Big 12 Spring College Football Practice Update
We continue our look at spring college football practice by reviewing the teams of the Big 12. After you review our Big 12 football spring practice notes, be sure to check out our college football preview 2008 as we preview every Division I Football Bowl Subdivision program for '08.
Big 12 North
Colorado Buffaloes (6-7)
First practice: March 17
The Buffaloes made some solid progress last season, picking up four more wins than in 2006, and earning themselves a bowl-game berth. The offense hit its stride in the second half of the season, although the defense became more porous, turning in some uneven late-season performances. Colorado finished the year with a loss to Alabama in the Independence Bowl, which should not prevent the team from entering this season on a positive note. One big goal for Dan Hawkins and his squad is to finish the 2008 season with a winning record. Despite their youth, they appear to have a good shot at achieving that goal.
Good returning players and some strong recruiting on defense should shore up a unit that gave up a lot of points down the stretch last season. The departure of linebacker Jordon Dizon, a Butkus Award finalist, opens up a potential opportunity for junior LB Jeff Smart. Cornerback Terence Wheatley is also gone, and the battle for that position should be intense, as some strong underclassmen attempt to crack the starting lineup. On the other side of the ball, Colorado fans are eagerly awaiting the arrival of recruit Darrell Scott, a highly-touted running back who will arrive on campus in the fall. In the interim, returning tailbacks Kevin Moyd, Demetrius Sumler, and Brian Lockridge will have a chance to show what they can do. Expect to see some new looks on both offense and defense this year, as Hawkins and his players try to take the next step in their evolution.
Iowa State Cyclones (3-9)
First practice: March 25
In his first season with Iowa State, head coach Gene Chizik got off to a rough start. He and his young team refused to quit, however, and after an early victory over rival Iowa, the Cyclones finished the season winning two out of their last three games. If last season was centered around learning a new system, the focus this season will be on applying that system more effectively. That job should be made easier by the return of key players on both offense and defense, and the solid recruiting done by Chizik and the rest of his staff.
The departure of four-year starter Bret Meyer at quarterback means that Iowa State will have to find a new leader on offense. The leading candidate is last year’s backup, Austen Arnaud. He will face serious competition from multi-talented sophomore Phillip Bates, who logged some playing time at receiver last season, showing off his impressive athleticism. In the backfield, sophomore Alexander Robinson heads a trio of backs that should make the running game an area of strength for the Cyclones. On the defensive side, standout linebacker Alvin Bowen has moved on, but there are some returning players waiting to fill his shoes. Junior Jesse Smith made his presence felt as a redshirt freshman last season, and he will no doubt play an expanded role this year. Also seeing more playing time will be sophomore Derec Schmidgall, who was hampered by injuries for much of 2007. Given their improvement over the course of last year, Chizik and his squad have reason to be optimistic going into the 2008 season.
Kansas Jayhawks (12-1)
First practice: March 11
The Jayhawks are coming off of a record-setting season, which ranks as one of the best showings in the school’s history. 2007 featured some thrilling victories for Kansas, including a 76-39 drubbing of Nebraska, and an Orange Bowl win over Virginia Tech. It will be hard for Mark Mangino and his squad to surpass their accomplishments from last year, especially with the loss of some key starters, but there is a great deal of excitement surrounding Kansas football heading into the 2008 season, and for good reason.
The Jayhawks ended last season atop the Big 12 in total defense, and nine starters are back for 2008. All three starting linebackers—the top three tacklers in 2007—are back, making that position a definite strength for the team. One defensive starter who won’t be back is cornerback Aqib Talib, who left early for the NFL, and will be difficult to replace. The defense will also have to adjust to a new defensive coordinator after the departure of Bill Young, who left Kansas for Miami. On offense, the Jayhawks return six starters from the most productive group in school history, though left tackle Anthony Collins is not one of them, as he is also NFL-bound. Thus junior Todd Reesing returns for his second year as the starting quarterback behind an offensive line that will feature new starters at both the left and right tackle positions. Despite adjusting to a new defensive coordinator, and having some gaps to fill on both sides of the ball, Mangino and his team are headed into the 2008 season with a well-deserved feeling of confidence.
