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Monday, May 19
 
Spring answers many questions in the Big 12

By Brad Edwards
Special to ESPN.com

Although 2002 might be remembered as a year of standout quarterback play in the Big 12, Oklahoma and Colorado both reached the conference title game by running the ball. Each team must replace its leading rusher and QB, however, so hopes are high for other schools in 2003. Will Texas finally get over the Sooner hump? Can K-State recapture Northern supremacy? How will Nebraska bounce back from its worst season in more than 40 years? See what early steps have been taken to answer these questions and many others.

Baylor Bears
2003 Schedule
8-30 UAB
9-6 at North Texas
9-13 SMU
9-20 Sam Houston
10-4 Colorado
10-11 at Texas A&M
10-18 at Kansas
10-25 Texas
11-1 at Kansas State
11-8 Texas Tech
11-15 at Oklahoma
11-22 Oklahoma State

2002 overall record: 3-9
Conference record: 1-7

Returning starters
Offense: 6, Defense: 6, Kicker/Punter: 1

2002 statistical leaders (* - returners)
Rushing: Rashad Armstrong* (647 yds)
Passing: Aaron Karas* (1,792 yds)
Receiving: Reggie Newhouse (1,140 yds)
Tackles: Ethan Kelley (75)
Sacks: Khari Long* (4.5)
Interceptions: Bobby Hart (3)

Spring Answers: New head coach Guy Morriss and his staff put in a 4-2-5 defense, and felt comfortable that there was enough depth in the secondary to utilize those five DBs. Willie Andrews, in particular, made a lot of plays from his safety spot. The coaches were also encouraged by the play of quarterback Aaron Karas, who adapted very well to the new offense. He could make great improvement this fall if the line can protect him. The offensive line has almost no depth, so conditioning of the starters will be a major point of emphasis over the summer.

Fall Questions: Eight players missed spring practice because of academics, including projected starters Rashad Armstrong (RB) and Iris Williams (TE). If they do become eligible for the fall, how quickly will they get adjusted to the new schemes? There is also concern about experience at defensive tackle, where four of the top-five players on the depth chart have played in three or fewer college games. The only big-play receiver seems to be Robert Quiroga, and he will have to learn the ropes after spending the spring with the track team.

Colorado Buffaloes
2003 Schedule
8-30 vs. Colorado State (Denver)
9-6 UCLA
9-13 Washington State
9-20 at Florida State
10-4 at Baylor
10-11 Kansas
10-18 at Kansas State
10-25 Oklahoma
11-1 at Texas Tech
11-8 Missouri
11-15 at Iowa State
11-29 Nebraska

2002 overall record: 9-5
Conference record: 7-1

Returning starters
Offense: 3, Defense: 8, Kicker/Punter: 0

2002 statistical leaders (* - returners)
Rushing: Chris Brown (1,744 yds)
Passing: Robert Hodge (1,547 yds)
Receiving: Derek McCoy* (643 yds)
Tackles: Donald Strickland (109)
Sacks: Tyler Brayton (5.5)
Interceptions: Medford Moorer* (4)

Spring Answers: Colorado QBs have taken only 10 live game snaps between them, but head coach Gary Barnett now feels more comfortable that there is some talent to work with. The early leader is sophomore Joel Klatt. The defensive front seven seems to be the strength of the team after solid spring performances were turned in by linemen Matt McChesney and Brandon Dabdoub, who might not even be starters in the fall. Surprisingly, the kicking chores also appeared to be under control. J.T. Eberly is the frontrunner to cure the pains of 17 combined misses on field goal and extra point attempts in 2002.

Fall Questions: The QB job is still up-for-grabs, and the inexperience of all candidates could leave the door open for a couple of incoming freshmen to enter the mix. Guard Marwan Hage is the only returning starter on the offensive line, which has been a slow-starting unit even when it has had experience in past years. At least six players are still contending for those four openings. The status of one of the nation's top punt return men is also uncertain. Jeremy Bloom took two back for TDs as a freshman last season, but might pursue a full-time career as a professional skier instead of playing football.

