- The Des Moines Register's Tommy Birch answers five burning questions about Iowa State this spring.
- Texas Tech running Kenny Williams is playing both ways this spring, reports the Lubbock Avalanche-Journal's Don Williams. Redshirt freshman Josh Outlaw has been moved from guard to tackle this spring.
- Oklahoma State's Tyreek Hill chose the Cowboys because he could play football and run track, according to this profile by The Oklahoman's Cody Stavehagen.
- Ex-Oklahoma running back Roy Finch showed scouts he can be an NFL player by running a 4.44 time in the 40-yard dash at his pro day, the Oklahoman's Jason Kersey reports. Damien Williams has no hard feelings with the Sooners after being kicked off the team late last season. Williams was allowed to run in OU's pro day. Former OU cornerback Aaron Colvin, who tore his ACL at the Senior Bowl, is hoping to be sprinting again by April 23.
- Former Oklahoma State linebacker Shaun Lewis is ready to make an impression at his pro day, The Oklahoman's John Helsley writes.
- The Dallas Morning News' Rick Gosselin says former TCU QB Casey Pachall has as much mental toughness as any QB in the draft.
A vacant sign would be the best representation of the Sooners backup quarterback spot with Blake Bell's move to tight end and Kendal Thompson's decision to transfer to Utah.
“It’s opened that window of opportunity for him to get those reps, and I’m sure it will be the most a guy like that’s been able to get [at OU],” head coach Bob Stoops said. “But watching Justice work out, he fits the part of being here and belonging, so we’ll be excited to get him those snaps and seeing how he does.”
Questions about Thomas tend to revolve around his ability to juggle his football and baseball duties. He was solid while running the scout team last fall but will have to manage his time well to excel behind center this spring.
“Coach Pete [Hughes] and Josh [Heupel], they’ve already communicated really well through the winter,” Stoops said. “We want him to have success at both and I know they want him to have it too. So we’ll do the best we can to manage it. So far, it hasn’t been a problem.”
Three practices into the spring, the Sooners feel positive about the progress of Hansen and Thomas alongside Texas Tech transfer Baker Mayfield, who is ineligible to play this fall but has already made a strong impression in crimson and cream.
“Justice being here, Cody being involved in spring practice, those guys have done a lot of good things,” co-offensive coordinator Jay Norvell said. “They’ve taken their understanding to a new level and [are] spreading the ball around. We’re going to need more than one quarterback to play well for us to win games. Those guys have made some good strides in three days.”
No battle for a backup spot on the depth chart is more important in Norman, Okla., this spring. The nightmare scenario for the Sooners would be watching an injury to Knight derail what could have been a national title run in the fall.
“It’ll be a big part our team’s success, is those guys coming around and getting a really good and consistent feel of what we want them to do at the quarterback position,” Stoops said. “It’ll really important that we do a good job with them and make sure they work hard in the spring.”
As a result, Petty will go into his senior season as the clear-cut favorite to repeat.
But is there anyone else in the league capable of threatening his reign?
That receiver -- Kansas State’s Tyler Lockett -- could become Petty’s biggest challenger, especially if the Wildcats emerge as contenders for the Big 12 title. Despite missing two games because of injury, Lockett finished third in the conference in receiving yards (1,262) and receptions (81) last season. He led the league in receiving yards per game and became virtually uncoverable late in the season, when quarterback Jake Waters also found his passing stride. Lockett torched Oklahoma for 278 receiving yards and three touchdowns, then hauled in another three touchdowns two games later in the Buffalo Wild Wings Bowl against Michigan.
Lockett, however, isn’t the only player who could push for the award, especially if quarterbacks Trevor Knight and Davis Webb build on the way they played at the end of their freshman seasons.
In the Allstate Sugar Bowl, Knight shredded two-time defending national champ Alabama while leading Oklahoma to a stunning 45-31 victory. Knight threw for 348 yards and four touchdowns and finally performed the way the Sooners thought he would when he beat out favorite Blake Bell for the starting job before the season.
