Dallas Colleges: Jerrod Johnson
COLLEGE STATION, Texas -- Will he play or won't he?
If it sounds like we've been here before with Texas A&M quarterback Johnny Manziel, it's because we have, but this is the first time the Heisman Trophy winner's playing status is in doubt because of an injury. Manziel apparently hurt his throwing shoulder in a 45-41 loss to Auburn on Saturday, and while he left briefly, he returned to finish the final 9:06 of the game and complete 9 of 10 passes for 102 yards and also rushed for a touchdown.
Manziel continues his efforts to get healthy enough to play in Saturday's game against visiting Vanderbilt, but it might be worth asking whether Manziel should try to play.
Texas A&M coach Kevin Sumlin has declined to offer specifics on what exactly ails the Heisman Trophy winner, but based on the way Manziel's right shoulder was driven into the turf and his reaction in the moments that followed, it appears safe to assume his throwing arm won’t be fully healthy.
So does continuing to play harm his future? One NFL personnel executive, when asked how pro scouts might view a quarterback playing through a shoulder injury, said it depends on what the prognosis of the injury is.
"You take all of that in and weigh everything," the executive said. "It all comes down to the doctor's report on the shoulder. Then based on the severity of it, is it recommended to do surgery? If he plays on it, is he going to hurt it worse or anything like that?"
If surgery is recommended, the executive said it's better not to wait, at least in the NFL's eyes.
"I think any time you injure a shoulder or joint or something like that, if it needs surgery, you might as well go get it done now," the executive said.
If Manziel needed surgery but postponed it until after the season and his recovery was hindered by pre-draft preparation -- again, assuming Manziel declares for the 2014 NFL draft -- that could hurt him in some team's eyes.
"That part will hurt him some [if he were to do that]," the executive said. "Before anyone drafts him, they want to see him throw the football. Based on that information, it's hard to trust somebody if you haven't seen them throw. You want to know that shoulder's well and all that kind of stuff."
But clearly, the Aggies are foremost in Manziel's mind and are his first priority right now. While Sumlin or other coaches on the staff have not indicated how much Manziel has practiced this week, a source within the program indicated on Wednesday that Manziel is making an effort to do what he's able to when it comes to throwing the ball.
Teammates noticed that he did everything he could on Saturday after suffering the injury to come back into the ballgame. He could be seen on the sideline struggling to throw a football and wincing while trying to make throws before receiving treatment from the Texas A&M training staff.
Once he did, he was able to throw. Manziel’s injury is very familiar to that of former Texas A&M quarterback Jerrod Johnson, who suffered a shoulder injury in his first career start in 2008.
Johnson recalls not being able to throw initially but being able to return and finish the game. Johnson said his injury was a Grade 2 AC joint sprain in his throwing shoulder, which he suffered in the second quarter of a 41-23 loss to Miami on Sept. 20, 2008.
"It hurt like hell and you come out with a dead arm kind of," Johnson said. "But my adrenaline and because the pads are strapped on, you can throw again. So I was like, 'Oh, I'm fine.' As soon as the game ended, I took my pads off and I guess the pads were almost like a breakthrough. It swelled up and I couldn't throw.”
Johnson said the key with a shoulder injury is ensuring the range of motion is there. As long as it is, the player can throw. But obviously, there is still some risk.
"The issue comes, every time you get a hit on that shoulder again, all the same things that happened last week come back,” Johnson said. “That's the main issue with what I was going through and what he's going through. ... I feel like Johnny is tough and he can probably take the pounding. As long as he has the flexibility to throw the ball, I think he's a tough enough kid to where he can deal with that it's going to hurt like hell every time he lands on that shoulder."
Manziel’s return to the game earned him even more respect from his teammates. Senior receiver Travis Labhart, who made a diving catch on an out route during Manziel's first drive back in the game, said that Manziel told him afterward that he was in pain as he made that throw.
"He's outstanding," Labhart said. "Just his tenacity and his guts to go out there and help his team win and be a great leader, he's phenomenal."
Sumlin earlier this month called Manziel "one of the greatest competitors I've ever been around," and considering that Sumlin has been around Drew Brees at Purdue, Sam Bradford at Oklahoma and Case Keenum at Houston, that's saying something.
So if Manziel can play, it's reasonable to surmise that he will play. But "should he," is still a different question.
More report cards:
Jeff Fuller, Christine Michael and Cyrus Gray certainly didn't help.
Those weren't the biggest problems, though. Too often in the second half of crucial games the Aggies' offense sputtered. Every loss was something different it seemed. After scoring 20 points in the first half against Oklahoma State, it managed just seven in the second. A week later, a 35-point first half was followed by a three-point second half in a loss to Arkansas.
