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B1G bowl primer: Meineke Car Care Bowl

December, 18, 2012
12/18/12
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Our snapshots of each bowl featuring a Big Ten team continue.

MEINEKE CAR CARE BOWL OF TEXAS

Minnesota (6-6) vs. Texas Tech (7-5)

Where: Houston, Reliant Stadium

When: Dec. 28, 9 p.m. ET (8 p.m. CT)

TV: ESPN

About Minnesota: The Gophers return to a bowl game for the first time since the 2009 season after doubling their wins total from 2011 in coach Jerry Kill's second year. Thanks to an improved defense, Minnesota surged to a 4-0 start before struggling in Big Ten play. Injuries forced Minnesota to use three different starting quarterbacks: senior MarQueis Gray, sophomore Max Shortell and freshman Philip Nelson, who lost his redshirt midway through the season and started the final six contests. The Gophers finished 11th nationally in pass defense and bolstered their pass rush behind senior end D.L. Wilhite and junior tackle Ra'Shede Hageman. Nelson showed some flashes of potential in a home victory against Purdue, but injuries piled up for the Gophers' offense, which scored just 54 points in the final four games.

About Texas Tech: Like Minnesota, the Red Raiders saw most of their gains in the first half of the season. They won their first four games and six of their first seven before dropping four of their final five. The poor finish combined with mounting criticism led to the somewhat surprising departure of coach Tommy Tuberville to Cincinnati following the regular season. Texas Tech acted quickly in naming rising star Kliff Kingsbury as head coach, although offensive line Chris Thomsen will coach the Red Raiders in the bowl. The passing tradition at Tech is alive and well as Seth Doege triggers the nation's No. 2 pass offense (361.9 yards per game), and the Red Raiders also rank in the top 20 nationally in both scoring and total offense. The defense performed well through the first half, shutting down then-Heisman Trophy favorite Geno Smith and West Virginia, but the unit struggled late, surrendering more than 50 points in four of the final six contests.

Key players, Minnesota: Gray is set to play his final game in a Gophers uniform, and as has been the case for much of his career, his position is somewhat of a mystery. Gray started at quarterback last season and opened this fall as the team's top signal-caller, but knee and ankle injuries forced him to wide receiver. The extended break before the bowl has allowed Gray to get healthy, and both he and Nelson are practicing at quarterback. Although running back Donnell Kirkwood has been good at times, Minnesota lacks offensive playmakers. Senior cornerback Michael Carter headlines the secondary after recording two interceptions and 14 pass breakups this fall. Wilhite tied for second in the Big Ten with 8.5 sacks.

Key players, Texas Tech: Doege ranks 14th nationally in pass efficiency (156.6 rating) and ninth in total offense (331.1 ypg), having eclipsed 300 pass yards in nine of 12 games with a 499-yard effort against West Virginia and a 476-yard performance against Kansas. He has two excellent targets in wide receivers Darrin Moore and Eric Ward, both of whom rank in the top 20 nationally in receptions and in the top 30 nationally in receiving yards. Junior defensive end Kerry Hyder triggers Texas Tech's pass rush with five sacks and 13.5 tackles for loss. Senior safety Cody Davis leads the unit in tackles (91) and interceptions (3), and ranks second in pass breakups (7).

Did you know: The teams' only previous meeting was a memorable one, as Texas Tech made a huge comeback to force overtime and eventually beat Minnesota in the 2006 Insight Bowl. The blown lead led to Minnesota's firing of longtime coach Glen Mason the next day. ... Texas Tech is bowl-eligible for the 19th time in the past 20 seasons. ... Minnesota will be looking for its first bowl win since the 2004 Music City Bowl, when it defeated Alabama 20-16. ... Minnesota is 5-9 all-time in bowls and has dropped four straight. ... Texas Tech makes its third appearance in what's now known as the Meineke Car Care Bowl of Texas. Texas Tech played in the inaugural game in 2000 (then named the galleryfurniture.com Bowl) at the Astrodome and again in 2003 (then named the EV1.net Houston Bowl) at Reliant Stadium. Texas Tech's last appearance resulted in a 38-14 win over Navy on Dec. 30, 2003.

ESPN.com's 2012 All-Big 12 team

December, 10, 2012
12/10/12
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Congrats to all these guys for turning in fantastic seasons. Naturally, there will be some snubs and some things that need to be explained. Check the blog later today for more thoughts.

Without further ado, here's the All-Big 12 team from ESPN.com.

OFFENSE

QB: Collin Klein, Kansas State
RB: Joseph Randle, Oklahoma State
RB: James Sims, Kansas
FB: Trey Millard, Oklahoma
WR: Stedman Bailey, West Virginia
WR: Terrance Williams, Baylor
WR: Tavon Austin, West Virginia
TE: Jace Amaro, Texas Tech
OL: Cyril Richardson, Baylor
OL: Gabe Ikard, Oklahoma
C: Joe Madsen, West Virginia
OL: Lane Taylor, Oklahoma State
OL: LaAdrian Waddle, Texas Tech

DEFENSE

DL: Devonte Fields, TCU
DL: Meshak Williams, Kansas State
DL: Calvin Barnett, Oklahoma State
DL: Alex Okafor, Texas
LB: A.J. Klein, Iowa State
LB: Arthur Brown, Kansas State
LB: Jake Knott, Iowa State
CB: Jason Verrett, TCU
CB: Aaron Colvin, Oklahoma
S: Ty Zimmerman, Kansas State
S: Tony Jefferson, Oklahoma

SPECIALISTS:

