NCF Nation: Todd Peterson
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.
|Bruce Thorson/US Presswire|
|Bo Pelini's Cornhuskers are 3-0, but they have yet to be truly tested on the football field.|
Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Griffin
Bo Pelini's aura among Nebraska fans remains smoking hot after three games.
Books and polkas were written and enough T-shirts were printed to stock a small army before the new Nebraska coach's first game. That legend has only grown as the Cornhuskers have started strongly.
Early victories over Western Michigan, San Jose State and New Mexico State have boosted Nebraska to a 3-0 start. But the Cornhuskers still have as many questions as answers heading into Saturday's game against Virginia Tech.
"We're anxious to see how good we actually are, and I know everybody else is around the state, too," Nebraska quarterback Joe Ganz said. "I think this is a good time to have the game. We're all wondering how good we can actually be and how we play against elite teams like this."
Ganz might be stretching his definition of an "elite team" just a little, considering the Hokies' less-than-imposing body of work so far. But the game is coming at a good time as the Cornhuskers prepare for a difficult start of Big 12 play that will include games against Missouri and Texas Tech in the first two weeks of conference play.
Pelini is careful not to embrace Saturday's game as a measuring stick for his program.
"Every game is important for us and this is just the next one," he said. "That's our attitude as a football team -- that Virginia Tech is just the next challenge for us."
Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Griffin
Mike Leach has Texas Tech on the brink of challenging for the school's first BCS bowl. But school officials say they can't afford to negotiate a rollover on his existing five-year deal until after the regular season ends in December.
The Lubbock Avalanche-Journal reported that the upshot will mean that Leach will finish the season with with only two years remaining on his current deal.
"Let me preface this by saying we want Mike to be our coach," Tech athletic director Gerald Myers told the newspaper. "We made a decision some time back to wait 'til after the season to do his contract. I don't want anybody to read anything into that.
"We want him to be our coach. We want to be able to compensate him at the level that the market dictates. As you know, we operate on a tight budget every year, and I just felt that we would know a lot more about our budget situation in December, so we've made a decision to wait until after the season to do his contract.''
Tech officials told the Lubbock Avalanche-Journal that the school is running a deficit for the second time in the last three fiscal years, making it prudent for them to be careful financially.
But can they really afford that with Leach, whose modest contract ranks him in the middle of Big 12 coaches? Leach's salary guarantees him $1.75 million this season, $1.85 million next season and $2.15 million in 2010 and two contract-completion incentives totaling $1 million - $800,000 if his stays through 2009 and $200,000 if he remains in place through 2010.
Leach has become an almost larger-than-the-program figure for Tech football. His love of all things concerning pirates has become well known over the last few years.
A big season might provide him with the ultimate treasure chest - and the booty might be coming from another school if Tech officials aren't careful.
Shiver me timbers, enough about Leach and his contract. How about some links from around the Big 12?
- WTLG isn't some kind of new radio station in Norman, but the Oklahoma Sooners still are listening closely to Coach Bob Stoops' mantra of "Win The Last Game."
- Barry Switzer will be appearing as himself in an upcoming episode of the TNT series police drama "Saving Grace." A TNT publicist told the Tulsa World that Switzer is hailed as a hero by all of the policemen in the series except for "Butch," a former University of Texas football player. The show may be set in Oklahoma City, but it doesn't keep an occasional tropical plant from popping up in the background if you look hard enough. It would be kind of like Switzer's mentioning his old QB Turner Gill in the show's dialogue.
- Topeka Capital-Journal reporter Tully Corcoran's "Hawk Bloc" blog has a couple of funny stories about how former Kansas coach Don Fambrough still can't stop hating Missouri. His angst obviously has been heightened as Gary Pinkel's program has kept getting better.
- A YouTube video showed Oklahoma freshman WR Josh Jarboe rapping about guns and shooting people. It wasn't a wise choice for Jarboe, who was arrested earlier this year for bringing a gun to Cedar Crest High School in Georgia. The felony charges were reduced to misdemeanors, reports Jake Trotter of the Oklahoman, enabling Jarboe to keep his scholarship.
- Veteran Waco Tribune-Herald Baylor beat writer Jerry Hill is leaving the paper after a 25-year career there covering the Bears. He'll become the director of communications for Baylor's Bear Foundation. His newspaper has an 11-minute video stocked with some of his favorite memories.
- Forget about the rush to find a new quarterback and featured receiver at Iowa State. Andrew Logue of the Des Moines Register said the Cyclones' biggest task will be finding a replacement for NG Ahtyba Rubin.
- Nebraska WR Todd Peterson had a unique description of playing for the Cornhuskers in a diary he's writing for the Sporting News. "I am always telling people this about growing up in Nebraska and what football means to the state - from the outside looking in, you can't understand it, and from the inside looking out, you can't explain it." I always thought that was how Aggies described their association with their school, too.
- Fort Worth Star-Telegram Oklahoma beat writer Mike Jones doesn't expect Auston English will be slowed down by his recent appendix operation.
- A visit by Nebraska coach Bo Pelini and athletic director Tom Osborne was big news in North Platte, Neb., where it merited top-story placement on Page 1 of the local newspaper, the North Platte Telegraph. "(The support around the state has) been great," Pelini told the Telegraph's Ben Vigil."Myself, our staff, we've been well received and people are excited right now. Ultimately, it's our job to keep them excited by putting a good product on the field and that's what we're focused on right now."
- New Texas A&M coach Mike Sherman isn't ready to mimic other A&M coaches and auction a chance to go hunting with him for charity. "Until I beat Texas Tech and Texas, I'm not going hunting," Sherman joked to the San Antonio Express-News' Brent Zwerneman. Probably a wise choice to avoid guns altogether. Are you listening, Josh Jarboe?
- Who says you can't teach an old dog new tricks? Sherman told the Austin American-Statesman's Randy Riggs of his basic philosophy in recruiting. It sound remarkably like one he probably used as an NFL head coach.
- Colorado LB Lynn Kotoa avoided jail time after pleading guilty to felony menacing for assaulting two men
with a rock in his fist during an altercation on Feb. 16. Buffaloes coach Dan Hawkins doesn't let convicted felons play on his team. Katoa has already been suspended from the team and won't play this fall.