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Spring Preview 2009 - The Big 12

CollegeFootballNews.com
Posted Mar 6, 2009


The Big 12 might not be as loaded as it was last year, but with Sam Bradford, Colt McCoy and Todd Reesing back, there will still be some huge numbers from the offenses. Just as spring ball gets underway, here are the big questions, the most important positions and more for each Big 12 team in the CFN Spring Preview.

Spring Preview 2009

Big 12 Spring Football Previews

By Pete Fiutak 

- 2009 Big 12 Early Lookaheads
- 2008 Big 12 Lookbacks and Recaps
- 2008 CFN Big 12 Preview

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2008 Early Lookaheads - Big 12
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2008 Big 12  Insider Spring Questions & Answers
- 2007 Big 12 Spring Analysis

- 2009 Spring Question ... Was the Big 12 exposed as overrated?

Interested in blogging about Big 12 football?  Let us know

North

Colorado   Begins:  March 31   Game:  April 25
The early spring buzz … It’s all about getting as many players on the field as quickly as possible. The Buffs were never complete last year getting hit by injuries worse than anyone in the Big 12, and the hope is that with improved health will come more production. No one’s being rushed back, but with nine key players who were knocked out for the season, just finding a bit more consistency is the key. Also of note is the overall attitude with the program. Dan Hawkins isn’t on any sort of a hot seat mainly because everyone realizes the injuries were the main problem last year, and everyone’s moving forward with business as usual.
The big spring question is … Where did the offense go? Colorado appeared to be the only team that wasn’t invited to the party last year as every other Big 12 team fattened up with high-octane offensive numbers. The Buffs were last in the league in scoring, yards, and passing efficiency and were 11th in passing and 10th in rushing. There was no firepower, no consistency, and no scoring. Eight starters return on offense with other key players coming back off injury, so there’s no reason to expect another season like 2008. However, things won’t be appreciably better unless there’s improved play from ...
The most important position to watch is … The offensive line. Getting guards Max Tuioti-Mariner and Mike Iltis back from knee injures will help, and overall age and experience will also be a big plus. The Buffs had to throw several players to the wolves and it showed with no pass protection, little push for the ground game, and little overall production. Center Daniel Sanders needs to be made, but everyone else is back to a group that should grow into a strong line over the next few years. That’s what happens when you play redshirt freshmen.
Spring attitude … Start hot. With road trips to West Virginia and Texas looming, the Buffs have to get out to a 3-0 start against Colorado State, at Miami University, and Wyoming. This spring, the team has to be more efficient all across the board, crisper, and more effective at throwing the ball. These things will come with improved overall health, and these things will come with a greater sense of urgency. No, Hawkins isn’t on a hot seat, but he will be if the team struggles yet again.

Iowa State   Begins: March 24   Game: April 18
The early spring buzz … In the bizarre off-season, the program needs Paul Rhoads to try to build on any little successes there might have been under Gene Chizik. There weren’t many. Step one continues to be to get the right players to come to Ames. No, Iowa State isn’t going to battle Oklahoma and Texas for five-star talents, but it can get good players who can fit the right system. Now it’ll be up to Rhoads to make that system work. Chizik couldn’t get the defense to produce, but Rhoads, a defensive coach by trade, will make that his first priority.
The big spring question is … Does Iowa State have anyone who can play? Yes, but youth is still a problem and depth will continue to be an issue. Alexander Robinson is a promising running back who can do more. The offensive line started three underclassmen and has decent potential going into the season after doing a decent job last year. And then there’s the defense. A nightmare at times, at least it’ll be more experienced with seven starters returning highlighted by a decent linebacking corps. So no, Iowa State won’t have the elite-level players of some of the other Big 12 teams, but there’s enough to work with to hope for a much better season.
The most important position to watch is … Safety. Everything Rhoads will want to do with the defense, with an emphasis on speed and athleticism, will start with getting improved play from the safeties. That might be tough early on with James Smith and Brandon Hunley gone. Zac Sandvig got a little bit of work last year making 19 tackles, and now he’ll get the first look at stepping in at strong safety in place of Hunley. Michael O’Connell has been a punt returner who’ll get a shot to see time at free safety.
Spring attitude … Figure out who can play. It was such a whirlwind circus to get Rhoads in and to start coming up with a recruiting class that the program was behind well before the new coaching staff had to come up with any place to start … getting a new coaching staff in place to begin with was a key. There are plenty of options to choose from with so many young players getting involved last year meaning there will be some interesting choices to make.

