Dallas Colleges: Isaiah Anderson
2012 Big 12 record: 5-4
Returning starters: Offense: 7; defense: 7; kicker/punter: 0
Top returners: QB Clint Chelf, WR Josh Stewart, CB Justin Gilbert, LB Shaun Lewis, LB Caleb Lavey, WR Blake Jackson, DT Calvin Barnett, S Daytawion Lowe, DE Tyler Johnson
Key losses: RB Joseph Randle, LB Alex Elkins, K/P/KOS Quinn Sharp, CB Brodrick Brown, DE Nigel Nicholas, WR Isaiah Anderson
2012 statistical leaders (*returners)
Passing: Clint Chelf* (1,588 yards)
Rushing: Joseph Randle (1,417 yards)
Receiving: Josh Stewart* (1,210 yards)
Tackles: Alex Elkins, Daytawion Lowe* (75)
Sacks: Tyler Johnson* (4)
Interceptions: Lyndell Johnson*, Daytawion Lowe*, Shamiel Gary* (2)
1. The defense's intentions are clear. Bill Young is out. Glenn Spencer is in, and he's all about playing aggressive. Tight coverage and blitzes are the name of the game, and we'll see if it pays off in a Big 12 lacking in quarterback experience. Last season, OSU's parade of turnovers came to an end, but Spencer seems intent on bringing it back. Nobody's stopping Big 12 offenses, but forcing turnover and holding teams to three in the red zone are how you succeed on defense in this league.
2. The offensive line is set ... for now. Center Evan Epstein and guard Lane Taylor are gone, but the Pokes are going with youth at left tackle in sophomore Devin Davis, moving last year's left tackle, Parker Graham, to left guard. Meanwhile, junior Jake Jenkins is sliding up to take Epstein's spot at center. That's how it ended in the spring, but OL coach Joe Wickline is kind of unpredictable, so those guys better continue to bring it in fall camp.
3. Athletic director Mike Holder is still running the show. Gundy and Holder had a disagreement on scheduling that nearly ended with Gundy packing his bags to succeed Derek Dooley in Knoxville. But Gundy's displeasure with Holder helping schedule Mississippi State this year and Florida State next year -- both on neutral fields -- hasn't changed much. OSU just announced a future home-and-home with Boise State. Who knows what Boise will look like then, but the intent is clear: Holder wants attention-grabbing, money-making games to start the season, not home games against patsies to help OSU run up an easy 3-0 mark before conference play begins.
1. Seriously, what's the deal at quarterback? Chelf is the safe bet at quarterback, but Gundy reneged on a statement midway through spring that he would hold onto his starting spot in Week 1 ahead of J.W. Walsh and Wes Lunt. Now, Gundy says the starter for Game 1 hasn't been decided, and quarterbacks are off limits to the media with no updates being given until after the season opener. We'll see if Gundy sticks to it, and if Chelf hangs onto the starting job he earned with strong play to close 2012.
2. Is Oklahoma State a new Big 12 power? The Pokes broke through and won a title in 2011, but one title doesn't mean anything in the big picture. OSU is in position to win another and just may be the league favorite to start the season. They are in my book for sure. Two Big 12 titles in three seasons? That's serious, and the Pokes have a chance to do some special things this season.
3. Is Mike Yurcich the next super coordinator at OSU? Mike Gundy's been a head coach less than a decade, but his coaching tree is already way underrated. He's churning out head coaches year after year, highlighted by guys like Dana Holgorsen at West Virginia, Larry Fedora at North Carolina and Tim Beckman at Illinois. Todd Monken just left for Southern Miss, and if Yurcich, who stepped into the new role from a Division II school, keeps the pace for this offense, I'm betting he may attract interest before too long, too. Watching how he handles Year 1 will be interesting. Monken came from being an NFL position coach and made parlaying that into a head coaching job look easy.
Best offensive performance: Stedman Bailey, WR, West Virginia. West Virginia got stuck in a snowstorm in New York City, and producing offense in that wasn't easy. Still, Bailey put together the best performance, grabbing seven passes for 126 yards and two touchdowns in the Mountaineers' loss to Syracuse.
