Plenty of changes heading into spring ball

Defending Big 12 champion Texas has to replace record-setting quarterback Colt McCoy, receiver Jordan Shipley and a slew of big-time players on defense.

Oklahoma loses 2008 Heisman Trophy winner Sam Bradford, All-America defensive tackle Gerald McCoy, tight end Jermaine Gresham and two key offensive linemen.

Kansas and Oklahoma State will be looking for new quarterbacks to replace record-setting passers who just left, and Baylor quarterback Robert Griffin III is coming back from a torn ACL in his right knee.

Kansas and Texas Tech have new coaches, and Texas A&M has a revamped coaching staff.

With all of the key departures and changes across the conference, spring practice will be as important as ever. But change will also bring opportunity.

If ever there was a time to make a move in the Big 12 Conference, it’s now. After challenging the SEC as the country’s best college football conference the past few seasons, the Big 12 figures to take a step back in 2010.

But don’t expect the league’s traditional powers like Texas and Oklahoma to fall off the map. Longhorns coach Mack Brown and Sooners coach Bob Stoops have recruited too well for their programs to slip very much, and Nebraska seems ready to take control of the Big 12 North.

Whichever teams find suitable quarterbacks should have the smoothest transitions. Texas quarterback Garrett Gilbert was introduced to America on the sport’s biggest stage. He was thrust into action when McCoy was hurt in the first quarter of the BCS National Championship Game against Alabama. Gilbert struggled early, but showed enough moxie and talent to make the Longhorns believe that life without McCoy won’t be so bad after all.

Oklahoma’s Landry Jones took over the starting job a year earlier than expected, after Bradford injured his shoulder in the ’09 opener against BYU. Oklahoma State’s new quarterback, Brandon Weeden, might lack experience but certainly isn’t short on maturity. He’s a 26-year-old former minor league baseball player.

The Big 12 will have plenty of new faces on the sideline and playing field in 2010.

But I’m betting it’s the same old names at the top of the Big 12 standings -- the Longhorns and Sooners -- at season’s end.