NCF Nation: Christian Matthews

Kansas led at halftime, but it scored a defensive touchdown and its only other scoring drive went for negative yardage after an interception.

The Jayhawks needed a change on offense, and they've gone with an uptempo pace out of the Jayhawk formation to make it happen with the game tied at 10.

The result: Three first downs on a single drive after having just two in the entire first half. A false start on 4th-and-1 near midfield forced a punt, but it's a huge step in the right direction for Kansas, especially if Christian Matthews can throw a bit more to keep the Tigers honest.

Expect to see more of that until Missouri stops it. James Sims even took snaps out of the formation, which most often features Matthews. He completed his first pass of the season out of the formation to a wide-open Kale Pick, another fellow former quarterback, for 12 yards.
The Big 12 might be weak at the top of the running back heap, but it's definitely not at receiver. The conference has at least three of the top five receivers in the country, and the top two. They highlight a very strong group of receivers across the league, and I continue our position rankings with receivers today.

Remember that depth plays a big part of these rankings. We'll be ranking the top 10 individuals at each position later on before the season begins.

Other position rankings: 1. Oklahoma

[+] EnlargeRyan Broyles
J.P. Wilson/Icon SMIRyan Broyles finished the 2010 season with 131 catches for 1,622 yards and 14 touchdowns.
The Sooners have the nation's No. 2 receiver, Ryan Broyles, but found a handful of others to surround him in 2010 and should have a couple more in 2011. Sophomore Kenny Stills broke Broyles' freshman receiving record and looks like a budding star. Dejuan Miller came on strong before a season-ending knee injury, but he's back. The Sooners lose Cameron Kenney, but Trey Franks had a strong freshman campaign, and freshmen Justin McCay (redshirt) and Trey Metoyer could provide even more playmakers.

2. Oklahoma State

The Cowboys boast the returning Biletnikoff Award winner and 2011 favorite, Justin Blackmon, with a great group around him, too. Slot machine Josh Cooper returns for his senior year, and fellow senior Hubert Anyiam (the team's leading receiver in 2009) is hoping to return to form after being slowed by an ankle injury in 2010. Isaiah Anderson is a shifty speedster, while Michael Harrison and Tracy Moore offer a more aerial approach to receiving.

3. Texas A&M

The Aggies have the Big 12's No. 3 receiver, Jeff Fuller, who is arguably one of the top-five in the college game. But they also have the Big 12's most experienced receiving unit, with guys who won't be surprised by anything they see in Big 12 play. Juniors Ryan Swope and Uzoma Nwachukwu are the team's second and third options, but fellow juniors Kenric McNeal and Brandal Jackson could be bigger pieces of the offense in 2011. Tight end Nehemiah Hicks should see his profile rise in his coming sophomore year.

4. Baylor

Top target Kendall Wright will likely end his career as the Bears' leading receiver for all four of his seasons on the field, and 6-foot-4, 220-pound junior Josh Gordon looks like the new Jeff Fuller. Terrance Williams, Lanear Sampson and Tevin Reese round out the Bears' top five, who all had at least 40 catches last season, and all return.

5. Missouri

Missouri still lacks a proven big-play threat, but has two pass-catchers who have some of the best hands in the game. Receiver T.J. Moe and tight end Michael Egnew won't drop many passes, and combined to catch 182 for 1,807 yards and 11 touchdowns. Wes Kemp and Jerrell Jackson bring a lot of experience and both had at least 39 catches last season. If Marcus Lucas or Rolandis Woodland can become a consistent downfield threat, Missouri will rise up these rankings by season's end.

6. Texas Tech

Tech's top two receivers, Lyle Leong and Detron Lewis, must be replaced, but the Red Raiders have a few solid candidates to do it. Junior Alex Torres will likely lead the group, but fellow junior Austin Zouzalik and seniors Jacoby Franks and Tramain Swindall will be counted on for more production. Dark horse/juco newcomer Marcus Kennard could blossom into a household name across the Big 12 by season's end.

7. Texas

Sophomore Mike Davis and redshirt freshman Darius White are loaded with potential, but two of the team's top three receivers (James Kirkendoll, John Chiles) are gone, and no Texas receiver caught more than two touchdowns last season. Malcolm Williams and Marquise Goodwin are as different as two receivers could be, but both need to break out to help whoever becomes the Longhorns quarterback next fall.

8. Kansas State

Brodrick Smith will be back this season after breaking his leg in a loss to Nebraska. But two of the team's top three receivers are gone, leaving converted quarterback Chris Harper as the leading returner, though Smith might have held that title if he'd stayed healthy. Sophomore speedster Tramaine Thompson can make plays if he gets the ball with some space.

9. Iowa State

The Cyclones will be breaking in a new quarterback this season and they will need a playmaker to step up. Tight end Collin Franklin led team in receiving last season but he is now gone. Darius Reynolds looks like a possible candidate to fill the role, although incoming slot receiver Aaron Horne might rack up a few catches in space. Darius Darks and Josh Lenz should earn some more targets too.

10. Kansas

Converted defensive back Daymond Patterson is the team's top receiver, but the team's No. 3 receiver junior Bradley McDougald, moved to safety in the middle of the season. Tight end Tim Biere is one of the Big 12's best and led the team with four touchdowns last season. Chris Omigie and D.J. Beshears have some potential, and converted quarterback Christian Matthews keeps showing up in spring games. But all three, along with the rest of the group, would benefit from some consistency at the quarterback spot.

