Spring practices are in full swing around the Big 12 and some spring questions are beginning to be asked – and answered – about each respective program. Many of the early eyes on the conference revolve around the numerous coaching and staffing changes from around the league. Here we will address some of these new faces and schemes, along with one of the other hot button topics in the Big 12 – quarterbacks. Aside from those two, a few teams are ‘lucky’ enough to have other things to address heading through the spring practices and into the 2010 college football season.
Big 12 North
How serious is Scotty McKnight’s newest injury sustained in spring scrimmages? And what quarterback will be throwing to the receiving corps?
At Colorado’s first spring scrimmage on March 18th Scotty McKnight suffered a leg injury that was described by McKnight to quarterback Tyler Hansen as a “broken fibula” that would make him miss the remainder of spring practices, according to ESPN.com. However, the university athletic department noted there was nothing of note on the MRI and it was unknown how long the lower leg/ankle injury would sideline the Buffs’ leading receiver from 2009.
As for who will be throwing the pigskin, it appears to be a two man race for starter – yet again – betweenCody Hawkins and Tyler Hansen. Each man has been getting an equal number of snaps and situational opportunities during the spring and head coach Dan Hawkins has calls the competition, “dead even."
Will there be a quarterback controversy in Ames?
For the spring, two-year starter for the Cyclones, Austen Arnaud, is firmly entrenched as the team’s No. 1. But not because head coach Paul Rhodes thinks he has no competition for the job. Rather, backup Jerome Tiller won’t be participating in drills due to an offseason injury that is the limiting factor. Rhodes has made comments that Tiller is in the position to compete for the job, and while this injury is not giving him the opportunity to show his blossoming skill set, don’t be surprised if he gives Arnaud a run for his money in the fall.
How will the hiring of head coach Turner Gill impact the Jayhawks this season?
Turner Gill is almost like the prodigal son. Almost. A star at Nebraska who has proven himself as a coach and moved up the ranks is “coming home” to the Big 12 – to a Husker foe. But no matter, Gill and his staff will bring fresh ideas and attitudes to Lawrence while still maintaining a disciplined program. From a disciplinarian standpoint, Gill has even enacted a no cursing policy for the team. From the football standpoint, departed head coach Mark Mangino isn't the only face to be missing from the spring landscape. While the absence ofTodd Reesing,Kerry Meier,Dezmon Briscoe, Jake Sharp and more will certainly leave gaping holes in the offense, it will also bring opportunities for the quarterback du jour (eitherKale Pick or Quinn Meacham) to make their presence known on the field while growing into Gill's system.
Can Daniel Thomas have another 1,000 yard season?
No doubt about it. Thomas and the offensive line should especially be effective due to the lingering questions at quarterback. Thomas rushed for 1,265 yards and 11 touchdowns in the 2009 season and should remain the featured back – and player – for the Wildcats.
Is Roy Helu the only one who can score for the Huskers?
The simple answer is yes. Helu rushed for 1,147 yards and 10 touchdowns last season, and he will be relied upon heavily again in 2010. His fellow man in the backfield, Rex Burkhead, is also one to watch; but if Helu can stay healthy then Burkhead’s role should be complimentary, not necessarily overtaking Helu in any sense. Quarterback Zac Lee, recovering from offseason elbow surgery, and wide receiver Niles Paul are bound to find the endzone a time or two as well, but Nebraska should once again look to their backfield for any offensive production they might be able to manage to compliment a defense, that while depleted, is sure to be reloaded and ready to help the Huskers put much-needed points on the board.
Who can Blaine Gabbert utilize in the Tiger passing game with Danario Alexander gone?
Someone is bound to catch all the balls that Gabbert is sure to toss up in the air, but who will it be? All eyes will be on the trio ofJerrell Jackson,Wes Kemp andRolandis Woodland, along with tight endsAndrew Jones and Michael Egnew. Though Jones had offseason shoulder surgery and is out for the spring, someone of these five has to emerge as Gabbert’s new primary target. For now, all signs point to Jerrell Jackson.
