Big 12 North spring recap

Updated: May 8, 2006, 5:17 PM ET
By Brett Edgerton | Special to ESPN.com

What will Colorado's roster look like in September? How good will Iowa State's passing game be this season? Do the Jayhawks have anyone to throw to? Take a look at what questions were answered in the Big 12 North this spring, and what problems linger heading into the fall.

Colorado Buffaloes
2006 Schedule
9/2 Montana State
9/9 Colorado State*
9/16 Arizona State
9/23 at Georgia
9/30 at Missouri
10/7 Baylor
10/14 at Texas Tech
10/21 at Oklahoma
10/28 at Kansas
11/4 Kansas State
11/11 Iowa State
11/24 at Nebraska
* at Denver

2005 overall record:
7-6
Conference record:
5-3

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

2005 statistical leaders (* returners)
Rushing: Hugh Charles* (842 yds) Passing: Joel Klatt (2,696 yds) Receiving: Evan Judge (567 yds) Tackles: Thaddaeus Washington* (112) Sacks: Washington and Abraham Wright* (5) Interceptions: 4 players with 2

Spring Answers: Who needs 'em? New head coach Dan Hawkins isn't a big fan of depth charts. Before spring practice, he made sure the names were listed in alphabetical order and made it clear to the players that kicker Mason Crosby was just about the only sure thing. So we don't know much, and a series of injuries never allowed Hawkins' much-talked-about offense to have any kind of rhythm. However, we do know a huge cloud has been lifted around Boulder. New athletic director. New coach. No more allegations, no more distractions, no more rumors about firings or resignations. Just football this spring. And isn't that as good a news as any? … That's not to say a few players didn't raise some eyebrows. Speedy Stephone Robinson was certainly one. When WR Blake Mackey went down last year, the Buffs really lacked that big-play guy who could stretch the field  and most opposing defenses realized that quite quickly. Enter Robinson, a junior whom Hawkins is determined to put on the field somewhere. He can really run with the ball in his hands and he'll get the chance to, whether it be on quick screens, reverses, punt returns, etc. In the spring game, he showed his elusiveness by returning two punts for touchdowns. … Senior Walter Boye-Doe has shown some explosiveness in the past and isn't a complete unknown. But the defensive end took it to a different level this spring and thus earned himself a starting spot on the line. The Buffs hope those four sacks in the spring game are a harbinger … Colorado obviously didn't need any answers at placekicker, where it has the best in the country in Crosby. That doesn't mean there wasn't some intrigue. Hawkins said repeatedly he wants Crosby to break the NCAA record for a made field goal -- currently 65 yards without a tee -- and he's serious about it, too. In the final scrimmage, he let the senior try a 70-yarder, which didn't miss by much. Earlier in the spring, Crosby nailed one from 68 yards out. If you see the Buffs on TV this fall, we suggest you tune in. Could be history on the line.

Fall Questions: So who gets to run the offense that Hawkins made so famous at Boise State? Your guess is as good as ours at this point. James Cox has the most experience, but suffered a hairline fracture in his hand the first week of practice and did not return. So it was left to Brian White and a scrambling Bernard Jackson to battle it out and neither created any kind of separation. White looked pretty sharp in the bowl game last season, but Jackson certainly adds an athletic variable to the mix the others can't bring. When Cox returns in August, it's back to square one. … Will the running game be any better? It was tough to tell because of the struggles of a banged-up offensive line that lost both starting tackles to graduation. Until proven otherwise, the offense still doesn't seem to have a breakaway threat or much of a power game inside. … Recently the CU receivers have struggled to get open and don't always catch the ball when they are. That's why having a lethal tight end duo like Joe Klopfenstein and Quinn Sypniewski provided such a security blanket. Will transfer Tyson DeVree, a Freshman All-American at Western Michigan, provide that same kind of comfort? Those are four big shoes to fill. … Most of the starters on defense are back, but replacing underappreciated OLB Brian Iwuh is crucial. That position is an important part of this unit and highly-touted sophomore Brad Jones is going to need to live up to the hype. And with nearly everyone returning, can the secondary manage to hold opponents under 250 passing yards a game this year? The return of a healthy Terrence Wheatley at corner should help. … The Buffs have to find a replacement for the always-reliable John Torp at punter, but don't want to have to turn to Crosby, who thinks punting negatively affects his placekicking duties. Can either Matt DiLallo or Daniel Agostino solve this conundrum?

