2006 Big 12 Spring Lookaheads

Posted Mar 5, 2006

Before spring ball 2006, here are the big questions, the most important positions and the attitudes for each Big 12 team.

By Pete Fiutak 

North Division
    Spring practice starts March 13, Spring Game April 15
The big spring question is ... How will Dan Hawkins do with Gary Barnett's players? After the brutal end to 2005, Coach Hawk should provide a shot of enthusiasm, along with more pop to the offense. However, the pressure will be on to produce right away. After all, despite all the drama and all the problems over the last few seasons, CU is still the two-time defending North champion.
The most important position to watch is ... Quarterback. With Joel Klatt gone, it'll likely be up to James Cox and Brian White, but Cody Hawkins, son of the head coach, will be arriving soon as a highly heralded prospect. While Hawkins likely won't be in the mix for a few seasons, the pressure will be on for Cox, who was awful against Texas and Clemson completing five of 20 passes against the two, and White, who was fantastic in the bowl game completing seven of 12 throws for 81 yards and a score.
Spring attitude... Things aren't all that bad. This is a good team that, once again, played for the Big 12 title last year. Just about everyone returns on defense and the entire offensive line comes back, so there's no reason to ask for anything other than yet another trip to the championship. Also, after all the issues under Barnett, it's time for the program to have more fun.

Iowa State    Spring practice starts March 22, Spring Game April 15
The big spring question is ... Will the pass defense be any better? The run defense was a rock last year, but the secondary got burned way too much allowing 242 yards per game. Worse yet, the Cyclones didn't exactly play a who's who of passing teams. Three of the four starting defensive backs are gone, and pass rushing terror Jason Berryman is off the team after a variety of off-the-field issues.
The most important position to watch is ... Running back. Patching holes in the secondary and the defensive line will be the biggest issue, but the key to the season could be in the backfield. Stevie Hicks was the barometer for the offense last year, but he was rarely healthy. It would help if Greg Coleman could produce a bit more after averaging only 3.6 yards per carry. The line should be good enough to pave the way for more ground production.
Spring attitude... Keep getting in position. After the breakdowns in the last two regular season finales, all Iowa State can do is keep putting itself in a spot to play for the North title. The defense needs work, but the offense has the potential to be the best in the North with a tremendous passing game and the pieces in place for a solid ground attack. After the Kansas game and bowl game loss to TCU, motivation won't be an issue.

Kansas    Spring practice starts March 11, Spring Game April 14
The big spring question is ... How do you keep the momentum going? Forget about the blowout loss at Texas, KU one four of its final five games finishing off with a 42-13 bowl win over Houston. It's Mark Mangino's fifth year at the helm, and he appears to have gotten the program over the hump. However, the concern has to be with a defense that's replacing most of the key players from a group that finished 11th in the nation in total defense and third against the run.
The most important position to watch is ... Quarterback. Yeah, replacing playmakers like Charles Gordon, Charlton Keith and Nick Reid from the D will be a big issue, but the offense has to get its quarterback situation straight right away or there won't be a return trip to a bowl game. Adam Barmann is the only player on the roster with any time, but he'll have to show night-and-day improvement to get in the starting mix. Redshirt freshman Kerry Meier goes into spring ball as the likely number one guy, but true freshman Todd Reesing is the one many are hoping goes lights out and takes over the job.
Spring attitude... Reload. The Jayhawks got just enough offense in time to help out their great defense, but the senior-dominated D that was so good last year is gone. It's time for the offense to become more explosive, and the defense to find new playmakers to fill in the holes. The North should be better with the other five teams looking to be a little bit better. Since KU appears to be a little worse, there's a lot of work to do to be a factor.

Kansas State    Spring practice starts March 27, Spring Game April 22
The big spring question is ... Will Ron Prince get Kansas State back to being a power again? Bill Snyder might be a hall of famer, but the program slipped over the past few seasons with two straight losing seasons. Prince needs to get the offense to be far more productive, while the defense has to get back to being a killer again. The turnaround won't happen after one spring, but Prince and his staff had better figure out who the main players are going to be going into the summer. Fortunately, just about all the starters are back.
The most important position to watch is ... Running back. Thomas Clayton was a world beater over the first few weeks before getting into Snyder's doghouse. He's a big, talented, fast back who needs to establish himself as the workhorse of the offense to take the heat off Dylan Meier, Allan Evridge, or whoever is under center. A number two back has to emerge early on.
Spring attitude... The pieces are in place. The coaching staff has to figure out how to make them all fit. If he doesn't win back the starting quarterback job, where will Allen Webb play? How will Meier do challenging Evridge? 17 starters and both kickers return, so the experience is more than there to make last year's 5-6 season a seven-win campaign.