Ryan Tannehill's decision making, especially in those infamous second halves, was poor, and resulted in 15 interceptions for the season. Mike Sherman's play calling didn't help much, running the ball just six times in the second half of the OSU loss that started it all, despite rolling over OSU's defense in the first half.
The Aggies had a lot of firepower. That's hard to ignore. They finished fourth in the Big 12 (seventh nationally) in total offense and 11th nationally in scoring offense, with just under 40 points a game.
But it's impossible to ignore that when that firepower was needed most, it was mostly a dud. With the Aggies, you have to grade on a curve, considering the amount of talent on the field and the depth of offense in the Big 12.
DEFENSE: The loss of Von Miller was bigger than maybe anyone could have imagined. The Aggies' Wrecking Crew wasn't so fearsome this season, possessing a powerful pass rush, but doing so by bringing lots of blitzes.
The Aggies had 51 sacks in 2011, five more than any team in the nation. However, they gave up more than 275 passing yards a game, more than all but 11 teams in college football. When opponents passed on the Aggies, it seemed like it was always going to be a big play for at least one team.
Early in the season, the Aggies went 22 quarters without a turnover and finished the season minus-nine in turnover margin, forcing a Big 12-low 15 turnovers. That's unacceptable, and the coverage struggles in the secondary made the defense look hopeless at times, letting five quarterbacks set career highs for pass yardage throughout the season, including 510 yards to Arkansas' Tyler Wilson.
The Aggies were a fun team to watch, but defensively, were too often a mess.
OVERALL: Well, its coach was fired, so you know this grade won't be a good one. Give the Aggies this, at least: They beat Texas at something. The Aggies were a far bigger disappointment this season than Texas in 2010, when the Longhorns went 5-7.
That was a young team with no proven offense. The Aggies were loaded on both sides of the ball, even without Miller. The pieces were there to win the Big 12 and maybe even the national championship. You don't lead by double digits in 12 of 13 games in the Big 12 without having tons and tons of talent. The Aggies had it.
They finished with seven wins, and only one (Baylor) was impressive. The second-half meltdowns were too much, and led to Sherman's firing after snatching the title of the Big 12's most disappointing team, and having an argument as the nation's biggest disappointment after starting the season in the top 10.
The losses piled up and ended with one final indignity: a loss to Texas that should never have happened. The program will have to live with that loss for decades at least, and perhaps forever. It'll go down as the most painful night in one of the most painful seasons in school history, and the defining moment in a season that Texas A&M would love to forget.
Texas A&M doesn't need much of a reminder of its matchup with Missouri last year.
The 30-9 loss was the lowpoint in a season that included both a six-game winning streak and three-game losing streak, as well as a share of the Big 12 South title.
On second thought, the Aggies might need a reminder, considering coach Mike Sherman dramatically burned the game film in front of the team as an illustration to help them move forward.
The offense sputtered while Blaine Gabbert shredded the secondary. A team looking to find its legs got easily outrun by a squad hitting its midseason stride.
"We were trying to feel ourselves out, trying to find out what our identity was," Sherman said. "We were struggling with pass protection, struggling with run blocking and we continued to have struggles in that game. Our offensive line didn’t get settled down about halfway through the season."
Mizzou will face a much different Texas A&M team this time around, one that's well aware of its identity and how dangerous it can be on both sides of the ball.
That 4-2 record is nothing to be ashamed of, either.
"We lost to two top 10 teams by five points. I don’t look at it the way you guys do. We were obviously disappointed about losing the game, about giving up leads, but there were some positives in that game as well," Sherman said.
Texas A&M has pressured passers all season long, leading the nation in sacks, though it has the nation's worst pass defense by 17 yards per game.
|Landry Locker and Trey Fallon of ESPN Dallas are joined by TexAgs.com's Brandon Leone to discuss A&M's win over Iowa State, the Aggies' current identity as a football team and how much trouble Missouri can give A&M this weekend.
"We’re trying to find out the right mix and match between the run and pass," Sherman said.
Oklahoma lost last week, and one slip-up by Oklahoma State before its season-ending Bedlam could keep Big 12 title hopes alive in College Station.
"When you win three in a row, you have to be very critical, but you have to let those kids gain some confidence from those wins," Sherman said. "I’ll be hard on them today in things we have to get better at. It’s a lot easier to do that when you win a game than when you lose a game."
Before those Big 12 title scenarios can come into play, though, Texas A&M has to win the final five games on its schedule, which features two more top 10 teams.
Instead of being the low point from which to start, Missouri could be the next step forward for the Aggies this time around.
"We got a lot better between Games 7 and 12 last year, and I hope we do the same thing this year," Sherman said.
