Friday, August 21

Big 12 Position Battles & Updates

College football's opening kickoff is only two weeks away! Between internet connection problems and personal travel, I've been absent from this blog for nearly a month - my apologies.

So, in at the last minute, here are some updates on how the summer is progressing in the Big 12. Again due to the aforementioned issues, this will largely focus on the "interesting" (read: likely bowl and particularly BCS) teams, although I've thrown A&M in for good measure. Let's get started with the most exciting team of all...


Robert Griffin III, sometimes known as "Cream," was quoted by Jason King as saying "We can go 12-0 and end up in the national championship, or we could win fewer games than that." I think this sums it all up for the 2009 Baylor Bears. In 2009 they will, at best, go unbeaten and win the BCS. I don't think the Super Bowl is realistic until Griffin's senior year, and even then he will need some help by the defense if they're going up against the Patriots.

On any given play there will be 10, possibly 11, guys on the field at a time who are not Robert Griffin. This is largely inconsequential.


While the QB and WR positions at Kansas are very strong, the OL is a spot of possible regression that could hold this offense back. Tanner Hawkinson will be the only freshman starter, but he is taking over the important LT position. This has the potential to be an issue against some of the better defensive fronts in the conference, especially as Kansas drew both Oklahoma and Texas from the South. A pair of juniors are expected to start as the new guards (RG Sal Capra, LG Carl Wilson) with Capra drawing some good reviews on Kansas blogs.

I remain skeptical that Kansas is the kind of program that can reload both guards and the LT in a single season.

For two seasons, Kansas' defense has been quite obviously led by their linebacking corps, which makes it a big deal when all three starters graduate. Justin Springer has locked up a starting spot but hasn't been playing full-time due to minor injury. Mangino is on video saying freshman Huldon Tharp will probably be a starter. The third starting spot is unclear. However, there will be a third starting spot -- that is, Mark Mangino has dispelled rumors that Kansas was switching their base defense to the nickel. The Jayhawks will continue to operate from the 4-3.


The word out of Norman is Broyles, Broyles, Broyles. He has made a case for the clear #1 WR target at Oklahoma, and in fact has wound up on the Biletnikoff Award watch list, of course this means Bradford's second option after super-TE Jermaine Gresham. Juco transfer Cameron Kenney has emerged to become the "third" receiving target, but his performance in practice has rumors going that he will in fact be the #2 WR.

Without nearly as much noise out of Adron Tennell, I continue to speculate that Oklahoma will shift their offensive philosophy to take greater advantage of their RB duo, Demarco Murray and Chris Brown.

With four starters to replace, this is the biggest question mark on the Oklahoma offense, coming off a record-setting 2008 season. Trent Williams was known to be the best player on the OL and takes over the all-important LT position. However, Stephen Good has been equally impressive and shows the ability to play any interior position. His slated role is RG, but Oklahoma could use him in some situations to overpower the left side, or he could be used as a center depending on Ben Habern's health situation.

Oklahoma is known to have a strong front four, perhaps the strongest in the Big 12. At the end positions this is a veritable embarrassment of riches. Auston English and Jeremy Beal are both returning starters who realistically have locked in their spots, but sophomore Frank Alexander and redshirted freshman R.J. Washington are expected to get heavy playing time. This ability to rotate in fresh legs with minimal loss in pass-rush productivity could set them apart in a pass-oriented conference.

Oklahoma State:


With Brandon Pettigrew leaving, Oklahoma State had no legitimate heir as second receiving threat going into 2009! Now it seems that Justin Blackmon has all but wrapped up the #2 WR spot - lacking Dez Bryant's size (weight) and speed, Blackmon is nonetheless a fast WR and should benefit from coverages being shifted toward the other side of the field.

TE remains a battle unlikely to have a clear winner by week 1, but Jamal Mosley was reported by Rivals to have had the best offseason catching the ball. Considering the lack of depth at WR, a TE with good hands may work himself into more and more playing time if that becomes an issue for the offense.


News update: In my conference TE preview earlier this summer, I pegged Blaine Irby as the #2 fantasy tight end in the conference. Since then, Texas has reported that the injury Irby sustained in the opening month of the 2008 season will keep him out of 2009 as well. It gets worse. Highly touted freshman D.J. Grant will require knee surgery, Josh Marshall has been forced out of football due to a lingering injury, and now Ian Harris is out for 2009 with a neck injury.

TE Greg Smith caught just two passes in 2008, and freshman Barrett Matthews may end up winning that spot. But what I think will end up happening is that Texas will use a lot of 4-5 WR sets and abandoning the TE as a receiving position, as they did in 2008. This is unfortunate as Irby had some high potential, but ultimately Texas is extremely deep at the WR position.

Moving on to that - reports seem to be leaning towards Malcolm Williams developing into the #2 WR for the Horns, with James Kirkendoll the #3 target. I'll admit I was hoping to hear more of John Chiles' name, but with the TE situation he may find some playing time regardless. Williams and Kirkendoll have proven themselves capable receivers and should step up to fill the void left by Quan Cosby.

David Snow was originally listed as a center but has worked out as a guard and the coaches have loved him. I don't know whether he will take Michael Huey's spot (leaning towards no) for the lone newcomer to the Texas starting line, or if he will simply be used in rotation, but either way it's more good news for the group projected to be best in the conference.

I have seen conflicting reports on whether Deon Beasley or Aaron Williams will be starting at corner along with Chykie Brown. I find Beasley more believable - but, the upside here is that Williams (at least at some point) was in contention. He's 6'1 and might be a better matchup against bigger WR's, and gives the Horns a strong nickel package that could be used against Texas Tech. Two seasons ago, the secondary was considered Texas' weak point. Nice that this unit has rebounded.

Texas A&M:

In a result that should surprise no one, Jerrod Johnson has retained the starting QB position.


Ryan Tannehill was my #11 receiver pick for the Big 12, on the condition that Johnson was likely to beat him out for the starting QB spot. However, Sherman has decided that the team's backup QB situation is too weak for Tannehill to go back to WR, where he got banged up a bit last season. Who does that leave to throw the ball to? Well, there's a solid TE in Jamie McCoy, and Jeff Fuller at the #1 WR spot.

Perhaps, though, A&M is going to avoid the unnecessary risk of turnover and just keep the ball on the ground punt on 1st down.

Texas Tech:


There's still no real consensus on this, which is about what I expected given the offense. Detron Lewis is getting the most attention by sources like Rivals, but Edward Britton came on strong in the second half of the season and might have a better build as a possession receiver.
Tramain Swindall has the second-most catches of any WR returning, and of course will have one of the four starting spots locked up. There's not a clear #4 at this point.