Missouri    Spring practice starts March 9, Spring Game April 15
The big spring question is ... How will the offense be without Brad Smith? While it might be impossible to replace a talent like Smith, who was responsible for 3,605 total yards last year, the offense might be more diverse and more players will be used to keep things moving. How will running backs Tony Temple and Jimmy Jackson play more of a role? How will new likely-starter Chase Daniel play in place of Smith? Everyone else will have to pick up the slack for No. 16.
The most important position to watch is ... Cornerback. Obviously all eyes will be on Daniel, but the Tigers need to replace top corners A.J. Kincaide and Marcus King, while the loss of safety Jason Simpson won't help. Fortunately, the game with Texas Tech isn't until October 7th.
Spring attitude... It's time to play for the Big 12 title. Daniel is a good enough quarterback to lead the Tigers to a big season, while enough talent returns on the defensive front to expect a stronger year against the run. The schedule is light enough early (Murray State, Ole Miss, at New Mexico and Ohio) to hope for a confidence building 4-0 start before what might be the make-or-break game in the Big 12 opener against Colorado.

Nebraska    Spring practice starts March 22, Spring Game April 15
The big spring question is ... How will all the top recruits from the last two years fit in? Obviously most of the 2006 class won't hit campus until later this summer, but the sensational 2005 group should start to show what it can do. Considering how big last year's class was, and how many JUCO players were brought in over the last two years, no team in the Big 12 should have a better upgrade of talent on the two-deep roster.
The most important position to watch is ... Running back. Did you ever think you'd see the day when Nebraska would be dead last in the Big 12 in rushing? Of course, the increased emphasis on the passing game had something to do with it, but Callahan initially sold old school Husker fans that the offense would be balanced. Considering the talent in the Nebraska backfield, there's no excuse to see fewer than 100 rushing yards per game. Marlon Lucky, after showing next to nothing as a true freshman, has to live up to the hype.
Spring attitude... This had better be the year the turnaround is complete. Beating Michigan in the Alamo Bowl was a fantastic feather in Callahan's cap after an awful 2004, and now it's time the program took the next step up and played for the Big 12 title. The North might be better than it was over the last few years, but it's not that great.

South Division
    Spring practice starts March 8, Spring Game April 8
The big spring question is ... What does the team have to do to take the next step and go to a bowl? More offense would be nice after averaging a mere 318 yards and 21 points per game while also getting more production out of what was a solid D. Head coach Guy Morriss accomplished the nearly impossible task of making Baylor more than a speed bump, but getting over the next hurdle could prove to be even tougher.
The most important position to watch is ... Safety. Willie Andrews and Maurice Lane were two of the Big 12's best tacklers and best all-around safeties. The heart and soul of the Baylor D needs to be replaces meaning players like Dwain Crawford, Marlon Price and Jake LaMar have to turn into playmakers in a big hurry.
Spring attitude... Yes, Baylor can actually win in the Big 12. It's one thing to have a good attitude, but it's another to have something to back it up. Last year's wins over Iowa State and Oklahoma State, and near-misses against Oklahoma and Texas A&M, proved BU can be competitive. Considering the Bears have a late stretch of four road games in six dates before finishing with Oklahoma, coming out of the gate strong is an absolute must. They need every practice they can get before facing TCU.

Oklahoma    Spring practice starts March 20, Spring Game April 8
The big spring question is ... Is Rhett Bomar ready to blossom into a national title caliber quarterback? The quarterback situation was a jumbled mess last spring that settled nothing and, in hindsight, might have set the team's development back. There's no debate this year, and Bomar has to make the team his. He wasn't as bad as many made him out to be handling himself well considering the brutal schedule the Sooners faced. However, he was one of the nation's top recruits a few years ago and has to play like it if OU is going to live up to its potential.
The most important position to watch is ... Offensive lineman. Four starters from the Holiday Bowl are gone hurt most by the departure of tackle Davin Joseph. Every practice is vital to the line's cohesion with this spring a big one to form the unit that'll get the honor of blocking for Adrian Peterson. However, finding a starting five isn't the only issue; establishing the depth will also be a major priority.
Spring attitude... Maintain the Holiday Bowl attitude. The Sooners came into San Diego with more of a chip on their shoulder than the disrespected Ducks. Now it'll be important to play with the same fire and cockiness knowing that a shot at the national title is possible if everything falls into place. Starting strong will be important with a trip to Oregon coming in mid-September, the showdown with Texas on October 7th, and a stretch of four road games in the final five to close things out.

