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TCU’s future starting quarterback might have spent his spring in College Station, Texas.

It’s possible Texas' next starter hasn’t even moved to Austin yet.

And half the teams in the Big 12 still haven't officially named a starter for the 2014 season.

[+] EnlargeJ.W. Walsh
AP Photo/Brody SchmidtJ.W. Walsh showed comfort and patience this spring, emerging as the clear favorite to become Oklahoma State's starting quarterback.
But while quarterback continues to be the Big 12’s biggest moving part, the spring brought at least some clarity to the position across the league.

After losing the job last season, J.W. Walsh retook a commanding lead in Oklahoma State’s third quarterback derby in as many years.

Grant Rohach built off his strong finish last season to head into the summer as the clear frontrunner at Iowa State.

And even though Clint Trickett sat out the spring recovering from a shoulder injury, none of West Virginia’s other spring contenders could unseat him from the top of the depth chart.

Elsewhere, Kansas surprisingly named sophomore Montell Cozart as its starter days after he outshined incumbent Jake Heaps and UCLA transfer T.J. Millweard in the Jayhawks’ spring game.

And Oklahoma’s Trevor Knight and Texas Tech’s Davis Webb rode the momentum of their breakout bowl performances to spring improvement.

Even the two schools with the biggest quarterback questions received some possible panaceas this spring.

Matt Joeckel, Johnny Manziel’s backup at Texas A&M the last two seasons, revealed two weeks ago that he would be transferring to TCU, where he’ll be eligible immediately. The Horned Frogs, who are installing an up-tempo offense similar to one Joeckel played in with the Aggies, ended spring with Trevone Boykin as their No. 1 quarterback, even though Boykin finished last year as a receiver.

To the south, another high-profile transfer could soon be following Joeckel to the Big 12. Since announcing he was transferring from USC, Max Wittek has visited Texas three times, including the Longhorns’ spring game. Wittek would be eligible right away as well, and with David Ash out for now with a fractured foot, Wittek could viably challenge to become Texas’ opening game starter.

Such positive developments at the most critical of positions are welcome developments for a league that struggled and juggled at quarterback through much of the 2013 season. In fact, Baylor’s Bryce Petty was the only Big 12 quarterback to start every game for his team last season.

Petty, who was on the short list of Heisman contenders until November, will again be the class of the league at quarterback.

But he should have plenty more company this season, beginning with Kansas State's Jake Waters, who improved as much as any quarterback in the country did over the course of last season. In leading the Wildcats to victories in six of their final seven games, Waters actually produced a higher Adjusted QBR rating than Petty during the same stretch.

Kansas State coach Bill Snyder came away impressed with the confidence Waters carried throughout the spring, which included a crisp effort in the spring game minus his favorite receiver, Tyler Lockett, who sat out the scrimmage with a minor injury.

“He just understands things a lot better,” Snyder said. “He has gained more confidence, probably just because of going through the process of going through some growing pains.”

Both Walsh and Rohach also went through growing pains last season.

But after a jittery sophomore campaign in which he eventually lost the starting job back to Clint Chelf in October, Walsh re-established himself this spring and performed with the poise he did two years ago as a freshman to emerge as the favorite to become the Cowboys' starter again.

“J.W. has become more of a leader,” offensive tackle Daniel Koenig said after Oklahoma State’s “Orange Blitz” scrimmage. “He’s staying in the pocket more, which is good. Maybe a year or two years ago, he’d get nervous back there and start scrambling. But now he’s sitting in there and throwing.”

Rohach, who finished off the 2013 season by leading Iowa State to a come-from-behind, triple-overtime victory at West Virginia, also showed more confidence this spring, leading Iowa State on three of its six scoring drives in the spring game. Coach Paul Rhoads said he’d wait until mid-August before declaring a starter, but Rohach seems to have the clear edge over Sam B. Richardson and Joel Lanning heading into the summer.

"To begin [the spring], coming off that huge game against West Virginia, putting pressure on myself, my first few practices weren't very good," Rohach said. "But as spring ball went on I shrugged off those mistakes, and I think I got a lot better."

Webb and Knight also used their final performances of last season to springboard into their second springs on campus.

Webb has been especially impressive since earning MVP honors in the Red Raiders' National University Holiday Bowl victory over Arizona State. In Texas Tech’s three spring open scrimmages, he tossed 13 touchdowns with no interceptions.

