Dallas Colleges: Jay Finley
2011 conference record: 6-3
Returning starters: Offense (6), Defense (8), P/K (2)
Top returners: WR Terrance Williams, WR Tevin Reese, S Ahmad Dixon, S Sam Holl, CB K.J. Morton, S Mike Hicks, OL Cyril Richardson, OL Ivory Wade
Key losses: QB Robert Griffin III, WR Kendall Wright, RB Terrance Ganaway, OL Philip Blake, LB Elliot Coffey, DT Nicolas Jean-Baptiste, DL Tracy Robertson
2011 statistical leaders (*returners)
Rushing: Terrance Ganaway (1,547 yards)
Passing: Robert Griffin III (4,293 yards)
Receiving: Kendall Wright (1,663 yards)
Tackles: Elliot Coffey (114)
Sacks: Tracy Robertson (4.5)
Interceptions: K.J. Morton* (4)
1. Don't sweat the quarterbacks: Anybody who thinks Baylor's destined to go back to 3-4 win seasons in the post-RG3 era isn't paying much attention. Nick Florence had a rough time as a true freshman filling in for RG3 in 2009, but he's grown up a whole lot since then, and he'll get a chance to show it this fall. Behind him, Bryce Petty is itching for a chance, too, but Florence's leadership and decision-making assured him the job in the spring.
2. The receivers are ready to roll: And what about Kendall Wright's absence? He led Baylor in receiving for each of the past four seasons, but Baylor's going to be just fine in his wake, too. Terrance Williams is a future NFL draft pick, and Tevin Reese is ready to see an increased role in the offense, too. Lanear Sampson offers more depth and playmaking ability at the position.
3. Lache Seastrunk is a lot more than just hype: The Temple, Texas, native couldn't quite catch on at Oregon, but he's proving he'll be a factor at Baylor at some point, if not immediately. The backfield is still crowded, but he exploded for 138 yards and a touchdown on seven carries. He's the fastest of the Baylor backs, but he's got to prove he can be the most productive too.
1. How much better can the defense get? Baylor doesn't have the RG3 Express to fall back on anymore. He helped make the Bears the first team to ever win four consecutive games in a single season while also giving up at least 30 points. BU won games in 2011 while giving up 56, 48 and 42 points, too. Phil Bennett's defense has the athletes, but it's got to force more turnovers like it did the second half of the season and get those point totals down. Florence is good, but he's no RG3. If the defense doesn't improve, making a bowl will prove difficult.
2. Can Baylor truly carry on without Robert Griffin III? Baylor has all the pieces in place to get back to a bowl game, but RG3 had plenty of truly intangible attributes that are hard to duplicate. He was a compelling leader who always seemed to make everyone around him better. Florence sounds like he has many of those same things, but will they translate into wins? You never quite know for sure. RG3 was a truly transcendent player unlike anything Waco had ever seen.
3. Will the Bears have a featured running back? Seastrunk made lots of noise in the spring game, but Jarred Salubi and Glasco Martin have a lot more experience, and that could pay off in playing time when it comes to things like pass blocking and doing the little things right. Jay Finley and Terrance Ganaway grabbed starring roles the past two seasons, but will coach Art Briles use a committee come fall? Or will he find a back to lean on?
- Nick Florence ruined the defense's day, completing 14-of-18 passes for 180 yards and three touchdowns. Bryce Petty completed 18-of-27 passes for 146 yards and a touchdown.
- Lache Seastrunk stole the show with 135 yards on just seven carries, including a 75-yard touchdown.
- Lanear Sampson caught five passes for 65 yards and a touchdown. Tevin Reese had four catches for 89 yards.
- Josh Wilson led all tacklers with 10 stops.
- The Bears ran 112 plays in the 75-minute scrimmage.
- About 2,750 fans showed up.
