NCF Nation: Will Smith

Spring preview capsules: Big 12

February, 24, 2014
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Spring football is rapidly approaching.

Here's a team-by-team look at what to watch in the Big 12 this spring:

Baylor

Spring start: Feb. 28

Spring game: April 5

What to watch: Who will replace Lache Seastrunk? The Bears' running back was the engine that helped keep the Baylor offense balanced and defenses honest. Shock Linwood will step in, but is he ready to handle the burden of keeping the offense balanced? . . . Baylor, the 2013 regular-season champion, has to find key replacements on a defense that is losing half of its starters. But several second-teamers -- including Jamal Palmer, Shawn Oakman, Andrew Billings and Orion Stewart -- are poised to fill the void . . . The Bears need to replace guard Cyril Richardson along the offensive line. Several candidates, including junior college transfer Jarell Broxton, will battle for the job. Baylor has arguably the league's best group of skill position players, but that will mean nothing if its offensive line takes a step backward.

Iowa State

Spring start: March 10

Spring game: April 12

What to watch: New offensive coordinator Mark Mangino arrives in Ames to bring more points and creativity to the Cyclones’ offense. The spring is the first opportunity for Mangino to get a feel for the playmakers and the players to get a feel for Mangino’s expectations . . . The quarterback competition is another thing to keep an eye on. Grant Rohach ended the season as the starter, but Sam B. Richardson could take his job back with a strong spring. And there are other young quarterbacks on campus who could insert themselves into the mix . . . Defensively, the Cyclones need to replace linebacker Jeremiah George and safety Jacques Washington, who finished 1-2 in tackles in the Big 12 in 2013 and finished their careers with 59 career starts combined. Iowa State seems to always have quality linebackers, so finding a replacement for Washington could be the defense’s top priority in the spring.

Kansas

Spring start: March 4

Spring game: April 12

What to watch: Shuffling the offensive coaching staff has been the theme of the offseason. New offensive coordinator John Reagan, who was a KU assistant from 2005 to 2009, returns to the Jayhawks after running Rice’s offense last season. The spring is Reagan’s first chance to identify the playmakers who will be the foundation of his offense this fall. Expect wide-open competition across the board after KU finished 115th in the FBS in points scored ... The quarterback position will grab the headlines, with T.J. Millweard joining the competition with Jake Heaps and Montell Cozart, who each started games in 2013. Millweard transferred to KU from UCLA before the 2013 season.

Kansas State

Spring start: April 2

Spring game: April 26

What to watch: Finding John Hubert’s replacement sits high on the Wildcats’ priority list. The former running back carried the ground attack for the past three seasons, and there’s no clear favorite to step into his shoes. Will someone step up during spring football? . . . What will happen with quarterback Daniel Sams? The Wildcats have a proven Big 12 playmaker in Sams, a junior, and another proven quarterback in Jake Waters. Sams is an exceptional open-field runner who started two games in 2013, but look for Kansas State to start exploring ways to have both on the field together this spring . . . Replacing Ty Zimmerman’s playmaking and leadership on defense is another key this spring. The defense has to replace several starters in the secondary and at linebacker. Keep an eye on junior college defensive back Danzel McDaniel, who has the versatility to step in at several different spots.

Oklahoma

Spring start: March 8

Spring game: April 12

What to watch: With Trevor Knight poised to start at quarterback in 2014, Blake Bell moves to tight end after starting eight games under center in 2013. Bell’s transition to tight end will be the talk of the spring, with the senior’s commitment to the program and OU's need for help at the position . . . The battle to be the starting running back is another storyline, with sophomores Keith Ford and Alex Ross hoping to make a statement this spring before ESPN 300 running backs Joe Mixon and Samaje Perine arrive in the summer. Ford forced his way into the lineup as a freshman before an injury slowed him . . . The Sooners will be looking to shore up the secondary after the departure of All-Big 12 cornerback Aaron Colvin and starting safety Gabe Lynn. Sophomore Stanvon Taylor could be set to replace Colvin, while sophomores Hatari Byrd and Ahmad Thomas will battle to replace Lynn.

