As Briles put the Bears through this year's spring drills, which ended with a scrimmage on April 10, he stressed one matter more than anything else. Toughness.
And considering the Bears play in the meat grinder that's the Big 12 South, that's a good idea.
"The big thing we need is to become more dominant up front on both sides of the ball," Briles said in the Waco Tribune. "We need a tough-guy mentality up front, and we also need to run the ball more effectively. I also want to see our defense be fast, aggressive and fearless."
Briles thinks that goal was accomplished. He also was pleased about another matter in the scrimmage, which ended with the White defeating the Green, 20-14.
"We tried not to hype it too much, just for the sake of getting through and getting out of it injury free, which we did, which was the most important thing that we wanted to accomplish," he said.
Quarterback Robert Griffin, who missed most of last season with a torn ACL in his right knee, didn't play in the scrimmage, but participated in many of the drills during the spring session and will be ready when the team begins summer practices on Aug. 1.
--Philip Blake is being moved from right tackle to center. Blake had his struggles last season at tackle after transferring from Tyler Junior College. Coach Art Briles thinks Blake's leadership skills will help the offensive line. Blake will try to fill the shoes of All-American center J.D. Walton
--In another position switch on the offensive line, Ivory Wade, who played primarily at guard last season, has been moved to right tackle. Wade, who played tackle in high school, was at the top of Baylor's 2009 recruiting class.
--Willie Jefferson has been moved from receiver to tight end. He caught five passes, including a touchdown, for 101 yards last season. His 6-foot-6 frame should create some matchup advantages at his new position and improve the Bears' blocking.
LB Chris McAllister: Coach Art Briles thinks the redshirt sophomore had as impressive a spring camp as anyone on the team. Briles likes McAllister's size (240 pounds) and speed.
WR Josh Gordon: Briles says the light has clicked on for the sophomore, who caught one pass last season. Gordon caught two passes for 53 yards and a touchdown in the spring scrimmage.
QB Nick Florence: Even though he won't see much playing time if Robert Griffin recovers from his knee injury, the sophomore still impresses the coaching staff. Florence completed 20-for-31 passes for 242 yards and two touchdowns in the spring scrimmage.
RB Isaac Williams: The junior college transfer took advantage of his playing time in the spring with Jay Finley sidelined by knee surgery. He led all rushers with 71 yards and one touchdown on 15 carries, a 4.7-yard average, in the spring game.
LBs LeQuince McCall and Rodney Chadwick: McCall, a redshirt freshman, and Chadwick, a sophomore. Had good spring camps and will help the Bears' depth.
QUOTE TO NOTE: "I hope you guys were looking at them saying `boy, those guys are strong, fast, mean and tough,' because that is what those guys need to be. They need to be aggressive and physical with a bad temper. That is what we have to get to and that is the way that we have to play because the Big 12 South, if you are friendly and nice, you are going to have a long season. We've got to make sure that we have Big 12 South caliber players from a physical standpoint." -- Baylor coach Art Briles on the philosophy and attitude he wants his defense to show in the 2010 season.
2010 OUTLOOK: Contending in the mighty Big 12 South won't be easy. Wading through games against Texas, Oklahoma State, Oklahoma, Texas Tech and Texas A&M will be a difficult task.
And then there will be the crossover games against Kansas, Kansas State and Colorado. Not to mention the non-conference road game at TCU, which went to a BCS bowl last season.
The Bears will need to avoid injuries to key players, something that didn't happen last season when Baylor finished 1-7 in the league and 4-8 overall. The Bears are shooting for their first bowl bid since 1994.
SCOUTING THE OFFENSE: The physical status of quarterback Robert Griffin will play a big role in how successful the Bears will be. He suffered a torn ACL in his right knee in the third game of the 2009 season and had surgery in October. He didn't participate in contact drills during spring practice, but threw the ball well and should be ready when summer practices begin.
Baylor finished 10th in the league in total offense last season so it's obvious how badly the Bears need a healthy and effective Griffin under center. Baylor has plenty of talent at receiver and the large offensive line should be a plus.
SCOUTING THE DEFENSE: Baylor gave up 30 or more points six times last season. It's difficult to win under those circumstances, even if the offense is putting up a lot of points.
Coach Art Briles hopes a quicker defense with more speed will help the Bears close the gap against their opponents. Although linebacker Joe Pawelek, who earned all-conference honors four times, is gone, the Bears should be strong at that position.
Several defensive backs were banged up this spring, but Briles is confident a strong recruiting class that will arrive for summer drills will bolster the secondary. Defensive back Tyler Pratt and linebacker Elliot Coffey and were the leading tacklers in the spring scrimmage with seven apiece. Lineman Nicolas Jean-Baptiste had two sacks.
SCOUTING THE SPECIAL TEAMS:Neither kicker Ben Parks or punter Derek Epperson participated in the spring scrimmage. Aaron Jones replaced Parks and surely won some points with the coaching staff by kicking field goals of 53 and 43 yards. While Jones could push for the starting job, Epperson will likely hold on to the starting punter's job.
Fifth-year senior Mikail Baker, who is plagued by knee problems, has moved up Baylor's all-time list on kickoff returns.
OL Robert T. Griffin -- After playing at Navarro Junior College, the 6-foot-6, 345-pound Griffin could push for a starting job on the line. His size and strength have coach Art Briles hoping he can make an immediate impact. And for those wondering, Griffin is no relation to Robert Griffin, the Bears quarterback.
DB Prince Kent -- Kent is another player with a chance to contribute right away. He signed with Miami, but instead attended Hargrave (Va.) Military Academy. At 6-foot-3 and 200 pounds, Kent was rated one of the top cornerbacks in the country in his senior year at Norcross (Ga.) High School.
RB Isaac Williams -- The transfer from El Camino (Calif.) College could help the Bears in multiple ways. Williams, who stands 6-foot and weighs 190 pounds, can run the ball, catch it out of the backfield and return kickoffs.
--Guard Robert T. Griffin will have surgery for an old shoulder injury, but is expected to be ready for preseason drills that begin in August. He's a transfer from Navarro College.
--Running back Jay Finley missed spring practice after having ankle surgery.
--Redshirt freshman running back Glasco Martin is still recovering from a knee injury suffered last season.
--Safety Anthony Moore missed spring drills with a broken leg, but is expected to be ready for the fall
--Cornerback Antareis Bryan is recovering from a foot injury.
--Safety Byron Landor had knee surgery and didn't participate in spring drills.
But this is Colorado. Each of the past two seasons, Hansen was redshirted only to be inserted for ineffective starter Cody Hawkins once Big 12 play rolled around. Hawkins, by the way, is listed as the No. 2 quarterback coming out of spring camp.
"Any time you can be on top of something, win the competition for right now," said Hansen, "it feels good. It means I'm doing something right."
Of the depth chart, Colorado coach Dan Hawkins made a realistic assessment. "We'll figure that out when we get closer to Colorado State," he said, referring to the Sept. 4 opener.
Quarterback remains an issue because neither Hansen nor Cody Hawkins (the coach's son) has ever definitively staked a claim to the job with effective play at that position. Hansen is considered a more dangerous quarterback because of his ability to scramble or gain yardage off designed runs. But as a senior, Hawkins will be driven to regain the QB position, and looked sharp in the spring game, completing 20 of 26 passes for 220 yards, with two touchdowns and no interceptions.
Most of the offensive fireworks in the scrimmage, however, came in the fourth quarter. It was just a 17-7 game entering that period. Several key players on offense, however missed the scrimmage, including running back Rodney Stewart and wide receiver Scotty McKnight and guard Ryan Miller.
One important objective during spring drills was to identify more receivers who could take some of the load off McKnight, as well as another receiver who missed the spring scrimmage, Markques Simas. Some possibilities emerged, led by wideout Kyle Cefalo and tight end DaVaughn Thornton.
Cefalo caught 12 passes in the spring game, prompting some questions regarding the first-team secondary, which included talented cornerback Jalil Brown.
--The Gold team, which included most of the Colorado players with Polynesian backgrounds, performed a Haka dance before the spring game against the Black team. Hawaii visits Colorado this season and will be expected to perform the Haka dance prior to that game.
--Colorado opponents should be aware a tackle-eligible pass play exists when the Buffaloes are in goal-line formations. OT Nate Solder, who was converted from tight end three years ago, caught a 1-yard TD pass in the spring game. Solder wasn't too concerned the play was revealed. "Yeah, but who's going to see it?" he said, noting it happened in the spring game.
WR Kyle Cefalo: A former high school teammate of QB Cody Hawkins, Cefalo caught 12 passes from Hawkins for 144 yards (both game highs) in Colorado's spring game. Cefalo began his college career at Oregon State.
S Parker Orms: Impressed coaches and teammates early in spring camp with his nose for the ball and sparkled again in the spring game with 10 tackles, seven unassisted, with one sack.
TE DaVaughn Thornton: The redshirt freshman enjoyed a solid spring, which he capped with two touchdown receptions in the spring game. The 6-4, 230-pounder could renew the Buffs' tradition of throwing to tight ends.
QUOTE TO NOTE: "Confidence is always a combination of little successes. Any time you can catch the ball or move the ball or complete the ball or run the ball, that gives those guys a little bit more feeling towards what they can get done." -- Colorado coach Dan Hawkins.