- When I visited Baylor this spring, Seastrunk was the third man in what looked like a pretty balanced backfield by committee. Now, though? If he's that productive for the rest of fall camp, he may be validating that recruiting hype and hoopla that followed his transfer from Oregon. His competition, Jarred Salubi (88 yards, seven carries) and Glasco Martin (58 yards, TD eight carries) were productive, but Seastrunk has that home-run capability. Salubi does, too, but the senior hasn't shown it on the field. Fall camp should be an interesting race. All three could be productive, but Briles prefers to have a featured back in the offense. Jay Finley and Terrance Ganaway were outstanding the past two years, and I like Baylor's chances to have a third 1,000-yard rusher.
- Color me unsurprised at Florence and Petty's big day. Baylor, Oklahoma and West Virginia all have a case as the league's deepest roster of QBs.
- The easy rebuttal from those numbers is Baylor's defense is terrible. Well, it was last year. It won't be great this year, and it might not be a ton better. That said, putting up those kinds of numbers is difficult, and my point is this: Baylor's still going to have one of the league's most productive offenses. RG3 had lots of help around him and lots of potential behind him. We'll get a chance to see it this year. The spring game didn't change my mind about Baylor as a 6-8-win team, but this is not a program that's going to flatline without RG3 at quarterback. The receivers are really talented, really deep and really smart. The offensive line should be really good and the running backs will be productive.
"I'm learning. I know my teammates are going to keep helping me. As long as I keep my head in the books and keep understanding all the checks and calls, I'll be fine." - RB Lache Seastrunk, on his day
Next up: The Baylor Bears.
1. Invest in Nick Florence as RG3's replacement. Don't look for a quarterback competition in Waco this spring. Bryce Petty could maybe steal this job, but every indication is Florence is the assumed starter heading into spring, and it'll take a meltdown for him to lose the job and cede it to the younger player. Florence already started nine games in 2009 with mixed results, but looked a lot better in a win over Texas Tech this year when Robert Griffin III suffered concussion-like symptoms. Florence is no RG3, but he's probably a well-above average QB for next year, and he'll have one of the league's best receiving corps returning, even without Kendall Wright.
2. Study, study, study and keep learning Phil Bennett's system. The defense has to get better at everything. Baylor's invested in its veteran defensive coordinator, and the program believes in him. The team has the athletes -- these Bears are big enough and fast enough - -to see success, but last year was a mess. Keep at it, and it may turn around. Only two of the team's top 13 tacklers are gone. Cornerback K.J. Morton showed some promise late in the year and Ahmad Dixon is solid at nickel back.
3. Sort out the running backs. Is next year the Lache Seastrunk show in the Baylor backfield? Jay Finley and Terrance Ganaway both cleared 1,200 yards rushing the past two seasons. But the Bears need a new feature back, and the Oregon transfer will vie for the job. Glasco Martin has been in the program longer, but Seastrunk's got the higher upside. And what about senior Jarred Salubi? It's a bit jumbled back there, but there's lots of talent and the spring should provide some clarity.
More offseason to-do lists.
The Bears' offense simply looked around the post-kickoff, pre-drive huddle and didn't see the familiar No. 10 staring back at them.
Instead, Nick Florence quietly slid into Robert Griffin III's spot at starting quarterback for the second half and connected on a pair of touchdown passes longer than 40 yards.
They had reason to be. Florence started nine games when Griffin tore his ACL in the 2009 season, setting the school record for passing that Griffin broke this season.
In the second half, though, one player took over: Ganaway. We should have known, really. Ganaway's flourished under waves of media attention heaped on his quarterback, the second running back in two seasons to do so.
He carried the ball 25 times in the second half for 139 yards and a touchdown. That gave him 42 carries -- more than any Big 12 back in a game this year -- for 246 yards.
"We’d run it pretty effectively the first half, also, so that gave us a little confidence going into the second half," said coach Art Briles, "and it just worked out to where that was something that was being beneficial for us, so we just kept doing it."
Said Ganaway: "We knew it was working, so we weren’t going to get away from it. We were going to keep running until they decided to make us do otherwise."
Ganaway made sure Baylor didn't need much creativity. The rest of Baylor's backfield minus Griffin carried the ball 23 times, but Baylor's 240-pound back carried the load.
With the effort, Ganaway took over the Big 12 rushing lead from injured Missouri back Henry Josey. A year ago, Baylor wondered who would replace Jay Finley's 1,218 yards.
