A look around the Big 12

Updated: July 19, 2005, 6:02 PM ET
By Chip Brown | Special to ESPN.com

Can Joe Daily handle the pressure of leading Nebraska's new West Coast Offense? Is Texas Tech's basketball-on-grass offense in danger of slowing down? Can Texas replace WR Roy Williams? Our Big 12 notebook addresses those questions, along with looks at Texas A&M's Terrence Murphy, the OU defense and much, much more.

Baylor
Baylor coach Guy Morriss is disgusted that neither Shawn Bell nor Dane King stepped forward and won the quarterback job. Morriss absolutely didn't want to have to give the job to one of them by default. But that's what happened when he named King, one of the nation's top junior college passers last season at Blinn College, the starter for Saturday's opener against UAB.

  • Baylor needs sophomore Dominique Zeigler to be a receiver that defenses will have to respect deep because he has shown flashes of brilliance. The 6-foot-3, 185-pounder has great size and speed, but for every three or four plays that he runs perfect routes and makes solid catches, he takes a couple plays off. Without a receiver who can stretch the defense and attract safety attention, Baylor's running game will suffer.

  • After finding no one to long-snap during the spring, Baylor coaches discovered freshman Jon Weeks at a kicking camp in Las Vegas this summer. Weeks is expected to start at long snapper in the season opener, which could be an adventure.

    Colorado

    Gary Barnett
    Getty ImagesColorado coach Gary Barnett is expecting big things from DE James Garee.
    Colorado coaches are expecting big things from junior defensive end James Garee, who at 6-6, 265 pounds, has continued to impress after notching six sacks in the spring game. There is a need for Garee to emerge. Without him, the Buffaloes, who had only 19 sacks all of last season, may have no pass rush at all.

  • Look for Colorado State's defense to gang up to stop CU running back Bobby Purify and take its chances defending the pass in the season opener. Colorado has only one receiver who has caught a pass in a college game (Ron Monteilh).

  • Colorado coach Gary Barnett is backing up his claims that true freshman linebacker Jordon Dizon is something special. Barnett is planning to start Dizon in the season opener. And if Dizon starts at middle linebacker, it would be the first time a true freshman has started in the middle in school history. There's a reason it's never happened before: Starting a freshman at the position considered your quarterback on defense is often a recipe for disaster.

    Iowa State
    Dan McCarney said sophomore defensive end Jason Berryman, who was charged with two counts of second-degree robbery and one count of first-degree theft stemming from an incident on Aug. 3, will not be a part of the Cyclones' program this season. Berryman was team MVP and Big 12 defensive newcomer of the year last season. His absence has caused McCarney to shuffle his defense and move weakside linebacker Tyson Smith to end. Not the kind of stuff you need after a 2-10 season last year.

  • Redshirt freshman Bret Meyer may have won the starting quarterback job over sophomore Austin Flynn. But not by much. So look for both to play in the season-opener against Northern Iowa. Whoever is on the field at QB has nowhere to go but up. The Cyclones were 116th in scoring offense last season of 117 in Division I-A.

  • New Iowa State offensive coordinator Barney Cotton, who spent last season as offensive coordinator at Nebraska, loves to run the ball. So look for Cotton to do everything he can to establish sophomore tailback Stevie Hicks against Northern Iowa on Saturday.

    Kansas
    Kansas coaches feel like sophomore quarterback Adam Barmann (6-4, 220) has all the physical tools to pick up where the departed Bill Whittemore left off. But they're concerned about Barmann pressing for big plays when he should just take what's there. If Barmann doesn't learn this lesson right away, he may have a short leash and get pulled for either Brian Luke or junior college transfer Jason Swanson.

  • Coaches are giving a vote of confidence to shaky senior kicker Johnny Beck, who hit 14-of-20 field goals as a freshman, including a 59-yarder, and then cratered his sophomore and junior years. Beck hit only 16-of-33 field goal attempts in those seasons. Beck was only 1-of-6 from 40 yards and out last season. If he wavers again, look for redshirt freshman Scott Webb to get a shot.

  • While KU has been a base 4-3 defense the last two seasons, look for the Jayhawks to employ a 3-4 alignment, at times, this season to take advantage of their depth at linebacker and downplay their lack of depth on the defensive line.

