Dallas Colleges: DeAnthony Thomas

Three keys for Texas in Alamo Bowl

December, 30, 2013
12/30/13
4:00
PM CT
The Mack Brown era at Texas comes to a close Monday night during the Valero Alamo Bowl (5:45 p.m. CT, ESPN). Pac-12 power Oregon provides a stern test for the Longhorns as UT tries to send Brown out with a win.

Here are three keys for Texas:

Success on the ground. In Oregon’s two losses, to Arizona and Stanford, the Ducks allowed 289 rushing yards per game. In the Ducks' 10 wins, they allowed 139.4 rushing yards per contest. The Longhorns have a talented backfield with Malcolm Brown and Joe Bergeron, so Texas could try to take the Ducks’ explosive offense out of the game by ramming the ball down the throat of their West Coast opponent, much like Stanford did. UT’s chances of success can’t rest solely on the shoulders of Case McCoy.

Slow the Ducks' tempo. Few offenses can operate as quickly and efficiently as the Ducks. Oregon finished among the top five nationally in points per game, yards per game and yards per play. Texas must figure out a way to slow their offense. The best way would be getting consistent pressure on Ducks quarterback Marcus Mariota, so Big 12 co-defensive player of the year Jackson Jeffcoat will need to show why he earned that honor.

Big plays. UT’s destiny in this game depends on big plays, both creating them and preventing them. Texas must limit an Oregon offense which had 27.7 percent of its plays go for 10 yards or more, second in the FBS. Ducks running back De'Anthony Thomas is a big-play machine and the rest of the attack is full of speed and athletes. Fortunately for UT, the Longhorns match better than most teams with their athletes on both sides of the ball. Only 16.9 of UT's plays went for 10 yards or more so if the Longhorns find a way to have more explosive plays than Oregon their chances of winning will skyrocket.

Valero Alamo Bowl roundtable

December, 30, 2013
12/30/13
1:30
PM CT
Pac-12 reporter Kevin Gemmell and Texas reporter Max Olson break down the biggest storylines in Monday’s Valero Alamo Bowl matchup featuring Texas and No. 10 Oregon:

How do you think Mack Brown's resignation affects this game?

Max Olson: Throughout the past few weeks, Brown has stuck to the same message publicly: Texas players should win this game for themselves, not for their coach. They’ve had a brutal season, overcome plenty and have a chance to cap it with a ninth win and a few good memories. Brown keeps saying he wants this to be about the kids, not him.

What we’ll get out of kids, though, I just don’t know. They’ve been big underdogs before. They came out firing against Oklahoma and built real momentum. They held Baylor to 3 points in the first half but ran out of gas. Which Texas team shows up Monday? They’ll need plenty of motivation and good fortune.

Kevin Gemmell: My first thought was that this was going to be a huge motivation advantage for Texas -- and I’m a big believer that the bowl season is all about which team is motivated to be there. But I think the recent news that Oregon defensive coordinator Nick Aliotti is also retiring balances things out in the Oregon locker room. While he’s not as big of a name nationally as Brown, he’s as much an Oregon institution as Brown is to Texas.

Both pregame speeches will be rousing. Heartstrings will be tugged. But ultimately it comes down to what happens on the field. If Oregon is able to set aside its disappointment of not being in a BCS game, then who is coaching on which sideline shouldn't matter because on paper Oregon is the stronger team.

What should be expected of a 100-percent healthy Marcus Mariota?

Gemmell: For starters, an extra element to the Oregon offense that makes them that much tougher to stop. Consider Mariota in the first seven games of the season before his knee injury. He averaged 70.4 rushing yards per game and scored nine touchdowns -- including at least one rushing touchdown in all seven games. Since hurting the knee against UCLA, he’s averaged just 17.8 rushing yards with zero rushing touchdowns.