“He is night and day from what he was at this time last year,” Red Raiders coach Kliff Kingsbury said. “I am really impressed with him.”

With a limited playbook and a no-contact jersey, Knight had a lackluster showing in Oklahoma’s spring game, and was actually outplayed by Texas Tech transfer Baker Mayfield. But behind closed practices, the Sooners liked the development they saw from their sophomore quarterback, who last torched two-time defending national champ Alabama in the Allstate Sugar Bowl.

“He’s continued to make strides,” Oklahoma offensive coordinator Josh Heupel said. “It’s not even like he played perfect in the Sugar Bowl -- there are things he missed in that game. He’s by no means a finished product.”

The quarterback position in the Big 12 is by no means a finished product, either, coming out of the spring. But the position looks better -- and clearer -- now than it did just two months ago.
Mark Mangino is back in the Big 12.

And he’ll have some offensive firepower to operate with immediately, too.

Monday, Iowa State announced it was bringing Mangino back to the Big 12 to be its offensive coordinator.

“He has an imaginative offensive mind, an ability to play to his players’ strengths, a track record of winning and a tremendous familiarity with the Big 12,” head coach Paul Rhoads said. “In terms of calling plays and executing a game plan, he is top shelf.”

[+] EnlargeMark Mangino
Courtesy of Youngstown StateMark Mangino has proven he knows how to run an offense in the Big 12.
Mangino replaces Courtney Messingham, who was fired after Iowa State finished in the bottom three of the Big 12 in points per game (24.8), yards per game (363), yards per play (4.82), rushing yards (143.83) and passing yards (219.17).

While he spent last season as an assistant head coach and tight ends coach at his alma mater, Youngstown State, Mangino is known for previous stints in the Big 12.

Mangino coordinated Oklahoma’s national championship offense in 2000. Then as head coach, he led Kansas to a 12-1 record in 2007, which included a victory in Orange Bowl, before resigning two years later amid allegations of player mistreatment.

After four years away from coaching in the FBS, Mangino paid the price for those allegations. Now, one of the most successful coaches in Big 12 history has another shot in the league.

And even though the Cyclones struggled offensively under Messingham last season, Mangino just might have enough pieces to quickly rebuild the Iowa State offense.

Especially if rising sophomore Grant Rohach continues to develop at quarterback.

The Cyclones entered the season with Sam B. Richardson as their starter, but finished it with Rohach after Richardson was shut down due to injuries. After struggling initially, Rohach blossomed late in the year, suggesting the job might be his to lose. He quarterbacked the Cyclones to victories over Kansas and West Virginia, and combined to throw for 631 yards and seven touchdowns in those games, giving him a QBR of better than 85.0 in both.

Mangino will have returning talent elsewhere, too.

When healthy, tailback Aaron Wimberly was a force, rushing for 117 yards and a touchdown against Texas. Quenton Bundrage showed flashes as a sophomore that he could become a viable No. 1 receiver while finishing third in the league in touchdown receptions.

In addition, with Texas Tech’s Jace Amaro gone, E.J. Bibbs might be the top returning tight end in the league. And center Tom Farniok will be a four-year starter next season.

What Rhoads has lacked is the offensive mind able to flip those pieces into a consistent and effective offense.

In Mangino, Rhoads now has that mind -- and an offensive coach who has proven he can win big in the Big 12.

What to watch in the Big 12: Week 12

November, 14, 2013
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OSUJohn Weast/Getty ImagesClint Chelf and Oklahoma State have to beat Texas in Austin if they hope to keep their conference title hopes alive, as the Cowboys are a game behind the Longhorns and Baylor in the loss column.
Let's take a look at the top storylines in the Big 12 for Week 12:

1. Can Oklahoma State make this a race? The stakes for Oklahoma State this weekend are obvious: Beat Texas and we're looking at a three-team Big 12 title race. Lose, and the Cowboys join Oklahoma on the outside looking in, making the Dec. 7 Bedlam game irrelevant to the conference-title picture. We haven't said that in a long time, have we? The Cowboys have won five straight and face a Texas team missing several key cogs. They've won their last two games in Austin. Do it again and they just might sneak into the top 10.

2. Texas Tech goes for the big upset: The Red Raiders have plenty of motivation this week as the 27-point David to the conference's undefeated green-and-gold Goliath. The team that was once as hyped as any in college football at 7-0 is now staring down the real possibility of ending the season 7-5. Maybe being backed into a corner and underestimated is just what coach Kliff Kingsbury's squad needs this week to end a three-game slide and stun Baylor.