Kansas State Wildcats (5-7)
First practice: March 29
Kansas State had a disappointing season in 2007, especially considering their encouraging performance in 2006. There were definitely positive points in the season, including a 41-21 win over Texas, but the team lost its last four games, eliminating itself from bowl game contention. Second-year coach Ron Prince tried to keep his team together, but fans of the team are growing impatient as other Big 12 teams improve around the Wildcats.
On the offensive side of the ball, Kansas State performed well last season, led by quarterback Josh Freeman, and Consensus All-American wide receiver Jordy Nelson. The Wildcats have seven returning starters on offense, which means they should once again be competitive, though the losses of Nelson and running back James Johnson will certainly be felt. An influx of junior college transfers should help, under the leadership of new offensive coordinator Dave Brock. Kansas State will be looking to improve on defense, as they struggled on that side of the ball in several contests last season. Five starters return on defense, including standout defensive end Ian Campbell, and the Wildcats have added depth through recruiting and additional junior college transfers. Defensive line may be one of the most hotly contested spots come fall, when many of the junior college players and high school recruits arrive on campus. The Wildcats are hoping to rebound from 2007 and surprise some opponents this season. With a bit more consistency on the offensive side, and a strong recruiting class on defense, they have good shot at achieving their goal.
Missouri Tigers (12-2)
First practice: March 11
The Tigers had a spectacular 2007 season, winning a school-record twelve games under the leadership of Heisman finalist QB Chase Daniel. The team’s only losses both came against Oklahoma, once during the season and once in the Big 12 Championship game, which knocked the Tigers out of BCS contention. Mizzou finished the season with a decisive 38-7 win over Arkansas in the Cotton Bowl, giving Gary Pinkel and his squad the fourth spot in the AP Top 25, their highest AP ranking ever.
Going into the 2008 season, expectations for the Tigers will be astronomical. The conference championship will be one goal, as the Tigers have returning starters at a number of key positions. Daniel is back at the helm on offense, along with his favorite all-purpose receiver in Jeremy Maclin. The offensive line is one area where Missouri will need to replace some starters, and tailback will be another competitive position. Earl Goldsmith, Derrick Washington, and Jimmy Jackson will all be vying for the spot vacated by Tony Temple, though Goldsmith will likely also see playing time as a receiver. On defense, the Tigers boasted one of the nation’s most-improved units last season, and they have ten starters who will be back for the 2008 campaign. The focus for Missouri this season will be simple: build on last season, and bring home the school’s first conference championship in thirty-nine years.
Nebraska Cornhuskers (5-6)
First practice: March 26
Nebraska suffered a disappointing season last year, after a defensive collapse that saw them give up 428 points over their last ten games. The season was not without its high points, including a 73-31 rout of Kansas State down the stretch, but the Huskers were hoping for much more. Their 5-6 mark at the end of the season resulted in a number of changes, as former coach Tom Osborne returned as interim Athletic Director, and coach Bill Callahan was replaced by former defensive coordinator Bo Pelini. Pelini will have his work cut out for him this year, as he attempts to replace numerous starters, and shore up a demoralized defense.
On offense, the wide receiver position is wide open, as veterans Maurice Purify, Terrence Nunn, and Frantz Hardy are all gone. The coaching staff will have to find a complement for senior wide receiver Nate Swift, who has a shot at becoming Nebraska’s all-time leading reception leader this season. Senior quarterback Joe Ganz should have plenty of time to find his targets, as four starters return on the offensive line, making that a definite strength for the program. Ganz only started three games last year, but he was impressive in his limited time on the field. The defense, Pelini’s specialty, will have a few more holes to fill during spring practices. The front four returns intact, and some strong players are back in the secondary, but the linebacking corps lost three starters, and six defensive backs have moved on. The battle for the starting linebacker spots is likely to be highly competitive, and may not conclude until players report in the fall. Look for Phillip Dillard and Tyler Wortman to provide veteran leadership at that position, while a strong group of young players battle for the remaining spots. Overall, Nebraska will be looking to build on its offensive successes of last season, and bring some swagger back to its defense.
