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Football

Post-spring reports for every Big 12 team

We’ve officially put spring football in our rearview mirror. Teams all across the country have started to turn their eyes towards the summer and the season which is fast approaching.

I can’t say I’m mad about it. I’m ready to watch a football game that counts for something.

Everybody knows that there’s a plethora of questions surrounding Iowa State football and the start of the Matt Campbell era. The thing I didn’t even fully realize until writing this was how many questions surround the other teams in the Big 12.

Multiple teams are looking to solidify the quarterback position. A few only have one returning starter along the offensive line. Some didn’t even have a player on their defense that I could refer to as a key returner.

In other words, there’s going to be a lot of new faces in the Big 12 this season. Let’s look back at how the other nine Big 12 teams are coming out of spring practice in order of their finish in last season’s standings.

Oklahoma

The good: All-American quarterback Baker Mayfield is back to follow up his junior season that saw him finish fourth in the Heisman voting. He will be joined by playmaking running back Samaje Perine and wide receiver Dede Westbrook on an offense that has the potential to be really good again.

The questions: Even with Westbrook back, the Sooners still need to sure up their receiving corp. That should be aided by the addition of Penn State transfer Geno Lewis (80 catches, 1,181 yards and eight touchdowns in three years in Happy Valley). They’re also going through a defensive line coach transition for the second season in a row as former Sooner defensive lineman Calvin Thibodeaux replaces Diron Reynolds.

Key returners:

Baker Mayfield, QB: One of the favorites for the Heisman Trophy entering the season after throwing for 3,700 yards and 36 touchdowns as a junior while leading the Sooners to the College Football Playoff.

Samaje Perine, RB: The two-time All-American selection ran for 1,349 and 16 touchdowns during his sophomore season.

Jordan Thomas, CB: Zack Sanchez stole a lot of the headlines in the OU defensive backfield last year and now it is Thomas’ turn. The first-team All-Big 12 selection made 46 tackles and had five interceptions during his sophomore year.

Oklahoma State

The good: The Cowboys are another team with their top quarterback returning as junior Mason Rudolph looks to take the next step after passing for 3,770 yards and 21 touchdowns last season. Explosive wide receiver James Washington is also back and figures to be one of the best pass catchers in the Big 12. The Cowboys have the most returning production at receiver in the conference.

The Questions: The Cowboys lost four of their top defensive playmakers, including Emmanuel Ogbah, after last season and finding replacements for them was one of their biggest objectives during spring ball. Safety Jordan Sterns will be part of a group tasked with picking up for the lost production.

Key returners:

Mason Rudolph, QB: The junior has a big-time arm and has shown the ability to sling the ball around. He’ll have the playmakers around him to take the next step this year.

Jordan Sterns, S: The second-team All-Big 12 selection in 2015 led the Cowboys in tackles last season.

Another to watch:

Barry Sanders, Jr., RB: The son of former NFL and Oklahoma State great, Barry Sanders, ran for 664 yards and five touchdowns at Stanford before transferring to OSU. Unlike at Stanford, he’ll have a chance to grab the starting job.

TCU

The good: I’m just being honest here, I don’t see many good things here for TCU. They return only three players on the offensive side of the ball and lost their three most explosive players in Treyvone Boykin, Josh Doctson and Aaron Green. One positive is that former Texas A&M Aggies quarterback Kenny Hill is eligible after sitting out last season as a transfer. On the bright side, they return seven starters on defense and if the past holds true, Gary Patterson’s defenses usually come into form.

The questions: Who is going to step up and fill the voids left on offense? Not only did the Horned Frogs lose their top playmakers, they return just one starter on the offensive line. Gary Patterson’s crew is usually going to have a salty defense regardless of personnel so finding an offensive identity will be the big key.

Key returners:

Joseph Noteboom, OT: The Horned Frogs’ only returning starter along the offensive line.

