensive coordinator. Hopes are high that Stoops can revitalize Oklahoma's defense. He was in charge when the Sooners rode a dominant D to the 2000 national title, and the Sooners have the talent to win it all in 2012. Receiver Trey Metoyer joins the team this spring, and could be a major contributor immediately. Two of the team's four new tight ends are also enrolled early.
  • QB Blake Bell's role: The Belldozer is back ... but so is full-time quarterback Landry Jones. How will the balance between the duo look this spring? And what new wrinkles will we see in Oklahoma's simple, yet near-unstoppable short-yardage formation that saw 13 touchdowns in the second half of 2011?
  • The battle at defensive end: Oklahoma must fill two huge holes at defensive end. Big 12 Defensive Player of the Year Frank Alexander is gone, as is possible first-round pick Ronnell Lewis. R.J. Washington contributed late and has potential, but David King filled in for Lewis in the final three games of the season. The duo could be great, but it could also be pretty pedestrian. We'll get an idea this spring, but Lewis and Alexander set a high, high bar.
OKLAHOMA STATE COWBOYS

Spring practice start date: March 12
Spring game: April 21

What to watch:
  • The quarterback battle: This will easily be the highest-profile, highest-quality quarterback battle in the Big 12. It won't be at the level of Texas Tech in 2010, but it won't be too far off. Clint Chelf, J.W. Walsh and Wes Lunt will go head to head. All have plenty of potential, though Lunt may have the most. The big-armed true freshman also has the least experience. Anything could happen here.
  • Which receivers rise: Justin Blackmon and Josh Cooper leave huge holes behind. It's not every day a two-time Biletnikoff Award winner walks on campus. Hubert Anyiam is gone, too. Michael Harrison is unlikely to play for the 2012 season, but the school has offered no confirmation on his status. He had the most potential, but OSU is deep at the position. Who emerges as the top target? Isaiah Anderson? Tracy Moore? Josh Stewart? Anything could happen there, too.
  • Defense needs a leader: Safety Markelle Martin has been the heart of the defense the past two seasons, but his big-hitting days are over. Who becomes the new voice of the defense? It needs to find leadership this spring heading into summer voluntary workouts.
TEXAS LONGHORNS

Spring practice start date: Feb. 23
Spring game: April 1

What to watch:
  • The quarterback competition: I still think having a competition at the spot, which Texas says it will, isn't the best option, but David Ash and Case McCoy will go at it alongside early-enrolling freshman Connor Brewer. If Ash secures the job, expect an announcement heading into summer officially anointing the sophomore.
  • More sophistication on both sides of the ball: The progression is natural and likely. Offensive coordinator Bryan Harsin and defensive coordinator Manny Diaz had good first years in Austin, but this is Year 2. The spring won't be devoted to learning the playbook. It's time to master it. Both units could look markedly different, and much more refined next fall. Deny it all you like: Texas is back on its way to the top after a rough two years.
  • Maturing offensive weapons: Last season, the Longhorns relied on two true freshman running backs (Malcolm Brown/Joe Bergeron), a freshman/sophomore rotation at quarterback and its top receiver (Jaxon Shipley) was a true freshman. No. 2 (Mike Davis) was a sophomore. I hope I don't have to tell you what freshmen and sophomores do in college football. Look. Out.
TCU HORNED FROGS

Spring practice start date: Feb. 25
Spring end date: April 5

What to watch:
  • Can TCU shut out the scandal? Four team members were arrested in a recent drug sting and kicked off the team. How much of a distraction will that be for a program undergoing the most monumental change in its history? Quantifying the effects of the scandal will be pretty impossible, and we've got no idea how they'll handle the change, but will it be on players' minds?
  • The offense tightens up: The Horned Frogs' offense is absolutely loaded and ready to go for 2012. Quarterback Casey Pachall returns and brings his top three weapons (Josh Boyce, Skye Dawson and Brandon Carter) with him. Running backs Waymon James, Ed Wesley and Matthew Tucker each topped 700 yards rushing in 2011 and all return. The spring will be all about fine-tuning an already stellar offense, and it'll be fun to watch.
  • Replacing departed starters: All-America linebacker Tanner Brock was among the four football players arrested and booted from the team, as was all-conference defensive tackle D.J. Yendrey and likely starting safety Devin Johnson. Those were unforeseen losses, but TCU can't feel sorry for itself. Gary Patterson has no choice but to find new faces to fill those holes.
TEXAS TECH RED RAIDERS