Next year, the Bears will have to wonder who'll replace Ganaway, who now has 1,195 with two games left to play.
"He’s a very mature person. The thing that makes him unique is his agility to go with his size," Briles said. "He’s also got the mentality enough to where he’s very, very focused and very driven."
Briles would know. Ganaway was with Briles at Houston in 2007 before transferring to junior college. Once Briles left for Baylor, Ganaway followed.
Quietly, as Griffin's racked up passing yards and accolades, he's had two great backs playing alongside him that too often get overshadowed.
"Terrance isn’t concerned about any of that. He’s a great team player," Briles said. "He brings a level of mature confidence to our football team because of his focus and energy lies, and that’s within everybody, not himself."
If Ganaway's needed again this week against Texas, he'll be available.
"It was a whole lot [of carries], but I didn’t really even notice. My body felt good the next day and I’m feeling really good right now. You’re just trying to win. You’re in the zone. The adrenaline’s pumping. Your heart’s pounding, you just want to go out there and get the win," Ganaway said. "You really don’t worry about being tired or fatigued. I know I felt tired, and I got some shots, but everybody was fighting. It’s a fight, and you don’t quit until the round’s over. Then you ask, how many punches were there?"
Anyway, here's how the Big 12 shook out over the weekend, with a few thoughts to follow.
First round (8)
- No. 2: Von Miller, OLB, Texas A&M (Denver)
- No. 7: Aldon Smith, DE, Missouri (San Francisco)
- No. 10: Blaine Gabbert, QB, Missouri (Jacksonville)
- No. 17: Nate Solder, OT, Colorado (New England)
- No. 19: Prince Amukamara, CB, Nebraska (New York Giants)
- No. 21: Phil Taylor, DT, Baylor (Cleveland)
- No. 23: Danny Watkins, OL, Baylor (Philadelphia)
- No. 27: Jimmy Smith, CB, Colorado (Baltimore)
- No. 103: Sam Acho, DE, Texas (Arizona)
- No. 105: Roy Helu Jr., RB, Nebraska (Washington)
- No. 108: Quinton Carter, S, Oklahoma (Denver)
- No. 115: Kendall Hunter, RB, Oklahoma State (San Francisco)
- No. 118: Jalil Brown, CB, Colorado (Kansas City)
- No. 120: Alex Henery, K, Nebraska (Philadelphia)
- No. 146: DeJon Gomes, S, Nebraska (Washington)
- No. 155: Niles Paul, WR, Nebraska (Washington)
- No. 164: Chykie Brown, CB, Texas (Baltimore)
- No. 196: Keith Williams, OL, Nebraska (Pittsburgh)
- No. 216: Mikail Baker, CB, Baylor (St. Louis)
- No. 227: Scotty McKnight, WR, Colorado (New York Jets)
- No. 229: Jonathan Nelson, DB, Oklahoma (St. Louis)
- No. 232: Baron Batch, RB, Texas Tech (Pittsburgh)
- No. 234: Andrew Gachkar, LB, Missouri (San Diego)
- No. 246: Jay Finley, RB, Baylor (Cincinnati)
- No. 247: Jeremy Beal, DE, Oklahoma (Denver)
- No. 248: Eric Hagg, S, Nebraska (Cleveland)
Here's how the Big 12 teams ranked in terms of total draftees:
1. Nebraska - 7
2. Baylor - 4
2. Colorado - 4
2. Oklahoma - 4
2. Texas - 4
6. Missouri - 3
7. Kansas State -1
7. Oklahoma State - 1
7. Texas A&M - 1
7. Texas Tech - 1
11. Iowa State - 0
11. Kansas - 0
And the major conferences (counting where players actually played):
SEC - 38
Pac-12 - 33
Big 12 - 30
Big Ten - 29
ACC - 35
Big East - 22
- Texas A&M had just one player drafted, but the Aggies will have plenty next year, including a handful of possible first-rounders. Cyrus Gray, Ryan Tannehill and Jeff Fuller could all go very early in 2012, depending on what happens between now and then.
