NCF Nation: Phillip Blake
Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Griffin
After struggling through one of my worst weeks in recent history, I'm hoping for a turnaround in these picks.
Here they are.
Kansas 41, Duke 17: The Jayhawks have too many offensive weapons and an improved defense with a knack of making big plays. Jake Sharp and Toben Opurum provide an emerging 1-2 weapon at running back and Dezmon Briscoe will juice production in the passing game with Todd Reesing as he becomes more comfortable in the offense. Duke coach David Cutcliffe will likely alternate Sean Renfree and Thaddeus Lewis at quarterback. Both will likely struggle against an emerging Kansas defensive front that has produced nine sacks in its first two games.
Missouri 45, Furman 6: Look for the Tigers to jump on their FCS opponent quickly, hoping to make amends after last week’s closer-than-expected victory over Bowling Green. Blaine Gabbert regressed in his second start, but should be ready to show improvement this week. If they can find the edge exhibited against Illinois, this one won’t be close for very long.
Colorado 24, Wyoming 21: It can’t get any worse for Dan Hawkins and the Buffaloes, can it? If they lose this one, it will. Despite the struggles stopping big plays and operating the offense in losses against Colorado State and Toledo, the Buffaloes will rebound. Even though the Cowboys turned the heat up on Texas last week and Dave Christensen had his way against the Buffaloes when he was offensive coordinator at Missouri -- he outscored Colorado by a combined 113-10 margin last season -- it won’t be that easy this time. The Buffaloes will rebound and win a gritty game that won’t be very spectator friendly.
Oklahoma 38, Tulsa 17: Landry Jones makes his second career start against Tulsa, an underrated program under Todd Graham that will be itching to earn some national revenge against their “big brothers” from across the state. This should be a good matchup between the Golden Hurricane, who led the nation in total offense each of the past two seasons, and the salty Oklahoma defense. Sooners coaches are familiar with Tulsa quarterback G.J. Kinne, who they tried to recruit as a linebacker. Even without Sam Bradford, the Sooners still should have enough offense to win.
Virginia Tech 28, Nebraska 21: Nebraska quarterback Zac Lee will be looking to stop the Hokies’ 31-game home nonconference winning streak in his first career road start. There might be tougher first-game assignments in college football, but I don’t know of many. Lee leads the conference in pass efficiency, but will be stepping up in class when he faces the active Virginia Tech defense. Ryan Williams and fellow freshman David Wilson both rushed for more than 160 yards last week and the Hokies will be looking to set the tempo by using them. Still, the Cornhuskers might make this one closer than expected with a strong pass rush against Tyrod Taylor and if they can stay away from special-teams mistakes.
Baylor 31, Connecticut 21: The Bears will be gunning for their second straight conquest over an opponent from a BCS-affiliated conference against Connecticut, which beat them in Storrs last season. But this is a different Baylor team, which has had a bye week to settle down after an upset victory over Wake Forest in its opener. Backup quarterback Cody Endres steps in as Connecticut’s starter after Zach Frazer was hurt last week against North Carolina. One item to watch will be how Baylor’s young Canadian tackles Danny Watkins and Phillip Blake will handle Lindsay Witten, who leads the Big East in sacks.
Kent State 24, Iowa State 21: Paul Rhoads will try to halt the Cyclones’ nation-worst 17-game road losing streak. Iowa State quarterback Austen Arnaud will be trying to rebound after throwing four interceptions in the Cyclones’ 35-3 loss last week to Iowa. Look for Giorgio Morgan and Eugene Jarvis to share snaps for the Golden Flashes, who ranked 96th or worse in each of the four major offensive statistical categories. In the end, this one might be settled by which of two of the nation’s worst turnover margin teams -- Kent State is 94th and Iowa State is 108th -- does the better job of protecting the ball.