Best play: David Ash, QB, Texas. Ash was nearly dragged down in the backfield, but somehow slipped out of a sack and rolled to his left to extend the play. Running back Johnathan Gray leaked out of the backfield, and Ash threw a perfect strike across his body and hit Gray in the hands for a 15-yard touchdown pass to get the Longhorns to within three points midway through the fourth quarter. Honorable mention: Ash's 36-yard bomb to Marquise Goodwin to take the lead with 36 seconds to play.
Biggest impact play: D.J. Johnson, S, Texas Tech. The Red Raiders hadn't forced a turnover since Oct. 20, but Johnson intercepted a pass in the final minute, returning it 39 yards to set up a game-winning field goal. Minnesota was driving in a tie game, but the Red Raiders' late flurry produced an unlikely comeback win.
Best catch: Isaiah Anderson, WR, Oklahoma State. Anderson caught five balls for 78 yards, but his crazy, spinning, aerial catch in the back of the end zone for a 37-yard touchdown put OSU up 45-0 and provided the best highlight of the Big 12 bowl season.
Worst play: Cornelius Lucas, OL, Kansas State. Kansas State faced a fourth-and-1 at Oregon's 18, but tried to draw Oregon offside and probably planned to go for it anyway after taking a timeout. The Wildcats trailed 15-10, but Lucas inexplicably moved early on a play that probably never would have happened. It backed up Kansas State five yards, and the powerful short-yardage offense couldn't go for it. Anthony Cantele missed the 40-yard kick that ensued, and Oregon answered with a quick touchdown before half to go up 12.
Most boneheaded play: Jace Amaro, TE, Texas Tech. Amaro, who might be Tech's most talented player, missed half the season with a rib injury. He finally got to return, but he didn't seem to take that privilege very seriously. Right in front of an official, he pinned a Minnesota defender and threw a punch. He drew a flag and was ejected, but that flag backed up Texas Tech from the Golden Gophers' 1-yard line to the 16. The ensuing field goal was blocked, and Tech needed a late-game rally to win.
Craziest reaction to a boneheaded play: Texas Tech. According to a report from Don Williams of the Lubbock Avalanche-Journal, Texas Tech officials had to relay a message to Amaro telling him not to tweet about his ejection. Hours later, he tweeted a weak apology: "I want to apologize for being ejected. As bad as it seems, which it does, I had no intention of a punch. But the idea to get off of him," he wrote.
Best moment: Ash gets the win. It was an emotional bowl week full of distractions for Texas' team as two players were sent home after a police investigation into an alleged sexual assault. Texas' offense struggled for much of the first half, but Ash got hot late and capped the game with a 36-yard touchdown pass over the top to the speedy Goodwin. It gave Texas a huge win, the Big 12's best win of the entire season.
Worst moment: Michigan State takes the game back. TCU inexplicably blew a 13-0 lead when Michigan State's offense came alive, but Jaden Oberkrom gave the Frogs hope with a 53-yard kick to get the lead back, 16-14. It didn't last long. Michigan State strung together a drive and with 61 seconds to play, Dan Conroy boomed a 47-yard kick to take the wind out of TCU's sails after a difficult, emotional season.
Worst moment: Belldozer and Brennan Clay prove to be a pain
Bedlam was one of the most fun games of the year, but Blake Bell scored in the final seconds on fourth down to force overtime, and facing a three-point deficit in overtime, Brennan Clay bowled over Oklahoma State's defense for an 18-yard, game-winning touchdown that set off one of the biggest celebrations ever at Owen Field. The Pokes rushed the field to celebrate a Big 12 title against the Sooners last season, and OU gave the Pokes a little taste of that this time around, though the fans didn't storm the field. The team did, and in the process, Oklahoma State was eliminated from BCS contention and Big 12 title contention, despite leading by 14 points early and 11 points late in the third quarter. It was a great game from the standpoint of a college football fan, but a painful, painful loss for the OSU faithful.
Best moment: Oklahoma State's rout party continues
The Cowboys lost to both Big 12 title winners this season and narrowly escaped one-win KU in Lawrence, but against the teams in the middle of the standings? Oklahoma State was simply dominant. The Cowboys rolled to a 38-point win against Texas Tech, highlighted by three long touchdown catches by Isaiah Anderson in the second quarter on the way to a 35-7 lead in the eventual 59-21 rout. OSU beat TCU, Iowa State and West Virginia by at least three touchdowns, and sandwiched around a tough loss to K-State, those wins made it very easy to believe that Oklahoma State could make a run at a Big 12 title in the season's final two games.