PK: Quinn Sharp, Oklahoma State
P: Quinn Sharp, Oklahoma State
KR: Tyler Lockett, Kansas State
PR: Tavon Austin, West Virginia

Honorable mention: Geno Smith, QB, West Virginia; Landry Jones, QB, Oklahoma; Anthony Cantele, K, Kansas State; Kenny Vaccaro, S, Texas; Justin Brown, PR, Oklahoma; Tanner Hawkinson, OL, Kansas; Jake McDonough, DL, Iowa State; Lane Johnson, OL, Oklahoma; John Hubert, RB, Kansas State; Travis Tannahill, TE, Kansas State; Durrell Givens, S, Iowa State; Cody Davis, S, Texas Tech
The National Football Foundation has honored 15 players as national scholar-athletes and finalists for the William V. Campbell Trophy, which is presented to college football's top performer on the field and in the classroom across all NCAA divisions.

All 15 finalists received an $18,000 postgraduate scholarship and will be recognized at a Dec. 4 banquet in New York City, where the Campbell Trophy winner will be named. The winner receivers an extra $7,000 in scholarship money.

The finalists are:
Thanks for all the emails this week. Here's where you can reach me if you've got more to say. Until then, let's get to your mail!

Honest Abe in Washington, D.C., writes: In celebration of Halloween, is there a team with a more mysterious and scary second half in store than Oklahoma State? They could easily lose every single game left on their schedule, just as they could (not easily) win every single one. They have the horses and coaching to play with anyone, yet they have the injuries and execution of the 9th place team in the league.

David Ubben: I'd agree with that, Abe. I definitely feel like Oklahoma State is better than their record, but the results haven't been there yet. Getting Wes Lunt back (whenever that is) will definitely help, but my gut says somebody falls and hits 5-7, leaving the Big 12 with just eight bowl-eligible teams, instead of nine. Oklahoma State and Baylor look like the two most likely candidates at this point.

Those same teams, though, aren't out of the mix of rising up to win nine games, either. Just a crazy, crazy league this year with a whole lot of parity. Completely unpredictable from week to week.


Josh in Norman, Okla., writes: Can we please stop with the "if K-State wins this weekend, the second half of the season is a coronation" talk? Would you like for me to list the Big 12 teams over the past dozen years who have gotten through the (seemingly) most difficult parts of their schedules only to stumble (sometimes inexplicably) before their season ended? Oklahoma 2002 and 2003, Texas 2006, Oklahoma 2007, Texas 2008, Oklahoma 2010, Oklahoma State 2011. Need I say more? Going undefeated is really hard and, given KSU's style of squeaking out close wins, the odds are stacked against them.

DU: Good list there, Josh. What do most of those teams have in common, though? They won a Big 12 title. Oklahoma lost in the Big 12 title game in 2003, and I don't recall any of that talk about Texas in 2006. Texas got squeezed out in 2008 because of a ridiculous tiebreaker. Point is, the odds are good for K-State to win a Big 12 title because the margin of error would be so large.

WVU and Oklahoma are the two teams with the best chance to continue winning, and K-State would hold the tiebreaker on both teams.

A coronation? Sure, maybe that's a little much. But anyone want to bet K-State doesn't win the Big 12 title if it wins on Saturday?

Bueller?


KB in Albuquerque, N.M., writes: Hi David, I enjoy the blog. How about a little love for KSU punter Ryan Doerr? Punts were huge in the win over ISU. In the 3rd quarter Doerr pinned ISU at their 1. ISU went three-and-out, with a shanked punt from their end zone to their 30 that gave KSU a short field for the TD that proved to be the game winner. Then Doerr pinned ISU at their 3 to start what became a futile attempt at a go-ahead last drive. Thanks and keep up the good work! KB

DU: Doerr's definitely a big talent. The Big 12's got a lot this year at punter. It was tight race between Kirby Van Der Kamp, Doerr and Quinn Sharp at OSU. Sharp's got the biggest leg, but I went with Van Der Kamp because of his consistency pinning teams inside the 20.


Brett in Houston writes: David, At this point in the season, is Terrance Williams the front-runner for the Biletnikoff Award?

DU: He's definitely my front-runner. Thing is, the Big 12 might come pretty close to earning a shutout on all three finalists for yet another year. Kendall Wright should have been in there last year, but this year, it might be Williams and the WVU duo of Stedman Bailey and Tavon Austin.

For now, though, no doubt in my mind: Williams is the Biletnikoff leader. Austin and Bailey aren't far behind and could have their finalists party crashed by Marqise Lee at USC, but if the voting happened today, you might see an all Big 12 list of finalists.

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3-point stance: UCLA's Mora having 'fun'

September, 12, 2012
9/12/12
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1. No. 22 UCLA's coach, Jim L. Mora, a 25-year NFL veteran, on making the switch to the college game: “Kids at this age have got this amazing enthusiasm for the game. They don't take anything for granted," said Mora, 51. "It's a lot of fun. It’s fun to be with them in the locker room when they are listening to music, and dancing around, and pounding on each other. It's fun to watch them run out of the tunnel holding hands because they feel a sincere appreciation for one another. You don't necessarily see that at the next level. It's a blast. It's awesome. I'm having so much fun I can't even stand it."

2. Both Texas Tech head coach Tommy Tuberville and free safety Cody Davis chalked up the Red Raiders' defensive improvement to confidence. Texas Tech, which gave up 39 points per game last season, has allowed only one touchdown in two games. That said, Tuberville makes sure confidence doesn't turn into overconfidence. "When you're winning, that’s when you want to be (as) negative as you can in terms of teaching, and film, showing all the little things to get better."