2010 OUTLOOK: It will be considered a make-or-break season for Dan Hawkins, who some believe was retained in part because financially-strapped Colorado could not afford a buyout for the fifth-year coach. Through four seasons, Hawkins stands 16-33 overall and 10-22 in the Big 12, with three 2-6 finishes. Enough veterans exist to offer improvement offensively as long as either QB Tyler Hansen or QB Cody Hawkins can effectively march the Buffaloes. RB Rodney Stewart is solid, and so is WR Scotty McKnight, plus the CU offensive line is experienced. Some key losses must be overcome on defense, where the Buffs feature a solid pass rusher in DE Marquez Herrod and a lockdown pass defender in CB Jalil Brown.
SCOUTING THE OFFENSE: Until either Hansen or Cody Hawkins step up and deliver key wins, Colorado will continue to search in vain for offensive production. Hansen offers the most upside because of his ability to gain yards with his feet. RB Rodney Stewart is a capable back as long as he avoids injuries. WR Scotty McKnight is a dependable possession receiver, though the Buffs need breakaway threats ranking last in the Big 12 in total offense with a 314.3-yard average. The potential emergence of WR Andre Simmons, a juco transfer who flopped last season, would be nice. The line is solid and should provide holes for Stewart, as well as time for the quarterback.
SCOUTING THE DEFENSE: This was an underrated unit last season that improved immensely after getting torched in an embarrassing nonconference loss at Toledo. The Buffs learned to play with some aggression as the defense kept them three season-ending defeats, which were lost by a total of 18 points. CB Jalil Brown possesses the top 2009 mark for passes defended among all Big 12 returnees. LB B.J. Beatty will be counted on for leadership, as well as maintaining the physical play Colorado showed throughout spring drills, while also looking capable of playing faster.
SCOUTING THE SPECIAL TEAMS: Since transferring from Wyoming, PK Aric Goodman has had trouble connecting on field goals with any consistency, hitting on fewer than half his attempts over the past two seasons. Despite playing half their games in thin mountain air, the Buffs ranked last in the Big 12 in punting last season with a 31.9-yard net average. They also ranked last in the league with a paltry 3.3-yard punt return average. These areas must be addressed.
TE Clark Evans -- Recruited as a quarterback, Evans possesses the size to fill an opening created by the loss of Riar Geer. If he pans out, Evans would project more as a receiver than a power blocker.
OG Eric Richter -- The juco transfer was signed to fill an opening at left guard and will get looks at that spot. It's possible Richter could play tackle since he's athletic enough to work on the edge.
S Parker Orms -- The redshirt freshman is only listed at 5-11, 180 pounds and didn't grace the two-deep at the beginning of spring camp. However, Orms made an immediate impression with the ground he covered and the tackles he made in scrimmages.
--PK Aric Goodman required surgery on his injured right hip, which will keep him from kicking for three months. Goodman made just 15 of 32 field goals the past two seasons after transferring from Wyoming.
--TB Brian Lockridge played on a strained MCL in the spring game and gained 38 yards on 11 carries before the knee worsened and he missed most of the second half.
--WR Markques Simas was allowed to participate in some spring drills after his suspension for a Feb. 12 drunken driving arrest was lifted. He did not play in the spring game.
But if the Cyclones are to build off a successful 2009, the defense must step up in 2010.Seven starters must be replaced and while the spring went a long way to findings several replacements -- defensive tackle Jake McDonough and linebackers A.J. Klein and Jake Knott may have secured starting spots -- there is still plenty more to be done with a unit that is young and inexperienced.
"I think some lights are starting to glow a little bit," Rhoads said. "I don't know if they've turned on, but they are starting to glow."
The Cyclones do have an experienced secondary. The 2009 Big 12 Defensive Newcomer of the Year, safety David Sims, and cornerback Leonard Johnson started all 13 games last year while safety Michael O'Connell and cornerback Ter'ran Benton have seen significant action.
"We've made progress this spring and we'll continue to do so between now and the start of the season," said Sims of the defense.
If the defense can find a way to keep opponents off the scoreboard, Iowa State could be in for a good season as the key components to the offense return in quarterback Austen Arnaud and running back Alexander Robinson.
--Running back Alexander Robinson is the cornerstone of the Cyclone offense. He had an all-conference season in 2009 and is expected to do more in 2010. Don't look too much into his spring game performance, where Robinson gained only 15 yards. The coaches purposely limited his number of touches, saving him for the season.
--Quarterbacks Austen Arnaud and Jerome Tiller combined for 433 total yards and two touchdowns in the spring game. They each completed more than 65 percent of their passes as well. While Arnaud is still the clear-cut starter, Rhoads said he has confidence that Tiller could win Iowa State games if ever called upon.
TE Collin Franklin: Now that he's healthy, Franklin's impressed coaches with his ability to make plays in the passing game. He's even improved his blocking, a must for the pass-catching tight end. The key for Franklin will be to stay healthy. He's dealt with nagging injuries the last two seasons that have limited his time on the field.
DT Jake McDonough: He only played one game last season after dropping 50 pounds because of a mystery illness -- doctors never came up with a true diagnosis. Back to his playing weight, McDonough has climbed atop the depth chart this spring and could be a playmaker at a position Iowa State sorely needs someone to step up.
WR Sedrick Johnson: He put in extra work this spring and it's showed. He's playing with the first team offense now. He's running crisper routes and doing a better job of catching the ball. He could develop into the big play receiver the Cyclones are looking to develop.
QB Austen Arnaud: Iowa State coach Paul Rhoads called him the MVP of the spring, saying Arnaud's improved more than anyone over the 15 practices. Arnaud tweaked his mechanics during the winter and is now more accurate and has a better grasp of offensive coordinator Tom Herman's spread offense. He could be on the verge of a breakout season.
QUOTE TO NOTE: "Austen Arnaud has been playing much better. I think his technique has improved. I think his fundamentals are improved and I think his command of the offense is also improved." -- Iowa State coach Paul Rhoads.
2010 OUTLOOK: Iowa State is looking to build off its first bowl win in five seasons. A second straight bowl berth isn't guaranteed, not with a loaded schedule. The Cyclones face Iowa and Utah in non-conference action and perennial Big 12 powers Texas and Oklahoma rotate back onto Iowa State's conference schedule. The offense will be asked to carry the load this fall as the Cyclones must replace seven starters on defense. Another bowl berth is possible if the offense can be more efficient and the defense makes progress throughout the season.
SCOUTING THE OFFENSE: Nearly everyone returns from last year's unit. The Cyclones plan on averaging more than 20.5 points per game, like they did in 2009. The running game, featuring running back Alexander Robinson and a stellar offensive line, will be the centerpiece of the offense. The passing game should be improved this fall. Iowa State coach Paul Rhoads said quarterback Austen Arnaud was the most improved player this spring and the wide receivers showed an ability to make big plays in the spring.
SCOUTING THE DEFENSE: This will be a rebuilding year for the defense. Seven starters must be replaced, including all three linebackers. The coaching staff likes the young players who are filling in on the front seven, especially linebackers A.J. Klein and Jake Knott, but growing pains are expected, at least early on. The youngsters will look to defensive end Rashawn Parker, safety David Sims and cornerback Leonard Johnson, all returning starters, to lead the way in 2010.
SCOUTING THE SPECIAL TEAMS: The biggest question facing the special teams is who will punt this fall. The Cyclones hope true freshman Kirby Van Der Kamp is able to come in from West Des Moines Valley High School in Iowa and earn the job. If Van Der Kamp can't win the job, look to walk-ons Daniel Kuehl or Chad Powell to get a shot.
CB Anthony Young -- Coaches expect Young to come in and contribute right away to a secondary that lost two starters. How well Young contributes may depend on how quickly he picks up the pace of Big 12 play. He could see time as a starter, a nickel back or as a safety, but either way, look for him to see the field in 2010.
LB Matt Tau'fo'ou -- Middle linebacker may be the most important position in defensive coordinator Wall Burnham's Cover Two scheme because he is asked to make plays all over the field. Coaches believe Tau'fo'ou has the speed and tenacity to succeed in the middle. If he does, he could be racking up double-digit tackles on a weekly basis like his predecessor, Jesse Smith.
DE Rony Nelson -- Nelson planned to enroll at Iowa State for the spring semester, but fell one credit short of graduating from junior college. He is currently in Ames ensuring he'll be eligible for the fall and is also working out with hopes of being the pass rush specialist in 2010 the Cyclones desperately need.
--Offensive tackle Brayden Burris missed the final week of spring practice after tearing his MCL. Burris, who was the starting right tackle before suffering his injury, is expected to be back in three or four weeks.
--Defensive end Rashawn Parker, who is still recovering from a torn ACL, didn't play in the spring game, but is expected to be at full strength for fall camp.
--Offensive guard Hayworth Hicks, who was academically ineligible for the 2009 season, has been reinstated and will return to school in the fall.
Former coach Mark Mangino was fired at the end of the 2009 season after current and former players came forward detailing alleged mistreatment. It was no mere coincidence, either, that Mangino lost his last seven games with the Jayhawks, who finished 5-7 overall and 1-7 in the Big 12.
The skid prohibited Kansas from reaching the postseason despite predictions by many for its first North Division championship since the inception of the Big 12. Gill was hired from Buffalo, where he went 20-30 over four seasons with a Mid-American Conference championship in 2008.
The mix Gill inherited is interesting. Key performers such as quarterback Todd Reesing, running back Jake Sharp and wide receivers Dezmon Briscoe and Kerry Meier are all gone. So too is safety Darrell Stuckey, a defensive leader.
