Quarterback stability, coaching changes key to Big 12 spring practices

With new coaches arriving at Texas A&M, Nebraska and Baylor, spring practice could be a tumultuous time for some Big 12 programs. But the rest of the conference should be relatively stable; every program except Iowa State returns a substantial starter at quarterback.

Even with that stability, the Big 12 will have many questions to settle during the spring. Here's a quick look at some of the key positional battles, coaching changes and what else to consider during spring practices.

Baylor Bears

Spring practice starts: March 3
Spring game: April 5
What to watch
• New coach Art Briles is one of college football's best offensive minds. His arrival should immediately juice Baylor's production -- even with the current talent in place.

• It will be interesting to see if transfer QB Kirby Freeman, who comes to Baylor from Miami, is permanently scarred by all those boos he heard the last two years at the Orange Bowl.

• The Bears have built some depth in the trenches, but the biggest question this spring will be finding a running threat to replace Brandon Whitaker. Jay Finley and Jacoby Jones are the major challengers.

Colorado Buffaloes

Spring practice starts: March 17
Spring game: April 19
What to watch
• No rants will be necessary from coach Dan Hawkins about the difficulties of playing in the Big 12. Confidence is soaring in Boulder after a strong finish and his best returning class.

• Keep an eye out for a couple of fierce positional battles as the Buffaloes try to replace LB Jordon Dizon and CB Terrence Wheatley. Undersized Gardner McKay and Jimmy Smith will battle at cornerback, while Marcus Burton and Bryan Stengel will be pitted to replace Dizon.

• Hawkins will consider several options at running back, but the real competition begins this summer when freshman TB Darrell Scott arrives.

Iowa State Cyclones

Spring practice starts: March 25
Spring game: April 19
What to watch
• After early struggles, the Cyclones responded to coach Gene Chizik as the season progressed. His development this spring will build on that steady late growth.

Austen Arnaud has the inside track to replace Bret Meyer at QB. Redshirt freshman Taylor Bennett and Phillip Bates will also get some work this spring, but it would be a shock if Arnaud doesn't claim the job.

• Chizik made his bones as an aggressive defensive coordinator, but he will be challenged finding replacements for starting defensive tackles Athyba Rubin and Bryce Braaksma and linebackers Alvin Bowen and Jon Banks.

Kansas Jayhawks

Spring practice starts: March 12
Spring game: April 12
What to watch
• What a difference a year makes. Confidence is soaring in Lawrence after the Jayhawks' Orange Bowl victory, particularly with QB Todd Reesing coming back for his second season as a starter.

• The early departures of corner Aqib Talib and offensive tackle Anthony Collins are Kansas' biggest spring projects. But the biggest loss was defensive coordinator Bill Young, who left for Miami.

• The Jayhawks also have to find a new punter and kicker.

Kansas State Wildcats

Spring practice starts: March 29
Spring game: April 19
What to watch
• The Wildcats could be one of the surprise teams in the conference in 2008. Eight starters are back on offense and an infusion of 20 junior college players will boost production and competition from the first day of spring practice.

• The biggest concern for coach Ron Prince will be reviving some confidence in his defense. The Wildcats were blistered for averages of 559 yards and 55.7 points per game over their final three games last season, so restoring confidence will be a big chore.

• All-American WR Jordy Nelson will be missed, but the Wildcats have some arriving talent in junior college standouts Attrail Snipes, Aubrey Quarles and Brandon Banks.

Missouri Tigers

Spring practice starts: March 11
Spring game: April 19
What to watch
• It's not a stretch to consider the Tigers as the early favorites to win the Big 12 in 2008. Mizzou two potential Heisman Trophy candidates on the same team in Chase Daniel and Jeremy Maclin.

• For all of the returning talent, coach Gary Pinkel's biggest spring concern will be to replace the leadership provided by NT Lorenzo Williams and OL Adam Spieker. It might mean the difference between merely being a good team and becoming something special.

• Since Tony Temple decided not to attempt to gain a sixth season of eligibility, the most anticipated positional battle of the spring will be at tailback. Earl Goldsmith, Derrick Washington and Jimmy Jackson will compete to replace Temple.

