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2011 Big 12 Spring Preview
Oklahoma WR Ryan Broyles
Oklahoma WR Ryan Broyles
CollegeFootballNews.com
Posted Mar 19, 2011


As we dive further into spring ball again this Monday, here are all the conference spring previews so far starting with the Big 12. It's a new world with just ten teams, but that conference could be even better. Check out the big questions, the top position battles, the early buzz, and the attitudes for every Big 12 team going into spring practices.


2011 Big 12 Spring Preview

Click for each team's spring preview
Baylor | Iowa State | Kansas | Kansas State | Missouri
Oklahoma | Oklahoma State | Texas | Texas A&M | Texas Tech
 
2011 Big 12 Spring Preview
- 2011 Big 12 Spring Preview - Is Smaller Better? 
- 2011 Big 12 Schedules & Game-By-Game Picks
- 2011 Big 12 Spring Buzz   
- 2011 Big 12 Spring Attitudes 
- 2011 Big 12 Big Spring Questions  
- 2011 Big 12 Positions To Watch  
- Big 12 Spring Rankings 

Baylor

Spring Practice Begins: February 28
Game: April 2


The early spring buzz ... Head coach Art Briles has always said that winning at Baylor should be expected and should be the norm, but obviously last year was special. Now the pressure is on to keep up the momentum despite a tough schedule that lacks too many sure things, and no one will take the Bears lightly anymore. The big story around Waco is the addition of Phil Bennett to handle the defense. The former SMU head man doesn’t have to recreate the Steel Curtain, but with a loaded offense returning, he has to upgrade a defense that got destroyed by any offense with a wee bit of talent.

The big spring question is ... Can Phil Bennett upgrade the pass defense in 15 practices? Part of the problem was a lack of pass rush that allowed way too many quarterbacks to fire at will, and the other issue was playing in a conference with so many top passing teams. Unfortunately, two of the teams that couldn’t throw, Colorado and Nebraska, are gone, and the Bears have to stop Oklahoma State, Missouri, Oklahoma and Texas Tech in the back half of the slate. The run defense wasn’t exactly a rock, but in the Big 12, stopping the pass is always Job One.

The most important position to watch is ... Defensive back. Finding a brick wall of a defensive tackle to replace Phil Taylor would be nice, and a No. 1 running back has to emerge to take Jay Finley’s place, but the biggest issue is in the shaky secondary with three starters gone and only sophomore corner Tyler Stephenson back. For a pass defense that allowed 3,446 yards last season and came u with one pick in the final four games, coming up with the right combination in the defensive backfield will be vital.

Spring attitude... Do it again. With eight starters returning on offense including QB Robert Griffin, the attack should once again be explosive, even if it’s not consistent. The defense can’t be much worse against the better teams. However, the schedule isn’t conducive to another big season. Texas isn’t going to be that soft again and one of the layup non-conference games is gone with the nine game conference slate. Stephen F. Austin and Rice are the only two layups and the home date against Iowa State is a must win. Everything else will be a fight.

Iowa State

Spring Practice Begins: March 22
Game: April 16


The early spring buzz ... Iowa State is having its share of fun this offseason as defensive end Jacob Lattimer and was suspended after being charged with assaulting a police officer, while tight end Ricky Howard was charged with a DUI. Losing Howard isn’t that big a deal, but Lattimer is one of the team’s best pass rushers on a woeful pass rushing line that can’t afford to lose key playmakers. Overall, this is supposed to be the year when the Paul Rhoads era takes off, but the talent level isn’t there to make a huge splash. In other words, there can’t be too many more bumps in the road.

The big spring question is ... Will the Cyclones have any offense? It was a two-man gang last year as QB Austin Arnaud and RB Alexander Robinson had to do a little of everything for an attack that finished 11th in the Big 12 in yards, and scoring. There will be a quarterback battle and there are decent prospects at the skill spots, but only five starters return on offense and there’s a shocking lack of weapons to count on. That has to change this spring as the coaching staff has to find playmakers to revolve the offense around.