Kansas   Begins: March 9   Game: April 11
The early spring buzz … The offense has the potential to be unstoppable. The Jayhawks need to find a steady running game and has to come up with replacements for the entire interior of the line, but if QB Todd Reesing gets a little bit of time, he should come up with a huge season. The team is going to give opposing defenses something to worry about with Kerry Meier, Dezmon Briscoe, and rising junior Johnathan Wilson forming a dangerous receiving corps that hasn’t received enough national attention. The optimism overall is sky high for what the KU attack might be able to do.
The big spring question is … Can KU beat the better teams on a consistent basis? The Jayhawks didn’t have the hardest of schedules two years ago and they went to the Orange Bowl. They had to play the big boys last year including Texas, Oklahoma, and Texas Tech, and it was a struggle to get through the second half of the season. While there have been a few nice wins over the last two years, like the bowl victories and the thriller at the end of last year against Missouri, KU needs to keep proving it’s one of the big boys by beating the others.
The most important position to watch is … Linebacker. You don’t get better by losing your No. 1 (James Holt), 3 (Mike Rivera) and 4 (Joe Mortensen) tacklers. They weren’t just productive veterans; they were big. The projected replacements are a little quicker, more athletic, and they can tackle, but they’re more like pumped up safeties. KU shouldn’t have problems getting its linebackers moving, but there could be problems against power running teams.
Spring attitude … Win the North. The lesser of the two Big 12 divisions is ripe for the taking. Nebraska is probably about a year or two away from being the beast of the division on a regular basis, Missouri is rebuilding, Kansas State and Iowa State are a mess, and Colorado is still trying to find its way. The schedule is going to be a big problem having to go to Texas Tech and Texas, to go along with a home game against Oklahoma, but the team should be just good enough to aim for a spot in the Big 12 title game.   

Kansas State  Begins: April 6   Game: May 2
The early spring buzz … Bill Snyder didn’t come back to coaching just for something to do. He’s looking to revive the program that he turned from a disaster into a national powerhouse, but it’s not going to happen overnight. To start, he’s bringing in several people he knows and trusts who can do things the way they used to be done. For example, while he lost his offensive coordinator Andy Ludwig to Cal, he’s bringing back longtime assistant Del Miller to handle the quarterbacks, receivers, and help out with the coordinating duties. Snyder is also bringing in some KSU personalities into the fold, but unfortunately, former quarterback Jonathan Beasley has run out of eligibility and can only serve as an assistant.
The big spring question is … Why is this time around going to be any better than the end of Snyder’s first time at the helm? While there’s all the talk about a renewed sense of energy after taking three years off, the reality is that it’s going to take a lot of work to get Kansas State anywhere near the Big 12 title level it was at during the good times. There will be bowl games again, maybe even one this year, but this is a much better, much nastier Big 12 to try to navigate through. There will have to be some major breaks coming the program’s way, and an Ell Roberson, Darren Sproles, or Michael Bishop needs to walk into the offices.
The most important position to watch is … Quarterback. There are other major holes in other spots, and the defense needs to undergo an overhaul after a woeful season, but any hope of a turnaround has to start at quarterback. Josh Freeman bolted early for the NFL meaning Carson Coffman, the brother of former Missouri tight end, Chase, will get the first shot at taking over. Former JUCO transfer Daniel Thomas will also get a long look.
Spring attitude … Go bowling. It shouldn’t take that much to tweak the team to get to a bowl game after the team went 5-7 last year with a painful second half collapse. There are just enough winnable games, like UMass, UL Lafayette, Iowa State, and Texas A&M, to potentially form a nice base of wins, and then it’s going to take a few upsets. Going to Oklahoma and Nebraska won’t help, but beating Colorado and Missouri at home is a possibility. This will be a stepping stone season, but it wouldn’t hurt to have a little success early on.