Oklahoma State

Spring start: March 10

Final spring practice: April 5

What to watch: Incoming freshman Mason Rudolph enrolled early to participate in spring football with the hope of replacing quarterback Clint Chelf. J.W. Walsh has won a lot of games in a Cowboys uniform, but will have to hold off stern competition to earn the starting spot as a junior . . . The Cowboys lose seven seniors off one of their best defenses in recent memory. The overall quality might be upgraded, but spring football will be the first chance to see if those talented yet inexperienced defenders are ready to step into the fire. Defensive end Jimmy Bean, linebacker Ryan Simmons and cornerback Kevin Peterson could emerge as the foundation of the defense . . . Who will step up at receiver? The Cowboys lose three of their top four receivers, with Jhajuan Seales as the lone returnee. But several youngsters appear poised to step in, including sophomore Marcell Ateman and redshirt freshman Ra'Shaad Samples.

TCU

Spring start: March 1

Final spring practice: April 5

What to watch: Doug Meacham and Sonny Cumbie have arrived to take over as co-offensive coordinators at TCU. The Horned Frogs need a jump start and could get it from the “Air Raid”-style offense the duo will bring to the table. This spring will be an important first step in improving the offense . . . Who will be the quarterback? Trevone Boykin started several games in 2013 but might actually be TCU’s top receiver. Tyler Matthews, a redshirt freshman, also saw time under center, but he faces stiff competition. Don’t expect the battle to end until fall camp . . . TCU needs someone to step up in the secondary, with Jason Verrett NFL-bound after spending the past two seasons as one of the Big 12’s top coverage cornerbacks. Ranthony Texada and Travoskey Garrett are among several young defensive backs who could try to fill the void.

Texas

Spring start: March 18

Spring game: April 19

What to watch: David Ash's health will be one of the main storylines of Texas’ first spring under coach Charlie Strong. Ash has the talent to be a key piece of the puzzle, but head injuries are always tough to overcome. If Ash is 100 percent healthy, the Longhorns will feel better about the overall status at quarterback . . . Strong has talked of instilling a tough mindset in Austin since he arrived in January, and spring football will be the first real taste of what the Longhorns’ new coach is trying to bring to the program . . . Where are the playmakers? Texas has a talent-laden roster, but didn’t have the exceptional talent who could consistently change games. This spring gives several returning skill players, including receiver Jaxon Shipley and all-purpose standout Daje Johnson, the chance to become the foundation of the offense in 2014.

Texas Tech

Spring start: March 5

Spring game: April 12

What to watch: Davis Webb's health is the No. 1 priority for the Red Raiders, who have seen three quarterbacks leave the program since the beginning of the 2013 season. Coach Kliff Kingsbury could have the toughest job of the spring as he tries to manage the lack of quarterbacks with the desire to have a productive spring for the roster as a whole . . . The Red Raiders have some consistency among the defensive coaching staff, meaning they could improve in 2014 despite losing multiple starters, including defensive tackle Kerry Hyder, linebacker Will Smith and safety Tre' Porter. Tech could start seeing dividends of that continuity . . . The Red Raiders have to replace Jace Amaro and Eric Ward, who combined to catch 189 passes for 2,299 yards and 15 touchdowns last season. Jakeem Grant and Bradley Marquez made a bunch of plays in 2013 and Devin Lauderdale, a junior college transfer and early enrollee, will get the chance to show why he had Texas Tech fans buzzing when he initially signed in February 2013.

West Virginia

Spring start: March 2

Spring game: April 12

What to watch: Finding a quarterback is critical for the Mountaineers, who have talent at the skill positions but won’t transform into an explosive offense without efficient quarterback play. Clint Trickett is recovering from shoulder surgery, meaning Paul Millard, junior college transfer Skyler Howard and former receiver Logan Moore will run the offense this spring . . . Tony Gibson takes over as WVU’s defensive coordinator after coaching the safeties in 2013. His promotion allows some continuity on the defense after former DC Keith Patterson left for Arizona State after the season . . . Replacing defensive tackle Shaq Rowell and defensive end Will Clarke, who started 56 combined career games for WVU, won’t be easy. The Mountaineers will lean heavily on veteran juniors Isaiah Bruce and Karl Joseph, who have started since their freshman seasons.

Big 12 all-bowl team

January, 9, 2014
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The Big 12 had some memorable bowl performances, and some not-so-memorable ones. Below, we honor the memorable ones with the Big 12's all-bowl team:

OFFENSE

QB: Trevor Knight, Oklahoma. Texas Tech’s Davis Webb and Kansas State’s Jake Waters were marvelous, too, but Knight was simply incredible, throwing for 348 yards and four touchdowns against the two-time defending national champs.

