NCF Nation: Jimmy Costello
We'll start at the most obvious position: Quarterback, a position that I'd argue is more important in the Big 12 than in any other conference.
Depth will be a huge factor in these rankings, though at quarterback, it's the toughest to gauge, considering how little we see of backup quarterbacks.
Here's how each Big 12 team ranks at the quarterback position:
Oklahoma learned the hard way in 2009 about the importance of the backup quarterback, but even in his limited experience, Drew Allen has impressed Bob Stoops after narrowly losing out on the backup job behind Sam Bradford in 2009. Landry Jones is a great one, and with his opportunities, has become a Heisman Trophy favorite. Could Allen have done the same if he had beaten out Jones in 2009? Blake Bell, the nation's No. 3 quarterback in the 2010 class, will likely be Oklahoma's No. 3 in 2011.
2. Oklahoma State
Brandon Weeden's profile spiked when he led the Cowboys to a comeback win over Colorado on a Thursday night game in 2009. He took over as the starter shortly after, but going into that game Weeden was a third-stringer. Alex Cate transferred after it became evident that Weeden would be the starter in 2010, and behind Weeden is Clint Chelf and two solid recruits: Johnny Deaton and J.W. Walsh, who was the nation's No. 10 QB (just outside the ESPNU 150) in 2011 and enrolled early.
3. Texas A&M
Ryan Tannehill is entrenched at the starting spot, with a lot of youth behind him. Matt Joeckel and Jameill Showers will try to hold off incoming freshman Johnny Manziel for the No. 2 spot this fall. Manziel was impressive during the spring, and will contend for the starting job in 2012, but he'll likely redshirt unless he wins the backup job.
4. Texas Tech
Seth Doege looks ready to grab the reins for two seasons, barring injury. Jacob Karam is probably ready to start in the Big 12 right now, he's just not as good as Doege. Behind them are two promising prospects with upside and development to do: Scotty Young and Michael Brewer. The Red Raiders are the last of the Big 12 teams who have truly solid depth at quarterback.
Robert Griffin III will probably hold every school record for quarterbacks by the time he leaves Waco, but the Bears need to find a true replacement behind him. Nick Florence filled in well in 2009 when Griffin missed the final nine games with a knee injury, but he's a junior like Griffin and their eligibility will expire simultaneously. Redshirt freshman Bryce Petty and 2012 commit Jared Johnson could battle for the spot in 2013.
The Tigers depth took a hit after Tyler Gabbert's transfer following spring practice, but expectations are high for sophomore James Franklin, who got a bit of experience in 2010 behind Blaine Gabbert. Senior Jimmy Costello quit the team after last season to focus on an impending fall enlistment in the Army, but rejoined after the Gabbert brothers' departures from Columbia. He's likely to be the backup, with Ashton Glaser and walk-on Ryan Howerton filling out the rest of the quarterback spots. Corbin Berkstresser, a 6-foot-3, 218-pound quarterback from Kansas City that ESPN ranked No. 43 at his position, will arrive in the fall, too.
How long until we see a quarterback make the kind of plays Garrett Gilbert made against Alabama in the national championship? Those kinds of long scores were rare last year, but the Longhorns will have a competition this fall that sounds like it's pretty open heading into camp. If Gilbert wins, he'll likely have a much shorter leash in 2011 than he did in 2010, before Case McCoy or Connor Wood gets a crack, and dark horse true freshman David Ash could make things interesting, too.
8. Kansas State
Collin Klein made a nice move toward winning the job with a strong spring game performance. But coach Bill Snyder says he still didn't see a ton of separation between Klein and his backups, Sammuel Lamur and Boston College transfer Justin Tuggle, who spent last year replacing Cam Newton at Blinn College in Texas.
9. Iowa State
James Capello transferred after the spring, but Iowa State's race has likely boiled down to two men: Jerome Tiller and Steele Jantz. Jantz, a juco transfer, is the wild card and Tiller will need to show that his struggles in spot duty last season were temporary. He didn't show the progress you'd expect from a maturing player when he played for an injured Austen Arnaud in a few games early and late in 2010. Jared Barnett is still battling in Ames, but him winning the job would be a huge upset.