3. Dabo Swinney played wide receiver at Alabama and coached the position both at his alma mater and at Clemson. Now that he’s the Tigers' head coach, he may be a little sensitive to seeing that his receivers are happy. "We keep a touch chart on the sideline,” Swinney said this week. "It's something I pay close attention to by quarter. From time to time, I'll make sure I tell somebody to make sure so-and-so gets some touches. It’s usually not an issue. It’s usually in the forefront of all of our thoughts."

Big 12 weekend rewind: Week 2

September, 10, 2012
9/10/12
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Time to look back on the week that was in the Big 12 on Saturday.

Best offensive performance: Collin Klein, QB, Kansas State. Klein dominated in the Wildcats' 52-13 win over Miami, showcasing an improved arm and the same toughness that made him a franchise player for K-State a year ago. He finished with three rushing touchdowns and 71 yards on 22 carries, while completing 9 of 11 passes for 201 yards, a touchdown and an interception. Honorable mention: Tracy Moore, WR, Oklahoma State, Damien Williams, RB, Oklahoma

Best defensive performance: Adam Davis, DE, Kansas State. Davis was a wrecking ball on the defensive line for K-State, the game's most consistently disruptive force. He finished with just four tackles, but he had two sacks and forced two fumbles, one of which was scooped up by Arthur Brown. Honorable mention: Arthur Brown, LB, Kansas State

[+] EnlargeDevonte Fields
Max Faulkner/Fort Worth Star-Telegram/MCT via Getty ImagesDevonte Fields (95) spent a lot of time in the Grambling backfield on Saturday.
Best performance by a freshman: Devonte Fields, DE, TCU. The Horned Frogs' hyped defensive end was all over the place against Grambling, making five tackles, a sack and three tackles for loss for a total of 10 yards lost. Heck of a debut for the most touted member of TCU's 2012 recruiting class.

Best play: Jake Knott, LB, Iowa State. Knott clinched the Cy-Hawk Trophy for Iowa State by tipping a James Vandenberg pass to himself for a game-ending interception, cutting off a promising Iowa drive in the final minute of the Cyclones' 9-6 win over the Hawkeyes. Honorable mention: Cody Davis, S, Texas Tech; Kenny Williams, RB, Texas Tech

Worst play: Kansas State's ... something. It was half jump pass, half behind the back Statue of Liberty ... or something. Bill Snyder called a timeout and the Wildcats ran the trick play at the goal line. However, Klein's behind the back pass to Chris Harper ended up going for a 19-yard loss and the Wildcats missed a field goal on the next play.

Second-worst play: Calvin Barnett, DT, Oklahoma State. It's been a long time since I've heard of a player getting two personal fouls on the same play, but Barnett pulled it off in the first quarter, getting flagged for two personal fouls to take care of 30 yards for Arizona on a 75-yard touchdown drive. He was flagged for roughing the passer and again for unnecessary roughness, and finished with 45 penalty yards, 18 more than Arizona's entire team. Oklahoma State finished with a school-record 167 penalty yards on 15 flags. Dishonorable mention: Dayne Crist's fourth-quarter interception to set up Rice's game-winning field goal.

Best team performance: Kansas State. We saw a complete game for 60 minutes and complete domination from the Wildcats. K-State sent a pretty decent statement with one of the best all-around games we've seen all season from anybody in the league, routing Miami 52-13, and outmuscling a pretty athletic Hurricanes squad.

Worst team performance: Oklahoma State. The Jayhawks gave OSU a run for its money in this one, but when you add up the aforementioned penalties, four turnovers and zero forced turnovers and the fact they came against a middling Arizona squad, the 21-point game was a pretty jarring wake-up call. Yes, it was the first time on the road for a young passing game, but OSU has a lot of experience elsewhere. This year won't be an easy one for Oklahoma State, but making Wes Lunt throw the ball 60 times a night isn't the answer. Dishonorable mention: Kansas.

Worst quarter: Oklahoma State's fourth quarter. The Cowboys were still in it after a Quinn Sharp field goal cut Arizona's lead to 37-31 entering the quarter. However, turnovers and an inability to stop the run turned it into a borderline embarrassing loss. The Cowboys were outscored 22-7 in the quarter and left the desert as losers in their first major test. Rough way to close the outing. Dishonorable mention: Kansas' fourth quarter, when the Jayhawks entered with an eight-point lead and lost.

Best quarter: TCU's first quarter. The Frogs scored on the very first time they touched the ball in the rebuilt Amon G. Carter Stadium. Not bad, eh? Deante' Gray scooted 70 yards to return a punt for a score, and by the end of the first quarter, the Frogs led 28-0, with a rushing touchdown, a passing touchdown, a special-teams score and a defensive score on a 28-yard Elisha Olabode interception return. That'll work.

Oddest performance: Malcolm Brown, RB, Texas. Brown's not exactly a bell cow, but he's the featured runner for the Longhorns. Mack Brown said Malcolm Brown was healthy, but the sophomore and Longhorns leading rusher a season ago carried the ball just two times for 5 yards on Saturday. Three other players, including QB David Ash and freshman RB Johnathan Gray, had more plays called for them. What's up there?
Purdue is getting a little bit of a buzz as a sleeper team for 2012 after breaking through with a bowl game (and win) in 2011. The Boilermakers opened spring practice last week and went for a couple of days straight before taking off for spring break. I had a chance to catch up with Purdue head coach Danny Hope to talk about how things are going in his program and the areas of concentration this spring.

