QBs have changed blueprint for Big 12 title
As the Big 12 developed its reputation as a quarterbacking oasis in the past decade, an accepted truth emerged: If you don't have an experienced quarterback, you can count out a Big 12 title run.
Over the Big 12's 16-year history, only three quarterbacks have won a title as a first-year starter. Two of them played for Oklahoma, and one of them (Sam Bradford) went on to win a Heisman Trophy. The Sooners pulled off the improbable feat in 2006 after moving Paul Thompson back to starter when coach Bob Stoops kicked Rhett Bomar off the team, but the truth has been nearly ironclad: If you want to win the Big 12, you'd better have loads of experience behind center. "This year is one of those years where there's a number of excellent quarterbacks [who] are moving on, so a new batch will be coming up," Stoops said.
For young quarterbacks, a rise to a league title or a BCS bid has never been more attainable.
Texas' David Ash, the league's sudden elder statesman, carries 18 career starts under his belt, but the next-most experienced quarterback in the league hasn't taken the field since October.
TCU's Casey Pachall hasn't officially regained his status as the Horned Frogs' starter, but he'll try to start his 18th game against LSU to open 2013 after sitting out the final nine games of 2012 to seek treatment for drug and alcohol addiction.
The rest of the league, though? Oklahoma State might be the favorite to win its second Big 12 title in three seasons, but it has no idea who its starting quarterback will be just yet after injuries led to three -- Wes Lunt, J.W. Walsh and Clint Chelf -- playing about a third of the season each and all of them topping 1,000 passing yards and winning a conference game.
Oklahoma's Blake Bell looks likely to claim Landry Jones' vacated job, but the Sooners will enter fall camp without an official announcement.
For those keeping count, that's three of the Big 12's top four teams who don't know (or at least, haven't announced) who will start their first game of 2013.
Baylor, Texas Tech and Kansas State might be in the mix for the Big 12 title, too, but only Baylor made an official announcement at quarterback, crowning Bryce Petty as the next in a long line of good quarterback play under Art Briles. Michael Brewer will continue to battle Davis Webb at Texas Tech, and Kansas State's derby between Daniel Sams and Jake Waters will leak into fall camp as well.
"There's a lot of question marks in our league, and that has not been the case the last couple of years," Texas coach Mack Brown said. It's a whole new ballgame in the Big 12, and it's a wide-open race. The game is the same: To win in the Big 12, you have to have great quarterback play.
This season, though, the rules have changed. "With new QBs, there are always question marks. I mean, you don't really know until you know. The only way to know is to get out on the field with them in the heat of battle and find out how they respond," Briles said. "It changes the dynamics of the league 100 percent."
What we learned this spring
1. The shifting balance of power is continuing. Since Bob Stoops and Mack Brown's arrival, Texas or Oklahoma has never gone two years without representing the Big 12 in the BCS.
Until last season, that is. Stoops' Sooners shared a title with Kansas State, but lost the tiebreaker in Norman early in the season while Texas is still trying to rebuild from a big drop-off after playing for the 2009 national title. This season, there's a reasonable shot neither Texas or Oklahoma will be in the top two of the Big 12's preseason poll, possibly being passed up by Oklahoma State and TCU. We won't know if that's official until the fall, but every year offers more reminders of the Big 12's move toward a more balanced conference as Texas and Oklahoma's stranglehold on the league continues to slip.
2. If defenses are going to have a banner year, the time is now. The Big 12 could have some elite defenses in Texas and TCU, but Oklahoma State returns seven starters from an underrated defense in 2012. Meanwhile, Baylor's looking for improvement after looking legitimately dominant in lopsided wins over BCS No. 1 Kansas State and UCLA in its bowl game. And seven starters return to the Bears. Texas Tech's dealing with a new scheme but returns eight starters and almost its entire front seven from last season's improved defense. Only two Big 12 quarterbacks have more than a half-season of starting experience, which could mean more opportunity for a league with notoriously downtrodden defenses.
