Big 12 Football: The Conference's 10 Brightest Spotlights of 2010

Brandon Cavanaugh@ IAugust 11, 2010

The 10 Brightest Big 12 Spotlights of 2010

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    With each passing season, fresh faces step onto the college football scene and familiar ones return to cement their legacies. The Big 12 bid farewell to quite a bit of talent last year. This was evidenced by five of the first six picks of the 2010 NFL Draft including the first four selections all being Big 12 alumni.

    Whether it’s big shoes to fill such as former Nebraska Cornhusker Ndamukong Suh or a player who will have to put the entire team on his shoulders for any success, the spotlights are warming up.

    For some teams in the Big 12, it’s an issue of not rebuilding, but reloading. For others it’s talented youth stepping into key positions destined to succeed. For the desperate, it’s begging for someone to step up and just make plays.

    Here are 10 players to watch with the brightest of lights as the Big 12 conference as we know it takes its final bow.

Kale Pick, Quarterback, University of Kansas

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    Pick enters the 2010 season as the most seasoned signal-caller amongst first year coach Turner Gill’s charges. That’s still not saying a whole lot. Pick threw all of five passes in 2009 completing four of them for 22 yards. He did show dual-threat ability rushing 14 times for 182 yards.

    Pick’s competition for the stating role will come in the form of redshirt freshman Jordan Webb and junior college transfer Quinn Mecham.

    Regardless of which player starts for the Jayhawks, they have a large shadow cast over them by the departed Todd Reesing. Pick has the inside track and luckily has plenty of speed to go along with it.

Jared Crick, Defensive Tackle, University of Nebraska

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    Head Coach Bo Pelini insisted following his team’s impressive victory over Arizona in the 2009 Holiday Bowl that despite the loss of Ndamukong Suh, his defense would be better as a unit in 2010. A few people are still cleaning out their ears to make sure that they heard correctly.

    The good news for Nebraska Cornhusker fans is that while Crick may not be Suh 2.0, he’s no slouch. Crick accounted for 73 tackles, 15 for loss, 9.5 sacks (five versus Baylor alone), four pass breakups, 16 quarterback hurries, two fumble recoveries and a blocked kick in 2009. All of this while playing next to Nebraska’s most decorated player in program history.

    What will the talented junior do for an encore? Will legacy Baker Steinkuhler be the “new Jared Crick?” Find out this fall.

Jamarkus McFarland, Defensive Tackle, University of Oklahoma

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    Oklahoma will be hard-pressed to fill the hole left by Suh’s Sooner counterpart, Gerald McCoy. He accounted for 34 tackles, 15.5 for loss, six sacks, two pass breakups, nine quarterback hurries and one forced fumble with one recovered. Enter sophomore Jamarkus McFarland.

    In 2009, McFarland tallied 8 tackles, 2.5 for loss and 2.5 sacks. Not bad when you’re backing up one of the premiere defensive tackles in the Big 12 let alone the nation.

    Depth in general is also a concern for the Sooner defensive front four, but McFarland has all of the physical tools to be at least serviceable in McCoy’s absence.

Brandon Weeden, Quarterback, Oklahoma State

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    To say that the losses on Oklahoma State’s offense were devastating may be a bit of an understatement. Quarterback Zac Robinson, left tackle Russel Okung and wide receiver Dez Bryant are all now in NFL camps. Perhaps the most glaring hole to be filled is that of Robinson.

    While not all of the gears of Oklahoma State’s offensive engine may have been humming at once during a play, Robinson provided a shot of adrenaline on the fly. There are doubts that Weeden can come close and, in all likelihood, won’t likely do so at least immediately.

    Weeden played in three of OSU’s games last season completing 15 of 24 passes for 248 yards, four touchdowns and an interception. He also rushed four times for 21 yards. Everyone has to start somewhere. Luckily for Weeden, he does have running back Kendall Hunter and wide receiver Hubert Anyiam to help shoulder the load.

Daniel Thomas, Running Back, Kansas State University

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    Remember when Ron Prince was at the helm of Kansas State and Josh Freeman was essentially told to “wing it?” What the Tampa Bay Buccaneer was to Prince, Thomas is to Kansas State and Head Coach Bill Snyder.

    The main difference being that Thomas seems to be a tad more humble about his talents, though his impact and the need for it are no less than Freeman’s was.

    In 2009, Thomas rushed for 1,265 yards and 11 touchdowns giving Kansas State nearly literally 24% of its scoring total for the entire year. Thomas’ load doesn’t look to decrease as the Wildcats walk into 2010.

    Daniel’s breakout year may be his undoing. The Big 12 North hasn’t been friendly to Kansas State in a while and its brightest star once again carries the biggest bullseye.