Did you sense any different attitude this offseason after getting to that bowl game last year?

[+] EnlargeDanny Hope
Andrew Weber/US PresswireCoach Danny Hope said the momentum from boilermakers' bowl win last season has carried over into the spring.
Danny Hope: I think we ended the season on a high note and with some momentum, and I think it carried over into the offseason. I think we're really hitting on all cylinders with our new director of sports performance, whom we hired last year about this time. It's the first time since I've been the head coach at Purdue that we're going into spring with a quarterback that's healthy that's played any football. Caleb TerBush wasn't penciled in as the No. 1 [quarterback], but he became No. 1 about a week before the opener. He had to get his feet wet and learn throughout the course of the season, but by the end of the season he was playing pretty good. That momentum carried right over into the bowl preparation and the win carried right into the weight training offseason and that carried into spring practices. And having experienced quarterbacks is important. It's the first time since I've been here we've been able to do something as simple as getting signals in early in spring. It's a little different tempo out there right now as a result. We've got some good players back and we've got some confidence as a football team.

You have quite a few experienced quarterbacks now, in fact. How are you splitting up the reps for them this spring?

DH: Well, Sean Robinson is playing on defense right now. It's hard to get four quarterbacks ready in spring ball, and he wasn't going to get as many reps as he needed to. So we're going to try him some at the linebacker position. That leaves TerBush and Robert Marve, who's finally healthy. I think Robert did some good things last year, but I think he's in position to take some big steps in his development because this is the first time since he's been here that he's been able to get a lot of reps without concern about an injury or an eligibility situation. Then Rob Henry is back. He's a little bit limited right now because he's coming off knee surgery, but I'm really pleased with where his recovery is, and most of the time when he's out there right now you can't tell much of a difference. But you have to limit his reps a little just because you don't want to overdo it and create a swelling issue. So the numbers are kind of taking care of themselves in some ways. We went into the spring with TerBush as No. 1 and all those other guys are competing.

Your leading rusher, Ralph Bolden, tore his ACL again, but you have two pretty good running backs in Akeem Shavers and Akeem Hunt. How do you feel about the depth at running back this spring?

DH: We had a real strong running attack last year. We were fifth in the Big Ten in rushing. The past couple of years, we've been able to establish a strong running game. I like the progress that we've made and having good running backs is a big part of that, and any more, having a couple of running backs you can play is a big part of it. We had a lot of different guys rush for us last year, probably 10 different guys who were utilized as ball carriers. We really like Akeem Shavers. He's a fast, physical back who finishes runs. Akeem Hunt is an excellent sprinter who's a member of our track team and was a state champion track performer in Georgia. So he's a class sprinter in a lot of ways for a football player.

We've also got a kid we redshirted last year in Doug Gentry, and he's a skilled player. We have Gavin Roberts, who has good size but was injured last year. He's a big back we can utilize in the backfield. Then we've got a couple fullbacks in Derek Jackson, who weighs about 240 pounds, and Kurt Freytag. So we've got some guys still in the stable even though Ralph is out. And we've utilized Antavian Edison and Raheem Mostert some as ball carriers out of their slot position, and both those guys are really skilled players. So we've got some athletes who can tote the mail, and we spread the wealth out around here.

Were you upset about the new kickoff rules because you have such a weapon at kick returner in Raheem Mostert?

DH: Well, we all play by the same rules. You'll have to make decisions about bringing some out, so the return man is going to have to be a good decision-maker. From a kickoff standpoint it might change some things. You can kick them all deep and try to force the touchback if you want to, but you're going to be giving the opponent the ball at the 25. Or you can kick the ball high and deep and try to pin them down and do a great job covering. So there's going to be some game planning and schemes involved. I think it will all even out. ... I don't think it's going to shut down all kick returns, but I think there will be about 25 percent less, is my guess.

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Big 12 position ranking: Safeties

June, 30, 2011
6/30/11
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We'll move on to the safeties today in our position rankings across the Big 12.

Here's what we've covered so far:
The group of safeties across the Big 12 isn't fantastic, without any truly elite groups, but it's decent. There aren't any teams that look really hopeless at the position in the immediate future.

I haven't given it real close examination so far on the positions we haven't covered yet, but this is by far the closest gap between 1-10 of any position so far.

Here's how I ranked them. (Remember, I lumped in nickel backs with linebackers, so Ahmad Dixon and Tony Jefferson won't be found anywhere in this post.)

[+] EnlargeOklahoma State's Markelle Martin
John Rieger/US PRESSWIREOklahoma State's Markelle Martin is the Big 12's best overall safety.
1. Oklahoma State -- The Cowboys have Markelle Martin, the Big 12's best overall safety who's a big talent but a much better hitter than he is a cover man. Johnny Thomas is solid and both safeties got a lot better as the 2010 season progressed. OSU's depth lands them here, though. Daytawion Lowe could start for a few Big 12 teams and is slightly better than A&M and Texas' reserves, the other two teams with the deepest group of safeties.

2. Texas -- Blake Gideon takes his share of criticism, a good deal of it fair, but there's a reason he's starting for Texas for a fourth season this fall. He knows what he's doing. Kenny Vaccaro will challenge OSU's Martin, among others, for the title of the Big 12's biggest hitter and Nolan Brewster and Christian Scott are strong reserves at the position. The Longhorns lose a lot at corner, but all the safeties are back from a defense that allowed just over 170 yards a game through the air in conference play last season.