Missouri   Begins: March 10   Game: April 18
The early spring buzz … Most of the talk around Columbia surrounds who’s not there than who’s coming back. Whether it’s Chase Daniel’s fight for respect among NFL scouts, or Chase Coffman’s injured foot, or whether or not Jeremy Maclin will be the first wide receiver taken in April’s draft, all the lost talents keep emphasizing over and over that this is a rebuilding year. Of course, no one will say that it’s time to start from scratch, but there’s a lot of work to be done after a slightly disappointing season when the team had all the stars.
The big spring question is … Is the defense going to be any better? While the offense put up plenty of yards and moved up and down the field without too much of a problem, at least until the Big 12 title game and the Alamo Bowl win over Northwestern, the defense was getting torched. Even with a future NFL starting tackle in Ziggy Hood, a rock of a linebacker in Sean Weatherspoon, and a likely pro in William Moore (who was considered a sure first rounder before having a disappointing season), the defense was horrendous. Even by Big 12 standards, in a year when everyone got torched, the secondary was awful finishing last in the league and 117th in the nation in pass defense. Three starters are gone off the defensive front and the secondary needs three new starters, too. At least Weatherspoon is back to anchor a good linebacking corps.
The most important position to watch is … Quarterback. There are major replacements needed everywhere, but losing 2007 Heisman finalist Chase Daniel and his talented backup, Chase Patton, means sophomore Blaine Gabbert has to show right away this spring that he has what it takes to get the spread moving. If not, top recruits Blaine Dalton and Ashton Glaser will come to campus and push for the job this fall. The team really needs Gabbert to shine. Starting from scratch this fall wouldn’t be a plus.
Spring attitude … Get adjusted. Not only did Mizzou lose all the offensive superstars, it also lost some good players like receivers Tommy Saunders and Earl Goldsmith, ends Stryker Sulak and Tommy Chavis, PK Jeff Wolfert, and offensive coordinator Dave Christensen. New offensive head man Dave Yost is expected to tweak the spread a bit and use more power running, but there will be a major adjusting period on both sides of the ball with all the new starters.

Nebraska  Begins: March 21   Game: April 18
The early spring buzz … The last thing the reemerging power-program needs is any sort of off-the-field issues just when things are beginning to turn around, but it has to deal with the arrest of Barry Turner, who’s expected to be the team’s best pass rusher coming into the season. He was picked up for allegedly assaulting a woman in a fight, but the situation still has to play out. Charges aren't supposed to be filed. On the field, the thrilling win over Clemson in the Gator Bowl might have set the tone for the Bo Pelini era. No one’s expecting Nebraska to start crushing and killing everything in its path any time soon, but this might be the star of the North if things keep progressing as expected. There appears to be a sense that things are back on the right track under Pelini.
The big spring question is … Was the great second half of the season an indicator of big things to come, or was it a bit of a mirage? The Huskers had lost three straight and were 3-3, and then came the run winning six of the final seven games with the one loss coming at Oklahoma. Granted, it was the light part of the slate playing four of the Big 12 teams that didn’t go bowling, but one of the wins was against Kansas and the final one was against Clemson. The defense struggled, but the offense was steady, came through when needed, and the pass rush kept improving as the season went on. With Florida Atlantic and Arkansas State to start the season, the Huskers should get time to keep the streak going before going to Virginia Tech.
The most important position to watch is … Everyone revolved around the passing game. Not only do the Huskers have to replace QB Joe Ganz, but they need to find new playmakers at receiver after losing Todd Peterson and Nate Swift. The receiving issue isn’t that bad with Menelik Holt, Niles Paul, Chris Brooks, Will Henry, last year’s super-recruit Antonio Bell, and tight end Mike McNeil all capable to fill the void. The quarterback situation is a bit more muddled with sophomore Patrick Witt trying to prove he's ready for the gig. Kody Spanos, who wasn’t in the mix last year, will get a shot this off-season to take the job.
Spring attitude … Win the North. With Missouri rebuilding and Kansas stuck with a brutal conference slate, Nebraska has to take advantage of the breaks to get back to the Big 12 title game for the first time since 2006. The conference road schedule is as easy as can be reasonably asked for going to Missouri, Baylor, Kansas and Colorado. There’s no Texas and no Oklahoma State, and Oklahoma has to come to Lincoln.