Texas A&M 38, Utah State 10: Texas A&M hopes to build on a strong opening-game performance against New Mexico where the offense and defense were both productive in a 41-6 victory. Jerrod Johnson looked more comfortable starting his second season as quarterback and the Aggies showed strong skill players. The defense, while still not at the “Wrecking Crew” standards of the past, had a strong effort with five sacks keyed by three from Von Miller. Utah State was challenging for Utah, but likely doesn’t have the firepower to stay close to the rejuvenated A&M attack for long in this game.
Oklahoma State 45, Rice 17: The Cowboys are intent on rebounding after last week’s disappointing home loss to Houston. They likely will play without Big 12 leading rusher Kendall Hunter, but backups Beau Johnson and Keith Toston averaged nearly 8 yards per carry against Houston. The Cowboys gave up more yardage in the first half last week than against Georgia in the previous week. They shouldn’t face much of a challenge from Rice, which is rebuilding from last season’s 10-win team. Coach David Bailiff alternated among three quarterbacks last week and could do the same against an Oklahoma State defense that will be intent on improvement this week.
Texas 54, Texas Tech 31: Even though they claim otherwise, rest assured the Longhorns have been awaiting this rematch ever since their 39-33 loss in Lubbock last season. They should have the upper hand in this one because their secondary is a year more experienced and this will be Texas Tech quarterback Taylor Potts’ first road game as a starter. The Longhorns looked lethargic in the first half last week at Wyoming, but blew the game by scoring 28 unanswered points in the second half. It won’t be that easy this week against Potts and the Red Raiders, but look for the Longhorns’ offense to produce similar late success.
UCLA 21, Kansas State 10: This one figures to be a low scoring game as the Wildcats have sputtered offensively and UCLA will be playing without starting quarterback Kevin Prince, who sustained a broken jaw late in the Bruins’ victory at Tennessee. Look for both teams to try to take control on the ground with UCLA employing Johnathan Franklin and Kansas State countering with Big 12 rushing leader Daniel Thomas. The Wildcats have also struggled mightily with special teams in their first two games and must improve for any upset hopes. But the UCLA defense is too formidable, winning this one as they pick up the slack for an offense missing Prince.
Last week: 7-3 (70 percent)
For the season: 16-6 (72.7 percent)
Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Griffin
Here are 10 trends I'll be watching across the Big 12 on Saturday.
1. How Texas’ secondary counters Texas Tech’s passing offense: Although they’ve been careful not to mention the revenge angle, Texas defensive players clearly want the test of stopping Texas Tech after the Red Raiders’ dramatic comeback victory in Lubbock last season -- a loss that eventually cost them a shot at playing for the national championship. I imagine that Blake Gideon has had flashbacks of his dropped interception on the play before Michael Crabtree’s game-winning TD grab. And Earl Thomas has probably replayed his coverage bust on Crabtree on the game-winning play on countless occasions. The Texas defense is back and more experienced and will be challenged by a retooled Texas Tech offense that includes new quarterback Taylor Potts and new featured receivers Lyle Leong and Tramain Swindall. Graham Harrell and Crabtree won’t be there, but it will still be a big challenge for the Longhorns.
2. How Taylor Potts and Zac Lee fare in their first road games as starters: Potts and Lee have looked invincible at home in their first two starts, ranking 1-2 in the Big 12 in touchdown passes. Both will be facing huge challenges this week in their first games away from home. Potts’ Red Raiders will be facing the challenge of winning in Austin, a location where they haven’t won since 1997. And Lee and Nebraska will be looking to snap Virginia Tech’s streak of 31 straight nonleague wins. I don’t expect either of the young gunslingers to pull off an upset, but both will learn some invaluable lessons that will prepare them for the rest of their careers.
3. The special-teams battle between Nebraska and Virginia Tech: The Hokies have one of the most vaunted special teams in college football, the foundation of “Beamer Ball” over the years. It will be telling to see how Nebraska’s special teams of new punter Alex Henery and new long-snapper P.J. Mangieri, a freshman walk-on who was recruited specifically to snap, will play in the intense cauldron of emotion at Virginia Tech against the Hokies’ storied special-teams unit.