Webb was just as impressive in Texas Tech's victory over double-digit favorite Arizona State in the National University Holiday Bowl. Webb completed 28 of 41 passes and threw for four touchdowns, tying a Holiday Bowl record. He finished with the league’s third-best Adjusted QBR behind Petty and second-team All-Big 12 performer Clint Chelf.
The league’s top five rushers from last season are out of eligibility. But after taking over for injured starter Johnathan Gray, Texas' Malcolm Brown showed he could be a reliable workhorse running back able to move the chains. In his final three games last season, Brown rushed for 128, 131 and 130 yards. With Gray’s health in question as he attempts to return from a ruptured Achilles' tendon, Brown could open the 2014 season as the primary back again.
In addition to Petty, Baylor has two other big-time playmakers coming back in receiver Antwan Goodley, who led the Big 12 in receiving touchdowns last season with 13, and running back Shock Linwood, who was sixth in the Big 12 in rushing in 2013 with 881 yards despite being Baylor’s third-team running back.
There are several dark horses to watch as well, including Gray, Oklahoma running back Keith Ford and West Virginia running back Rushel Shell.
But we put the question to you via a poll: Who is the biggest threat to Petty repeating as Big 12 Offensive Player of the Year?
Fans and recruits could circle the date on their calendars, young players and new coaches saw it as the first opportunity to make a lasting impression.
This spring, Oklahoma State coach Mike Gundy raised eyebrows when the Cowboys announced their “Orange Blitz” open practice session would replace their traditional Orange-White spring game. TCU has rarely held a traditional spring game under Gary Patterson, with the Horned Frogs preferring intra-squad scrimmages.
Patterson values the opportunity to watch other team’s spring games on television but refuses to give other coaches that advantage over his team and doesn’t view the event as essential for the Horned Frogs program. TCU has not finalized its plan for this spring, but a traditional spring game seems unlikely.
Although his program normally holds an event, OSU opened the spring with a young, battered roster, which was the main reason for Gundy’s decision to shun a spring game this year. For Gundy, engaging fans with a spring game had to take a backseat to the overall development of the young players in the program during the 15 practices the Cowboys will hold in March and April.
“At some point I have to make a decision based on what's best for our team first and then our fans and people that follow us second,” Gundy said earlier this week.
Other Big 12 coaches point to health concerns as obstacles to holding a traditional spring game featuring two separate squads.
“Spring games are always a trying time due to depth at certain positions,” said Kansas coach Charlie Weis, who will hold KU’s spring game on April 12. “Concern for injuries is always an issue, not being able to field two entire competitive teams is a problem.”
Postponing the spring game can become a real option, particularly after losing a large class of seniors off the roster thus crippling the overall depth of the program until February signees arrive in the summer. Quarterbacks end up switching teams in the middle of the game, a lack of available linemen waters down the quality of the action and fears of a season-changing injury can cloud these spring finales.
“Everyone says, ‘Well I would love to have a draft and have my guys go on each side of the ball,’” Oklahoma coach Bob Stoops said. “You can’t, you don’t have the personnel. Sometimes you have so many injuries or you may be thin that you can’t afford to have a spring game and get somebody hurt. Some other years, when we are a little bit down, I don’t want to take a chance on it. It is all great until someone gets hurt and blows a knee out, and then it is, ‘Why did I do that?’”
The Sooners are one of the Big 12 programs that are all-in on the spring game, selling tickets to the event, televising the action and creating a game-like atmosphere at Oklahoma Memorial Stadium. But even OU dumbs down the efficiency of the actual football in the game, sitting starters and simplifying schemesto avoid lurkers, such as Patterson, who are aiming to gain useful tidbits on the Sooners that they can use in the fall.
Even with all those drawbacks, the spring game remains valuable for the majority of the conference, with several Big 12 coaches pointing toward the game-like atmosphere, not to mention the recruiting value, of the traditional spring game as assets too useful to ignore.