The most important position to watch is ... Quarterback. Austin Arnaud was second on the team in rushing and was a baller of a passer, even if he wasn’t really all that great at throwing the ball. Now there will be a fight to replace the longtime veteran with the hope that top JUCO transfer Steele Jantz has a game as good as his killer name. Jerome Tiller was in the house last year and was under center for the strange and bizarre win over Nebraska in 2009, and he’ll get every shot at the job.

Spring attitude... Stay plucky. Iowa State really wasn’t all that great last year, but it still managed to win five games and should’ve gone bowling by coming up with a win over Nebraska. There were two stunning wins over Texas Tech and Texas, and beating Northern Illinois was strong, and now the team has to make up for the overall lack of talent by always working and taking advantage of teams who might be looking ahead. The problem is the schedule with only one cupcake of a non-conference game – Northern Iowa – and the home game against Kansas the only game the Cyclones are likely to be favored in.

Kansas

Spring Practice Begins: March April 1
Game: April 30


The early spring buzz ... Remember, Turner Gill turned around Buffalo and made one of the worst programs in the nation a MAC champion. It wasn’t just that KU was bad in Gill’s first season; it’s that it was miserable. A tough watch, the Jayhawks had one good quarter in Big 12 play – the fourth in the win over Colorado – and now there’s nowhere to go but up. Eternally optimistic, Gill is saying his team will be far better and far more dangerous this year. This spring has to show signs that Gill might not be completely full of beans.

The big spring question is ... Can the offense do anything right? How bad was it? KU hung 52 on Colorado and scored a total of 64 in the other seven Big 12 games. The offense was last in the league in yards, scoring, and rushing, and while the defense wasn’t exactly a plus, it wasn’t nearly as bad as the other side of the ball. The key will be the improvement on the line. Three starters return from a group that was okay for the ground game but was miserable in pass protection. If the line isn’t better, don’t expect miracles.

The most important position to watch is ... Quarterback. A pass rusher has to emerge on a defensive front that didn’t do anything to get into the backfield, a lockdown corner would be nice, and a productive running back needs to be unearthed, but the quarterback situation has to be settled in spring ball with sophomore Jordan Webb and senior Quinn Meacham needing to show signs of life. It’ll be tempting to go with the safer Meacham, but Webb is the future and the coaching staff needs to know if he’s The Guy for the next three years.

Spring attitude... No one believes in us. And it’s true as it’ll take at least three major upsets somewhere along the way to have any hope of being in the chase for a bowl game. There will be a win in the opener against McNeese State, and then … uh … um … uh-oh. The Baylor game is at home, but the Iowa State date is on the road. The non-conference games will be against Northern Illinois, possibly the best team in the MAC, and a trip to a revenge-minded Georgia Tech. No one will be predicting more than a few wins, and the expectations will be low. Anything Turner Gill gets out of this team will be hailed as a success.

Kansas State

Spring Practice Begins: April 6
Game: April 30


The early spring buzz ... Bryce Brown, Bryce Brown, Bryce Brown, Bryce Brown, Bryce Brown. KSU spring ball doesn’t get rolling until early April, and all anyone around the Wildcats seems to wonder about is whether or not Bryce Brown, the former No. 1 recruit in the land who took his talents to Tennessee before transferring to KSU, can play. If he’s half as good as advertised, all of a sudden, the Wildcat offense has its identity and it has a player to make up for the loss of Daniel Thomas while easing in the era of quarterback Collin Klein. If Brown is even halfway decent this spring, watch the hype get out of control.