Kyle Hicks, RB: Ran for 422 yards on 101 carries last season as Aaron Green’s backup.

Aaron Curry and Josh Carraway, DT: The duo will anchor the TCU defensive line that figures to be pretty solid. Curry made 41 tackles last season in his first year with the Horned Frogs after transferring from Nebraska. Carraway led the team with nine sacks.

Another to watch:

Kenny Hill, QB: Threw for 2,832 yards and 23 touchdowns during his sophomore season at Texas A&M. He earned the nickname Kenny “Trill” after breaking Johnny Manziel’s school record for passing yards in a game during his first start.

Baylor

The good: There isn’t any questioning the Bears’ talent at quarterback. Seth Russell is from the neck injury that cut his junior season short after seven games. On top of that, his backup Jarrett Stidham, who threw for 1,265 yards and 12 touchdowns before a season ending injury of his own, is back for his sophomore season. Both these guys would start on most (if not all) college football teams.

The questions: Depth in the trenches is the biggest question mark for Baylor heading out of spring. They return only one offensive lineman and they’ve switched to a 3-4 defense to combat their lack of d-line depth. Luckily, a wealth of linebacker talent should make that transition a little easier.

Key returners:

Seth Russell, QB: Threw for 2,104 yards and 29 touchdowns before his injury last season. He’ll be one of the nation’s top signal callers.

Shock Linwood, RB: Ran for 1,329 yards and 10 touchdowns during his junior season.

Another to watch:

Tren’Davian Dickson, WR: This true freshman was an early enrollee with the Bears and, from all accounts, he’s been impressive. He’s the Texas high school all-time, all-classes leader in career touchdown catches with 76.

West Virginia

The good: Surprise, surprise, another quarterback is coming back. Skyler Howard was outstanding throwing for 532 yards and five touchdowns during the Mountaineers’ Cactus Bowl win over Arizona State and now he’ll look to carry that over to his senior season.

The questions: The Mountaineers need to find a running back that can carry the load after Wendell Smallwood left early for the draft. They’ll also be tasked with completely replacing their linebacking corp on the defensive side of the ball.

Key returners:

Skyler Howard, QB: He’ll need to become more consistent and efficient after completing 54 percent of his passes for 3,145 yards and 26 touchdowns last season. With that said, he has the tools to be a good Big 12 quarterback.

Rushel Shell, RB: The former five-star recruit transferred to WVU after his freshman season at Pittsburgh and now he’ll look to take the load in the running game. He ran for 708 yards as a junior and 788 yards as a redshirt sophomore.

Shelton Gibson, WR: He’ll be the Mountaineers’ big-play threat after catching 37 passes for 887 yards and nine touchdowns last season.

Another to watch:

Xavier Preston and Sean Walters, LB: Both guys played in all 13 games last season for WVU but they’ll be forced to fill larger roles after the Mountaineers lost all three of their starting linebackers.

Texas Tech

The good: I’m starting to get tired of writing about quarterbacks. The Red Raiders found themselves a good one in junior Patrick Mahomes. This was his first full spring with the team after he decided to focus on football rather than playing for the TTU baseball team.

The questions: Jakeem Grant was one of the most explosive players in college football last season while catching 90 passes for 10 touchdowns so finding his replacement will be difficult. The other thing that’s held the Red Raiders back the past few years has been the defense. If they figure out how to stop some people this team could be scary with Mahomes leading the way.

Key Returners:

Patrick Mahomes, QB: Threw for 4,653 yards and 36 touchdowns as a sophomore. Minimizing his interceptions will be key for him to take a step forward in 2016. 

Ian Sadler, WR: Caught 42 passes for 596 yards and three touchdowns last season but will be asked to fill a bigger role after Grant’s departure.

Jah’Shawn Johnson, S: Became one of the team’s top defensive playmakers as a freshman while making 85 tackles including 4.5 for loss.

Another to watch:

Derrick Willies, WR: One of the top JUCO recruits in the country was an early enrollee at TTU.

