Big 12 Spring Football Storylines to Watch
The smell of the grass is in the air—ahem, fescue and bluegrass—so it's time to wake up from your two-month hibernation and get excited for spring football.
The Big 12 had a solid 2012 season, sending nine of its 10 teams bowling, but this season could really be an eye-opener. Many teams have key positional battles while others have underlying factors that may shape the emphasis of spring practice.
The usual suspects, aka the favorites, may not be the teams that end up at the top of the Big 12's standings in December.
We've got some burning questions and compelling storylines to keep your eyes on as spring practice gets under way.
Who's Going to Start at Quarterback?
Oklahoma, Texas Tech, Baylor, West Virginia, Kansas and Kansas State will all be breaking in new quarterbacks—Oklahoma State and TCU's quarterback situations are a little more complicated.
Sooners quarterback Blake Bell may have the inside edge, but Trevor Knight and Kendal Thompson will both seriously challenge Bell in a very compelling battle.
Kansas State loves to go heavy on JUCO transfers and Jake Waters may make Bill Snyder's decision very easy if he continues his march in the record books—Waters broke Cam Newton's junior college pass completion percentage record.
Baylor seems to bounce back better than most after losing prolific quarterbacks and this year we may see the same in Bryce Petty. Art Briles just keeps reeling in the QBs and making them among the most productive quarterbacks in the country.
Texas Tech not only lost quarterback Seth Doege, but its head coach in Tommy Tuberville.While I don't see a lot of teary eyes over Tuberville's departure, watching quarterback mentor and now head coach Kliff Kingsbury create magic in Lubbock will be fun.
West Virginia's quarterback competition is "wide open" according to the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. More:
All four quarterbacks on the roster will have a shot, [head coach Dana Holgorsen] said: Smith's backup Paul Millard, a junior in the fall; redshirt freshman Ford Childress; true freshman Chavas Rawlins of Monessen,; and Fairmont State transfer Logan Moore.
Finally, Kansas has already had its first practice and it looks like BYU-transfer Jake Heaps will be under center when everything is said and done.
Will TCU and Oklahoma State's Quarterback Situations Be Resolved in the Spring?
TCU head coach Gary Patterson has a difficult choice to make this season. So does Oklahoma State head coach Mike Gundy.
Both coaches have the task of deciding between two experienced quarterbacks—both were co-starters on their respective teams last season—as their starting quarterback.
Patterson has to choose between Casey Pachall, his starting quarterback for the first four games of the 2012 season who left the team in October to address some personal issues, or Trevone Boykin. Boykin was Pachall's replacement, who took over from center as a freshman and went 3-6 in his nine starts.
Patterson has to choose between Wes Lunt, J.W. Walsh and Clint Chelf. All three have starting experience, but Chelf was the MVP of the Heart of Dallas Bowl. This will probably end up being a two-way battle between Lunt and Chelf in the fall and could be one of the better quarterback battles in the country.
Will the Defense Improve in the Big 12?
If there's one thing we know, it's that generally speaking, defense wins championships. Last season was a bit of an embarrassment for the Big 12 when some high-profile Big 12 games were riddled with dismal defensive play.
Texas got spanked 63-21 by Oklahoma, while West Virginia and Baylor scored a combined 133 points in their contest. The biggest offenders seem to be Baylor and West Virginia in terms of schematic defense, but fundamentals were also sorely lacking from the Longhorns' defense.
So, to rehash: Will Texas be focusing on tackling, gap discipline and minimizing over pursuit of the ball carrier? Will West Virginia and Baylor shore up their secondary play?
Spring hopes eternal.
What Big Changes Will We See at Texas Tech Under Kliff Kingsbury?
Now that the smoke has cleared and the dust has settled after Tommy Tuberville's speedy departure from Lubbock, all eyes and hope rest on Kliff Kingsbury's shoulders.
Kingsbury has mentored Houston quarterback Case Keenum and Texas A&M quarterback Johnny Manziel, so obviously the expectations at Texas Tech are very high, but what changes can we expect to see in the spring?
From the Lubbock Avalanche-Journal after Kingbury's December hiring was announced:
Kingsbury won’t coach the Red Raiders during their bowl game, so his first chance to put his system to work will be during spring practice. That didn’t stop him from receiving a number of questions on Wednesday night during an impromptu media gathering at Chaparral Jet Center about what the football is going to look like when he straps on a head coach’s headset for the first time.
But he wasn’t ready to give too much away just yet.
“You’ll have to tune in,” Kingsbury said, “but it should be fun. It should be fun.”
Is TCU Ready to Become the King of Texas?
The chatter is out there: TCU is the pick to win the Big 12. So is Oklahoma State. Maybe that's because those two teams have a lot of returning starters, or maybe it's because there are so many question marks surrounding Big 12 powerhouse teams like Texas and Oklahoma.
In any case, TCU has a couple of items on its to-do-list during the spring: name a starting quarterback and fill in some spots on both lines. Other than that, the Horned Frogs look locked and loaded.
The offensive line's interior needs to be retooled with both Blaize Foltz (G) and James Fry (C) gone. Defensively, both end spots are open—Ross Forrest and Stansly Maponga are gone—but overall, the repair job in Fort Worth looks pretty light.
Who Will Make the Biggest Impact in His First Year?
There are actually two players who will be making a big impact this year and while neither are freshmen, both will be playing in the Big 12 for the first time this season: Kansas quarterback Jake Heaps and Kansas State quarterback Jake Waters.
Heaps was a BYU transfer and had a full season to absorb the playbook while he sat out. With running back James Sims returning, Heaps will have a solid running game to counter his passing attack—Sims led the league in productivity last year, so his rushing will definitely open up the passing game for Heaps.
Waters is a JUCO transfer from Iowa Western and according to Brian Perroni of 247 Sports, Waters broke Cam Newton's (single season) pass completion percentage record last season. Waters also threw for 37 touchdowns and three touchdowns.
Football in Kansas is going to be a lot of fun this year.
Who Has the Biggest Rebuilding Job This Spring?
Let's face it, there are a lot of Big 12 teams going under major reconstruction this spring.
Kansas State lost almost all of its starters, Texas Tech lost its starting secondary, West Virginia lost four of the most talented skill players in the country and Iowa State's defense took a huge hit.
Oklahoma will be terrific on offense once the quarterback situation gets resolved, but like Kansas State, its defense is a question mark. The Sooners' front four is a rebuilding project and the secondary has some holes to fill, albeit corner Aaron Colvin returns.
Oklahoma's defense gave up a hair under 400 yards per game last season and with a defense full of new faces, that number may go way up. Defensive coordinator Mike Stoops has a ton of talent in the wings, but how quickly that talent develops remains to be seen.
While the Sooners' D should be concerning, its task of rebuilding doesn't seem nearly as difficult when you compare its problems to the ones Kansas State is facing. The Wildcats' offense will be without quarterback Collin Klein and receiver Chris Harper, but the defense returns one starter from its front seven in linebacker Tre Walker. In all, three defensive starters return.
That, my friends, is the definition of "decimated."