Big 12 South
Baylor Bears (3-9)
First practice: March 3
Baylor ended the 2007 season below .500 for the twelfth straight time. They were plagued by turnovers and an inability to finish all season long, although they did notch three wins against teams outside of their league. The Bears will look to jump-start their program with offensive whiz Art Briles replacing Guy Morriss as head coach.
Heading into the season, the offense will look for immediate improvement under the direction of Briles. Senior transfer Kirby Freeman, junior Blake Szymanski, and true freshman Robert Griffin all had some impressive moments under center during the Bears’ spring game, completing passes to fourteen different receivers. Senior Jacoby Jones and sophomore Jay Finley traded off carries at running back, as Baylor attempts to replace veteran runner Brandon Whitaker. On the defensive side, experience will be hard to come by, as young players vie for many starting spots. Safety Dwain Crawford will provide some much needed leadership in the secondary, but the starting cornerbacks will likely be sophomores. Look for Art Briles to have his team fired up and ready to go for the season opener. No one is expecting miracles, but Baylor fans are excited to see what their new head coach has in store for them.
Oklahoma Sooners (11-3)
First practice: March 5
Oklahoma is a perennial contender, and they proved it again in 2007, wrapping up a second-straight Big 12 championship. The focus this spring, however, will be on the Sooners’ second-straight Fiesta Bowl loss. Oklahoma has not had much success in the postseason in recent years, and one focus in 2008 will be on improving the team’s mental toughness in big-game situations. Given the talent of coach Bob Stoops’ roster, and the strength of his recruiting class, getting back to a bowl game, and possibly winning a third Big 12 championship, should be very attainable goals.
The offense looks to be strong again in 2008, as sophomore quarterback Sam Bradford will be back, along with his entire offensive line. Running back DeMarco Murray struggled with injuries last season, but he appears ready to make a huge impact in the fall. On defense, the linebacker positions should see some interesting battles, as redshirt freshman Austin Box attempts to gain a starting spot next to veteran Ryan Reynolds. Starters Lewis Baker and Curtis Lofton have moved on, opening up some spots for a very motivated group of underclassmen and recruits. The defensive line should be excellent once again, as they have a wealth of experience to draw on, including senior leader Cory Bennett. With relatively few weaknesses, Oklahoma will be a contender this season. Even so, look for coach Bob Stoops to encourage a more physical presence, as the Sooners attempt to prove that they can win on the biggest stage.
Oklahoma State Cowboys (7-6)
First practice: March 3
Oklahoma State had a good season in 2007, but they didn’t quite live up to expectations. The offense had little trouble scoring behind sophomore quarterback Zac Robinson, but their defense had trouble keeping up. This was best illustrated against Texas, when the Longhorns managed to pull off one of the biggest comebacks of the season, scoring 27 unanswered points in the fourth quarter to win, 38-35. The Cowboys finished their season on a positive note, with a 49-33 victory over Indiana in the Insight Bowl. Going into 2008, they’ll be looking to strengthen their defense while continuing the offensive successes of last season.
On offense, Zac Robinson will be throwing the ball to talented, physical athletes Dez Bryant at receiver and Brandon Pettigrew at tight end. At running back, veteran Kendall Hunter will probably to be the starter following the departure of Dantrell Savage, though junior college transfer Beau Johnson will challenge him for the spot. On the defensive side, the emphasis will be on replacing six departing starters, which will start with an influx of junior college transfers, including safety Lucien Antoine. Returning players Quencey Patrick, Junior Tea, and Richetti Jones will be asked to take a stronger leadership role, given the number of new players on the defense. The emphasis on junior college players suggests a strong desire to win this season, which is certainly possible, if the players can learn to work as a unit fairly quickly. Look for a strong offensive showing, and if the defense gets better, this could be a breakout year for Oklahoma State.