When the sun rose on Stillwater, Okla., the Friday morning following last season's dramatic 38-35 Oklahoma State victory over Texas A&M, the conference spotlight had quickly shifted to the league's premier rivalry -- Oklahoma versus Texas in the Cotton Bowl -- which was just more than 24 hours away from kickoff.
Sure, that Cowboys and Aggies game was fun. But eight turnovers? Neither team was begging to be taken seriously.
|Landry Locker is joined by Brandon Leone of TexAgs.com to discuss No. 8 Texas A&M's upcoming game against No. 7 Oklahoma State.
The Aggies returned a six-win team that just lost its first real test of the season. Oklahoma State was picked to finish fifth in the league and nearly lost to Troy at home weeks earlier.
You know what they say about hindsight.
Nobody knew it until months later, but the Big 12 race hinged on that game. Both teams shared a Big 12 South title with Oklahoma, one finishing higher in the division than ever (OSU) and the other having its best showing since 1998 (A&M).
There are no such problems this year. The stakes are monumental.
"It has explicit implications into who takes the early lead in the conference," Texas A&M coach Mike Sherman said. "It’s huge."
Both teams are ranked in the top 10, and through three weeks both have looked deserving of top-10 rankings, 10-win seasons and hopeful BCS berths. This time, it's the undeniable game of the week in the Big 12, if not the game of the year.
"I don’t think you have to make a big deal," Sherman said of approaching a game of Saturday's magnitude. "You don’t have to beat it into their head. They hear things. They see things. They’re not stupid. They understand how important this game is for us."
This year's Aggies -- more sure of themselves after a late-season run saw them reach the top 15 and become a factor in the Big 12 race with wins over Oklahoma and Nebraska -- are armed with an additional burden: a future in the SEC.
The voices questioning Texas A&M's seemingly imminent move to the SEC have grown loud, and the best way for the Aggies to silence them is to leave with a crystal bowl tucked under their arm.
"Thanks for this. Adios. Here's an S-E-C chant for the road. See y'all in the Cotton Bowl."
Two games on Texas A&M's schedule will decide if that dream becomes reality.
This is the first. The second is Nov. 5 at Oklahoma.
Managing that pressure and expectation begins with preparation.
"[Players] feed off the head coach and the staff," Sherman said. "If the head coach and staff are tight and feel the pressure of the game, then the players certainly will feel the same thing. I think they have to see that we’re confident in our preparation and on game day that we’re ready to play."
Kyle Field will be rocking. A network broadcast audience will be watching. It's put up or shut up time for the Aggies.
No. 1 on the list was the favorites: Oklahoma
Today, we take a look at my No. 2: Texas A&M.
Why the Aggies will win the Big 12
Center Matt Allen is the only offensive starter not returning, but the Aggies have a solid line, headlined by a maturing, but already talented pair of bookends with big potential, tackles Luke Joeckel and Jake Matthews. At the skill positions, you won't find anything close to a weakness. Texas A&M returns the best running back corps in the league and maybe the best 1-2 punch in the nation with Christine Michael and Cyrus Gray. All of the team's top five receivers return, and Jeff Fuller, who chose to return for his senior season, is arguably one of the five best in the country. Ryan Tannehill doesn't have a ton of starts (six) under his belt, but he was great in a tight spot last year, and led the team in receptions his first two years on the field.
2. They're especially strong in great places on defense.
Those places: Secondary and pass-rushers. That's huge in the Big 12. New joker Damontre Moore, defensive end Tony Jerod-Eddie and linebacker Sean Porter should combine for more than 15 sacks this year and tons of quarterback pressures that could result in some big plays for another defensive strength: the secondary. All four starters return, and Terrence Frederick, Coryell Judie are experienced seniors at corner, while Trent Hunter and Steven Campbell hold down the safety spots.
3. They made it hard to win nine games last year.
Texas A&M already won a share of the Big 12 South last year, despite ranking 10th in the Big 12 in turnover margin at minus-5. Its 30 turnovers (15 INTs, 15 fumbles lost) were the most in the Big 12 and 111th most in the nation. You'd have to think that number will drop this year with Tannehill at quarterback. He struggled in the loss to LSU, throwing three interceptions, but he had just three in his six previous games at quarterback, compared to 11 touchdowns. Five of those 30 turnovers came from Jerrod Johnson in a loss to Oklahoma State, and if the Aggies take care of the ball then, or this time around, they're likely Big 12 champions.