Iowa State Cyclones
2006 Schedule
8/31 Toledo
9/9 UNLV
9/16 at Iowa
9/23 at Texas
9/30 Northern Iowa
10/7 Nebraska
10/14 at Oklahoma
10/21 Texas Tech
10/28 at Kansas State
11/4 Kansas
11/11 at Colorado
11/18 Missouri


2005 overall record:
7-5
Conference record:
4-4

Returning starters
Offense: 10, Defense: 4, Kicker/punter: 1

2005 statistical leaders (* returners)
Rushing: Stevie Hicks* (545 yds)
Passing: Bret Meyer* (2,876 yds)
Receiving: Todd Blythe* (1,000 yds)
Tackles: Matt Robertson and Tim Dobbins (103)
Sacks: Jason Berryman (7.5)
Interceptions: DeAndre Jackson* and LaMarcus Hicks (5)

Spring Answers: How good can the passing game be? Here's a clue: The coaches were even beaming about the play of the backup quarterback. The Cyclones don't need to lose starting QB Bret Meyer and all he brings to the table, but at least the staff doesn't have to go into cardiac arrest every time he gets pressured. Kyle Van Winkle was probably the most improved player of the spring. And that bottomless group of receivers they've got in Ames? Yeah, they're still pretty good. … On a decimated defense, two bright lights from the secondary emerged. Actually, only one truly emerged. It's not like CB DeAndre Jackson had anything to prove this spring. He's not only a great kickoff returner, but coach Dan McCarney has seen enough to declare the senior one of the best corners in America. At strong safety, though, redshirt freshman James Smith turned in one heck of a performance. He's not big (5-8), but he can play. And he'll have to play right away. … Out last fall after transferring from Michigan State, LB Tyrone McKenzie nevertheless made some heads turn while on the practice squad. He'll be making a few heads turn out in the flat this fall. By all accounts, McKenzie is as good as advertised. The Cyclones will need a few more just like him if they're going to hold opponents to a school-record three yards a carry again. … The team lost its top two punters and there was serious worry about that spot heading into the offseason. Then redshirt freshman Michael Brandtner started booming them down the practice field and all worries went to the wayside.

Fall Questions: What happened to the ISU running game? And is it coming back anytime soon? Yes, we know Jason Scales missed the entire season and we understand Stevie Hicks was in and out of the lineup with various injuries. But Hicks did average just 3.7 yards a carry in the nine games he did play and the team average was a measly 2.7. Of course, plenty of blame rests with the O-line, which also gave up a conference-worst 39 sacks. For the first time since 1983, Iowa St. boasts five senior starters up front. It's about time to deliver, don't you think? … While practically everyone returns on offense, the defense just keeps taking hit after hit. Not long after the season, sack leader Jason Berryman was thrown off the team after yet another run-in with the law. Then, right at the conclusion of spring practice, standout LB Matt Robertson saw his career end after testing positive for a banned nutritional supplement. For a unit that had already lost six starters to graduation, it wasn't exactly a pleasant news cycle. People forget just how good that Iowa St. defense was last year. The Cyclones forced a Big 12-best 35 takeaways and didn't allow more than 27 points all season. Now the replacements are athletic and quick, but that's not winning any games yet. The end positions are a question mark and no one is quite sure who is going to play nose guard, a spot manned by Nick Leaders since the 2002 season opener. And the gutting of the middle of the defense doesn't stop at nose. There's also battles to replace MLB Tim Dobbins and SS Nik Moser. At the corner opposite Jackson, Chris Singleton will step in with little experience. At the free safety spot vacated by Steve Paris, Jon Banks will step in with no experience. But did we mention the offense should be pretty good?

Kansas Jayhawks
2006 Schedule
9/2 Northwestern State
9/9 Louisiana Monroe
9/15 at Toledo
9/23 South Florida
9/30 at Nebraska
10/7 Texas A&M
10/14 Oklahoma State
10/21 at Baylor
10/28 Colorado
11/4 at Iowa State
11/18 Kansas State
11/25 at Missouri

2005 overall record:
7-5
Conference record:
3-5

Returning starters
Offense: 7, Defense: 2, Kicker/punter: 2

2005 statistical leaders (* returners)
Rushing: Jon Cornish* (780 yds)
Passing: Jason Swanson (1,223 yds)
Receiving: Mark Simmons (631 yds)
Tackles: Nick Reid (112)
Sacks: Brandon Perkins (10)
Interceptions: Theo Baines (4)

