NCF Nation: Maxwell Tuioti-Mariner

Pre-spring Big 12 Power Rankings

March, 5, 2010
3/05/10
4:00
PM ET
1. Texas

Texas has plenty of question marks, namely at receiver. Repeating as Big 12 champs would be a lot easier if one of its talented running backs emerges to flirt with 1,000 yards and takes some of the pressure off first-year starter Garrett Gilbert. Tre’ Newton is the most likely candidate, but Foswhitt Whittaker, or Fozzy Bear as I prefer to refer to the running back, wins if the tiebreaker is best name.

2. Oklahoma

The defense will be fearsome again, even after losing both starting cornerbacks and defensive tackle Gerald McCoy. DeMarco Murray looks to take on an expanded role in the run game, but the offensive line will have to improve quickly for his increased touches to translate into increased yardage.

3. Nebraska

Nebraska finally made it back to the Big 12 title game after a two-year run by Missouri representing the North. Even after Ndamukong Suh’s exit, the teeth of the Husker D should be strong, with junior defensive tackle Jared Crick and sophomore defensive tackle Baker Steinkuhler mucking up the front lines. Both will be on display during the spring. The offense had one of its best performances of the season against Arizona in the Holiday Bowl, but enters the spring with plenty to prove.

4. Missouri

Blaine Gabbert will continue to mature along with his young receivers, who lose the lanky Danario Alexander. Gabbert could put up gawdy numbers as a junior, but he’ll need the secondary to improve if the Tigers can challenge for the North.

5. Texas A&M

The Aggies looked like a trainwreck at moments in 2009, (48-point loss to Kansas State? What? 55-point loss to Oklahoma? Ouch.) but their entertaining offense will take a backseat to Tim DeRuyter’s new 3-4 defense as the main attraction for spring.

6. Kansas State

The dark horse to win the North in 2010 came within a game of matching up with Texas in Dallas in 2009. Year 2 of the Bill Snyder Reboot could be fun to watch. The Wildcats had the fewest turnovers (18) of any team in the Big 12 last season, but losing Brandon Banks removes some of K-State’s explosiveness on offense.

7. Oklahoma State

Oklahoma State hoped they could make a run at the Big 12 South last season, but got embarrassed in losses to Texas and Oklahoma. A South title in 2010 might be a stretch, but the spring could set up another solid season for Mike Gundy’s Cowboys.

8. Baylor

Finding replacements for All-Big 12 defenders Joe Pawelek and Jordan Lake should be the prime concern for the spring, but it will definitely be good to see Robert Griffin III get back on the field.

9. Texas Tech

What injustice! The Red Raiders below the Bears? Tommy Tuberville is a good coach, but the transition to Tech could be a difficult one. Don’t be surprised if the Red Raiders prove me wrong, but somebody’s got to finish last in a great South division. There won’t be an easy win for anyone against South teams this season. I mentioned this in Thursday's chat, but I’m interested to see how Tuberville’s second go-around with the spread offense (see: Tony Franklin) goes. Easing up on his trigger finger might be a good idea.

10. Kansas

Turner Gill loses a lot of offense without Todd Reesing, Kerry Meier and Dezmon Briscoe. Sophomore running back Toben Opurum could emerge as one of the conference’s young stars this spring.

11. Colorado

Tyler Hansen and Toney Clemons bring some excitement to the Buffaloes spring, but the offensive line is also a concern. Maxwell Tuioti-Mariner returns from injury to help talented lineman Nate Solder protect Hansen and pave the way for running back Rodney Stewart, one of just three scholarship backs who will practice this spring.

12. Iowa State

The Cyclones depleted defense (only four starters return) could make it tough for Austen Arnaud to produce wins no matter how well he plays. Plenty of spots up for grabs there, and linebacker Jake Knott is one to watch as a new starter. Paul Rhoads impressed with a bowl win last season, but what does it say about a team when its best win (Nebraska) came by only two points when it forced eight turnovers and committed none?

