- Here's an Oklahoma spring football preview.
- Kansas State received a $60 million gift from the Jack Vanier family, which includes $20 million for upgrades to Bill Snyder Stadium.
- "We need to look like who we are," said K-State athletic director John Currie, who believes the upgrades are important for the Wildcats football program.
- A closer look at Texas Tech's inside linebacker candidates to replace Will Smith.
- Here are some NFL draft projections for former Texas Tech standouts, including Jace Amaro.
- Red Raiders tackle Rashad Fortenberry has been granted a medical redshirt.
- Here are five questions heading into spring practice at Oklahoma.
- Could a Baylor basketball player find himself on the gridiron for the Bears in the future?
- Here are five questions for West Virginia to answer as the Mountaineers open spring football.
- Iowa State coach Paul Rhoads talks about the Cyclones' strong finish to 2013 and several changes on the coaching staff in this Q&A session.
- With the most experience on the roster, Trevone Boykin opened spring drills as TCU's quarterback.
- The offensive line joins quarterback as a major question mark for WVU.
An exceptional Sugar Bowl performance, a young and talented defense and renewed confidence in quarterback Trevor Knight has the Sooners eyeing a national championship run in 2014. Yet, that won’t happen without growth at several key positions, starting Saturday when OU kicks off spring practice. This week we’ll make five spring predictions.
Why it matters: Ford could be the key to OU’s offense in 2014. At 5-foot-11, 205 pounds, Ford packs a punch even when he doesn’t have the football in his hands. His physical style of play earned notice on special teams immediately last season, and he showed he combines that mindset with determination when he has the ball in his hands. He didn’t have a stellar freshman season (23 carries, 134 yards, one touchdown), but the limited glimpses of Ford running the ball gave Sooners fans hope for the future.
What it would mean: It wouldn’t matter how quickly the Sooners' true freshman running backs, Joe Mixon and Samaje Perine, transition into college football, and Alex Ross' development would not need to be hurried. Mixon appears ready to make an immediate impact, but it would be nice to allow him to develop at his own pace. Perine could bring a physical, slashing style to the offense but, much like Mixon, his development as a complete running back will determine his role. And Ross is continuing to progress but hasn’t proved he should be a major part of the offense heading into his sophomore year.
Thus, Ford’s continued development is key for an OU offense that will need to be balanced if the Sooners plan to compete for a Big 12 title and national championship this fall. The way he forced his way onto the field as a true freshman, earning carries despite the Sooners returning three senior running backs, is a sign Ford could be a special player in crimson and cream. If he starts to fulfill that potential this spring, OU’s offense could be deadly as long as Knight continues to develop as well.
With spring practice off and rolling, plenty of questions surround the league’s programs. And while many of those won’t be fully answered until the season begins in the fall, here are some of the biggest ones Baylor, Kansas, Kansas State, Iowa State and Oklahoma will face this spring:
How will Baylor replenish its secondary?
Can Mangino turn Iowa State’s offense around?
As a big part of their disappointing 3-9 record last season, the Cyclones ranked ahead of only Kansas in Big 12 scoring offense. As a result, Paul Rhoads fired offensive coordinator Courtney Messingham and brought in Mark Mangino to revive the Iowa State attack. Mangino was offensive coordinator during Oklahoma’s national championship season, and he took Kansas to the Orange Bowl. His track record as an offensive mind is not in dispute. But can he turn around an offense that hasn’t ranked higher than ninth in the Big 12 in scoring since 2005? Mangino will have some pieces to work with. Wideout Quenton Bundrage, running back Aaron Wimberly and quarterback Grant Rohach all had moments in 2013. Whether Mangino can put them in position to produce a lot more of those moments will go a long way in determining if Iowa State can bounce back.
Can Harwell fill Kansas’ go-to WR need?
Kansas’ lack of production at receiver the past few seasons has been astounding. Justin McCay caught a touchdown pass in the 2013 opener to become the first Kansas receiver to catch a touchdown in almost two full seasons. But Kansas receivers would catch only two more touchdowns the rest of the season (for context, Baylor receivers totaled 35 such grabs). Senior transfer Nick Harwell, however, could be the answer to that woeful drought. Two years ago at Miami (Ohio), Harwell led the Mid-American Conference with 7.6 receptions and 96.7 receiving yards per game while earning All-MAC honors. Going into his final college season, Harwell already has 229 receptions for 3,166 yards in his career. Oh yeah, he has 23 touchdowns over those three years, too. The Jayhawks have desperately been in search of a go-to receiver. They’ll find out this spring whether they can stop that search.