But the Jayhawks retained eight starters on offense and seven on defense. Of course, all of them are not guaranteed positions after the disastrous slide at the end of last season. Gill must come in and make his own evaluations, while insisting that players earn spots again.
Offensively, the line returns intact. The most experienced blocker is center Jeremiah Hatch, a two-year starter. The most promising might be tackle Tanner Hawkinson, who protected Reesing's blind side as a freshman. Wide receiver Bradley McDougald, who played both ways and also returned kicks, caught 33 passes last season, while Johnathan Wilson caught 35.
Defensively, several players have promise, but must improve dramatically after allowing 383.2 yards on average and also permitting more than 30 points to all but one Big 12 rival. Linebacker Drew Dudley is the top returning tackler after making 88 stops last season, while defensive end Jake Laptad is one of the top playmakers after leading the Jayhawks with 12 tackles for loss and 6.5 sacks.
The one newcomer who will draw attention in spring camp is Quinn Mecham, a quarterback who was the only junior college transfer Gill signed in his first recruiting class.
SPRING OBJECTIVES: Implementing a new system without attempting to reinvent the wheel will be the challenge facing new Kansas coach Turner Gill. He was hired as a player's coach who wants to build morale after Mark Mangino was run out for alleged mistreatment of players, as well as seven consecutive defeats to close the 2009 schedule.
That collapse is most disconcerting and points to the possibility that returning starters aren't altogether effective, even though the Jayhawks welcome back eight regulars on offense and seven on defense. Kansas had the skill players offensively to challenge against practically all teams in the Big 12, but was unable to win what amounted to scoring derbies.
Quickly building a foundation is possible since the Jayhawks return so much experience. The system Gill promises to implement will, of course, be different, but he seems to be more tolerant of mistakes. With Gill's background as a Nebraska quarterback, the offense could be in good hands. The Kansas defense last season, however, gave up too many easy strikes through the air. The loss of FS Justin Thornton and SS Darrell Stuckey creates questions in the back end.
Gill promises to win, and win right away. Confidence must be established to pull this off, but it will be tough simply scrimmaging against teammates, especially after losing seven straight to close out 2009. Attempting to break in players at different spots will be key, with the team announcing eight position switches before the start of spring practice.
BUILDING BLOCKS: Gill promises to throw the football, though one of his top returning skill players on offense is a potential brute rusher, RB Toben Opurum. He broke in last season as a true freshman and gained 552 yards, the first freshman to lead Kansas in rushing since 2002. Two experienced pass-catchers, WR Johnathan Wilson and WR Bradley McDougald, also return after combining for 68 receptions. TE Tim Biere also returns. The entire offensive line also is back.
Among the returning starters on defense, LB Huldon Tharp was one of the most promising as he cracked the lineup as a true freshman and was in on 59 tackles. LB Drew Dudley also returns from the 4-2-5 scheme Kansas used.
CB Chris Harris was a player promoted into the starting lineup early as a freshman, but the senior has gone through as many ups and downs as anyone on the Jayhawks' roster. He led Kansas in breakups last season, but the new staff must find a way to build his confidence after opponents often threw his way.
Up front, the return of DT John Williams is a plus as long as he develops into a player who consistently fills gaps. DE Jake Laptad has proven he can be effective off the edge after recording 6.5 sacks.
QUOTE TO NOTE: "When you're asked a question about what you like about this place or that place, I would hope that everyone would say something about the people. The people here are hard-working, genuine. They want to help others. You can just sense it and feel it." -- Kansas coach Turner Gill.
2010 OUTLOOK: Any projection for Kansas is difficult. The Jayhawks return experience with 15 returning starters in the two-deep, as well as veterans at punter and placekicker, each of whom are entering their third seasons as regulars. But the loss of key playmakers, including record-setting QB Todd Reesing and receivers Dezmon Briscoe and Kerry Meier, creates unknowns on offense. In addition, the presence of a new coaching staff means new ideals and a new system must be implemented. In addition, first-year coach Turner Gill has never directed a program on the BCS level and while he had some success at Buffalo, it was not overwhelming.
WR Keeston Terry: Considered the top high school recruit in Gill's first signing class, Terry could step right in. Gill mentioned his versatility on signing day.
QB Quinn Mecham: The only junior college transfer to sign with Kansas will be in spring camp and competing for the opening at quarterback. QB Kale Pick, last year's backup, is the other top candidate.
RB Brandon Bourbon: Committed to the Jayhawks late and was considered something of a coup after putting up big numbers in Missouri at the small-school level.
--CB Isiah Barfield and WR D.J. Beshears have moved back to their original positions. Barfield switched to receiver last season and Beshears had 17 tackles as a cornerback. WR Daymond Patterson is moving back to offense after playing entirely at cornerback last season.
--RB Angus Quigley, after leaving the program last season, has returned. Quigley was switched to linebacker last year, but will return to running back. He gained 309 yards in 2008.
--Offensive coordinator Chuck Long faces a civil lawsuit initiated by one of his former players at San Diego State, Nick Sandford. Sandford accuses Long of negligent supervision stemming from a fight between teammates.
Better scheduling and more familiarity with the system could enable Kansas State to return to the postseason, something it's missed out on five of the last six seasons after making 11 consecutive appearances under Snyder during his first tour of duty.
Questions abound, however, as Kansas State must again find a quarterback. Last season it turned to a sixth-year senior, Grant Gregory, who transferred from South Florida. Gregory replaced the early-season starter, Carson Coffman, who remains in the program.
Junior college transfer Sammuel Lamur could emerge at quarterback after sitting out last season, though Oregon transfer Chris Harper figures to also get a look. Harper was listed with the first string at wide receiver on the pre-spring depth chart.
The biggest plus is that whomever Snyder picks to engineer the offense, the quarterback can depend on one of the best rushers in the Big 12 to remove at least some pressure. Daniel Thomas was an all-conference pick after rushing for 1,265 yards last season. He will get to run behind a veteran line, which includes four returning starters.
One of the biggest concerns defensively is a reflection of the staff. Coordinator Vic Koenning left for a similar post at Illinois. He'll be sorely missed after the Wildcats rebounded nicely last season to allow just 340 yards and 23.3 points, a vast improvement from 2009 when K-State fielded one of the worst defenses in the country in Ron Prince's last season as coach.
Some holes need to be filled, but the Wildcats feature a pair of strong safeties, Tysyn Hartman and Emmanuel Lamur, as well as a strong rusher off the edge in end Brandon Harold.
SPRING OBJECTIVES: Breaking in a new quarterback and some new receivers will be important. Don't expect Kansas State coach Bill Snyder to name a starting quarterback right away. He'll wait until fall, like he's done practically every time he needed to name a new starter.
But by evaluating talent at that position and elsewhere in the offense, Snyder can at least gauge how much of his extensive playbook this unit can handle. One of those assessments will factor the ability of a quarterback to run the option with veteran RB Daniel Thomas. The option was a staple for Snyder's best Kansas State teams, even when they possessed strong-armed passers such as Michael Bishop and Ell Roberson.
Talented players exist and figure on both QB Sammuel Lamur and QB Chris Harper to get on the field in some capacity if they don't take over behind center. WR Attrail Snipes is the most dependable veteran among the pass-catchers, though he snagged just 24 receptions last season.
Defensively, end Adam Davis is a junior college transfer the Wildcats can possibly use to form a devastating tandem with veteran DE Brandon Harold. S Tysyn Hartman and S Emmanuel Lamur (Sammuel's brother) are back to spearhead the secondary, though the Wildcats must develop solid cornerbacks and more athletic linebackers.
Emphasizing sound play remains a key focal point. One reason for Kansas State's vast defensive improvement a year ago was simply that players were in the right gaps and were much more fundamentally sound as tacklers.
BUILDING BLOCKS: Obviously, the Wildcats' bread and butter on offense has to be RB Daniel Thomas. He made an immediate splash last season, leading the Big 12 with 1,265 rushing yards. Not only did he prove elusive, but was also tough to bring down. In addition, he could surprise opponents by throwing the ball out of the Wildcat formation.
Although Kansas State lost its top lineman, Nick Stringer, four starters return to give the Wildcats some continuity up front. Getting that unit to gel even more and also gain strength is key, though veteran line coach Charlie Dickey did an exceptional job with that unit a year ago after the previous staff had often piecemealed a line and made frequent changes.
Returning Hartman and Lamur in the secondary is a good start defensively, plus Harold could develop into one of the best pass rushers in the Big 12 after battling injuries as a sophomore.
Both PK Josh Cherry and P Ryan Doerr return, though Kansas State needs to improve in the kicking game and become more consistent. It was a constant threat on returns, though the chief weapon, Brandon Banks, is no longer around and will also be missed as the Wildcats' most dependable receiver.
QUOTE TO NOTE: "(An important need) is immediate help on the offensive and defensive lines, with a little bit of depth in both. We can build young guys up, but we need big guys to come in and make a contribution in the early stages of their careers." -- Kansas State coach Bill Snyder.
2010 OUTLOOK: With the return of Bill Snyder as coach, Kansas State at least regained some respectability that was lost during the three-year reign of Ron Prince. The Wildcats missed out on a bowl with a 6-6 finish, yet contended for the Big 12 North title up until the last weekend when a loss at Nebraska left them 4-4 in the league. Enough questions exist in terms of position openings to create uncertainty about Kansas State's prospects for 2010. A recruiting class that was considered among the worst in the Big 12 may not provide much help, though Snyder often made the most of unsung talent in the past. As long as RB Daniel Thomas has enough room to run behind a line that returns four starters, the Wildcats could control the clock much like they did last year and stay in games.
