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Spring Preview 2010 - The Big 12

CollegeFootballNews.com
Posted Mar 17, 2010


Colt McCoy and Sam Bradford might be gone, but the Big 12 has a new wave of stars ready to bust out like Iowa State QB Austen Arnaud, Baylor QB Robert Griffin, and Texas QB Garrett Gilbert. Just as spring ball gets underway, here are the big questions, the most important positions and more for each Big 12 team.

Spring Preview 2010

Big 12 Spring Preview

2010 Spring Preview
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By Pete Fiutak

North

Colorado
Spring Practice Begins: March 6 Game: April 10

The early spring buzz: It’s time to find the firepower. While that might seem like it’s easier said than done, the goal is to get more explosive after two straight years of mediocre offensive output. The Buffs finished last in the Big 12 in total offense over the last two years and the goal is to do anything possible to change that. Helping the cause will be the return of WR Scott McKnight, one of the team’s few playmakers from last year, the addition of explosive former Michigan Wolverine Toney Clemons, and the reinstatement of Markques Simas, a big target who was suspended from the team following a DUI. He has had off-the-field problems in the past, but the team needs him to have a breakout year.
The big spring question is … Will the offensive line be any better? Part of the reason teams like Oklahoma, Texas, Missouri and Oklahoma State have had such great offenses were the fantastic lines, and Colorado’s front five hasn’t been close to good enough to compete at the highest level. All five starters from last year return, but that hardly means anything to a group that was so abysmal in pass protection and paved the way for a mere 88 rushing yards per game.
The most important position to watch is … Quarterback. For now, this is Tyler Hansen’s offense, but if the offensive line play improves, and with receiver likely to be the team’s strength, the attack might go back to Cody Hawkins to get more passing into the equation. One of them must stand out this offseason.
Spring attitude: Let her rip. This is a lame-duck coaching staff and a team in transition if things don’t change enough to get to a bowl game, and while there are some replacements needed to be made in the defensive back seven, overall this is a veteran team that needs to finally play like it. This might not be the most talented team in the Big 12, but it’s good enough to win seven games considering Iowa State, Kansas State, Baylor, and Hawaii come to Boulder and have to be seen as must wins.

Iowa State
Spring Practice Begins: March 23 Game: April 17

The early spring buzz: Year One under Paul Rhoads was to come up with a few wins and build some positive momentum, but this year there are expectations. No one’s expecting a Big 12 title, but after going 7-6 with a bowl win, the goal will be to start beating the better teams, or at least be even more competitive. With so many returning starters on offense the team is built to put up more points, but anything less than a winning season will be expected. At least that’s the offseason attitude.
The big spring question is … Is the passing game going to be better? Running the ball won’t be an issue with Alexander Robinson and running quarterback Austen Arnaud, but losing top target Marquis Hamilton from an anemic passing game isn’t going to help the Big 12’s worst scoring offense. Jake Williams is a senior with upside and Darius Darks is a promising freshman, while Darius Reynolds will be coming back from a broken leg and should grow into a deep threat.
The most important position to watch is … Linebacker. The defensive line needs work, but the team’s most pressing issue is at linebacker with tackling-machine Jesse Smith and outside playmakers Josh Raven and Fred Garrin both gone. Is A.J. Klein ready to pick of the slack with Smith gone? He’s a big bigger than Smith in the middle and he’s active enough to quickly become a statistical star, while Josh Lattimer and Jake Knott bring more side on the outside.
Spring attitude: Start hot. Last year’s team managed to beat most of the teams it was supposed to on the way to a 3-1 start, meaning all it had to do was win three of its final eight games to get to a bowl. This year, with four home games (Northern Illinois, Northern Iowa, Texas Tech, Utah), a neutral site date (Kansas State), and the Iowa trip in the first six, going 4-2 is a must with road trips to Oklahoma and Texas in back-to-back weeks and Missouri and Nebraska still to deal with.