Spring practice start date: Feb. 17
Spring game: March 24

What to watch:
  • Once again, a new defense: Texas Tech sounds like a broken record these days when it comes to defensive coordinators. This time, Art Kaufman will be stepping to the microphone as the fourth defensive coordinator in Lubbock in four years. He's bringing a 4-3, a shift back to what Ruffin McNeil ran in 2009. Chad Glasgow's 4-2-5 and James Willis' 3-4 failed miserably in 2011 and 2010, respectively, the first two years under Tommy Tuberville.
  • The battle at running back: No one knows yet if Eric Stephens will be back next season. There's still a long way to go in his rehab from a dislocated knee he suffered last season in a loss to Texas A&M. DeAndre Washington is also out this spring after tearing his ACL against Missouri. Harrison Jeffers hung up his cleats. Who will prove to be reliable this spring? Look for the Red Raiders to try to use sophomore Bradley Marquez, freshman Javares McRoy and junior SaDale Foster in a manner similar to the way Oregon uses scatback De'Anthony Thomas, with lots of short passes and bubble screens to get them the ball in space, where they can use their speed and shiftiness to make plays.
  • Team health: Tuberville said earlier this month that the team is missing 15 players this spring. It can't afford any more injuries. It's already going to be tough to get enough done this spring, but Tech can't start getting banged up.
WEST VIRGINIA MOUNTAINEERS

Spring practice start date: March 11
Spring game: April 21

What to watch:
  • Dana Holgorsen's offense in Year 2: Holgorsen didn't get a chance to coach his talented offense at Oklahoma State in its second year. The results could have been crazy. They might be at West Virginia in 2012, and the beginning steps will be taken this spring as Geno Smith & Co. get more and more comfortable with the system and Holgorsen adds more wrinkles.
  • The battle at running back: Sophomore Dustin Garrison hurt his knee in practices leading up to the Mountaineers' 70-33 Orange Bowl win over Clemson, and won't be there for the spring. What does senior Shawne Alston have in store for the spring? Garrison was the featured back last season, but a big spring could help Alston earn a few carries next year.
  • Defense needs help: Najee Goode leaves a big hole at linebacker, and defensive back Eain Smith's exit means the Mountaineers enter the season without two of their top three tacklers from a year ago. Bruce Irvin and Julian Miller's talents on the defensive line will be tough to replace, and in a league that requires a great pass rush, Irvin, Goode and Miller's 19 combined sacks must be replaced somehow.

Big 12 position rankings: Running back

January, 26, 2012
1/26/12
1:30
PM CT
We're continuing our look at the postseason rankings for each position in the Big 12. Here's a look back at where the running backs ranked in the preseason.

In this position, unlike quarterback, depth is a major, major factor in these rankings.

1. Texas A&M

The Aggies had the two most talented backs, and despite injuries to both, proved it through an otherwise frustrating 2011. Christine Michael suffered a torn ACL, but still managed 899 yards on just 149 carries. Cyrus Gray injured his shoulder late in the season, but secured his second consecutive 1,000-yard season and ranked third in the Big 12, despite carrying the ball just 198 times. This duo should have easily surpassed 1,000 yards, but even when they were injured, Ben Malena played well in the final two games.

[+] EnlargeChristine Michael
AP Photo/Brandon WadeChristine Michael averaged 6 yards per carry before a torn ACL ended his season.
2. Missouri

Mizzou dealt with injuries, too, first to Kendial Lawrence and De'Vion Moore. Cue Henry Josey. Josey became the best back in the Big 12 this year before suffering a major knee injury that included torn ligaments. He may not be back in 2012. His 1,168 yards were third most in the Big 12, despite carrying the ball just 145 times. Lawrence finished 12th with 566 yards.

3. Oklahoma State

Joseph Randle stole the show this year, rushing for 24 scores and ranking second in the Big 12 with 1,216 yards. Only Collin Klein ran for more touchdowns and Terrance Ganaway was the only player with more yardage. Still, Jeremy Smith had averaged more than 7 yards a carry, and he'd be able to start for anyone else in the league. Herschel Sims showed promise, too, with 242 yards on 31 carries.

4. Baylor

Ganaway led the Big 12 in rushing with huge performances late in the season, including a 200-yard, five-touchdown game in his final outing as a college athlete in the Alamo Bowl. He averaged more than 6 yards on his 250 carries and had 330 more yards than any other back in the league. Jarred Salubi added 331 yards, too.

5. Texas

Texas' Malcolm Brown and Joe Bergeron were banged-up late in the season, but Fozzy Whittaker played well until suffering a torn ACL against Missouri, too. Scatback D.J. Monroe was effective in the passing game as well. Four running backs topped 300 yards and Brown led the team with 742 yards, despite missing three games and having his carries limited early in the season.

6. Oklahoma

Oklahoma got great contributions from walk-on Dominique Whaley early on, and he proved to be the team's most effective runner and best runner between the tackles. He fractured his ankle in midseason, and finished with just 627 yards to lead the team. Roy Finch emerged late in the seasons after a quiet first half and added 605 yards.

7. Kansas

KU's James Sims led the team in rushing again with 727 yards. Darrian Miller was excellent, too, with 559 yards, though he was dismissed after the season. Freshmen Tony Pierson and Brandon Bourbon have plenty of promise, both averaging more than 5.5 yards a carry in 2011. The bad news: All their carries were limited by an awful defense that limited KU's chances to run the ball.

