NCF Nation: Darius Parish
Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Griffin
Sometimes the spring provides a chance for personnel holes to be filled. Sometimes it doesn't.
Here are some of the notable positions around the Big 12 that picked up some assistance during the spring.
Baylor: The quick development of defensive tackle Phil Taylor, a heralded transfer from Penn State, should turn a traditional position of weakness for the Bears into a strength. Joining him at the position will be Jason Lamb, who showed some promise after moving over from defensive end before spring practice.
Colorado: The emergence of hulking 260-pound middle linebacker Marcus Burton and B.J. Beatty at outside linebacker have helped transform the Buffaloes' defense. Burton led the team in tackles and was a prime playmaker in the spring game with eight tackles, two sacks and a fumble recovery. He had eight tackles in 10 games last season.
Iowa State: Redshirt freshman quarterback Jerome Tiller outplayed starter Austen Arnaud in the spring game, passing for 210 yards and getting free for a 65-yard touchdown run. I'm not sure that Tiller will be starting come September, but he'll make Arnaud work harder to earn his job.
Kansas: The Jayhawks had questions in the defensive line before the spring, even with the return of all-Big 12 honorable mention selections Caleb Blakesley and Jake Laptad and late season starting defensive tackles Richard Johnson and Jamal Greene. The development of tackle Darius Parish and end Max Onyegbule should add to the depth. And that doesn't even account for the arrival of heralded junior college transfer Quintin Woods, who originally signed with Michigan out of high school before heading to Bakersfield (Cal.) Community College to get his grades in order.
Kansas State: The emergence of linebackers like Alex Hrebec, Ulla Pomele and John Houlik has helped turn the position into the strength of the defense, even as the Wildcats are transforming to a 4-2-5 alignment. Hrebec, a former walk-on, contributed 19 tackles in the spring game and Houlik is a huge hitter despite his 5-foot-11, 219-pound size.
Missouri: Redshirt freshman Aldon Smith has only added to the Tigers' depth at defensive end, which already featured Brian Coulter and Jacquies Smith in front of him. Smith was voted as the team's most improved player in the spring. Throw in converted offensive tackle Brad Madison and redshirt freshman Marcus Marlbrough and you'll see why Gary Pinkel considers it his best collection of defensive ends at Missouri.
Nebraska: The Cornhuskers had serious questions at quarterback, particularly after the departure of projected starting challenger Patrick Witt before spring practice and Kody Spano's knee injury. But the strong spring by Zac Lee and the surprising development of converted linebacker LaTravis Washington eased some of offensive coordinator Shawn Watson's concerns. Their strong spring work also should mean that heralded freshman Cody Green likely won't be thrown into action perhaps as quickly as Watson might have feared before the spring.
Oklahoma: After losing starters Nic Harris and Lendy Holmes, safety was the only position without returning starters for the Sooners on defense. Quinton Carter nailed down one starting position and Sam Proctor and Joseph Ibiloye are poised to fight for the other job beside him. Emmanuel Jones and Desmond Jackson also had strong spring efforts to challenge for playing time.
Oklahoma State: Defensive tackle was enough of a question that new coordinator Bill Young moved Derek Burton inside from defensive end to help bolster depth at the position. Burton and Swanson Miller appear to have won starting jobs with redshirt freshman Nigel Nicholas and junior Chris Donaldson providing strong depth. Their strong play helped the Cowboys rack up seven sacks in the spring game - more than half of their 2008 season total of 13.
Texas: The Longhorns were concerned about defensive end after the departure of NFL draft picks Brian Orakpo and Henry Melton from last season. Those fears appear to be assuaged after the seamless transition of Sergio Kindle to the position from linebacker and the quick assimilation by freshman Alex Okafor. Toss in Sam Acho and Russell Carter and the return injured pass-rushing threat Eddie Jones and the Longhorns appear stacked at the position.
Texas A&M: Safety was a question mark before spring camp after the loss of Devin Gregg and Alton Dixon and the move of 2008 starting free safety Jordan Peterson to cornerback. But the strong return to safety by converted cornerback Jordan Pugh and the noticeable development by Trent Hunter helped solidify the position during the spring. And the Aggies' depth at the position was improved after the move of wide receiver Chris Caflisch to the position along with strong play from DeMaurier Thompson.