“I think it's great for the fans,” Texas Tech coach Kliff Kingsbury said. “You only get six home games in the regular season, sometimes we only get five some years. So to have another game at Jones Stadium so that everyone can come back and tailgate, have some festivities, I think it's great for the university and great for the fan base. And I like to see our players when the lights come on. Anybody can do it in practice, but when the lights come on and there's some pressure and people are watching, let's see how you perform."
Kansas State won’t kick off its spring drills until April 2 but will hold its spring game on April 26. Head coach Bill Snyder believes the tradition of the spring game outweighs any cons.
“The positive attributes of having a spring game for us include tradition, for our young people and our fan base, the benefits it provides our local community and the experience our players get by playing in front of a large crowd,” he said.
Charlie Strong is convinced his team can still get quality work done with a traditional spring game. The Longhorns will hold their version on April 19, with UT’s new head coach convinced it will be just another day for his players to get better.
“The most important thing is that the spring game is another opportunity to get out on the field and coach your team,” Strong said. “It's another practice, more reps and more video to look at as you get ready for the season. It is the final spring practice and having a chance to go in the stadium with a great crowd gives you an opportunity to see how the team responds to that as well."
Realistically, while opinions about the spring game vary when it comes to its value in terms of developing the current roster for the upcoming season, its recruiting value cannot be understated. There is no better spring event to put all the positives of the program on full display and intrigue potential recruits to make a special trip to campus.
“When you can bring players in and see people in the stands cheering and excited, it really helps,” Kingsbury said.
Oklahoma running backs coach Cale Gundy is on the backtracking front after taking a shot at Alabama coach Nick Saban on Twitter Tuesday night, when he went after Saban's backing of the now tabled 10-second proposal that had most offensive coaches in a real tizzy.
Here's what Gundy tweeted from his account (@OU_CoachGundy):
Looks like someone came up short again. You better take that SEC country somewhere else. Let's Play Faster. #Boomer
You don't need to be Albert Einstein to figure out the subject of Gundy's tweet. And Gundy didn't have to be an Einstein to realize that he might want to retract those electronic shots he fired. Within an hour of throwing that tweet together, Gundy deleted it and add an apology (which has also since been deleted):
I apologize for my last tweet. My passion for OU football is crazy. I respect the great college football teams. #Boomer Sooner
— Cale Gundy (@OU_CoachGundy)
It makes sense because OU likes to run the hurry-up, and its offense left the Crimson Tide's defense panting down on Bourbon Street. I'm all for having fun on Twitter and showing that you aren't a robot coach, but you have to be careful poking the bear that is Nick Saban. We don't know when Saban will get a rematch with the Sooners or Gundy, but you'd better believe this is something that will be in the back of his mind the next time that opportunity comes.
Saban might not publicly respond to Gundy, but he'll be thinking about it. His team will know. The people around him will know. And he'll wait until he gets his chance to strike.
Maybe, he'll just retaliate by taking it out on the hurry-up offenses he faces in 2014. I'm sure he's anxious to make on on-field statement.
- Texas will conduct a study examining the potential completion of south end zone of Darrell K Royal-Memorial Stadium. In other words, the Longhorns may be aiming to take back Texas A&M's title of "biggest stadium in Texas."
- Four anonymous Texas high school coaches ranked Baylor ahead of Texas in the pecking order of the state's best college football programs.
- Kansas is bringing back the spread under new offensive coordinator John Reagan, writes the Topeka Capital-Journal's Jeff Deters.
- Coach Paul Rhoads is raring to get going with his new Iowa State coaching faces after a "crazy" offseason, writes the Des Moines Register's Tommy Birch. Spring ball has allowed the Cyclones to move on from a rough 2013 season, according to the Ames Tribune's Bobby La Gesse.
- Texas Tech Kliff Kingsbury said with a guaranteed 10-year contract, he'd never punt again. Red Raiders defensive coordinator Matt Wallerstedt gives the Lubbock Avalanche-Journal's Don Williams five players who have caught his eye so far this spring.