More best and worst of 2012:
Landry Jones, QB, Oklahoma: West Virginia has played the Big 12 Offensive Player of the Week in its past four games. That's not quite a coincidence. Jones is in line to become the fifth. He set a school record with 554 yards on 38-of-51 passing and threw six touchdowns in Oklahoma's 50-49 win over West Virginia in Morgantown. His final score of the night was a 5-yarder to Kenny Stills, who caught four on the evening and won the game with just 24 seconds to play.
Sam Richardson, QB, Iowa State: The freshman had been waiting all season long for his chance, and he took advantage when Paul Rhoads gave it to him. He broke out in a huge way in Iowa State's 51-23 win over Kansas, completing 23-of-27 passes for 250 yards and four touchdowns without an interception. He also ran for 43 yards and a touchdown to get the Cyclones bowl eligible for the third time in four years. Four of his touchdowns were in a crazy second quarter that helped Iowa State race to a 38-17 halftime lead.
Zack Craig, S, Oklahoma State: When you're hot, you're hot. Craig blocked two Texas Tech punts and returned the second one 30 yards for a touchdown during Oklahoma State's 59-21 win over Texas Tech. For any special teamer, that's a fantastic season. Craig called it Saturday. He added a tackle for loss on defense. That's quite the performance.
Isaiah Anderson, WR, Oklahoma State: Anderson didn't touch the ball in the second half, and only touched it five times in the first. Sometimes, that's all that's necessary. He scored touchdowns on three of his four catches and finished with 174 yards. He scored on plays of 60, 66 and 33 yards and added a 26-yard run on his only carry of the game, an end around.
Baylor's offensive line: Can't really give it to one back or one player on Baylor's team in Saturday's 52-24 evisceration of Kansas State. The big uglies up front took care of business and treated K-State's front seven like nobody had all season long. The Bears ran for 342 yards and five touchdowns and averaged 7 yards a carry on the Big 12's No. 2 rushing defense. Nick Florence wasn't sacked, and scoring 52 points on this K-State defense isn't easy. Every Baylor skill position player was in awe at their performance after the game.
Tavon Austin, RB/WR/KR, West Virginia: Normally, helmet stickers are reserved solely for players on winning teams, but I couldn't resist here. Austin put on one of the greatest shows in Big 12 history in the 50-49 loss to Oklahoma. In his first game at running back, he rushed 21 times for 344 yards and two touchdowns. He also caught four passes for 82 yards and returned eight kicks for 146 yards. That's 572 all-purpose yards in one game. Are you kidding me?
Johnny Manziel, QB, Texas A&M: Johnny Football just keeps putting on a show every week. In the Aggies’ 47-28 win over Sam Houston State, he passed for three touchdowns and ran for two touchdowns and just may have taken the lead in the Heisman Trophy race. The only thing he did wrong was miss an extra point in the third quarter. Manziel became the fifth player and first freshman in FBS history to pass for 3,000 yards and rush for 1,000 yards in the same season. -- Chris Low
Either way, Iowa State was the lone speed bump that derailed Oklahoma State's run to spot in the national title game last season, and the Cowboys earned a little revenge with a 31-10 win against No. 24 Iowa State.
It felt a little weird to see the Cyclones play on the road as a ranked team against an unranked Oklahoma State squad, but the Cowboys clearly looked like the better team, despite playing without receivers Tracy Moore and Isaiah Anderson, two of the team's top five receivers.
Charlie Moore filled the void, grabbing eight balls for 129 yards, including a 74-yard touchdown catch. He entered the game with just 11 catches for 191 yards.
The Iowa State defense slowed Joseph Randle for most of the day, but he set up Oklahoma State's fourth touchdown of the day with a 62-yard run down to the Iowa State 14-yard line. He finished with 151 yards on 24 carries with a pair of scores.
Wes Lunt didn't play, but J.W. Walsh joined him as a 400-yard passer this season, completing 32-of-47 passes for 415 yards and a touchdown without an interception. Lunt is still day-to-day, but you have to wonder if the redshirt conversation has to be coming if Lunt can't get back on the field.