8. Kansas State

K-State's rushing attack centered around Klein, but John Hubert, a slippery back from Waco, Texas, had a good year. Hubert was seventh in the Big 12 with 970 yards. Bryce Brown offered basically nothing to K-State, and beyond Klein and Hubert, the Wildcats were pretty thin. Additionally, without Klein, would Hubert have duplicated his success?

9. Texas Tech

An awful knee injury derailed Eric Stephens' likely 1,000-yard season, and the rest of Texas Tech's backfield got banged-up, too. Stephens will probably return in 2012 from his dislocated knee, and finished with 565 yards, 17th in the Big 12. Aaron Crawford and DeAndre Washington both topped 300 yards.

10. Iowa State

ISU lost Shontrelle Johnson for the season early on, but James White filled in well. He finished with 743 yards, which ranked ninth in the Big 12. Jeff Woody had 380 yards and provided quality carries late, including the game-winning touchdown against Oklahoma State.

Final grades on my fearless predictions

December, 12, 2011
12/12/11
11:22
PM CT
When the season began, I tossed out 10 fearless predictions. Some were good. Some were not.

And as we've seen in the past, we're all about accountability here on the Big 12 Blog. Time to pay the piper. Was I too fearless? Feel free to grade me.

1. Texas will finish in the Big 12's top three in rushing offense. Texas finished seventh in the Big 12 in rushing in 2010 and fifth in 2009 and 2008. I thought Bryan Harsin's commitment to the run, Stacy Searels' new offensive line and the lack of a reliable quarterback would produce results. I was right. The Longhorns ran for 210 yards a game and finished behind only Missouri and Baylor. Grade: A

2. Missouri will win 10 games for the fourth time in five years. Total whiff on this one. I thought the supportive talent around him would allow James Franklin a solid transition into the role of starter. It did. He played well, but the Tigers lost too many close games and endured too many injuries, winning four of the final five games just to finish 7-5. Grade: C+

3. Entering the season's final two weeks, Baylor will still be alive in the Big 12 title race. Baylor didn't stay in the race after losing three of four games in the middle of the season, but the Bears won their final five games to finish third in the Big 12 at 9-3 and 6-3 in conference play, the most Big 12 wins in school history. That counts for something, right? Grade: B

4. The Big 12 will have three players invited to the Heisman ceremony. Missed on this one, and didn't even get one of my projected finalists right, though RG3 took home the trophy for the Big 12. Grade: D-

5. Iowa State will beat Iowa in Ames and start the season 3-0. Nailed it. The Cyclones knocked off Iowa in overtime and went on the road to beat UConn the next week, reaching 3-0. They lost their next four games, but ripped off another three-game win streak to finish 6-6 and qualify for a bowl game. Grade: A

6. Texas A&M will beat Texas by at least 14. And lose to Oklahoma by at least 21. The Aggies got walloped in Norman like I thought they would, but didn't take care of business in the rivalry finale against Texas, losing on a last-second field goal. This, despite leading by 10 points early and nine points at half. You're making me look bad, A&M. The Aggies trailed OU, 41-10, before making it respectable and losing by 16. Grade: B-

7. Texas Tech will beat a team in the top 10. Called it. That's especially solid considering the Red Raiders finished 5-7. Texas Tech marched into Owen Field at Oklahoma and beat the No. 3 Sooners (still at full strength, mind you. Ryan Broyles and Dominique Whaley were still healthy) to reach 5-2. Then, it didn't win another game. Grade: A+

8. Bryce Brown will not lead Kansas State in rushing. Arthur Brown will lead Kansas State in tackles. Even I didn't expect this one to end up this lopsided. Huge win for me on this one on projecting the impact of the Wildcats' two high-profile preseason transfers. Brown carried the ball a grand total of three times this year, fumbling on one of those carries and setting up a touchdown for Eastern Kentucky. He finished seventh on the team with 16 yards rushing and left the team at midseason. With 95 tackles, Arthur Brown had 17 more than any other Wildcat. Grade: A+

9. Kansas will have a winning record ... for awhile. I suppose this one is what it is. Not an extremely high degree of difficulty, but a solid base hit for yours truly. The Jayhawks started the season 2-0 with a dramatic win against Northern Illinois, who went on to win the MAC. Kansas then proceeded to lose its final 10 games. Grade: A

10. Oklahoma will not lead the Big 12 in total offense. The Sooners had all the big names, but at season's end, finished behind in-state rival Oklahoma State and Baylor, who both beat Oklahoma in their respective home stadiums. Grade: A

So, how would you grade me overall?

Wrapping up Week 1 in the Big 12

September, 3, 2011
9/03/11
11:33
PM CT

Here are some thoughts on Saturday's more drama-filled games.