What will K-State do with Sams?
Daniel Sams proved to be one of the league’s best playmakers last season, leading all Big 12 quarterbacks with 807 rushing yards and 15 total touchdowns. Sams’ role, however, diminished late in the season, as Jake Waters emerged as the majority-of-the-time quarterback. Sams is too dynamic with the ball in his hands to watch games from the sidelines. But Waters isn’t going anywhere at quarterback, either. Before the bowl, Sams hinted that he’d like to try another position to get onto the field more. K-State whiffed on signing a quarterback last month, so Sams will still have to keep ties with his old position for depth purposes. But the spring will also give the Wildcats the opportunity to experiment using Sams elsewhere -- like receiver -- if they so choose.
How will Oklahoma build on the Sugar Bowl?
By beating Alabama, the Sooners notched arguably the program’s most significant win since defeating Florida State all the way back in the 2000 national championship game. After struggling at times during the 2013 season, the Sooners suddenly have the look of a preseason top-five team going into 2014. Yet, in many ways, this is still a very young team. QB Trevor Knight has only five career starts, two of which he left early due to injury. Projected starting running back Keith Ford has loads of potential, but only 23 carries in his college career. And of the returning receivers, only Sterling Shepard delivered more than 13 catches last season. In the Sugar Bowl, OU flashed its capability. And the Sooners have tons of momentum, underscored by their furious recruiting finish. But to be a legitimate national title contender this fall, the Sooners can’t rest on their laurels of besting the Tide. And OU’s young players have to continue building off that experience.
To the 'bag:
James Imes in Oklahoma City writes: Do you think the 10-second runoff rule will pass? And what effect would it have on the Big 12.
Jake Trotter: The rule would be devastating to the Big 12, since it would hurt every team in the league not coached by Bill Snyder. But I would be stunned if it passed. This week, ESPN’s Brett McMurphy polled every head coach at the FBS level, and only 25 (of 128) favored the rule proposal.
Trotter: Unlikely, at least for now. There’s been no indication the new leadership at Texas has an interest in Big 12 expansion.
Trotter: There’s only one Adrian Peterson. If Mixon turns out to be half as good as Peterson, then OU will have a player.
Trotter: Sorry, you have the best wide receiver in the conference in Tyler Lockett. He needs the ball, and he has a quarterback that can get it to him. Deal with it. K-State will always be a run-first team. But you have to play to your strengths, and the strength of this team is Waters throwing to Lockett.
Trotter: It’s not just you. It’s going to be difficult -- if not borderline impossible -- for West Virginia to win more than seven games next season. But there’s light at the end of the tunnel. Tom Bradley was a tremendous hire, and I believe he and Tony Gibson will usher in a higher level of performance on the defensive side. Offensively, despite the mediocre play on the field, the Mountaineers have been thriving, recruiting quality skill talents who want to play in Dana Holgorsen’s scheme. Just this month, they signed two ESPN 300 WRs, an ESPN 300 running back and a four-star quarterback. I expect the Mountaineers to struggle against a brutal schedule this season, but this could be a quality team in 2015. It will be interesting to see how much athletic director Oliver Luck takes that into consideration when evaluating Holgorsen in the event of another lackluster season.
Trotter: I was hoping you could tell me. Oh well.
- Baylor preparing to open spring football with the Big 12 target on its back.
- Texas will begin selling beer and wine at spring sporting events.
- OU's Bob Stoops and OSU's Mike Gundy wanted Bedlam on Nov. 29, but looks like it'll be Dec. 6.
- West Virginia QB Skyler Howard is small at 5-foot-11, but at least he has huge hands.
- New K-State QB commit: "I kill you with my arm and I bury you with my legs."
- Who are the top 10 Big 12 offensive linemen of the BCS era? A Sooner is No. 1.
- Should Texas fear the Mean Green on Aug. 30?
- Former Texas Tech QB Seth Doege is joining the Saskatchewan Roughriders.