RB DeMarcus Robinson: An in-state high school recruit from Wichita, Robinson is somewhat similar to former Kansas State great Darren Sproles, a diminutive back with quickness and sharp cuts.
WR Brodrick Smith: Minnesota transfer will get a second chance at Kansas State and could become a worthwhile receiver if he uses his 6-3 frame to his advantage.
DE Adam Davis: The highest rated of all the Kansas State signees, Davis recorded 23 sacks over two seasons for Hutchinson (Kan.) Community College. Second-team NJCAA All-America selection.
--LB Arthur Brown, a Wichita high school product, is transferring to Kansas State from Miami. He must sit out the 2010 season in accordance with NCAA rules. The Wildcats could also be in the mix for RB Bryce Brown, Arthur's younger brother, who is transferring from Tennessee. Each was a high-profile recruit coming out of high school.
--WR Lamark Brown has left the Kansas State program and intends to transfer. He has one year of eligibility remaining after also playing running back for the Wildcats.
--Kansas State filled openings on its staff with the addition of Keith Burns as defensive backs coach. Burns most recently was an assistant at San Jose State and previously served as head coach at Tulsa. Kansas State also hired Chris Dawson as its new strength and conditioning coach. Dawson had been at Kansas.
"Coach James always said if you're worrying about your defense after the spring game, then you've got problems in the summer," Pinkel said after watching his first-team defense mostly manhandle the No. 2 offensive unit.
If the spring was an accurate sneak preview of the team Missouri team that faces Illinois on Sept. 4, then Pinkel won't have to worry about the defensive problems that plagued his team the last two seasons, particularly the struggles MU suffered trying to defend the pass. But looks can be deceiving in the spring, and any assessment of MU's shutdown defense is countered by the reality that a true freshman quarterback, early enrolled James Franklin, was running the No. 2 offense.
Still, Pinkel saw enough from a defense that loses only two full-time starters to know the standard should be high this fall.
"I think there is a lot of things that need to take place between now and kickoff against Illinois," he said, "but I think we've got the makings of a very good football team. We've got to keep going, we've got a good freshman class coming in. There is still a lot of competition. I told them we set the depth going into August for our first practice, but when we start that first practice, all the jobs are open again and it's all based on competition. I think there's a lot of things in place."
Offensively, the spring was more of a get-to-know-you session for returning quarterback Blaine Gabbert, some newly promoted receivers and tight ends and a couple young but promising offensive linemen. Fully recovered from the sprained ankle that temporarily capsized Missouri's offense midway through last season, Gabbert showed flashes of his big-play potential during the spring -- though he completed just 49 percent of his passes in five scrimmages and threw just two touchdowns to two interceptions.
If the Tigers can challenge defensive-minded Nebraska in the Big 12 North Division, Gabbert must be more productive in the fall, though a stifling defense will take considerable pressure off Gabbert and MU's usually prolific offense.
--Missouri's cornerbacks fully embraced the more aggressive coverage philosophy adopted by coordinator Dave Steckel and cornerbacks coach Cornell Ford. Nobody exploited the opportunities to play press-man coverage like cornerback Kevin Rutland, who intercepted four passes in five scrimmages. MU has been among the worst pass defenses in the country the last two seasons, and the staff hopes a new mix of coverages on third downs and in the red zone will be the difference.
--Three freshmen enrolled a semester early this year and at least two made a push for playing time this fall with impressive spring performances, quarterback James Franklin and tight end Eric Waters. After four weeks of practices, Franklin had already moved into the No. 2 slot behind starter Blaine Gabbert, though Pinkel has said the competition for the backup job will last through preseason camp in August.
G Justin Britt: The redshirt freshman played both guard positions at times during the spring and seemed to have earned a spot in the game-day rotation, if not a starting job. Converted from left tackle after the season, Britt could fill the hole vacated by departed senior Kurtis Gregory at right guard or hold off returning starter Austin Wuebbels on the left side. The coaches named Britt the team's most improved offensive lineman.
DE Brad Madison: Madison was plugged into the starting lineup for the spring game when returning starter Jacquies Smith suffered a high ankle sprain the week before. Then the redshirt sophomore played like he belonged with the starters, finishing with a sack and a fumble recovery that he returned for a touchdown. Madison, voted the team's most improved defensive lineman, had three sacks in five scrimmages and should have cemented his place as the team's first defensive end off the bench.
SS Matt White: The redshirt freshman might be the smallest position player with a legitimate chance to start this fall. Over the last three weeks of practices, White surged up the depth chart and moved ahead of two veterans, former starters Kenji Jackson and Jerrell Harrison. Considered one of the teams' smartest young defenders, White makes up for his small frame by getting into position to make plays in the secondary.
WR T.J. Moe: A former prolific prep quarterback, the sophomore emerged as MU's most productive receiver over the course of his first spring in Columbia. Playing the slot position with both the Nos. 1 and 2 offenses, Moe caught a team-high 27 passes in five scrimmages, going for 163 yards. He was by far the most active pass-catcher in the spring game, posting team high figures with 12 catches for 85 yards. Moe might not initially earn a starting job over Jerrell Jackson, but he'll certainly play a significant role in MU's receiver rotation.
QUOTE TO NOTE: "He throws a real catchable ball. He throws a real nice tight spiral that's soft when it hits your hands. That's the thing I really enjoy about James. And he's such a nice kid. He'll come up to you on the sideline and say, 'Oh, it's my fault,' even if he hits you right in the hands and you dropped it. He's the nicest kid on the team, and one of those guys you really like to be around." -- WR T.J. Moe on freshman QB James Franklin.
2010 OUTLOOK: Few probably expect Missouri to win a third Big 12 North Division title in four years, but one of the youngest rosters in the country last season should become a more seasoned, more mature team this fall. The Tigers must replace two all-conference playmakers on both sides of the ball, wideout Danario Alexander and linebacker Sean Weatherspoon, but the bulk of the team that went 8-5 last season returns with hopes of surprising North favorite Nebraska.
SCOUTING THE OFFENSE: Missouri's offense will rely on more balanced distribution in the passing game, but quarterback Blaine Gabbert must continue to improve his accuracy and leadership as his receiving corps takes shape. Tight end Michael Egnew has just seven career receptions, but physically he compares to former All-Americans Alexander and Martin Rucker, players who flourished as bigger slot receivers in MU's system. The running game was sluggish during stretches of 2009, but a lighter, quicker Derrick Washington could be the answer to those problems of the past. The offensive line loses just one starter and looks to infuse two promising underclassmen in Jack Meiners and Justin Britt, players who can line up at guard or tackle.
SCOUTING THE DEFENSE: With two senior corners expected to resume their starting roles, Kevin Rutland and Carl Gettis, a more aggressive style of play in the secondary could be crucial. Though the strength of this group remains pass-rushing specialist Aldon Smith and a deep, flexible pack of linebackers. With the return of middle linebacker Luke Lambert from shoulder surgery, the coaches believe they have four players capable of starting at linebacker, including outside starters Andrew Gachkar and Zaviar Gooden and Will Ebner in the middle. MU must generate a pass rush from somewhere other than Smith, who racked up a school-record 11 O sacks last season.
SCOUTING THE SPECIAL TEAMS: Grant Ressel, the NCAA's most accurate kicker, returns after a breakthrough 2009 season in which he missed only one field goal attempt on 27 attempts. The Tigers have targeted Trey Barrow to replace trusty punter Jake Harry, who excelled at the rugby-style punt. Safety Jasper Simmons is the leading candidate to once again return kickoffs, though receiver T.J. Moe is closing in on cornerback Carl Gettis for the No. 1 punt return duties.
S Kenronte Walker -- The midyear addition to the secondary could be the second safety from City College of San Francisco to become an instant contributor for the Tigers, following the path of Jarrell Harrison, who become MU's starting strong safety midway through last season.
WR Marcus Lucas -- A 6-4 prep phenom from the Kansas City area, Lucas figures to compete immediately for a job at MU's outside receiver positions.
OL Nick Demien -- For more than a decade Missouri has built its offensive line around continuity at the center position. Demien, a rugged left tackle at the prep level, could come in and conceivably become the successor to three-year starting center Tim Barnes.
--Two veteran offensive players are expected to be fully recovered from offseason shoulder surgeries by the time preseason practices begin in August. Left tackle Elvis Fisher and tight end Andrew Jones both suffered torn labrums last year then spent the entire spring watching practice from the sideline. Fisher should slide back into his spot as Gabbert's blind-side protection, but Jones will have to hold off Egnew for the No. 1 tight end job.
--Defensive tackle Marvin Foster also missed all spring drills after tearing his pectoral muscle while lifting weights in February. He's expected to recover in time to take part in preseason practices. Also, backup wideout Brandon Gerau gradually returned to more drills during the spring after undergoing surgery to repair a broken foot.
--With a smaller amount of scholarships to dispense for 2011, MU entered April in good shape with seven verbal commitments for next year's recruiting class, including pledges from four in-state high school stars. The Tigers have secured commitments from in-state Lee's Summit, Mo., quarterback Corbin Berkstresser, Columbia, Mo., wideout Wesley Leftwich, St. Louis tight end/receiver Brandon Hannah and St. Louis tailback/cornerback Anthony Pierson.