Pick finishes spring with flurry

April, 26, 2010
Entering spring, Kale Pick was one of six quarterbacks vying to open the Turner Gill era at Kansas as the starting quarterback. He took his divvied-up snaps and by the final week of spring, joined Jordan Webb as the two front-runners for the job.

But Pick still held the advantage of being the only quarterback coaches and fans had seen on the field, albeit in a limited capacity. In Saturday's spring game, he gave those coaches and fans one final image to replay over and over until camp re-opens in the fall.

[+] EnlargePick
John Rieger/US PresswireKale Pick is one of the candidates to be Kansas' starting quarterback.
Trailing 10-7 with just over two minutes to play, the sophomore hit Christian Matthews -- now a receiver after Pick beat him out for the job, too -- for a 34-yard touchdown and a 14-10 win.

Gill made it clear earlier this spring what he wanted from his first quarterback at Kansas.

"You definitely want a guy that’s going to be able to make plays, whether it’s with his legs or with his arm," he said. "Obviously, it’d be ideal to have a guy that can do both."

Pick didn't do much of the former (seven carries for minus-14 yards and three sacks), but the latter should meet Gill's requirement, giving Pick a push into fall. And besides, he showed he could run plenty in his niche role as a freshman, when he ripped off three runs of over 10 yards in Kansas' first game last season, and a run of 55 yards in the second.

"It was frustrating to a point when you'd just come in at the end of games," Pick said. "As a QB, obviously, you want to throw the ball."

But sitting behind Todd Reesing, who left Kansas with nearly every school passing record, Pick knew his role.

"When I came in and the game was closer," Pick said, "we wanted to establish the running part of the offense."

It often needed it. Kansas ranked 11th in rushing during conference play, but now Pick hopes his speed is only part of his threat.

"I can run and throw," Pick said. "I think I can give defenses some headaches worrying about the run."

Saturday was his first chance to show off his arm, and Pick impressed. Suiting up for both teams, Pick threw for 214 yards and two touchdowns on 14 of 22 passing. Forgot to mention what else Gill wanted in his quarterback. A simple idea some quarterbacks never master.

"No matter what offense you’re running, you definitely want a guy that can take care of the football," Gill said.

Pick didn't throw an interception. Juco transfer Quinn Mecham and Webb did, despite throwing the ball fewer times.

Pick has been comfortable in the new system, which varies widely from the spread-based attack the Jayhawks racked up yards with while Reesing was throwing to Dezmon Briscoe and Kerry Meier.

Kansas plans to run about half of its offense from under center, giving way to unfamiliar facets of offenses like two-back sets and something called a "tight end."

Gill also wants a less tangible attribute from his quarterback.

"The main thing is, just being able to raise the play of the guys around him," Gill said.

It's too early to tell if he can do that just yet, but Pick is certainly trying.

"I need to become a leader. I think what we need right now is some leaders to step up," he said. "We’re a really young team."

Although it's working with new coaches, Kansas' offense brings back eight starters, including the entire offensive line. Pick could be the key to making sure the transition comes easy once he can't suit up for both teams.

"If he’s able to do all three or four of those things, then you’re going to have an outstanding quarterback," Gill said.

Pick won't win the starting job because of one throw on a Saturday in April, but it's certainly a start. And it's given the position a bit more clarity entering the fall.
Kansas State isn't the only school in the Sunflower State with quarterback issues. At Kansas, the race is even more unsettled. As in most quarterback battles, the most experienced candidate -- in this case, sophomore Kale Pick -- is the de facto front-runner.

[+] EnlargeKale Pick
John Rieger/US PresswireKale Pick rushed for 167 yards on 14 carries last season, but he wants to be known more as a passer in 2010.
But with a new coaching staff, that experience might not put him as far out in front of the others competing for the job as it normally would. And Pick believes his experience from 2009 gave fans an inaccurate view of his skill set.

"In high school I was always a throwing quarterback, but now I got a few good runs here so everyone thinks I’m a running quarterback," Pick said after Monday's practice. "Now I just have to show that I can throw it, too. I can run the ball, but I can really throw it, too."

Pick, used sparingly in a role similar to the one Tim Tebow played as a freshman, ran the ball 14 times to just five passes. But he broke a 55-yard run against UTEP and a 20-yarder against Northern Colorado early in the season.

Pick and redshirt freshmen Christian Matthews and Jordan Webb have established themselves as the three leaders in the race to succeed Todd Reesing.

"All three of those guys bring something a little different to the game as a quarterback. They all have talent. We feel we have some guys who can do some good things for us," coach Turner Gill said.

But Gill stressed that the move wasn't permanent and was definitely preliminary. Juco transfer Quinn Mecham, Missouri State transfer Jacob Morse and KU basketballer Conner Teahan are also vying for the job.

"That doesn’t mean that when I talk to you next week, it might not change around," Gill said.

Choosing from six candidates might not be ideal for the development of the eventual starter, but Gill seems in no hurry to find his guy.

"From the public and media standpoint I know that quarterback is a position that everybody is closely watching," he said. "Everybody on our football team is very focused and they are all intense. Everybody is vying for a spot, so everybody is trying to figure out things. Nothing is permanent and won’t be permanent after we play the spring game. We will have an ending depth chart, but up until then there are going to be a lot of different parts moving."