- Interesting that Miller went 245 selections before the Big 12's Defensive Player of the Year, according to the media, Jeremy Beal. Also an interesting coincidence? The same team drafted both. I do think Beal will have a productive NFL career, and there's no denying what he did at Oklahoma, but the measurables were never quite there for Beal. What's not measurable? How difficult he is to block. That said, Miller was my vote for the Big 12's Defensive Player of the Year.
- Good to see some hard-working, perhaps under-respected guys get drafted. This was an important year for that, considering those left over won't be able to get into NFL minicamps until the lockout ends and won't be able to do anything to further their NFL careers besides work out on their own. I'll have a post later today on some of those snubs. There's no guarantee that late-drafted guys like Baron Batch, Scotty McKnight, Jay Finley or Eric Hagg will catch on in the the pros, but I'd be willing to guarantee they'll do everything in their power to maximize what opportunities they get.
- One of the most interesting selections? Mikail Baker. He wasn't invited to the combine, and played just one full season on defense at Baylor after working as a kick returner and a cornerback in 2009 before a season-ending knee injury. You don't see that kind of impressive athleticism at Baylor traditionally.
- Let the debate continue: Kendall Hunter vs. DeMarco Murray. Murray getting drafted 40-some spots earlier only intensified that discussion, if you ask me.
- Also, what's more impressive from Art Briles? That Baylor had four picks, the most in school history since 1996? Or that despite those four picks, Baylor's returning an even better team than last season, when it ended a 16-year bowl drought?
- Colorado's draft, meanwhile? Not exactly a ringing endorsement for Dan Hawkins' coaching job in Boulder.
- Alex Henery didn't win the Lou Groza Award, but his fourth-round selection makes him the earliest kicker draft pick since 2006. Will that end the state of Nebraska's blood feud against respectable OSU kicker Dan Bailey, who did win the Lou Groza Award? I doubt it. (Save your emails. For the 100th time, I agree, Nebraska fans. Henery > Bailey.)
- A few guys who went way lower than I thought they would. In order of my surprise level: Beal, Gabbert, Amukamara, Hagg, Hunter.
- A few guys who went way higher than I thought, in the same order: Aldon Smith, Batch, Gachkar, Baker.
- Junior quarterback Robert Griffin III completed 21-of-26 passes for 266 yards and two touchdowns. The first touchdown was a short pass that Tevin Reese turned into a 45-yard score and the second was a 50-yard strike to Kendall Wright.
- Running back Jarred Salubi led all rushers with 40 yards on six carries and a touchdown.
- Terrance Williams led all receivers with nine catches for 123 yards and two touchdowns.
- Eight receivers caught at least four passes, and 17 players caught passes.
- An estimated crowd of 3,500 came to the game at Baylor's Highers Athletic Complex.
- The game was televised locally.
- If it wasn't already clear, Saturday's spring game further illustrated it: Baylor is way, way deep at receiver. They've got a lot of guys who can make plays for Griffin, and a quarterback in RG3 who can utilize them well. Last season, the Bears had five players with at least 40 receptions. "All those guys could be a star somewhere else, but we're lucky to have them on our campus," Griffin said. "I'll spread the ball around like I did last year. When they get their chance to make plays, they'll make them, and that will make us that much better." I liked how Darius Jones looked during my visit to campus, and he's been making plays in scrimmages as well. He had just two catches last season, but had five on Saturday. I'd expect him to be a nice addition to Griffin's targets this year as a sophomore.
- Griffin: He's still pretty good.
- The talk of the spring has been the defense, and though it had a nice day in the previous scrimmage, it's tough to be too encouraged by letting three quarterbacks combine for 587 yards and four touchdowns on 56-of-72 passing. Baylor has an efficient offense that looks for easy completions, but that completion percentage is way, way too high for the defense. Baylor can keep winning 6-7 games if the defense keeps playing like that and the offense remains constant. But to make any real noise in the Big 12, defenses have to be able to stop the pass. The Bears' passing offense will be one of the toughest they see all next season, so that's something to consider. But if you're letting opponents complete 77 percent of their passes, that offense is going to be sitting on the sideline much more often than coach Art Briles would like to see.It's a work in progress, yes. There's still time to get better. To be fair, the defense did get five sacks and made six tackles for loss, keeping the offense off the board for six consecutive possessions at one point in the first half. But if the season started today, their bad days would outnumber the good. The good news is the season doesn't start today. Summer workouts and fall preseason camp will be huge for Phil Bennett's defense, which will be the biggest factor in determining whether Baylor builds off its seven-win campaign from last season.