The Jayhawks could use a couple more years of Todd Reesing. The Jayhawks saw a huge drop off at the quarterback position in 2010, as Jordan Webb, Quinn Mecham and Kale Pick all got time under center. Kansas will likely run its offense through a strong group of running backs, but unless newcomer Brock Berglund shows potential and proves he's the best of the group, expect Kansas to remain near the bottom of the Big 12 by the end of 2011.
The discrepancy between the South's QBs and the North's is somewhat jarring, especially when you see it on paper (bandwidth?) like this. Only one North team made the top six, and the bottom five teams are all from the North.
Five schools (four in the North) still have their starters up in the air, and that makes this a little tricky, but here's how I'd rank them:
2. Baylor: Trust in Robert Griffin's knee lands the Bears here, significantly higher than they're used to considering the strong quarterback tradition across the Big 12 for the past decade. But Griffin will still have to regain his status as the conference's most electrifying player on a reconstructed knee after missing the final nine games of the previous season with a torn ACL. Baylor also has a nice situation at backup quarterback because of the injury with sophomore Nick Florence, who threw for 427 yards in Baylor's lone conference win -- at Missouri -- last season.
3. Missouri: Blaine Gabbert has a claim as the conference's best quarterback, and he'll try to snatch it as a junior after playing much of his sophomore season with a bum ankle, courtesy of a soggy Ndamukong Suh sack. Despite being hobbled for most of conference play, he still racked up 3,593 passing yards and 24 touchdowns. If he stays healthy, he might get a chance to showcase his underrated wheels, too. Freshman James Franklin is impressing in camp and hanging on to his job as Gabbert's backup over Jimmy Costello, Ashton Glaser and little brother Tyler Gabbert.
4. Oklahoma: Landry Jones should benefit from his first full spring and preseason camp taking the first-team reps, but he'll need a second reliable target opposite Ryan Broyles to emerge if he wants to improve on his 26 touchdowns and 3,198 yards as a redshirt freshman. Jones also needs to limit his turnovers after throwing a league-high 14 interceptions in 2009, but it's worth noting that seven of those came away from Owen Field against top-tier defenses in Texas and Nebraska. He didn't play a good defense in Norman, but he threw 18 touchdowns to just four interceptions and helped the Sooners stretch their home streak to 30 games. Backup Drew Allen is untested and inexperienced, but has potential and wouldn't inspire panic if Jones finds injury in 2010.
5. Texas Tech: No team has two quarterbacks with as much skill and experience as Texas Tech, but unlike receivers or running backs, the Red Raiders can't play both of them. Regardless of who wins the competition in Lubbock, Texas Tech will be in great shape with Taylor Potts or Steven Sheffield. You heard a few hundred words on the details of this race earlier this morning.
6. Texas: This may look silly in November, but it's tough to put Garrett Gilbert on top of anyone else on this list who has already proven themselves. Clearly, the potential is there, and he's inspired a lot of confidence from his coach and team, but making good on that potential will mean finding a solid target to replace the only player he's ever thrown a real touchdown to: Jordan Shipley. If Gilbert goes down, Texas would have to rely on a pair of true freshmen: Connor Wood or Case McCoy, Colt's little brother.
7. Oklahoma State: This won't be the last time you hear about the Cowboys 26-year-old former minor leaguer, Brandon Weeden. Just make good decisions, make easy throws to open receivers who make plays with the ball and he should put up big numbers in new offensive coordinator Dana Holgorsen's version of the Air Raid. Oklahoma State got to see Houston's offense in person last season and wanted it for themselves. Now they've got the man who coordinated the best offense in college football a year ago and an unquestioned, mature starter to run it. If he's injured, the Cowboys would have to rely on one of two freshmen, Clint Chelf or most likely Johnny Deaton, to run the offense.