3. Texas A&M -- The Aggies' Steven Terrell and Trent Hunter are solid, and Hunter is a big playmaker who made 62 stops and picked off two passes last year. Toney Hurd Jr. is the backup and was one of the most impressive freshmen in fall camp last year, joined by Steven Campbell in the rotation.

4. Kansas State -- Tysyn Hartman has loads of experience and is one of the Wildcats that Bill Snyder loves to rave about. Ty Zimmerman was one of the Big 12's best freshman last year, and picked off three passes. They should be solid again next year, and for as much criticism as K-State's defense faced last year, they were fifth in the Big 12 in pass defense. Logan Dold should be in the rotation, too.

5. Oklahoma -- Reserve Sam Proctor has starting experience, but Javon Harris and Aaron Colvin enter fall camp as starters. That says plenty about how Bob Stoops and Brent Venables feel about them. In a word: confident. Colvin has the most potential in the group, but the two starters will have to learn on the go. Proctor, a senior, should be able to help. James Haynes will also be in the rotation.

6. Missouri -- Jasper Simmons is gone, but Missouri's safeties might be a bit underrated in this spot. Kenji Jackson has loads of experience and should be solid, and Tavon Bolden and Matt White are a pair of promising sophomores who should compete at free safety. Kenronte Walker should be in the rotation, too.

7. Texas Tech -- Injuries were a problem last year for the Tech secondary, but Cody Davis and D.J. Johnson will hold down the traditional safety spots away from the line of scrimmage in new coordinator Chad Glasgow's 4-2-5. The unit gave up lots of big plays in 2010 (151 over 10 yards, 46 over 20, and 25 over 30, all the most in the Big 12), but I'd expect that number to drop under Glasgow if the secondary stays healthy. Davis is the team's leading returning tackler, with 87 stops. Brett Dewhurst and Giorgio Durham should be in the rotation.

8. Kansas -- Keeston Terry and Bradley McDougald give Kansas a lot of speed and athletic ability at the position, but both of the team's safeties from 2010 graduated and Terry and McDougald are short on experience. Lubbock Smith should add some solid depth to the position.

9. Iowa State -- Iowa State loses their top playmaker at the position, David Sims, but returns starter Ter'Ran Benton. He'll be helped out by some combination of Jacques Washington, Earl Brooks and Deon Broomfield once the season starts. Iowa State's biggest weakness is on the defensive line, so it's hard to get a good read on how good the safeties really are with such a poor pass rush up front.

10. Baylor -- This group might move up the list during the year under Phil Bennett, but the two best raw athletes (Ahmad Dixon, Prince Kent) at the position moved to nickel back and linebacker, respectively. The team's leading tackler, Byron Landor, graduated, and that left Mike Hicks as the other starter. He'll be helped out at safety by Sam Holl, Josh Wilson and K.J. Morton. Last year, the Bears ranked last in the Big 12 in pass defense in conference play, giving up over 300 yards a game. That'll have to change or Baylor won't get past seven wins.
We've been all over the place so far this offseason, taking a look at some of the budding stars in the Big 12. Here's what we've covered so far:
Now it's time to look at the guys that seem to be in on every play: players who will notch 100 tackles next year. A little context: This is a bigger group than the others.

Last year, 11 players topped the 100-tackle mark, and just five return. Across the country, 75 players had at least 100 tackles, by far the largest group we've examined so far this year.

So this time, instead of looking at the players most likely to crack the mark, we'll just run down the players I believe will have at least 100 tackles next year, in order of the likelihood they do so. As usual, this is not a ranking of each linebacker's overall skill, just the probability that they reach the benchmark statistic for their position.

1. Travis Lewis, LB, Oklahoma: Lewis tops the list based on his history. In three years, he has 360 tackles for the Sooners, and has topped 100 in all three seasons. He's got a hungry youngster in Corey Nelson nipping at his heels, but he's one of the defense's leaders. There's no reason to think he won't have another huge year.

[+] EnlargeJake Knott
Reese Strickland/US PresswireIowa State's Jake Knott is the top returning tackler in the Big 12.
2. Jake Knott, LB, Iowa State: After making 130 stops in 2010, Knott is the Big 12's leading returning tackler. He broke his arm late in the spring (following it up with the most hard-core recovery of the spring), but he should be back to full strength well before fall camp and geared up for 130 more.

3. Garrick Williams, LB, Texas A&M: Williams already had 112 stops in 2010, and without Michael Hodges and Von Miller around, he and Sean Porter (74 tackles in 2010) should rack up even more in 2011.

4. A.J. Klein, LB, Iowa State: Klein gets overshadowed by his teammate, Knott, but he had 111 tackles of his own as a first-year starter last year. The Cyclones defensive line is one of the weakest in the Big 12, but fortunately for ISU, it's got some solid linebackers.

5. Keenan Robinson, LB, Texas: Robinson is the last of the returning 100-tackle linebackers, but he'll have an even bigger role in the Longhorns' defense in 2011 after making 106 stops last year.

6. Arthur Brown, LB, Kansas State: I'm officially buying on Arthur Brown. I'm on the fence about Bryce Brown, but the combination of the tales from last year's scout team, plus his 14 tackles in the spring game followed by an endorsement from Bill Snyder after it has me on board. He's the fastest linebacker Snyder's coached since his return, and speed takes you a long way in the Big 12. Big year on the way for Brown.

7. Caleb Lavey, LB, Oklahoma State: Lavey is the likely successor to resident brick wall Orie Lemon at middle linebacker for the Cowboys. He may not reach Lemon's 133 tackles in 2010, second-most in the Big 12, but I like what I saw from Lavey as a freshman last year and I like his chances to hit the triple digits.