- Ex-Sooner Kendal Thompson is hoping for an Auburn-like turnaround at Utah.
- Will the new 10-second rule die a fast and early death?
No. 1: Running back
Why it’s important: It’s critical for the Sooners offense to be balanced. Lack of balance hampered OU’s offense in 2013 but Trevor Knight’s Sugar Bowl performance gives the passing game hope. Now it’s important to find a quality running back who can keep defenses honest.
Sophomore Alex Ross: He brings a terrific size/speed ratio at 6-foot-1, 209 pounds, but he needs to improve his performance in all aspects of the position. This spring is his opportunity to show he deserves some carries in 2014.
Sophomore David Smith: This spring is Smith’s opportunity to prove he can make an impact as a running back. With two top freshmen poised to join the program in the summer, it could be the most important spring of Smith’s career.
Freshman Joe Mixon: The ESPN 300 running back is extremely versatile and could end up being used a lot of different ways in the fall.
Freshman Samaje Perine: Another ESPN 300 running back, Perine will bring a physical, slashing style to the program in the summer.
Best-case scenario: Ford and Ross wage a competitive battle to sit atop the depth chart after the spring. The duo could complement each other well and this spring might be the first glimpse at their potential together. Ideally all three running backs show they can help the Sooners because you can never have too many running backs.
Worst-case scenario: Ford continues to fumble, Ross continues to struggle to be a complete running back and Smith doesn’t look like he can make an impact. That opens the door for Mixon and/or Perine to skyrocket up the depth chart in August.
To sum up this series, we’ve tallied up the scores to get a better sense of how the teams compare overall through the prism of individual position rankings.
Ten points were given for a No. 1 ranking in a positional category, nine points for a No. 2 ranking, so on and so forth.
Not surprisingly, Oklahoma and Baylor, both coming off BCS bowls, placed first and second. There were, however, a couple surprises in the final count.
Again, we’ll revisit these outlooks after the spring, where they’re sure to change. But until then, our pre-spring positional scorecard:
1. OKLAHOMA: This is where you end up ranking when you return 14 starters off a team that most recently popped the two-time defending national champs.
Special teams: 6
2. BAYLOR: There are some questions for the Big 12 champs, particularly in the defensive backfield. But the offensive skill talent is awesome, and by far the best in the league.
Special teams: 9
3. TEXAS: Quarterback remains the biggest issue for a program that has the talent and depth elsewhere to challenge for the league title. Texas must also find a suitable replacement for All-American kicker/punter Anthony Fera.
Special teams: 3
4. KANSAS STATE: K-State will ascend this list if it finds a viable replacement for running back John Hubert. The rest of the squad looks very solid.
Special teams: 8
5. TCU: Perhaps the biggest surprise in this ranking, TCU has a chance to field the best defense in the conference. Whether this amounts to anything hinges on what happens at quarterback, though the rest of the offense needs work, too.
Special teams: 10
6. TEXAS TECH: The Red Raiders have the skill talent to be a threat, especially if QB Davis Webb makes the Year 2 leap. But Tech will still need some of its juco additions defensively to pan out.
Special teams: 7
7. WEST VIRGINIA: The Mountaineers are as deep as any team in the league at running back and linebacker. If a QB emerges and the receivers can make more plays than they did last year, this could be the type of offense Dana Holgorsen is accustomed to operating.
Special teams: 4
8. OKLAHOMA STATE: It's hard to believe the Cowboys will actually finish eighth in the league, but for a team with only nine returning starters, there are a bunch of voids to fill going into the spring.
Special teams: 1
9. IOWA STATE: The Cyclones bring back some playmakers offensively, but to get bowl eligible, they'll need to plug some holes in the defensive back seven.
Special teams: 5
10. KANSAS: What else can be expected from a program that's lost 29 of its last 30 Big 12 games?
Special teams: 2
1. TCU: Honorable mention All-Big 12 place-kicker Jaden Oberkrom was 13 of 14 on field goals inside the 50 last season and drilled a 56-yarder late in the fourth quarter at Kansas State. B.J. Catalon was second in the league in kickoff returns and took one to the house in the opener against LSU. Freshman Cameron Echols-Luper took his first punt return 51 yards and had a 41-yarder in the season finale against Baylor. Brandon Carter has had moments in the return game in the past as well. Ethan Perry will be a three-year starter at punter, rounding out a formidable special teams unit.