8. Iowa State: Coach Paul Rhoads says no player on his team has improved from Year 1 to Year 2 more than Austen Arnaud, but he'll need to prove it on the field to move up this list. He's probably likely to improve on his 2,015 yards passing to go with 15 touchdowns, but he's right behind Jones in the interception column, with 13. That number has to shrink for the Cyclones to get back to a bowl game. Talented sophomore Jerome "JT" Tiller led the Cyclones to their marquee win over Nebraska and should take the reins next year. The future looks bright in Ames.
9. Colorado: Tyler Hansen not emerging from preseason camp as the starter would be shocking, and he'll get a lot more help this year with a beefed-up receiving corps that's among the conference's most underrated. Newcomers Paul Richardson, Travon Patterson and preseason Big 12 Newcomer of the Year Toney Clemons will join the reliable Scotty McKnight. If Hansen goes down, at least they'll have an experienced vet behind him in Cody Hawkins. Freshman Nick Hirschman looked good in the spring and provides some hope for the position in the future.
10. Nebraska: A two-quarterback system is never ideal, but it might work for the Huskers. Zac Lee is the best passer of the group competing for the starting job, but using the athletic Taylor Martinez or Cody Green in spot duty, similar to last year, could very well happen. But Bo Pelini would much prefer if one player -- most likely Lee, in my opinion -- would emerge and improve on his play from 2009, when he threw for 2,143 yards, 14 touchdowns and 10 interceptions.
11. Kansas: Kale Pick is untested, and so are Jordan Webb and junior college transfer Quinn Mecham. Pick, however, seems like the favorite to win the job. The Jayhawks need a spark on offense, and Pick could provide it. He'll have some nice receivers to throw to in sophomore Bradley McDougald, senior Johnathan Wilson and tight end Tim Biere. Former cornerback Daymond Patterson looks ready for a good year in the slot.
12. Kansas State: Carson Coffman needs to improve from his play last year that cost him his job early last season. Beating out Collin Klein and Sammuel Lamur won't be easy -- and the competition between the three is still pretty tight -- but Coffman's experience gives him a slight edge. Whoever wins the race will lean on the league's leading rusher, Daniel Thomas, and a revamped receiving corps with transfers Brodrick Smith from Minnesota and Chris Harper from Oregon. The Wildcats hope the duo will add the spark that was missing from the team's offense in 2009.
Robert Griffin III, QB, Baylor: This one's pretty simple. Griffin means more to his team than any player in the conference. The 2008 Big 12 Newcomer of the Year helped the Bears win their 2009 season opener at Wake Forest before a season-ending knee injury in the third game. He'll come back for 2010 still a sophomore. But his injury last season now means his backup, Nick Florence, is surprisingly experienced.
Alexander Robinson, RB, Iowa State: Robinson rushed for 1,195 yards in 2009 and is by far the Cyclones' best player. His yards per carry average is almost 1.5 yards higher than his backup last season. This year, the battle for No. 2 is ongoing, with Beau Blankenship and freshmen James White and Jeff Woody trying to earn any spare carries not soaked up by Robinson.
Nate Solder, OT, Colorado: This season will be Solder's third as starting left tackle, the key position on the offensive line. He's proven to be one of college football's premier linemen, but his durability and experience have meant very little playing time for backup Ryan Dannewitz, a redshirt freshman.
Jake Laptad, DE, Kansas: Laptad is a force in the backfield and racked up 6.5 sacks and 12 tackles for loss last season. His backup is junior college transfer Quintin Woods, but with just four career tackles, there's a clear dropoff in both production and talent.
Blaine Gabbert, QB, Missouri: In just his second year as starter, Gabbert could be poised for a big jump like his predecessor, Chase Daniel. The Tigers earned a North title in Daniel's second season and No. 1 ranking after the regular season. But Gabbert needs to stay healthy. His backup is former walk-on Jimmy Costello, who's never played a meaningful snap, but behind him are a group of untested freshmen with potential in Ashton Glaser, James Franklin and Gabbert's younger brother, Tyler Gabbert.