Kansas
Spring Practice Begins: March 27 Game: April 24

The early spring buzz: What is Turner Gill going to bring? Mark Mangino was always a bit gruff and wasn’t always considered a player’s coach, while Gill is a different type of manager. He’s strict and he’s a disciplinarian, but the KU players are likely to be in for a bit of a shock early on when things are a bit different. However, all new coaches come in and try to establish themselves by going hard early, but Gill won’t exactly be ruling with an iron fist.
The big spring question is … Can Gill keep the offense going? His Buffalo teams were at their best when the defense was ultra-aggressive and forcing turnovers, but the offense, even with some great MAC skill players, wasn’t always explosive and productive and needed to capitalize off of opponent’s mistakes. For all of KU’s problems, and despite the power outage over the second half of the year, the passing game was still seventh in the nation and the offense finished 25th in the country.
The most important position to watch is … Quarterback. Todd Ressing flew under the radar because of all the mega-watt quarterback star power in the Big 12 over the last few years, but he was a special player and a heart-and-soul leader who finished his career throwing for 11,194 yards and 90 touchdowns with 33 interceptions. Now there’s a big void to fill and sophomore Kale Pick, a taller, quicker option compared to Reesing, will get the first look, but JUCO transfer Quinn Meacham will get every shot to win the gig.
Spring attitude: Relax … compared to the Mangino era. It might take a little while to rebuild and reload with so much turnover in the passing game and with some work to do on the defensive front seven, but the expectations are a little bit low to start the year and there has to be some understanding that this year is about building towards 2011. That’s not to say that KU should write off the season, the schedule is light enough to win at least seven games, but Gill has to get everyone used to what he wants to do.

Kansas State
Spring Practice Begins: March 21  Game: April 24

The early spring buzz: There might be enough talent to really and truly make some noise. Last year, the first season back for Bill Snyder, was all about getting things back on track and being more competitive. The Wildcats were able to do that, but they still missed out on a bowl game because they played two non-FBS teams. This year, with Daniel Thomas considered by a few scouts to be one of the top NFL running back prospects, and with so many key players returning on defense and four starters back on the offensive line, going to a bowl game is a must now. Snyder didn’t come back to go 5-7.
The big spring question is … Can the offense come up with some more pop? It might be tough with all the key parts to the passing game gone, but the attack should be more effective running the ball, Thomas has the potential to be a special back, and there might be a few more risks taken to be able to keep up with the better offensive teams. But to come up with a truly good year, the Wildcats have to improve the Big 12’s worst passing game and have to put points on the board more consistently.
The most important position to watch is … Quarterback. Grant Gregory wasn’t completely miserable last year, but he was a placeholder until someone more talented could come along and produce. Now he’s gone and there will be a major battle for the gig. Carson Coffman was underwhelming when he got his chance and was replaced by Gregory, but JUCO transfer Sammuel Lamur might turn out to be the main man with his combination of size and quickness fitting the offense better.
Spring attitude: Get the bowl eligibility out of the way before November. KSU gave away a game against Louisiana-Lafayette early on last year and it turned out to be the misfire that cost a bowl game. This year, the first five games are at home (counting the neutral site date with Iowa State in Kansas City a de facto home date) and the pre-November road trips are at Kansas and Baylor. Going 5-3 with losses to UCLA, Nebraska and Oklahoma State would be fine considering North Texas is on the slate to clean things up late, so every spring practice will be important to make sure the team is ready for the opener against the Bruins.