Texas

The good: The Longhorns spent spring adjusting to new offensive coordinator Sterlin Gilbert’s up-tempo, spread the field offense. That adjustment went surprisingly well for true freshman quarterback Shane Buechele, who emerged as the front-runner for the starting job after a strong performance in the spring game. Running backs Chris Warren and D’Onta Foreman have also flourished under Gilbert’s get out in space offense.

The questions: Who is going to fill some of the gaps along the defensive interior? Poona Ford (what a name) will likely fill one spot. I’d put my money on one of the five freshman defensive tackles Charlie Strong is bringing in for the other spot.

Key returners:

Malik Jefferson, LB: Freshman All-American a year ago after compiling 61 tackles, 2.5 sacks and a fumble return for a touchdown.

Naashon Hughes, DE: Made 5.5 sacks last season.

D’Onta Foreman and Chris Warren, RB: Cedric Golden from the Austin American-Statesman called them the “scariest 1-2 running tandem in the Big 12 this side of Oklahoma’s Samaje Perine and Joe Mixon.”

Another to watch:

Shane Buechele, QB: The top quarterback prospect in Texas was an early enrollee in Austin. A 22-of-41 for 299 yards and two touchdown performance in the spring game vaulted him to the top of the depth chart.

Kansas State

The good: They’ll have a few options at quarterback after having the position defined by injuries a season ago. Iowa native Jesse Ertz, Joe Hubener and Alex Delton all will vie for the starting position.

The questions: The Wildcats have only one starting offensive lineman returning and need to solidify the running back position. Not usually a great combination.

Key returners:

Dalton Risner, C: Will be looked upon to lead the offensive line as the only returning starter.

Dante Barnett, S: A preseason All-Big 12 selection last season got hurt in the first game and didn’t play again in 2015.

Another to watch:

Byron Pringle, WR: The Butler C.C. transfer could be the next one in a long run of K-State playmaking receivers.

Kansas

The good: The Jayhawks return a couple playmakers on offense in quarterback Ryan Willis and running back Ke’Aun Kinner. The program is really looking for positives and they might be heading towards more. That’s why I found this quote from David Beaty on the spring game postgame show interesting.

“The kids are bigger, they’re stronger, and they’re faster,” Beaty said. “Coach Jackson has done a tremendous job with our team.  I think last year we had five guys that ran 4.5 or better.  This year we have 28 or 29.  Last year I think we had six guys that could power clean 300 pounds, now we’ve got 30 guys that can power clean 300 pounds.  I think last year we had five guys that could squat 500, this year we’ve got 35 or something like that. So he’s done a tremendous job. The bigger, the stronger, the faster we get, the better we develop these guys, the better we’ll be, quicker.”

The question: I’d say the quote pretty much sums up what can be said here too.

Key returners:

Ryan Willis, QB: Threw for 1,719 yards and nine touchdowns last season as a freshman.

Ke’Aun Kinner, RB: Ran for 566 yards and five touchdowns during his junior year.

Another to watch:

LaQuvionte Gonzalez, WR: The former four-star recruit spent his freshman season catching passes from Johnny Manziel at Texas A&M. He could be a breakout player this year with Beaty taking over the play-calling duties.

Jared Stansbury

administrator

Jared a native of Clarinda, Iowa, started as the Cyclone Fanatic intern in August 2013, primarily working as a videographer until starting on the women’s basketball beat prior to the 2014-15 season. Upon earning his Bachelor’s degree in Journalism and Mass Communication from Iowa State in May 2016, Jared was hired as the site’s full-time staff writer, taking over as the primary day-to-day reporter on football and men’s basketball. He was elevated to the position of managing editor in January 2020. He is a regular contributor on 1460 KXNO in Des Moines and makes regular guest appearances on radio stations across the Midwest. Jared resides in Ankeny with his four-year-old puggle, Lolo.

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