Eric Hagg, S/LB, Nebraska: The central figure of the Huskers' Peso defensive scheme (Hey! Remember that?) gives the Husker defense the teeth that helped them nearly upset Texas and blow out Arizona. His backup is Austin Cassidy, who has plenty of on-field experience after appearing in all 13 games last season. Like Hagg, Cassidy has the ideal size for the position at 6-foot-1 and 210 pounds, and notched nine tackles as a sophomore in 2009.
Markelle Martin, S, Oklahoma State: Martin's sophomore season was overshadowed by big-hitting senior Lucien Antoine, but he'll be one of the team's leaders as a junior in 2010. He's the team's leading returning tackler, and should join Orie Lemon and Ugo Chinasa as the anchors of a defense replacing its four leading tacklers from 2009. His backup, Mathies Long, played in the last six games of 2009, but has just three career tackles.
Sam Acho DE, Texas: The better known of Texas' Acho brothers, he played in 24 games before taking over as starter last season. He notched 63 tackles and four fumble recoveries, tied for most in college football. He was also a semifinalist for the Lott Trophy. But at Texas, there's always a pretty narrow gap between starter and backup. Acho's backup should be either Russell Carter or Alex Okafor, who will also play behind opposite defensive end Eddie Jones. Carter played in nine games last season and notched five tackles. Okafor played in all 14 games last season and tallied 22 tackles.
Jerrod Johnson, QB, Texas A&M: No backup will be able to reproduce Johnson's impressive numbers from 2009 (38 touchdowns, 4,085 total yards). But Johnson's backup Ryan Tannehill does have plenty of experience--at a different position. He got plenty of reps this spring with Johnson sidelined from live action after minor shoulder surgery, but he's the team's active leader in receiving, with 1,418 career yards. He's thrown just nine passes in two seasons with the Aggies.
Colby Whitlock, DT, Texas: Should assume the role of nose tackle in Tech's new 3-4 scheme under coach Tommy Tuberville and defensive coordinator James Willis. Though it's a new position, Whitlock's experience will be tough to replace. Of his 46 tackles in 2009, 8.5 came behind the line of scrimmage. His backup is a mountain of a man, Myles Wade. The 6-foot-2, 340-pound junior college transfer made just two tackles in limited action last season, but he still has two years of eligibility left, and could plug plenty of holes in the middle of the defense after Whitlock graduates.
Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Griffin
Backup quarterbacks already played a big part in Big 12 play before October arrived.
Oklahoma’s Sam Bradford was idled with a sprained shoulder, paving the way for Landry Jones to take over for the Sooners for the last two games. And a season-ending knee injury for Baylor’s Robert Griffin last week has 2007 Baylor starter Blake Szymanski inserted back in the lineup – if he can overcome his own shoulder injury sustained in the same game in which Griffin went down.
Here’s a look at the backup quarterback situations around the Big 12 heading into this week’s games.
Ready to roll:
Kansas State: Behind starter Carson Coffman, the Wildcats have Grant Gregory, a fifth-year senior transfer from South Florida who has seen action in three games for KSU so far this season, rushing for 92 yards and passing for 21 yards. Gregory battled Matt Grothe for the starting job at South Florida and played in 21 games earlier in his career for the Bulls.
Has the hype:
Kansas: If Todd Reesing were sidelined, Kansas coach Mark Mangino finally feels comfortable enough to turn to redshirt freshman Kale Pick, who was Kansas’ offensive scout team player of the year last season. Pick is an adept runner who rushed for 47 yards against Northern Colorado, 87 yards against UTEP and an 18-yard scamper against Duke already this season. And Mangino could always turn to Kerry Meier, although he’s much more valuable now playing every down as a wide receiver.