3. Texas offense without Johnathan Gray: One of the best running backs in the Big 12 is done for the season. How will the Longhorns' offense regroup? Expect a heavy workload for the junior duo of Malcolm Brown and Joe Bergeron, and perhaps a few more creative ways to put the ball in the hands of the speedy Daje Johnson. If OSU loads the box to stop the Gray-less run game, can Case McCoy make the throws to beat the Pokes' talented secondary?

4. Baylor's defense tries to do it again: Shutting down Oklahoma in a 41-12 victory last Thursday might've done wonders for the national perception of Baylor's much-improved defense. But there will always be detractors who say Oklahoma was flat-out inept in Waco and that the Bears' performance wasn't conclusive enough. Maybe shutting down Jace Amaro and the rest of the Tech attack in front of a national primetime audience at AT&T Stadium would quiet a few of those remaining doubters.

5. K-State goes for four in a row: Winners of three straight, all by convincing or impressive margins, the Wildcats are enjoying the fruits of their weekly improvement after a tough 2-4 start to the season. A win over TCU makes Kansas State bowl eligible, a feat that seemed unlikely one month ago. Don't sleep on this KSU team -- it might be the Big 12's fourth- or fifth-best squad by year's end.

6. Does West Virginia have gas left in the tank? The Mountaineers have gone to overtime in each of the past two weeks, one a win at TCU and the other a shootout home loss to Texas in which they came up just short. This West Virginia defense is as beat up from an injury standpoint as any in the league. Can the Mountaineers get up for a road game against a Kansas team that plays most foes close? Knowing they need to win out to reach a bowl should be sufficient motivation.

7. Oklahoma offense must answer criticism: As usual, Bob Stoops faced another week full of criticism and second-guessing following a Sooners loss. This time, the public's focus was on quarterback Blake Bell, play-caller Josh Heupel and the sputtering offense that duo is held responsible for, fair or not. This might be a good week to pound the rock and rediscover the run game that was less than impactful against Baylor.

8. TCU trying to keep its bowl hopes alive: If there are two teams nobody in this conference wants to play right now, it might be Kansas State and Baylor. That's all the Horned Frogs have left in 2013, and all they have to play for right now at 4-6 is a puncher's chance at bowl eligibility. The only time Gary Patterson hasn't taken his team bowling was 2004.

9. Is this the week Kansas finally wins? You might've noticed my colleague Jake Trotter boldly went out on a limb and predicted Kansas would pull off a victory over West Virginia on Saturday. The Jayhawks, you might have heard, have lost 27 consecutive Big 12 games and are 0-15 in conference games under Charlie Weis. Will KU reward the bravery of Trotter and its remaining fans and finally notch that elusive victory? If this isn't the week, don't worry, there’s still a game against Iowa State left.

10. Bring it on, Grant Rohach: We're trying to find reason to get excited about an Iowa State offense that just hasn't been able to figure things out this season. Quarterback Sam B. Richardson is still dealing with a thumb injury, so Rohach will get a chance to shake off the jitters from his first career start and give it a go on the road against Oklahoma. Not an ideal situation by any means, but perhaps he can give ISU a spark.

Big 12 predictions: Week 11

November, 7, 2013
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Welp, it finally happened. I finally lost to a guest picker. And to a 14-year-old, no less. Thanks, Caymen. I thought you weren’t going to embarrass me?

Anyway, this reporter’s pride is on the line again. This week’s guest picker submission:

My name is Claire Stallings and I would love to one day be a guest picker for you. It’s about time a lady shows these men how to pick a perfect week! I love the Big 12 and of course Baylor. I worked for the team all through college and I am that girl who knows more about Baylor football than most of the men on campus. I think it would be interesting to throw a girl into the “man’s world.” Don’t worry, I can hold my own. #GirlPower

The last time a girl challenged me to something, I was destroyed by my wife in a 5K. So this is my shot at redemption. #BringTheNoiseClaire.

Tonight, Max and national writer Mark Schlabach will be in Waco for Oklahoma-Baylor. Saturday, Brandon will drive to Stillwater to check out Kansas-Oklahoma State. Due to my horrific picking, I've been benched for the weekend.