The big spring question is ... Can the defense stop anyone from running the ball? It’s not like the Big 12 was the old Big 8 with Billy Sims to worry about one week and Jarvis Redwine the next. Even so, the KSU defensive front got obliterated by anyone and everyone who tried running the ball giving up a whopping 231 yards per game. The pass rush was non-existent and the tackles were shoved aside by a soft breeze. The D will get time to jell this fall with Eastern Kentucky and Kent State to start out, but Miami is going to start running the ball again under Al Golden and Baylor will be flying again with Robert Griffin under center. The Wildcats have to use all 15 practices, fall camp, and the first three weeks of September to come up with answers up front.

The most important position to watch is ... Offensive guard. The defensive line is the biggest overall concern, and Collin Klein has to show he can really be the full-time starting quarterback and more than just a runner, but the offense needs the line to be solid and it needs to find three new starters for the interior. Senior Colten Freeze should be a starter at one guard spot, but the 294-pounder is a light snack compared to the guy he’ll likely replace, 349-pound Kenneth Mayfield. The 280-pound Keenan Taylor should take over at left guard, but he’ll replace the 317-pound Zach Kendall.

Spring attitude... Get hot early. The back half of the schedule is a bear with four straight nasty dates against the former Big 12 South powers before closing out at home against Iowa State. The Wildcats need to somehow book five wins before the October 29th date against Oklahoma or it’ll be tough to get a bowl bid. As always, there will be a reliance on the JUCO ranks to beef up the depth and the all-around talent, but unless the running game with scrambler Collin Klein and uber-prospect Bryce Brown is dominant, it could be a step-back season.

Missouri

Spring Practice Begins: March 8
Game: April 16


The early spring buzz ... It always seems like Missouri loses great players and doesn’t seem to care, and this year isn’t any different. Brad Smith is done? Whatever … Chase Daniel is on his way and Jeremy Maclin turns into a special playmaker. Daniel is done and Maclin leaves early? Blaine Gabbert is better and Danario Alexander is deadly. The program has gotten to the point where it keeps on rolling without much of a problem no matter who has to step in and take over, and head coach Gary Pinkel and the coaching staff doesn’t appear too worried about losing Gabbert. 16 other starters return and there are plenty of good prospects waiting in the wings, so while most programs might call this a rebuilding year, it appears to be business as usual in Columbia.

The big spring question is ... Besides the quarterback situation, the big concern will be a run defense that was decent, but not a brick wall. Considering the pass rush was phenomenal, and makes the run defense stats look a bit better, the Tigers were surprisingly soft against most decent backs (hellooooo, Marcus Coker). Aldon Smith left early for the NFLO, but the rest of the defensive front is back and linebackers Will Ebner and Zaviar Gooden are veterans. A trip to Oklahoma kicks off the Big 12 schedule, and the Tigers have three games to tighten up.

The most important position to watch is ... Quarterback. It’s time to stop dancing around it … Blaine Gabbert was fine. He wasn’t special. Oh, sure, he’s going to be a multi-millionaire and will be expected to be a franchise NFL star for the next decade-plus – and he might be – but Mizzou was 64th in the nation in passing efficiency and sixth in the Big 12 in passing yards. Redshirt freshman James Franklin has the Tiger insiders buzzing, and while he might not be the pro prospect Gabbert is, he has the tools to be special. Also in the hunt for the starting gig will by sophomore Ashton Glaser and Blaine’s brother, Tyler Gabbert.

Spring attitude... Get better. For all the good things the Tigers have done over the last several years and for all the big moments, they haven’t actually won much of anything. There have been a few North titles, but the divisions are gone and now Mizzou has to win a ten team league instead of a six team division. With a trip to Oklahoma opening up the conference slate and with back-to-back games against Texas and Texas Tech in November, there’s little margin for error to have any hope of getting to the BCS. Yes, the team is good enough to win the Big 12 title, and it has to act like it from the start.