He also threw four interceptions in the final two games after going pick-free for the first 10, so aside from his rushing abilities -- which are substantial -- his throwing mechanics should be much stronger. I’m of the belief that when he’s 100 percent healthy, Mariota is the best football player in the country. And if Texas gets a 100 percent Mariota, he’s going to be very, very difficult to stop.

Olson: Mariota is one of the many reasons why this is just not a good matchup for Texas, especially considering its defense has had legitimate issues defending the option against mobile quarterbacks. Of quarterbacks who started the last two seasons, nobody in the country has a better Total QBR than Mariota at 89.0. He’s the real deal. I fully expect him to put up big numbers in the Alamodome, and it’ll be interesting to see how Texas defends him, probably with Jackson Jeffcoat reprising his freestyle “spinner” role.

Who will be the key player in this game?

Olson: If you’ve been following this Texas team, you know the key isn’t getting a huge performance from Case McCoy. Yes, he needs to play relatively mistake-free and hit on the big passes when they’re there. But Texas doesn’t stand a chance in this one without a big night from Malcolm Brown.

The San Antonio native had rushed for 421 yards in the four games since Texas lost Johnathan Gray, including 118 in the first half against Baylor. He did a terrific job of hitting cutback lanes against the Bears, and run defense hasn’t been a strength for Oregon. Brown needs to get rolling or Texas could fall behind quickly.

Gemmell: Take your pick from any number of superstars on both sides of the ball for Oregon. Be it Mariota, Josh Huff or Byron Marshall. Defensively, cornerback Ifo Ekpre-Olomu is as lockdown as they come. But the guy who always seems to show up in the postseason is De’Anthony Thomas.

Last season against Kansas State in the Tostitos Fiesta Bowl, he returned the opening kickoff 94 yards for a touchdown, caught four balls for 60 yards and a score and rushed twice for 15 yards. In the 2011 Rose Bowl Game presented by Vizio, he carried twice for 155 yards and two touchdowns in the win over Wisconsin. He also caught four balls for 34 yards and returned five kicks for 125 yards. Thomas is a big-game player with blazing speed and scary elusiveness. When he’s hitting on all cylinders, he’s a difference maker.

Passing out some Big 12 Christmas gifts

December, 24, 2012
12/24/12
2:00
PM CT
Christmas is only a few hours away, but I hope you've been shopping for your favorite folks across the league. Here's a wish list for a handful of folks across the Big 12.

Charlie Weis: A quarterback. Kansas made some big upgrades to its team via the juco ranks, but this is the Big 12. None of it will matter much if BYU transfer Jake Heaps doesn't pan out and become the player Weis hoped he would be when he brought him to Lawrence. Maybe Michael Cummings makes life interesting, but Heaps has heaps of starting experience, and if KU is going to get any better, it has to be much, much better at the quarterback spot after the Dayne Crist Experiment turned out to be a bust.

Oklahoma State fans: Forgiveness and selective memory. Yes, Oklahoma State fans, Mike Gundy disagreed with AD Mike Holder on scheduling philosophy and flirted with Tennessee and Arkansas to the point that some erroneous reports had him accepting the job as the new head Hog. Yes, he almost ruined a hugely beneficial relationship on both sides, but in the process, he damaged it some. Don't hold it against him. He says he gets along with Holder on "95 percent" of what they talk about as it relates to Oklahoma State. OSU gave him opportunities he wouldn't have gotten elsewhere, like becoming a position coach at 23 years old, and becoming a head coach at 36. He provided the program something no other coach could in a long, long time: An outright conference title. Focus on that, not on the aggravations of the offseason.

Kansas State's defense: Rocket-powered roller skates. This Oregon offense is no joke, and they've got backs faster and more talented than anything Kansas State has seen all season in the Big 12. De'Anthony Thomas and Kenjon Barner are going to be a handful, and quarterback Marcus Mariota has wheels of his own. Kansas State's defense might need a little help keeping up.