    Kansas State
    Coach Bill Snyder said it came down to experience and execution when he selected sophomore Dylan Meier over sophomore transfer Allen Webb to start at quarterback. The battle wasn't decided until the tail end of fall camp, indicating that Snyder may well give Webb a shot if Meier doesn't get off to a roaring start.

  • The Wildcats have huge holes to fill at outside linebacker as Josh Buhl, the team's leading tackler in 2003, and Bryan Hickman have moved on to the NFL. But Snyder isn't worried because he's got depth at the position. The new strongside linebacker will be Matt Butler, who started five games last season and is moving over from middle linebacker. The weakside will be handled by Marvin Simmons, who had off-the-field issues that limited him to just eight tackles in three games last season. At middle linebacker will be Ted Sims, who started the final 10 games of last season.

  • The big question on the offensive line heading into Saturday's opener against Western Kentucky will be the play of guards Malcolm Wooldridge and Michael Weiner. Both are inexperienced and must gain traction quickly for K-State's star running back Darren Sproles to take off. Guard became thin when star-in-the-making Chris Boggas left the team at the start of fall camp.

    Missouri
    Freshman wide receiver Will Franklin (6-2, 185) has impressed coaches enough that he will play Saturday against Arkansas State. Franklin is listed as the backup to sophomore receiver Brad Ekwerekwu. In a sign that Missouri football is improving, coach Gary Pinkel will have the luxury of redshirting most of his true freshmen. Last year, only two true freshmen played.

  • Kicker Joe Tantarelli doesn't lack confidence. He came from Glendale (Ariz.) Community College as a walk-on this summer, never doubting that he would win the starting job. And that's what he's done, beating out Alex Pettersen and Adam Crossett after having only a month to impress coaches.

  • Coaches are expecting a lot from junior defensive tackle C.J. Mosley (6-3, 305) and senior nose tackle Atiyyah Ellison (6-4, 300). Missouri's ability to stop the run last year became a serious issue. The 17th-ranked Tigers, who are ranked entering the season for the first time since 1980, were 72nd in Division I-A, giving up 167.2 yards per game on the ground. If that's going to change this season, it will start with Mosley and Ellison.

    Nebraska

    Joe Dailey
    QB Joe Dailey has struggled in Nebraska's new West Coast Offense.
    Nebraska quarterback Joe Dailey, who has never started a college game, has put so much pressure on himself to perform this season, he wakes up his roommate, Greg Austin, one of the Cornhuskers' offensive linemen, by calling plays in his sleep. No one is carrying more weight in Nebraska's transition from an option team to a West Coast passing attack than Dailey. But friends and family say he can handle it.

  • It's not like Nebraska has never thrown a forward pass before coach Bill Callahan brought in the West Coast offense. In 1972, the Huskers threw for 2,431 yards and 25 touchdowns while going 9-2-1 and finishing No. 4 in the nation. Nebraska produced one of three wide receivers ever to win the Heisman Trophy that year -- Johnny Rodgers.

  • Freshman receiver Terrence Nunn (6-0, 185) was the biggest surprise of fall camp. He proved to coaches that he's a deep threat and can make tough catches. He also took advantage of minor injuries to receivers Mark LeFlore (toe) and Isaiah Fluellen (hamstring) to seize what appears to be a starting job.

    Oklahoma
    Oklahoma is 0-2 since Mike Stoops left his post as co-defensive coordinator and took the head coaching job at Arizona. For the first time since the Sooners won the national title in 2000, OU's swagger is being questioned. With Bowling Green and Houston to open the season, OU's defense won't be tested until the Sooners face Oregon Sept. 18 and Texas Tech Oct. 2.

  • Watch out for a little resentment and friction on the defensive coaching staff. Ever since Bo Pelini replaced Mike Stoops as co-defensive coordinator, Pelini has been getting all the ink, while co-defensive coordinator Brent Venables, who is eager to land a head-coaching job, has been somewhat forgotten. It's Pelini, however, with much to prove. Pelini's defense gave up 353 yards rushing in a 31-7 loss to Texas. Venables' defenses have dominated the Longhorns. Pelini is also nowhere near the bad cop Mike Stoops was on the OU staff.

  • Quarterback Jason White will need an out-of-this-world season in 2004 to repeat as Heisman Trophy winner. That's because so many Heisman voters felt cheated after White threw four interceptions and no touchdown passes in season-ending losses to Kansas State and LSU.