Iowa State 20, Northern Iowa 19: This one? Well, it wasn't pretty. But Iowa State got the win with a brand-new quarterback and without its top playmaker from last year, Alexander Robinson. Steele Jantz was uninspired early, throwing three interceptions, but there's no denying what he did late. Facing a 4th-and-10, he hit Josh Lenz for a 26-yard score to go ahead late in the fourth quarter. He led a nine-play, 60-yard game-winning drive to take the lead for good in the final minute. Jantz's performance had warts all over it, but if you're an Iowa State fan, take those positives late as progress for Jantz. When he produces 267 yards of total offense, scores three touchdowns and gets a win in his first start ever, that's a good thing.

Kansas State 10, Eastern Kentucky 7: Kansas State is a more experienced team, but five turnovers against any team puts you in big danger, even when it's an FCS opponent. The Wildcats offense was actually third in the Big 12 last season, but still lacks a lot of explosiveness. Collin Klein finished with 13-of-21 for 128 yards and the game-winning, 33-yard touchdown pass to Chris Harper. Bryce Brown's stat line (three carries, 16 yards) is unavoidable, but K-State was able to run the ball. John Hubert and Klein combined for 169 yards on 42 carries, so it's clear this team's identity hasn't changed, as expected. Zone reads and ball control. It was ugly, but like Iowa State, a win is a win. Both of these teams are most likely on the outside of the bowl season, but it'll be close. Games like this have to be won.

Texas 34, Rice 9: Texas struggled early, but the offense came alive in the second half. You have to love what that kind of momentum could do heading into next week's game against BYU, who struggled Saturday at Ole Miss, but erased a 13-point lead against the Rebels in just over four minutes for a 14-13 win. Garrett Gilbert heard the boo birds, but finished 13-of-23 for 239 yards and a touchdown. Case McCoy played late but didn't complete either of his two passes. True freshman David Ash looks like he won't redshirt. He came in early on, but lined up at receiver. The Malcolm Brown Era is off to a great start with 86 yards on 16 carries. He had a fumble, but for a true freshman to do that in his first start -- against anyone -- is a fantastic sign for the Horns. Mike Davis also had a pair of 50-plus yard catches, finishing with three catches for 115 yards.

We'll run down the other four games shortly.

What to watch in the Big 12: Week 1

September, 1, 2011
9/01/11
12:00
PM CT
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.

Ten fearless predictions for 2011

August, 31, 2011
8/31/11
1:00
PM CT
Time to take the gloves off and venture into dangerous territory with some fearless predictions for the season.

Fearless as they may be, we're still all about accountability here.

Here's how I did on my fearless predictions from last season. We'll probably do a midseason update, too. You may have to remind me, though.

1. Texas will finish in the Big 12's top three in rushing offense. It's been a long while since we've seen the Longhorns do it, but the trio of Fozzy Whittaker, Joe Bergeron and Malcolm Brown puts the Longhorns over the top, aided by Bryan Harsin's offense and a renewed front five coached by Stacy Searels.

2. Missouri will win 10 games for the fourth time in five years. James Franklin gets it done for the Tigers, who don't make a ton of noise through the season, but still quietly finish the year with double digits in the win column.

3. Entering the season's final two weeks, Baylor will still be alive in the Big 12 title race. An improved defense and an improved Robert Griffin III (yes, that's still possible) help Baylor play the part of contender even later than it did in 2010.

4. The Big 12 will have three players invited to the Heisman ceremony. Two words of advice for Justin Blackmon, Landry Jones and Ryan Broyles: Shake Shack. Thank me later.

5. Iowa State will beat Iowa in Ames and start the season 3-0. Seneca Wallace would be proud. Steele Jantz and the Cyclones notch their first victory in the rivalry since 2007, then follow it up with a Friday night road win against a depleted UConn team.

6. Texas A&M will beat Texas by at least 14. And lose to Oklahoma by at least 21. Sorry, Aggies. You're a lot better than Texas this year, and a win will mean a lot more to you in the Lone Star Showdown, but if Oklahoma is undefeated heading into that game, you're walking into a buzzsaw.

7. Texas Tech will beat a team in the top 10. The Red Raiders knocked off Texas in 2008. They stunned Missouri last year. A maturing defense that's better than people think could spell trouble for A&M, Oklahoma State or Missouri.

8. Bryce Brown will not lead Kansas State in rushing. Arthur Brown will lead Kansas State in tackles. The Brown Brothers have attracted a lot of attention, and they're a fascinating story. Arthur Brown's speed offers the defense something it needs badly and can't get anywhere else. Bryce Brown? Well...

9. Kansas will have a winning record ... for awhile. It's a step in the right direction! Kansas lost its opener against North Dakota State and never got above .500, despite an upset win over Georgia Tech. This time, things will go a bit better.

10. Oklahoma will not lead the Big 12 in total offense. Oklahoma has the passing game to do it. But on the ground? The lack of a big-time running game will keep the Sooners out of the nation's elite when it comes to total yardage.

Big 12 power rankings: Week 1

August, 29, 2011
8/29/11
10:51
AM CT
Oh, yes. It is game week.

Today is Monday, which means we'll kick off our weekly power rankings and continue doing so each week throughout the season.