RB: Malcolm Brown, Texas. Brown did everything he could to keep the Longhorns in the Valero Alamo Bowl, rushing for 130 yards on 26 carries. Unfortunately, he had little help from the rest of the offense.

[+] EnlargeTyler Lockett
Christian Petersen/Getty ImagesTyler Lockett proved just as much a handful for Michigan as he does Big 12 teams.
RB: John Hubert, Kansas State. In his final game at K-State, Hubert went out with a bang, rushing for 80 yards and a touchdown as the Wildcats rolled Michigan.

WR: Tyler Lockett, Kansas State. The Wolverines became the next team unable to guard Lockett, who had another stellar outing with 10 catches, 116 yards and three touchdowns. Big 12 defensive backs cannot be looking forward to this guy coming back next season.

WR: Jalen Saunders, Oklahoma. Saunders hauled in two of Knight’s touchdown passes, the second a 43-yarder coming off a gorgeous double move that gave OU the lead for good.

TE: Jace Amaro, Texas Tech. Amaro became the NCAA's all-time single season tight end record holder for receptions and receiving yards, reeling in eight catches for 112 yards against the Sun Devils before revealing he would be turning pro.

OT: Bronson Irwin, Oklahoma. Irwin held up remarkably well against Alabama’s mighty front in his first career start at right tackle, as Knight was sacked only once. Irwin, a guard his entire career, had to move outside because of an injury to Tyrus Thompson.

OT: Le'Raven Clark, Texas Tech. Webb attempted 41 passes and wasn’t sacked once. Clark was a big reason.

OG: Cody Whitehair, Kansas State. The Wildcats moved the ball at will against Michigan. Along with Clark, Whitehair is one of the best young returning offensive linemen in the league.

OG: Beau Carpenter, Texas Tech. After missing three straight games with a concussion, Carpenter returned to help shut down Arizona State All-American DT Will Sutton, who basically was a non-factor.

C: Gabe Ikard, Oklahoma. Even with a makeshift offensive line, OU somehow won the battle in the trenches against Alabama. Ikard, an All-American and quarterback of the line, deserves a ton of credit for keeping the line together.

DEFENSE

DE: Geneo Grissom, Oklahoma. Grissom was a man possessed against the Crimson Tide. The former tight end had two sacks and two fumble recoveries, the latter of which he returned for a touchdown to clinch the Sooners’ victory.

DT: Calvin Barnett, Oklahoma State. Despite the loss, Barnett tied a career high with five tackles and one sack and repeatedly found his way into the Missouri backfield.

DT: Dartwan Bush, Texas Tech. The Red Raiders desperately missed Bush late in the regular season. His performance against Arizona State underscored why, as Bush delivered three tackles and a sack and freed up Kerry Hyder to make plays, too.

[+] EnlargeEric Striker
Kevin C. Cox/Getty ImagesSooners LB Eric Striker sacked AJ McCarron three times in the Sugar Bowl.
DE: Jimmy Bean, Oklahoma State. Bean had a breakout game in the AT&T Cotton Bowl, with a career-high seven tackles, including three for loss.

LB: Eric Striker, Oklahoma. Not even Alabama could block Striker off the edge. Striker had a monster performance against the Tide with seven tackles and three sacks, with his final sack forcing the game-clinching fumble in the final minute of the fourth quarter.

LB: Will Smith, Texas Tech. The senior had a National University Holiday Bowl-high 14 tackles, as the Red Raiders held Arizona State 17 points below its season average.

LB: Blake Slaughter, Kansas State. One of the better linebackers in the Big 12 all year, Slaughter had another fine game in the desert with seven tackles, including one for loss, as Michigan’s offense was held in check all night.

CB: Aaron Colvin, Oklahoma. The Sooners gave up some big plays in the passing game, but Colvin was the exception. He also had a critical, touchdown-saving tackle in the first quarter that resulted in Alabama having to settle for a field goal.

CB: Demetri Goodson, Baylor. The Bears gave up 52 points, but they might have given up more had Goodson not collected an acrobatic interception inside the Baylor 5-yard line.

S: Dante Barnett, Kansas State. Barnett led the Wildcats with eight tackles, and he delivered the exclamation point against Michigan with a 51-yard interception return in the fourth quarter.

S: Tanner Jacobson, Texas Tech. In his last college game for a while, the walk-on freshman had a very solid performance with seven tackles. Jacobson is leaving the program for a two-year Mormon mission to Bolivia.