Iowa State Cyclones
2003 Schedule
8-30 Northern Iowa
9-6 Ohio
9-13 Iowa
9-27 at Northern Illinois
10-4 Oklahoma
10-11 at Texas Tech
10-18 Texas
10-25 at Nebraska
11-1 at Missouri
11-8 Kansas State
11-15 Colorado
11-22 at Kansas

2002 overall record: 7-7
Conference record: 4-4

Returning starters
Offense: 7
Defense: 7
Kicker/Punter: 2

2002 statistical leaders (* - returners)
Rushing: Hiawatha Rutland* (614 yds)
Passing: Seneca Wallace (3,245 yds)
Receiving: Lane Danielsen* (1,073 yds)
Tackles: Matt Word (139)
Sacks: Brandon Brown* and Tyson Smith* (6 each)
Interceptions: Ellis Hobbs* (2)

Spring Answers: After graduating from high school in December, Aaron Brant enrolled in January and went through spring practice. Offensive line is one of the toughest positions for a true freshman, but he has earned a first-team spot at right guard. Anthony Forrest was moved to corner after two years at safety and gives the Cyclones better size there. Safety still has plenty of depth between Steve Paris, Marc Timmons and JaMaine Billups. Redshirt freshman Ryan Kock might redefine the role of the fullback at ISU with his strong inside running skills.

Fall Questions: The QB spot is still wide open between Cris Love, redshirt freshman Austin Flynn and JuCo transfer Waye Terry. Terry broke the thumb on his throwing hand early in the spring, so he hasn't gotten a good look from the coaches. There is a similar situation at RB, where four guys are still in contention to start. Hiawatha Rutland and Michael Wagner have plenty of experience, but youngsters Stevie Hicks and Brian Thompson are pushing them hard. Head coach Dan McCarney prefers to utilize one workhorse back, making the competition even more intense. Former starting placekicker Tony Yelk had a great spring and is battling All-Big 12 Adam Benike, who took his job last year.

Kansas Jayhawks
2003 Schedule
8-30 Northwestern
9-6 UNLV
9-13 at Wyoming
9-20 Jacksonville State
9-27 Missouri
10-11 at Colorado
10-18 Baylor
10-25 at Kansas State
11-1 at Texas A&M
11-8 Nebraska
11-15 at Oklahoma State
11-22 Iowa State

2002 overall record: 2-10
Conference record: 0-8

Returning starters
Offense: 6, Defense: 7, Kicker/Punter: 2

2002 statistical leaders (* - returners)
Rushing: Clark Green* (813 yds)
Passing: Bill Whittemore* (549 yds)
Receiving: Byron Gasaway (490 yds)
Tackles: Greg Cole (106)
Sacks: Nick Reid* (6)
Interceptions: Remuise Johnson* (6)

Spring Answers: Starting spots were earned by a pair of junior college transfers who enrolled in January: Joe Vaughn at center and Lyonel Anderson at tight end. Anderson's play allowed Adrian Jones to move inside to left tackle, where he is also listed as a starter. QB Bill Whittemore missed the final three games of 2002 with a knee injury, but he looked good this spring in an offense more geared for his skills. Also returning from injury was Banks Floodman, who tore an ACL in the first game of last year. He is almost back to full speed and might be KU's best defensive player when he is 100 percent.

Fall Questions: Expect some shuffling on the depth chart when nine JuCo transfers join the defense in August. Several of them will need to contribute for the defense to be markedly better. Redshirt freshmen Dominic Roux and Charles Gordon are expected to have a big impact as receivers, but neither has game experience. Whittemore needs a big-play threat to improve as a passer. Although the individual pieces are being revealed on the offensive line, the unit still must come together after losing four starters.

Kansas State Wildcats
2003 Schedule
8-23 California (BCA Classic -- Kansas City)
8-30 Troy State
9-6 McNeese State
9-13 Massachusetts
9-20 Marshall
10-4 at Texas
10-11 at Oklahoma State
10-18 Colorado
10-25 Kansas
11-1 Baylor
11-8 at Iowa State
11-15 at Nebraska
11-22 Missouri

2002 overall record: 11-2
Conference record: 6-2

Returning starters
Offense: 7, Defense: 5, Kicker/Punter: 1

2002 statistical leaders (* - returners)
Rushing: Darren Sproles* (1,465 yds)
Passing: Ell Roberson* (1,580 yds)
Receiving: Taco Wallace (704 yds)
Tackles: Josh Buhl* (135)
Sacks: Andrew Shull* (10)
Interceptions: Bobby Walker (6)

Spring Answers: With three starters gone from the offensive line, Nick Leckey was moved from guard to center and did a fine job as the anchor in spring drills. Sophomore Jeromey Clary also gave coaches reason to be optimistic about the left tackle position. Another sophomore, Matt Butler, made strides toward earning the middle linebacker spot vacated by Terry Pierce. The other big shoes to fill are at cornerback, where Thorpe Award winner and Big 12 Defensive Player of the Year Terence Newman recently resided. That challenge could go to Louis Lavender, who enjoyed an impressive spring after redshirting last season.