Missouri
Spring Practice Begins: March 9    Game: April 17

The early spring buzz: This is the year when all the past success should pay off. As the belief goes, it takes a few years to capitalize on a big, breakout season. After the big year, the talent starts to come, and then it takes a few years for the players to mature. That’s what’s happening at Mizzou as there are a slew of very talented, but untested players waiting to show what they can do. There will be a lot of new names, but there’s a lot to be excited about.
The big spring question is … Will the team be more consistent? The Tigers were so good at times and so explosive, scoring 32 points or more in each of the last five games, and then they didn’t show up against Navy in the bowl. The defense had so many decent moments, and then melted down against Baylor and contributed to the team’s fourth quarter demise against Nebraska. With more experience comes more consistency. At least that’s the hope.
The most important position to watch is … Defensive tackle. The bulk of the defensive talent is on the end where Aldon Smith, Jacquies Smith, and Marcus Malbrough should all be fantastic, but the loss of Jaron Baston on the inside is big. Dominique Hamilton, Terrell Resonno and Bart Coslet need to form a steady rotation before the start of the year.
Spring attitude: Win the North. A 5-0 start is a must with the soft part of the schedule to deal with before the Big 12 slate gets nasty. With the Nebraska game on the road, there’s no room for any wiggle room in division play, and with only two home games in the final seven, Mizzou will have to be mentally tough and will have to be good at dealing with adversity. The program hasn’t been that good at either one.

Nebraska
Spring Practice Begins: March 24    Game: April 17

The early spring buzz: After how last year ended, can the momentum carry over? Nebraska has just enough talent to win the North again, and it has just easy enough of a schedule to be a major player in more than just the Big 12 race. The basic pieces are there to win a national title, and the coaching staff will have a different job than before. It took a few years to get to this point, and now it’s time to break through. It’s a different ball game.
The big spring question is … Can the offense do anything? The Holiday Bowl brought the running game and an effective passing attack, but that hadn’t been in place all season long. To get to the national championship the offense has to be far more consistent and have far more punch. The defense was special last season, but it’s not going to be able to carry the team to where it wants to go.
The most important position to watch is … Quarterback. Zac Lee was along for the ride last season throwing for 2,142 yards and 14 touchdowns with ten interceptions, and while he had his moments, he wasn’t good enough to be assured of holding down the gig this season. It’s going to take something special to unseat him, and Cody Green, Latravis Washington, and true freshman Taylor Martinez will give it a shot.
Spring attitude: National title or bust. Of course, the first step is to win the Big 12 title and then hope everything falls into place, and to get there, the Huskers have to prove that there is life on the defensive line after Ndamukong Suh (there is), hope to get more from the ground game (they will), and need a few moments of luck along the way. This spring is about being good enough to take luck out of the equation as much as possible.

South

Baylor
Spring Practice Begins:
March 16  Game: April 10

The early spring buzz: QB Robert Griffin is expected to be fine. The tear of his ACL was bad, but it wasn’t a devastating, blowout-the-whole-knee type of problem that cost him the second half of last year. Fortunately, the injury happened early enough that he was able to get time to get it stronger and close to 100%, but he’ll still need rehab work to be ready by fall. On the plus side, though, he’s expected to be as good as new by August. He’ll play in the drills and will be involved in everything but the hitting. There will be no touching whatsoever of The Franchise.
The big spring question is … Can the line play be any better? The offensive line doesn’t have too many holes to fill, but the two losses are big ones with center J.D. Walton and RG James Barnard gone. The pass protection was lousy and there was no running game without Griffin. On the defensive front, generating more pressure is a must after doing next to nothing to get into the backfield. The defensive line will be big, but it needs to be far more active.
The most important position to watch is … Safety. The entire defensive back seven needs work after the graduation of Joe Pawelek and Antonio Jones, but the bigger issue will be in the secondary where mainstay Jordan Lake will be sorely missed and Jeremy Williams needs to be replaced. The hope will be for former JUCO transfer Byron Landor to step up and produce, while top recruit Ahmad Dixon might be a factor immediately.
Spring attitude: Protect Griffin and hope he can be the wild card. Once he went out, the 2009 season was effectively over as the Bears didn’t have enough talent on either side of the ball to stay alive in a hunt for a bowl game. This year’s team has several holes to patch up, but if Griffin is Griffin again, the Bears have a puncher’s chance against almost anyone on the slate. There are enough winnable games to make a bowl game a realistic goal.