South

Baylor   Begins: March 3   Game: April 4
The early spring buzz … Spring practice has kicked off with more excitement than there’s been in several years. It was one thing to have a new coaching staff come in and talk about a new attitude and changes, but it’s another to actually have something positive to show that things are in the right direction. Head coach Art Briles is openly talking about a bowl game being realistic, the players are fired up, and this should be a fun off-season with players like QB Robert Griffin and LB Joe Pawelek to get excited about.
The big spring question is … Will there be any semblance of a pass rush? The secondary wasn’t good, even in the realm of other Big 12 team that got beaten up by all the great passing teams. To help out the defensive backs, and to come up with more overall production, the defensive front has to do far more to get into the backfield. The Bears were last in the Big 12 in tackles for loss and 109th in the nation in sacks. Baylor can’t go from 4-8 to 6-6 without getting more from Sam Sledge and fellow ends Zac Scotton and Jameon Hardman.
The most important position to watch is … Offensive tackle. You don’t lose a player who’s good enough to be a top five overall pick like Jason Smith and go on without missing a beat. Losing right tackle Dan Gay is also big. Sophomore Joe Korbel will likely take over at one spot after being the main backup at both tackle spots last year. It’ll be an open casting call for the other job.
Spring attitude … Get to a bowl game. It’s not like there were a slew of just-miss games last year that could’ve gone Baylor’s way. The eight losses all came to bowl-bound teams including Oklahoma, Texas, Oklahoma State, Texas Tech, and Missouri. There aren’t any major breaks in the schedule outside of a two-game stretch against Northwestern State and Kent State, so that means there will have to be several upsets to get to the post-season. Even the games against the lesser Big 12 teams, like Iowa State and Texas A&M, are on the road.

Oklahoma   Begins:  March 3   Game:  April 11
The early spring buzz … Any excitement going into spring ball has been tempered by the critical injury to receiver Corey Wilson after a car accident. His reported paralysis from the waist down, and the shock the team has suffered, has put the issues on the offensive line and receiver, and yet another BCS bowl loss, on the backburner. On the field, it’s business as usual as the team appears to be back to pushing for yet another Big 12 title by simply filling in the holes with other top prospects. OU will be in almost everyone’s preseason top five, and the team is used to trying to fight though a bad off-season following a bowl loss.
The big spring question is … How quickly can the offensive line gel? Having Trent Williams back at left tackle is a great place to start, and then it’s time to get to work. Cory Brandon should be a good one at right tackle, Alex Williams and Stephen Good are promising guards, and Ben Habern will get the first look at center with Jason Hannan pushing for the job, but it’s asking a lot for the new starters to step in right away and produce as well as the nation’s best offensive line did.
The most important position to watch is … Wide receiver. The offensive line will get the bulk of the attention, and rightly so, but the receiving corps also loses some top-flight talents. The OU passing game is a machine, and there can’t be a part that doesn’t know what it’s doing. That’ll be a problem with so much youth taking over. Jermaine Gresham might as well be handed the Mackey Award right now as the nation’s best tight end, but he needs help around him. Ryan Broyles is now the go-to target, while Brandon Caleb is an interesting option. Jameel Owens and Dejuan Miller have big-time upside, but they’re young and they’re raw.
Spring attitude … Give it another shot. OU is being unfairly tagged as unable to win the big games because of the loss to Florida. If you want to rip on the team for all but quitting in the loss to USC in the 2005 Orange Bowl, fine. If you want go question how the Sooners could’ve lost to both Boise State and West Virginia in the 2007 and 2008 Fiesta Bowl, respectively, go for it. But to lose to a great Florida team in a tight battle is no reason to question how good last year’s team was. With Sam Bradford back, a great backfield, and a loaded defense, it’s BCS or bust time again.