Nebraska: Cody Green came into the Nebraska program with hype that he could see sizable playing time this season as a freshman. He graduated from high school early and arrived in the spring, but a hip injury set him back. But finally healthy, he’s shown flashes of brilliance early in his career. Green broke a 49-yard run on his first college carry and a 24-yard touchdown run last week against Louisiana-Lafayette. He’s also showing maturity as a passer after completing 12 of 17 passes in mop-up time in three games for the Cornhuskers.
Texas: Garrett Gilbert was the most heralded quarterback prospect in the nation after he was selected as the Gatorade and Parade national player of the year last season in high school. Mack Brown has wasted little time getting him game action as Gilbert has completed 11 of 14 passes for 110 yards in three games this season. And his confidence in the offense has grown in each game he’s played.
Texas A&M: Ryan Tannehill is listed as Jerrod Johnson’s backup and would likely be installed if Johnson was sidelined for a long period of time. But Tannehill’s first focus in the Aggies’ offense now is as a wide receiver where he’s produced 11 catches for a team-leading 201 receiving yards. But Tannehill aspires to play quarterback and got the first snaps at the position in the blowout victory over UAB last week when Johnson left the game. He waged a closer battle than expected this spring before Johnson claimed the starting job.
Baylor: With Griffin’s injury, Szymanski takes over. He’s more tested than most backups, considering he threw for a school-record 2,844 passing yards during his season as a starter in 2007 and accounted for 27 career touchdown passes in 22 college games. But behind him is freshman Nick Florence, whose experience consists of one college game -- last week against Northwestern State. If Szymanski isn’t ready to go Saturday night against Kent State, Florence would be entrusted with the starting job.
Colorado: Behind starter Cody Hawkins, the Buffaloes currently have rangy freshman Seth Lobato listed as his backup. They might be in better shape if Tyler Hansen chose to be available. But Hansen, who orchestrated a victory over Kansas State last season as a freshman, has stated he wants to redshirt this season unless there’s a season-ending injury for Hawkins.
Iowa State: Austen Arnaud is one of the most durable starters in the league. But behind him, Paul Rhoads has gotten freshman backup Jerome Tiller playing time in the first three 2009 games. Tiller showed flashes in spring practice, but still would be an inexperienced alternative.
Missouri: Blaine Gabbert is entrenched as the starter. Jimmy Costello has assumed the backup position and has played in two games this season with scant action in garbage time. Coaches like his live arm and feel for the Missouri offense, despite his lack of game experience.
Oklahoma: After Bradford’s injury, Jones was immediately thrust into the lineup and he’s played well, including a school-record six touchdown passes against Tulsa. Freshman Drew Allen is the backup behind him, but coach Bob Stoops has avoided playing him yet with hopes of preserving a redshirt season if Bradford can return to the starting lineup quickly.
Oklahoma State: Alex Cate and Brandon Weeden staged a tight battle to back up Zac Robinson throughout preseason practice. Cate, a redshirt junior, won the No. 2 job but struggled in brief early playing time this season. He was outplayed last week by Weeden, a 26-year-old former minor-league baseball pitcher who rifled a pair of garbage-time touchdown passes against Grambling last week. But neither has much actual game experience with Cate playing in six career games and Weeden in two games.
Texas Tech: Behind Taylor Potts, the Red Raiders have junior Steven Sheffield, who passed for 52 yards and threw a touchdown pass against Rice in the only live action for a Tech backup quarterback this season. Sheffield would be an inexperienced alternative if Potts can’t play.
Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Griffin
Most coaches hope they never have to turn to their backup quarterback. But it's still a good insurance policy as any team gets ready for a season to have a trusted replacement who can bail out an injured or struggling starter.
Coaches in the Big 12 are no different. Here's a look at the top backup quarterbacks in the league. During my analysis, I placed particular importance on proven ability to play rather than future promise. And I also did not factor in highly regarded incoming freshmen players who will join their teams at schools like Texas and Kansas State later this summer.
Here's my ranking of the backup quarterbacks in the Big 12 in order.