2. Baylor: Corey Coleman led the league in kick returns, and Levi Norwood scored twice off punt returns. The Bears are loaded with potential game-breakers in the return game and welcome back All-Big 12 punter Spencer Roth. If Kyle Peterson proves to be a reliable replacement for departing kicker Aaron Jones, this special teams unit will have no weakness.
4. Texas Tech: The Red Raiders will feature a lethal one-two punch in the return game in Jakeem Grant and Reginald Davis, who took a kick back for a touchdown in the bowl game. Receiver Jordan Davis also has return experience. Kicker Ryan Bustin returns after garnering honorable mention All-Big 12 honors last year.
5. Oklahoma: The Sooners lose the most explosive return duo in the league in Jalen Saunders and Roy Finch. Sterling Shepard and Alex Ross could be among the players who replace them. Oklahoma boasts the league’s most efficient returning place-kicker in Michael Hunnicutt, who nailed 24 of 27 field goal tries last season. The Sooners have a secret weapon in Nick Hodgson, who led the league in touchback kickoffs last season. Jed Barnett, fifth in the Big 12 in punting average last season, returns as well.
6. Iowa State: The Cyclones had four players make first- or second-team All-Big 12 last season, and departing punter Kirby Van Der Kamp was one of them. Replacing his production won’t be easy, though incoming three-star freshman Colin Downing will try. DeVondrick Nealy, Jarvis West and Aaron Wimberly all had several dynamite moments returning kicks. Cole Netten was 13-of-18 on field goals as a freshman,
7. West Virginia: Nick O'Toole leads the Mountaineers on special teams. The “Boomstache” was 15th nationally in punting last season. The Mountaineers have all their returners back in Wendell Smallwood, Mario Alford and Jordan Thompson, though more big plays are needed from this group -- the Mountaineers ranked last in the league in both punt and kick returns in 2013. Josh Lambert comes back after making 17 of 23 field goals as a freshman. The Mountaineers also enjoy a luxury in Michael Molinari, who can do a little bit of everything.
8. Texas: The Longhorns lose their punter and their kicker in consensus All-American Anthony Fera. That hurts. Nick Jordan, who made nine of 15 field goals in 2012, could reclaim his job. Daje Johnson -- who returned a punt for a TD against Oklahoma -- Duke Thomas, Quandre Diggs, Marcus Johnson, Kendall Sanders and Jaxon Shipley all have experience returning.
9. Kansas: Return men Connor Embree (punts) and JaCorey Shepherd (kicks) both come back. The Jayhawks also return kicker Matthew Wyman, who connected on a game-winning 52-yard field goal to beat Louisiana Tech. The freshman, however, only made two field goals after that and eventually lost that job to departing senior Ron Doherty. Trevor Pardula was third in the Big 12 in punting as a junior and received votes for Big 12 Special Teams Player of the Year.
10. Oklahoma State: After enjoying All-Americans Dan Bailey and Quinn Sharp the last few years, the Cowboys were finally mediocre in the kicking game last season. Ben Grogan struggled as a freshman, making just 11 of 18 field goals while missing two critical attempts in the early-season loss at West Virginia. The Cowboys were also last in the league in punting. Oklahoma State signed three-star kicker Zach Sinor with hopes of curing some of those ills. The Cowboys were still dynamic in the return game, but with Justin Gilbert and Josh Stewart both gone, Oklahoma State could lean on juco transfer and track star Tyreek Hill for a jolt on returns.
- Kliff Kingsbury raps.
- Casey Pachall sets the record straight about his past in this great story from Mac Engel of the Fort Worth Star-Telegram.
- Steven Parker will continue the legacy of his grandfather, a trailblazer at Oklahoma, writes ESPN's Mitch Sherman.
- Art Briles says Baylor is ready to run the show in the Big 12.
- Oklahoma State's Joe Bob Clements breaks down twists to get to the QB.
- Cowboys newcomer Tyreek Hill named Big 12 Athlete of the Week.
- How does former Oklahoma quarterback Kendal Thompson fit in with Utah?