    So goes the Doak Walker Award candidate, so go the Wildcats.

Blaine Gabbert, Quarterback, University of Missouri

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    Perhaps the only team standing in the way of Nebraska’s grab for the Big 12 North crown, Missouri’s 2009 season was full of difficulties. Still, junior quarterback Blaine Gabbert didn’t have the worst season.

    He still managed to complete 262 of 445 passes for 3,593 yards while tossing 24 touchdowns against nine interceptions. That is the 3rd highest yardage total in Missouri football history, after all.

    Gabbert has targets Wes Kemp and Andrew Jones to throw to this season along with senior running back Derrick Washington to rest the passing game. Unfortunately, for Gabbert, he loses his “defensive quarterback” in Sean Weatherspoon to the NFL.

    The worst of his concerns isn’t offensive weapons or even lack of defensive firepower, but yet again, Mizzou’s schedule may be their Achilles’ heel. Trips to Texas A&M, Nebraska and Texas Tech loom large along with a visit by Oklahoma. If Gabbert can stay healthy, the Tigers have a chance at a solid bowl season. If not, his baby brother is on hand.

Garrett Gilbert, Quarterback, University of Texas

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    The last time we saw Garrett Gilbert, he was thrust into action as Colt McCoy went down for the count in the BCS Nation Championship game versus Alabama. He played well for a freshman thrown to the wolves that were the Alabama defense and while the outcome of the game was never really in doubt following McCoy’s injury, he never stopped fighting.

    This spirit, a trademark of the departed McCoy, has many Texas fans wondering if the quarterback position will skip a beat. Admittedly, it is rather difficult to try working your way out of the shadow of the winningest quarterback in Texas history.

    Gilbert doesn’t even have the luxury of throwing to McCoy’s old roommate Jordan Shipley. Neither does he have the knowledge that he’ll be kept off of the field by the likes of Lamarr Houston or Sergio Kindle. Texas lost a lot from not just its 2009 squad, but many recent ones including the heart and soul in McCoy. Can the pulse be revived by Gilbert?

Jerrod Johnson, Quarterback, Texas A&M University

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    “I feel I'm the best quarterback in the country,'' Johnson said during the Big 12’s media days. Well, that’s definitely a start. To be true, Johnson is extremely athletic. For a 6-foot-5, 245-pound quarterback, he should not be as mobile as he is, but when none of that ability and quickness translates into wins, it doesn’t mean very much.

    Johnson’s “superstar switch” seems to have a short. Some days and even some quarters, he’ll play like an All-American. The rest of the time, he appears to have come in off of the bench.

    The numbers are there: 296 completions on 497 attempts for 3579 yards with 30 touchdowns and eight interceptions. Sounds like a solid 2009 campaign, doesn’t it?

    6-7 was the result of A&M’s last season including drubbings by Oklahoma and Kansas State unbelievably. The Aggies have a few key losses, but Johnson wants to be an All-American, he wants A&M to become a Top 25 team once more and wants to be a superstar all of the time rather just in spurts.

Zac Lee, Quarterback, University of Nebraska

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    With a busted wrist and busted offensive line to match, Lee was in the unenviable position of quarterbacking an anemic Nebraska offense in 2009. Lee returns as the likely starter for the Cornhuskers, his wrist repaired, his throwing allegedly crisp and complete.

    The rest of the nation, and even some Cornhuskers fans, are taking a page out of the state of Missouri’s book and saying, “Show me.” It’s easy to have skeptics when your greatest moments are against Sun Belt conference teams, but the Zac Lee that showed up against Arizona in the 2009 Holiday Bowl was an entirely different creature.

    Lee knows that he has competition in the form of Cody Green and Taylor Martinez. If he wants the starting spot and intends to keep it, he is going to need to have the engine of Nebraska’s offense purring like a kitten.

Austen Arnaud, Quarterback, Iowa State University

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    Arnaud’s career has been nothing short of a rollercoaster. Two years ago, his Cyclones were limping across the finish line with only two wins to their name. Last year, they improved that total by five with a win over Nebraska in Lincoln and a bowl win over Minnesota.

    These are uncharted waters for Iowa State and second year coach Paul Rhodes. A few things play against Rhodes and his plucky quarterback in 2010.

    Gone is wide receiver Marquis Hamilton and first-team All-Big 12 center Reggie Stephens, two valuable assets that made Arnaud’s life so much easier.

    They face the Texas-Oklahoma-Nebraska gauntlet with the former two being on the road and the latter none too happy about last year’s performance. Iowa meets the Cyclones on the Hawkeyes’ home turf and, well, suffice it to say the schedule doesn’t get much more favorable.

    Can Iowa State battle their way out of the Big 12 North cellar?