Thanks for the support the first week, fans. Enjoy the weekend.
Here's a breakdown of three issues facing each program heading into the spring:

Baylor Bears
Spring practice starts: March 16
Spring game: April 10

1. Quarterback Robert Griffin III's surgically repaired right knee. Griffin hasn't played since tearing the ACL in his right knee in the third game of the '09 season. He recently said he's ahead of schedule in rehabilitation, but probably won’t do much during spring practice. He'll wear a heavy knee brace and won’t participate in contact drills.

2. New linebackers. The Bears lost strongside linebacker Antonio Jones and middle linebacker Joe Pawelek, who combined to make 190 tackles last season. Senior Earl Patin, who also has played some defensive end during his career, is poised to replace Pawelek in the middle. But Patin will have to hold off highly regarded youngsters Chris McAllister and LeQuince McCall, who redshirted in ’09. Senior Chris Francis is probably the top candidate to replace Jones on the strong side.

3. Safety. The Bears must replace both of their starting safeties, including All-Big 12 performer Jordan Lake, who started 36 games in a row. Junior college transfer Byron Landor and sophomore Mike Hicks will get the first looks in the spring. But they'll have to hold off incoming freshman Ahmad Dixon, one of the top prospects to ever sign with Baylor, after he arrives for fall camp.

Colorado Buffaloes
Spring practice starts: March 6
Spring game: April 10

1. Michigan transfer Toney Clemons. Buffaloes coach Dan Hawkins called Clemons his team's most exciting receiver while he sat out the '09 season under NCAA transfer rules. The cousin of Arizona Cardinals receiver Steve Breaston, Clemons could bring an interesting dynamic to the CU offense. His arrival couldn't come at a better time, either, after Markques Simas was suspended indefinitely for violating team rules.

2. Linebacker. The Buffaloes must replace their two most productive linebackers after losing Marcus Burton and Jeff Smart. The departed seniors combined to make 105 solo tackles and 6.5 sacks last season. Senior Michael Sipili is the top candidate to replace Burton in the middle, and sophomore Jon Major might get the first crack at replacing Smart on the weak side.

3. Offensive line. The unit's inconsistency has dogged Hawkins' offense in each of his first four seasons. Eight offensive linemen had significant playing time in '09, so the Buffs are looking for more stability up front. The return of sophomore guard Maxwell Tuioti-Mariner from a pair of knee injuries, and early arrival of junior college transfer Eric Richter might shore up the interior line.

Iowa State Cyclones
Spring practice starts: March 23
Spring game: April 17

1. Linebackers. The Cyclones lost each of their starting three linebackers: Josh Raven, Jesse Smith and Fred Garrin. Junior Jacob Lattimer is in line to replace Raven on the strong side, and two highly regarded sophomores are in line to fill the other spots. A.J. Klein, who had 17 tackles in 13 games as a freshman, might get the unenviable task of replacing Smith, who led the Big 12 in tackles in '09. Jake Knott, who had 23 tackles as a freshman, is the top candidate to start on the weak side.

2. Wide receiver. Iowa State lost leading receiver Marquis Hamilton, who had 50 catches for 606 yards with four touchdowns in '09. Tight end Derrick Catlett, another top receiving threat, also is gone. The good news: Junior Darius Reynolds returns from a broken leg that caused him to miss all but four games last season. Reynolds, who earned the moniker "Money" for his big-play potential, had 13 catches for 72 yards before he was hurt in practice in late September. Junior college tight end Ricky Howard enrolled in classes in January and will participate in spring practice.

3. Defensive line. Two starters will have to be replaced after ISU lost right end Christopher Lyle and tackle Nate Frere. Lyle led the team with five sacks in '09; Frere was a pretty good run-stopper. Sophomores Cleyon Laing and Roosevelt Maggitt will get strong looks at end, and senior Austin Alburtis and sophomore Jake McDonough will move into the tackle rotation.

Kansas Jayhawks
Spring practice starts: March 27
Spring game: April 24

1. Quarterback. New Kansas coach Turner Gill might have one heck of a competition on his hands. Sophomore Kale Pick is a mobile option, after averaging 11.9 yards per rushing attempt in 2009. Junior college transfer Quinn Mecham, who enrolled in classes at Kansas in January, threw for 3,091 yards with 40 touchdowns and 11 interceptions at Snow College in Utah last season.