3. The top of the Big 12 could be pillowy soft. The Big 12 has never, ever opened a season without a team in the preseason top 10. This season looks likely to be the first. At least four Big 12 teams are probably in the Top 25, but it's entirely possible that the conference gets shut out of the top 15, too. We may see a surprise team rise, similar to Kansas State last season making noise in the national title hunt. But the Big 12 in 2013 is another wide-open league title race. Without an elite team in the mix, two losses might be enough to win a share of the league title, which means a larger pool of teams getting into the mix. Oklahoma State, TCU, Texas and Oklahoma look like the favorites, but don't be surprised if Texas Tech, Baylor and Kansas State control their own fates in the race come November.
Best of the Big 12
Biggest breakout star: Bryce Petty. The Bears' quarterback is an unknown for now, but he's learned a proven system under great coaches and great quarterbacks. This spring, he never let his competition come close to making it real quarterback battle in Waco. Despite windy conditions, he capped the spring with 181 yards and two touchdowns on 13-of-15 passing. Don't be surprised if he hangs similar stat lines in a first half or two next year.
Biggest flip-flop: Oklahoma State coach Mike Gundy. Midway through the spring, Gundy offered some real clarity on his quarterback situation, which ended with Clint Chelf carrying the Cowboys through bowl practices and a lopsided win in the Heart of Dallas Bowl. "Clint Chelf is our starter, he takes all the reps with the ones right now. The other guys compete out there, but I don't necessarily feel like there's a battle out there to start in the first game," Gundy said. A week later, though, he said the Pokes "haven't necessarily said anything about the [starter for the] first game of the season." He says they won't be offering any updates on the QB situation until after the season opener against Mississippi State and Chelf is off-limits to media, along with his competition, sophomores J.W. Walsh and Wes Lunt.
Best spring-game performance: Jordan Thompson, WR, West Virginia. Dana Holgorsen joked that Thompson is earning a reputation as the greatest spring game player of all time after he recorded six catches for 123 yards and three touchdowns. Just don't spend too much time reading this paragraph. "Until he plays like that in a game, we're going to call it like it is," Holgorsen said. "I haven't seen him play like that in a game yet. Until he does that in a game, we're not going to talk about it."
Biggest surprise: TCU's quarterback indecision. Many assumed that Casey Pachall's return to the Horned Frogs meant Trevone Boykin's days as the starting quarterback were over, or at least on hold for another season. After 15 practices this spring, however, that hasn't been the case just yet. Coach Gary Patterson says Boykin's made big strides since the end of the season and Pachall looked rusty after not working out or throwing while he was in treatment for drug and alcohol addiction. More than a few folks are skeptical of Patterson's insistence that the competition is still open, but we'll know for sure when TCU opens against LSU.
Most to prove: Jake Heaps and Kansas. KU's Big 12 losing streak now stands at 21 games, and Heaps is looking like a much better passer than Dayne Crist was at this time last year. Charlie Weis is also stocking his roster with tons of juco talent, which could mean a quick turnaround. Will it, though? KU needs to get back to respectability and fast, but winning that first Big 12 game won't be easy.
Best new uniforms: Baylor and West Virginia. West Virginia had a ballyhooed debut before its spring game with three sets of white, blue and Old Gold pants, jerseys and helmets, giving WVU 27 possible combinations. The numbers on the jerseys are also inspired by miners' pick axes. Baylor also debuted new jerseys, highlighted by an all gold chrome helmet and most importantly, the elimination of a cartoonish bear claw mark on the pants.
Players to watch
Post-spring power rankings
1. Oklahoma State: The Cowboys don't know (or at least, won't say on the record) who their Week 1 starting quarterback will be, but Mike Gundy's team boasts the Big 12's top returning receiver and should have a great shot to win their second Big 12 title in three seasons. Adjusting to new defensive coordinator Glenn Spencer's more aggressive style shouldn't be too difficult, and new offensive coordinator Mike Yurcich sounds like a quick study in picking up the offense.
2. TCU: The Frogs should have the Big 12's best defense on paper after returning nine starters from the league leader in total defense last season, but Casey Pachall returning to his old form is key to the Frogs scoring enough points to win the Big 12 title in their second season in the league.