Why the Aggies won't win the Big 12
1. The defensive losses will be too much.
Damontre Moore should slide in and replace Von Miller. I'd expect him to do well, but what about middle linebacker? Michael Hodges was the heart of the defense in 2010 and its leading tackler. When a knee injury forced him out of the Cotton Bowl against LSU, the Tigers gashed the Aggies' defense, which for the few weeks to end the season, looked like one of the Big 12's best and topped the league in rush defense. Hodges is gone for good now, and the Aggies left spring without a solid replacement. For now, it looks like Jonathan Stewart will slide in, but it could end up being true freshman Donnie Baggs. Either way, A&M won't be as strong there, and teams that can run the ball (i.e., OSU, OU) may take advantage. Lucas Patterson is the only other loss on the defensive side of the ball, but my money is on Hodges being missed the most on the field, even though Miller was the No. 2 pick in the NFL draft.
2. They have to travel to Norman.
Texas A&M has been outscored 107-24 in its last two trips to Norman, and Les Miles at Oklahoma State in 2001 is the only Big 12 coach to ever beat Bob Stoops at Owen Field. The odds are definitely against Mike Sherman becoming the second. The Aggies knocked off Oklahoma in College Station last year, but did it largely on the strength of the linebackers, and Hodges and Miller, who helped orchestrate those three goal-line stops to beat the Sooners, are gone.
3. Hype and the Aggies are not happy bedfellows.
Texas A&M looked like a possible Big 12 South contender last year, but the Aggies lost all three of their first real tests, and nearly lost to Florida International in College Station, erasing a 21-7 fourth-quarter deficit to avoid embarrassment. After being written off by most, they rallied for a share of the Big 12 South, but this year, the attention is back on the Aggies, who will likely be toting a top-15 ranking into the preseason. How will the team handle big games early in the season against Oklahoma State and an early trip to Lubbock before the showdown in Norman? Their recent history suggests "not well."
First up: Let's take a look at the Pokes of Stillwater.
Nonconference (with 2010 records):
- Sept. 3: Louisiana-Lafayette (3-9)
- Sept. 8: Arizona (7-6)
- Sept. 17: at Tulsa (10-3)
- Oct. 8: Kansas (3-9)
- Oct. 29: Baylor (7-6)
- Nov. 5: Kansas State (7-6)
- Dec. 3: Oklahoma (12-2)
- Sept. 24: Texas A&M (9-4)
- Oct. 15: Texas (5-7)
- Oct. 22: Missouri (10-3)
- Nov. 12: Texas Tech (8-5)
- Nov. 18: Iowa State (5-7)
Trap game: Baylor. The Bears will have two chances to prove themselves before their game in Stillwater at Boone Pickens Stadium. After TCU to open the season and Texas A&M before OSU, the Bears will come off a bye with what they hope is a renewed defense looking to erase an embarrassing lopsided loss on the same field in 2010.
Snoozer: Kansas. Last season, Kansas played pretty well against the Cowboys and kept it close early, leading after the first quarter and trailing just 20-14 at half. Then the Jayhawks were outscored 28-0 in the second half of the late-season matchup in Lawrence. Kansas should be better this season, but nowhere near good enough to make it interesting in Stillwater.
Non-con challenge: Arizona. Laugh if you must, Cowboys fans. But I recall a Nebraska team that laughed when it got matched up with Washington in a bowl game a few months after beating it by five touchdowns on the Huskies' home field. The Cowboys rolled over the Wildcats, 36-10, in the Alamo Bowl, capping off an 0-5 finish for Mike Stoops' team. But his quarterback, Nick Foles, is back. So is his best receiver, Juron Criner, a possible All-American and the best receiver in the Pac-12. It's hard to imagine Stoops, a defensive coach, not learning plenty from the bowl game, and the Cowboys will be facing their first real test of the season.
Must-see date: Oklahoma. Oklahoma State got the best break of any team in the Big 12 with the new nine-game conference schedule. Because of the tweaking to the schedule, the Sooners have to play in Stillwater for a second consecutive season, and last season's game decided the Big 12 South. This season's game, moved to championship weekend and likely set for prime time, could decide the Big 12 or even more.
Analysis: Big 12 teams better get used to unbalanced schedules in the new league setup. That means five road games and four home games, a sometimes overlooked aspect of a nine-game conference schedule. Teams that schedule ambitiously in nonconference play better do it with a home game. Oklahoma State caught a break with the Sooners' return north, but will be one of the league's teams that has to hit the road five times in conference play. A short drive east to Tulsa will be a tougher early season test than it sounds, but it's a solid nonconference schedule and a league schedule that sets the Cowboys up to do well.
But this year, if you're not already aware, NFL teams had to turn out the lights after the draft reached its completion on Saturday evening. Players drafted can't have contact with their new teams, and teams aren't allowed to make offseason moves.
That means no signing of undrafted rookies, creating uncertain futures for these guys. Undrafted guys have plenty of value -- for example, last year's leading rusher among rookies, LeGarrette Blount of Oregon, went undrafted -- and here are a few guys looking for their shot in the future once the lockout ends. (It'll end eventually, right?)