2. Wide receiver. The Jayhawks have to replace departed stars Kerry Meier and Dezmon Briscoe, which will be no easy task. The duo combined to catch 186 passes for 2,322 yards with 17 touchdowns last season. Bradley McDougald and Johnathan Wilson were proven targets last season, but younger players such as Chris Omigie and incoming freshman Keeston Terry will have to help this fall.

3. Secondary. The Kansas defense gave up too many big passing plays and didn't create enough turnovers last season. The Jayhawks will have to replace strong safety Darrell Stuckey, who led them with 93 tackles in '09. Senior Phillip Strozier will get the first crack at replacing the heart and soul of the Kansas defense.

Kansas State Wildcats
Spring practice starts: March 21
Spring game: April 24

1. Oregon transfer Chris Harper. In 2008, Harper played wide receiver and quarterback for the Ducks as a freshman. He became the first Oregon player in eight years to run, pass and catch a touchdown in the same season. Harper, a native of Wichita, Kan., might figure into Kansas State's quarterback or wide receiver plans after sitting out the '09 season under NCAA transfer rules.

2. Quarterback battle. Harper and two other players will probably battle to replace departed senior Grant Gregory. Senior Carson Coffman, who started the '09 season at quarterback, figures to be back in the mix, along with junior college transfer Sammuel Lamur.

3. Defensive line. The Wildcats have a couple of gaping holes to fill up front defensively. End Jeff Fitzgerald, who had 40 tackles and 10 tackles for loss in '09, has to be replaced, along with tackles Daniel Calvin and Chidubamu Abana. Junior college transfer Javonta Boyd, who has already enrolled in classes, could help in the interior line.

Missouri Tigers
Spring practice starts: March 9
Spring game: April 17

1. Wide receiver. The Tigers have to replace Danario Alexander, who led the country with 1,781 receiving yards in 2009. Juniors Jerrell Jackson and Wes Kemp both caught more than 20 passes last season, but younger players like T.J. Moe and Rolandis Woodland are going to have to contribute more. Incoming freshman Marcus Lucas could help in the fall.

2. Linebacker. The Tigers bring back two of their starting three linebackers, but three-time All-Big 12 selection Sean Weatherspoon is the one who left. Sophomore Donovan Bonner heads into spring camp as the top candidate to replace Weatherspoon on the weak side, and Will Ebner and Andrew Gachkar are back at the other linebacker spots.

3. Defensive line. Two starters are gone on the defensive front: end Brian Coulter and nose tackle Jaron Baston. At least the Tigers know they’re set at one side, with end Aldon Smith coming back after totaling 19 tackles for loss and 11.5 sacks in '09. Marcus Malbrough and Jacquies Smith will battle for starting end, and Terrell Resonno could move into the vacant tackle spot.

Nebraska Cornhuskers
Spring practice starts: March 24
Spring game: April 17
What to watch:

1. Will quarterback Zac Lee keep his starting job? After Lee was plagued by inconsistency throughout the '09 season, offensive coordinator Shawn Watson is expected to open the competition during spring practice. Sophomore Cody Green, senior Latravis Washington and freshman Taylor Martinez will all be given a fair chance to win the job.

2. Defensive tackle. Nebraska fans won't see All-American Ndamukong Suh commanding double-team blocks along the line of scrimmage. Even after losing one of the most decorated players in school history, the Cornhuskers figure to be pretty good up front. Jared Crick and Baker Steinkuhler will man the middle, with Pierre Allen and Cameron Meredith entering spring camp as the favorites at ends.

3. Rex Burkhead. The sophomore burst onto the scene after Roy Helu Jr. was hurt early in the Huskers' 33-0 rout of Arizona in the Pacific Life Holiday Bowl, rushing for 89 yards with one touchdown. Burkhead was very explosive running out of the Wildcat package, so look for Watson to try and utilize him even more to make the Nebraska attack less predictable.