Oklahoma

Spring Practice Begins: March 21
Game: April 16


The early spring buzz ... If this isn’t the No. 1 team in America, it’s going to be in the preseason top three and will be on everyone’s short list to win the national title. That’s what happens when you’re Oklahoma, you’re coming off a Big 12 championship season, you win the Fiesta Bowl, and on offense you lose RB DeMarco Murray, RT Eric Mensik, and … and … and no one else from the nation’s tenth-ranked offense and 14th-ranked scoring attack. Head coach Bob Stoops never has had a problem with high expectations, and while he might blow them off and say all the right things – he’s used to being in this position – but the pressure has been ramped up. That’s not a bad thing for a team this talented.

The big spring question is ... Will the offense have any more balance? The secondary might be a big of a concern with corner Jamell Fleming getting booted for academic issues, and another pass-rushing terror has to be unearthed to replace Jeremy Beal and to help Frank Alexander, but the spotlight will be on Roy Finch, the speedy and tough true sophomore who had some strong moments last year and should be ready to handle more of the rushing workload this season. Landry Jones and the passing game can carry the workload against just about everyone on the schedule, but more offensive balance could be a must to win the national title.

The most important position to watch is ... Defensive tackle. The phenomenal recruiting classes over the last few years have loaded up in all areas, but one of the biggest strengths is expected to be at defensive tackle where Jamarkus McFarland, Stacy McGee (once he gets back after being nailed for marijuana possession), and Casey Walker should be dominant. The Sooner run defense was fine last year, but it wasn’t up to the normally high standards. That could change this season, and it has to begin this spring with the tackles breathing fire from the start.

Spring attitude... Don’t screw up. There have been a slew of off-the-field issues over the past few months to take the team’s eye off the prize, but the team has so much returning talent, so many good young prospects waiting in the wings, and just enough big games on the schedule to be the team of 2011. If Landry Jones can take the next step up in his progression, and if the offensive line can improve a bit, and if Ryan Broyles can be Ryan Broyles, and if the defense can be a bit more of a rock against the run and can stay healthy in the secondary, Sooner fans can seriously think about booking tickets to New Orleans for a January 9th game.

Oklahoma State

Spring Practice Begins: March 7
Game: April 16


The early spring buzz ... These are heady times for a team that didn’t win the Big 12 title with head coach Mike Gundy, the conference Coach of the Year, kicker Dan Bailey, and receiver Justin Blackmon being honored by the state Senate. There are two big-time teams in Oklahoma, and OSU is holding its own publicity-wise. The Cowboys are hot going into 2011 because of their high-octane offense and the production, but offensive coordinator Dana Holgorsen is off to West Virginia and it’ll be up to Todd Monken from the Jacksonville Jaguars to keep the attack singing. Considering the offense gets nine starters back from an attack that averaged 520 yards and 44 points per game, any drop in production might be blamed on the new guy.

The big spring question is ... Can the secondary stop anyone? Before dogging the secondary too much after allowing 276 passing yards per game, remember that everyone had to keep chucking wildly to try to keep up with one of the nation’s most dangerous offenses. Corner Andrew McGee is gone, but the other three starters are back and Devin Hedgepeth will get the look to take over the vacant spot. Can veteran safeties Markelle Martin and Johnny Thomas do more when the ball is in the air? If the secondary can be a wee bit better, OSU might be able to take the next step forward.

The most important position to watch is ... Running back. The offense can bomb with anyone thanks to QB Brandon Weeden and WR Justin Blackmon choosing to return for another year, but one of the other key parts of the equation was RB Kendall Hunter, who stayed healthy and ran for 1,548 yards and 16 touchdowns. Sophomores Joseph Randle and Jeremy Smith are good-looking young talents who provide a good blend of power and speed, and they’ll need to combine forces to pick up the slack. Also, watch out for top recruit Herschel Sims, a game-breaker who could take over the No. 1 spot by the time Louisiana comes to town on September 3rd.

Spring attitude... 2010 wasn’t enough. As good as last year was, 11-2 didn’t get the job done. The Cowboys didn’t win the Big 12 title, they didn’t beat Oklahoma, and they lost a key home shootout to Nebraska. They were great, but they didn’t reach their goal. This year’s team might have a few issues on defense, replacing offensive coordinator Dana Holgorsen is going to be tougher than it seems, and facing Texas and Missouri in back-to-back weeks in October might be a killer, but Oklahoma has to come to Stillwater and there’s no one on the schedule OSU can’t keep up with.