Nebraska Cornhuskers

Spring practice starts: March 26
Spring game: April 19
What to watch
• Offensive coordinator Shawn Watson is back, but he will be challenged to develop wide receivers after the departures of Maurice Purify, Terrence Nunn and Frantz Hardy and H-back Sean Hill. Nate Swift, Todd Peterson and Niles Paul will be vying for playing time at the position.

• Can the Cornhuskers get those Blackshirts out of mothballs? We'll see as Bo Pelini will impart his fiery brand of leadership to a group that ranked last in the Big 12 in sacks last season.

• Pelini and his new staff will try to light a fire under NT Ndamukong Suh, who badly underachieved last season after a breakout freshman campaign in 2006.

Oklahoma Sooners

Spring practice starts: March 5
Spring game: April 12
What to watch
• The Sooners again are loaded offensively with the return of QB Sam Bradford, the entire starting offensive line and several key receivers. But the player who could be poised for the most dramatic breakthrough is RB DeMarco Murray, who is attempting to rebound from a dislocated kneecap suffered late in the season.

• Oft-injured LB Ryan Reynolds will be in the crosshairs this spring as he attempts to replace Big 12 defensive player of the year Curtis Lofton -- both athletically and as a leader.

• The Sooners' swagger has been tempered after back-to-back Fiesta Bowl losses. Their championship hopes will start as they try to replace key contributors like CB Reggie Smith, WR Malcolm Kelly and Lofton.

Oklahoma State Cowboys

Spring practice starts: March 3
Spring game: April 12
What to watch
• With the most substantial influx of junior college players in the Big 12 South, coach Mike Gundy is looking for immediate help. Juco All-American Beau Johnson will get most of the attention as he tries to replace TB Dantrell Savage.

• Look for Gundy to become more involved offensively after the departure of former coordinator Larry Fedora, who left to become Southern Mississippi's head coach.

• The Cowboys should be able to score with anybody in the country, but their spring work will be focused on retooling a defense in the trenches and in the secondary.

Texas Longhorns

Spring practice starts: Feb. 22
Spring jamboree: March 29
What to watch
• After pushing his team through demanding practices before the Holiday Bowl, look for Mack Brown's "get tough" mantra to carry over to the spring. It should mesh perfectly with new defensive coordinator Will Muschamp's high-energy coaching style.

• It's still unknown if Vondrell McGee can emerge as a suitable replacement for Jamaal Charles at tailback. His development will be the Longhorns' major spring story line on offense.

• Brown's staff had its biggest offseason upheaval with the arrival of Muschamp and Major Applewhite and the demotion of former co-defensive coordinator Duane Akina to secondary coach. How the team responds to the new coaches will help determine its championship hopes.

Texas A&M Aggies

Spring practice starts: March 24
Spring game: April 19
What to watch
• New A&M coach Mike Sherman will have plenty of offensive weapons with the return of QB Stephen McGee and rushing threats Mike Goodson and Jorvorskie Lane. But the biggest challenge will be to rebuild an offensive line that loses four starters.

• With a new coaching staff arriving, don't be surprised if heralded QB Jerrod Johnson pushes McGee for playing time and maybe even the starting job.

• The Wrecking Crew defense has been gone since R.C. Slocum left. New coordinator Joe Kines must rebuild a defensive front that returns only starting defensive end Cyril Obiozor and needs to find replacements for starting linebackers Misi Tupe and Mark Dodge.

Texas Tech Red Raiders

Spring practice starts: March 26
Spring game: April 19
What to watch
• Expectations are soaring with 18 returning starters, including standouts like QB Graham Harrell and Biletnikoff winner Michael Crabtree. It will mean more national attention for the program, but also a new standard that's never been there before.

• Rylan Reed's nasty ankle injury in the Gator Bowl will provide an opening for Chris Olson and Jake Johnson to challenge for playing time at LT

• The Red Raiders' title hopes hinge on continued defensive improvement. The defense showed flashes after defensive coordinator Ruffin McNeill took over, but it needs to take another step this spring.

Tim Griffin is a college football writer for ESPN.com. Send your questions and comments to Tim at espntimgriff@yahoo.com.