In this week's Big 12 roundtable, we break down the big storylines for Oklahoma, Oklahoma State and Texas Tech, which will all kick off their spring drills in the comings.
What is the biggest storyline to watch in Norman?
Brandon Chatmon: The Sooners look ready to make another run at a College Football Playoff spot with Lincoln Riley, Baker Mayfield and Samaje Perine returning to lead the offense. Solidifying and improving the offensive line could hold the key to making a stronger statement if Oklahoma finds a way to return to the College Football Playoff semifinals. With Jonathan Alvarez, Dru Samia and Orlando Brown, Oklahoma has some good young offensive linemen to work with, but making sure that unit becomes a consistent, dominant force would take Oklahoma’s offense to another level.
Jake Trotter: Brandon is right, the offensive line is interesting. So is linebacker, where the Sooners lost Eric Striker, Dominique Alexander and Devante Bond. But how the Sooners move on without Sterling Shepard is the biggest question mark for me. Shepard basically carried the OU receiving corps on his own the last two seasons. How the Sooners go about replacing his production -- Dede Westbrook? Mark Andrews? Geno Lewis? -- will be paramount for a return push to the CFP.
What about at Oklahoma State?
Chatmon: Obviously the offensive line is a top priority, but the importance of replacing Emmanuel Ogbah and Jimmy Bean shouldn’t take a back seat. Oklahoma State has talented youngsters at defensive end, with several talented sophomores returning to battle for playing time this spring. Jarrell Owens and Jordan Brailford are particularly intriguing after flashing some ability in spot duty behind Ogbah and Bean in 2015.
Trotter: It's the offensive line. I like Oklahoma State's young talent on the D-line, and I think the Cowboys will be just fine there even without Ogbah. An improved offensive line is the biggest obstacle in front of Oklahoma State in contending for the Big 12 title again. All-American juco transfer Larry Williams is already turning heads and could plug one of the holes up front on the inside by the end of the spring.
What about the biggest storyline at Texas Tech?
Chatmon: How about the entire defense? Everything -- from defensive line to linebackers to secondary -- must improve if the Red Raiders plan to survive. The good news is that Tech defensive coordinator David Gibbs will enter his second season with some positive results to build upon, particularly compiling the most takeaways (25) and the first positive points-off-turnover margin (14) of the Kliff Kingsbury era. The entire unit should be in the spotlight, but progress along the defensive front will be particularly important during the spring.
Trotter: With virtually a completely new staff around Gibbs, there are so many moving parts on the Tech defense this spring. Can they finally put something together and make a jump? Gibbs isn't going to whip the Red Raiders into the '85 Bears overnight, but if Tech could just play a little more defense -- especially against the run up front -- that would do wonders for a team that already has a critical piece in standout QB Patrick Mahomes.