SPECIAL TEAMS

K: Michael Hunnicutt, Oklahoma. “Moneycutt” nailed a season-long 47-yard field goal in the second quarter that allowed OU to keep momentum. It was the third-longest field goal of his career.

P: Spencer Roth, Baylor. One of the few bright spots for Baylor in the Tostitos Fiesta Bowl was its punter, who was busier than he had been all season. Roth averaged almost 44 yards on seven punts, and pinned UCF inside the 20-yard line three times.

Returner: Reginald Davis, Texas Tech. After Arizona State had trimmed Tech’s lead to 27-20 early in the third quarter, Davis answered on the ensuing kickoff with a 90-yard touchdown return down the sideline. The Sun Devils failed to retake the momentum again the rest of the game.

Big 12 weekend rewind: Week 3

September, 16, 2013
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Oklahoma and Oklahoma State rolled, Texas capitulated, Texas Tech prevailed, TCU scuffled, West Virginia and Kansas State cruised, Iowa State and Kansas faltered and Baylor watched. The third weekend that was in the Big 12:

Team of the week: Texas Tech. So far, the Red Raiders have been the big surprise of the Big 12. The first two games Tech won with quarterback Baker Mayfield and its air assault. Thursday, the Red Raiders beat TCU 20-10 with hard-nosed defense. Tech is off to a phenomenal start and could keep it going with four winnable games coming up next. Those games will be even more winnable if this defense proves to be the real deal.

Disappointment of the week: Iowa State. After a disappointing opening performance, the Cyclones had high hopes they could turn their season around against their instate rival. Instead, Iowa jumped to a 27-7 lead, then withstood Iowa State’s mild fourth-quarter rally. The Cyclones have not looked good offensively through two games, and outside Sam Richardson throwing the ball up to Quenton Bundrage, have really shown no pop. The Cyclones desperately need a running back and a running game to emerge. So far, neither has.

[+] EnlargeBlake Bell
Kevin Jairaj/USA TODAY SportsBlake Bell took charge as quarterback for Oklahoma.
Big (offensive) man on campus: Blake Bell. After losing the preseason quarterback battle to Trevor Knight, Bell roared back to recapture the job for good. Bell completed 27 of 37 passes for 413 yards and four touchdowns in Oklahoma’s 51-20 win over Tulsa. Accounting for both rushing and passing, Bell finished the game with a QBR of 96.7. According to ESPN Stats & Info, that’s the highest single-game QBR (before opponent adjustment) by a qualifying Oklahoma quarterback since Sam Bradford recorded a 99.0 at Baylor in 2008.

Big (defensive) men on campus: Terrance Bullitt and Will Smith. Several different Red Raiders qualified for the honor, but the senior linebackers were instrumental in the win over TCU. Bullitt collected six tackles and batted down four passes, which helped prevent Horned Frogs quarterback Trevone Boykin from generating any rhythm on his shorter passes. Smith, who led Tech with nine tackles, helped stuff TCU’s run up the middle. With Tre’ Porter anchoring the secondary and Kerry Hyder wreaking havoc up front, the Red Raiders have the makings of a very solid defense, if this level of linebacker play from Bullitt and Smith continues.

Special teams player of the week: Anthony Fera. Don’t blame the Texas kicker for the Longhorns’ 44-23 loss to Ole Miss. Fera nailed all three of his field goal attempts in the defeat, including a 47-yarder that put Texas up two scores just before halftime. Of course, the Longhorns failed to score the rest of the game. Fera was effective punting, too, pinning Ole Miss inside its own 20 twice. The Longhorns don’t have much going for them at the moment, but at least they have a reliable kicker and punter.

Play of the week: Texas Tech’s DeAndre Washington appeared to have scored the go-ahead touchdown on a 49-yard pass in the fourth quarter against TCU. Washington, however, let go of the football just before crossing the goal line. The ball rolled into the end zone and came to a stop, but no one touched it after the field judge signaled touchdown. The play was reviewed and the touchdown was overturned, but Tech was given the ball at the half-yard line (though a celebration penalty pushed the ball back to the 15). The Frogs have a beef about the field judge signaling touchdown prematurely, but, according to the rulebook, officials made the right call on the replay. Had a Frog picked up the ball or had the ball rolled out of the end zone, TCU would have taken over possession, but none of that happened. Instead, Tech was given back the ball, and Davis Webb found Bradley Marquez for the game-winning touchdown -- a play that could have long-lasting effects for both the Red Raiders and TCU.