Oklahoma Sooners
Spring practice starts: March 8
Spring game: April 17

1. Offensive line. The Sooners have a lot of questions up front on offense, after left tackle Trent Williams and right guard Brian Simmons departed. Will junior Donald Stephenson finally be ready to contribute at left tackle after being suspended for all of the ’09 season? Will center Ben Habern be ready after breaking his leg late in the ’09 season? When will Jarvis Jones return from a broken heel?

2. Linebacker Ronnell Lewis. The sophomore had a break-out game in the Sooners’ 31-27 victory over Stanford in the Sun Bowl, finishing with six tackles and a forced fumble. With starting linebackers Keenan Clayton and Ryan Reynolds departing, Lewis will assume a starting role on the strong side. Redshirt freshman Tom Wort is projected to start in the middle, with junior Travis Lewis starting on the weak side.

3. Secondary. The Sooners have shuffled their defensive backs after losing cornerbacks Dominique Franks and Brian Jackson. Sophomore Demontre Hurst is in line to replace Franks at field cornerback, and senior Jonathan Nelson has moved from strong safety to boundary cornerback. Junior Sam Proctor is expected to replace Nelson at strong safety, and senior Quinton Carter is back at free safety.

Oklahoma State Cowboys
Spring practice starts: March 8
Spring game: April 17

1. Quarterback Brandon Weeden. The 26-year-old junior is the top candidate to replace Zac Robinson, who broke nearly every OSU passing record. Weeden was a second-round choice of the New York Yankees in the 2002 amateur baseball draft. If he can grasp new offensive coordinator Dana Holgorson's spread offense quickly, the Pokes' passing game should again be potent in 2010.

2. Defense. Defensive coordinator Bill Young will have his hands full this spring trying to replace nine starters. The only returning starters are defensive end Ugo Chinasa and strong safety Markelle Martin. The Pokes have to replace three starters on the defensive line, three linebackers and three defensive backs. Three newcomers -- linebacker Caleb Lavey and defensive backs Devin Hedgepeth and Malcolm Murray -- will get early looks in spring camp.

3. Offensive line. The Cowboys will have to replace star left tackle Russell Okung, left guard Noah Franklin, center Andrew Lewis and right tackle Brady Bond. Juniors Nick Martinez, Casey LaBrue and Grant Garner will be the top candidates to fill open starting spots.

Texas Longhorns
Spring practice starts: Feb. 26
Spring game: April 4

1. Quarterback Garrett Gilbert. The sophomore was thrust into action after Colt McCoy injured his shoulder against Alabama in the Citi BCS National Championship Game and played admirably well in tough circumstances. The Longhorns might change their identity on offense with a young quarterback under center, so developing a running game to take pressure off Gilbert might be a top priority.

2. Defense. The unit is in good hands with coordinator Will Muschamp, but he'll have to replace many of the star players from 2009. End Sergio Kindle, tackle Lamarr Houston, linebacker Roddrick Muckelroy and safety Earl Thomas are all gone. Younger players such as end Alex Okafor and tackle Tyrell Higgins will have to turn it up a notch during spring practice.

3. Wide receiver. Jordan Shipley, who was McCoy's favorite target, also departed. Seniors James Kirkendoll and John Chiles, junior Malcolm Williams and sophomore Marquise Goodwin will have to be more consistent in their route running and pass catching. Other receivers such as D.J. Monroe and DeSean Hales will be trying to crack the receiver rotation during the spring, before talented freshmen like Darius White, Mike Davis and Demarco Cobbs arrive on campus.

Texas A&M Aggies
Spring practice starts: March 23
Spring game: April 17

1. New defensive coordinator Tim DeRuyter, who built one of the country’s best units at Air Force last season. He inherits an A&M defense that was woefully porous last season and will switch to a 3-4 scheme. Nine starters are coming back on defense, including pass-rushing specialist Von Miller. DeRuyter will spend the spring trying to install his system and getting his players comfortable with it.

2. Offensive line. The Aggies must replace three starting offensive linemen: left tackle Michael Shumard, center Kevin Matthews and right tackle Lee Grimes. Juniors Joe Villavisencio and Danny Baker and sophomore Stephen Barrera have to be ready to step up this spring.