Spring Answers: If not for some complications with his heart last August, Kerry Meier would've probably taken over as starting quarterback at some point. So it was only a matter of time after his redshirt season, and it didn't take long at all for him to move past senior Adam Barmann and into the starting position this spring. Meier just looks the part. Poised. Big arm. Can run if needed. For the first time in three years, KU has some stability and talent under center. … That's also the case on the O-line. The starters have played next to each other for quite some time now and the Jayhawks actually have some talent behind them, as well. Right tackle, the only spot of relative inexperience, will be fine in the hands of redshirt sophomore Anthony Collins, who has a mean streak and a massive 6-foot, 6-inch frame. … Rodney Harris would've been the starting free safety this year, but a serious neck injury required surgery and his career is over. Darrell Stuckey's is only beginning. The redshirt freshman emerged this spring at free safety with his ever-improving coverage and physical, smart play. Coach Mark Mangino loves both Stuckey and CB Aqib Talib, a redshirt sophomore and a rare returning starter. … Yet another redshirt sophomore, LB Mike Rivera, had a heck of a spring at a position of great need. He played occasionally last year, but mainly on special teams. You'll see him all over the field this season. Rivera runs like a cheetah and then likes to flatten people when he arrives at his destination.

Fall Questions: Three of the top four pass-catchers from last year are gone and we're not exactly sure what the Jayhawks have left. Brian Murph isn't bad, but is he really a No. 1 receiver? And even if he is, when does No. 2 arrive? There are about five candidates for that second spot and no one has really come close to staking a claim to it. … Most of the questions, however, have to be directed toward the other side of the ball. A whopping nine starters were lost from a unit that finished 11th in the country in total defense (303.3 YPG) and third in rushing D (83.3 YPG). The coaching staff feels the defense will be more athletic and has the potential to be just as good, but there are still plenty of questions left to be answered. On the line, the interior should be outstanding, but Jermial Ashley and especially Charlton Keith left some gaping holes on the ends -- and the replacements haven't provided much hope the pass rush will be sustained at the same level. … Speaking of massive holes, how about the one caused by the graduation of linebackers Nick Reid, Kevin Kane and Banks Floodman? The expected replacements (Rivera, Eric Washington and Joe Mortensen) are getting props for their borderline-crazy intensity, but there's not a whole lot of experience there. And they're replacing a whole lot of it. … Talib is locked in at one corner, but the other is still a mystery. For now, Blake Bueltel has the edge over fellow JUCO transfer Michael McCoy, but incoming freshman Anthony Webb will get his chance in August.

Kansas State Wildcats
2006 Schedule
9/2 Illinois
9/9 Florida Atlantic
9/16 Marshall
9/23 Louisville
9/30 at Baylor
10/7 Oklahoma State
10/14 Nebraska
10/21 at Missouri
10/28 Iowa State
11/4 at Colorado
11/11 Texas
11/18 at Kansas


2005 overall record:
5-6
Conference record:
2-6

Returning starters
Offense: 9, Defense: 8, Kicker/punter: 2

2005 statistical leaders (* returners)
Rushing: Thomas Clayton* (637 yds)
Passing: Allan Evridge* (1,365 yds)
Receiving: Jordy Nelson* (669 yds)
Tackles: Brandon Archer* (72)
Sacks: Tearrius George (4)
Interceptions: Justin McKinney* (3)

Spring Answers: The Prince returned to the land of his birth and the purplebloods just can't seem get enough of him. In fact, the crowning of Ron Prince as K-State's new coach couldn't have gotten off to a better start. Not only did he convince Josh Freeman, an All-American quarterback from Kansas City, to decommit to Nebraska, but he also brought a new energy and openness -- inviting the public to practices, for example -- to a program that had grown a bit stale, with just four conference wins since that stunning Big 12 title in 2003. No one should ever question the greatness of the Bill Snyder turnaround, maybe the greatest in the history of college football. But some young, new blood just feels right for this program. And we think the nearly 32,000 fans who shattered the spring-game attendance record agree. … WR Jordy Nelson was his normal terrific self, including a spectacular, had-to-see-it TD catch in that final scrimmage. While his performance came as no surprise, the emergence of TE Rashaad Norwood as a legit target was certainly a nice development for the passing game. The junior looks bigger and more focused this year. … Despite playing fewer than half the snaps of starting MLB Ted Sims, Zach Diles ended up with the exact same amount of tackles. The Cats weren't worried about that spot, but Diles went out and had a great spring anyway. He's a big hitter who runs and covers well. With the newly installed Cover 2 schemes, Diles should thrive.