Here are the Big 12 players that were productive in college and would be in camps, but thanks to the lockout, now have their futures on hold.
Tim Barnes, C, Missouri
Barnes was the first-team All-Big 12 center in 2010, but extended a streak of four consecutive Missouri centers to earn that honor and go undrafted. Barnes had more athleticism than his predecessors, but it wasn't enough to get drafted. You won't find a much more knowledgeable center, but a lot of that knowledge might not transfer well to the next level.
Kevin Rutland, CB, Missouri
Rutland was one of the Tigers' team captains last season, but his overall position skills weren't on the level of the cornerbacks drafted ahead of him.
David Sims, S, Iowa State
Sims has great speed at 204 pounds, but his 5-foot-9 frame isn't ideal for a safety. His past didn't help him, either. He enrolled at Oklahoma originally, but didn't qualify and went to junior college. After winning Big 12 Newcomer of the Year in 2009, he was suspended for the season opener in 2010 and stripped of team captain status after racking up charges on a Des Moines woman's debit card.
Orie Lemon, LB, Oklahoma State
Lemon was what you'd want in a linebacker mentally and physically when he was healthy, but his torn ACL last season hurt his draft stock. He's a big hitter, too, but at 242 pounds, NFL teams didn't love his speed.
Dan Bailey, K, Oklahoma State
Simply put, kickers don't get drafted too often. Bailey, who won the Lou Groza Award last season as the nation's best kicker, should get his shot at some point.
Colby Whitlock, DT, Texas Tech
Whitlock has great size at more than 300 pounds, but his lack of speed concerned NFL teams, who also weren't in love with his pass-rushing ability or overall athletic ability. I've been a fan of Whitlock's technique during his time in Lubbock, but measurables are more apt to get you selected.
Jerrod Johnson, QB, Texas A&M
Not a snub, per se, as it was pretty obvious that Johnson struggled in the events leading up to the draft, especially at the Senior Bowl. But Johnson likely would find a shot somewhere, and it's still shocking to see a player with Johnson's resume go undrafted. Coach Mike Sherman knows the kind of football mind Johnson has, though, and can sell his NFL connections on it. There's no question he'll end up in a camp once the option is available.
It sailed too far. Waiting to cradle it? Freshman linebacker Shaun Lewis, who returned it 27 yards back into Texas A&M territory, setting up a game-winning field goal and helping Oklahoma State win a share of the Big 12 South.
"He's very unique in him being a freshman and able to make so many huge plays during the season," said coach Mike Gundy. "He’s got great savvy and a knack for being in the right area where the ball is, so you like having a young player that can make that many big plays."
That was the fourth game of Lewis' college career, playing the linebacker spot the defensive coordinator Bill Young calls "Star."
"He came from a high school program that’s very well-coached and played at a high level in Texas, and he’d been in big games in those situations," Gundy said of the Fort Bend Hightower alum from Missouri City, Texas. "He’s unique, and every once in awhile, you’ll run across a young guy who can play like a veteran would with not much experience. You don’t see it a lot, but he obviously had the ability to do that, and as the season progressed, he got better and better.
He wasn't done. In the regular-season finale against Oklahoma, the Sooners looked ready to blow out Oklahoma State in a game that would decide the division. Oklahoma grabbed a 14-3 lead and had the ball, inching toward total control.
Quarterback Landry Jones, rushed slightly, stepped up in the pocket and fired a pass underneath to Ryan Broyles, who finished with 131 receptions. Lewis' orange blur, though, slipped in front of the pass and raced 52 yards for a momentum-shifting score that got Oklahoma State back in the game.
He added another interception later in the game on the back half of one of the greatest plays in recent college football history.
"I got to thinking, 'This guy, he always is in the right place at the right time, you know?'" Gundy said. "In the middle of the season, I started to see that."
Oklahoma State's defense this fall loses a pair of leaders in defensive end Ugo Chinasa and linebacker Orie Lemon, but for a largely inexperienced defense, especially at linebacker, the next step for Lewis, is joining safety Markelle Martin as a player the rest of the defense can look to for guidance.
"He has and to step up," Gundy said. "He’s now a veteran because he’s made those plays in key situations."
Next up: Texas A&M.
Best case: 11-1, with a loss to Texas in Austin or Oklahoma in College Station and a possible Big 12 South title and BCS berth. "All eight of their games to kick off the season are winnable, but it really gets tough once they get to November."
Worst case: 5-7 with wins over Stephen F. Austin, Louisiana Tech, Florida International and Kansas. "After breezing through their early games, the Aggies could very easily hit a three-game losing streak that would put them at 0-2 in Big 12 play."