Fall Questions: The Wildcats have one of the more potent offensive backfields in the nation, but they'll need a cohesive line to repeat their success of last season. Newcomer Travis Triplett could help that cause as an offensive tackle. There will be new starters at both defensive tackles, where there is very little experience returning. The hope is that JuCo transfer Malcolm Wooldridge will come in and take one of the spots. No matter who takes Newman's corner position, he is sure to get picked on by opposing coordinators and will have to prove himself.

Missouri Tigers
2003 Schedule
8-30 vs. Illinois (St. Louis)
9-6 Ball State
9-13 Eastern Illinois
9-20 Middle Tennessee State
9-27 at Kansas
10-11 Nebraska
10-18 at Oklahoma
10-25 Texas Tech
11-1 Iowa State
11-8 at Colorado
11-15 Texas A&M
11-22 at Kansas State

2002 overall record: 5-7
Conference record: 2-6

Returning starters
Offense: 9, Defense: 6, Kicker/Punter: 2

2002 statistical leaders (* - returners)
Rushing: Brad Smith* (1,029 yds)
Passing: Brad Smith* (2,333 yds)
Receiving: Justin Gage (1,075 yds)
Tackles: James Kinney* (144)
Sacks: Antwaun Bynum (10)
Interceptions: R.J. Jones (4)

Spring Answers: With Brad Smith taking so many hits, it was a priority to find and develop a backup QB. Sonny Riccio earned that role and was named Most Improved QB for spring practice. Another point of emphasis was improving the secondary by diversifying coverage schemes and getting more athleticism into those positions. Mizzou ranked 113th of 117 teams in pass defense last season, allowing more than 280 yards per game. Four players who didn't play last year are currently atop the depth chart: Dedrick Harrington at rover, Brian Smith and Zach Ville at defensive end and Nino Williams at free safety.

Fall Questions: Without Justin Gage to throw to, Brad Smith will need to spread the ball around more in the passing game. Unfortunately, the receivers were banged up in the spring and didn't get nearly enough repetitions. If there is going to be quality depth behind Zack Abron, it will likely come from JuCo transfer Damien Nash. He enrolled in January, but couldn't go through spring practice because of continued rehab from knee surgery. How well the pass defense improves will likely be the biggest key to the season. The Tigers lost five games last year in which they scored 24 points or more.

Nebraska Cornhuskers
2003 Schedule
8-30 Oklahoma State
9-6 Utah State
9-13 Penn State
9-25 at Southern Mississippi
10-4 Troy State
10-11 at Missouri
10-18 Texas A&M
10-25 Iowa State
11-1 at Texas
11-8 at Kansas
11-15 Kansas State
11-28 at Colorado

2002 overall record: 7-7
Conference record: 3-5

Returning starters
Offense: 5, Defense: 8, Kicker/Punter: 1

2002 statistical leaders (* - returners)
Rushing: Jammal Lord* (1,412 yds)
Passing: Jammal Lord* (1,362 yds)
Receiving: Wilson Thomas (353 yds)
Tackles: Demorrio Williams* (92)
Sacks: Chris Kelsay (7)
Interceptions: Fabian Washington* (4)

Spring Answers: Frank Solich brought in six new assistant coaches, including offensive coordinator Barney Cotton and defensive coordinator Bo Pelini. One key accomplishment of the spring was familiarizing the players with the new terminology and philosophies of the coaching staff. Some thought Jammal Lord might receive a challenge for his starting spot at QB, but he improved his passing skills and came out as a clear No. 1. Former transfer walk-on Josh Sewell hardly played last year as a reserve, but he took control of the center position in the spring, allowing Richie Incognito to remain at left tackle.

Fall Questions: It is still uncertain who will replace DeJuan Groce. There is a big battle for his spot at right cornerback between Lornell McPherson, Pat Ricketts and Willie Amos that might even expand to include some incoming signees this fall. Groce's ability as a punt returner will be even more difficult to match. Junior Tagoa'i, the projected starter at right guard, has been suspended from the team indefinitely after an assault charge. If he doesn't return, it will likely cause shuffling on the line. Solich will no longer be his own offensive coordinator, but will he really give total control of play calling to Cotton?

