February 28, 2006

Plenty to watch for in the Big 12

Texas won its first football national championship in 35 years last season and the Longhorns don't want to wait that long for another one. But Rhett Bomar is growing up and Adrian Peterson is healthy, so Oklahoma appears on the verge of returning to its usual form.

Nebraska appears to be getting back to its old self. Even though field goal attempts in Ames, Iowa, are more traumatic than any place north of Tallahassee, Fla., this could be Iowa State's year in the Big 12 North.

New coaches also hope to bring better results at Colorado and Kansas State.

Rivals.com takes a look at the teams, coaches and individuals who could emerge in the Big 12 next season.

Breakout Performers | Impact Newcomers | Position Battles | New Schemes | Best by Position

Big 12 North 2005 Record
1. Nebraska 7-4, 4-4
The Cornhuskers seem to be getting the hang of that new-fangled thing called the forward pass. Coach Bill Callahan has 18 starters returning. The bowl victory over Michigan could propel them to new (or old) heights. Hey, it worked for Texas.
2. Iowa State 7-4, 4-4
It has got to happen sometime, doesn't it? With elusive QB Bret Meyer and RB Stevie Hicks heading a solid offense, this could be the Cyclones' year. Tough schedule includes Texas, Oklahoma and Texas Tech from the South.
3. Missouri 6-5, 4-4
Brad Smith is gone, but 19 starters return from the team that won the Independence Bowl. If a running back emerges and the new quarterback Chase Daniel or Chase Patton isn't overwhelmed, the Tigers could be in the thick of it.
4. Colorado 7-5, 5-3
Despite all the problems last season, the Buffs still emerged again as the North champion. The defense has some solid players and Hugh Charles is a tough runner. There's a big question at QB, but that's par for the course in the Big 12. And hey, Dan Hawkins won in Boise, Idaho. Surely he can win in Boulder.
5. Kansas 6-5, 3-5
The Jayhawks have steadily improved under Mark Mangino and even won a bowl game. Find a quarterback and that upward trend may continue.
6. Kansas State 5-6, 2-6
A bunch of starters will return on both sides of the ball (nine on offense, eight on defense). Will that matter with a new coach?

Big 12 South 2005 Record
1. Texas 13-0, 8-0
Victory began and ended with Vince Young last season. Now, Young is NFL-bound. The Longhorns still have a lot of other players that eventually will be, too, especially in the lines. That should be enough to help a young QB (whether it be Colt McCoy or Jevan Snead) succeed.
2. Oklahoma 7-4, 6-2
If issues in the offensive line get settled, the Sooners could win the championship and RB Adrian Peterson would finally win that big trophy.
3. Texas Tech 9-2, 6-2
Losing safeties Dwayne Slay and Vincent Meeks will hurt, but Tech doesn't win with defense, anyway. The Raiders have a stable of thoroughbreds at receiver in Joel Filani, Jarrett Hicks and Robert Johnson. They also have a heralded - though unproven - QB in Graham Harrell to throw to them.
4. Texas A&M 5-6, 3-5
The schedule seems favorable, but if the Aggies don't improve their woeful pass defense they could finish fifth or lower.
5. Baylor 5-6, 2-6
Face it, the Bears keep improving. The old pushover is pushing back. RB Paul Mosley is one of the Big 12's most under-appreciated players.
6. Oklahoma State 4-7, 1-7
If injury-prone QB Bobby Reid stays healthy the Cowboys will be better. How much better is up for debate.

Five players who will emerge this season
1. Graham Harrell, So, QB, Texas Tech: Red Raiders quarterbacks typically lead the nation in passing yardage. Harrell, easily Mike Leach's most heralded QB recruit, should be the latest.
2. Tony Hills, Jr., OT, Texas: He must replace All-American Jonathan Scott, but some observers think he may even be an upgrade.
3. Gerald McCoy, Fr., DT, Oklahoma: Sure this guy's last name isn't Selman? A Rivals.com five-star recruit, the 6-4, 305-pounder can bench 360 pounds, run a 4.9, and he dominated the U.S. Army All-American game.
4. Adarius Bowman, Jr., WR, Oklahoma State: A big target at 6-feet-4, 217 pounds, he sat out last season after transferring from North Carolina. He had 10 catches for 181 yards and two touchdowns as a freshman for the Tar Heels.
5. Matt Herian, Sr., TE, Nebraska: Don't say breakout season or any other word with "break" in it near Herian. A broken leg and broken wrist kept the 6-5, 240-pounder sidelined for a year-and-a-half. He caught 22 passes in eight games in 2003.