- I don't see the running back rotation shifting much. If I was guessing, I'd expect Salubi and Terrance Ganaway to share the carries pretty evenly with a little dash of Glasco Martin for 3-4 touches a game.
"We're looking for a guy that's never been 'it' in the game of tag."
-- Briles earlier in the week, on trying to replace running back Jay Finley. No doubt a strong candidate for the quote of the spring, perhaps in all of college football.
More Big 12 spring game recaps:
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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?
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.
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.
Other times, you have to wait a year.
I feel pretty confident that Baylor's bowl drought would have ended in 2009 if Robert Griffin III hadn't been injured, but a year away from the field didn't have a negative effect on the Bears under Art Briles.
Griffin III came back from a torn ACL and was immediately one of the best passers in the Big 12, without even considering his talent as a runner. The Bears' raucous celebration with fans on the field after gaining bowl eligibility against Kansas State earlier this year ended with Griffin getting engaged, and now the Bears will taste the fruits of their early season efforts with a trip to Houston for the Texas Bowl.
Baylor's three-game losing streak to end the season put a slight damper on the season, but all three losses came to top 20 teams, and the memory of those losses would go away quickly with a win over Illinois. Do that, and this will be remembered as the dream season it should be.
Offensive MVP: Robert Griffin III, QB. Baylor won just one conference game last year, but the Bears were atop the Big 12 South with three games left in the season this year when Griffin returned. His 3,195 passing yards made him just one of four quarterbacks in the Big 12 to top 3,000 yards passing this year, and he accounted for 21 passing touchdowns and eight rushing touchdowns.
Defensive MVP: Byron Landor, S. Landor quickly earned a reputation as one of the hardest hitters in the Big 12. The Bears needed him to play well this season, and he did. He finished with 115 tackles and 73 solo stops, with three tackles for loss.
Turning point: The win over Kansas. Yes, Kansas wasn't very good, but Baylor laid a big-time beating on the Jayhawks, running them off the field at Floyd Casey Stadium with a 55-7 win. It wasn't a marquee win, per se, but the lopsided score in an early conference game served as notice to the rest of the league that, hey, these guys were pretty good.
What's next: More improvement, and another probable bowl bid in 2011. The Bears will get to play more North teams in a round-robin Big 12 schedule, and Griffin should continue to improve. All five of his top targets -- who all finished with at least 40 catches -- will return next year, and there's no reason to think the offense won't be just as solid. Jay Finley is done, but explosive backs Jarred Salubi and Terrance Ganaway look more than ready to pick up the slack as solid complements of one another. The Bears could use some improvement on a defense losing its top five tacklers, but they should be set on offense. Young players in the secondary, like superstar recruit Ahmad Dixon, should get a chance to contribute more next year.
There hasn't been much of that in Waco this week. The Aggies allowed 30 points in the first half and trail 30-21 at halftime against Baylor in the Battle of the Brazos.
That's included two one-yard touchdown runs that the Aggies probably could have afforded to give up in their two-touchdown win a week ago.
Worse than the scores has been Texas A&M's run defense. Baylor already has two 100-yard rushers and all four touchdowns have come on the ground. Running back Jay Finley has 146 yards and three touchdowns on 17 carries, including a 69-yard touchdown. Quarterback Robert Griffin has 100 yards and a touchdown on 10 carries, including a 71-yard score.
Griffin is also 17-of-21 for 120 yards, completing passes to nine different receivers.
Whatever problems have surfaced for Texas A&M's defense better get fixed quickly, or Baylor's dangerous offense might hang another 30 points on the board in the second half.
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