--Strong safety Jarrell Harrison started eight games last season, but after missing one spring practice for undisclosed "personal reasons," the former junior college transfer was dropped down to the No. 3 defense. Harrison ended the spring with an interception in the final scrimmage but must eclipse Matt White and Kenji Jackson on the depth chart to resume his starting role of last season.
That said, the program appears to be very excited about several new faces at many important positions, yet also excited about what's coming back. That list of returners includes starting quarterback (Landry Jones) who was the MVP of the Sun Bowl last season, wide receiver (Ryan Broyles) who will be talked up for All-American honors this coming season, and running back (DeMarco Murray), who has the ability to be one of the most electric runners in the nation.
The Sooners also have momentum on their side for the first time in several seasons, simply by winning their first bowl game since the 2006 Holiday. Further, karma may be on OU's side after losing so many players to injury last season.
--Between Jimmie Stevens and Patrick O'Hara, and perhaps Bryce Easley, Sooner placekicking remains in flux. O'Hara closed last season starting after Stevens lost the job. But at the spring game, O'Hara missed his only chance, while Stevens made three kicks, but caromed his first one through off the left goalpost.
--A crowd of 16,000-plus attended the spring game on a rainy Saturday afternoon. Still, considering OU's history and tradition, it was a small crowd, especially when contrasted with Nebraska, which brings in more than 70,000 to its spring game. One school of thought is Sooner football is off the radar. Part of the reason for that might be that only one day of spring football was open to media and fans: the spring game.
--Bob Stoops said he thought the Sooner offensive line was much better this spring than last. Separated by a draft for the spring game, both lines, the Red's and White's, played a very clean game, committing no false starts and only two holding calls over a full four quarters in front of live referees.
WR Kenny Stills: He will be a true freshman when the season begins, but as an early high school graduate, he's already on campus and has already completed his first encounter with Sooner spring football. He's 6-1, 175 pounds out of La Costa Canyon High in Encinitas, Calif., and he was the breakout receiver at the spring game, catching six passes for 84 yards and a touchdown. Other receivers return, but he's immediately in the mix as a hopeful No. 2 receiver to go along with Ryan Broyles at No. 1.
RB/FB Marshall Musil :Musil sprang to the top of the depth chart at the fullback position, then carried the ball at the spring game 29 times for 92 yards. Afterward, Bob Stoops talked him up and offensive coordinator Kevin Wilson said, if he can pick up the blocking required at the fullback position, he could be OU's first fullback in 10 years to be a big part of the offense.
LB Tom Wort: He tore an ACL during preseason drills a year ago at a time he was expected to earn playing time as a true freshman. He's now atop the depth chart at middle linebacker and, when the Red and White teams were drafted for the spring game, Wort was the second defender chosen, one spot behind two-time All-Big 12 linebacker Travis Lewis.
NG Jamarcus McFarland: McFarland was the subject of a huge recruiting battle won by Oklahoma. He's been behind Gerald McCoy the last two seasons, but now has a chance to be a difference-making three-year starter.
QUOTE TO NOTE: "Marshall's a really good player. We've known that. Going against us on last year's scout team, we've always liked the way he runs, the way he blocks. You know, he's a bigger guy, he's going to do a lot for us, in different ways." -- Sooner coach Bob Stoops on fullback/tailback Marshall Musil.
2010 OUTLOOK: The Sooners are confident, hopeful and have a wealth of talent returning. That's saying something considering the team had three of the top four NFL draft picks -- QB Sam Bradford, DT Gerald McCoy and OT Trent Williams -- and four first-round selections in all (TE Jermaine Gresham).
The Sooners are just the kind of team that could have everything fall together and run away with another Big 12 Conference championship. Also, the secondary has been rebuilt, there are two new starters at the linebacker spots, and other potential trouble spots.
The hope is always that the Texas game decides the Big 12 South and the Sooners beat the Longhorns. Because a real good way to play for a national championship is win the Big 12 championship game, and the first thing you have to do to win it is get to it.
Still, there will be another force at work upon the Sooners and that's a very respectable schedule. There's only one weak team on OU's non-conference schedule and that's Utah State. Florida State, Air Force and Cincinnati, will require OU playing at a high level to prevail.
SCOUTING THE OFFENSE: It's a familiar story. Landry Jones is back after being named MVP of the Sun Bowl, and with the advantage of knowing he'll be the starting quarterback throughout the spring and the preseason. And he's got an All-American talent to throw to in Ryan Broyles and a similar talent at running back in DeMarco Murray. That might be enough to put up big numbers, but to become an explosive offense on par with other units quarterbacked by Sam Bradford and Jason White, the offensive line must come together, while Broyles gets some support from other receivers stepping forward, and a tight end -- probably Trent Ratteree -- must still develop.
SCOUTING THE DEFENSE: If Tom Wort works out at at middle linebacker the way WLB Travis Lewis thinks he will, the Sooners may actually get better at the position despite losing two starters from last year's squad. Yet even if that happens, they're going to miss All-American DT Gerald McCoy, while hoping they don't miss Adrian Taylor on the defensive line. Taylor is still recovering from surgery following a broken leg suffered at the Sun Bowl. The Sooners are also retooling their secondary. Good thing they have two very good defensive ends in Jeremy Beal, who opted to skip the NFL draft, and Frank Alexander. There's great talent in many positions, but much of it's new and it must still come together against a very strong non-conference schedule.
SCOUTING SPECIAL TEAMS:If Ryan Broyles stays healthy, the Sooners are bound to have one of the best return games in the Big 12 Conference and the nation. The explosive junior receiver is a threat to go the distance whenever he touches the ball. Matt Moreland's back to kick off, though the Sooners brass still want more touchbacks out of him. The big question remains at placekicker, where Jimmie Stevens will try winning the opening-day job a third straight season. Yet even if he does, the bigger question will be whether he can keep it or not. When OU last won the national championship, it had fantastic special teams, strong at every position. That still has to come together. Question marks remain.
LB Tom Wort: He tore his ACL during preseason practices last August. It was a blow to the Sooners because they really thought he'd play, even as a true freshman. Currently, he's penciled in as OU starting middle linebacker.
QB Drew Allen: He was highly recruited, and as a redshirt freshman finds himself right where Landry Jones was last year, with one exception. Jones was behind Sam Bradford, while Allen is only behind Jones. Jones is the presumed starter, though Allen is receiving an opportunity to make his case. Should he remain second team, as laast year proved, the backup quarterback is a very important part of the team.
LB Ronnell Lewis: Although not exactly a newcomer, Lewis seems like one. Atop the depth chart at the strong side position, where Keenan Clayton played last year, he's in front of Austin Box, a junior, who has him beat on experience. But Lewis has risen fairly quickly since making several highlight hits at last season's Sun Bowl
--DT Adrian Taylor remains atop the depth chart at defensive tackle despite a grisly broken leg at the Sun Bowl. There has been no definitive word on his progress and he did not go through spring practice. Without the broken leg, Taylor would be an All-American candidate.
--OL Stephen Good suffered the only injury at the spring game, a sprained ankle. He's expected to recover quickly.
--RB DeMarco Murray played in his first bowl game at the Sun Bowl. This marked the first spring he went through spring drills. Though he sat out the spring game to avoid the risk of injury, he'll enter his senior season coming off a fully healthy offseason.
"The team trusts him. They think he is the guy, he is the starter," Brown said. "And at his age, having not started a game, that's pretty impressive."
But then, so was the second-half performance by Gilbert in the national championship game, which he played in as a true freshman replacing invaluable Colt McCoy. Although Texas lost to Alabama, the vast improvement Gilbert made just in that game not only prevented a blowout but almost resulted in a stunning comeback.
Texas emphasized its rushing attack in the spring game, yet Gilbert capitalized on the opportunities that presented for play-action passes by completing 10 of 13 throws for 165 yards and three touchdowns.
Unfortunately for Gilbert, the run game could place pressure on him to deliver. The Longhorns' never-ending search for a primary rusher didn't end with the spring game, though a freshman, Chris Whaley, did gain the most yards with 70 on 14 carries. Unfortunately for him, his 259-pound frame drew criticism from Brown and will require some offseason dieting if Whaley is to seriously challenge Fozzy Whittaker and Tre' Newton.
Although the Texas defense lost numerous playmakers on defense, the Longhorns look capable of reloading after allowing 251.1 yards and 15.2 points last season while sweeping through Big 12 play before finishing 13-1.
The secondary, in particular, is immensely talented, despite the loss of safety Earl Thomas, a sophomore who declared for the NFL. Brown cited three returnees, Curtis and Chykie Brown, and Aaron Williams, as potential NFL prospects as well. In addition, Blake Gideon returns at safety, while Kenny Vaccaro and Nolan Brewster had impressive spring camps.
The defensive line must be revamped, though tackle Kheeston Randall is a solid player to build around.
While the Longhorns won't be the preseason pick to win the Big 12 because of the departure of top players like Thomas and linebacker Sergio Kindle, as well as the playmaking tandem of McCoy and wide receiver Jordan Shipley, they won't be lacking talent. Those recruiting analysts put Texas' signing classes near the top nationally each season and it's that talent the Longhorns will rely on to reload after a fruitful spring camp.
--Although RB Chris Whaley led all rushers with 70 yards on 14 carries in the Texas spring game, Longhorns coach Mack Brown doesn't want the redshirt freshman playing at 259 pounds. A modest goal was set, requesting that Whaley trim down to 240 pounds by the start of fall camp. That reduction could make the most of Whaley's impressive moves, while still giving him enough mass to move a pile.