Oklahoma
Spring Practice Begins: March 8 Game: April 17

The early spring buzz: After all the problems and all the issues of last season, everyone is ready to get back on the field and get the machine rolling again. The big key will be the emergence of Landry Jones as a leader and more of a playmaker now that the offense and the team are his. However, it’s hardly a stone-cold lock that he’s going to be the main man with Drew Allen, a more mobile prospect with greater upside, getting every chance to earn the starting spot.
The big spring question is … Are the horses really there to get past Texas and be on top of the Big 12 South again? Last year had all the injury problems and the team still fought hard and was competitive, but this season there’s more experience in place and the expectations, at least from Bob Stoops, are that last year was last year and this season things need to get back to normal. To do that, this spring has to determine a depth chart in pen, which hasn’t always been easy for Stoops to do.
The most important position to watch is … Cornerback. The offensive line doesn’t have any stars after losing Trent Williams, but there are enough talented big bodies to assume that the blocking will once again be fine. If OU could get through last year with all the different combinations, this season won’t be an issue. The bigger concern early on will be at corner where Demontre Hurst and former safety Jonathan Nelson will give it a shot. The safeties, Sam Proctor and Quinton Carter, are good enough to make up for some mistakes on the outside, but the spotlight will be on until the right combination is found.
Spring attitude: If the Sooners could go 8-5 last year with all the injuries and with so many young players being thrown into key spots, then 2010 could be a breeze. Remember, four of OU’s five losses came by a grand total of 12 points and it’s not a stretch to think all of those could’ve been wins if Sam Bradford had been healthy. It’s time to get back the swagger, and that only comes with success.

Oklahoma State
Spring Practice Begins: March 8   Game: April 17

The early spring buzz: Don’t say the word rebuild around Stillwater, even though this is a rebuilding and reloading season. There are some major personnel changes needed to be made on both sides of the ball, but the biggest difference will be the adjustment to a faster-paced offense that relies more on speed and quickness. Offensive coordinator Dana Holgorsen wants to get the ball to the playmakers as soon as possible and in a variety of ways, and the hope is for a faster-paced, quick-strike attack. The differences won’t be major, but they’ll be noticeable.
The big spring question is … can Kendall Hunter stay healthy? The best running back in the Big 12 two years ago, he was limited with a foot problem last year and wasn’t close to being his normal self. Now he’s expected to be 100% and he’ll be used in a variety of ways. A good receiver, he’ll get more passes thrown his way to go along with all his duties as the workhorse runner.
The most important position to watch is … Quarterback. It’s Brandon Weeden and pray for good healthy. OSU has a slew of talented young quarterbacks waiting in the wings, most notably Johnny Deaton to go along with Clint Chelf, but they’re freshmen. Weeden is a 26-year-old with the maturity to handle himself well, but he has to show he can be steady with the offensive changes.
Spring attitude: Fly under the radar. Unlike last year when OSU was considered a favorite to win the Big 12 and a sleeper in the national title chase, there aren’t any expectations this year with all the changes on offense and with just two starters returning on defense. That’s not to say that the Cowboys will pack it in, but it’s possible they could creep up on everyone.