Five Impact Newcomers
1. Maurice Purify, Jr., WR, Nebraska: A big, physical receiver at 6-4, 215-pounds, he caught 56 passes for 1,200 yards and scored 19 touchdowns at City College of San Francisco. He has 4.5 speed and figures to put up gaudy stats for the Huskers, too.
2. Gerald McCoy, Fr., DL, Oklahoma: This 6-4, 305-pound manchild from Oklahoma City may be entrenched in the Sooners' interior for the next four years. Or three.
3. Jevan Snead, Fr., QB or Colt McCoy, Fr., QB, Texas: One of them is going to replace Vince Young. Snead has a big arm and both quarterbacks run well. Following Young is no picnic, but whoever starts will be surrounded by excellent talent.
4. Moses Manu, Jr, DE, Kansas State: The 6-foot-3, 260-pound Tongan had nine sacks last season at El Camino Junior College. He has only played football for three years, so his potential is as big as he is.
5. Anthony Lewis, Fr., LB, Texas A&M: The Aggies are desperate for help at linebacker and Lewis arrives with the speed of the cavalry. Rated a four-star prospect by Rivals.com, the 6-2, 220-pound Lewis covers 40 yards in 4.6 seconds.

Position Battles to Watch
Baylor: Linebacker. Both spots are wide open. Junior Nick Moore, who had 23 tackles a year ago, will challenge Joe Pawelek and Marcus Mead for one spot. Ben Hixson, Antonio Jones and Paul Tolbert will likely fight for the other starting job.
Colorado: Quarterback. Senior James Cox, junior Brian White and junior Bernard Jackson combined to throw 29 passes last year. Well, sort of. Cox threw all of those passes. The point is, the competition is wide open. We'll learn who the QB will be at about the same time as the receivers.
Iowa State: Kicker. Funny stuff, right? Not in Ames, where errant field goals have cost the Cyclones North championships the last two seasons. Bret Culbertson kicked 12 of 16 field goals last season, but missed from 41 yards in a crushing overtime loss to Kansas. He also misfired the previous season in the same situation against Missouri. Should someone else - perhaps redshirt freshman Chris Mahoski - show consistency, there may be a new foot making those crucial kicks.
Kansas: Quarterback. Senior Adam Barmann would expect to have the edge, although he completed just 16 passes for 118 yards. Redshirt freshman Kerry Meier and true freshman Todd Reesing will make a run for the starting job.
Kansas State: Quarterback. See a trend starting here? Three players have started at least six games the last two seasons, including Dylan Meier - the 2004 starter who was hurt last season. Allen Webb started five games and Allan Evridge started six last year. Throw in highly touted freshman Josh Freeman, a Rivals.com four-star recruit, and a new coach and anything can happen.
Missouri: Running back. The running backs will actually be running the ball. Go figure. Whether junior Marcus Woods (435 yards), junior Tony Temple (437 yards), sophomore Jimmy Jackson or redshirt freshman Connell Davis gets most of the carries remains to be seen.
Nebraska: Running back. Even though they throw now, running back is still a glamour position in Lincoln. Sophomore Marlon Lucky, a former Rivals.com five-star prospect, and junior college transfer Kenny Wilson, who averaged 11 yards per carry, will vie for that spotlight.
Oklahoma: Defensive end. C.J. Ah You, Calvin Thibodeaux and Larry Birdine, who is back from an injury that forced him to miss last season, have all started previously. There is also good depth behind them. Ah You was the Big 12's defensive newcomer of the year.
Oklahoma State: Quarterback. Sound familiar? Sophomore Bobby Reid has quick feet and a strong arm, but his toes are a problem. Three dislocated toes forced him out of four games and limited him in others. He passed for only 602 yards and rushed for 139. He'll have to stay on his toes to stave off the challenge of redshirt freshman Zac Robinson, who threw for 1,495 yards and 15 touchdowns as a high school senior.
Texas: Quarterback. Redshirt freshman Colt McCoy and strong-armed true freshman Jevan Snead (a four-star prospect) vie to become Vince Young's successor. Both are good runners, but not as good as their predecessor.
Texas A&M: Running back. The Aggies might have the league's best depth there. Courtney Lewis has 1,000-yard credentials and burly Jorvorskie Lane posted back-to-back 100-yard games when Lewis was hurt last season. Add Michael Goodson (a Rivals.com four-star recruit) and picking a starter will be a pleasant problem.
Texas Tech: Safety. Both starters are gone, so sophomore Lance Fuller and junior Joe Garcia will have first crack at starting jobs. However, speedy Darcell McBath switches over from cornerback and sophomore Anthony Hines will also compete for playing time. High school recruits Leonard Hewitt and Steven Harris will get in the mix when they arrive in August.