Oklahoma's defense: A dash of extra self-discipline. Speaking of keeping up, Oklahoma better subscribe to the LSU and Florida School of Johnny Football Defense. That is to say, keep contain and make him throw to beat you. If he gets loose in the secondary, it's going to be a long, long day for the Sooners. Keep him under wraps and in the pocket, and the Sooners will have a great shot to force a few turnovers (something they've struggled to do all season) and get a big win for the Big 12.

Iowa State linebacker Jake Knott: A hug. Shoulder surgery ended his career early, but everybody in the Big 12 respects what Knott did over his fantastic career. His leadership and toughness are rivaled by few to ever play in this league. He'll have to be in Memphis watching his fellow seniors close out their careers on the field. That's not easy to watch. Give him a hug and a pat on the back on the way to the NFL Combine. Best of luck, Jake.

Texas Tech fans: A chill pill. Excitement is through the roof in Lubbock, and Tech fans are dreaming of titles as season tickets fly out the door and fans celebrate Kliff Kingsbury's hire in the streets. Give the man time, though, and don't expect him to start racking up Big 12 titles right away. Maybe he will. I'm not saying he won't. I'm just saying the relationship between Kingsbury and Tech has a chance to be really, really special. He's still young, and still going to be learning how to run an entire program where he's making all the decisions. Give him time if it starts out rough, and don't force upon him crazy expectations.

West Virginia: Some new enemies. The poor Mountaineers didn't really find anybody to hate in their first season in the Big 12. TCU rekindled their old Southwest Conference ready-made rivalries with Texas and Texas Tech and Baylor, but the Mountaineers might get a little something going eventually with Tech (John Denver Bowl), Oklahoma State (Dana Holgorsen Bowl) or others. It doesn't help when you're getting stomped by both, and beaten by a bunch of others. For now, they'll have to settle with facing old friend from the Big East, Syracuse, in the Pinstripe Bowl.

TCU's young talents: Earplugs. The Frogs are very young and very, very promising. Over the next eight months, prepare to hear a whole lot about how good the Frogs will be, especially if Casey Pachall shows up in spring camp with his same old arm and a new way of seeing life. The freshmen and sophomore-heavy crew can't listen to it, though. That's the surest way to make it nothing more than hype.

Texas: No more Heisman mistakes in Texas. I really do feel bad for Texas. They recruit by selecting more than recruiting, and a whole lot of guys are going to be left wanting to go to Texas but not going to Texas. Offering guys like RG3 and Manziel to play defensive back while Case McCoy and David Ash hold down the quarterback spot at Texas? It's not a good look for the Longhorns. Some better quarterback evaluations are necessary, but there are a lot of good quarterbacks in the state and not all of them can go to Texas. The Longhorns would love it if guys who don't end up at Texas would stop winning Heismans.

Big 12 Heisman Watch: Week 9

October, 23, 2012
10/23/12
9:39
AM CT
Here are the Big 12's best opportunities to bring home the Heisman this season:

1. Collin Klein, QB, Kansas State: Klein is the new front-runner for the award, and largely stands alone atop the standings. He threw for a career-high 323 yards and accounted for seven touchdowns in Saturday's 55-14 win over then-No. 13 West Virginia.

2. Geno Smith, QB, West Virginia: Smith hit rock bottom this week and WVU's offense is reeling, but he's still got good numbers, and if he gets back on his previous pace, he might play his way back to the ceremony and who knows, maybe more. Can't emphasize enough how much football is still left to play, and his ratio of 26 touchdowns to two picks is still impressive.

3.Seth Doege, QB, Texas Tech: Doege had a terrible outing in the loss to Oklahoma, but he's been lights-out just about every other week. If Texas Tech springs the upset in Manhattan this week, you might see Doege get some Heisman hype, especially if he plays well. He leads the nation with 28 touchdown passes and is third in the Big 12 with 2,209 passing yards with just seven interceptions.