Reality: Texas A&M did start 3-3, but ran the table with wins over Nebraska, Oklahoma and Texas to finish 9-3 in the regular season and a tie for the Big 12 South title. They finished 9-4 after losing to LSU in the Cotton Bowl.
Analysis: No team made as sharp a U-turn during its season than Texas A&M. The Aggies were staring 5-7 in the face after they did exactly what I thought was possible: lose three games in a row to fall to 3-3 and 0-2 in conference play. That was capped by an embarassing 30-9 home loss to Missouri that sent the Kyle Field fans to the exits early. By the end of the season, they were riled up enough to produce the best atmosphere of the season in the Big 12 and the biggest student section ever to see a college game -- more than 30,000. A six-game winning streak closed the regular season, which included wins over Nebraska and Oklahoma, two top-10 opponents, as well as rival Texas.
The most obvious difference between the first half and second half Aggies was the quarterback. Jerrod Johnson struggled and was eventually replaced by Ryan Tannehill. Was it the right timing? At the time, I can't say I would have done it earlier. But reconsidering when the truth about Johnson's health emerged after the season, he clearly should have been benched earlier when it became obvious that his arm strength wasn't coming back. There's no telling what would have happened against Arkansas or Missouri, but it's reasonable to believe the result of the game against Oklahoma State might have been different, and if it had been, the Aggies would be Big 12 South champions.
Even though that didn't happen, the quarterback position wasn't the only reason why the Aggies didn't win the title, or even the biggest. The offensive line with two freshman starters, jelled and helped Cyrus Gray rush for 100 yards in seven consecutive games after the headliner in the Aggies backfield, Christine Michael, went down for the season with a broken leg. Additonally, the return of the Wrecking Crew highlighted the second half, most notably stuffing Oklahoma three times on the goal line in their win over the Sooners, leaving the field to chants of "Wrecking Crew" for the first time in a long while.
The Aggies will try to build off that finish next year and shrug off a disappointing loss to LSU in the Cotton Bowl, and should be right back in the Big 12 South race next year.
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.
1. A&M makes the switch. College football can be a cruel game. Texas A&M entered the season with the Big 12's Preseason Offensive Player of the Year, Jerrod Johnson, hoping to lead the Aggies to their first Big 12 title since 1998. But offseason surgery sapped the zip from his throwing shoulder and produced an ugly start to his season, leading the Aggies to switch to Ryan Tannehill. Tannehill set the school record for passing yards in his first start, a win over Texas Tech, and helped the Aggies finish the regular season with six consecutive wins and a berth in the Cotton Bowl.
2. Texas' loss to UCLA. The red flags were there. Texas looked uninspired in wins over Wyoming and Rice, but looked dominant on defense in a road win over Texas Tech. Then the cellar-dwelling Bruins and their Pistol offense came to town. The Longhorns got rolled 34-12 in their own stadium. The loss shocked just about everyone, but it was a sign of what was to come: a 5-7 season the Texas faithful would rather forget.
3. Don't call it a comeback. Actually, you could probably call it a comeback. It was no Cam Newton in the Iron Bowl, but Landry Jones helped rally Oklahoma from a 17-0 deficit to Nebraska in the Big 12 Championship to knock off the Huskers, 23-20. The win gave Oklahoma its seventh Big 12 title of the decade.
5. We got a tip drill. Oklahoma quarterback Landry Jones thought he'd thrown it away cleanly. Not so, said Brodrick Brown. The Oklahoma State corner skied for Jones' pass headed for the sideline, tipped it back inbounds to his teammate, linebacker Shaun Lewis, who caught it as one of Jones' three interceptions in the first half of the Big 12 South's deciding game.
6. Taylor Martinez's injury. Nebraska already had a loss on its record, but one harmless-looking hit late in the first half of a big win changed Nebraska's season. Martinez was running laterally looking for a crease in the defense when Missouri safety Kenji Jackson flew in from the secondary and laid a hit on his lower body. Martinez sat the entire second half, and later revealed he had a sprained ankle. The freshman quarterback was never the same, and aggravated the injury again in a loss to Texas A&M.
7. Saluting your fans is bad, mmmmk. Adrian Hilburn made one of the biggest plays of Kansas State's season, catching a short pass and taking it 30 yards for a possible game-tying score with his team down eight. But after scoring, he saluted a group of Kansas State fans in the stands, and the official tossed a flag for excessive celebration after telling Hilburn he'd made the "wrong choice, buddy." The 15-yard penalty moved the Wildcats back, and Carson Coffman's pass on the conversion fell incomplete. Kansas State lost by two.