- The Oklahoma State coaches have begun the rebuilding process after being decimated by graduation, writes the Oklahoman's John Helsley. The Cowboys added several junior-college kickers to the roster, reports the Tulsa World's Kelly Hines.
- Former Oklahoma linebacker Corey Nelson tells The Oklahoman's Jason Kersey that he's 100 percent after suffering torn pectoral last season. OU's pro day was this morning. Kersey also caught up with former Sooner QB Drew Allen, who is also hoping to get a shot in the NFL.
- Former TCU cornerback Jason Verrett could be a value pick for the Dallas Cowboys if Verrett's shoulder injury causes him to drop in the draft, according to Nick Eatman of DallasCowboys.com. The Cowboys were at Verrett's pro day at TCU last week.
Oklahoma receivers coach Jay Norvell has several pass catchers in his meeting room who have made occasional plays for the Sooners, showing glimpses of their playmaking ability. This season OU is counting on those players to transform into consistent playmakers. If they don’t, OU could find itself with a passing offense that is shooting blanks.
Sterling Shepard qualifies as "really good".
The Sooners’ leading returning receiver will take over for Jalen Saunders as OU’s go-to receiver after two seasons as a complementary piece in OU’s offense. Outside of Shepard, the Sooners' returning receivers combined for 17 receptions and 228 receiving yards in 2013.
Durron Neal's 22-yard catch against Kansas State and Derrick Woods' 20-yard reception against Alabama provided glimpses of their potential. The duo joined Shepard in the same recruiting class but have been looking up at him on the depth chart for their first two years on campus. Neal was one of the nation’s top receiver recruits out of high school, and the Sooners held off a late charge from USC to secure Woods.
Making the occasional play is no longer acceptable for Neal or Woods; it’s either step up or lose their spot. Sophomore Austin Bennett joins redshirt freshmen Dannon Cavil, Jordan Smallwood and K.J. Young as highly regarded receivers nipping at their heels this spring. And four freshmen signees, including ESPN 300 receiver Michiah Quick, will arrive this summer with the goal of forcing themselves into the competition.
The overall depth of talent at the position is one reason the Sooners aren’t overly concerned about finding pass catchers for starting quarterback Trevor Knight.
“It’s a good group, they just haven’t had a ton of time on the field,” said Sooners coach Bob Stoops, who likened the receiver position to OU’s defensive line group, which was a major question mark last spring before blossoming into a major asset in the fall.
“These guys have been developing, training [and are] ready to take over. Those guys are just going to have to be more consistent [to] stay on the field.”
Shepard is the lone known commodity, with all-conference honors in his sights after 51 receptions for 603 yards and seven touchdowns as a sophomore. He’s tough as nails, competitive and rises to the occasion in big games, with four of his seven scores coming in wins over Notre Dame, Kansas State and Alabama.
The Sooners' search for consistent receivers is reminiscent of two springs ago in Norman, Okla., when OU had just lost NCAA all-time receptions leader Ryan Broyles and returned Kenny Stills, who had been a key player during his first two seasons but was being counted on to anchor the receiver spot for the first time in his career. Norvell turned to Stills to raise his overall game and leadership that spring, much like he’s asking from Shepard over the next 12 practices.
“When you become a leader, you gotta make everybody else better,” Norvell said of his only veteran receiver. “He’s not competing against guys here, he’s competing against guys around our league, around the country. He’s got to raise the standard in his game.”
OU hopes the similarities between 2012 and 2014 stop at the concerns about the receiver spot during spring football. In 2012, the Sooners added transfers Justin Brown (Penn State) and Saunders (Fresno State) in the summer after post-spring suspensions took Jaz Reynolds and Trey Franks out of the equation. OU hopes its young receivers improve enough this spring to remove all doubt about the position heading into the summer while creating depth that can withstand any unexpected hits before August.
“It’s a competitive group,” Norvell said. “We’re extremely competitive in the spring, the whole group gets graded every single day on every snap, so it's really easy to know who the best players are. We have a bunch of young guys who have shown flashes but now it’s about being able to go out every day compete and make plays. So, we’ll see who rises to the top.”