It's a good win for the Pokes, who move to 4-2 and get their best win of 2012 by far. Iowa State falls to 4-3 and likely out of the BCS standings, but the Cyclones will certainly be in the mix for that sixth win to reach a third bowl in four years under Paul Rhoads.
Iowa State, though, has to figure out its quarterback issues first. OSU's defense has struggled for much of the season, but Iowa State's decision to shuffle in Steele Jantz late for Jared Barnett wasn't effective. Outside of Kansas, Iowa State might have the worst quarterback situation in the Big 12. You can't expect to make a bowl game looking like that.
The win is Mike Gundy's 63rd at Oklahoma State, passing his former coach Pat Jones as the winningest coach in school history.
It's about to get a lot tougher for an unproven Oklahoma State team, though. Just how good are the Cowboys? We'll find out over the next month with five more ranked teams waiting. Today was just the first of six games vs. teams in this week's BCS rankings. The Pokes host No. 23 TCU next week before traveling to No. 4 Kansas State and later hosting Nos. 13 West Virginia and 17 Texas Tech. The stretch ends in Norman vs. No. 9 Oklahoma.
The rest of the Big 12 will soon see exactly what the reigning champs are made of.
1. The Cowboys offense is set up for Wes Lunt to succeed. Most importantly, the bulk of the Cowboys offensive line returns, as does coach Joe Wickline. Never underestimate the power of an extra second in the pocket. Those add up over time. He's got arguably the league's best 1-2 punch at running back in Joseph Randle and Jeremy Smith, and though his receivers aren't the most experienced, they're hardly green, and he's got lots of targets who will be productive, starting with Josh Stewart, Tracy Moore and Isaiah Anderson. There's no Justin Blackmon or Brandon Weeden in this offense, but Lunt should do well, and he'll have loads of help.
3. The Cowboys know what it takes to win a Big 12 title. Never underestimate the ability of a team that knows what it's like to reach the summit. No, Oklahoma State is not the best team in the Big 12 to begin the season, but it's stocked full of players who know what it takes to be that team. My guess is they're willing to push the rest of the team to that level if the players who need to step up are able to match that effort. You can't duplicate experience, but last year OSU broke the Oklahoma-Texas duopoly that dominated this league. The pieces are in place for the Cowboys to have a reasonable shot to do it again.
Why Oklahoma State won't win the Big 12
1. They're starting a true freshman at quarterback. The offense that Dana Holgorsen brought to Stillwater in 2010 is much simpler than what it ran when Mike Gundy was in charge of the offense piloted by Zac Robinson, but Lunt is still a true freshman. He'll make plays, and he'll make mistakes -- probably too many to ultimately win a title. History is absolutely against him. Only two first-year starting quarterbacks have won Big 12 titles, to say nothing of true freshmen, which has never been done, even if there have only been a handful of true freshmen to start in this league.
2. The turnover avalanche won't be quite as plentiful. Oklahoma State forces turnovers. Period. That's what the defense does. Last season, when the Cowboys forced an FBS-best 44 turnovers, was not a complete aberration. That said, it was still somewhat of an outlier, and in a few of those games, OSU needed every one of the turnovers it forced. OSU forced 34 turnovers in 2010 (fifth nationally) and 30 in 2009 (11th nationally). That's a pretty clear trend since the arrival of defensive coordinator Bill Young. OSU's defense should be very, very good, but it's a little silly to expect another 44 turnovers to roll in this season. No other team in college football had more than 39 last year.
3. The rest of the contenders are more talented. Oklahoma State has a ton of talent, but do the Cowboys have as much as the teams ahead of them in the conference poll? Certainly not Oklahoma. Depending on where you want to see talent, it's close between the Cowboys and West Virginia or Texas when you assess the depth chart from top to bottom. I'd probably lean toward West Virginia and Texas in both of those cases. Last year, OSU had as much talent as any team in the league, if not more. This year, the Cowboys have enough talent to win the league, but they don't have as much as other teams in the Big 12.
See more fall camp previews.
Next up: Oklahoma State.
Media's predicted finish: Fourth.
