NCF Nation: Joseph Kassanavoid
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.
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.