To the Week 11 picks:

SEASON RECORD

Trotter last week: 2-2 (.500)

Guest picker (14-year-old Caymen) last week: 3-1 (.750)

Trotter overall: 43-14 (.754)

Guest picker overall: 29-11 (.725)

THURSDAY

Baylor 52, Oklahoma 34: The Sooners’ best chance in this game is to pound the ball, wear out the clock and keep Baylor’s high-powered offense on the sidelines. But without star fullback Trey Millard, I’m skeptical OU can pull off such a game plan. The Sooners have no viable tight end, and none of their other fullbacks are capable receiving threats off play-action. OU’s remaining firepower keeps the game interesting into the second half. But a Sooners defense playing two freshman linebackers finally capitulates to the overwhelming speed of the Baylor offense, as the Bears make a statement they belong in the national title picture.

Claire’s pick: The media (including you, Jake) keeps saying K-State laid out the blueprint on how to beat Baylor, but then again, Mack Brown made it clear that OU is far from invincible. Between Baylor’s dynamic receiving duo, Antwan Goodley and Tevin Reese, along with Lache Seastrunk and Bryce Petty’s Heisman-worthy performances, this pick was easy. #GoingTarpless. Baylor 56-35

SATURDAY

West Virginia 26, Texas 23: I find it strange the voters still haven’t put Texas back in the Top 25 polls. I actually had the Longhorns ranked 14th in the ESPN power ranking, the highest of the 19 voters in the ESPN poll. But this is a tough spot for Texas. West Virginia has been a far better team in Morgantown than away from it. The Mountaineers also have a ton of momentum from last week’s comeback overtime win over TCU, with a bowl appearance in their sights. Texas QB Case McCoy comes back to earth a bit and the Longhorns get caught peeking ahead to next week’s clash with Oklahoma State, as Charles Sims runs wild again to hand Texas its first Big 12 loss.

Claire’s pick: The Horns will win if they keep the ball with Malcolm Brown and Johnathan Gray. But they have to make sure Case doesn’t make too many mistakes on the road. If they are not careful, West Virginia will upset Texas, just like they did to OSU. #TexasStayawayfromBriles. Texas 31-28

Kansas State 37, Texas Tech 34: With receivers Tyler Lockett and Tramaine Thompson back in the fold, the Wildcats are finally firing on all cylinders offensively. QBs Daniel Sams and Jake Waters have been terrific lately, and, much to Bill Snyder’s satisfaction, have been taking care of the ball, too. Tech has had a great run. But turnover-prone teams usually don’t fare well against Snyder-coached teams, and only six offenses in college football have turned the ball over more times than the Red Raiders. As a result, K-State continues its late-season push and hands Tech a third straight defeat.

Claire’s pick: I grew up in a Tech-loving family from Midland, Texas. I have lost sleep over this pick, and I may lose friends and a chunk of my inheritance after this is published. Unfortunately, the clock has struck midnight for Cinderella, and they are beginning to look reminiscent of last year’s West Virginia squad. #SorryDad. K-State 38-35

TCU 19, Iowa State 13: Will either side have enough players left to actually stage the game? Iowa State figures to be without running back Aaron Wimberly, who’s been its best offensive player, and could be without QB Sam B. Richardson, too. TCU cornerback Jason Verrett and running back B.J. Catalon are questionable on a team that also will be missing running back Waymon James and receiver Brandon Carter. The difference in this game proves to be TCU QB Casey Pachall, who finally showed signs of returning to his old self last week.

Claire’s pick: This is the “Battle of Who Could Care Less” between two struggling teams. TCU’s players are dropping like flies. TCU barely wins, but for sure is not making a bowl. #NotYallsYear #ByeFelicia. TCU 14-10

Oklahoma State 55, Kansas 9: Kansas has been hanging tough in Big 12 play. That ends here. The Cowboys have finally found their identity offensively with Clint Chelf at QB and the tough-running Desmond Roland at tailback. Oklahoma State keeps rolling in its return to the thick of the Big 12 title race.

Claire’s pick: I have always liked Kansas -- they have great school colors for game-day outfits. But that is all they have. Chelf is a real threat and the Cowboys' backfield has exploded these past few games -- they might actually steal the Big 12 title right out of Baylor’s little paws. #ButPleaseDont. Oklahoma State 56-14
Mack Brown was widely mocked last month for saying tackling had become a problem in America, not just at Texas. He wouldn’t be laughed off if he made this claim: Quarterback instability is a national epidemic.

