Spring look around the Big 12
As spring practices get started, our Big 12 notebook addresses the big questions for each team.
Will Iowa State be able to keep Stevie Hicks healthy? Can Missouri improve its in-state recruiting? Can Nebraska improve its offensive line? Who will win Oklahoma State's QB battle? Will Henry Melton play running back at Texas in 2006? Our Big 12 notebook addresses those questions and much more.
QB Terrance Parks, who started two games for the Bears last season, has switched to tight end. That move leaves Shawn Bell as the leading candidate to operate new offensive coordinator Lee Hays' spread offense. Baylor coach Guy Morriss will return to his coaching roots this season as he coaches the Bears' offensive line. Chris Lancaster, Baylor's offensive line coach the last three seasons, now will coach Baylor's running backs. "I'm excited because I get to go back on the field," Morriss said. "I've missed coaching the positions and I'm excited about the new offensive system we're putting in place. I feel like right now I have more of a handle on the offense because I've helped put it together." Among the new additions to Baylor's coaching staff is Gary Joe Kinne, a former Baylor player who formerly was a high school coach at Canton (Texas) High School. Kinne was wounded by an irate parent before last season, but recovered well enough to resume his coaching career. Kinne's son, G.J., is ranked among the top junior quarterback prospects in Texas with scholarship offers from Oklahoma, Tennessee, Alabama and Texas A&M as well as Baylor.
Coach Dan Hawkins has made a popular move among players, pushing back pretraining camp conditioning work from before daylight until the afternoon. Linebacker Jordon Dizon is particularly excited about the move. "I guess coach Hawk's thing is players get a lot more out of it [in the afternoon] rather than just after they've gotten up," he told the Rocky Mountain News. "I'm definitely for it; you're energetic and enthusiastic." Colorado and Colorado State have announced a five-year extension of their century-old rivalry, with the first three years played at Invesco Field at Mile High in Denver. It will be the first time the game has been played there since 2003. Colorado has the home-game rights in 2009 and Colorado State in 2010, although the game could be played in Denver during those seasons, too.
Iowa State coach Dan McCarney was thrown a late curve when respected outside linebackers coach DeMontie Cross left the Cyclones program to become a defensive and special teams coach with the NFL's Buffalo Bills. Cross is the fifth member of McCarney's staff to head to the NFL since 1997. McCarney has seven former assistants on current NFL staffs. One particular aim during spring training will be to build production in the running game, while keeping TB Stevie Hicks healthy. Hicks missed three full games and parts of two others last season. Iowa State went 1-2 in the games he missed and won all four games in which he rushed for more than 30 yards last season. Hicks tallied minus-1 yard in the Cyclones' Houston Bowl loss to TCU, as the Cyclones were limited to a season-low 34 yards rushing.
Louisiana-Monroe has been added to complete the Jayhawks' 2006 nonconference schedule in a two-for-one scheduling deal. The Jayhawks will visit Monroe in 2012. ESPN officials have talked with Kansas about switching its Sept. 16 game against Toledo to a Thursday night for a potential national television broadcast. A decision will be made in several weeks. Coach Mark Mangino's contract has not been extended by Kansas athletic director Lew Perkins. The decision is surprising because a couple of factors. The Jayhawks set records in home attendance last season, defeated archrival Missouri for the third straight season, beat Nebraska for the first time in 37 years and notched a victory over Houston in the Fort Worth Bowl -- Kansas' first bowl triumph since 1995 and only the fourth in school history. Can it get much better? The Jayhawks hope to continue to make Memorial Stadium an imposing venue for opponents after a 6-0 home record last season -- Kansas' first undefeated home season since 1951.
Some interesting potential bonuses are found in new Kansas State coach Ron Prince's contract, which was obtained by the Kansas City Star. The newspaper reported that Prince will receive a base salary of $750,000 on his five-year contract with incentives that could boost the pact to $1 million per year. Some of the perks include $200,000 if the Wildcats win the Bowl Championship Series or Associated Press poll, $75,000 if the Wildcats play in a BCS bowl, $35,000 if he's named national coach of the year by several national publications, including ESPN The Magazine, and $25,000 if the Wildcats sell out every home game. Offensive coordinator James Franklin and defensive coordinator Raheem Morris each signed three-year contracts for $200,000 per year. The Wildcats will attempt to market their product more this spring, starting their annual Purple and White spring game on a Saturday night for the first time in recent memory and holding other activities during a two-day festival that will also include a golf tournament, barbecue and autograph session after the game. The Kansas House of Representatives has passed a bill to name a 14-mile stretch of Kansas State Highway 177 and U.S. 24 in honor of former KSU coach Bill Snyder. The vote sending the bill to the Kansas Senate was 122-2. One of the votes against came from Kansas State Rep. Lana Gordon, a Kansas graduate. "Shouldn't we honor other coaches?" Gordon told the Associated Press.
One area of immediate concern for the Missouri program was the Tigers' lack of in-state success during the recruiting season. The Tigers signed only five Missouri players in the most recent recruiting period -- the lowest total in coach Gary Pinkel's coaching tenure. "Our number one priority is the state of Missouri," Pinkel told reporters. "We are going to look back and evaluate internally and work harder to get back up there where we have been." QB Brad Smith might be gone, but returning QB Chase Daniel will have one key advantage when spring practice starts. TE Chase Coffman is back. Coffman capped a breakout season last year with a Missouri bowl-game record eight receptions for 99 yards in the Tigers' dramatic comeback victory over South Carolina in the Independence Bowl. Coffman is one of 17 returning starters.