3. Texas: The Longhorns have the league's most experienced quarterback in David Ash and a deep, talented stable of running backs who complement each other well. But the defense has a lot to prove after being one of the biggest disappointments in the Big 12 last season. It's a crucial season for coach Mack Brown, too. This season feels like a BCS-or-bust type of year for the Longhorns, who have been vocal this offseason about nine wins not being enough.
4. Oklahoma: The Sooners' defense was embarrassed by some great offenses late in 2013 and lost most of its top talents to the NFL draft. Blake Bell looks to have secured the quarterback spot despite no official announcement, but the Sooners need young talents like Frank Shannon, Cortez Johnson and Julian Wilson to have breakout seasons.
5. Baylor: The Bears closed 2012 as the hottest team in the Big 12 and had the league's best performance of the bowl season. Bryce Petty looks ready to take the reins on offense, and a strong finish to 2012 by a defense that returns seven starters should carry over to 2013. The D is deeper, faster and will ultimately decide how far up the Big 12 ladder Baylor can climb.
6. Kansas State: K-State's returning fewer starters -- eight -- than any team in the Big 12, but nobody does more with less than Bill Snyder. The talent level will take a hit, mostly on defense, but underrated back John Hubert can make the transition from quarterback Collin Klein simpler for whoever wins the battle between Jake Waters and Daniel Sams. Linebacker Tre Walker's return from a knee injury will be a huge help for a defense that needs experience and talent.
7. Texas Tech: New coach Kliff Kingsbury inherits an experienced team with a lot of upside, but Texas Tech still has to prove it can do more than win eight games. It hasn't topped that total since 2008, when it reached No. 2 in the BCS and started 10-0. Tech boasts one of the Big 12's best defensive lines, and quarterback Michael Brewer has a lot of promise and a pair of great targets in receiver Eric Ward and tight end Jace Amaro.
8. West Virginia: The first season in the Big 12 was a learning experience for WVU, but it won't get any easier this fall. The Mountaineers return just three starters from a dangerous offense in 2012 and have to count on improvement from a defense that showed little flash or reason for optimism in 2013. Safeties Karl Joseph and Darwin Cook need to lead and push that defense along.
9. Iowa State: ISU is moving past the losses of linebackers A.J. Klein and Jake Knott and is hoping Sam Richardson provides the quarterback play that's been missing under Paul Rhoads. He's got a solid group of running backs and an offensive line that should be great, but the receivers leave a bit to be desired and have to improve.
10. Kansas: Charlie Weis turned tons of heads by bringing in almost 20 junior college transfers for 2013, but KU will go as far as new quarterback Jake Heaps, a BYU transfer, can take them. With a 21-game losing streak in Big 12 hanging over their heads entering the season, up is the only way to go. For now, though, they've got to start at the bottom.
The race to signing day is well under way. How are teams in the Big 12 faring? RecruitingNation weighs in with a team-by-team look. Story
Baylor: Just how good is QB Bryce Petty? For more on the Bears, click here.
Iowa State: Iowa State's going to focus on its running game. For more on the Cyclones, click here.
Kansas: Kansas brought in JC talent, and a few have already stood out. For more on the Jayhawks, click here.
Kansas State: How has K-State replaced its starters on the D-line? For more on the Wildcats, click here.
Oklahoma: Looking to utilize its mobile QBs, OU will run a different offense. For more on the Sooners, click here.
Oklahoma State: Glenn Spencer is in, and he's all about playing aggressive. For more on the Cowboys, click here.
TCU: There were big losses on the interior O- line, and replacing them was a concern. For more on the Horned Frogs, click here.
Texas: The Longhorns looked to shore up the LB position this spring. For more on the Horns, click here.
Texas Tech: Tech will air it out, but its identity on both sides is still forming. For more on the Red Raiders, click here.
West Virginia: Finding new weapons was job No. 1 for West Virginia this spring. For more on the Mountaineers, click here.