[+] EnlargeDaniel Sams
AP Photo/Eric GayKansas State is one of several Big 12 teams that have played musical quarterbacks, alternating Daniel Sams (pictured) with Jake Waters.
More than 50 FBS programs have already been afflicted, including nearly a third of the AP top 25. A total of 184 quarterbacks have started at least one game for the 126 programs, and we’re only a month and a half into the 2013 season.

No major conference has dealt with more insecurity behind center than the Big 12. Good luck naming the second-best quarterback in the Big 12 behind Baylor’s Bryce Petty, or even naming off all 18 who have made starts.

“This year, it seems like everyone is kind of juggling one to try to find answers and two to try to keep them healthy,” West Virginia coach Dana Holgorsen said. “I know Texas Tech is dealing with it, we’re dealing with it, TCU has dealt with it, Texas has dealt with it, Kansas State has dealt with it.

“So just until guys get established and remain healthy, that’s just the reality of college football. The next guy has got to get ready to go in there and play at the highest level possible to try to get a win.”

Kansas State became the seventh Big 12 team to give a second quarterback a start Saturday when Daniel Sams got the nod over Jake Waters against Baylor.

Thus far, injuries have been more at issue than ineffective play. TCU’s Casey Pachall, Texas’ David Ash and Oklahoma’s Trevor Knight lost their jobs when they went down with injuries, and that could be the case for Texas Tech’s Baker Mayfield as well.

Oklahoma State pulled Clint Chelf for J.W. Walsh in the opener, and Cowboys coach Mike Gundy is sticking with him. Same with Blake Bell, who’s holding onto his job despite the return of Knight.

And then there’s the situation at West Virginia, where Holgorsen has been dealing with a quarterback calamity all season long. Paul Millard, Ford Childress and Clint Trickett have each started two games, and the job is still very much up for grabs.

“Unfortunately by the time we settle on somebody, then he gets hurt and you’ve got to put somebody else in there,” Holgorsen said. “That’s not an excuse. Whoever is going to be our quarterback this week, we’ve got to get him prepared to play and we’ve got to get him to where we’re playing at a higher level than what we’ve got out of him.”

This isn’t exactly unprecedented for the Big 12. During its 12-team era, two seasons were especially chaotic: 2005 and 2009. In both years, eight Big 12 teams started at least two quarterbacks. In both years, Texas rolled through the conference thanks to Heisman finalist-caliber quarterbacks Vince Young and Colt McCoy.

But take note of this: A team with multiple starting quarterbacks has not won the Big 12 Championship since Kansas State in 2003.

[+] EnlargeClint Trickett
Brad Davis/Icon SMIClint Trickett is the third player to start at QB for West Virginia this season.
Bill Snyder’s quarterback situation is no doubt an outlier from the rest. He likes both Sams and Waters. He likes playing both, and Sams has paired his 522 rushing yards with just 32 pass attempts. The Wildcats are just trying to find the right combination, the right rhythm.

“We just have two young guys that are competing in a very positive way to be the No. 1 quarterback, and both of them have demonstrated the capabilities beyond the field and deserve to play,” Synder said.

There was a three-season stretch in this conference, from 2006 to 2008, when no more than four backups earned a start in a single season. In 2011, only Texas and Iowa State tried multiple starters.

ISU coach Paul Rhoads is now one of the three Big 12 coaches who hasn’t needed his No. 2 guy this fall thanks to the solid play of Sam B. Richardson. He doesn’t consider the problem facing his colleagues to be an unexpected one.

“With the number of new quarterbacks in the league, first of all, and then the game is physical, the game is violent and teams’ quarterbacks are more active in their offenses in these leagues,” Rhoads said. “There’s going to be some vulnerability. So no, not surprised.”

This is a problem everywhere. Forty percent of FBS schools have started two quarterbacks. Seven SEC, seven Big Ten and five ACC schools have rolled out more than one starter. The national number of 184 total starters is ahead of the 2012 midseason total (170), which finished at 210 starters by season’s end.

What all that uncertainty creates, at least in the Big 12 landscape, too many unpredictable conference title contenders ... and one great advantage for Baylor.

Petty is No. 1 in the Big 12 in every passing statistic. But it’s a good thing his backup, Seth Russell, already has 30 attempts, 381 yards and three scores on his 2013 resume.

Considering how this season is already playing out, the Bears just might end up needing him.

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