Oklahoma Sooners
2003 Schedule
8-30 North Texas
9-6 at Alabama
9-13 Fresno State
9-20 UCLA
10-4 at Iowa State
10-11 vs. Texas (Dallas)
10-18 Missouri
10-25 at Colorado
11-1 Oklahoma State
11-8 Texas A&M
11-15 Baylor
11-22 at Texas Tech

2002 overall record: 12-2
Conference record: 6-2

Returning starters
Offense: 6
Defense: 9
Kicker/Punter: 2

2002 statistical leaders (* - returners)
Rushing: Quentin Griffin (1,884 yds)
Passing: Nate Hybl (2,538 yds)
Receiving: Will Peoples* (571 yds)
Tackles: Lance Mitchell* (124)
Sacks: Jonathan Jackson* and Jimmy Wilkerson (6 each)
Interceptions: Brandon Everage* and Derrick Strait* (6 each)

Spring Answers: It seems like the OU defense just keeps getting better. The Sooners added one of the top JuCo players in the nation with strong safety Donte Nicholson, and he was so good that last year's starter, Eric Bassey, was moved to cornerback. Corner is one of the two positions where Oklahoma lost a defensive starter, but Antonio Perkins played brilliantly in place of Andre Woolfolk. Perkins was the star of the spring game after having four interceptions as a nickel back last year. The offensive line has upgraded, and Stoops believes it will be the best unit he has had. Sophomore guards Davin Joseph and Kelvin Chaisson have given the line more athleticism.

Fall Questions: The QB battle continues to be a big story, but there has been very little to report. Jason White and Brent Rawls are listed as co-No. 1 on the depth chart and are both hoping to avoid the freak injuries that have slowed their careers. Finding a replacement for Quentin Griffin doesn't seem as urgent since Renaldo Works and Kejuan Jones both have plenty of experience. Both will likely play a lot, but neither has been named the starter. The Sooners lost the top-four receivers in school history (including Griffin and TE Trent Smith), but recent recruiting classes have been loaded with talented wideouts just waiting for this chance.

Oklahoma State Cowboys
2003 Schedule
8-30 at Nebraska
9-6 Wyoming
9-13 Southwest Missouri State
9-20 at SMU
10-4 Louisiana-Lafayette
10-11 Kansas State
10-18 Texas Tech
10-25 at Texas A&M
11-1 at Oklahoma
11-8 Texas
11-15 Kansas
11-22 at Baylor

2002 overall record: 8-5
Conference record: 5-3

Returning starters
Offense: 8
Defense: 6
Kicker/Punter: 2

2002 statistical leaders (* - returners)
Rushing: Tatum Bell* (1,096 yds)
Passing: Josh Fields* (3,145 yds)
Receiving: Rashaun Woods* (1,695 yds)
Tackles: Paul Duren* (96)
Sacks: Kevin Williams (10)
Interceptions: Darrent Williams* (3)

Spring Answers: With Josh Fields playing third base for the OSU baseball team, there was an opportunity to establish depth at QB. Redshirt freshman Jamie Beeghley took most of the snaps and clearly solidified himself as the backup. A couple of holes on the offensive line were also filled -- one by Matt Hardison, who switched from being a backup tight end to potentially a starting left tackle. Both receivers opposite Rashaun Woods have departed, but his younger brother D'Juan emerged in that role during the spring. Even if he doesn't start, D'Juan should see a lot of action. (Another Woods brother, Donovan, will report in August as a true freshman QB.)

Fall Questions: The biggest challenge should be replacing defensive tackle Kevin Williams, a top-10 pick in the NFL Draft. No player in spring practice really took charge of the position, leaving the possibility that incoming freshman Xavier Lawson-Kennedy could win the job. What has yet to be seen is how these Cowboys will handle success. OSU hasn't had back-to-back winning seasons since 1988. The quest to end that drought will begin the hard way. They open August 30 at Nebraska.

Texas Longhorns
2003 Schedule
8-30 New Mexico State
9-13 Arkansas
9-20 at Rice
9-27 Tulane
10-4 Kansas State
10-11 vs. Oklahoma (Dallas)
10-18 at Iowa State
10-25 at Baylor
11-1 Nebraska
11-8 at Oklahoma State
11-15 Texas Tech
11-28 at Texas A&M

2002 overall record: 11-2
Conference record: 6-2

Returning starters
Offense: 8
Defense: 8
Kicker/Punter: 1

2002 statistical leaders (* - returners)
Rushing: Cedric Benson* (1,293 yds)
Passing: Chris Simms (3,207 yds)
Receiving: Roy Williams* (1,142 yds)
Tackles: Reed Boyd* (123)
Sacks: Cory Redding (8.5)
Interceptions: Dakarai Pearson* (6)

Spring Answers: Chance Mock clearly proved that he was the No. 1 QB, ending a solid spring by completing 8 of 9 passes for 200 yards with 2 TDs in the spring game. He seemed very at ease with the offense, which was the key difference between him and the less-experienced Vince Young. The mobility of both players added a noticeable dimension to the offense. Any question whether Nathan Vasher had fully recovered from his ankle injury was quickly squelched, as he took several punts back for TDs in live drills. A pleasant surprise was sophomore Garnet Smith, who won the job at middle linebacker after mainly playing special teams last year.