Texas Tech: The departure of two-time Biletnikoff Award winner Michael Crabtree and underrated Eric Morris was supposed to cripple the Red Raiders' receiving corps. Mike Leach appears to have found several serviceable replacements after Tramain Swindall, Lyle Leong, Detron Lewis and walk-on flanker Adam Torres all emerged during the spring. And that doesn't include Edward Britton, who was in Leach's doghouse much of the spring after falling behind in the classroom but still is perhaps their most athletic force on the field.
Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Griffin
NORMAN, Okla. -- Good afternoon from Owen Field, where the talk-show fodder coming into the stadium concerned the demise of the Sooner dynasty.
Oklahoma twice blew double-digit leads last week before falling to Texas. And the remnants of that collapse are still resonating -- and smoldering -- more than seven days later.
Truthfully, the 5-1 Sooners haven't fallen that far. They are still No. 4 nationally -- the highest ranking of any one-loss team -- and are in good position to make a BCS charge if the national run of upsets continues.
All of that makes today's game against No. 16 Kansas critical for coach Bob Stoops and the Sooners. He's never lost the contest following a Texas game in his previous nine seasons and, he is heavily favored to extend his streak to double digits today.
But he'll be facing a significant challenge in Kansas, which has quietly crept into first place of the North Division after two wins to the start the season. The Jayhawks have won 17 of their last 19 games and will control their own destiny in the North race even if they lose today.
Coach Mark Mangino was an assistant head coach earlier in his coaching career with Stoops. It's always a special day when he returns to his old stomping grounds.
But he likely shouldn't expect much mercy from the Sooners because of his past association here -- especially considering what happened last week.
Here are some things I'll be watching as the game progresses:
Who fills in for Ryan Reynolds at middle linebacker for Oklahoma? Reynolds was the most capable linebacker the Sooners had, a heady playmaker who made the rest of his team better because of his acumen. The defense fell apart last week when he was lost. The easiest solution would be the insert Brandon Crow into the position, but he struggled badly last week. Redshirt freshman Austin Box also might get some snaps, but don't be surprised to see the Sooners spin 230-pound nickelback Nic Harris into the position. It might be the Sooners' best move trying to combat Kansas' air-heavy attack keyed by quarterback Todd Reesing.
Can Jake Sharp continue to run effectively? After barely playing in the first four games, Sharp has blossomed with two big efforts to help spark Kansas' quick start in conference play. Mangino still had to be convinced that the 190-pound Sharp can be more than a complimentary player, but his last two weeks were a pretty good indicator.
What gives in the pillow fight between Oklahoma's kick coverage and Kansas' return game? The Sooners have struggled all year, allowing 25.3 yards per return and two touchdowns. Stoops has promised more starters playing on special teams in order to boost speed and tackling ability.
The Sooners, however, likely won't be challenged by Kansas' sputtering kick return game. The Jayhawks are averaging only 12.38 yards per return to rank last nationally. That average, even with preseason All-Big 12 kick returner Marcus Herford in the mix, is nearly three yards below the next-lowest team in the rankings -- Kent State.
Is Kansas really ready for the big boys? The Jayhawks get their first crack against a ranked South Division foe today. Later in the season, the Jayhawks will host Texas Tech and Texas. Kansas avoided all three teams in a school-record 12-1 season last year that was capped by an Orange Bowl victory. We'll see how the Jayhawks match up with a traditional power from the other division in Saturday's game.
Kansas wide receiver Kerry Meier vs. the young Oklahoma cornerbacks. First-year Oklahoma starters Dominique Franks and Brian Jackson have played well to this point of the season, but will face a big test against Meier, a versatile and experienced player who is still listed as Kansas' backup quarterback. Meier runs exquisite routes and will challenge both players even though he's been hobbled recently.
INJURIES: The biggest for Oklahoma is Reynolds, who was already rehabbing earlier in the week. DeMarco Murray hasn't been the same back as last season, although Sooner coaches say he's in good shape. Defensive tackle DeMarcus Granger was back for the game last week, although he hasn't cracked the two-deep yet.
Kansas doesn't release injuries, although it's been clear in the last several games and during warm-ups that Meier has been hobbled. He missed several plays last week, but still produced nine receptions. Nose tackle Caleb Billingsley left the Colorado game with a leg injury and is questionable. Jamal Green and Darius Parish would fill in if he can't go. And starting guard Adrian Mayes missed the second half with an undisclosed injury, but should be ready to go today, Mangino said.
WEATHER: It's an ideal day for football here with nary a cloud in the sky. Temperatures should be in the mid-70s at kickoff and remain in the 70s during the rest of the afternoon.