--A fifth-year senior to watch is DE Eddie Jones, who enjoyed an impressive spring camp yet is a somewhat forgotten figure at Texas after undergoing 10 surgical procedures to repair knee, shoulder, wrist and ankle injuries. Half those procedures came while he starred for Kilgore (Texas) High School, but his career at Texas has been checkered, to say the least, with 7.5 career sacks.
DT Calvin Howell: Lacked consistency during spring drills but was impressive in the spring game with four tackles, including one for loss, while keeping blockers from reaching the linebackers.
S Christian Scott: Could be the player who takes over the opening created by Earl Thomas' decision to turn pro. Scott missed the 2009 season because of academic issues. He is capable of making big hits.
OG Tray Allen: One of the most highly-regarded signees in UT's 2007 recruiting class, Allen has not yet panned out but got a chance to impress coaches in spring camp with Mason Walters out with an injured foot.
S Kenny Vaccaro: The sophomore is emerging as one of the Longhorns' hardest hitters. He blew up a short pass in the flat during the spring game. Look for him to play the nickel and potentially star on kick coverage.
WR DeSean Hales: Provided some breakaway capability with three catches for 77 yards in the spring, with one touchdown.
QUOTE TO NOTE: "We may be a different team. We'll run the ball more. We're going to have to kick it differently and play defense more. It may not be a team that runs out there and runs up and down the field and scores as quickly as we have." -- Texas coach Mack Brown.
2010 OUTLOOK: This could be a season when observers dismiss Texas somewhat because of all the key contributors -- QB Colt McCoy, WR Jordan Shipley, C Chris Hall, DT Lamarr Houston, LB Sergio Kindle, LB Roddrick Muckelroy and S Earl Thomas just to name some -- the Longhorns lost off a 2009 team that sailed undefeated through the Big 12 and eventually lost to Alabama for the national championship. QB Garrett Gilbert has shown incredible promise, though the pressure placed on him to emerge as a leader must be minimized with the development of a consistent rushing attack. The line must materialize on defense to both limit rushers and pressure quarterbacks. This rebuilding, err, reloading, process will be a nice test for coach Mack Brown and his staff.
SCOUTING THE OFFENSE: Brown praised Gilbert for his ability to project confidence, not only within himself, but among teammates during spring drills. The transition from a four-year starter, McCoy, who became the all-time winningest quarterback in FBS history, may be smoother than expected. Still, there figures to be some rough edges for Gilbert to sort through, especially if the Longhorns need to rely exclusively on his arm in catch-up situations. A strong rushing attack can prevent that, though a featured back was not identified during spring game and Texas could again use a committee of rushers. Capable targets exist among the receivers, despite the loss of Shipley. Breakaway threats also exist, though WR James Kirkendoll and WR Marquise Goodwin must become more consistent. OG Mason Walters (foot) missed spring camp but will help anchor the line.
SCOUTING THE DEFENSE: Developing depth, as well as consistently, at the tackle positions will be key if Texas is to stuff the run like it did in 2009 when allowed 62.2 rushing yards per game. DT Kheeston Randall is a legitimate talent, but others must step up at the other tackle position. DE Sam Acho and DE Alex Okafor are two talented rush ends capable of big seasons. Holes must be filled at linebacker, with the Longhorns uncertain of the potential of Jared Norton, who is coming off shoulder surgery. Emmanuel Acho, Dustin Earnest and Keenan Robinson will play bigger roles. The secondary could be as good as any the Longhorns have fielded under Brown, with impressive cover corners in Curtis Brown, Chykie Brown and Aaron Williams.
SCOUTING THE SPECIAL TEAMS: After the spring game, Brown vowed to continue using the rugby punt in 2010 despite some problems that created once opponents schemed properly against it. Justin Tucker is capable of a big season handling both the punting and kicking chores. Expect the Longhorns to capitalize on their athleticism and bust some returns, with Marquise Goodwin and D.J. Tucker two of the leading candidates.
QB Connor Wood -- Although senior Sherrod Harris will get the first opportunity to be the backup for Garrett Gilbert, Wood is the most promising newcomer at the position with the prototypical size (6-4, 209) for the position.
RB Chris Whaley -- Provides a different look as a 250-pounder and the changeup Texas wants to compliment veterans Tre' Newton and D.J. Monroe. Whaley needs to show he can break tackles with his size.
CB A.J. White -- A starting berth is probably unlikely for the incoming freshman, though he might be part of the nickel package after displaying some confidence in early drills.
--RB Tre' Newton was bothered by a sprained ankle he suffered late in camp, which limited his effectiveness in the spring game.
--LB Jared Norton, who required shoulder surgery and was lost during nonconference play last season, was limited during spring drills along with WR D.J. Monroe (hamstring), TE D.J. Grant (knee) and CB Eryon Barnett (shoulder).
--Those who missed spring drills entirely were S Nolan Brewster (shoulder), OL Mason Walters (foot) and LB Emmanuel Acho (sports hernia).
--TE Blaine Irby probably won't return while tending to an injured knee he suffered in the third game of the 2008 season. No final decision, however, has been made on Irby's status for 2010.
--WR/KR D.J. Monroe pulled his hamstring on the first return he attempted in the spring game and was withheld from the remainder of the scrimmage. WR John Chiles also pulled a hamstring in practice just prior to the spring game.
--RB Vondrell McGee (shoulder) and RB Cody Johnson (hamstring) were not available in the spring game, preventing Texas from looking at all its running backs.
The defense loses All-American defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh, and there are varying opinions on how his departure will affect the Blackshirts this fall. Some believe it's a significant loss. Coaches, however, say this defense can be as good, if not better, than last season's crew that led the nation in fewest points allowed. Their confidence rides on a talented and deep secondary.
Nebraska's overall success will hinge largely on an offense needing to improve on its No. 99 national ranking last season. Ten starters return, including running backs and offensive linemen who played injured much of last season.
The biggest story line in fall camp: Who's the starting quarterback? "Everyone is in the race for the starting job," coach Bo Pelini said. "There are no starting jobs locked down right now. Competition is on; (spring) is just a small part of the evaluation. It's a long way to go before we play a football game."
--Safety Rickey Thenarse had seven tackles, one interception and one forced fumble in the Spring Game, his first action since tearing his ACL early last season. That's a good sign for Thenarse, who received a medical hardship and now has a fifth season of eligibility.
--Running back Rex Burkhead has bulked to 210 pounds, but the 5-foot-11 sophomore hasn't lost a step. He ran six times for 36 yards in the Spring Game, and he's a candidate to run out of the Wildcat formation come fall.
--Former defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh has promised to give the University of Nebraska $2.6 million for training center renovations and an endowed engineering scholarship. It's the largest single gift ever from a former football player.
QB Taylor Martinez: The redshirted freshman proved he's a serious player in the race for starting quarterback. The 6-foot-1, 195-pound Martinez flashed his speed en route to 60 yards on 9 carries in the Spring Game. If Nebraska coaches opt for a quarterback-run offense, Martinez is the favorite. He attempted only nine passes in the Spring Game, completing five, with two touchdowns and one interception.
DB Austin Cassidy: A walk-on junior, Cassidy is pushing Eric Hagg for time in Nebraska's new linebacker/safety hybrid position in the "Peso" defense.
WR Brandon Kinnie: A junior, Kinnie took advantage of his first spring at Nebraska to work on fundamentals, technique, and learn "how to be a wide receiver," he said. Kinnie arrived last fall as a sophomore transfer, and now at 6-2, 230, he's got the strength -- and the confidence, says his position coach -- to be a top receiver.
LB Sean Fisher: Defensive coordinator Carl Pelini said Fisher "skyrocketed" this spring. "The light went on. He doesn't make mistakes. He's doing it all -- all of a sudden." Fisher's emergence, oddly enough, came after his old position, BUCK linebacker, was eliminated in Nebraska's new defensive scheme. Now, look for Fisher, a sophomore, to be an every-down linebacker at WILL and/or MIKE.
QUOTE TO NOTE: "When we say it's going to be a fair competition, it's going to be a fair competition. We grade every step they take, every pass they throw, every decision they make in the run game." ñ Nebraska offensive coordinator Shawn Watson, on the quarterback race.
2010 OUTLOOK: All eyes are centered on a Nebraska offense that showed signs of life in the Holiday Bowl, but prior to that had gone into a shell in the second half of last season. What direction will offensive coordinator Shawn Watson go this fall? That could depend on who wins the quarterback job. The defense loses five starters, but defensive tackle Jared Crick anchors a strong line, and the secondary is the deepest it's been in years.
SCOUTING THE OFFENSE: Zac Lee, Cody Green and Taylor Martinez will enter fall camp battling for the starting quarterback job. Lee, who started 12 games last season, missed spring practices while recovering from elbow surgery on this throwing arm, and coaches say a starter can't lose his job because of injury. But Lee must re-earn the job, too, and the enticing athleticism of Martinez, along with the dual-threat ability of Green, will be significant challenges for Lee.
SCOUTING THE DEFENSE: The talk of the spring was Nebraska's new "Peso" defense. In essence, it's what coaches used in the final two games of last season, against Texas and Arizona, only now it has a fancy name. In this base defense, one player will play a hybrid linebacker/defensive back role -- linebacker against heavy offensive personnel, and defensive back against spread looks. That position will never leave the field, therefore saving on substitutions. Senior Eric Hagg, a nickel back last season, is favored to earn that starting spot.