Oklahoma running backs coach Cale Gundy took the opportunity to take a shot at Alabama coach Nick Saban, who had been one of the proponents behind the rule proposal.
Gundy was obviously referring to the Sooners' 45-31 win over the Crimson Tide in the Allstate Sugar Bowl.
Within the hour, Gundy deleted the tweet, then later offered an apology:
I apologize for my last tweet. My passion for OU football is crazy. I respect the great college football teams. #Boomer Sooner— Cale Gundy (@OU_CoachGundy) March 12, 2014
Offensive returner ready to take next step: Sophomore running back Keith Ford could be ready to take the next step in the Sooners' offense. OU needs someone to fill the void left by departed running backs Brennan Clay, Damien Williams and Roy Finch, who combined for 4,824 career rushing yards in crimson and cream. Ford earned himself some carries as a freshman, but fumble troubles put him in the doghouse for a portion of his first season. This spring, Ford could lock down a major role in the offense with his power, decisiveness and quickness.
Redshirt freshman to watch: Defensive tackle Charles Walker was an unknown with an underwhelming offer list when he signed with OU in February 2013. But Walker was one of the guys who repeatedly earned praise during discussions of scout-team stars last fall. At 6-2 and 289 pounds, Walker moves like a much smaller man and could force his way onto the field with his play this spring and provide young, quality depth along the defensive line.
Most significant position battle: The battle to replace two-time All-Big 12 cornerback Aaron Colvin should be entertaining. There is no clear favorite among a group of talented cornerbacks that includes Stanvon Taylor, Cortez Johnson and Dakota Austin. This spring provides the opportunity for someone to step up in Colvin’s absence and become a trustworthy cover man on the perimeter of OU’s defense. If that doesn’t happen, the Sooners could be forced to account for a weak link in the secondary, particularly if none of the freshman arrivals in the summer (Tito Windham, Jordan Thomas, Marcus Green) proves they can slide into Colvin’s spot.
Key midterm enrollee: Linebacker Devante Bond already is making an impression during his short time at OU. An outside linebacker with pass rush skills, Bond isn’t going to replace Eric Striker in the Sooners lineup. Yet if he proves to be one of the best pass rushers on the squad this spring, Stoops could pair him with Striker to give Big 12 quarterbacks headaches this fall.
Question that could be answered: Will Trevor Knight build on his Sugar Bowl MVP performance? The sophomore ended his first season with a bang, leading OU to a upset win over Alabama. This spring will show if Knight is hungry for more and striving to play at a championship level every Saturday this fall, or if he could return to the inconsistency that hampered his play in 2013.
Question that won’t be answered until fall: Who will get the majority of the carries in OU’s backfield this fall? Even if Ford has an exceptional spring, there’s no guarantee he can hold off the talents of incoming freshmen Joe Mixon and Samaje Perine in the summer. The lone certainty is that there will be a bunch of talented options for running backs coach Cale Gundy.
- Safety Lyndell Johnson, one of only five projected returning starters on the Oklahoma State defense, has left the team, coach Mike Gundy announced. The Cowboys also lost two centers, including starter Jake Jenkins, who decided to move on from football.
- Coach Paul Rhoads is leaving all the offensive decision making to new offensive coordinator Mark Mangino, according to the Des Moines Register's Randy Peterson. The Cyclones are banged up for spring ball, reports the paper's Tommy Birch.
- Jonathan Kimble is enjoying his final days as 'The Mountaineer' mascot in this profile by The Oklahoman's Jason Kersey. Does he get to keep the musket?
- Former Texas DB coach Duane Akina landed at Stanford.
- After watching Kliff Kingsbury participate in a panel discussion in Austin, Texas, the USA TODAY's Laken Litman thinks the Texas Tech head man is the coolest coach in college football. The Red Raiders landed a juco offensive lineman.