8. Moe's miracle. Missouri's season already looked off the rails. Blaine Gabbert threw a pair of fourth-quarter interceptions. The Tigers trailed San Diego State 24-20 with a minute to play and 68 yards between them and the end zone. Don't worry about it, said T.J. Moe. The sophomore receiver caught a short pass, made two defenders slam into each other and sprinted for the game-winning score that helped Missouri jump out to a 7-0 start to its season. Teammate Carl Gettis told Moe in the end zone, "Thank you for saving our season."
9. Last five minutes of Bedlam. Bedlam lived up to its moniker with a crazy finish that ended with the Sooners on top. Four touchdowns were scored within 92 seconds in the game's final five minutes. Oklahoma State scored to get within two points with just over four minutes to play, but on 3rd-and-long, Landry Jones found Cameron Kenney over the middle for an 86-yard touchdown pass. The ensuing kickoff? Oklahoma State's Justin Gilbert took it 89 yards to get back within two. But 17 seconds later, Jones found tight end James Hanna down the left sideline for a 76-yard touchdown that all but sealed the Sooners' win.
10. The Jayhawks win one for the ages. Kansas and Colorado were the Big 12's only teams still without a win in conference play. Something had to give. Few figured the Buffaloes 28-point lead would be what buckled. Colorado led 45-17 with just over 11 minutes to play, but the Jayhawks scored a frenzied 35 points to finish with a 52-45 win, their only conference win of the season. Buffaloes coach Dan Hawkins never got to coach another game for Colorado after being fired following the loss.
1. Sept. 30: Oklahoma State 38, Texas A&M 35. This Thursday nighter was the Big 12's only game-winning field goal of the year in conference play, and had a much bigger impact on the Big 12 South race than perhaps anyone thought when it was over. Both teams ended up tying for the Big 12 South title alongside Oklahoma, but the Aggies could have won it outright if they'd pulled the upset in Stillwater. The Aggies dominated the first half, leading 21-7, but the Cowboys' offense rallied behind Kendall Hunter in the second half for the comeback win. Jerrod Johnson filled up the stat sheet with 409 yards on 40-of-62 passing. He had five touchdowns passes and four memorable interceptions. The final one sailed over his target into Shaun Lewis' hands to set up Dan Bailey's game-winner.
2. Nov. 20: Texas A&M 9, Nebraska 6. An awful roughing the passer penalty on a Courtney Osborne hit on Ryan Tannehill that extended the eventual game-winning drive left a bad taste in Huskers fans' mouths, but A&M fans will likely choose to remember it for a dominant defensive performance and a workhorse night for Cyrus Gray to give the Aggies a second signature win of the season after beating Oklahoma two weeks earlier. Taylor Martinez left early with an injury, returning a call to his concerned father from the locker room, and Bo Pelini's accosting of his freshman quarterback when he returned was one of the lasting images from a game that didn't feature a touchdown. The penalty discrepancy (16-2 in favor of Texas A&M) got plenty of attention, but that doesn't tell the whole story.
3. Nov. 27: Oklahoma 47, Oklahoma State 41. No. 2 on the list didn't have a touchdown? This one had four in a 92-second span in the game's final five minutes. No other fourth quarter could compete with this game, which decided the Big 12 South. It also featured my pick for the play of the year, which, shockingly for this track meet, was a defensive play. Oklahoma quarterback Landry Jones threw three first-half interceptions, including one returned for a score, but bounced back for a career-high 468 yards that helped the Sooners win their eighth South title since 2000.
4. Nov. 6: Nebraska 31, Iowa State 30 (OT). Iowa State coach Paul Rhoads tried his hand at the call of the year, but his fake extra point in overtime failed when punter Daniel Kuehl's pass floated in the wind and was intercepted by Nebraska's Eric Hagg. The win kept Nebraska on track for a Big 12 North title, and it did it without Martinez, who missed the game with an ankle injury. Iowa State rallied from a 24-10 deficit entering the fourth quarter, but the gutsy call in overtime didn't pay off for the Cyclones, who would have gone bowling if they'd won the game.
5. Dec. 4: Oklahoma 23, Nebraska 20. The nostalgia faded early. Nebraska was the early aggressor and looked ready to bury Oklahoma. The Huskers sprinted to a 17-0 lead and the task of climbing out of that hole away from home against the best secondary in college football was a gigantic one. Jones and the Sooners answered the call. The sophomore quarterback racked up an astonishing 342 passing yards and helped Oklahoma win its seventh Big 12 title in the last decade.
Honorable mention: Kansas 52, Colorado 45; Colorado 44, Kansas State 36; Oklahoma 28, Texas 20; Texas Tech 45, Baylor 38.