Big 12 South
How healthy is quarterback Robert Griffin III after missing the majority of 2009 with a knee injury?
Griffin's recovery has been moving ahead of schedule according to reports, and this bodes well for the Bears. In 2008, Griffin was a dual-threat that made Baylor a threat of their own in a very deep Big 12 South division. In 2010, fully recovered from an ACL injury, all eyes will be eager with anticipation on the quarterback and his playmaking ability. One thing that cannot be quantified in the spring and will only be able to be measured in game situations is Griffin's confidence in his knee. Will he be more tentative with the ball, more hesitant to scramble out of the pocket or scamper and cut downfield for a big gain? When the fall is in full-swing more will be revealed with Griffin, but all signs point to another big year for the speedster.
Is Landry Jones – and his mustache – the only quarterback in the mix?
It seems like there shouldn't be doubt about this, right? After Sam Bradford went down with injury in the first game of 2009, Jones took the reins and ran with the starting job. He did a solid job under center, especially considering the poor performance of the offensive line. But the fans seem to think that OU could, no should, do better. One of their suggestions is for freshman Blake Bell to not redshirt, which seems to be the expected path for the newcomer. While everyone is worried about ‘Stache, they might need to start thinking about who is going to be on the receiving end of passes that are sure to be thrown.Ryan Broyles?Jaz Reynolds? And can DeMarco Murray stay healthy?
How will new offensive coordinator Dana Holgorsen change the look of the Cowboy offense?
When the spring depth chart was released, there was a shocking revelation for the many of the orange faithful – no tight end – at all. This is the first of many signs that things will be different in Stillwater with Holgorsen calling the plays. Holgorsen came to Oklahoma State by way of one of the most prolific passing offenses of 2009 in Houston, and expect for quarterback Brandon Weeden to be an integral piece of the new offense. Many locals have made bold predictions that Weeden will have the opportunity to reach All-American-type heights under Holgorsen's tutelage. While that sounds a bit far-fetched to some, others are expecting the very accurate and strong arm of Weeden to lead to a slew of scoring, with receivers Hubert Anyiam and Justin Blackmon reaping the benefits. Aside from the air attack, OSU returns running back Kendall Hunter, and he should still be the primary ground gainer after losing 2009 fill-in-turned-team-leader Keith Toston to graduation. Last year Hunter was sidelined by injury for a large chunk of the season, but still managed to gain just shy of 500 yards in his limited appearances.
Just how good is Garrett Gilbert?
Everyone saw this youngster get thrust in the flames during the 2010 national championship game after Colt McCoy was injured. Everyone also saw the interceptions and sloppy first half play that Gilbert followed up with two touchdown strikes to close the gap, or at least for a little while. This experience seems to have matured the quarterback almost overnight and changes in the Texas offense will also be made to suit Gilbert’s style. One such noticeable change from the Colt McCoy era will be more plays run from under center, rather in the shotgun. This switch should not only help Gilbert, but also increase the impact of the running game, led by Fozzy Whittaker and Tre' Newton.
Is Jerrod Johnson’s health in question?
It was recently revealed that Johnson had minor offseason shoulder surgery after an injury sustained late in the Aggies' contest with Texas in November. Since Johnson’s dual-threat ability leaves little doubt about his impact on the team, this is something to keep an eye on. It appears he will be limited during the spring, but that will give him time to mentor young incoming quarterbacks to the Texas A&M program.
How different will the pass-happy Red Raider offense be under Tommy Tuberville’s watch?
As for the look and feel for the Tech offense,Neal Brown’s offense will look very similar to the Mike Leach offense people became accustomed to in Lubbock. And one thing that will mirror the 2009 season is the currently undecided starting quarterback position, just as was seen throughout the last year with a rotating carousel of gun-slingers taking the snaps.Taylor Potts and Steven Sheffield will be duking it out yet again after splitting playing time last year with Seth Doege. It appears that this competition might linger until the fall with both Potts and Sheffield being solid starting options for the Red Raiders.