Big 12 spring football primer: Burning questions for each team
Last month, Baylor coach Art Briles said that he wanted his program to "run the show" in the Big 12 next season. That's pretty much what happened in 2013, when the Bears rode an explosive offense to the school's first conference title and a Fiesta Bowl berth. But Baylor wasn't without competition. Oklahoma and Oklahoma State both won at least 10 games, and eight-win Texas stayed in contention for the league crown until its regular-season finale. In all, six Big 12 teams went bowling last winter.
It's too soon to tell what the conference will look like in 2014, but each squad has plenty to figure out. Here are burning questions for each Big 12 team as spring practice kicks off.
• Baylor: Can the Bears' offense pick up where it left off?
The Bears have a number of holes to fill on an offense that averaged an FBS-best 52.4 points per game last season. Ultra-efficient quarterback Bryce Petty returns for his senior year, but running backs Lache Seastrunk (1,177 rushing yards, 11 touchdowns) and Glasco Martin (509 yards, seven touchdowns), and wide receiver Tevin Reese (867 receiving yards, eight touchdowns), are gone. Keep an eye on the progression of sophomore running back Shock Linwood; he was the team's second-leading rusher with 881 yards last fall. The offensive line's development will be critical, too, with All-America guard Cyril Richardson among three key losses on the unit. Baylor's offense won't sneak up on opponents this season, and it will be up to Petty, Linwood and wideouts Antwan Goodley and Levi Norwood to prevent a drop-off in production.
• Iowa State: Is Mark Mangino the answer for the Cyclones' attack?
Iowa State struggled on both sides of the ball in 2013. The Cyclones ranked ninth in the Big 12 in scoring offense (24.8 points per game) and 10th in the league in scoring defense (36.0 points allowed per game) as they limped to a 3-9 record. New offensive coordinator Mark Mangino has been tasked with finding some answers for the dismal attack. His first order of business? Working out the kinks at quarterback, where Sam B. Richardson and Grant Rohach both saw significant playing time last fall. Neither was particularly impressive. They combined tho throw for 19 touchdowns and 13 interceptions. The good news for Mangino is that the offense returns 10 starters, including the entire offensive line and leading rusher Aaron Wimberly. The coach also has a proven track record. He called plays for Oklahoma's 2000 BCS title-winning offense, and his Kansas team won the '08 Orange Bowl.
• Kansas: Can transfer T.J. Millweard solve the Jayhawks' quarterback issues?
Coach Charlie Weis has yet another transfer in the mix for the starting quarterback spot. Such passers as Dayne Christ and Jake Heaps haven't found much success after transferring to Kansas, but perhaps T. J. Millweard can jumpstart an aerial attack that finished 119th in FBS last year. Millweard sat out the 2013 campaign after leaving UCLA, where he backed up Brett Hundley. Now, he'll join a spring competition with Heaps (eight touchdowns, 10 interceptions in '13) and Montell Cozart. The Jayhawks return three starting wide receivers, including Tony Pierson and Jimmay Mundine. First-year offensive coordinator John Reagan's spread scheme could work well for Millweard, who ran a similar offense in high school.
• Kansas State: Who steps up on defense?
The Wildcats' defense was formidable last season. It allowed just 22.9 points per game, third in the Big 12. This spring, however, K-State will be looking for a few new faces to step up. Coach Bill Snyder's team loses seven starters, including All-Big 12 safety Ty Zimmerman. The lone returning linebacker is Jonathan Truman (89 tackles). Look for bigger roles for the likes of safety Dante Barnett and defensive end Ryan Mueller, both seniors. Juco defensive back Danzel McDaniel could also make an instant impact the secondary. There is talent on this side of the ball, but the Wildcats need a few reserves to take on added responsibility.
• Oklahoma: Where do the Sooners turn at running back?