4. Can it get any worse for Colorado? Coach Dan Hawkins’ team has been one of the nation’s biggest early disappointments. Hawkins brashly predicted “10 wins and no excuses” before the season. They might not make that prediction at this point if they played 50 games. Expect some fans at Folsom Field to be wearing paper bags over their head in shame after the Buffaloes’ disappointing 0-2 start that included losses five days apart to Colorado State and Toledo. Hawkins’ seat already is blistering and he’ll be facing a Wyoming team directed by Dave Christensen, a former Missouri offensive coordinator who helped outscore the Buffaloes by a combined margin of 113-10 in the last two seasons he was there. Christenson’s offenses have a current run of 106 straight points against the Buffaloes after those two games. If that streak continues, Hawkins’ tenuous job status may bubble over.
5. Can Kansas State muster enough offense to challenge injury-depleted UCLA? Bill Snyder is looking for a statement victory at the Rose Bowl against the Bruins, who will play without starting quarterback Kevin Prince. In order to capitalize on that loss, the Wildcats will have to show much improvement offensively against a tough UCLA unit that ranks 27th in scoring defense and 33rd in total defense.
6. Baylor’s “Royal Canadian Tackle Patrol” against Connecticut’s Lindsey Witten: Baylor’s inexperienced pair of starting tackles -- former Canadian fireman Danny Watkins and Toronto native Phillip Blake -- will be challenged to protect against Witten, who leads the nation with seven sacks. The two young tackles were praised for their strong play in their first career starts against Wake Forest. But they need to come up with another big effort to protect Baylor quarterback Robert Griffin.
7. Landry Jones and his second career start: Oklahoma backup quarterback Landry Jones looked strong in his first start in what amounted to a glorified scrimmage against Idaho State. He’ll face a bigger challenge Saturday against an underrated Tulsa defense that ranks second nationally in sacks, second in tackles for loss and tied for fifth nationally in turnover margin. The blitz-happy Golden Hurricane will present many more problems than in his Jones’ first start.
8. Iowa State’s attempt to snap the nation’s longest road losing streak: Paul Rhoads will be gunning to end Iowa State’s 17-game road losing streak as the Cyclones visit Kent State. Truthfully, this might be the Cyclones’ best chance to win on the road this season. Iowa State didn’t show much in a 35-3 loss to Iowa last week that was punctuated by four interceptions thrown by Austen Arnaud. But the Cyclones’ defense should be able to stick with a Kent State offense that ranks 96th in rushing offense, 97th in passing offense, 106th in total offense and 111th in scoring offense nationally.
9. Zac Robinson’s hopes to rebound: Oklahoma State’s starting quarterback has struggled in his first two games. He threw a critical late interception that was returned for a clinching touchdown last week by Houston and hasn’t played to his previous level. His 54.7 percent completion percentage is down significantly from last season, when he completed 65 percent of his passes for more than 3,000 yards. And he’ll have to operate this week against Rice without leading 2008 Big 12 rusher Kendall Hunter, idled this week with an ankle injury.
10. How Blaine Gabbert reacts to the first dose of adversity as a college starter: Missouri’s starting quarterback had a strong career start against Illinois. His second start last week against Bowling Green was a marked contrast as the Tigers sputtered early before finally charging back for a 27-20 triumph. Gabbert and the Tigers shouldn’t be challenged by FCS opponent Furman, but the game will provide an opportunity to see if Gabbert learned much from last week’s struggles.
Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Griffin
Early success could have expected to have been a heady experience for Baylor players.
The long-suffering Bears have endured the longest bowl drought in the Big 12. It would be understandable that their season-opening victory over Wake Forest would have marked a huge sense of accomplishment for players so accustomed to losing.
Instead, a week off after that conquest gave the Bears a chance to immediately refocus their goals as they prepare for their second game of the season Saturday against Connecticut.