Five teams with New Schemes
Baylor: New offensive coordinator Lee Hays will implement a spread look similar to that of Texas Tech. Let's see if the results are similar.
Colorado: The coach changed, but the schemes have not. At least, not yet. It's a multiple offense and 4-3 based defense, but once Dan Hawkins sees exactly what he has to work with in spring drills he might start tinkering.
Kansas State: Under new coach Ron Prince, expect to see more pro-set and one-back packages in Manhattan. Don't expect him to abandon the quarterback running game, but it may not be as prominently featured as it was under Bill Snyder.
Oklahoma: The change in offensive coordinators could mean using quarterback Rhett Bomar as a runner more often. But with Adrian Peterson still in the backfield, it probably won't be enough to notice a significant difference.
Missouri: The overall scheme isn't expected to change. However, the loss of Brad Smith would indicate the running game won't be centered on the QB.

Best of the Big 12 by Position
Quarterback
1. Rhett Bomar, Oklahoma
2. Bret Meyer, Iowa State
3. Zac Taylor, Nebraska
4. Graham Harrell, Texas Tech
5. Stephen McGee, Texas A&M
Running back
1. Adrian Peterson, Oklahoma
2. Jamaal Charles, Texas
3. Stevie Hicks, Iowa State
4. Mike Hamilton, Oklahoma State
5. Hugh Charles, Colorado
Receiver
1. Jarrett Hicks, Texas Tech
2. Joel Filani, Texas Tech
3. Malcolm Kelly, Oklahoma
4. Todd Blythe, Iowa State
5. D'Jaun Woods, Oklahoma State
Offensive line
1. Justin Blalock, Texas
2. Mark Fenton, Colorado
3. Kasey Studdard, Texas
4. Corey Hilliard, Oklahoma State
5. Manuel Ramirez, Texas Tech
Tight End
1. Martin Rucker, Missouri
2. Chase Coffman, Missouri
3. Martellus Bennett, Texas A&M
4. Matt Herian, Nebraska
5. Joe Jon Finley, Oklahoma
Defensive line
1. Frank Okam, Texas
2. C.J. Ah You, Oklahoma
3. Tim Crowder, Texas
4. Adam Carriker, Nebraska
5. Larry Birdine, Oklahoma
Linebacker
1. Rufus Alexander, Oklahoma
2. Thaddaeus Washington, Colorado
3. Justin Warren, Texas A&M
4. Matt Robertson, Iowa State
5. Steve Octavien, Nebraska
Defensive back
1. Michael Griffin, Texas
2. D.J. Wolfe, Oklahoma
3. J.J. Billingsley, Colorado
4. Zack Bowman, Nebraska
5. C.J. Wilson, Baylor
Kicker
1. Mason Crosby, Colorado
2. Jordan Congdon, Nebraska
3. Alex Trlica, Texas Tech
4. Bruce Redden, Oklahoma State
5. Garrett Hartley, Oklahoma
Punter
1. Daniel Sepulveda, Baylor
2. Kyle Tucker, Kansas
3. Justin Brantly, Texas A&M
4. Adam Crossett, Missouri
5. Cody Freeby, Oklahoma

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