Big 12 Football: Top Spring Practice Battles
What is this "offseason" you speak of? Here at B/R, we are firm believers that college football is a 24/7/365 sport.
Now that national signing day is over, spring practice is right around the corner. Duke, in fact, began its spring practice schedule on Feb. 7—just two days after signing day.
With spring practice comes key position battles, and obviously, every Big 12 team has a few positions up for grabs. So which ones should you be keeping an eye on?
Baylor loses an astonishing 20 seniors from last year's two-deep, plus junior running back Lache Seastrunk, who declared for the NFL draft. That means turnover at several positions, but none more than in the secondary.
The Bears lose safety Ahmad Dixon, cornerbacks Demetri Goodson and K.J. Morton, and nickelback Sam Holl.
Sophomore Terrell Burt should be a lock to remain a starter at the other safety position, and Orion Stewart may slip into Dixon's spot. Young corners like Xavien Howard should compete with JUCO transfers like Chris Sanders and Tion Wright for playing time.
Position: Offensive Line
Perhaps this is a chance to start over more than anything else. Iowa State's offensive line was marred by injuries last season and needs to go back to the drawing board.
Center Tom Faniok returns as the anchor of the line. Do the Cyclones stick with the the young offensive linemen around him from last season? Or, does the coaching staff try to plug in some newer faces?
Guys like Jamison Lalk and Daniel Burton bounced between spots because of injuries and missed time themselves. It's crucial that Iowa State gets more continuity out of this position. The rest of the offense will depend on it.
There's a great case to be made for the secondary as a position of need as well, since safeties Deon Broomfield and Jacques Washington are departing.
Which direction does head coach Charlie Weis go? Montell Cozart, the sophomore-to-be with tremendous upside? Jake Heaps, the BYU transfer? T.J. Millweard, the UCLA transfer? Or, does Weis go in a completely new direction with redshirt freshman Jordan Darling?
Whoever starts has a tall task ahead of him. The Jayhawks need significantly more production from the quarterback position, especially in the passing game. Weis will work with the wide receivers personally. There's no doubt that position needs to step up as well.
But the receivers are only going to be so good if there's no quarterback to get them the ball. Plus, Kansas has to take pressure off the running game. Improving the quarterback situation would be a big step toward getting back to a bowl game.
Position: Running Back
It feels like senior running back John Hubert was at Kansas State for a decade. He certainly produced as though he was. Hubert led the team in rushing the past two seasons and was second only to Collin Klein in 2011.
Now, Hubert is gone and the Wildcats need a new running back.
Daniel Sams makes for an interesting option. He essentially acted as a running back at times last season. If K-State goes all in with Jake Waters as the starting quarterback, Sams could make a switch to running back. (Or, he could remain at quarterback as a key member of the Wildcats' running game.)
Other than Sams, K-State is inexperienced at running back. DeMarcus Robinson is the leading returning running back, with only five carries for 20 yards.
Position: Wide Receiver
With three of Oklahoma's top four wide receivers graduating, the Sooners will have plenty of competition at wide receiver.
Sterling Shepard returns as the anchor for the group, but younger players like Durron Neal will battle to make the starting lineup. Also, don't be surprised if incoming freshman like Michiah Quick or Mark Andrews make their way onto the two-deep by the time Week 1 rolls around.
For the spring, though, guys like Derrick Woods could make a big leap for playing time.
The Sooners have talent at wide receiver, just not a lot of experience. That should make for an intriguing and exciting position battle this offseason.
You could make an argument that Oklahoma State has compelling position battles just about everywhere. From wide receiver to the secondary, the Cowboys lose so much.
But the position that garners the most intrigue year in and year out is quarterback. That's a large question mark for the Pokes, not to mention that head coach Mike Gundy will keep the starting quarterback a secret all the way up until the first snap of the season.
J.W. Walsh is presumably the front-runner, but he didn't do much in 2013 to indicate the job was his for the taking. As a redshirt sophomore, Walsh regressed, throwing for 1,333 yards, with nine touchdowns and five interceptions, after throwing for 1,564 yards, with 13 touchdowns and three interceptions, in 2012.
The Cowboys have no experience at quarterback beyond Walsh, but early enrollee Mason Rudolph could push for the starting job. After all, Gundy went with freshman Wes Lunt to start the 2012 season.
TCU is breaking in a new offense in 2014 and the quarterback job is up for grabs. Trevone Boykin, who has been a substitute quarterback the past two seasons, seems destined for a position change.
Redshirt sophomore-to-be Tyler Matthews saw limited playing time last season, but not enough to make him the favorite. Sophomore Zach Allen should be in the mix as well.
However, the Frogs' quarterback battle may not be solved until preseason camp. TCU signed two quarterbacks in the '14 class: Foster Sawyer and Grayson Muehlstein. Will one of those two be named the starter as a freshman?
Position: Offensive Line
Quarterback could be an interesting position battle if USC transfer Max Wittek chooses Texas. Still, offensive line could be a concern for the Longhorns in 2014.
Donald Hawkins, Trey Hopkins and Mason Walters are graduating, and Josh Cochran had to retire because of a chronic shoulder injury.
Sedrick Flowers saw plenty of playing time last year and made one start, so he should be in the mix at offensive guard. Kent Perkins is a young offensive tackle who saw playing time as a freshman. Big things are expected out of him.
Dominic Espinosa will anchor the line at center, but the faces around him should be much different next season.
Position: Defensive Line
Texas Tech's biggest need for 2014, besides quarterback, was defensive line. The Red Raiders coaching staff did as good a job as any in the Big 12 at addressing that need.
With players like Kerry Hyder and Dennell Wesley departing, Tech will have more competition up front. Demetrius Alston, who played in 12 games last season, could move into a starting role. So, too, could JUCO transfer Keland McElrath.
The biggest priority for Tech was adding more size along the D-line. That mission was accomplished, so expect a lot of competition there.
The Mountaineers have to be better here. Clint Trickett figures to be the early favorite after starting part of last season, but shoulder surgery could limit him for spring practices.
Paul Millard and JUCO transfer Skyler Howard should take most of the spring reps. Once fall practice rolls around, freshman William Crest could get into the mix as well.
West Virginia's quarterback battle likely won't be solved in the spring, but it could provide some early answers.