Stat of the week: After giving up 272 rushing yards to Ole Miss, Texas now has the third-worst rush defense in college football. The Longhorns are allowing 308.7 rushing yards per game. No one else in the Big 12 is giving up more than 223.

Quote of the week: “Forget the coaches, come for the kids. Come for the young guys who are really trying, and come watch them try to beat Kansas State, which we haven't done very often.”

-- coach Mack Brown, in a plea to Texas fans to keep filling the stadium despite the Longhorns’ 1-2 start.

Texas Tech trying to turn corner in Ames

September, 28, 2012
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Tommy Tuberville took over as Texas Tech coach before the 2010 season, but after two seasons, he has yet to surpass the fewest regular season wins Mike Leach ever had in 10 years in Lubbock: seven.

Tuberville's eight-win 2010 season, capped by a win in the brand-new TicketCity Bowl, preceded a nightmarish 2011 campaign that featured just five wins, the first sub-.500 season in Lubbock in nearly two decades.

[+] EnlargeTommy Tuberville
Erich Schlegel/Getty ImagesTommy Tuberville says this year's Red Raiders are as deep as they've ever been in his tenure.
The 2011 season wasn't without its bright spots, though. The Red Raiders walked into Norman and became the first team to beat the Oklahoma Sooners at home in 39 games, a streak spanning over five years.

Then they met Iowa State, and nobody gave the Cyclones a chance.

"It was sort of a perfect storm for us in that they had just upset the No. 1-ranked team in the country and took it ‘em until about 4 or 5 in the morning to do it. Then they had to travel back and start a new week with that kind of sleep pattern and euphoria," Iowa State coach Paul Rhoads said. "That’s not good."

It wasn't good. By night's end, it was clear that Texas Tech was the team without a chance. Iowa State handed Texas Tech an embarrassing 41-7 loss that had the suddenly ranked Red Raiders causing plenty of folks around the country to scratch their heads.

It was the beginning of the end for Texas Tech, who didn't win a game the rest of the season and suffered losses of 32 and 60 points in the next two weeks.

Yet, here we are again. Texas Tech has racked up a spotless 3-0 record against an overmatched set of cupcakes, but it's time for the Red Raiders to prove last year was an abberation. The first step? Beating Iowa State on the road in the conference opener for both teams. Tuberville is 0-2 against his former defensive coordinator.

"By far this is our best team. The thing about college football is depth. You have to build depth. Everybody’s got to play at some point during the year when you’re taking about your first, second and usually third-level players on your team," Tuberville said. "We’ve barely had once since we’ve been here. We had about one and a half last year. This year, we’re closer to two deep at every position."

Even that weak nonconference schedule served a long-term purpose for the Red Raiders, who suffered an avalanche of injuries on both sides of the ball last year, racking an already thin team. The starters have played little, if at all, in the second halves of the Red Raiders first three wins. That game experience could prove valuable as the season progresses.

"We’re getting ready to start a nine-game stretch, and we need to call on a lot of the kids that are backups and maybe even true freshmen to possibly, like we did last year," Tuberville said. "What we’ve been doing is posture ourself in the last few weeks to get as many of those guys experience as we can."

Tuberville reeled in the two best recruiting classes in school history the past two seasons, and the common thread between both of them is clear: speed.

Speed on offense. Speed in the pass rush. Speed in the secondary. Speed at linebacker.

Freshman receiver Jakeem Grant has already made that speed evident, grabbing 10 balls for 106 yards in just three games. He's one of 13 Red Raiders with at least four catches this season, and six players already have at least 100 yards receiving.

Converted safety Terrance Bullitt and juco linebacker Will Smith offer more speed at linebacker.

The offense is back into a groove, ranking second nationally in total offense. That newfound speed and depth has helped the defense, though the schedule's been soft, rank No. 1 nationally in total defense, up a shocking 113 spots from a year ago.

It's finally in place. Now's the time to mature and prove Texas Tech is ready to climb back up the Big 12 ladder in the middle of a wide-open league.

"We’ve got more speed than we’ve had, and that usually makes up for a lot of mistakes you make in a ball game or a season. That’ll help us on our special teams," Tuberville said. "We’ve definitely got more athletes on both sides of the ball. Speed and athletic ability is definitely going to make us better, and if we can add some coaching to that, we might even be able to take a few steps past that."
We're taking a look at spring breakout players across college football today, and here's who made a big impact across the Big 12.