3. Special teams. The Aggies’ special teams weren’t so special last season, as they ranked 104th in net punting, 91st in kickoff return defense and 49th in kickoff returns among FBS teams. Aggies coach Mike Sherman is putting a new emphasis on special teams, which cost his team dearly in its 44-20 loss to Georgia in the Independence Bowl.

Texas Tech Red Raiders
Spring practice starts: March 7
Spring game: April 17

1. Quarterbacks. With former Auburn coach Tommy Tuberville replacing Mike Leach at Texas Tech, senior quarterbacks Taylor Potts and Steven Sheffield figure to start spring camp on a level playing field. Potts started 10 games last season, throwing for 3,440 yards with 22 touchdowns and 13 interceptions. Sheffield started two games and threw for 1,219 yards with 14 touchdowns and four picks. New offensive coordinator Neal Brown, who was hired from Troy, runs a version of the spread offense, but Tuberville will probably incorporate more of a traditional running game into the offense.

2. Defensive line. New defensive coordinator James Willis has to replace three starters on his defensive front: ends Brandon Sharpe and Daniel Howard and tackle Richard Jones. Making matters worse, the top two reserve ends in 2009 were seniors, along with the backup nose tackle.

3. Offensive line. O-line coach Matt Moore, who was retained from Leach's staff, has to replace three starters: center Shawn Byrnes, right guard Brandon Carter and right tackle Marlon Winn. Juniors Justin Keown and Mickey Okafor and sophomore LaAdrian Waddle will probably be given first crack at replacing them. Incoming junior college transfer Scott Smith could play stand-up end in Tech's 3-4 scheme, and junior college defensive tackle Donald Langley might also have an impact in spring practice.
Tags:

Big 12, Jerrell Jackson, Danny Baker, Chris Omigie, James Kirkendoll, Ben Habern, Steven Sheffield, Nebraska Cornhuskers, Toney Clemons, Baylor Bears, Earl Patin, Malcolm Williams, Jared Crick, Texas Tech Red Raiders, Missouri Tigers, Colorado Buffaloes, Phillip Strozier, Taylor Martinez, Donald Stephenson, Travis Lewis, Chris Harper, Sam Proctor, Cody Green, Oklahoma Sooners, Kansas State Wildcats, LaTravis Washington, Kansas Jayhawks, Rolandis Woodland, Taylor Potts, Iowa State Cyclones, Alex Okafor, Garrett Gilbert, D.J. Monroe, John Chiles, Cleyon Laing, Markques Simas, Jake Knott, Nick Martinez, Jacquies Smith, Oklahoma State Cowboys, Jarvis Jones, Texas Longhorns, Donald Langley, Pierre Allen, Baker Steinkuhler, Scott Smith, Terrell Resonno, Johnathan Wilson, Carson Coffman, Michael Sipili, Aldon Smith, Brandon Weeden, Quinton Carter, Texas A&M Aggies, Rex Burkhead, Markelle Martin, Bradley McDougald, Cameron Meredith, Marquise Goodwin, Andrew Gachkar, Demontre Hurst, Tim DeRuyter, Ahmad Dixon, Keeston Terry, Quinn Mecham, Caleb Lavey, Devin Hedgepeth, Malcolm Murray, Ronnell Lewis, A.J. Klein, Austin Alburtis, Byron Landor, Casey LaBrue, Chris McAllister, Darius Reynolds, DeSean Hales, Donovan Bonner, Eric Richter, Grant Garner, Jacob Lattimer, Jake McDonough, Javonta Boyd, Jeff Fitzgerald, Joe Villavisencio, Jonathan Nelson, Justin Keown, LaAdrian Waddle, LeQuince McCall, Marcus Lucas, Marcus Malbrough, Maxwell Tuioti-Mariner, Mickey Okafor, Ricky Howard, Robert Griffin III, Roosevelt Maggitt, Sammuel Lamur, Stephen Barrera, Tyrell Higgins, Ugo Chinasa, Will Ebner

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