Texas

Spring Practice Begins: March February 24
Game: April 3


The early spring buzz ... Mack Brown is allowed a 5-7 season after all the phenomenal things he has done for the program. He might even be allowed another. But while 2010 might have been a complete and total fluke, the jaw-dropper of a collapse, and the way the team didn’t show up for stretches in losses to Kansas State and UCLA, set off the panic sirens. No, you do NOT go 5-7 at the University of Texas, especially with all the tremendous recruiting classes brought in over the last several years. Brown has done his part with several major changes in the coaching staff, and now everyone is on notice that the team is all but starting from scratch.

The big spring question is ... Was last year just an aberration or was it an indication? Everything should’ve worked out for the Longhorns with five of the last six games at home, no Missouri on the slate, and the one tough non-conference game, UCLA, at home. It didn’t matter. Lost in the disaster was a defense that led the Big 12 and was sixth in the nation in yardage allowed, but the problems were on offense with a passing game that finished 103rd in the nation in passing efficiency. Fun stat: Texas didn’t score more than 24 points against any BCS conference team, and was held to 20 points or fewer six times. Mack Brown tried to go away from the spread to run a more balanced attack, but the passing game struggled and the running game wasn’t nearly strong enough to pick up the slack.

The most important position to watch is ... Quarterback, quarterback, quarterback, quarterback, quarterback. Yes, Garrett Gilbert really and truly was a can’t-miss, top-shelf, sure-thing NFL prospect right out of high school, but he hardly looked the part. He didn’t get any help from the running backs, and that might be remedied with the addition of Malcolm Brown, arguably the nation’s best tailback recruit. The receivers were disappointing, but the big problem was Gilbert who was flat-out bad. Welcome in Major Applewhite and fellow offensive coordinator Bryan Harsin to try to change things around, and while Connor Wood and Case McCoy will push for the gig, Gilbert is the one the team needs to shine. The talent is there, and now it needs to be coached.

Spring attitude... Don’t panic. Yes, Mack Brown and the program did just that and made major changes and took on a new attitude to try to assure that 5-7 won’t and can’t happen again. But the talent is in place, the depth is strong, and this is still Texas. What the team has to do is figure out how to recapture the magic of the spread offense style run with Vince Young and Colt McCoy at the helm without actually running the same attack. Brown realized in the 2010 BCS Championship loss to Alabama what happens when you rely on one player, and he didn’t want that to happen again. The results were disastrous, but the pieces are in Austin to play around with. Now Brown and his new coaching staff have to put the puzzle together.

Texas A&M

Spring Practice Begins: March 22
Game: April 16


The early spring buzz ... Most of the talk has been around just how fast Von Miller has been in offseason workouts, clocking in at under 4.5 time and again while wowing everyone whenever he has had the chance. But for the team coming back, there’s more than just cautious optimism that the success of last year wasn’t a fluke. Head coach Mike Sherman wasn’t exactly on the hot seat last year at this time, but he couldn’t survive a disastrous year. Instead, everything turned around midway through the season and the team started playing like a real, live, Big 12 contender. There appears to be more confidence going into spring ball this year, and with 18 starters returning, there are expectations to do even more.

The big spring question is ... Can the offensive line protect Ryan Tannehill? The Aggies had to fight through growing pains with true freshman Luke Joekel starting at left tackle and fellow newcomer Jake Matthews taking over on the right side. Guards Brian Thomas and Patrick Lewis were sophomores, and while center Matt Allen is done, there are several decent options ready to step in and give it a try. Basically, the line has to mature and start to play more consistently. Being 104th in the nation in sacks allowed can’t happen again.