“That was a huge game for us and people got excited about it, but we have to put it behind us,” Baylor senior linebacker Joe Pawelek said. ‘’And having the week off when we did was perfect. It was a great first win, but we still have a lot of things in front of us to work on.”
The Bears jumped ahead early in the Wake Forest game and appeared to have a comfortable lead before the Demon Deacons charged back. Their comeback came up short after a late Baylor defensive stop to finish off the 24-21 victory. It was coach Art Briles’ first road victory for the Bears.
It was exactly the kind of game that Baylor hadn’t been able to win in recent years. But winning like they did has provided them with some areas for immediate improvement.
“Coach Briles and those guys have done a good job of preaching discipline and instilling us to finish strong,” Pawelek said. “Really, we didn’t finish as strong as we would have liked, but we started fast and had things go our way. And just seeing how that played out is something we can build on.”
The week off will result in a grind of 11 straight games over the next several months. But Briles thinks that the opportunity to take a breath after the huge Wake Forest victory did his team some good.
“We almost treated the Wake Forest game like it was a bowl in terms of our preparation,” Briles said. “We had a month to rise up and prepare for it. Now, we’re bringing ourselves down, re-evaluated our goals learning from it. We’ve settled down and we’ll gear up again against Connecticut.”
Baylor’s young group of Canadian offensive tackles, former firefighter Danny Watkins and sophomore Phillip Blake, will be facing their most serious test of the season against the Huskies. They will have to account for Connecticut defensive end Lindsey Witten, who leads the nation with seven sacks and notched four last week against North Carolina.
The Huskies will arrive with a strong defensive unit that allowed only 268 yards last week against the Tar Heels. They carried a 10-0 lead into the fourth quarter, but couldn’t hold it as they lost the game on a holding call in the end zone late in a disappointing 12-10 loss.
Many of those same Connecticut players helped engineer the Huskies’ 31-28 comeback home victory over Baylor last season. Memories from that game have helped prepare the Bears for what they expect will be another difficult challenge.
“I don’t think this team is in any position to be getting big-headed,” Pawelek said. “We’re 1-0 and we all see that we have a long way to go and a long season ahead of us.”
But quarterback Robert Griffin can sense a big difference around Waco after the victory. Up to 40,000 people are expected to attend Saturday’s game.
“It’s been crazy around here,” Griffin said. “The fans are excited and they are hoping this will be the year. It’s a good feeling to have their support, but we realize they weren’t on our side for a few years. People will jump on a bandwagon after only one game.
“We can’t worry about that. We just need to go out and keep playing like we do. The rest will take care of itself.”
Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Griffin
Iowa State 31, North Dakota State 17 (Thursday): The Paul Rhoads era begins Thursday in Ames against a tricky opponent in the Bison, who are 3-2 in their last five games against FBS opponents -- including a victory at Minnesota in 2007. They’ll challenge a young Iowa State team struggling to find its identity on defense. But even with those uncertainties, Craig Bohl’s team likely won’t have enough offense to stick with Austen Arnaud and Co. in their first game running Tom Herman’s no-huddle defense.
Baylor 31, Wake Forest 28: The Bears learned their lesson last season in Waco, falling into an early 17-0 deficit before losing a 41-13 blowout. Art Briles decided not to start Robert Griffin in that game, but he’s been in the Bears’ starting lineup ever since. The key will be the performance of new Baylor tackles Danny Watkins and Phillip Blake, who will protect Griffin from Wake Forest’s pass rush. Wake Forest starting defensive ends Tristan Dorty and Kyle Wilber have accounted for only seven career starts and will be outweighed by more than 50 pounds per man by the Baylor tackles. The Bears rushed for at least 200 yards in four of the last five games last season. If they can maintain that balance with Griffin’s passing on Saturday, they can steal an upset victory.