Oklahoma State   Begins: March 9   Game: April 18
The early spring buzz … Oklahoma State finished sixth in the nation in total offense, was ninth in scoring, fifth in passing efficiency and eighth in rushing offense, and it gets almost everyone back with eight starters returning. Even so, head coach Mike Gundy decided to shake up the coaching staff a bit by reassigning a few of the assistants, highlighted by Joe Wickline moving from just handling the line to also serving as a co-offensive coordinator to join Gunter Brewer. In the end, it’s Gundy who’ll be making sure the ship keeps running smoothly.
The big spring question is … Will there be any semblance of a pass rush? If you can’t hit the quarterback in the Big 12 South, there’s a ceiling on what you can do. The Cowboy defensive front was last in the league in sacks and didn’t do much to get into the backfield against the run. Both starting defensive ends, Ugo Chinasa and Derek Burton, are back, but they’re going to have more responsibility against the run with starting tackles Jeray Chatham and Tonga Tea needing to be replaced.
The most important position to watch is … Safety. The pass defense was hardly a prize to begin with, and now the secondary has to replace three starters including corner Jacob Lacey and safeties Quinton Moore and Ricky Price. Also gone is backup safety T.J. Bell. Johnny Thomas, former JUCO transfer Lucien Antoine, and Swanson Miller will all get chances in the rotation. There will be plenty of athletes and several good options, but they all have to prove they can play.
Spring attitude … It’s time to beat someone good. Now. For all the great things Oklahoma State did last year, there was only one decent win, the 28-23 victory at Missouri. Actually, the win over Houston was nice, too, but that was one of just three wins over teams that went to a bowl game. The other came against Troy. The four Cowboy losses came to Texas, Texas Tech, Oklahoma and Oregon, and with Georgia coming to Stillwater to start the season, the team had better be ready to roll right away.

Texas   Begins: February 27   Game: April 5
The early spring buzz … Sergio Kindle. The superstar, All-America-caliber linebacker will be moved to defensive end to take over for Brian Orakpo. While it’s partly an experiment, and Kindle might have to move back to linebacker to take advantage of his all-around talent, rather than just make him a pure speed rusher, it’s an interesting storyline that shows that defensive coordinator Will Muschamp is still all about bringing the pressure and aggressiveness. The rest of the team is following suit. This is a fired up team with much of the talk about how everyone appears ready to get the season going right now.
The big spring question is … Can anyone actually run the ball other than Colt McCoy? Did Texas struggle to run the ball consistently because the offensive line struggled, or were the backs mediocre? It appeared to be a little bit of both, but four starters are back on the offensive front, led by tackle Adam Ulatoski, and running backs Fozzy Whittaker, Vondrell McGee, and Cody Johnson are back. Tre Newton is an interesting prospect to throw into the mix. Basically, it comes down to this: McCoy is going to run less, so someone else will run more.
The most important position to watch is … Linebacker. Depending on where Kindle plays, this will either be a devastating linebacking corps full of tremendous athletes and a starting trio as good as any in the Big 12, or it’ll be a good group with several options. Roddrick Muckelroy is a sure thing on the weakside, and after him there will be a good rotation of players. However, someone will need to star on the outside to allow Muschamp to use Kindle as a possible 15-sack playmaker up front. Keenan Robinson is a special athlete who needs to shine in place of Kindle.
Spring attitude … Stay sharp. Texas was on an even keel all season long, even when things were crumbling in the polls and late in games against Texas Tech, even in the loss, and Ohio State. It’ll be tempting for the team that’s almost certain to be ranked No. 2 to start the season to start thinking about the Oklahoma game early on, considering the first half of the schedule is light and breezy. If the team plays like it did last year, it’ll almost certainly be playing for the national title.