8. Zaviar Gooden, LB, Missouri: Like Brown, Gooden has crazy speed for a linebacker, and at 6-foot-2 and 225 pounds, his body type is more like that of a hulking safety. Missouri, in part because of injury, didn't have a player with 100 tackles last year, but Gooden tied for the team lead with 84. If Will Ebner stays healthy, he could crash this list, too.

9. Prince Kent, S, Baylor: Two defensive backs hit the mark last year, but I've got just one on my list for 2011. Kent played sparingly as a freshman last year, but still led the team with two interceptions. The Bears' cornerbacks aren't great, and here's betting that means Kent leads the team in tackles this year.

10. Huldon Tharp, LB, Kansas: Tharp will be coming back from a knee injury, and he's not full strength just yet, but he's got the most raw talent of any defender on the Jayhawks' roster. I'll tack him on the end of this list for a nice comeback year.

Just missed: Sean Porter, LB, Texas A&M; Emmanuel Acho, LB, Texas, Cody Davis, S, Texas Tech

Red Raiders' defense on the mend

March, 24, 2011
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LUBBOCK, Texas -- Last season, exactly two teams in college football defended the pass worse than Texas Tech. The Red Raiders ranked last in the Big 12 and 118th in college football, giving up more than 293 yards a game.

Within that, the Red Raiders were one of just two teams to give up at least 150 pass plays of longer than 10 yards.

"We just got outran," said coach Tommy Tuberville. "That’s the bottom line."

Solution one: The Red Raiders need more speed. Part of that comes with recruiting. Tuberville addressed the need in his 2011 class, recruiting a handful of pass-rushers to provide more depth.

[+] EnlargeCody Davis
Kirby Lee/Image of Sport/US PresswireSafety Cody Davis (16) is hoping a simplified scheme will help improve the Texas Tech defense.
That depth is the other half of fixing the problem. Injuries were a constant, including two contributors in the secondary just before the season began.

But those injuries meant freshmen on the field, defensive tackles trying to play defensive end and even a few offensive players moving to the defensive side of the ball.

"It didn’t look good for us early, but if guys kept getting hurt, we’d have really been in trouble," Tuberville said. "We’d have ended up with Taylor Potts playing safety."

Two of the team's best pass-rushers played early, Aundrey Barr (knee) and Scott Smith (suspension) missed the majority of the season, which didn't do the defense's back line any favors.

"The main thing for us next year is if we can stay healthy and get playing time underneath our belt, there’s potential," Tuberville said. "A lot of them just don’t have a clue what they’re doing."

The hope is that changes this year with new defensive coordinator Chad Glasgow, who came from TCU as one of the nation's best secondary coaches. Most welcome, he came preaching simplicity.

"We were confused about some calls and everybody didn’t know what everybody else was doing, so simplifying this should be better this year," said safety Cody Davis, second on the team with 87 tackles last year. "Everybody should know what they’re doing."

Glasgow is also implementing a 4-2-5 that will put more defensive backs on the field.

"I think it fits us very well because we have so much experience at safety and lack of depth elsewhere," Davis said.

For immediate help changing that, Tuberville brought in Leon Mackey and Dennell Wesley, a pair of junior college defensive linemen.

"They’re a little older guys. They’re not like big-eyed 17-year-olds coming in," Tuberville said. "You throw them up against a Big 12 team in the first month, at least you’ve got a little experience."

Despite the defensive struggles, Texas Tech still managed to win eight games, but to tally any more than that, it'll have to stay on the same page, healthy and in front of high-powered Big 12 offenses which got behind it all too often in 2010.

"We didn’t have near enough speed to compete this year, and it showed up," Tuberville said. "We had some good players, but we just didn’t have enough of them."
Springtime is almost here. And here's a look at what to expect across the Big 12 when it gets into full swing here in the next couple weeks.

BAYLOR BEARS

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.
IOWA STATE CYCLONES

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.
KANSAS JAYHAWKS

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.
KANSAS STATE WILDCATS

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.
MISSOURI TIGERS

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.
OKLAHOMA SOONERS

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.
OKLAHOMA STATE COWBOYS

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.
TEXAS LONGHORNS

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?
TEXAS A&M AGGIES

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.
TEXAS TECH RED RAIDERS

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.
Tags:

Baylor Bears, Iowa State Cyclones, Kansas State Wildcats, Missouri Tigers, Oklahoma Sooners, Oklahoma State Cowboys, Texas Longhorns, Texas A&M Aggies, Colby Whitlock, Brennan Clay, Christine Michael, Von Miller, Alexander Robinson, Chris Cosh, Steven Sheffield, Brandon Wegher, Turner Gill, James Franklin, Tysyn Hartman, Bill Snyder, Bront Bird, Case McCoy, Brandon Williams, Dan Bailey, Justin Blackmon, Franklin Mitchem, Richetti Jones, Connor Wood, Ryan Tannehill, Terrance Ganaway, Cody Davis, Travis Lewis, Cyrus Gray, Scotty Young, Chris Donaldson, Bryce Brown, Jerome Tiller, Brian Duncan, LaRon Moore, Justin Tuggle, Darius Darks, Paul Rhoads, Brad Madison, Art Briles, Sheldon Richardson, Bob Stoops, Jerrod Johnson, Blaine Gabbert, Jay Finley, Jared Barnett, Taylor Potts, Jimmy Stevens, Arthur Brown, Mack Brown, Garrett Gilbert, Jermie Calhoun, Collin Franklin, Phil Bennett, Jacquies Smith, Jarred Salubi, Collin Klein, Carl Gettis, Seth Doege, Scott Smith, Terrell Resonno, Carson Coffman, Aldon Smith, Brandon Weeden, Toben Opurum, Shane Jarka, Tyler Gabbert, Ahmad Dixon, Corey Nelson, Prince Kent, Shontrelle Johnson, Geneo Grissom, Quinn Mecham, Damontre Moore, Byron Landor, Darius Reynolds, Ugo Chinasa, Kevin Rutland, Jacob Karam, Michael Brewer, Jordan Webb, A.J. White, Huldon Tharp, Ashton Glaser, Jarvis Phillips, Tim Atchison, Michael Hodges, Tre Porter, Kyle Mangan, Brock Berglund, David Garrett, Carrington Byndom, Justin McCay, Corbin Berkstresser, Daniel Sams, Dominique Patterson, James Capello, Jonathan Miller, Steele Jantz