Trey Metoyer, WR, Oklahoma: Metoyer may have had the best spring of anyone in the Big 12. The physical freshman spent last season in prep school, but walked in this spring and essentially earned a starting job. Then three Sooners receivers were suspended indefinitely. Metoyer was already going to play and probably going to start. Now, with Oklahoma's passing offense and Landry Jones throwing the ball, it's a near certainty that he'll have a huge impact.

Wes Lunt, QB, Oklahoma State: Lunt hasn't made an impact yet, but he's already made headlines. Lunt may be the first freshman to win a starting QB job in the spring in the history of the Big 12. The Illinois native beat out junior Clint Chelf and redshirt freshman J.W. Walsh for the right to succeed Brandon Weeden, and quickly trended nationwide on Twitter after the announcement.

Will Smith, LB, Texas Tech: Smith came to Lubbock as a lightly recruited California juco transfer trying to find some playing time at outside linebacker. Midway through spring, he'd already established himself as the team's best linebacker and coach Tommy Tuberville moved him to the inside so he wouldn't have to leave the field during passing downs.

Jordan Thompson, WR, West Virginia: WVU is already loaded at receiver, albeit a bit top-heavy. Stedman Bailey and Tavon Austin are bona fide studs, but Thompson should find a niche in the Mountaineers' offense after showing he could make an impact as an early enrolling true freshman. He's quick and has good hands, and the Houston native may resemble (gasp!) a young Tavon Austin next fall.

Brandon Moore, DT, Texas: Moore reportedly still needs to work on his conditioning, but the 6-foot-6, 330-pound juco transfer was a force in the middle of the line for the Longhorns, and could be a valuable pocket collapser and run stopper for a loaded Texas defense in 2012. That could blow up a lot of great Big 12 offenses. Think Nick Fairley vs. Oregon in the 2010 season's national title game.

Charlie Moore, WR, Oklahoma State: There was buzz surrounding Moore all spring, but he proved it in a big way as a spring game breakout star. The junior caught nine passes for 243 yards and three touchdowns in the game, and overshadowed yet another breakout star over the course of the spring, sophomore receiver Josh Stewart. OSU needed to find weapons this spring to replace Justin Blackmon, Josh Cooper, Hubert Anyiam and Michael Harrison at receiver. The Cowboys did exactly that.

Tony Pierson, RB, Kansas: Pierson made a small impact last season, but he's essentially the unquestioned starter at KU for now after Darrian Miller was kicked off the team and James Sims was suspended for the first three games of 2012. The East St. Louis native is dangerous in the open field and gives KU a much needed home run threat.
Across our little blog village here at ESPN, we're taking a look at the top newcomers in college football this year. You (probably) don't know their names yet, but here's who you need to watch this fall in the Big 12.

Will Smith, LB, Texas Tech: The Red Raiders only found Smith while recruiting another possible impact transfer, running back SaDale Foster. The California juco transfer stepped on campus this winter and by the end of spring, coach Tommy Tuberville called him the team's best linebacker. He started playing outside, but Tuberville moved the 6-foot-2, 220-pounder to starting middle linebacker in the middle of camp so he'd be on the field even during passing downs. He'll be important to Tech's new 4-3 scheme. Think K-State's Arthur Brown, a Miami transfer who's almost the exact same size.

[+] EnlargeDayne Crist
Andrew Weber/US PresswireFormer Notre Dame QB Dayne Crist brings experience as a starter to Kansas.
Dayne Crist, QB, Kansas: You probably know this name, but Crist started nine games in 2010 for Notre Dame and appeared in 17 career games. He began 2011 as the starter, but was benched and transferred to KU to play his final season of college football for Charlie Weis, the coach who recruited him to South Bend as the nation's No. 2 quarterback and No. 22 overall prospect in the 2008 class. He threw 15 touchdowns and seven interceptions in 2010.

Brandon Moore, DT, Texas: Moore is part of a changing world in Austin, thanks to a revamped coaching staff with some SEC sensibilites. He and OT Donald Hawkins were the first juco transfers to sign with Texas since 2002 and Moore may be the lynchpin of the Big 12's best defense this year. Teammates have described the "full-grown man" as "unstoppable." Such is life at 6-6 and 330 pounds. Moore has to work on his conditioning, but he's going to wreak havoc on Big 12 offensive lines when he's on the field this year. Look for him to collapse a pocket or two early and often this season.

