February 28, 2008

The Big 12 led all conferences with four teams ranked among last season's final top 10.

With three new coaches arriving, the league is aiming to get stronger this spring.

Here is our Spring Preview for the Big 12.

BIG 12 SPRING DATES
Baylor: March 3-April 5
Colorado: March 17-April 19
Iowa State: March 25-April 19
Kansas: March 12-April 12
Kansas State: March 29-April 19
Missouri: March 11-April 19
Nebraska: March 26-April 19
Oklahoma: March 5-April 12
Oklahoma State: March 3-April 12
Texas: Feb. 22-March 29
Texas A&M: March 23-April 19
Texas Tech: March 26-April 19

New Coaches

Art Briles, Baylor: In his first college head-coaching position, Briles took over a struggling Houston program and went 34-28 with four bowl appearances in five seasons. He faces another rebuilding project perhaps a greater one at Baylor, which hasn't had a winning season since 1995.

Bo Pelini, Nebraska: As Nebraska's defensive coordinator in 2003, Pelini supervised a unit that held nine opponents to 14 points or less. Now, he takes over a team with a defense that allowed at least 40 points six times this past season. Shoring up the defense figures to be the first step in restoring Nebraska to its glorious past.

Mike Sherman, Texas A&M: The former Green Bay Packers coach returns to College Station, where he served as offensive line coach in the mid-'90s under R.C Slocum. At Green Bay, Sherman's teams won three consecutive NFC North Division championships and went 57-39 over six seasons. He faces the task of elevating a program that has been good but not good enough.

Biggest Position Battles

Baylor: Quarterback. Four quarterbacks who played in 2007 return, including starter Blake Szymanski. In addition Kirby Freeman transferred from Miami and four-star prospect Robert Griffin who heads a 2008 recruiting class that has three quarterbacks has enrolled early.

Colorado: Tailback. The competition will be of keen interest with three-year starter Hugh Charles completing his eligibility. Holdovers Brian Lockridge and Demetrius Sumler figure to get the most action in the spring, but will have to fend of five-star prospect Darrell Scott and four-star prospect Ray Polk in August.

Iowa State: Quarterback. Bret Meyer is gone, which leaves sophomores Austen Arnaud and Phillip Bates. Both are dual threats; Arnaud is bigger and has a stronger arm, and Bates is more mobile and a better runner.

Kansas: Offensive tackle. Replacing All-American left tackle Anthony Collins might seem like a problem, but at least the Jayhawks have three candidates. There are last year's backup, Matt Darton, four-star junior college transfer Nathan D'Cunha and huge redshirt freshman Jeff Spikes, who made remarkable progress last season.

Kansas State: Linebacker. The Wildcats return Ian Campbell, Eric Childs, Chris Patterson and Reggie Walker - as well as Antwon Moore, who is returning from a season-ending torn ACL. Olu Hall, a transfer from Virginia, and junior college recruits Hansen Sekona and Ulla Pomele also will be in the mix. If coaches can't figure out the starters in the spring, they have two more junior college linebackers coming this fall.

Missouri: Tailback. Two-time 1,000-yard rusher Tony Temple is moving on to the NFL, which leaves a considerable void in the backfield. Senior Jimmy Jackson and sophomore Derrick Washington are the likely candidates to fill it. Jackson rushed for 331 yards and seven touchdowns as Temple's backup last year. Washington had 184 yards as a true freshman.

Nebraska: Outside linebacker. The Huskers' top four linebackers from '07 have completed their eligibility, which leaves starting jobs there for the taking. Phillip Dillard is the probable starter inside, but Major Culbert, LaTravis Washington, Tyler Wortman, Blake Lawrence, Austin Stafford and maybe even strong safety Larry Asante will compete for the outside spots.

Oklahoma: Strong safety. A probable three-way battle looms at strong safety, a problem area of late that was solidified by D.J. Wolfe last season. Wolfe is gone, and Nic Harris, junior college transfer David Sims and redshirt freshman Desmond Jackson will vie to replace him.

Oklahoma State: Offensive tackle. The starting job opposite Russell Okung figures to be an intense competition between junior incumbent Brady Bond and junior college transfer Andrew Mitchell.

Texas: Secondary. Three starters in the secondary completed their eligibility, so the competition to join returning cornerback Ryan Palmer should be interesting. Curtis Brown, Chykie Brown, Ben Wells and Ishie Oduegwu are on a long list of contenders.

Texas A&M: Quarterback. Surgery on his left (non-throwing) shoulder will prevent incumbent starter Stephen McGee from participating this spring, so most of the snaps will go to immensely talented Jerrod Johnson, a 6-foot-6, 230-pound rushing and passing threat. That could set up an intriguing competition as the season progresses.

Texas Tech: Cornerback. The starting spot opposite Jamar Wall is wide open. Several candidates - including Marcus Burton, Laron Moore, De'Shon Sanders, Pete Richardson and Jarrell Routt - will vie for the starting role.

Five Players Who Could Emerge

Oklahoma DE Jeremy Beal: When Auston English got hurt last season, Beal who will be a sophomore this fall stepped in and did a solid job. He was excellent in the Big 12 Championship Game, with six tackles, two for losses, and a sack.

Kansas WR Dezmon Briscoe: He had a good freshman season and projects to be even better as a sophomore. He's a big target who could become the Jayhawks' go-to receiver.

Oklahoma State LB Patrick Lavine: As a sophomore, Levine had a solid season in 2007 with 81 tackles. In 2008, he should be ready to challenge for postseason honors.

Nebraska TB Marlon Lucky: Some would argue Lucky emerged last season, when he rushed for 1,000 yards. But only 387 yards were gained in the second half of the season. Lucky may really break out in a new offense.

Texas Tech RB Baron Batch: He sat out last season while recovering from an Achilles' injury, but Batch who will be a sophomore is healthy now and has big-play ability.

Five Impact Newcomers

Kansas OT Nathan D'Cunha: D'Cunha, a 6-6, 300-pound Australian native and junior college transfer who already is enrolled, has a good shot to replace Outland Trophy finalist Anthony Collins.

Baylor QB Kirby Freeman: He's a Texas native who made seven starts at Miami before transferring "home" and being granted immediate eligibility. Freeman, who will be a senior in the fall, should challenge to become Art Briles' first starter in Waco.

Texas A&M WR Jeff Fuller: Fuller, an early enrollee from high school, could be an immediate starter on a team with no returning receiver who had more than 19 catches last year.

Kansas State CB Blair Irvin: The Wildcats need a boost at cornerback, and Irvin a junior college transfer who already has enrolled could fill that need.

Oklahoma State DT Swanson Miller: Miller, a junior college transfer, had 15.5 tackles for losses in 2007 at Butler County Community College and is expected to provide immediate help for the Cowboys.

Olin Buchanan is the senior college football writer for Rivals.com. He can be reached at olin@rivals.com.



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