Big 12 weekend rewind: Week 9

November, 1, 2010
11/01/10
2:07
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Best offensive player: Roy Helu Jr., RB, Nebraska. No contest here. Nobody else in college football this year has a 300-yard game on the ground and he set a school record at a school known for running the ball. Without his huge third-quarter touchdown run to stretch the lead to 31-14, Nebraska's win over Missouri might have played out very differently. Honorable mention: Ryan Broyles, WR, Oklahoma.

Best defensive player: Byron Landor, S, Baylor. Landor made 15 tackles and broke up a pair of passes in the Bears' 30-22 win over Texas. Honorable mention: Cody Davis, S, Texas Tech

Best special teams player: Quinn Sharp, P, Oklahoma State. Sharp averaged 63 yards on five punts, and pinned Kansas State inside its 10-yard line four times. Honorable mention: Justin Tucker, K, Texas.

Best team performance: Nebraska. The Huskers had a whole lot on the line and played like it, racing to a 24-0 lead against Missouri and suffocating the Tigers' passing game for 60 minutes. That early spurt was needed after the Huskers had to play without an injured Taylor Martinez for the second half.

Best offensive freshman: Roy Finch, RB, Oklahoma. Not an outstanding group of freshmen this week, but Finch carried the ball 10 times for 59 yards against Colorado in his first start.

Best play: Roy Helu Jr., RB, Nebraska. Just like Missouri last week, Nebraska rode an early huge play to a win. Helu broke a 66-yard run down the left sideline on the first play of the game.

Worst quarter: Missouri's first quarter. I haven't seen a team get so thoroughly dominated for 15 minutes this season. The Tigers were outscored 24-0, and had just two first downs and an interception in the opening 15 minutes of a game that Missouri had to win to earn a North title.

Best game: Baylor 30, Texas 22. The Bears took the lead on a third-down sneak at the goal line early in the fourth quarter and stretched their lead to 11 with a 30-yard touchdown pass to Kendall Wright. Texas had a late opportunity to tie after a Curtis Brown muffed punt stayed with the Longhorns, but Marquise Goodwin fumbled at the end of a long reception to end the game.

Instant analysis: Texas Tech 35, SMU 27

September, 5, 2010
9/05/10
7:15
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LUBBOCK, Texas -- Definitely a nice win for Texas Tech against a pretty good SMU team that won eight games -- including a 45-10 bowl win -- last season. Texas Tech shut down Kyle Padron when they needed to, despite letting the game get sloppy late. SMU was driving, but never seriously threatened to score on the final drive.

How the game was won: Texas Tech won the turnover battle convincingly, 4-0. One first-half turnover turned into a Texas Tech touchdown, and the Red Raiders led 21-7 at halftime.

Turning point: Texas Tech let SMU get on the board with an impressive 12-play, 72-yard drive that brought the Mustangs to within seven. But the Red Raiders responded with a speedy six-play drive to make it 21-7 before half and scored on the opening drive of the second half to take a 21-point lead.

Stat of the game: Texas Tech's trainers said the temperature read 148 degrees on the turf at AT&T Jones Stadium during Sunday's game. While it wasn't nearly as hot in the stands, the nearly triple-digit heat in Lubbock on Sunday meant a few seats in the stadium were left empty for the second half.

Player of the game: Taylor Potts, QB, Texas Tech. Potts held off an encore of "No More Potts" with a solid performance, shaking off a few early kinks to finish with 359 yards on 34-of-53 passing and three touchdowns.

Unsung hero of the game: Cody Davis, S, Texas Tech. Davis delivered a few big hits in the secondary and on several occasions, flew up into the box to deliver a big hit in run support.

Record performance: Lyle Leong, WR, Texas Tech. The Red Raider receiver registered career highs in yards (142), receptions (11) and tied his career high in touchdowns (3).

Record performance II: SMU kicker Matt Szymanski booted a school-record 61-yard field goal in the fourth quarter that brought SMU to within 15.

Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Griffin

All questions aren't settled during the course of spring practice as teams still have much work to upgrade their weaknesses heading into the season.

Obviously, some will receive a boost from incoming freshmen who will arrive later. But here's how each team's biggest liability shakes out heading into the summer.

Baylor: The Bears are desperately looking for help at offensive tackle after losing No. 2 overall draft pick Jason Smith and Dan Gay as their starters. Former Canadian firefighter Danny Watkins has established himself at Smith's old position protecting Robert Griffin's blind side. And on the right side, junior Chris Griesenbeck and redshirt freshmen Cameron Kaufhold are competing for the starting job with Tyler Junior College's Phillip Blake and Blinn College's Marquis Franklin set the arrive later this summer.