Trey Metoyer, WR, Oklahoma: Metoyer spent a year in military school after not qualifying academically, but he's already made an impact this spring after finally arriving at Oklahoma. He was the nation's No. 8 receiver in the 2011 class and offers the Sooners some much-needed sure hands. The unit came down with the dropsies late last season, and the FBS career leader for receptions, Ryan Broyles, is NFL-bound. Metoyer is exactly what the Sooners need to keep their offense on pace with the league's best, and he'll be catching passes from a Heisman candidate in Landry Jones.

Lache Seastrunk, RB, Baylor: Seastrunk's short-lived career at Oregon was marred by a recruiting scandal, but he's back home, 30 miles north of his hometown in Temple, Texas, and ready for a fresh start. Baylor needs a replacement for Big 12 rushing champ Terrance Ganaway, and Seastrunk, the nation's No. 6 running back and No. 40 overall prospect in the 2010 class, is battling Glasco Martin and Jarred Salubi for the chance to be the man.

West Virginia and TCU: Have y'all heard about this? It's gonna be kind of crazy. After losing four teams since June 2010, the Big 12 poached the Big East and added the former Southwest Conference-dwelling Frogs and the Mountaineers, badly in need of a home away from the weakened Big East. Here's how we welcomed the Frogs and did the same for WVU earlier this year.
Texas Tech's record stood at 5-2, but its hopes were much higher.

The Red Raiders had seen a close loss to what would be a 10-win Kansas State team and a five-point loss to top-25 Texas A&M, but bounced back for a season-making upset at No. 1 Oklahoma on Oct. 22.

The Sooners hadn't lost in Owen Field to a Big 12 team in 10 years, but Texas Tech did it, and the Red Raiders flew back home to Lubbock with smiles on their faces.

Those would be the last postgame smiles for the season's remainder. The Red Raiders didn't win again. What happened?

"I thought we were a decent team," coach Tommy Tuberville told ESPN.com this week. "and then the bottom fell out on injuries."

The bottom line about that bottom falling out? Texas Tech lacked the necessary depth for a Big 12 season — and it showed.

"When you don’t have depth, that’s when it starts showing up — when you have injuries," Tuberville said. "If we hadn’t had injuries, we probably would have been a little bit better team, but those are things you can’t control."

No side of the ball was spared. In the Texas A&M loss, the Red Raiders lost their leading rusher and best pass blocker, Eric Stephens to a serious knee injury. His backup, DeAndre Washington, suffered the same fate weeks later in a loss to Missouri. Receivers Marcus Kennard and Darrin Moore were hampered by various injuries throughout the season.

"There was one time last year we started five kids on defense that weren’t on scholarship," Tuberville said. "We just didn’t have them here. They hadn’t been recruited."

There's no time to complain. Texas Tech had its first losing season in two decades, finishing 5-7 and sitting at home while half of college football prepped for bowl games.

This spring, the main goal was clear: Develop depth by any means necessary.

The Red Raiders signed nine junior-college prospects and half enrolled in the spring.

[+] EnlargeTommy Tuberville
Sue Ogrocki/AP PhotoTommy Tuberville tapped the juco ranks for depth after Texas Tech unravelled last season.
"At our position as coaches, that’s a coaching move, in terms of going out and finding not just starters, but depth players, and that’s the reason we went out and took some junior-college guys," Tuberville said. "We had to have immediate help at some positions, whether it was starter or backup or third team. So, our depth chart looks better. I think 17 or 18 true freshmen coming in in June will enhance it."

The Red Raiders got help at running back in SaDale Foster, who finished atop the depth chart for Tech's depleted running back corps at the end of spring.

Linebackers Chris Payne and Will Smith established themselves as contributors; Smith was the team's best linebacker when spring practice concluded Saturday. Rashad Fortenberry, another junior-college signee from Mississippi, adds a solid tackle to an offensive line in need of help.

"Defensively, whatever we do is going to be better. We didn’t coach, we didn’t play, we didn’t act like a good defense last year. We looked like we were in shell shock all year long in terms of playing against teams that had great players. This conference last year, offensively, was unbelievable from top to bottom," Tuberville said. "We knew we were going to be very short defensively experience-wise, and then we get people hurt. And then we’re playing against some of the better players to play in this conference. I think we’re going to be better in matchups. That’s what you look for, is matchups in college football."

Tech hopes strategic decisions during a trying 2011 season pay off down the line.