Fall Questions: The offensive line is still trying to come together. Jonathan Scott moved from right tackle to left tackle, and there is still competition at other spots. In all, five members of the 2001 signing class are in the mix for starting jobs on the line. Defensive end is a big concern. With Cory Redding gone, the 'Horns need Kalen Thornton to stay healthy and need depth behind him. Bryan Pickryl is coming off shoulder surgery on the other end. Expectations are high, as always, and Texas will be tested early by opening conference play with K-State and Oklahoma.

Texas A&M Aggies
2003 Schedule
8-30 Arkansas State
9-6 Utah
9-18 at Virginia Tech
9-27 Pittsburgh
10-4 at Texas Tech
10-11 Baylor
10-18 at Nebraska
10-25 Oklahoma State
11-1 Kansas
11-8 at Oklahoma
11-15 at Missouri
11-28 Texas

2002 overall record: 6-6
Conference record: 3-5

Returning starters
Offense: 7
Defense: 5
Kicker/Punter: 2

2002 statistical leaders (* - returners)
Rushing: Derek Farmer* (739 yds)
Passing: Dustin Long* (2,509 yds)
Receiving: Jamaar Taylor* (760 yds)
Tackles: Terrence Kiel (95)
Sacks: Jarod Penright (9.5)
Interceptions: Jaxson Appel* and Byron Jones* (4 each)

Spring Answers: With the entire staff coming intact from Alabama, the coaches were able to focus on players rather than getting a feel for each other. The players responded to a faster practice tempo and more repetitions with improved productivity. Depth at receiver seems to be a strength. Jamaar Taylor was limited by injury, which meant more work for Terrence Murphy, Terrence Thomas and Tim Van Zant. The corner positions also look solid with Byron Jones and Sean Weston turning in solid springs.

Fall Questions: Dustin Long and Reggie McNeal are still listed as co-No. 1 at QB, and they might both end up playing a lot. Dennis Franchione utilized two quarterbacks in both of his seasons at Alabama. The new defensive scheme will use four linemen more often than has been customary at A&M, and the number of quality players for those spots is currently low. Throw in the loss of three starting linebackers from last season, and there are certainly some questions about the defensive front seven. Another hole to fill is at guard, where both starters are gone, and the candidates to replace them have just one career start between them.

Texas Tech Red Raiders
2003 Schedule
8-30 SMU
9-6 New Mexico
9-20 at NC State
9-27 at Mississippi
10-4 Texas A&M
10-11 Iowa State
10-18 at Oklahoma State
10-25 at Missouri
11-1 Colorado
11-8 at Baylor
11-15 at Texas
11-22 Oklahoma

2002 overall record: 9-5
Conference record: 5-3

Returning starters
Offense: 9
Defense: 5
Kicker/Punter: 0

2002 statistical leaders (* - returners)
Rushing: Taurean Henderson* (793 yds)
Passing: Kliff Kingsbury (5,017 yds)
Receiving: Wes Welker* (1,054 yds)
Tackles: Lawrence Flugence (193)
Sacks: Aaron Hunt (9)
Interceptions: 3 players tied (3 each)

Spring Answers: B.J. Symons took over the helm at QB and picked up where Kliff Kingsbury left off with an impressive spring scrimmage performance (19-24, 218 yds, 2 TDs). The only competition left is between Sonny Cumbie and Cody Hodges for the backup role. Another star needing to be replaced was Lawrence Flugence, who led the nation in tackles in 2002. True freshman Brock Stratton enrolled in January after serving a Mormon mission and took over that spot in spring practice. In physical stature, he bears a resemblance to former Red Raider star Zach Thomas with his 5-foot10, 225-pound frame.

Fall Questions: There is still plenty of jostling for the starting left cornerback position. Converted tailback Ivory McCann and JuCo transfer Jamaal Jackson are the leaders, but more competition will arrive in August. The defensive line lost three starters from last year, and three redshirt freshmen have a chance to start there, so there's not much experience up front. Both kicking jobs will be up-for-grabs in the fall, and the placekicking contest even involves a straight-on kicker. That and Mike Leach's first signed punter will keep some eyes on special teams.

Brad Edwards researches college football for ESPN and is a contributor to ESPN.com throughout the year.




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