Oklahoma State 34, Georgia 31: Mike Gundy’s team comes into this game with more hype than any Oklahoma State team in history with the highest national ranking to start the season. The Cowboys will face a couple of potentially troubling personnel losses after starting tight end Jamal Mosley (quit team) and starting middle linebacker Orie Lemon (season-ending knee injury) were lost earlier this week. The Cowboys won’t be facing a team unaccustomed to road success as Mark Richt’s team is an incredible 30-4 on the road, including a 5-2 road record against top 10 teams. The Bulldogs will be a physical challenge and hammer away at the Oklahoma State defense that struggled late last season. But I’m expecting the Oklahoma State offensive triplets to prove too much for Georgia in a shootout.
Illinois 35, Missouri 31: The Illini are looking to turn the tables after losing four straight against the Tigers in the annual Arch Rivalry since it returned to St. Louis in 2002. Missouri quarterback Blaine Gabbert will make his first career start, only a few long touchdowns passes from his old high school in the St. Louis area. Missouri linebacker Sean Weatherspoon has played big against the Illini in previous seasons with two interceptions last season. He’s promised to “squeeze the pulp” out of Illinois quarterback Juice Williams again this season. But in the end, Williams’ experience and play-making abilities will prove to be a little much for the Tigers to overcome.
Nebraska 45, Florida Atlantic 17: Zac Lee makes his first career start as the Cornhuskers attempt to build on momentum that saw them finish with a four-game winning streak, punctuating that with a Gator Bowl victory over Clemson. It will be important for the Cornhuskers to get a lot of work for an inexperienced set of running backs that features only two players -- Roy Helu Jr. and Marcus Mendoza -- with previous college experience. The Cornhuskers will face old rival Howard Schnellenberger, who claimed a memorable national championship while at Miami by beating them in the 1984 Orange Bowl. The Owls are coming off a victory over Central Michigan in the Motor City Bowl. Quarterback Rusty Smith was the MVP of that game and comes into the contest as the Sun Belt Conference’s leading career passer. But look for Nebraska’s talented defensive front to repeatedly pressure him and set the tone for the victory.
Oklahoma 48, BYU 20: The Sooners and Cougars christen the Dallas Cowboys’ new stadium in Arlington, Texas, in its first college football game. Both teams are alike on offense as they have standout quarterbacks and tight ends and rebuilt offensive lines that are question marks coming into the game. Look for Oklahoma’s dominance along the defensive front to be the difference in this game, helping to extend BYU’s losing streak of 12 games to ranked nonconference opponents. BYU quarterback Max Hall struggled against better opponents last season and will be flummoxed by Oklahoma’s veteran defense that returns nine starters from last season.
Texas A&M 28, New Mexico 17: Mike Sherman and the Aggies will be looking for a better start than last season, when they dropped a season-opening loss to Arkansas State that deflated much of his momentum in starting the program. Look for the Aggies to play better Saturday with improved play in the trenches after their struggles last season. A&M running backs Cyrus Gray and Christine Michael should be primed to dictate the pace.
Texas 51, Louisiana-Monroe 7: The Longhorns start off a pillow-soft nonconference schedule and shouldn’t face much of a challenge from the War Hawks, who finished 4-8 last season and were picked to finish seventh in the Sun Belt this season. Colt McCoy returns for his fourth season as starter and the Longhorns’ offense should prove multiple problems for the smaller Louisiana-Monroe team. Watch for Texas to try to feature Vondrell McGee as it hopes to give him a chance to grow into a comfortable role in the offense. The Longhorns have won their last nine openers by a margin of 43 points. This one should be right in that range.
Kansas 55, Northern Colorado 10: Mark Mangino’s team comes in with more hype about a potential Big 12 North title than in any previous season in school history. The Jayhawks shouldn’t be challenged much by a Northern Colorado team that was 1-10 last season and has lost its last two openers to FBS schools by an average of 44.5 points per game. Look for Todd Reesing and an explosive set of Kansas wide receivers to have a huge night against the outmanned Bears.
Texas Tech 56, North Dakota 10: It’s a name the margin game for the Red Raiders, who will be trying to build the confidence of a developing offense keyed by new quarterback Taylor Potts. Mike Leach has won six straight openers, scoring an average of 45.7 points per game. I’m expecting a big offensive showing by a group intent on showing it still has firepower even after Graham Harrell and Michael Crabtree are gone.