- Do the Sooners look like a potential 12-0 team in 2014?
- Texas Tech is counting on key contributions from its defensive line signees.
- Leigh Steinberg is starting his career over with former Texas and SMU QB Garrett Gilbert.
- Ryan Gosling looks like this Big 12 head coach.
No. 2: Cornerback
Why it’s important: The Sooners need someone to step into Aaron Colvin’s starting spot. Colvin was one of the Big 12’s top cover men in the past two seasons and helped a young defense exceed expectations in 2013. Replacing the three-year starter is easier said than done and the Sooners’ defensive system counts on its defensive backs to be able to hold their own in coverage.
Sophomore Stanvon Taylor: He started one game as a true freshman but will need to take his game to another level if he hopes to step into Colvin’s spot. He was groomed to be the guy but it won’t be given to him.
Sophomore Dakota Austin: He plays with a chip on his shoulder and has strong coverage skills but his lack of size (5-foot-11, 151 pounds) will always be a burden.
Freshman Tito Windham: The Sooners might have found a hidden gem in SEC country with the Mississippi native. He has the physical tools to insert himself into the competition.
Freshman Jordan Thomas: OU swooped in late to land Thomas but the key will be how quickly he transitions to college football. He’s a versatile defensive back who can play multiple positions.
Freshman Marcus Green: He could end up at cornerback, nickelback or safety in the Sooners’ system so it could take a while for him to settle in at one spot.
Best-case scenario: The Sooners use the spring to find a capable replacement, even if that means shuffling around the current secondary. Or Taylor rises to the occasion and locks down the position during the spring. He was Colvin’s protégé, has exceptional talent and probably the highest upside of any cornerback on campus.
Worst-case scenario: Johnson, Taylor and Austin have a competition that drags into the summer with none of them giving the Sooners confidence they can handle the starting spot. That would force the Sooners to search for ways to solidify the cornerback spot, which will be critical if they hope to have any success this fall.
Poor quarterback play was the main culprit, but the conference’s lack of elite signal-callers wasn’t the lone reason for the general absence of explosive playmaking in Big 12 stadiums last fall.
Conference pass catchers earned their share of the blame as well.
Yards after catch is one way Big 12 running backs, tight ends and receivers can take ownership over their offense’s success. While the accuracy of the quarterback impacts the opportunities for yards after catch, there has been a correlation between yards after catch and team success in the Big 12 in recent seasons. With the help of ESPN Stats and Information, a closer look at the yards after catch for each Big 12 team during the past three seasons reveals some interesting trends.
- Ten Big 12 teams have finished the season with at least 2,000 yards after catch during the past three seasons. Those teams averaged 8.9 wins per season, with half of them winning at least 10 games.
- Baylor’s record-setting offense was spurred by its highest yards-after-catch percentage in the past three years. The 2013 Bears gained 2,281 yards after catch, 48.9 percent of their 4,668 receiving yards during their Big 12 title season. In 2012, 41.6 percent of their receiving yards came after the catch. In 2011, 44.8 percent of their yards came after the catch.
- Goodley led the league with 598 yards after catch. His yards after catch total would have been no higher than third in the conference in 2012 and 2011. Five different receivers had at least 698 yards after catch in the past three seasons, with Tavon Austin’s 992 for West Virginia in 2012 ranking as the highest individual total during that span.
- Oklahoma State’s 2,851 yards after catch in 2011 is the highest total during the past three seasons and 56.6 percent of its 5,034 total. The Cowboys went 12-1 and won their first-ever Big 12 championship during that season. Justin Blackmon’s 794 yards after catch led the Big 12 in 2011.
- Oklahoma struggled with quarterback play throughout the 2013 season, but the Sooners led the league with 58 percent of their receiving yards coming after the catch, the highest percentage in conference during the past three seasons. OU had 2,588 receiving yards, with 1,500 of those coming after the catch. Sterling Shepard paced the way for OU with 384 yards after the catch.
- Kansas, which has struggled to find playmaking receivers in recent years, hasn’t had more than 1,000 yards after catch in the past three seasons.
- Not surprisingly, Kansas State is the lone Big 12 team that is barely impacted by yards after catch numbers. The Wildcats recorded a 39.4 yards after catch percentage during the past three seasons for a total of 2,991 yards after catch during that span.