The story of Texas A&M's 2010 season will always be told in two parts. There was the frustrating start with close losses to Oklahoma State and Arkansas before "The Year" could pick up any real momentum. Then came the blowout loss to Missouri that gave fans reason to believe there was no real reason to believe.
Then, of course, is the streak that 2010 will ultimately be remembered for. Texas A&M finished its season with six consecutive Big 12 wins to finish 9-3 and land in the Cotton Bowl for the first time since 2004. That streak is the longest for the Aggies since its last Big 12 title which was in 1998.
The early stumbles cost the Aggies a chance at the Big 12 South title, but it knocked off top 10 opponents Oklahoma and Nebraska down the stretch to get inside the top 20. Three goal-line stops against the Sooners and allowing just six points against Nebraska keyed off talk of the return of the "Wrecking Crew" and the Aggies left the field to chants of "Wrecking Crew" after both big wins.
Offensive MVP: Cyrus Gray, RB. Talk about Ryan Tannehill and Jeff Fuller all you'd like. Gray is the biggest reason for the winning streak. Christine Michael went down with a broken leg in midseason, but Gray finished the season with six games of at least 100 yards rushing, including over 200 yards of offense against a stingy Nebraska defense and 223 yards rushing against Texas. During that six-game stretch, Gray averaged 6.3 yards per carry.
Defensive MVP: Von Miller, LB/DE. Miller, like the Aggies, got off to a slow start, too. His came because of an ankle injury, but Miller was one of the league's most productive defenders in Big 12 play, making a late surge into the conversation for Big 12 Defensive Player of the Year. He didn't have a tackle for loss or a sack in his first four games, but finished with 14.5 TFLs and 9.5 sacks, tied for the Big 12 lead.
Turning point: The switch from Jerrod Johnson to Ryan Tannehill. I'll stress, this isn't the only thing that helped the Aggies rip off six consecutive wins, but it was one of the reasons why. Johnson didn't look like himself after offseason shoulder surgery, but Tannehill got some time at quarterback against Kansas, and took over the starting gig against Texas Tech. In that game, he set a school record with 449 passing yards and didn't give the job back.
What's next: Tannehill's experience this year will carry over to next year, but the Aggies have to hope he doesn't fall victim to the Texas A&M senior quarterback curse as Johnson and Reggie McNeal did, among others before them. The defense made big strides under Tim DeRuyter, and though Miller, linebacker Michael Hodges and defensive tackle Lucas Patterson will be gone next year, the Aggies should still have a solid senior class with Tannehill, safety Trent Hunter and linebacker Garrick Williams. Freshman Damontre Moore will fill Miller's role and could be a breakout star in 2011, too.
It's Big 12 day for ESPNDallas.com, so let's preview the upcoming season with a cavalcade of content for you to digest. So let's get rolling ...
* There was little doubt that Jerrod Johnson would follow in his father's shoes to Texas A&M. Even though his father has passed, Johnson is still following his advice. Click here for David Ubben's story on the A&M quarterback.
* Last season, Oklahoma's Landry Jones and Texas' Garrett Gilbert were thrown into impossible situations. Both quarterbacks emerged from their trial by fire stronger and more focused. Click here for Pat Forde's story.
* Tommy Tuberville ushers in a new era at Texas Tech.
* David Ubben provides five things to watch in the Big 12 in 2010. You can chat with David at 1 p.m. today.
* Tom Osborne has been the steady hand behind the wheel for Nebraska football for many years. But this offseason, Osborne and the Cornhuskers had to embrace a change to the Big Ten because change to the Big 12 already had compromised what it held dear. You can chat with Pat at 3 p.m. today.
Want to hear it straight from the players and coaches. Here are a few videos for your viewing pleasure:
* Oklahoma's Bob Stoops talks about facing a tough 2010 schedule with a roster at full strength.
* Texas' Mack Brown talks about replacing Colt McCoy and adapting a new offense to Garrett Gilbert.
* David Ubben talks to Texas A&M QB Jerrod Johnson about his Aggie upbringing.
* Baylor’s Art Briles and QB Robert Griffin III discuss Baylor's upcoming season for First Take.
ESPN.com's Pat Forde writes about 10 quarterbacks who don't fit the NFL prototype or don't play in a big conference but find ways to win.
Texas A&M's Jerrod Johnson and TCU's Andy Dalton made the list.
Forde on Johnson:
Big, fast guy threw for more than 3,500 yards and ran for more than 500 last season, accounting for 38 touchdowns. If the Aggies' rebuilt offensive line holds up, he could really dazzle this year.
Forde on Dalton
Improved from caretaker to playmaker last season in guiding the Horned Frogs to a top 10 finish. Dalton threw 23 touchdown passes and just eight interceptions, and ran for more than 500 yards. And he doesn't lose many games.
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