Kansas State 31, Massachusetts 14: It’s reunion weekend as Bill Snyder returns to the sideline to begin his second tour of duty after a three-season sabbatical. Carson Coffman will get the nod at quarterback and celebrated junior college transfer Daniel Thomas gets the start at running back. The Minutemen hope for better luck than their last game against a Big 12 team when they were blown out at Texas Tech last season. Look for them to stay closer, but they'll be facing too much emotion for them to overcome in Manhattan with Snyder’s return.
Colorado 24, Colorado State 14 (Sunday): Dan Hawkins plans to wait until game day to name his starter. It shouldn’t matter if the Buffaloes’ running attack plays to its level against a CSU defensive front that allowed 190 rushing yards last season and returns only one starter. Colorado State is inexperienced at quarterback and the Buffaloes should prevail -- no matter who is their quarterback.
Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Griffin
Here's a look at the key factor for each Big 12 team this season:
Baylor: The Bears need production from a retooled offensive line and particularly new starting tackles Danny Watkins and Phillip Blake. Their work will be critical to keep Robert Griffin protected and continue the strong running game that enabled Baylor to produce 200 or more rushing yards in four of the last five games in 2008.
Colorado: Somebody needs to step up and claim the starting quarterback job. Continually shuffling between Tyler Hansen and Cody Hawkins will rob the offense of its continuity and make both quarterbacks worry too much about their individual mistakes. Dan Hawkins should settle on one, and the quicker the better.
Iowa State: The Cyclones’ tackling techniques have been frustrating for an old-school defensive coach like Paul Rhoads. He’s broken them down to the basics to hope that they will learn his way. If they can use these fundamentals to start playing better defense, it’s the start of a massive rebuilding job.
Kansas: The Jayhawks lost three productive linebackers and will retool their defense by using more nickel coverages, seemingly conducive to shackling Big 12 aerial attacks. Will this new unit still be able be able to support a developing secondary and underrated defensive front?
Kansas State: The Wildcats’ offense won’t look anything like the explosive units that Bill Snyder was familiar with earlier in his coaching tenure. This group doesn’t have a lot of productivity or depth. A rash of injuries would be a crippler for this team and likely make Snyder wonder why ever re-entered coaching.
Missouri: Can new quarterback Blaine Gabbert help a rebuilding offense still be productive, despite the loss of several key producers who were the backbone of the Tigers' back-to-back division title teams?
Nebraska: How well will Zac Lee direct the offense? The Cornhuskers talk about his arm giving them the opportunity for more vertical strikes than when Joe Ganz was playing. Bo Pelini would just be satisfied with the same kind of consistent production that marked Ganz’s season-plus as starter.
Oklahoma: The offensive line has received some praise from Bob Stoops in the last few days because of its conditioning and versatility. The question remains if the four new starters are accomplished enough to keep the Sooners’ record-breaking offense humming, and more importantly, Sam Bradford safe from harm.
Oklahoma State: Bill Young has made a career out of cobbling together overachieving defenses. If he can get increased production from this unit that wore out late last season, he’ll cement his own legacy at his alma mater, as well as providing the Cowboys a chance for their first South title.
Texas: Vondrell McGee will get the first shot, but will somebody emerge as a featured ball carrier to help take some of the pressure from Colt McCoy? It’s asking a lot of McCoy to be his team’s leading rusher in two straight seasons.
Texas A&M: Whatever happened to the Wrecking Crew? The Aggies can’t afford the struggles that marked their defense last season. Joe Kines' unit must show immediate improvement, particularly in the trenches and in the secondary.
Texas Tech: How will the pass defense recover from the loss of key pass-rushers McKinner Dixon and Brandon Williams and starting safeties Darcel McBath and Daniel Charbonnet? In the Big 12 South, that rebuilding job in those areas could come with some lethal consequences.
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.