    Oklahoma State
    The Cowboys got good news last week when the NCAA clearinghouse declared 6-5, 350-pound freshman defensive tackle Walter Thomas eligible to play at UCLA on Saturday. Thomas is one of the top recruits of the Les Miles era. But 350-pound freshmen are typically gasping for air and not moving their feet after two or three plays in a row. If Thomas can carry the weight and give OSU more than 10 snaps a game, especially in the early-season heat, OSU's run defense could be formidable.

  • One reason OSU needs Thomas to be a force in the middle of the defensive line is coaches have been disappointed with inconsistent play from tackle Xavier Lawson-Kennedy, the supposed gem of Miles' 2003 recruiting class.

  • OSU has led the Big 12 in special teams two of three seasons under coach Joe DeForest, but that standing will be put to the test immediately with place-kicking duties being handled by a player with no collegiate experience -- either true freshman Jason Ricks or redshirt freshman Luke Roberts.

  • Before Rashaun Woods exploded at receiver for OSU, the go-to pass catcher was tight end Marcellus Rivers. Now that Woods is playing for the 49ers in the NFL, tight end might once again be a focal point in the Cowboys' offense. Look for senior tight end Billy Bajema to become more of a factor in the OSU passing game.

    Texas
    The Longhorns had three receivers last year who could get deep and demand safety attention, freeing up lots of room in the running game for quarterback Vince Young and running back Cedric Benson. UT coaches have no idea if they have such a receiver this season. Look for 6-5 Limas Sweed and junior Brian Carter to be the early favorites to stretch defenses.

  • Coaches said last year's defense really struggled after linebacker Garnet Smith went down in the season opener with a high ankle sprain. So one would think Smith would be a lock to bolster this year's defense, right? Wrong. Smith has been moved from the middle to strongside linebacker and has struggled. Smith lost the starting job to junior Eric Hall, who moved from defensive end to linebacker after having his jaw broken and losing 20 pounds in May.

  • Texas won't have a chance to beat Oklahoma and make a run for a Big 12 title unless it can stop the run, and there are a ton of question marks on the Longhorns' defensive line. The only thing certain is that junior tackle Rod Wright will command double teams almost every play. The question is if the player next to Wright can profit from that attention and make plays. It may fall to freshman Frank Okam, the prize of UT's 2004 recruiting class. North Texas running back Patrick Cobbs, the leading rusher in Division I-A last season, will present a solid test on Saturday.

    Texas A&M
    Senior receiver Terrence Murphy hopes to have a year in which he can help the Aggies while also impressing NFL scouts. But with no proven experience at receiver around him, Murphy will draw double coverage all season. If he puts up big numbers this season, the NFL will know he earned it.

  • Don't be surprised if A&M moves Geoff Hangartner, a two-year starter at center, to left tackle and starts redshirt freshman Chris Yoder at center. Yoder has come on enough that Hangartner, the team's best lineman, could be moved.

  • This is the year quarterback Reggie McNeal either shows he's special or another in a long line of A&M busts at quarterback. McNeal has been brilliant (see the Aggies' victory over Oklahoma in 2002) and utterly average. In McNeal's defense, he had better talent around him in 2002 than he did last season. He also had to learn a new offensive system last season. With a second straight year in the same offense, the real Reggie McNeal should step forward -- for better or worse.

    Texas Tech
    It's hard to tell if coach Mike Leach's decision to redshirt quarterback Robert Johnson, one of the nation's top junior college quarterbacks last season, was because of Johnson's need to grow in the offense or grow up. Either way, if Johnson does both and senior Sonny Cumbie picks up on Leach's offense the way Kliff Kingsbury and B.J. Symons did, Tech's basketball-on-grass offense will be in good hands for the next few years.

  • Defensive end Adell Duckett's 14 sacks last year are the most among returning players nationally. And while Duckett is a legitimate NFL prospect, his impact this season won't be felt one bit unless he gets some help from a defense last season that was a complete joke.

  • At first glance, having 10-of-11 starters return to a defense that ranked 106th nationally in total defense of 117 teams in NCAA Division I-A last season might not be such a good thing. But players swear that seven freshmen and sophomores who were in the starting lineup in 2003 have grown up and now know what to do. Luckily for Texas Tech, the Red Raiders have the equivalent of a preseason game to open the season Saturday: at SMU.

    Chip Brown covers the Big 12 for The Dallas Morning News.

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