SCOUTING THE SPECIAL TEAMS: The question entering fall camp is whether Adi Kunalic, one of the nation's top kickers on kickoffs, will redshirt. He will be a senior this fall -- and so will star kicker Alex Henery, who handles extra points, field goals and punts. Kunalic wants to sit a season so he can be the main kicker in 2011. But coaches aren't sure they want to give up Kunalic's powerful leg on kickoffs this season. Kunalic had 29 touchbacks, on 73 kickoffs, which ranked third nationally last season.
--QB Zac Lee should begin throwing footballs this summer and return to the quarterback race come fall camp. The senior has surgery in January to repair a tendon in his throwing elbow.
--OL Ricky Henry, OL Mike Smith, OL Jermarcus Hardrick and LB Mathew May were among notable players who sat out the Spring Game with injury. All are expected to return in time for fall camp. Nebraska emerged from spring practices with no known major injuries.
That offense will be operating under first-year coordinator Dana Holgorsen, who joined the Cowboys after serving in the same capacity at Houston and also has ties to Mike Leach's aerial assault after working for eight seasons under the Texas Tech coach.
After inconsistencies slowed the offense at times in the spring, Oklahoma State blended just 33 runs into 106 plays during the spring game. Don't jump to the conclusion, however, this is designed to get the ball in the air whenever possible. One issue was the OSU staff did not want to use Kendall Hunter much.
Bothered most of last season with a nagging foot/ankle injury, Hunter looked sharp with four carries for 43 yards and four receptions for 28 yards. He didn't need a substantial amount of work. Coaches know what the senior is capable of after he led the Big 12 in rushing in 2008, so there was no use risking an injury.
The bigger concern is how Brandon Weeden adapts as the starting quarterback. The former professional baseball pitcher showed promise a year ago when he rescued Oklahoma State from an upset in the second half of its win against Colorado.
In the spring game, Weeden, 26, definitely separated himself, making great reads while engineering the new offense almost flawlessly. He distributed the ball well and showcased some players who could emerge as threats, particularly sophomore wideout Tracy Moore. Weeden finished 22 of 34 passing for 257 yards and four touchdowns.
"With him it's about making good decisions. He can make every throw," Holgorsen said. "That's why I study his eyes. If his eyes are in the right place, then we will keep getting better."
Defensively, time is needed for Oklahoma State to mature. Young players must fill in key spots at both linebacker and the secondary, while emphasis was also placed on generating a better pass rush from the defensive line.
Line play could eventually decide whether the Cowboys continue to contend in the Big 12 South after going 6-2 last season before finishing 9-4 with a loss against Mississippi in the Cotton Bowl.
--Oklahoma State did not issue a recruiting promise to QB Johnny Deaton that he'd crack the two-deep in spring camp. But the freshman reported early and managed to do just that, completing 14 of 18 passes for 63 yards, with one interception, in the Cowboys' spring game. Deaton moved ahead of QB Clint Chelf, a redshirt freshman.
--An odd scoring system was implemented in the spring game, which pitted the offense against the defense. The defense grabbed a quick 2-0 lead by making a tackle for a loss on the first play from scrimmage, and also was rewarded points for not allowing a first down. The offense, however, eventually was declared the winner.
QB Johnny Deaton: The freshman enrolled in time to participate in spring practice and solidified the No. 2 spot behind Brandon Weeden. Deaton didn't show any nerves playing before a crowd in the spring game.
LB Caleb Levey: Another freshman who enrolled early, Levey was solid in the spring game, recording five tackles. He snagged an interception in an earlier spring scrimmage.
LB Joe Mitchell: The freshman sparkled throughout the spring, then was in on a team-high six solo tackles in the spring game. He is positioned to start in the new "Star" position created by the OSU staff.
QUOTE TO NOTE: "I made strides, but I still have a long ways to go. You can never relax and put the cruise control on." -- Oklahoma State QB Brandon Weeden.
2010 OUTLOOK: Enough talent exists on both sides of the ball for Oklahoma State to flourish, but much of it is unproven and could take time to develop. What the Cowboys achieve in three September nonconference games (against Washington State, Troy and Tulsa) will be critical, though all are at home and could create a false read. QB Brandon Weeden certainly seems capable of stepping in and delivering, with pressure relieved somewhat by the presence of talented RB Kendall Hunter. Several promising players are stepping into spots on defense, though it will take time for that unit to mesh. The Cowboys must remain hungry and unsatisfied. Stumbling in the last two games a year ago, when a listless 27-0 loss at Oklahoma preceded the Cotton Bowl defeat, indicates that OSU's climb is far from over.
SCOUTING THE OFFENSE: College teams aren't given much time to tinker in the spring with only 15 practices allotted, but new Oklahoma State offensive coordinator Dana Holgorsen said he managed to install his entire package. If it is indeed that simple, then that's the beauty of the offense, which allows receivers to make plays after the catch but will also incorporate the rushing threat supplied by veteran RB Kendall Hunter. If QB Brandon Weeden stands up under pressure as the new starter, something he figures to do at the age of 26, and receivers continue to step up and prove consistent, the Cowboys should have little trouble moving the ball. WR Tracy Moore could break out as a huge weapon, though WR Hubert Anyiam returns as the most dependable receiver. The new offense also plays at a quick tempo, but adjustments must account for four new starters along the line.
SCOUTING THE DEFENSE: Much was made about the arrival of Bill Young prior to last season and the veteran defensive coordinator wasted no time putting his aggressive stamp on the Cowboys. This season, however, is when Young will earn his money following the loss of playmakers such as CB Perrish Cox, LB Donald Booker and LB Patrick Lavine. Although Oklahoma State emerged as the fourth-best defense in the Big 12, allowing 330 yards and 22 points on average, it didn't generate consistent pressure. It averaged barely two sacks defensively and carried a negative margin considering the offensive line allowed 3.7 sacks on average. LB Joe Mitchell is a newcomer to watch. CB Brodrick Brown will try to capitalize on a nice bowl performance.
SCOUTING THE SPECIAL TEAMS: While the Cowboys will miss the breakaway capabilities of Cox as a return man, they realize they must improve on an 18.4-yard kickoff return average, which ranked last in the Big 12. They return P Quinn Sharp, who averaged 44.4 yards as a freshman. PK Dan Bailey also returns.
--WR Hubert Anyiam suffered a foot injury during spring drills, which required surgery. He should recovery in time to participate in fall camp.
--RB Travis Miller, considered one of the Cowboys' budding stars during spring camp, absorbed a hard hit after catching a swing pass on the first play of the spring scrimmage. "It knocked him silly," said OSU coach Mike Gundy, who did not permit Miller to return as a precaution.
--WR Josh Cooper has been hampered by injuries throughout his OSU career, but the junior could benefit greatly in the new offensive system. He will move into the slot and not be considered undersized at 5-11, 192 pounds.
Both starting quarterback Jerrod Johnson and backup Ryan Tannehill engineered touchdown drives to begin the scrimmage, causing DeRuyter to change his approach. He quickly began bringing extra pressure and the blitzes slowed the offensive spurts.
"I kind of threw out my initial thoughts and said, 'All right, we gotta dictate a little more tempo,"' DeRuyter said.
This is the key issue A&M faces as it attempts to build on a postseason berth in the Independence Bowl, which resulted in a loss against Georgia and left the Aggies 6-7 overall last season after finishing 3-5 in the Big 12.
With an offense good enough to motor against any team in the league, A&M must improve defensively if it is compete more favorably in the Big 12 under third-year coach Mike Sherman. That unit allowed 426.3 yards on average a year ago to rank 105th nationally, and often negated an offense that averaged 465.8 yards and ranked fifth.
Although plans in the spring game also called for the defense not to tackle as aggressively in the second half, too many mishits in the first half prompted Sherman and DeRuyter to alter original plans again.
Thus, the results from the spring game weren't overly encouraging for the defense. Fortunately, however, much time remains to work on fundamentals and also get the Aggies more comfortable in the 3-4 scheme DeRuyter introduced, a change from the 4-3 alignment previously run.
As for the offense, Johnson is the best returnee in the Big 12 at quarterback and could generate even more explosive numbers. Each of his complimentary skill players return, including Cyrus Gray and Christine Michael at running back, as well as a receiving corps led by Jeff Fuller. Their familiarity was displayed in the spring game.
"I thought we had a great tempo on offense," Sherman said. "We snapped the ball in about 15 to 16 seconds. We put a lot of pressure on the defense. It was faster than even we had practiced."
--With an elbow injury slowing RB Christine Michael, another returnee, RB Cyrus Gray, received more reps during spring practices. Gray responded with 65 yards and two touchdowns on 10 carries in the spring game. According to Texas A&M coach Mike Sherman, Gray showed he was a more physical runner and "has taken his game to another level."
--Sherman devised his own scoring system for the spring game and docked the defense 10 points late in the game for allowing the third explosive play it permitted on the day. LB Michael Hodges, a senior, vowed to use Sherman's deduction as a motivating tool while leading the defense in offseason conditioning.
--The A&M staff used the spring game as an evaluation mechanism before completing spring drills entirely. The Aggies concluded with two additional practices following their public scrimmage, which drew more fans than either of the two previous spring games conducted under Sherman.
OT Luke Joeckel: The freshman was pushed during spring practice while lining up opposite DE Von Miller, the nation's sack leader a year ago. Miller had a sack in the spring game, but for the most part, Joeckel was impressive, especially for a freshman who came in at mid-term.
NG Lucas Patterson: The senior figures to be a pivotal player for the Aggies, especially if he can generate the kind of pressure he exerted in the spring game. He often forced quarterbacks to scramble by getting up the middle.