- The Tulsa World's John Hoover writes that an overnight transformation from QB to tight end is unlikely for Oklahoma's Blake Bell.
- Baylor has sold out of season tickets for the opening season at McLane Stadium.
- Former TCU QB Andy Dalton was back in Fort Worth, Texas, for charity.
Several playmakers return, but some unknown players could make names for themselves during March and April. Here are five to keep an eye on:
Defensive tackle Charles Walker: Unlike a year ago, the Sooners aren’t searching for experienced playmakers on the defensive line. OU returns six defensive linemen who started a game in 2013, yet few people around the program would be surprised if Walker earns playing time as a redshirt freshman this fall.
“Charles has really been impressive,” OU coach Bob Stoops said. “He had a great fall. He’s a guy that’s up to about 300 pounds now, light on his feet, ran really well when we timed. I want to say he ran in the 4.7s, so he really has a bright future. [He] works hard. Charles is going to be a big factor in that defensive line.”
“[Woods] has really come on,” Stoops said. “Derrick Woods made a huge play in the Sugar Bowl when we had to have it on a third-and-12 or whatever it was -- a competitive play.”
Defensive end Mike Onuoha: The sophomore was mentioned along with Charles Tapper as the future of the Sooners defensive line after both youngsters played themselves out of a redshirt season in 2012. Last season, Tapper fulfilled his upside, earning All-Big 12 honors; Onuoha watched from the sideline after shoulder surgery. This spring is Onuoha’s chance to make his mark. He brings unique size and athleticism at 6-foot-5 and 249 pounds.
“Michael Onuoha really is a guy ready to make a big move in that defensive line,” Stoops said.
Receiver Jordan Smallwood: As soon as Smallwood stepped on campus last summer, he began impressing teammates with his physical nature and receiving skills. A foot injury took away his freshman season, but he returned to practice during Sugar Bowl preparations and drew praise from the coaches. This spring is his chance to show he can be a big part of OU’s offense in 2014.
“They finally turned him loose to practice in the bowl practices,” Stoops said. “[He] really was impressive.”
Linebacker Devante Bond: Much like Walker, OU doesn’t need Bond to make an impact with playmaking veterans returning at linebacker. However, if he shows the pass-rushing prowess he displayed in junior college, he could become a key component of the Sooners’ defense in pass situations, joining Eric Striker to create havoc in opponent’s backfields.
“Devonte Bond has really looked impressive in our workouts and weights,” Stoops said. “In long yardage he will put his hand down and let him go or stand him up and let him go.”
- Over the weekend, Texas Tech landed a verbal commitment from Jarrett Stidham, the No. 1 dual-threat QB in the country for 2015.
- Texas coach Charlie Strong would welcome playing Texas A&M again. The Longhorns offered Jordan and Jaxon Shipley's a cousin a scholarship. Hanner Shipley is currently committed to LSU.
- The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette's Stephen J. Nesbitt explores whether West Virginia is returning to a 3-3-5 defense under new coordinator Tony Gibson.
- The Oklahoman's Berry Tramel writes that Barry Switzer lacks a filter. The former Oklahoma coach made all sorts of headlines last week. The paper's Jason Kersey interviewed Sooners QB Trevor Knight, who is hoping to carry the Sugar Bowl momentum into next season.
- Iowa State picked up its first commitment for 2015.
- The Dallas Morning News' Chuck Carlton thinks TCU could have one of the best defenses in the country next season.
- Oklahoma State fullback Teddy Johnson, a former walk-on, is grateful to get a scholarship. Freshman Cowboys QB Mason Rudolph is adjusting to college life.
The Sooners are well ahead of where they were at this time last year but still have work to do if they hope to build off their 2013 season. Here are five things that need to happen for a successful spring in Norman, Okla.
A backup quarterback emerges: OU and Blake Bell are all in on the senior’s move to tight end. Thus, redshirt freshman Cody Thomas or early enrollee freshman Justice Hansen need to show they can handle the pressure of running the offense during spring practice. They are a pair of young, inexperienced quarterbacks who could find themselves thrown into the fire if anything happens to Knight. Heading into a season with one proven quarterback is never a good idea, so the Sooners are hopeful Thomas or Hansen can erase concerns about the backup QB spot.