The Cornhuskers' spring practice should be more spirited after the return of three starters who missed most, if not all, of last season with injuries. TE Matt Herian, LB Steve Octavien and G Andy Christensen all are back for the start of spring practice on March 22. "We're glad to have all of them back," Nebraska coach Bill Callahan said. "They all will be welcome. That's not to say that the people we had that replaced them didn't step up and do their jobs, but we'll be glad to have all of them back." One area of immediate concern this spring is building cohesion in the offensive line. The Cornhuskers allowed 38 sacks last season -- an all-time single-season high for the Cornhuskers. Callahan has made an increased effort to rejuvenating the Cornhuskers' walk-on program, placing a different assistant coach in charge of a specific area in Nebraska. The Cornhuskers have 31 walk-ons on their current roster after having 40 walk-ons last season.
Oklahoma women's basketball coach Sherri Coale went to football coach Bob Stoops for advice late in the Sooners' run to the Big 12 women's championship. Stoops told Coale that "sometimes you need to stop in the middle of a winning streak and remind them how much fun it is." Stoops also sent a letter of support to Oklahoma State interim men's basketball coach Sean Sutton after the Cowboys' upset victory over Texas two weeks ago. Oklahoma and Miami have agreed to a two-game series, matching college football's two winningest teams (by percentage) since 2000. The two teams will meet in Norman in 2007 and Miami in 2009. The Sooners have upcoming home-and-home contracts with Florida State (2010 and 2011) and Tennessee (2014 and 2015) and are currently negotiating with Notre Dame for the resumption of another storied series. Oklahoma offensive line coach James Patton comes to the Sooners from Northwestern with a strong history. Every senior offensive lineman that Patton coached at Northwestern from 2001-04 made the NFL and the one he coached last season (Zach Strief) was a first-team All-American who should be drafted later this spring.
A few minor injuries convinced Oklahoma State coach Mike Gundy to push back the start of spring practice from this week until March 20. "We've got about six guys who have muscle pulls and minor aches," Gundy told the (Oklahoma City) Daily Oklahoman. "And some of them are significant to the two deep, so there was no real sense in starting without them." The practices now will be spread over five weeks, culminating with the spring game April 22. OSU strength and conditioning coach Rob Glass has added yoga to the Cowboys' spring work. Gundy said QB Al Pena will get the first snap in spring work, based on finishing the 2005 season as the starter. But Bobby Reid and freshman Zac Robinson both are expected to mount serious challenges for the starting position. Biggest position of need on defense is linebacker, where OSU loses three starters. Marcus Brown, who played in 11 games for Air Force in 2004 and was projected as a starter for the Falcons, is expected to challenge for a starting job. And LB Pagitte McGee, who was injured in the fifth game last year, is petitioning the NCAA for an extra medical redshirt year.
Four high school players have enrolled early this spring to join the Longhorns -- a record for a team coached by Mack Brown. QB Jevan Snead, LB Sergio Kindle, OL Buck Burnette and TE Greg Smith all have shown early flashes in the first week of practice. "They are just young guys who wanted to graduate and get started," Brown said. "They come for football -- there is no question about it. They feel like it gives them a better chance of playing in the fall." TB Selvin Young, who struggled with injuries and fumbling problems last season, has been one of the top early producers for the defending national champions. "Selvin looked better than he did at any time last year, including the championship game," Brown said. "I think he has thinned down a little bit more and had a couple of great runs." RB/WR Ramonce Taylor has been excused from the rest of spring practice to work on his academics. His absence is allowing massive TB Henry Melton one more chance to show coaches his running abilities. Melton had earlier talked to Texas coaches about switching to defensive end. Brown said he was "amazed" at the early poise shown by Snead and redshirt QB Colt McCoy. "They are both talented, have great arms, are accurate and there are a lot of similarities between the two," Brown said. "But the most impressive thing to us has been their composure. For Jevan Snead to walk out there and play well for the first time is pretty impressive." The two quarterback contenders combined for a 57-4 record as starters in high school.
TE Martellus Bennett will miss spring practice as he competes for the Aggies' basketball team. But his football teammates can't wait until he returns to wearing pads. "We are so excited about Martellus," QB Stephen McGee said about Bennett, who snagged 18 receptions for 162 yards last season as a freshman. "His upside is amazing and he can do so many things. We can line him up in so many positions and use him a lot of different ways. It will be fun to have him this year." New defensive coordinator Gary Darnell has talked about returning A&M's "Wrecking Crew" nickname to his defense. "There's been a little misunderstanding about that the last few years -- we never did away with it," Texas A&M coach Dennis Franchione said. "We just wanted the defense to live up to the name before using it freely. Coach Darnell has said there is only one condition: They have to be wrecking and not getting wrecked. It's all about walking the walk, not just talking the talk." One of A&M's biggest spring priorities will be finding a pass-rushing threat to replace Johnny Jolly. Sophomore Michael Bennett is the top candidate, although redshirt freshmen Vincent Williams, Kellen Heard and Paul Freeney all will get a long look during the next few practices.
How much did Texas Tech officials and coach Mike Leach like the epic 8,129-word story written about him by Michael Lewis in the New York Times Sunday Magazine last December? It's been bookmarked on the school's official athletic Web site, just after the school's Cotton Bowl desktop wallpaper and before the school's biographies of the 2006 signing class. Backup WR Brandon Douglas has been suspended by Leach for an undisclosed violation of team rules, but has not been ruled out of returning for his senior season in the fall. Former BYU assistant Brian Mitchell has been hired to coach Tech's defensive backs. He replaces Dave Brown, who died of an apparent heart attack last month. Among the members of Tech's mammoth 34-man recruiting class was TE Adam James, son of former SMU running back and college football television analyst Craig James. Tech officials are working with Leach to extend his current contract another year through 2010. His current contract pays him about $1.4 million per year.
Tim Griffin covers the Big 12 for the San Antonio Express-News.
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