- Dana Holgorsen’s offense at West Virginia is built around getting athletes in one on one situations and letting them make plays in the open field. The Mountaineers gained 55.3 percent of their receiving yards after the catch during the past three seasons. Although they only spent two of those seasons in the Big 12, the Mountaineers are the only current Big 12 squad who gained at least 50 percent of their yards after catch in each of the past three seasons.
Here’s a detailed breakdown of the numbers via ESPN Stats and Information:
1. TCU: TCU has been tenacious defending the pass since joining the league, and even without potential first-round pick Jason Verrett, that shouldn’t change in 2014. Sam Carter was the only non-senior to earn first-team or second-team All-Big 12 honors in the secondary last season, and Chris Hackett was one of the best underclassman defensive backs in the league last year. Derrick Kindred is primed to step into TCU’s third safety spot after playing a key role in the rotation. The Horned Frogs also add the nation’s No. 3 juco safety in Kenny Iloka. Throw in senior Geoff Hooker, and the Horned Frogs have an impressive five-man rotation at safety. At corner, Kevin White was honorable mention All-Big 12 last year, and will take over for Verrett as the primary corner. The Horned Frogs have several options at the other corner, including incoming three-star recruit Nick Foster.
2. Texas: After playing the nickel role last year, Quandre Diggs will settle back at cornerback in place of Carrington Byndom. Opposite Diggs will be the ultra-athletic Duke Thomas, who was so good in spring ball last year, he forced the coaches to move Diggs to nickelback. Together, Diggs and Thomas could give the Longhorns the best cornerback tandem in the league. Antwuan Davis, who redshirted in his first year, was an ESPN 300 signee and figures to play a big role somewhere in the secondary. Josh Turner (37 appearances) and Mykkele Thompson (12 starts in 2013) each bring a lot of experience at safety.
3. Oklahoma: Oklahoma graduates the heart and soul of the secondary in cornerback Aaron Colvin, who gutted his way through an array of injuries last year. But if the Sooners can find an adequate replacement for him, the Big 12’s best pass defense statistically in 2013 should be stout again. Julian Wilson (nickelback), Zack Sanchez (cornerback) and Quentin Hayes (strong safety) all return as starters, though Hayes could be pushed by Ahmad Thomas and incoming freshman Steven Parker for time. Hatari Byrd, an ESPN 300 signee last year, should step into the vacant spot at free safety. Cortez Johnson will try to fend off Stanvon Taylor, who played as a true freshman, for Colvin’s spot in the only real uncertain area of this secondary.
4. Kansas State: The Wildcats will miss All-Big 12 performer Ty Zimmerman, but his cohort, Dante Barnett, was one of the best young safeties in the league last year. Barnett was third on the team with 75 tackles and first with four interceptions. Randall Evans also returns after leading the team in pass breakups and gives the Wildcats a versatile defensive back. As usual, Bill Snyder will also be looking for some juco impact. He should get it in Danzel McDaniel, who was the No. 4 juco CB recruit in the country. Cornerback Jesse Mack also could prove to be a key juco signee. If both players pan out, this could become one of the better defensive backfields in the league.
5. West Virginia: The bad news is the Mountaineers had the Big 12’s worst pass defense last year. The good news is they bring back three starters. Karl Joseph has started the last two seasons at free safety, though he could slide to the strong side with Darwin Cook gone. Joseph has All-Big 12 potential, and he needs to elevate his game for the West Virginia defense to take another step forward. Veteran K.J. Dillon could be the front-runner for the job alongside Joseph, though Jeremy Tyler and Jarrod Harper will also be in the mix. West Virginia also brings back both starting cornerbacks in senior Ishmael Banks and Daryl Worley, who started as a freshman. The Mountaineers also signed Keishawn Richardson, the No. 8 juco CB, and Jaylon Myers, the No. 9 juco safety, for depth. Cornerback Dravon Henry, an ESPN 300 signee who had offers from Alabama, Florida State and Ohio State, could play immediately if one of West Virginia’s veterans struggle.