Tailback Damien Williams was dismissed from the team last November, and the Sooners will also lose Brennan Clay -- last season's leading rusher -- and Roy Finch to graduation. Entering spring practice, all indications are that Keith Ford and Alex Ross will be battling for the starting role. Ford and Ross were each highly touted as recruits, but neither has much college experience. Both will look to establish themselves before Joe Mixon, a five-star prospect out of Oakley, Calif., arrives on campus and makes a push for carries. Also, be sure to monitor quarterback Trevor Knight's continued development. He shined in the Sugar Bowl after an inconsistent campaign, but he's firmly in command of the offense. Kendal Thompson transferred to Utah in February and Blake Bell switched positions to tight end.
• Oklahoma State: Can the Cowboys put last season's disappointing finish behind them?
After a 10-1 start that included a rout of previously unbeaten Baylor, Oklahoma State went out with a whimper: The Cowboys lost to Oklahoma in their regular-season finale before falling to Missouri in the Cotton Bowl. Now, Oklahoma State looks to bounce back with a roster that returns only nine starters, including four on defense. Keep an eye on linebacker Ryan Simmons and cornerback Kevin Peterson, who both seem poised to step up. Quarterback remains a question mark, too, as J.W. Walsh and Clint Chelf will again compete for the starting job. But don't count out freshman Mason Rudolph. The early enrollee passed for 4,377 yards with 64 touchdowns as a senior at Northwestern High in Rock Hill, S.C.
• TCU: Can a staff shakeup spark the Horned Frogs' offense?
The Horned Frogs went 4-8 last season, their worst record since they went 1-10 in 1997. Much of the blame falls on an attack that scored just 25.1 points per game, eighth in the Big 12. In response, coach Gary Patterson brought in Sonny Crumbie and Doug Meacham as his new co-offensive coordinators, and they have plenty to figure out. Trevone Boykin (1,198 passing yards, seven touchdowns, seven interceptions) was underwhelming last year, and little-used quarterback Tyler Matthews should compete with Boykin for reps this spring. TCU will also look to establish some rhythm on the ground. Tailback Aaron Green will get some carries alongside B.J. Catalon.
• Texas: How will new coach Charlie Strong make use of his talent?
Lost in last season's Mack Brown farewell tour was the fact that the Longhorns, despite their struggles, remained in the mix for the Big 12 title until their regular-season finale. Now, Charlie Strong takes over a team set to return 13 starters. Quarterback David Ash's health will be a major storyline this spring; he missed 10 games last year with concussion-like symptoms, but has been cleared for workouts. Ash and Tyrone Swoopes are the frontrunners for the starting job, though USC transfer Max Wittek is still considering joining the team. Texas should have plenty of other weapons on offense, too, including wide receiver Jaxon Shipley and tailbacks Johnathan Gray, Malcolm Brown and Joe Bergeron. Meanwhile, the defense loses only four starters. Spring practice presents Strong's first opportunity to cultivate his own atmosphere and culture in Austin.
• Texas Tech: Can the Red Raiders avoid a drop-off in the passing game?
After playing musical chairs at quarterback in 2013, Davis Webb is now the guy at Texas Tech. His emergence last fall led to the transfers of Michael Brewer and Baker Mayfield. Yet Webb enters the spring looking for new targets. His top two pass-catchers, tight end Jace Amaro (106 catches for 1,352 yards) and wideout Eric Ward (83 grabs for 947 yards), are gone. The Red Raiders will look for Jakeem Grant, Bradley Marquez and juco transfer Devin Lauderdale to step up. Four starters on the offensive line return, and they should bring stability to an aerial attack that averaged 392.8 yards per game last season, second nationally.
• West Virginia: How will the Mountaineers look on defense?
West Virginia's defensive coordinator spot might as well be a revolving door. Keith Patterson, who held the position in 2013, bolted for Arizona State in February. Coach Dana Holgorsen subsequently promoted safeties coach Tony Gibson, who becomes the program's fourth defensive coordinator in Holgorsen's four seasons in Morgantown. Gibson has lots of work to do. The Mountaineers surrendered 454.3 yards per game last year, 102nd in the FBS, and lose such veterans as defensive end Will Clarke and defensive tackle Shaq Rowell. West Virginia will need to address its problems quickly. The Mountaineers open against Alabama in the Chick-fil-A Kickoff Game on Aug. 30.