Biggest story line: Brandon Weeden and Justin Blackmon are gone. The Cowboys are going from a 28-year-old quarterback to an 18-year-old quarterback, but he's got to find a handful of new targets to come close to what Oklahoma State was used to with Weeden and Blackmon in 2010 and 2011. The Cowboys enter the season in the unfamiliar position of defending champs, but outside of the quarterback and pass-catching spots, this team is anything but rebuilding.
Biggest question mark: Wes Lunt. We know he beat out J.W. Walsh and Clint Chelf this spring to amazingly win the job as a true freshman who should have still been in high school, but how will he handle the first year of major college football? It won't be easy, especially considering the strength of the league's defenses, which should be stronger than they've been in recent seasons. Can Lunt be productive and also take care of the ball?
Who needs to step up: The cornerbacks. Justin Gilbert and Brodrick Brown should be absolutely nasty at cornerback, but they simply have to be great this season. The margin for error for the defense is nothing like it was last season. It may surprise some, but the Cowboys actually led the Big 12 in scoring defense in conference games last season. That's nice. OSU still has to be better, and it's going to start with the Pokes' pair of returning starters at corner.
Biggest position battle: Starting left tackle Michael Bowie broke team rules and was suspended, but chose to leave the team, leaving the Cowboys reliant on a sudden position battle at left tackle. Parker Graham started three games there last year and may grab the spot, but sophomore Daniel Koenig, redshirt freshman Devin Davis and juco transfer Chris Grisbhy will be in the mix, too.
Don't forget about: RB Jeremy Smith. Joseph Randle is the headliner. Herschel Sims was the superstar recruit kicked off the team this spring. Smith will have to join Randle in supporting his new quarterback, proving that their success on the ground -- the duo combined for almost 2,000 yards -- was more than defenses being distracted by Weeden and Blackmon. Smith is a power back, but even he broke out for scores from 74 and 30 yards against Texas, the league's best defense.
Breaking out: There are lots of receptions to be had in this offense. The only question? Who's going to get them? Tracy Moore, Isaiah Anderson and Josh Stewart are the most likely candidates, but look out for spring breakout star Charlie Moore and newcomer Blake Jackson, one of the nation's best juco tight ends a year ago.
This year's crop of receivers aren't as loaded as 2011, when the Big 12 nearly swept all three finalist spots for the Biletnikoff Award, but the group in 2012 is still solid. That's clear when you run down Haney's list.
No. 2 is West Virginia, behind only USC. Couldn't agree more with this. USC's Robert Woods is more physically gifted than WVU's Stedman Bailey or Tavon Austin, but don't be surprised if one (or both) of the Mountaineers' duo outproduces Woods.
They're the only teammates other than Woods and Marqise Lee to both top 1,000 yards and return this season. Nice.
Baylor checked in at No. 6 on the list, offering a little more confirmation of what I've said all offseason. Yes, Baylor doesn't have RG3. It doesn't have Kendall Wright.
It has a lot more than nothing, though. Nick Florence will be able to get Terrance Williams and Tevin Reese the ball. Don't be surprised if both flirt with or surpass 1,000 yards, with Florence divvying out the receptions liberally.
Oklahoma is the only other Big 12 team on the list -- at No. 8 -- despite the loss of Ryan Broyles. Kenny Stills has all the physical measurables you could want, but still has to prove he can be the No. 1 target. Last season, he played in the slot where Broyles made his living, which was unfamiliar. We'll see how the Sooners use him now.
Haney got an up-close look at newcomer Trey Metoyer in the spring game, but he's still got to prove he can be what everyone around the program believes he can be. I'm betting (quite confidently, I might add) that he's going to do it, but it'll be fun to watch him this season.
It's a good list. I'd agree with all the selections. TCU (Josh Boyce, Skye Dawson, Brandon Carter) and Oklahoma State (Isaiah Anderson, Tracy Moore, Josh Stewart, Charlie Moore, Blake Jackson) can ascend to elite status this season, but just have to prove it.
A record-setting quarterback? Gone.
The best receiver in school history? Gone.
And that was in the spring of 2010.
Dez Bryant took a trek south after being drafted in the first round by the Dallas Cowboys. Zac Robinson took his ball and left for the NFL, too.