1. Oklahoma: The Sooners are clearly the class of the Big 12 but will have to start proving it early with a hyped trip to Tallahassee to face a Florida State team that yours truly thinks is a bit overrated. Saturday, though? Landry Jones and Ryan Broyles will open the season at home against an underrated Tulsa team that won more games in 2010 than Florida State but will travel to Norman perhaps without its top playmaker, Damaris Johnson. G.J. Kinne is great, but he'll have to be spectacular for the Golden Hurricane to be a serious threat.

2. Oklahoma State: The Cowboys gave college football fans a treat with the return of Brandon Weeden and Justin Blackmon, who will kick off their encore seasons against Louisiana-Lafayette, a team that spawned Weeden's trust in Blackmon originally last season. The opener should be a snoozer, but next week's rematch of the Alamo Bowl against Arizona could produce big fireworks on a Thursday night national broadcast.

3. Texas A&M: This is an absolute coin flip. Until the teams meet on Sept. 24, I'll probably flip OSU and A&M depending on who was more impressive the previous week. The Aggies will have the best chance to impress with a Sunday nighter against an underrated SMU team coming to Kyle Field with a crowd that could get a huge boost from the prospect of a future in the SEC, which might be announced later this week.

4. Missouri: We'll get our first real look at James Franklin when the Tigers suit up against Miami (Ohio). After struggling early in spring camp during his competition with Tyler Gabbert, Franklin has only gotten better. This week will be big for the Tigers' offensive line, which has to find a suitable replacement for stalwart left tackle Elvis Fisher, a 40-game starter who will miss the season with a torn patellar tendon. The Tigers' first big test is just six days from Saturday, when they travel to Tempe, Ariz.,to play Arizona State.

5. Baylor: Baylor's new-look defense will get a pretty good test from TCU. The Bears are the Big 12's lone team matched up with a ranked opponent in Week 1. A win against the defending Rose Bowl champs with the nation's eyes watching a Friday night ESPN broadcast could be a big coming-out party for Art Briles and Robert Griffin III on a national scale.

6. Texas: obody knows what to expect from the Longhorns, but we might find out who'll be starting at quarterback for the Horns later today. The defense, which has led the Big 12 in total defense the past four seasons, should still be stout in spite of a young secondary, but an amorphous offseason depth chart will take shape this week.

7. Texas Tech: There are a lot of new faces on the field for the Red Raiders, but Year 2 under Tommy Tuberville will probably get off to a yawn-worthy start with FCS Texas State heading to Lubbock for the opener. Tech is a bit of a wild card that might be as good as the league's fourth-best team. This is probably as low on the power rankings as you'll see the Red Raiders all season.

8. Kansas State: The Wildcats caught a break with Arthur Brown and Bryce Brown being given limited immunity by the NCAA and avoiding eligbility issues from the mess at Miami, but we'll finally get a chance to see K-State's hyped transfers take the field. Arthur Brown emerged as one of the defense's top playmakers during the spring, but what will Bryce Brown have to offer? And has Collin Klein improved enough as a passer to help the Wildcats claw into the next tier of Big 12 teams?

9. Iowa State: The Cyclones might be better than this, but they're going to have to prove it. No one above them in the power rankings finished with a worse record last season. The Big 12 had only one team (Kansas) that finished with a record worse than 5-7. New quarterback Steele Jantz, replacing three-year starter Austen Arnaud, should be fun to watch.

10. Kansas: Improvement is the name of the game for the Jayhawks, who dropped a game to an FCS team in Week 1 last year. It's doubtful we'll see a repeat against McNeese State this time around, but how much better will Kansas be? We'll get a better sense when the Jayhawks tangle with an underrated Northern Illinois team in Week 2 and ACC foe Georgia Tech the next week.

Thoughts on the media's All-Big 12 team

July, 19, 2011
7/19/11
3:56
PM CT
The Big 12 has released its All-Big 12 preseason team as voted on by the media, including yours truly.

Here's my ballot, for reference.

And here's the preseason team, in all its glory.

OFFENSE

QB: Landry Jones, Oklahoma
RB: Cyrus Gray, Texas A&M
RB: Bryce Brown, Kansas State
RB: Roy Finch, Oklahoma
WR: Justin Blackmon, Oklahoma State
WR: Ryan Broyles, Oklahoma
TE: Michael Egnew, Missouri
OL: Levy Adcock, Oklahoma State
OL: Kelechi Osemele, Iowa State
C: Ben Habern, Oklahoma
OL: Lonnie Edwards, Texas Tech
OL: Luke Joeckel, Texas A&M

DEFENSE

DL: Brad Madison, Missouri
DL: Ronnell Lewis, Oklahoma
DL: Kheeston Randall, Texas
DL: Frank Alexander, Oklahoma
LB: Travis Lewis, Oklahoma
LB: Jake Knott, Iowa State
LB: Keenan Robinson, Texas
DB: Coryell Judie, Texas A&M
DB: Markelle Martin, Oklahoma State
DB: Blake Gideon, Texas
DB: Demontre Hurst, Oklahoma

