Oklahoma head coach Bob Stoops
The Big 12 will be going through some growing pains this season as Oklahoma, West Virginia, Kansas State, Texas Tech, Baylor and Kansas all lose their veteran quarterbacks to either graduation or the NFL draft.
Baylor, Kansas State and West Virginia will have to absorb heavy losses, but of those three teams, Kansas State is always a good pick for projecting which team will bounce back fastest—head coach Bill Snyder is a master at finding JUCOs who are experienced and talented, and thus, there seems to be fewer green players on his teams.
Still, the Wildcats lose Collin Klein, Chris Harper, Nigel Malone, Arthur Brown, Anthony Cantele, Meshak Williams, Travis Tannahill and Vai Lutui.
West Virginia loses Geno Smith, Tavon Austin, Stedman Bailey, Joe Madsen, Tyler Bitancurt and Shawne Alston, among others. Head coach Dana Holgorsen has a genius offensive mind, but he'll have to tap deep into that brain to figure out how to bounce back from those heavy offensive losses.
Among the losses Baylor will incur are Nick Florence, Terrance Williams, Ivory Wade, Chance Casey and Lanear Sampson.
All of these teams will be in rebuilding mode, not reloading mode. But one team seems to have incurred more losses than any other team in the Big 12, and that team is Oklahoma.
Head coach Bob Stoops is known for bouncing back fairly well, but this season is very concerning for Sooner fans. School and conference record-holder Landry Jones will be off playing on Sundays—so will stud receiver Kenny Stills, who declared early for the 2013 NFL draft. Those are huge losses on the offense, but they aren't the only ones.
Senior left tackle Lane Johnson is a big loss. Anytime you lose the guy protecting your quarterback's blind side, it's sobering, especially since Johnson's replacement will have to protect Jones' replacement. Johnson will undoubtedly go in the first round because he is that versatile—Johnson was recruited as a tight end but played tackle on both sides of the center. Guard Tyler Evans is also gone, but he missed all of the 2102 season due to a torn ACL injury.
Receiver Justin Brown (All-Big 12, honorable mention) is also gone—the Penn State transfer was also an excellent punt returner. The Sooners also lose running back Dominique Whaley who had limited carries in 2012 after rehabbing from a broken ankle in 2011.
Which team will have the toughest time replacing its starters?
On the defensive side of the ball, linebacker Tom Wort has declared for the draft. This one is a bit puzzling because he didn't have an outstanding 2012, but he did do one thing that probably hastened his decision—he earned his degree. Still, Wort had experience and now the Sooners have an unexpected void at inside linebacker.
Defensive end David King (All-Big 12, honorable mention), a likely late-round pick, leaves the defensive line along with Casey Walker, Jamarkus McFarland (All-Big 12, honorable mention) and R.J. Washington (preseason Ted Hendricks Award Watch list).
Oklahoma also loses safety Tony Jefferson, who declared for the draft. This defection wasn't as surprising—Jefferson led the Sooners with 119 tackles last season—but the secondary is full of holes right now. Senior cornerback Demontre Hurst (All-Big 12, honorable mention) will be missed. Safety Javon Harris (All-Big 12, honorable mention) is also gone, but there is some bright news: Cornerback Aaron Colvin will return for his senior year.
Even the special teams unit took a hit—punter Tress Way (All-Big 12, honorable mention) is off to the NFL.
When all is said and done, Oklahoma—like Baylor, Kansas State and West Virginia—will be in rebuilding mode after losing so many starters, but all eyes will be particularly focused on the progress in Norman this spring.