Well, here we are, it's time for spring football yet again. While the season won't kick off for about four more months, the speculation about which team in the Big 12 South will emerge as the clear favorite has already begun. At quarterback, Sam Bradford of Oklahoma, Colt McCoy from Texas and Oklahoma State's Zac Robinson all departed their respective schools, leaving sizeable shoes to fill. Here's a look at how this year's group of likely starters will stack up.
Garrett Gilbert, 6-4, Junior, Texas
Texas fans got a nice look at what life after McCoy might be like when their star QB was injured in the first half of the national title game against Alabama and Gilbert entered the game. The Austin Lake Travis product nearly saved the day, throwing for 162 yards and two scores in the second half as a furious late Longhorn comeback fell just short.
All told, Gilbert appeared in 10 games a year ago and threw for a total of 310 yards. He is the clear front runner to start for Mack Brown this fall and the offense looks to be in good hands with this 6-4 junior. Senior Sherrod Harris of Arlington is one candidate to be the backup along with 6-1 sophomore John Paul Floyd of Lubbock, neither of whom threw a single pass in 2009. UT added two freshmen in Case McCoy, a 6-2 product of Graham HS and Connor Wood, a 6-4 QB from Houston. Both freshmen could also push for some playing time.
Griffin looks to be the biggest wildcard of his group. After suffering a season-ending knee injury last fall just three games into his sophomore season, the talented QB has not participated in spring drills, leading to wide speculation about his health. Time and time again, Griffin has reiterated that he will be fine and ready to roll once fall practice starts.
In the three games he did play in last fall, he was 45-for-69 with 481 yards and 4 TD. Both Nick Florence and Blake Szymanski filled in for him under center. Florence started seven games and threw for 1,786 yards with 6 TD and 9 INT while as a senior Syzmanski started in two games and threw for 605 yards. Florence, a 6-1 sophomore from Garland, figures to again push for playing time and if Griffin isn't healthy, could again be the starter. True freshman Bryce Petty, a 6-2 talent from Midlothian could also see some snaps. Another option is Brody Trahan, a 5-11 redshirt freshman from Dickinson.
As a junior, Johnson earned Second Team All-Big 12 Conference honors. He threw for an impressive 3,579 yards, 30 TD and had just 8 INT as a junior. He averaged just over 275 yards per game for the 2009 Aggies. If Johnson can build on a solid junior campaign, then the 2010 season could be one of resurgence for Mike Sherman's squad.
Ryan Tannehill looks like he will remain Johnson's back-up as the 6-4 junior-to-be settled into his new role at wide receiver quite nicely a year ago. Tommy Dorman made two appearances at QB last year as a true freshman. A&M did sign three quarterbacks: Dickinson's Clay Honeycutt (6-2, 185), Matt Joeckel (6-4, 220) from Arlington and Jameill Showers (6-1, 200) from Killeen. All three could also get a look to be Johnson's backup once fall practice begins in August.
Landry Jones, 6-4, Sophomore, Oklahoma
As Bradford's replacement, Jones did pretty well for himself. He broke his freshman passing record and eclipsed another of his marks with 6 TDs against Tulsa. He threw for 3,198 yards, 26 TD and just 14 INT. He finished his freshman campaign with a 418-yard performance in the Sun Bowl, the second-highest passing total ever by a QB in that bowl game.
Jones is clearly the front runner to start in Norman but could have some competition. Redshirt freshman Drew Allen is a promising signal caller from San Antonio while five-star recruit Blake Bell, a 6-6 phenom from Wichita, could also push for playing time as a true freshman for Bob Stoops' Sooners.
New Tech head coach Tommy Tuberville looks to be the only of the Big 12 South's six head coaches with a legitimate quarterback controversy on his hands. Potts was now former coach Mike Leach's choice to start heading into 2010 and did so until suffering a concussion against New Mexico.
Luckily, he had Sheffield to step in and he did so in big fashion. He threw seven touchdown passes in his debut against Kansas State and the following week, helped lead Tech to victory over Nebraska. However, Sheffield then suffered a foot injury, which paved the way for Potts to return. This spring, both gunslingers are healthy and getting an equal number of snaps in spring practice, something that wasn't the case a year ago. This is a battle that likely won't be decided until late in fall practice. Incoming freshman Scotty Young, a true talent from Denton, looks to be the future in Lubbock.
Brandon Weeden, 6-4, Senior, Oklahoma State
After Robinson was injured in a nationally-televised game with Colorado, Weeden, who at the time, was OSU's third-string QB, stepped in and literally saved the day for Mike Gundy's Cowboys. Against the Buffaloes and with his team on the ropes, Weeden was 10-for-15 for 160 yards and a pair of touchdowns at Boone Pickens Stadium. It was the Edmond native's only start of the year.
Weeden is 26 after playing professional baseball in the Yankee and Dodger systems for several years before coming to Stillwater. That being said, he brings a certain maturity to the position, which is never a bad thing. He does have big shoes to fill in Robinson but if his showing against CU in the most extreme of duress was any indication, this is the right man for the job. Last year's backup Alex Cate, figures to return in that role this fall.
RANKINGS (It's tough to rank these guys, but here goes)
1. Landry Jones - Oklahoma: Great showing as a freshman but has stiff competition heading into sophomore year
2. Jerrod Johnson - Texas A&M: Strong junior campaign could translate into an even better senior year for Aggies
3. Taylor Potts or Steven Sheffield - Texas Tech: Texas Tech New Tech head coach Tuberville has two great options under center out in Lubbock
4. Garrett Gilbert - Texas: Great performance against Alabama could be hint of good things to come from this hometown product
5. Robert Griffin - Baylor: Can't deny his athletic ability; Baylor is clearly a different team when this guy is healthy
6. Brandon Weeden - Okla. St.: Like Gilbert, not a big sample size to draw from but his showing against Colorado last fall was definitely encouraging.