SPECIALISTS

K: Grant Ressel, Missouri
P: Quinn Sharp, Oklahoma State
KR: Coryell Judie, Texas A&M
PR: Ryan Broyles, Oklahoma

AWARDS

Offensive Player of the Year: Justin Blackmon, WR, OSU

Defensive Player of the Year: Travis Lewis, LB, Oklahoma

Newcomer of the Year: Malcolm Brown, RB, Texas

Selections by team: Oklahoma (9), Oklahoma State (4), Texas A&M (4), Missouri (3), Texas (3), Iowa State (2), Kansas State (1)

And a few thoughts:
  • Generally, I agree with most of the selections. Nothing was really shocking. Brandon Weeden vs. Landry Jones is pretty close to a coin flip, and let's not act surprised that the quarterback from the bigger program got the nod. Perception is reality, even if the numbers are so, so close. Jones has the Heisman hype coming into the season, certainly more than Weeden, based on little more than the possibility his team runs the table.
  • Running back is going to get a lot of attention, but let's not get riled up. This is going to sound bad, but believe me when I say I don't mean it to: Bryce Brown's selection is more an indictment of the returning talent at running back in the Big 12 than an endorsement of the hype surrounding Brown, who isn't even the clear-cut starter at K-State just yet. Here's what I wrote when I posted my ballot earlier this month. "The second running back spot is near impossible. Just about anyone might get it on the official vote when its revealed by the Big 12. You could realistically make a convincing case for James Sims, Eric Stephens, Joe Randle, Roy Finch and even newcomers like Malcolm Brown, Bryce Brown or Oklahoma's Brandon Williams. And that's the first team!" Well, there you go. For the record, I voted for Christine Michael, and still feel good about it.
  • Finch and Brown tied for votes, giving the Big 12 three running backs. There weren't three spots on the ballot. And it also explains how Malcolm Brown got Newcomer of the Year and Bryce Brown got first-team All-Big 12 running back, despite both being newcomers. It's a little confusing, I suppose, and maybe not everyone did it, but my guess is a lot of ballots had Finch as the first-team running back and Malcolm Brown as the Newcomer of the Year. Not all that surprising.
  • I originally had Luke Joeckel on my ballot, but took him off for Missouri's Elvis Fisher. I think Joeckel will end up being better, and maybe even by the end of this year, but right now, Fisher is the better lineman, and that's how I define the ballot. Perhaps others see it differently. There's no concrete rubric for this.
  • I'm not very surprised to see Ronnell Lewis and Blake Gideon grab spots on the team, though I voted for Tony Jerod-Eddie and Trent Hunter in those spots on my ballot. Second safety and defensive line were pretty tough for me to fill out. Neither spot is very deep in this league, and both Lewis and Gideon have two of the biggest names, which matters in a media vote.
  • Quite a huge gap between Oklahoma and the rest of the league. The Sooners had a lot of guys on my ballot that were close, but five more selections than anyone else in the league? That's impressive, and if ballot deadlines had been after Jamell Fleming's reinstatement, Oklahoma might have had 10 guys on the team. My ballot had Oklahoma State leading the way with seven selections, followed by Texas A&M with six and Oklahoma with five. My ballot also only had six teams represented. The media's Bryce Brown vote put Kansas State on the board, making it seven teams represented on the official team.

Your players guide to Big 12 media days

July, 18, 2011
7/18/11
3:36
PM CT
A week from today, college football will feel oh-so-close. The Big 12 will kick off its media days, slimmed down to two days with its new 10-team configuration, instead of 12 teams over three days like it's been in the past.

[+] EnlargeRobert Griffin III
Thomas Campbell/US PresswireBaylor's Robert Griffin III will be attending Big 12 media days after missing last year's event.
I'll be there for every second of the action, with plenty of stories and videos, just like last year. Here's a look at what we had for you every day at media days last year.

You can expect more of that, and here's who we'll be dealing with here in Dallas.

Monday, July 25

Baylor
Oklahoma State
Missouri

  • Jacquies Smith, DE
  • Kenji Jackson, S
  • Elvis Fisher, OL
  • T.J. Moe, WR
Texas

  • Emmanuel Acho, LB
  • Keenan Robinson, LB
  • Blake Gideon, S
  • Fozzy Whittaker, RB
Texas A&M
Tuesday, July 26

Kansas

  • Steven Johnson, LB
  • Tim Biere, TE
  • Jeremiah Hatch, OL
Iowa State
Kansas State
Oklahoma
Texas Tech

I've got a lot of thoughts about this lineup:

  • Texas' quarterbacks haven't spoken to the media since the Thanksgiving Day loss to Texas A&M, and that streak won't end next week. Not that it necessarily should, at least not at this event. For better or worse, bringing a quarterback to media days implies a certain amount of confidence in said player, and every indication we got during the spring is that this race is wide open. Last year, Texas Tech brought both Steven Sheffield and Taylor Potts, and Mack Brown raised eyebrows when he brought his first-year starter, Garrett Gilbert, to media days before fall camp and before his first-ever start. He won't be making a return trip in 2011.
  • Kansas State's contingent is rather telling. If Bill Snyder was trying to temper the hype surrounding Arthur Brown, he wouldn't bring the transfer who has never played a game for Kansas State to Dallas. But Brown is coming, and his brother, running back Bryce Brown, isn't. That's plenty telling. As is Collin Klein's presence. It's not like Kansas State is starved for marketable talents. Cornerback David Garrett would fit in nicely, but he won't be coming. It's not explicit, but Klein will enter fall camp with the lead in the quarterback race, but Snyder has to feel good about him at this point. Bryce Brown's role on this team is still a bit unclear with Robert Rose and John Hubert still competing with him for carries, but I'm still feeling very good about making Arthur Brown my pick for Big 12 Newcomer of the Year. Except for Texas Tech quarterback Seth Doege, he's the only player in the entire league to come to Big 12 Media Days without at least a season of starting experience, and Doege at least has one start on his resume.
  • Serious, serious star power in Oklahoma and Oklahoma State's crews. Some of the biggest names in college football will be heading down to Dallas from just up north across the state line. Landry Jones will be making his first trip this year, as will Justin Blackmon. Weeden, Lewis and Broyles all attended in 2010. Another good bunch from A&M this year, too.
  • Glad to see Iowa State bring Kelechi Osemele to Dallas. He's a quiet star in this league who's been one of its best linemen for a couple seasons now. He'll finally get a bit more exposure in his first trip to media days. I'm a little surprised to see ISU bring Darius Darks, though, instead of Darius Reynolds, who Paul Rhoads went out of his way to praise this spring. That said, Darks is a solid choice as a co-captain and a contributor for three seasons heading into 2011, vs. Reynolds, a high-profile juco transfer who only emerged as a major contributor in 2010 after a quiet 2009.
  • Baylor's Robert Griffin III is back on Baylor's wagon after sitting out last year's media days to give the cameras and notepads a chance to get to know his teammates (and avoid about 4,000 questions about his knee, which was clearly fine last season).

Big 12 position rankings: Running back

June, 22, 2011
6/22/11
8:49
AM CT
Here's the next in our look at the Big 12 rankings by position: Running backs.

Last year's class was one of the best in recent history, but this year's class? Unassuming to begin the season. There are a few possible stars looming, but very, very little talent returning. Cyrus Gray ranked seventh in rushing yards last year (thanks to an insane finish), but he's the only player returning to the Big 12 from the conferences' top 10 rushers in 2010.

That's nuts.

The Aggies are the only team with a truly elite backfield tandem, though I could see Oklahoma and/or Oklahoma State joining that group by the end of the year.

The rest of the league? Every team has at least a couple of players to get excited about, and teams 5-10 are all pretty close. No one is really understaffed at the position, but obviously, they're fit to be ranked.

Here's where I have them:

1. Texas A&M

[+] EnlargeTexas A&M's Cyrus Gray
AP Photo/Eric GayCyrus Gray had at least 100 yards rushing in each of A&M's final seven games last season.
I wouldn't have been surprised if Cyrus Gray and Christine Michael were the Big 12's top leading returning rushers this year, but a midseason injury from Michael prevented it from happening. Regardless, his return gives Texas A&M by far the best tandem in the Big 12, and arguably the best in the country. When Mister Jones isn't cranking the Counting Crows on his stereo, he's a pretty good reserve, alongside Ben Malena, who impressed me on my visit to College Station this spring.

2. Oklahoma

Oklahoma will try and replace do-everything forever (or whatever) back DeMarco Murray with a platoon likely led by shifty Florida native Roy Finch. True freshman Brandon Williams made a big impact in spring camp, and Brennan Clay will likely earn a few touches, too. Health concerns raise questions about a pair of other OU backs' knees (Jermie Calhoun, Jonathan Miller), but walk-on Dominique Whaley led the team in rushing in the spring game.

3. Oklahoma State

The Cowboys have a great pair in sophomores Joseph Randle and Jeremy Smith, and a nice set of backs to spell them if needed, too. Kye Staley, once a top-flight recruit, returned this spring after quitting the team following a severe knee injury, and might earn a few touches this spring. Also, Abilene, Texas, native and 2011 ESPNU 150 signee Herschel Sims arrives this fall and may jockey for time and the opportunity to shed a redshirt.

4. Missouri

What the Tigers lack in a truly elite back, they have in depth. Missouri has four backs who are all capable of being very good in the Big 12, even though neither of the four topped 600 yards a year ago. A big reason for that was none of the four got more than 100 carries, but with the carries they did get, every back averaged more than five yards per carry. The platoon approach works for Missouri, but senior De'Vion Moore and junior Kendial Lawrence will lead the way with sophomores Henry Josey and Marcus Murphy not far behind.