In the fall, Mike Gundy's Oklahoma State squad was picked to finish fifth out of six teams in something called the Big 12 South.
Instead, the Cowboys won 11 games for the first time, coming a defensive stop or two away from knocking off Oklahoma and playing for the Big 12 title, which also would have been unprecedented for the program.
There are more new faces in the spring of 2012. Could Oklahoma State overachieve again?
"I feel like it’s kind of the same. Gundy said that spring we were so good because we were scared," said sixth-year offensive lineman Jonathan Rush. "I wouldn’t exactly agree that we were scared, but I feel that urgency."
Oklahoma State's 23 victories in the past two years were the highest total of any two-year period in school history, and Weeden and Blackmon were the two biggest pieces of a team that captured the Cowboy's first Big 12 title.
"It’s real similar, except Weeden was an older guy. Weeden was 26 years old or however old he was back then," Gundy said.
Now, Oklahoma State is left to rely on three inexperienced quarterbacks without the minor league baseball experience that helped shape Weeden's even-tempered demeanor.
The similarities don't end at what's gone, either.
"We’ve got good running backs, good receivers and we’ll be as good on the offensive line as we’ve been," Gundy said.
All-American Kendall Hunter helped carry the 2010 team with a 1,500-yard season, the second of his career. In 2012, Joseph Randle is ready to carry the offense after rushing for 1,200 yards and 24 touchdowns in 2011. Jeremy Smith and Herschel Sims fill out the rest of the Pokes' deepest unit, which also features a fourth underrated, powerful runner in Desmond Roland.
"We’re further along on defense, because we recruited well the '09, '10, '11 and '12 seasons, so we’re further along athletically," Gundy said. "But offensively, it’s about the same."
Gundy is entering his eighth season in Stillwater this fall. In 2010, he credited a system that had been drilled into players for the surprising success. Knowing what was expected helped to soothe some of the growing pains new players would experience in a new system.
That's been drilled only deeper into this year's squad.
"They realize what they have to do personally. How to practice. They realize those things that are essential to be a good team. You have to work hard, show up on time. It’s not even so much a big thing," Rush said of the team's younger players. "They realize how essential little things are. Working hard, not quitting. Finishing."
Said receiver Isaiah Anderson: "I feel like we have a lot more leaders now than people know. It’s not just up to the seniors to lead. The young guys can step in and lead if they need to."
The biggest talents are gone. This year, OSU won't be picked near the bottom of the Big 12. Instead, it will be near the bottom of the top 25.
With the spotlight on teams above OSU, will 2012 be yet another Stillwater surprise for the Big 12?
"Be on the lookout, but they know we’re coming now," Anderson said. "We all know what it takes to get there and willing to do what it takes to get there again."
Schedule: Oklahoma State kicks off the first of its NCAA-allowed 15 practices Monday, leading up to the spring game on April 21. Practices are closed to fans and media.
What's new: The major characters in the story of the Cowboys' 2011 Big 12 title run (and subsequent Fiesta Bowl win) are gone. Brandon Weeden and Justin Blackmon hooked up for 232 completions and 38 touchdowns the past two seasons, carrying Oklahoma State to 23 wins in consecutive years that were each the best in school history. Replacing both is the primary issue in the spring.
New faces: Special teams coordinator Joe DeForest left after 12 years in Stillwater and leaves a big void of his own. New assistant Van Malone will coach OSU's safeties, but coach Mike Gundy won't decide who fills the special teams role until after the spring. Malone comes to OSU via Tulsa. Oklahoma State also welcomes four early enrollees: QB Wes Lunt, TE Blake Jackson, DT Calvin Barnett and LB Jeremiah Tshimanga.
Big shoes to fill: OSU's receiving corps. Blackmon is gone, but the search goes a lot deeper than just for OSU's No. 1. No. 2 receiver Josh Cooper graduated, as did No. 4 receiver Hubert Anyiam. The team's receiver with perhaps the most potential, Michael Harrison, also left the team after being suspended by the NCAA for the 2012 season. Last year, nine OSU players caught at least 19 passes for 200 yards. There's a lot of receptions to go around. Receivers have to step up this spring. Tracy Moore, Josh Stewart and Isaiah Anderson are the most likely candidates to grab 80-100 balls next year.