Competition in the trenches: The Sooners return several veteran offensive and defensive linemen, including DE Charles Tapper, OT Daryl Williams and DE/DT Chuka Ndulue. Thus, if playing time and the overall rotation remains up in the air heading into the summer, that means young players like DE Mike Onuoha, DT Charles Walker and OT Derek Farniok are amping up the competition in the trenches. If that is happening, the Sooners could dominate games with their depth and versatility on the lines.
Skill position players step up: The best-case scenario for offensive coordinator Josh Heupel and the rest of the offensive staff is to spend the summer trying to figure out ways to get several players involved. The only way that would happen is if youngsters at running back and receiver look like playmakers this spring because simply having starters emerge at those positions is not enough. OU lost its top two rushers and three of its top four receivers from last season, but if only two or three players seize the opportunity for more playing time, its depth at both positions would be in doubt. A two-deep full of playmakers is always better than a sizable drop off after the starters.
The defense appears to be faster and deeper: One reason the Sooners surprised in 2013 was their speed and versatility on defense. It’s a scary proposition for Big 12 offenses if OU gets more athletic and deeper in 2014. This spring will tell if increased depth and athleticism in the secondary is a certainty. Young players along the defensive line and at linebacker could upgrade the athleticism at both spots if they are ready to make an impact.
Spring practices have begun at college football programs across the country, and early 2014 projections are shining a spotlight on a handful of teams that have question marks to answer in the coming weeks. Our Football Outsiders preseason projections won't be complete until after spring position battles settle themselves, but some of the key ingredients are already in place, and we've begun to formulate a pecking order for the fall.
Our drive-based FEI ratings include a number of transition factors that remain to be calculated, but the core piece of the formula is the annual program FEI ratings. Program FEI is a measure of five years of drive efficiency data, weighted for more recent seasons, and it has a strong correlation to the next year's success.
At this point in the offseason, we've also included returning starter data and a specific factor that accounts for the replaceability of the quarterback for those teams that are looking for a new starter this fall.
Here is a look at the top 10 teams for 2014 according to our pre-spring FEI projection model, including their likelihood to contend for one of the four spots in the inaugural college football playoff.
1. Alabama Crimson Tide
67 percent likelihood to finish 11-1 or better
In the last quarter century, no program has had more sustained elite success over a five-year period than the Crimson Tide. They are 55-7 against FBS opponents since 2009, and their program rating lead over No. 2 Oregon is greater than Oregon's lead over the No. 10 program, Wisconsin. Anything less than a championship is characterized as a major letdown in Tuscaloosa; coach Nick Saban has hoisted the crystal football at season's end in three of the last five years, and early projections mark Alabama as a favorite once again.
Florida State transfer quarterback Jacob Coker is one of a handful of players looking to claim the starting job this fall, with new offensive coordinator Lane Kiffin in the fold. Their schedule this fall doesn't get particularly tricky until November, so whoever ends up the starter will have some time to settle into the role.
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- A quick roundup of the first day of spring practice at Kansas.
- New Jayhawks receivers coach Eric Kiesau will have high expectations for his players.
- A Big 12 preview featuring five key questions.
- West Virginia running back Andrew Buie talks about leaving the program right before the 2013 season then returning this semester.
- Pittsburgh transfer Rushel Shell could be ready to make an impact on WVU's running game this spring.
- Athlon takes a look at the Big 12's top quarterbacks during the BCS era.
- Baylor coach Art Briles has "seven or eight" defensive linemen he feels really good about.
- Baylor held its first scrimmage of the spring and receiver Corey Coleman was one of the standouts.
- Oklahoma senior Blake Bell's move to tight end this spring will be permanent.
- Kansas State quarterback Daniel Sams hints at a position change on social media.
- Several Sooners will miss spring football due to injuries.
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