1. Colorado: The conference's most fluid starting quarterback situation results in the Buffaloes having the top backup. With Cody Hawkins appearing to be nosing ahead at the end of spring practice, Tyler Hansen earns the nod because of his recent experience as a winning quarterback in the Big 12 -- even considering he is recovering from a broken thumb suffered in Colorado's spring game.
2. Baylor: Experience helps Blake Szymanski in case the Bears would ever need to replace Robert Griffin. Szymanski has made 13 career starts and has thrown for 3,561 yards and 26 career touchdown passes.
3. Kansas: Mark Mangino says he wants to keep the move of Kerry Meier to wide receiver permanent. If so, he would need to turn the backup quarterback job over to Kale Pick at some point this season. But it still has to be relatively reassuring for Mangino to know he can always turn to Meier, who made eight career starts and has completed 28 of his last 32 passes over the past two seasons.
4. Iowa State: Obviously, it was against the Iowa State offense. But redshirt freshman Jerome Tiller looks like he's ready to challenge Austen Arnaud for the starting position this summer after blistering the Cyclones' defense for 210 yards and adding a 65-yard TD run in the ISU spring game. That outing should enable new ISU coach Paul Rhoads to have some confidence if he has to turn to Tiller.
5. Oklahoma: With Sam Bradford likely to play most of the season, Bob Stoops probably won't turn to his backups that much. Redshirt freshman Landry Jones showed flashes in the Sooners' spring game, completing 5 of 12 passes for 73 yards and a touchdown during limited playing time. Drew Allen, who left high school a semester early to join the Sooners, looked painfully raw in his limited work.
6. Nebraska: For all of the pre-spring excitement about a battle for the quarterback job, Zac Lee easily won the starting spot. The Cornhuskers have several capable backups, with the best showing of the spring coming from converted linebacker LaTravis Washington. Kody Spano should be good to go by fall practice after he recovers from knee surgery. And Cody Green is the most heralded quarterback prospect in the Nebraska program, although he struggled with injuries and fell behind early after graduating from high school early to join the program this spring.
7. Oklahoma State: Mike Gundy hoped that former minor-league baseball player Brandon Weeden would distance himself from Alex Cate and earn the backup role behind Zac Robinson. Weeden struggled late in spring practice and couldn't widen the gap, leaving the backup battle continuing into the summer.
8. Missouri: After Blaine Gabbert claimed the starting job early in spring practice, as expected, scrappy walk-on Jimmy Costello had his moments, too. But Costello's performance leveled off late in spring practice and Blaine Dalton was pushing to unseat him as the backup before he was arrested and suspended from the team. Both Dalton and Ashton Glazer had typical freshman moments of great plays and shaky ones on a consistent basis.
9. Texas Tech: Taylor Potts was picked as the starter from the opening day of spring practice, but former walk-on Steven Sheffield appeared to have claimed the No. 2 job over Stefan Loucks and Seth Doege. All are relatively inexperienced in operating Mike Leach's offense.
10. Texas: Sherrod Harris struggled operating the Texas offense in the spring game. Some of his struggles might have been understandable considering he underwent arthroscopic surgery on his right knee only three weeks after spring practice finished. When Garrett Gilbert arrives this summer, it will push the Longhorns up several places on the list. But until then, they rank among the bottom Big 12 teams on the list.
11. Texas A&M: Expected competition in spring ball never materialized as wide receiver Ryan Tannehill was recuperating from a torn labrum. Instead, Tommy Dorman got most of the snaps behind Jerrod Johnson as the only other scholarship quarterback on the team. Dorman struggled with his consistency.
12. Kansas State: Carson Coffman appears to have claimed the starting job for the Wildcats -- at least until Grant Gregory and Daniel Thomas arrive to challenge him later this summer. His backups who played in the spring game struggled through a miserable effort against the Wildcats' defense, which is saying something. Collin Klein, Joseph Kassanavoid, Trey Scott and Milton McPeak combined to complete only 9 of 26 passes in the spring game with two interceptions and five sacks. Look for the Wildcats' quarterback depth to improve with the arrival of Gregory and Thomas.