Texas Longhorns (10-3)
First practice: February 22
The Longhorns had a solid campaign in 2007, finishing the year with a decisive 52-34 victory over Arizona State in the Holiday Bowl. Coach Mack Brown’s emphasis on toughness in that game is expected to carry over into this season, starting in the spring. Having lost a number of impressive starters, Texas will look to a talented group of underclassmen, and a strong recruiting class to step up and show what they can do. New defensive coordinator Will Muschamp will emphasize a physical style of play that will restore a measure of attitude to the Longhorn defense.
On the offensive side, quarterback Colt McCoy will attempt to build on his strong play down the stretch last season. He will be without standout running back Jamaal Charles, but returning players Vondrell McGee and Chris Ogbonnaya will try to show that they can more than fill Charles’ shoes. On defense, Texas should be very strong at the linebacker position, anchored by junior Roddrick Muckleroy. At defensive back, there are some strong returning players in Ryan Palmer and Deon Beasley, and redshirt freshman S. Earl Thomas made his presence felt during spring practice, and the spring game. Despite their relative inexperience on defense, the Longhorns have an opportunity to improve on last season’s performance. With a new attitude on defense, and a new commitment to toughness across the board, expect the Longhorns to make a serious run at Big 12 dominance.
Texas A&M Aggies (7-6)
First practice: March 24
The Aggies started out strong last season, reaching a 5-1 record before a disappointing 2-5 finish against stronger teams. The high point was a victory over rival Texas on November 23rd. Texas A&M ended the season with a 24-17 loss to Penn State in the Alamo Bowl. The team’s mediocre performance cost coach Dennis Franchione his job, paving the way for former offensive line coach Mike Sherman to take over. Excitement is high for Aggie fans, as they look to Sherman to provide a fresh start, and a return to the glory days of Texas A&M football.
Sherman will have many of the offensive weapons he needs, as quarterback Stephen McGee and rushers Mike Goodson and Jorvorskie Lane will return for the 2008 campaign. McGee will have to hope that his offensive line learns fast, as only one starter from that unit will be back. He will also have to cope with calls for sophomore Jerrod Johnson, a high-ranking recruit from last season, to get more playing time. On defense, new coordinator Joe Kines will try to instill a more physical approach in his players, but he’ll have some work to do in terms of depth. Cornerback has been an area of weakness in the past, and corners Danny Gorrer, Jordan Peterson, and Arkeith Brown will need to step up if they hope to retain starting spots. There are a number of holes throughout the defense, as the line returns only one starter, and linebackers Misi Tupe and Mark Dodge will need to be replaced. The Aggies can compete, as shown by their recent victories over Texas, but they will face some tough competition within their division this year.
Texas Tech Red Raiders (9-4)
First practice: March 26
Texas Tech stuck to the script last year, showing off a high-powered offense, garnering a bowl game invitation, and coming up just short in their division. There were plenty of highlights, including a late-season victory against Oklahoma, and a Gator Bowl victory over Virginia on New Year’s Day, but Tech has yet to reach elite status in the Big 12. The emphasis for Mike Leach and his players this season will be on bringing the defense up to the high standards set by the offense.The Red Raiders are in a great position, as nearly their entire offense will be back for 2008. Receiver Danny Amendola is the only player to have moved on, though left tackle Rylan Reed is still recovering from a grisly ankle injury sustained at the end of last season. Quarterback Graham Harrell will be back to take on the Red Raider record books, along with Biletnikoff Award winner Michael Crabtree. The defense will look to take the next step in their evolution under new coordinator Ruffin McNeill. All eleven defensive starters return, giving McNeill plenty of experience and veteran leadership. The returning starters won’t have a chance to get complacent, however, as junior college transfers McKinner Dixon and Brandon Sesay will challenge for starting positions on the defensive line right off the bat. With a little defensive improvement, 2008 could prove to be a very successful year for Leach and his squad.
By Jennifer Nessel
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