Oklahoma State (aka the Big 12 champs) opens up spring practice later today. Here's a look at what to expect.
Schedule: Oklahoma State kicks off the first of its NCAA-allowed 15 practices Monday, leading up to the spring game on April 21. Practices are closed to fans and media.
What's new: The major characters in the story of the Cowboys' 2011 Big 12 title run (and subsequent Fiesta Bowl win) are gone. Brandon Weeden and Justin Blackmon hooked up for 232 completions and 38 touchdowns the past two seasons, carrying Oklahoma State to 23 wins in consecutive years that were each the best in school history. Replacing both is the primary issue in the spring.
New faces: Special teams coordinator Joe DeForest left after 12 years in Stillwater and leaves a big void of his own. New assistant Van Malone will coach OSU's safeties, but coach Mike Gundy won't decide who fills the special teams role until after the spring. Malone comes to OSU via Tulsa. Oklahoma State also welcomes four early enrollees: QB Wes Lunt, TE Blake Jackson, DT Calvin Barnett and LB Jeremiah Tshimanga.
Big shoes to fill: OSU's receiving corps. Blackmon is gone, but the search goes a lot deeper than just for OSU's No. 1. No. 2 receiver Josh Cooper graduated, as did No. 4 receiver Hubert Anyiam. The team's receiver with perhaps the most potential, Michael Harrison, also left the team after being suspended by the NCAA for the 2012 season. Last year, nine OSU players caught at least 19 passes for 200 yards. There's a lot of receptions to go around. Receivers have to step up this spring. Tracy Moore, Josh Stewart and Isaiah Anderson are the most likely candidates to grab 80-100 balls next year.
All eyes on: The quarterback battle, obviously. Gundy says junior Clint Chelf hasn't done enough to make the job his to lose. Freshman J.W. Walsh has a full year in the system under his belt, but can the dual-threat prove his mettle as a passer? Lunt enters this spring with what's likely the biggest arm of the three, but can he pick the system up fast enough to earn the job? Gundy says he wants to know his starter at the end of the spring, but all three will receive equal reps to begin practice today.
Breaking out: Jackson. We mentioned him earlier, and the early-enrolling tight end is already making a splash. He opens the spring at the top of OSU's depth chart at inside receiver. You don't see that every day. The 6-foot-3 juco transfer was an All-American last year and is already up to 238 pounds from 220 earlier this year. Don't be surprised if he makes major waves in the coming weeks.
Question mark: Markelle Martin wasn't the fastest safety in the league, but he provided valuable leadership, had tons of experience and was arguably the Big 12's biggest hitter. Lavocheya Cooper gets the first crack at replacing him, but will he be good enough? In the pass-happy Big 12, there's no overstating the importance of safeties that get in receivers' heads and prevent the big play.