"We didn’t take the redshirt off a few guys because they probably wouldn’t have been any better. But they’ve got the talent. We redshirted them and we saved them, and now they’ve got four years to play," he said. "It’s going to help us in the long run. It didn’t help us in the immediate future, but it’ll help us in the long run. That’s what we’re building for. We’re building to make this team start to be strong at a certain point."

That point hasn't arrived, but Tech should be well ahead of where it was in 2011 after top-25 recruiting classes in 2011 and 2012, combined with the quick-fix juco signings.

"We’ve just been a disaster in terms of depth. The parts hadn’t been there to work with," Tuberville said.

He says Texas Tech is still one more recruiting class away from being where it needs to be in terms of athletic ability, but the talent necessary to win is on campus now.

The goal for fall is to develop the depth Tuberville and his staff have established.

"Are we ready to compete for a championship? No, not really, just because of inexperience. I think we’re going to have some talent that can make some plays on both sides of the ball that we haven’t had in the last couple of years," Tuberville said. "I think we’re going to be much more competitive in terms of each position with a little bit more depth."
It's Super Bowl week, and here in Chicago, we're celebrating the hiring of Mike Martz as Bears offensive coordinator after a month-long search. Hope Jay Cutler has a life insurance policy.

OK, moving on to less depressing topics, like the Big Ten and Super Bowl XLIV.

Once again, the Big Ten has plenty of connections to the game, including 20 former players on the two teams, more than any other conference.

All 11 member schools will be represented by a player and/or coach participating in the game. Michigan has the highest number of former players (four), followed by Ohio State (three) and then six teams -- Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Northwestern, Purdue and Wisconsin -- each with two former players. Penn State and Minnesota will have former coaches on the sideline Sunday.

Both head coaches have Big Ten roots, as the Colts' Jim Caldwell played at Iowa and served as an assistant at Iowa, Northwestern and Penn State. The Saints' Sean Payton had a one-year stint as an Illinois assistant in 1996.

Here's the full lineup of Big Ten links to Super Bowl XLIV, courtesy of the league office:

INDIANAPOLIS COLTS

Players

Kelvin Hayden, DB, Illinois
Dallas Clark, TE, Iowa
Bob Sanders*, DB, Iowa
Mike Hart, RB, Michigan
Marlin Jackson*, DB, Michigan
Ervin Baldwin, DE, Michigan State
John Gill, DL, Northwestern
Anthony Gonzalez*, WR, Ohio State
Curtis Painter, QB, Purdue
Jim Sorgi*, QB, Wisconsin

Coaches

Jim Caldwell, Head Coach (Played at Iowa from 1973-76; Assistant at Iowa in 1977, Northwestern in 1981 and Penn State from 1986-92)
Larry Coyer, Defensive Coordinator (Assistant at Iowa from 1974-77 and Ohio State from 1991-92)
Gene Huey, Running Backs (Assistant at Ohio State from 1988-91)
Tom Moore, Offensive Coordinator (Played at Iowa from 1957-60; Assistant at Iowa from 1961-62 and Minnesota from 1972-73 and 1975-76)
Ray Rychleski, Special Teams (Assistant at Penn State in 1991)
Bill Teerlinck, Defensive Assistant (Assistant at Indiana from 2003-04)
John Teerlinck, Defensive Line (Assistant at Illinois from 1980-82)

NEW ORLEANS SAINTS

Players

Pierre Thomas, RB, Illinois
Tracy Porter, CB, Indiana
Courtney Roby, WR, Indiana
Adrian Arrington, WR, Michigan
Jonathan Goodwin, C, Michigan
Zach Strief, OT, Northwestern
Malcolm Jenkins, CB, Ohio State
Will Smith, DE, Ohio State
Drew Brees, QB, Purdue
Jonathan Casillas, LB, Wisconsin

Coaches

Sean Payton, Head Coach (Assistant at Illinois in 1996)
Greg McMahon, Special Teams (Assistant at Minnesota from 1983-84 and Illinois from 1992-2004)
Bret Ingalls, Running Backs (Assistant at Northwestern from 2006-08)
Aaron Kromer, Offensive Line/Running Game (Assistant at Northwestern from 1999-2000)
Mike Mallory, Assistant Special Teams (Played at Michigan from 1982-85; Assistant at Indiana from 1986-87 and Illinois from 2001-05)
Terry Malone, Tight Ends (Assistant at Michigan from 1997-2005)

*-Injured reserve

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