5. Kansas

[+] EnlargeKansas' James Sims
John Rieger/US PRESSWIREJames Sims is the No. 2 returning rusher in the Big 12 this season.
Running back will be a strength for Kansas next year, who might have found a second back this spring that perfectly complements power runner James Sims, a rising sophomore who racked up 742 yards last year after not playing in the opener. Believe it or not, he's the Big 12's No. 2 returning rusher, behind A&M's Gray. Darrian Miller burst onto the scene this spring, and figures to be a big part of the team in the fall. I see him being the Jayhawks' biggest home-run threat. DeShaun Sands and Brandon Bourbon offer even more depth at the position.

6. Texas Tech

The Red Raiders lose backfield constant Baron Batch, but have a good group lined up for 2011. Tommy Tuberville's effort to establish a more efficient running game is a realistic possibility with Eric Stephens as the likely feature back, and Aaron Crawford, Ben McRoy and Harrison Jeffers in the mix. True freshman Ronnie Daniels' strong spring likely earned him some time, too, rather than a redshirt.

7. Baylor

Baylor loses a 1,200-yard rusher in Jay Finley, and figures to use a thunder-and-lightning approach with 6-foot, 240-pound bowling ball Terrance Ganaway and shifty, 5-foot-9, 205-pound Jarred Salubi. Glasco Martin, a more balanced back, may earn a few carries, too. Regardless of who has the ball, life is good for Baylor backs, who get a bit more room from defenses that are forced to respect Robert Griffin III's legs.

8. Kansas State

The Wildcats' top two rushers, including two-time league rushing champ Daniel Thomas, are gone. Hopes are high for Wichita native and former blue-chip back Bryce Brown, but he's still entrenched in a position battle with John Hubert and Robert Rose heading into fall camp.

9. Texas

Texas brings back a pair of seniors in Fozzy Whittaker and Cody Johnson, but if the Longhorns are going to climb up this ladder by year's end (and they might) it's likely to be on the back of hyped incoming freshman Malcolm Brown, who is on campus and set to begin fall camp. D.J. Monroe might be the fastest player in the Big 12, but he'll have to master the nuances of pass blocking to get more than a few touches every game. Jeremy Hills can offer some depth at the position, too, after Tre Newton was forced to quit the game because of concussions.

10. Iowa State

Shontrelle Johnson showed some flash last year, but he still brings just 35 career carries into his 2011 effort to replace Alexander Robinson. Jeff Woody and James White offer a bit more depth, too. Florida native DeVondrick Nealy might get into the mix if he can put together a strong fall camp.

Which Big 12 player has the most impact?

May, 12, 2011
5/12/11
1:06
PM CT
We'll do this category a bit different. We're all about the wild cards here on the Big 12 blog. Fear of the unknown? How about the anticipation of the unknown?

In this poll, pick the unknown player that will have the most impact on the 2011 season. (alternate title for this poll: What can Brown do for you?)

Malcolm Brown is one of the nation's top running backs in the 2011 class, and appears to have an opportunity with a pair of underachieving seniors as the featured backs on campus. Can he be the guy to bring the Longhorns running game to life?

Bryce Brown was once a five-star running back prospect just like Malcolm Brown. But his career took a detour to Tennessee before he transferred back closer to his home in Wichita. Is he the answer to replace Daniel Thomas, running behind an offensive line that must replace three starters?

Sheldon Richardson is another former five star who had to go to junior college and committed to USC before re-committing and signing with Missouri. He's expected to be on campus this June, but once he arrives, will he be a game-changer?

Steele Jantz, aside from possessing the league's most intimidating name, is entrenched in a four-man race to be Iowa State's new quarterback. Is he the man to replace Austen Arnaud?

Arthur Brown, like his brother Bryce, was once one of the nation's top recruits, but signed with Miami. Also like his brother, he's back closer to home and made a big impact this spring. Will that continue through to the fall?
We'll kick off our polls with a look at which players across the league leave behind the biggest voids. Lots of big names stuck around for 2011, but others will take their talents to the NFL next season.

Von Miller is the only defensive player on the list, but can Texas A&M find a way to replace his one-of-a-kind combination of size and speed?

Kendall Hunter was a constant for the Cowboys last year, running for 100 yards nine times in 2010. Can Jeremy Smith and Joseph Randle fill in?

Blaine Gabbert left early, and his younger brother transferred earlier this week. Is James Franklin the answer?

DeMarco Murray scored more touchdowns than any player in Oklahoma history. Will the Sooners' committee approach to replacing him be enough to prevent a drop-off?

Despite having a struggling passing game, Daniel Thomas led the Big 12 in carries and rushing yards the last two seasons. Can Bill Snyder's team get back to a bowl game behind Bryce Brown and John Hubert?

Which player will be the toughest to replace?
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, Will Ford, Phil Bennett, Travis Lewis, Justin Blackmon, Roy Finch, 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

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