The most important position to watch is ... Defensive end. Yes, Von Miller won the Butkus Award as the nation’s top linebacker, but he was at his best when he had his hand on the ground. He’s off to become the NFL’s next defensive superstar, and 295-pound end Lucas Patterson is also done. Texas A&M uses big bodies for the line in what’s technically a 3-4, but still, someone has to replace Miller. True sophomore Damontre Moore was Miller’s backup last year, and while he looks the part, it’s asking a lot to replace 10.5 sacks and 17.5 tackles for loss.

Spring attitude... Don’t rest on the second half of last year. A&M might be better than it was last year going into spring ball, but the Cotton Bowl loss to LSU should’ve put a damper on all the fun after a great six-game winning streak to close out the regular season. Going to Texas Tech and Oklahoma won’t be a plus, and dealing with Arkansas again could be a problem, but the program knows what it’s like to start winning. And no, it wasn’t all because Ryan Tannehill took over the quarterback job. The Aggies are loaded and have to be considered among the favorites for the Big 12 title. The team has to keep working, though, with the expectations sky-high.

Texas Tech

Spring Practice Begins: February 18
Game: March 26


The early spring buzz ... Spring ball has already started, and all the focus is on who the next starting quarterback will be. No, it’s not like the Mike Leach days when the starter was going to be one of the nation’s statistical superstars, but the offense hasn’t changed as much as originally expected when Tommy Tuberville took over. Taylor Potts and Steven Sheffield are both gone, and Tech has more questions than ever after just a few practices. Seth Doege lit it up in an early scrimmage, and Jacob Karam was brilliant when he got the chance to shine. It’s Doege’s offense to fly, but the better Karam is, the more question marks will come up this offseason.

The big spring question is ... Is the offense really going to be more balanced? Tommy Tuberville came to Lubbock wanting to run the ball while also keeping elements of the high-octane passing game, but the passing game averaged 319 yards per game while the ground attack only averaged 141. Eric Stephens is the best back of a crowded lot, but other runners are getting a long look early on; the coaches know what Stephens can do. On the way are Kenny Williams, one of the team’s top recruits who could add more pizzazz to the equation. Tuberville really and truly will use more tight end, and yes, it might be that Adam James. It’s not a rumor; there might be more of a commitment to a true, traditional ground game from time to time.

The most important position to watch is ... Besides quarterback, the team needs to find more production at linebackers. The defense was abysmal finishing dead last in the Big 12 and 114th in the nation and while the pass defense was the biggest problem, that can be excused with several underclassmen being thrown to the wolves. Linebackers Brian Duncan and Brand Bird were two of the team’s top playmakers, and they have to be replaced in a hurry so the defense can start to jell around the newcomers. Senior Sam Fehoko will get a long look in the middle to replace Duncan while the 4-2-5 alignment might not have a true weakside linebacker to replace Bird.

Spring attitude... It’s time to make a splash again. Oklahoma might be the nation’s No. 1 team, Oklahoma State is getting plenty of pub, and Texas A&M gets almost everyone back after a strong rebound year. Throw in Baylor’s ascension to play among the living and with Texas rebuilding and reloading, and there isn’t much talk about Texas Tech. For a fan base that’s still not all that sure about losing Mike Leach, Tommy Tuberville has to come up with some big wins. The schedule is light enough that 4-0 is a must, but the Red Raiders have to beat Texas A&M at home on October 8th.

Click for each team's spring preview
Baylor | Iowa State | Kansas | Kansas State | Missouri
Oklahoma | Oklahoma State | Texas | Texas A&M | Texas Tech
 
2011 Big 12 Spring Preview
- 2011 Big 12 Spring Preview 
- 2011 Big 12 Schedules & Game-By-Game Picks
- 2011 Big 12 Spring Buzz   
- 2011 Big 12 Spring Attitudes 
- 2011 Big 12 Big Spring Questions  
- 2011 Big 12 Positions To Watch  
- Big 12 Spring Rankings