All eyes on: The quarterback battle, obviously. Gundy says junior Clint Chelf hasn't done enough to make the job his to lose. Freshman J.W. Walsh has a full year in the system under his belt, but can the dual-threat prove his mettle as a passer? Lunt enters this spring with what's likely the biggest arm of the three, but can he pick the system up fast enough to earn the job? Gundy says he wants to know his starter at the end of the spring, but all three will receive equal reps to begin practice today.
Breaking out: Jackson. We mentioned him earlier, and the early-enrolling tight end is already making a splash. He opens the spring at the top of OSU's depth chart at inside receiver. You don't see that every day. The 6-foot-3 juco transfer was an All-American last year and is already up to 238 pounds from 220 earlier this year. Don't be surprised if he makes major waves in the coming weeks.
Question mark: Markelle Martin wasn't the fastest safety in the league, but he provided valuable leadership, had tons of experience and was arguably the Big 12's biggest hitter. Lavocheya Cooper gets the first crack at replacing him, but will he be good enough? In the pass-happy Big 12, there's no overstating the importance of safeties that get in receivers' heads and prevent the big play.
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:
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.
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?
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?
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
The lone touchdown was a 53-yard, play-action touchdown pass from Andrew Luck to Ty Montgomery.
Outside of that, we haven't seen too many offensive highlights (though Stanford running back Stepfan Taylor already has 61 yards on six carries).
This was the first time all season OSU had been held scoreless in the first quarter.
However, we've had plenty of defensive highlights from both teams.
Among the top defensive plays of the quarter:
- Terrence Brown picking off Brandon Weeden on his first pass attempt of the game. Justin Gilbert also grabbed his fifth interception of the year off of Luck at the end of the quarter. Though neither team could turn the interceptions into points.
- OSU's Richetti Jones sacking Luck on a crucial third down (just the 10th sack the Cardinal have allowed this season).
- Stanford linebacker Jarek Lancaster making an outstanding open-field tackle on Isaiah Anderson -- also on third down.
1. String together first downs, avoid three-and-outs. Stanford's going to win the time of possession battle in this game. Period. But Oklahoma State's offense will decide how big the deficit is by the game's end. The Cowboys don't look likely to win the battle up front against Stanford's offensive line, but they'll have a much better shot if the defense isn't run down by tons of time on the field. The offense can't afford, at any point in this game, to give up a 6-8 minute drive, then go three-and-out and put the Cardinal offense right back on the field. That's the surest way to lose this game. The Cowboys have to consistently move the ball, even if it doesn't always result in points.
2. Don't outsmart yourself on defense. Andrew Luck? He's pretty smart. Oklahoma State's not going to fool him. It can't trip over itself to try and do so. It can't make it too easy, but Oklahoma State's defense can't get too fancy and get away from basic stuff that's helped them be successful this season. OSU has to disguise blitzes and coverages to some degree, but changing too much this late will ultimately prove counterproductive.
3. Stretch the field, and dare Luck to do the same. Oklahoma State's offense has been less vertical this season than in 2011, but the Cowboys have a speed advantage at the skill positions in this game, and a deep pool of guys who can run with the best. Justin Blackmon and Isaiah Anderson are tough to cover downfield, but Justin Gilbert and Brodrick Brown have good speed, as do safeties Daytawion Lowe and Markelle Martin. Luck has the arm to get it there, but he can't run routes for his receivers. Overplay short stuff, and make Luck make throws he hasn't made all that often this season.
Player shows up. Player works hard. Player gets good.
Too often, the next step isn't quite as encouraging.
Justin Blackmon will almost certainly play his final game in an Oklahoma State uniform on Monday night in the Fiesta Bowl against Stanford. He has yet to officially declare for the NFL draft, but after going through Senior Day festivities before a Bedlam win against Oklahoma, despite being a junior, it figures to be a formality.
Blackmon being a top-10 pick is also a near formality, with production and physical prowess that outclasses just about any receiver in college football.
But ask around, and what sticks out about Blackmon isn't his two Biletnikoff Awards, or any of his 224 catches or 3,118 yards the past two seasons. It's not even a single one of his 35 touchdown catches over that same span.
"It's his work ethic," said receiver Isaiah Anderson.