6. Kansas: The Jayhawks return all five starters from their secondary, including last year’s Big 12 Defensive Newcomer of the Year, strong safety Isaiah Johnson. Returning cornerbacks Dexter McDonald and JaCorey Shepherd, a converted wide receiver, were both honorable mention All-Big 12 selections and give the Jayhawks one of the better corner duos in the league. Free safety Cassius Sendish started every game and had 12 tackles in Kansas’ only Big 12 victory in 2013, over West Virginia. Nickelback Courtney Arnick started in six games as a redshirt freshman. If this group collectively improves, Kansas could field a solid defense in 2014.
7. Oklahoma State: The Cowboys lose All-Big 12 cornerback Justin Gilbert, who might be selected high in the first round of the NFL draft after a stellar combine performance. The Cowboys welcome back one of the best young corners in the league in Kevin Peterson, who was terrific as a sophomore in coverage opposite Gilbert. Ashton Lampkin has experience, and he will likely fill the other corner spot unless someone else emerges. Lyndell Johnson, who made a transition from linebacker to safety last season, will take over full time at strong safety. The Cowboys will need someone else to emerge at the other safety in place of departed veteran starter Daytawion Lowe. Deric Robertson, Tre Flowers, Jordan Sterns, Taylor Lewis and Darius Curry, all from the 2013 recruiting class, are possibilities.
8. Texas Tech: How the Red Raiders retool here will be on one of the bigger spring storylines in Lubbock. Keenon Ward and Justis Nelson were thrown in the fire as freshmen last year, and they will be counted on to fill bigger roles. The gem of the incoming recruiting class, four-star cornerback Nigel Bethel II, could be asked – and has the capability – to play right away. The Red Raiders have to replace both starting safeties, including freshman Tanner Jacobson, who is going on a Mormon mission. To compensate, Tech signed six safeties, including Josh Keys, the No. 5 juco safety in the country, who had offers from Auburn, Georgia and Oklahoma State. Getting strong safety J.J. Gaines back from a season-ending injury will be a boost, too.
9. Baylor: The Bears are one of several teams in the league that were decimated in the secondary by graduation. Baylor loses four of its five starters, including All-American safety Ahmad Dixon. Safety Terrell Burt is the only returning starter, leaving the other four spots up for grabs. The Bears signed juco corners Tion Wright and Chris Sanders to help fill the void. Both are already on campus and will be battling Xavien Howard, Ryan Reid and Tyler Stephenson for a starting job. Orion Stewart, who backed up Dixon as a redshirt freshman, will likely step in his role, and fellow sophomore Kiante’ Griffin will be the favorite to take over at the nickel.
10. Iowa State: Cornerback Nigel Tribune was the only true freshman to play for the Cyclones last year, and he received votes as Big 12 Defensive Freshman of the Year. Tribune, however, is the only returning starter. Veteran safety mainstays Jacques Washington and Deon Broomfield are gone. In response, the Cyclones will look for Devron Moore and Qujuan Floyd, the Nos. 6 and 7 juco safety recruits, respectively, to step in immediately.
The former Oklahoma Sooners quarterback will transfer to the Pac-12 school after he graduates in May. Thompson decided to transfer after Trevor Knight emerged as the favorite to start for the Sooners in 2014 after his MVP performance in the Sugar Bowl.
Thompson should be eligible to play immediately for the Utes.
Thompson, son of former OU quarterback Charles Thompson, suffered a fractured foot prior to the 2013 season and finishes his OU career with 64 passing yards, one touchdown and one interception in two games.
The Utes finished ninth in the Pac-12 in passing yards (236.25 per game) and 10th in points scored (29.2 per game) last season. Sophomores Travis Wilson and Adam Schulz split time at quarterback in 2013.
- Kliff Kingsbury achieved a new level of fame on Wednesday: A shout-out on "Jeopardy."
- Five Big 12 coaches were second-rounders in this college coaches draft.
- Oklahoma State CB Justin Gilbert had a "phenomenal" day at the NFL combine on Tuesday.
- TCU's Jason Verrett could be in the mix for the Saints and Chargers in the first round.
- Does Texas have the most talented roster in the Big 12? These rankings seem to think so.
- Trey Millard is running again after suffering a torn ACL in his senior season.
- Kansas State lands a quarterback commitment for its 2015 class.
- West Virginia is in desperate need of finding new stars this spring.