4. Landry Jones, QB, Oklahoma: Jones has played fantastic football these past three weeks. Blake Bell is still vulturing touchdowns, which hurts Jones' case, but he's kept a low profile this season and could make a late-season charge if the Sooners keep winning. His numbers still aren't fantastic, though. He's fifth in the Big 12 in yards and ninth in completion percentage, though he's thrown 12 touchdowns to three interceptions.

5. Joseph Randle, RB, Oklahoma State: Randle's been pretty consistent this season and he's all alone at the top of the Big 12 rushing race. He has 765 yards and eight scores, and averages 127.5 yards a game on the ground. No other back averages more than 94. If OSU makes a late-season run, he'll get into the mix, especially considering OSU's quarterback injuries.

Here's how I voted in this week's ESPN Heisman Watch, and did so with the belief that there's really only one player in the country right now who's played well enough to really deserve the award:
  1. Collin Klein, QB, Kansas State
  2. DeAnthony Thomas, RB, Oregon
  3. Manti Te'o, LB, Notre Dame
  4. Braxton Miller, QB, Ohio State
  5. Geno Smith, QB, West Virginia

Big 12 Heisman Watch: Week 7

October, 9, 2012
10/09/12
9:51
AM CT
Here are the Big 12's best hopes for a Heisman after six weeks of football:

1. Geno Smith, QB, West Virginia: Smith is all alone in this race for now. It's a long season, but after EJ Manuel and Aaron Murray suffered losses this past weekend, Smith would win the award in an absolute landslide if it were distributed this week. He had two fumbles against Texas, but threw four TDs and has thrown 30 touchdowns since his last interception, dating to last season's final regular-season game, Dec. 1 against South Florida. This year, he's got 24 TD passes and no picks.

2. Collin Klein, QB, Kansas State: Klein got my No. 2 vote this week, but he's definitely in the mix to win this, and would be in New York if voting were held this weekend. A simple win might not be enough, but Klein might become a co-leader of this race if he goes to Morgantown Oct. 20 and wins. For now, he's got to go to Ames and beat a good Iowa State team.

3. Tavon Austin, WR/KR, West Virginia: Austin turned his first five touches into 166 total yards Saturday against Texas, including a pair of long kick returns and an unbelievable 40-yard touchdown on fourth-and-4 that was the best play of the weekend in the Big 12. He caught 10 passes for 102 yards, and his two kick returns went for 111 yards.

4. Joseph Randle, RB, Oklahoma State: Randle leads the Big 12 in rushing, and if Oklahoma State makes a run later this season, he might get in the Heisman mix, too. Casey Pachall and David Ash took a tumble on this list, and Randle moves up, despite being off last week.

5. Stedman Bailey, WR, West Virginia: Bailey was money against Texas, catching touchdowns on three of his eight grabs in the win over the Longhorns. He finished with 75 yards, and the Longhorns simply couldn't cover him in the red zone.

6. David Ash, QB, Texas: The Longhorns lost Saturday, but it wasn't because of Ash. In a 48-45 loss to West Virginia, he completed 22 of 29 passes for 269 yards, a touchdown and no interceptions. He takes a tumble down this list, but he's still third nationally in passer rating.

Here's how I voted in this week's ESPN Heisman Watch, a panel of 15 voters comprising ESPN experts and analysts.
  1. Geno Smith, QB, West Virginia
  2. Collin Klein, QB, Kansas State
  3. Braxton Miller, QB, Ohio State
  4. Manti Te'o, LB, Notre Dame
  5. De'Anthony Thomas, RB, Oregon

Big 12 Heisman Watch: Week 6

October, 2, 2012
10/02/12
3:00
PM CT


We've played five weeks of football, and here are the Big 12's best hopes at bringing the Heisman back to the league for a second consecutive season.

1. Geno Smith, QB, West Virginia: Smith played one of the best games we've seen in a long time in a 70-63 win over Baylor, and finds himself all alone and way ahead of the pack in the Heisman race. If voting happened today, Smith might collect every No. 1 vote from across the country. Who else is even in the mix at this point? Smith has four more touchdown passes than anybody else and leads the passer rating statistic by more than 20 points. At this point, he's playing even better than RG3 did a year ago. There's a lot of football left to play, and Smith has a lot of tough opponents ahead. This race is far from over, but there's no doubt about the front-runner right now.