Texas A&M  Begins: March 26   Game: April 18
The early spring buzz … The team might be better than it appeared throughout last year. Mike Sherman came aboard and tried to find playmakers and tried his best with a team that was outgunned and outmatched in the loaded Big 12 South, but while losing to teams like Oklahoma and Texas are one thing, losing to Baylor is another. Call it a year of reworking the program and getting QB Jerrod Johnson’s feet wet. (However, he needs to hold off WR Ryan Tannehill, who’ll be given a shot at the quarterback gig.) The 2009 recruiting class was solid, and the team appears to be headed in the right direction.
The big spring question is … Will the defensive line do something … anything? A&M has to replaced three key ends from a line that struggled to touch anyone’s quarterback. The Aggies came up with just 16 sacks and was 97th in the nation in tackles for loss. Worse yet, in a conference that spent all its time throwing the ball, the D allowed 219 yards per game. The Aggies have to be far, far better up front or else there won’t be much of an overall improvement.
The most important position to watch is … Offensive tackle. The defensive line was bad, but the offensive line was worse. There was no push for the running game whatsoever and there was little in the way of pass protection. Travis Schneider is gone off the right side while Michael Shumard is back on the left. Josh Ayers is a true sophomore who’ll get a look in the rotation, and senior Robbie Frost is expected to step up on the right side. The interior returns intact, so there’s enough experience coming back to hope for an improvement.
Spring attitude … Keep on improving. This won’t be a Big 12 champion any time soon, and it’ll be another year of struggling in several areas. However, the young team has to keep on finding things that work and keep on fighting through the growing pains. No one will expect much out of the Aggies in another big year for the South, so the chances will be there to jump up and surprise in a few games and get to a bowl.

Texas Tech   Begins: March 25   Game: April 18
The early spring buzz … After the strange and contentious contract issues for head coach Mike Leach, all is right with the world and now the job of rebuilding is at hand. The Leach offensive system will be put to the test with so many new players in key spots, while the defense also has some big replacements to make. Even so, now that Leach is settled, the plan is for the success to continue even if it takes a year or so before the new starters figure out what they’re doing.
The big spring question is … Was last year the ceiling? Texas Tech got back everyone on defense, had a three-year starter in Graham Harrell at quarterback, an all-timer of a receiver in Michael Crabtree, and veterans all across the offense. Everything was going Tech’s way, and it still didn’t lead to a Big 12 title. Unlike Oklahoma and Texas, Tech doesn’t just immediately reload to keep the momentum going. The team could use a big year, a really big year, to show that there’s staying power when it comes to playing at a high level.
The most important position to watch is … Quarterback. So who gets to be the newest national statistical star? Taylor Potts was a good recruit a few years ago and has been around long enough to be able to hit the ground running. However, he won’t have Crabtree to throw to. Detron Lewis has the makings of a No. 1 target, while Edward Britton and Lyle Leong are two of the good targets who should be able to do more with more responsibility.
Spring attitude … Don’t accept anything less than another double-digit win season. The program has to take on the attitude that it’s one of the regular players in the Big 12 title race, and it’ll get time to rebuild before the finishing kick. There are only two road games in the first eight, at Houston and Nebraska, to go along with the nasty games at Texas, at Oklahoma State, and against Oklahoma.