- Shock Linwood and Desmond Roland are among the top RB names to know in 2014.
- A term you'll need to know for the 2014 season: The Super 16.
No. 3: Receiver
Why it’s important: Trevor Knight is going to need options when he drops back to throw the football. Sterling Shepard is a bona fide playmaker, and has been proving it since he stepped on campus in the summer of 2012. Yet the junior is the lone known playmaker returning to the receiving corps in 2014. OU needs two or more receivers to step their game up in the spring and show they’re ready to be on the receiving end of Knight’s spirals.
Junior Durron Neal: Neal arrived on campus with Shepard but hasn’t made a similar impact. He’s shown potential but he needs to become more consistent and earn the coaches trust if he hopes to fulfill the expectations placed upon him when he signed in the Class of 2012.
Redshirt freshman K.J. Young: A smooth slot receiver who had a terrific redshirt year and is looking to show he will be a playmaker this fall. A strong spring could cement himself a role in the offense heading into the summer.
Redshirt freshman Jordan Smallwood: A physical presence with terrific ball skills, Smallwood appears poised to make an impact after a foot injury forced him to redshirt in 2013.
Redshirt freshman Dannon Cavil: He brings great height (6-foot-5, 214 pounds) and the spring gives him the opportunity to get a leg up on the competition before a freshman class that features three guys over 6-4 will arrive in the summer.
Sophomore Austin Bennett: Easily the most overlooked freshman receiver and the only one who escaped a redshirt season in 2013. This spring is his chance to show why for this intriguing slot receiver.
Freshman Michiah Quick: The ESPN300 signee is an exceptional playmaker who is dynamic with the ball in his hands. Don’t be surprised if he forces his way onto the field as a true freshman.
Freshman Dallis Todd: The California native has the size and speed to be ready to pounce if any of the receivers currently on campus aren’t ready to play.
Freshman: Jeffrey Mead: A raw talent who could become a matchup nightmare for Big 12 defenses as he starts to focus on football after starring in three sports in high school.
Freshman Mark Andrews: Another big body (6-6, 220) who could overwhelm defenders with his size and ball skills.
Best-case scenario: Neal or Woods emerge as a trustworthy sidekick alongside Shepard and one or more of the young receivers on campus show they are ready to take advantage of the one-on-one opportunities the Sooners’ offense will create. If at least four of the receivers currently on campus try to secure themselves a spot in the starting lineup with strong performances this spring, the Sooners offense has a chance to be scary.
Worst-case scenario: None of the receivers on campus look like different players in the spring. They continue to perform the way they have to this point in their careers forcing the Sooners’ coaches to know they may have to lean on one or more of the true freshman to play immediately this fall. It would really handicap the offense if Shepard is the only trustworthy receiver on the roster heading into August.
Top Returning Players: Big 12
BIG 12 SCOREBOARD
Final Washington State 45 Colorado State 48 Final 20 Fresno State 20 25 USC 45 Final Buffalo 24 San Diego State 49 Final Tulane 21 Louisiana-Lafayette 24
Final Pittsburgh 30 Bowling Green 27 Final Utah State 21 23 Northern Illinois 14
Final Marshall 31 Maryland 20 Final Syracuse 21 Minnesota 17 Final Brigham Young 16 Washington 31
Final Rutgers 16 Notre Dame 29 Final Cincinnati 17 North Carolina 39 Final Miami (FL) 9 18 Louisville 36 Final Michigan 14 Kansas State 31
Final Middle Tennessee 6 Navy 24 Final Ole Miss 25 Georgia Tech 17 Final 10 Oregon 30 Texas 7 Final 14 Arizona State 23 Texas Tech 37
Final Arizona 42 Boston College 19 Final Virginia Tech 12 17 UCLA 42 Final Rice 7 Mississippi State 44 Final 24 Duke 48 21 Texas A&M 52
Final Nebraska 24 22 Georgia 19 Final UNLV 14 North Texas 36 Final Iowa 14 16 LSU 21 Final 19 Wisconsin 24 9 South Carolina 34 Final 5 Stanford 20 4 Michigan State 24 Final 15 UCF 52 6 Baylor 42
Final 13 Oklahoma State 31 8 Missouri 41 Final 12 Clemson 40 7 Ohio State 35