2. Collin Klein, QB, Kansas State: Klein was off last week, but he's definitely in the mix for this race, too. He won't be able to make any moves this week against Kansas, but his stock probably will parallel Kansas State's record. Klein isn't able to put up the type of numbers Smith can.

3. David Ash, QB, Texas: Ash looks like a new man this year, and debuts on the Big 12 Heisman Watch this week after a 300-yard game with a handful of clutch throws in a 41-36 win over Oklahoma State on the road. So far, Ash is second in the Big 12 in passer rating and second in completion percentage, with the league's second-best touchdown-interception ratio. Ash has 10 scores and threw his first interception on Saturday in Stillwater.

4. Casey Pachall, QB, TCU: Pachall got stuck in a downpour Saturday night, and had his worst game in a long time. The Frogs got the win, but you can't take a lot from Pachall's numbers, which didn't affect his stock all that much. For now, TCU is just hanging around. Pachall's stock will either skyrocket or crash and burn on the final half of TCU's schedule.

5. Tavon Austin, WR/KR, West Virginia: Austin leads the Big 12 with 48 catches and he's third in the league with 560 yards. He has been quiet this year in the return game, but to this point, Stedman Bailey's probably been even better than Austin. Still, without return yardage, Bailey's got no shot to win. Justin Blackmon has taught us this. The Biletnikoff, though? Bailey's in the driver's seat.

Here's how I voted in this week's ESPN Heisman Watch, a weekly poll of 15 ESPN experts and analysts:
  1. Geno Smith, QB, West Virginia
  2. E.J. Manuel, QB, Florida State
  3. Collin Klein, QB, Kansas State
  4. De'Anthony Thomas, RB, Oregon
  5. Aaron Murray, QB, Georgia

Big 12 Heisman Watch: Week 5

September, 25, 2012
9/25/12
10:30
AM CT
Here are the Big 12's best hopes for the Heisman through four weeks of football:

1. Geno Smith, QB, West Virginia: Smith is the front-runner for the entire race, and with that come a whole lot of eyes. He has yet to throw an interception this year and has accounted for 13 touchdowns. Smith completed 30-of-43 passes for 338 yards and three touchdowns in a 31-21 win over Maryland. His completion percentage came down to earth, but he was still pretty good, despite being pressured more than he had all season. The reason: WVU's running game stalled without Shawne Alston.

2. Collin Klein, QB, Kansas State: Klein helped engineer the Wildcats' 24-19 win over Oklahoma with another solid game, even if his numbers aren't going to turn any heads. He's easily in the national top five for the Heisman after completing 13-of-21 passes for 149 yards and running 17 times for 79 yards and a touchdown.

3. Tavon Austin, WR, West Virginia: Austin had his best game of the year in the win over Maryland, catching 13 passes for 179 yards and three touchdowns, earning the Big 12's player of the week honors. Austin's start/stop acumen was on display, and he's easily the quickest guy in the Big 12.

4. Casey Pachall, QB, TCU: Pachall makes his debut on our Big 12 Heisman Watch. It's still early for the Frogs, but despite some turnover issues in the red zone, Pachall has been really, really good and really underrated on the national scene so far this season. He completed 21-of-32 passes for 305 yards and three touchdowns and an interception last week. Pachall is completing 76 percent of his passes with eight touchdowns, and the interception was his first of the season.

Here's how I voted in our ESPN Heisman Watch this week, a panel of 15 voters that previews the award each week:
  1. Geno Smith, QB, WVU
  2. EJ Manuel, QB, Florida State
  3. Collin Klein, QB, Kansas State
  4. De'Anthony Thomas, RB, Oregon
  5. Aaron Murray, QB, Georgia

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.

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