Oklahoma State    
The big spring question is ... How much improvement will there be in year two of the Mike Gundy era? Things just didn't seem to work out in the first season trying to switch offenses while having problems getting a meaningful stop on defense, but there are some exciting pieces in place going into this year. Mike Hamilton is one of the Big 12's best backs, D'Juan Woods is one of the top receivers, and there's enough talent on the defensive line to hope it can grow into something special, however ...
The most important position to watch is ... Quarterback. The entire defensive back seven needs working on, but getting more out of QB Robert Reid will make or break the season. Injuries have wreaked havoc on Reid's career, but he was solid in the win over Texas Tech to suggest that he might be the answer for the Cowboy offense. However, he has to start using more of his mobility and rushing skills to add another dimension to the attack. Alex Cate was the star of the 2006 recruiting class and will be around for spring ball to challenge for what has to be considered an open job. Al Pena had his moments with a great performance in the loss to Baylor, but he's not the answer.
Spring attitude... Time is still needed. A thousand thank yous to the schedule makers who gave OSU another joke of an early slate playing Missouri State, Arkansas State and Florida Atlantic before going to Houston. Those four games should be enough to finally get the offense going before dealing with a road trip to Kansas State, but it would be nice if things started to click in spring ball.

Texas    Spring practice starts February 27, Spring Game April 1
The big spring question is ... Is Texas another Ohio State or another USC? It's not a knock against the Buckeyes since they've been so amazing since their national title season of 2002, but their inability to get back to the national title game shows just how tough it is, how many breaks you need, and what a fine line there is between getting in a BCS game and playing for the championship. Texas has enough returning talent to be the preseason number one and has to be considered a favorite for playing for the national title. Of course ...
The most important position to watch is ... Quarterback. Since the development of Colt McCoy and Jevan Sneed will be daily college football news, it'll also be important to pay attention to who the new killers will be on defense. Texas might be a factory, but it's not a positive when you lose the Thorpe Award winner (Michael Huff) and a headhunting linebacker like Aaron Harris. Also interesting to note will be a kicking game that loses placekicker David Pino and punter Richmond McGee.
Spring attitude... Act like the national champion. There was more to the 2005 Texas team than Vince Young with many of the key players returning for another run. Sure, Young gave the team an identity and a confidence it didn't have before, but having a ridiculous amount of talent all over the place can make up for the loss of one transcendent superstar. At least that's the hope. However, if Texas loses to Ohio State and/or Oklahoma and ends up failing to win the Big 12 title, you can bet the Mack-can't-win-without-Vince articles will start popping up.

Texas A&M    Spring practice starts March 3, Spring Game April 8
The big spring question is ... Is this the last chance for Coach Fran? A 16-19 record isn't exactly what Aggie fans were hoping for when they got Dennis Franchione away from Alabama, and there might not be a year five if there isn't a solid turnaround and a bowl season in 2006. Fortunately, the Aggies have a tremendous stable of running backs, a promising young offensive line, and a highly ranked recruiting class to get excited about. The potential is there for a good season.
The most important position to watch is ... Defensive back. All eyes will be on the quarterback situation, but that should turn out to be just fine with both Ty Branyon and Stephen McGee more than competent. The bigger question mark is in the secondary where the nation's worst pass defense loses coaches Melvin Smith to Mississippi State and Chris Thurmond to Houston along with heart-and-soul safety Jaxson Appel. In case you were wondering, the Aggies get Texas Tech in the Big 12 opener on September 30th.
Spring attitude... Do everything with an eye on starting fast. Barring a total disaster, the Aggies will be 4-0 (The Citadel, UL Lafayette, Army and Louisiana Tech) before facing Texas Tech. If they can go unbeaten at home, that would mean wins over Texas Tech, Oklahoma and Nebraska before the season finale at Texas. Considering the road games are at Kansas, Oklahoma State and Baylor, anything less than an eight-win season will be considered a disappointment. An early home might be devastating.

Texas Tech    Spring practice starts March 22, Spring Game April 17
The big spring question is ... Is this really such a sound system that the quarterbacks can keep being replaced without a hiccup? It appears so, and now the defense has begun to match the success of the offense after finishing 30th in the nation last year. This isn't just a gimmicky team, it's good enough to actually challenge for the Big 12 title on a yearly basis. Now the program has to prove it can continue to play at a high level.
The most important position to watch is ... Running back. Of course the quarterback race will be the main focus, but there offense will still be high-flying with Graham Harrell or Chris Todd under center. The underrated cog in the machine over the last few years has been Taurean Henderson, who leaves Lubbock after rushing for 3,241 yards, catching 303 passes for 2,058 yards, and scoring a total of 69 touchdowns. Shannon Woods will be the main man early and has the talent to be another Henderson, but he has to prove he can block.
Spring attitude... Be consistent. There was the blowout win over Texas A&M, but that was followed up by the loss to a lousy Oklahoma State team. There was the destruction of Kansas State, and a struggle against Baylor. It would be heartbreaking for the Red Raiders to finally beat Texas and Oklahoma in the same year only to see it go for naught with losses to Texas A&M and Iowa State. The faster a starting quarterback can be named and the faster the holes in the secondary can be filled, the more consistent the team will be.