LB Garrick Williams: Drew praise from Sherman for both his work in the spring game, as well as spring practices overall. Looks capable of covering considerable ground and should handle coverage responsibilities in the Aggies' new 3-4 scheme.
QUOTE TO NOTE: "We've got to emphasize (tackling) more and put our guys in game situations. We probably haven't done that enough. Ö (Sometimes) those kind of things can only be taught in the arena. You can drill and drill, but it's not the same thing." -- Texas A&M defensive coordinator Tim DeRuyter.
2010 OUTLOOK: Progress within the rugged South Division of the Big 12 can be tricky. Sometimes teams look ahead thinking they're on the right path, only to take a step back. That's what Texas A&M hopes to avoid after going 3-5 in the league last season with some crazy outcomes, including a blowout win at Texas Tech and a humbling defeat at Kansas State. The eventual result was an Independence Bowl bid, but a loss to Georgia left the Aggies 6-7, the fifth time in eight years they failed to exceed .500. A potent offense led by QB Jerrod Johnson returns virtually intact. The Aggies also will be experienced on defense, though the youth movement third-year Mike Sherman engaged in still leaves much room for improvement on that side of the ball.
SCOUTING THE OFFENSE: Johnson improved dramatically last season. Previously jumpy and prone to mistakes, he demonstrated much more poise and is positioned to enjoy a big season as a senior. Burly at 6-5, Johnson is a threat to take on tacklers as a runner, though his pocket presence was much better a year ago. Protection can still improve and should behind an experienced line as long as freshman OT Luke Joeckel develops. Productive receivers return. Jeff Fuller, Uzoma Nwachukwu and Ryan Tannehill all could enjoy big seasons. Two running backs, Christine Michael and Cyrus Gray will again alternate in the backfield depending on production. After ranking fifth nationally as the most productive offense in the Big 12 a year ago, the Aggies should be even better.
SCOUTING THE DEFENSE: Improvement on this side of the ball will dictate whether A&M can blossom into a contender in the South. The Aggies are learning a new system under coordinator Tim DeRuyter, who was hired out of Air Force and implemented a 3-4 scheme. The potential exists to put more pressure on the quarterback, though the Aggies already feature LB Von Miller, who led the nation with 17 sacks last season from a hybrid position. S Trent Hunter is one of the best in the Big 12, but more A&M defenders need to make plays before they get into the back end. Improvement from LB Garrick Williams is needed for the 3-4 scheme to work, plus NG Lucas Patterson must exert the same kind of pressure he showed flushing quarterbacks in the spring game.
SCOUTING THE SPECIAL TEAMS: KR Cyrus Gray returned a kick for a touchdown last season, though A&M struggled for the most part on returns. PK Randy Bullock is serviceable, but not spectacular. The punting game must improve in all areas, both netting yards off boots and in the return game. Special teams remain a work in progress.
--QB Jerrod Johnson underwent surgery on his throwing shoulder during the offseason and was limited during the spring, though he did throw nine passes in the spring game. Johnson estimated his recovery at 80 percent.
--QB/WR Ryan Tannehill missed several spring practices because of class conflicts, but also participated in the spring game. He continues to back up Johnson, but figures to see time at receiver.
--RB Christine Michael missed some of spring practice with an elbow injury, allowing more reps for RB Cyrus Gray, who alternated with Michael last season.
--LB Von Miller missed the practice prior to the spring game with a concussion.
Potts, who began and closed last season as the starter during a 9-4 run Tech capped with a win in the Alamo Bowl, required surgery on his throwing hand. Sheffield, meanwhile, required surgery on his foot.
"It probably worked out the best," Tuberville said after examining backups Seth Doege and Jacob Karam during Tech's spring game. "These young guys needed the work, because they're one or two plays away from having to play."
That was the situation Sheffield found himself in a year ago when the former walk-on stepped in after Potts suffered a concussion. Sheffield was praised for his leadership capabilities by then-coach Mike Leach and claimed the job before suffering his foot injury in a win at Nebraska.
Leach, of course, was fired prior to the Alamo Bowl for his alleged mistreatment of an injured player, a situation that finds the former coach battling the Tech administration in court. Tuberville, meanwhile, was hired out of exile after previously directing turnarounds at Mississippi and Auburn.
Cognizant of the popularity Leach gained with the "Air Raid" offense he established guiding the Red Raiders to 10 bowls in 10 seasons as coach, Tuberville promised to keep the ball flying. Tech will do so at a faster pace, which has been dubbed the "NASCAR" offense. A no-huddle attack was implemented the entire spring game by new offensive coordinator Neal Brown.
"They line up and just snap it over and over and over again," linebacker Bront Bird told the Fort Worth Star-Telegram. "It gets pretty rough out there on that."
Rough enough that Karam threw for 326 yards and three touchdowns in the spring game, while Doege added 204 yards. Each fired 34 attempts.
It almost seemed as if little has changed at Tech, especially after players insisted after the spring game that the transition to Tuberville and his new staff went smoothly.
"With the way everything went on we've really moved on and we've hit the ground running with this new coaching staff," said senior wide receiver Alex Torres.
--The demands of former coach Mike Leach were called into question during spring camp by veteran WR Detron Lewis, who claimed he was forced to play last season on a tender hamstring he injured in the second game. Lewis eventually caught 65 passes for 844 yards, down slightly from the numbers (76-913) he posted in 2008. Lewis said he could have performed better had he been allowed to heal. It was Leach's policy not to disclose injuries.
--Although the offense installed by new coach Tommy Tuberville and his coordinator, Neal Brown, is a no-huddle attack that snaps the ball quickly and will attempt to trigger as many as 100 plays in a game, Tech probably won't scrap the run. Sure, Tuberville promised to throw the ball after he was introduced and just about has to keep Leach's supporters from revolting. But with RB Baron Batch among the top returnees in the Big 12 and speedy RB Eric Stephens capable of busting a big gain, Tech has capable backs.
WR Alex Torres: Although he is coming off an impressive freshman debut after averaging a team-high 5.4 receptions last season, Torres was solid throughout camp and led all Tech receivers with 10 catches in the spring game.
WR Cornelius Douglas: Shed four tackles on a 64-yard touchdown reception in the spring game and made five catches, even though he was blasted in the third quarter on a hit by S Terrance Bullitt, which resulted in a 15-yard penalty.
QUOTE TO NOTE: "We want to play faster, we want to try to get going at a good tempo, and our kids have bought into that. That's probably the best thing we've gotten out of the spring." -- Texas Tech offensive coordinator Neal Brown.
2010 OUTLOOK: The transition to new coach Tommy Tuberville is the story that will continue to receive the most headlines after Texas Tech went to 10 bowl games in as many years under Mike Leach, who went 84-43. Leach was fired just prior to the Alamo Bowl last season for his alleged mistreatment of a player. The firing prompted Leach to file a wrongful termination lawsuit and will be something his former players, including the player in the eye of the storm, WR Adam James, can keep tracking as the season approaches. Will it be a distraction? Will the Red Raiders embrace Tuberville and his staff? Only time will tell. The new coach stepped in and immediately began predicting championships, one thing Leach failed to deliver as coach.
SCOUTING THE OFFENSE: Expect Texas Tech to continue winging the football after annually ranking among the nation's top passing teams under Leach. Two veterans with starting experience, Taylor Potts and Steven Sheffield, return at quarterback, though both missed most of spring drills with injuries. Several additional skill players return to make the transition to a new offense easier on the healing quarterbacks. RB Baron Batch is one of the most versatile backs in the Big 12, capable of producing off the catch or the rush. WR Alex Torres was the top receiver in the spring game and WR Cornelius Douglas is capable of breaking tackles after the catch. Tech will run its offense at a quicker pace under Tuberville with a scripted attack capable of snapping the ball immediately. Blocking up front will be the key question with three new starters along the line.
SCOUTING THE DEFENSE: Yes, Texas Tech does play defense. In fact, under Leach, the Red Raiders didn't emerge as potential contenders in the Big 12 South until the defense underwent a sound makeover under previous coordinator Ruffin McNeill. McNeill, who coached Tech in the Alamo Bowl, is now the head coach at East Carolina. If the spring game is any indication, the Red Raiders again look capable of applying pressure after leading the Big 12 with an average of 3.3 sacks per game last season. DT Donald Langley, who began his collegiate career at Tennessee, could be tough to budge up front. LB Brian Duncan returns after leading the Red Raiders in tackles last season.
SCOUTING THE SPECIAL TEAMS: KR Eric Stephens and PR Austin Zouzalik both broke in as freshmen last season. Stephens, who will share time with Batch at running back, is the top returnee in the Big 12 among kick returners after averaging 25.9 yards a year ago. PK Matt Williams, whom Leach put on the roster after watching him audition during a time out promotion, returns, though he only attempted 11 field goals (made nine) last season. P Ryan Erxleben also returns after debuting last season as a freshman.
--DT Colby Whitlock missed the spring game because of a jaw injury, which required surgery. Whitlock practiced with the injury, which he suffered in an earlier scrimmage, before complaining of pain.
--CB LaRon Moore a returning starter, suffered a leg injury in the spring game that is expected to keep him from conditioning for two months.
--DT Myles Wade missed the spring game with a sprained right knee, though the injury was not expected to keep him out of conditioning very long.
--IR Derrick Mays moved to his new spot after previously lining up wide, though the transition was slowed by a knee ailment.