Colorado: Wide receiver has been a question mark for the Buffaloes throughout Dan Hawkins' coaching tenure. The Buffaloes return four scholarship wide receivers and had a chance to work out several new players with Scotty McKnight injured during the spring. Josh Smith and Markques Simas are the top playmakers coming out of the spring. Non-scholarship players like Jason Espinoza and Ryan Maxwell emerged, but the Buffaloes definitely need a big upgrade at the position from their arriving freshman class.

Iowa State: The Cyclones will be facing a big hole at left tackle, where two-year starter Doug Dedrick departs. It could be filled by Matt Hulbert, who started two games last season when Dedrick was hurt. Or it could be massive 354-pound junior Hayworth Hicks or freshman Brayden Burris at the position. Whoever emerges will face a huge challenge in filling Dedrick's experience as he protects the blind side of the Iowa State quarterbacks.

Kansas: Coach Mark Mangino will be facing a few huge rebuilding job at linebacker, where the Jayhawks lose key contributors Joe Mortensen, Mike Rivera and James Holt from last season. Mangino is talking about using a two-linebacker set as his base defense with fifth-year senior Jake Schermer and senior Arist Wright getting the starting jobs leaving spring practice. Sophomore Steven Johnson and converted running back Angus Quigley were competing for playing time during the spring and another boost is expected when junior linebacker Justin Springer, who is recovering from a torn ACL last season, returns in the fall.

Kansas State: Carson Coffman appeared to have claimed the starting job at quarterback -- at least for a few weeks -- after a strong effort during the latter stages of spring practice. But Coffman's late binge has to be tempered considering he is playing against the weak Kansas State secondary. So it's fair to say there are some lingering questions at the position. Coffman apparently has beaten back the challenge of challengers Collin Klein, Joseph Kassanavoid, Trey Scott and Milton McPeek. But the arrival of South Florida transfer Grant Gregory and heralded junior-college transfer Daniel Thomas will mean more competition in the summer.

Missouri: The Tigers will be facing a challenge of replacing NFL first-round draft pick Evander "Ziggy" Hood at defensive tackle to play opposite nose tackle Jaron Baston. Redshirt sophomore Terrell Resonno appeared to have claimed the job out of the spring, with Dominique Hamilton, Chris Earnhardt and converted linebacker George White perhaps earning their way into the rotation.

Nebraska: After the graduation of top receivers Todd Peterson and Nate Swift from last season, the Cornhuskers need to fill both positions. Leading returning receiver Menelik Holt appears to have a hammerlock on one position, but Niles Paul lost a chance to take a big step forward after missing the spring after he was suspended for driving under the influence. Antonio Bell was the biggest surprise, but converted I-back Marcus Mendoza, Chris Brooks, Wes Cammack and Curenski Gilleylen all showed flashes during the spring.

Oklahoma: There was concern before spring practice, considering the Sooners were replacing four-fifths of their starting offensive line with only Trent Williams back from last season's starters. And it got worse when Bob Stoops called out the young replacements because of their lack of diligence in their preseason conditioning. Williams emerged at left tackle with Brian Simmons and Stephen Good at guards, redshirt freshman Ben Habern at center and either LSU transfer Jarvis Jones or Cory Brandon at right tackle. The depth took a hit when center Jason Hannan left early in training camp and sophomore guard Alex Williams chose to leave after spring practice. The group struggled against the Sooners' talented defensive line, allowing Sam Bradford to be touch-sacked twice in three possessions in the spring game and produced only 27 rushing yards in 52 carries.

Oklahoma State: The loss of veteran center David Washington produced a huge hole in the center of the Cowboys' interior line. Andrew Lewis returns to his natural position, leaving Oklahoma State needing two new starters at guard. Noah Franklin and Jonathan Rush have staked claims to the starting positions with Anthony Morgan and Nick Martinez getting repetitions inside. This group needs to improve if it hopes to equal the standards of previous seasons, when the Cowboys led the Big 12 in rushing each of the last three seasons.

Texas: The tight end was rarely used for the Longhorns after Blaine Irby dislocated his kneecap last season against Rice. He still wasn't ready to go during the spring as Greg Smith, Ahmard Howard, Ian Harris and D.J. Grant all got work. None of them emerged. And with Irby's return remaining iffy, it means the Longhorns again could reduce the use of the tight end and utilize four-receiver sets when they want to move the ball. Don't look for the Longhorns to use the tight end much unless this production improves.

Texas A&M: The Ag
gies were wracked with injuries during the spring as projected starters Lee Grimes, Kevin Matthews and Lucas Patterson were sidelined all spring as A&M was down to only nine healthy offensive linemen for some practices. It still doesn't excuse the lack of offensive production for A&M's starting unit, which produced only 9 yards rushing on 24 carries against Texas A&M's first-string defense. Coach Mike Sherman will be counting on immediate production from an impressive group of incoming freshman at fall practice, but it's fair to characterize the Aggies' offensive line as the team's biggest spring concern -- especially after allowing 39 sacks last season and ranking last in the conference in rushing yards per game.

Texas Tech: The loss of productive starters Daniel Charbonnet and Darcel McBath left a gaping hole at safety for the Red Raiders. Junior Franklin Mitchem earned the free safety position leaving spring practice and redshirt freshman Cody Davis emerged at strong safety.Jared Flannel , Brett Dewhurst and converted linebacker Julius Howard also got some snaps at safety. It will still be a challenge to combat the explosive Big 12 defenses with such an inexperienced group at the position.

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