It shows up in blocking drills, when rep after rep, he proves he's the team's best blocking receiver, even if he's the team's best everything else, too, when it comes to receivers. That endears himself to the big guys, too, who know "he's willing to get in there and do what you do every day," said center Grant Garner.
It shows up in one-on-one drills and team drills, when he refuses to run a route at less than 100 percent, which also helps the offense maintain its timing from week to week, said quarterback Brandon Weeden.
During practice, he doesn't go off to the side and take a break, Gundy said. He'll keep working.
"A lot of guys that are that successful and that good think they don’t have to work hard, but there’s no question that Justin Blackmon shows up to practice every day and he’s one of, if not the hardest worker," Garner said. "That’s what makes him good."
Said Weeden: "He’s one of those guys that I think every program wishes they had a lot of him. There’s a lot of 81 jerseys running around Stillwater and Oklahoma. Rightfully so."
Over and over, players and coaches said the same thing about what comes to mind when they think of what Blackmon has brought Oklahoma State during his career.
"Obviously, he’s made a million plays. Everybody knows that," Gundy said. "Everybody’s different. Kendall Hunter was good in that way, but Kendall wasn’t a guy who knew he was going to be a top-10 pick. Blackmon just had the ability to get on the practice field and compete, and he’s never slowed down. Everybody’s put together different, and Blackmon’s wired differently than most great players are."
It makes sense, though. It's what he's been going for over the course of his career.
How does he want to be remembered?
"Someone who worked hard and loved to go out there and compete," he said. "If you work hard and you buy into the system and you’re coachable, things will work out in your favor."
That was back in August 2010, 16 months ago.
Since then, Oklahoma State won a share of the Big 12 South with a whole lot of guys nobody outside Stillwater had ever heard of.
That means this year, OSU won the Big 12 with a whole bunch of stars, including receiver Justin Blackmon, quarterback Brandon Weeden and one of the nation's best position coaches, OSU offensive line coach Joe Wickline.
Before the season, OSU coach Mike Gundy reflected on that dream, 11-win season that served as a precursor to 2011, an even dreamier season capped by a win over Oklahoma, the first since 2002.
It happened, Gundy says, because of his system that had been in place for five years, with improvement each year serving as the proof that persuaded players to buy in.
"It allows us to perform better than we should when maybe we’re not as talented or we’re not as experienced," he said before beginning a year that ended with the school's first Big 12 title. "We didn’t have hardly any experience coming back last year, and we stuck with what we believed in, and I am somewhat convinced that that’s the reason we were able to start playing pretty good and have a productive year in somewhat of a rebuilding phase."
Well, guess what?
It's time to test that theory once again.
We know how 2011 will end: With 11 or 12 wins and a Fiesta Bowl win or loss. The Cowboys finish their season against Stanford on Monday night.
The bigger unknown?
... What will happen next year?
Weeden will be gone. Blackmon will be, too. The Cowboys' No. 2 target, Josh Cooper, will relinquish his title as one of the Big 12's most underrated players upon graduating. Three offensive linemen will end their college careers, too.
The defense will lose both defensive ends and its leader, safety Markelle Martin.
That system of Gundy's? It's time for another big test.
In his seventh season in Stillwater, Gundy has the rare distinction of equaling or improving on the previous year's win total in every single year.
Next season undoubtedly will be a rebuilding year, but so was 2010. What will it mean on the field?
The Cowboys will host a quarterback competition for the right to throw to a group of talented receivers nobody outside Stillwater, as in 2010, has ever heard of.
Recruiting has improved every year under Gundy, and we'll see how those new faces have fit into his burgeoning program.
This time next year, will Clint Chelf, J.W. Walsh or newcomer Wes Lunt be a household name and an All-Big 12 quarterback?
Will Michael Harrison, Isaiah Anderson, Tracy Moore or Josh Stewart be on the short list for the Biletnikoff?
As in 2010, the Cowboys will have a solid running game to depend on. Joseph Randle and Jeremy Smith have combined for more than 1,800 rushing yards and 32 touchdowns with a game still left to play. They'll both be back, as Kendall Hunter, a 2008 All-American, was in 2010.
This year, Oklahoma State proved it can get over the hump.
Next year, we'll find out whether the Cowboys are capable of staying on top.
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