Texas
Spring Practice Begins: February 26 Game: April 4

The early spring buzz: There’s still a hangover. While Texas starts its practices earlier than most and has a long spring session, the talk is still about the BCS Championship loss to Alabama, Colt McCoy’s shoulder, and what might have been. The monster recruiting class changed the conversation a wee bit, but the disappointment of Pasadena is still fresh. On the plus side for Longhorn fans, the team appears loaded and ready for another run.
The big spring question is … Garrett Gilbert and if he’s ready. He was going to be the main man no matter what, but he got a crash course on the biggest stage at the end of last year against the Tide. Now he has to show that he’s ready to keep the production from the McCoy era going, but he’s not going to have to do it alone. Unlike last year when the entire offense was in McCoy’s hands, which was the downfall in the national title loss, this year there will be more balance and more weapons involved.
The most important position to watch is … Wide receiver. Texas came up with a loaded haul of receiver talents a few seasons ago, and they have yet to prove they were worth the hype. Part of the problem, in a good way, was the emergence of Jordan Shipley as an elite player, but now is the time for Malcolm Williams, Marquise Goodwin, and James Kirkendoll to become good enough to help seamlessly ease the transition to the Gilbert era.
Spring attitude: It’s Texas. Lose a great player or three, bring in more. While the Longhorns might be a year away from being national title-good, they’ll be in the picture this year just because they’re so much more talented than anyone else on the schedule. There might not be the overall experience, and it’s asking a lot for Gilbert to lead the way to a championship, but this is still going to be the favorite to win the Big 12 title.

Texas A&M
Spring Practice Begins: March 23 Game: April 17

The early spring buzz: Defense, defense, defense, defense, defense. Everyone knows the offense is going to put up video game-like numbers with Jerrod Johnson leading a loaded attack, but the defense was a disaster last year and is undergoing a major overhaul. In comes defensive coordinator Tim DeRuyter from Air Force, and while he’ll keep the 3-4 alignment that was in place last year, with a hybrid JACK position used as both an end and an outside linebacker, the goal is to be even more disruptive and more aggressive.
The big spring question is … Is it the scheme or the players? Von Miller is one of the nation’s best pass rushers and there are good athletes and speedsters all over the place, but that didn’t amount to much last year. The defense was great at getting into the backfield and was tremendous at hitting the quarterback, which is what DeRuyter wants more of, and it didn’t matter for a secondary that didn’t stop anyone finishing last in the conference.
The most important position to watch is … cornerback. While the secondary was a nightmare in 2009, youth can be blamed for part of the problem with then-sophomore Terrence Frederick, then-true freshman Dustin Harris, and then-true freshman Steven Terrell playing key roles. They’ll get even more help this year from the defensive front seven, but they won’t have free safety Jordan Pugh to help out.
Spring attitude: It’s time to play with the big boys. The defense can’t help but be better with nine starters returning, while the nation’s fifth-ranked offense of last year is certain to be terrific again. Texas is still the class of the conference, but it’s not without its issues, and Oklahoma is trying to put the pieces together after last season’s clunker, and the time appears to be now for A&M to make a move.

Texas Tech
Spring Practice Begins: March 7   Game: April 17

The early spring buzz: Tommy Tuberville will adjust to Texas Tech, and Texas Tech won’t have to adjust to Tommy Tuberville. He’s saying all the right things to those who loved the Red Raider offense and weren’t all too happy to see Mike Leach go, but it’ll be interesting to see what kind of tweaks will be made. It’s Tuberville, so there will be more running, but no matter what happens, Texas Tech is the wild card of the Big 12.
The big spring question is … Will the O line be a bit better? There are several new coaches across the board, but Matt Moore, the offensive line coach, is still around and he needs to make a few changes. He’ll still get to keep the Texas Tech splits for the passing offense, but the pass protection has to be better and there will be more emphasis on pounding the ball. The beef is there to do it.
The most important position to watch is … Quarterback. Taylor Potts is the most talented quarterback on the team, but fan-favorite Steven Sheffield has a magical quality and has been fantastic when thrown into the mix. Former Troy offensive coordinator Neal Brown wants more bombing away from his quarterback, and he’d like to have more mobility, but he has said that Potts and Sheffield will get an equal shot at the job.
Spring attitude: This might be a case of taking the good things that worked before and enhancing them. The problem is that Tuberville tried this at Auburn, switching to more of a pass-oriented attack, and the results were disastrous. However, he didn’t have the foundation in place like he has now. No one is expecting much out of the Red Raiders, and they could surprise and be a major fly in the ointment.