Fall Questions: QB Kevin Lopina decided to transfer after spring practice, so that leaves a mere four quarterbacks to battle it out for the starting spot. Think this might get a little interesting in August? While it's probably between Allan Evridge, Dylan Meier (brother of the Kansas QB) and the aforementioned Freeman, there's not a lot of separation there, and the veteran Allen Webb isn't out of it, either. Prince said he wants to pick one guy and stick with him. Good luck with that, coach. … And good luck with that offensive line. Let's face it -- the group has been a little soft lately. Granted, several injuries led to a very young look last year, but it doesn't appear the situation is any more stable this time around. At this point, the starting jobs at center, left guard and the all-important right tackle spot, which was vacated by the great Jeromey Clary, are all up for grabs. … The biggest concern for the defense might be its own offense. In 2005, K-State turned it over way too many times inside its own 40, which obviously put the D in a precarious position. No matter where they are on the field, the Wildcats cannot afford another 28 turnovers if they're serious about returning to a bowl for the first time in three years.

Missouri Tigers
2006 Schedule
9/2 Murray State
9/9 Mississippi
9/16 at New Mexico
9/23 Ohio
9/30 Colorado
10/7 at Texas Tech
10/14 at Texas A&M
10/21 Kansas State
10/28 Oklahoma
11/4 at Nebraska
11/18 at Iowa State
11/25 Kansas

2005 overall record:
7-5
Conference record:
4-4

Returning starters
Offense: 8, Defense: 7, Kicker/punter: 2

2005 statistical leaders (* returners)
Rushing: Brad Smith (1,301 yds)
Passing: Brad Smith (2,304 yds)
Receiving: Martin Rucker* (567 yds)
Tackles: David Overstreet* (100)
Sacks: Brian Smith* (9)
Interceptions: Marcus King (3)

Spring Answers: Chase Daniel officially hasn't been named the winner of the quarterback competition with Brandon Coleman and Chase Patton, but he's in the pole position, and it would take a pretty awful August for him to lose the lead. In the spring game, he directed a pair of 75-yard drives by going 11-of-12 and throwing two TD passes. The sophomore just has a presence about him that was first seen when he filled in for an injured Brad Smith and rallied the Tigers from 10 down late in an OT win against Iowa State. He's also got an efficient arm and will connect with receivers Smith too often had trouble finding. … One of those targets will be WR Will Franklin. The junior seemed to get lost in the shuffle the first two years, but he and Daniel were already on the same wavelength this spring and it sure looks like he's headed for a breakout season in the fall….Then there's the Chase-Chase connection. Get used to it. The third Chase on the team, the 6-6 tight end with the last name Coffman, was tremendous as a freshman and is only getting better. A true quarterback's dream, Coffman can save a bad pass with an acrobatic catch and then he can just run forever after that. He'll team with the equally dangerous Martin Rucker to form one of the nation's top tight end duos. … Overall, the defense could use a little more consistency this year (New Mexico scored how many?!). If there are any problems in the fall, though, it's doubtful they'll originate on the line, specifically not on the edges. The staff will have to decide between Xzavie Jackson and Stryker Sulak, but both can and will play. Those two teamed up with a better-than-ever Brian Smith? Mighty dangerous. Think they might like to break in a few of those new Big 12 quarterbacks? .

Fall Questions: The loss of Smith and his dazzling running ability means two things: The quarterback will throw more and the running backs will run more. Those two things mean one thing: The offensive line needs to get better. And sooner rather than later. Four of five starters return, but the loss was All-Big 12 LG Tony Palmer and the group as a whole isn't always as good as it should be. As far as the running game is concerned, can the tailbacks stay healthy for the long haul? Led by Tony Temple and Marcus Woods, the Tigers have four pretty good options, but all four have had injury problems in the past year alone. And it's not like they were doing a lot of the running in the past. … Six starters on the defensive front seven return, but what about the back four? Three starters were lost in the secondary, and although head coach Gary Pinkel calls it the most athletic bunch he's had at Mizzou, Darnell Terrell and Domonique Johnson still have to prove themselves at corner and the freakishly athletic William Moore still has to prove himself at strong safety. With depth a major issue, that much is certain. …The accuracy of placekicker Adam Crossett, however, is not. The junior is fine when it comes to the longer kicks, but it's the short ones -- even PAT-short -- that have Tiger fans holding their breath. … And while we're on the subject of special teams, can anyone in this program return a kickoff? Missouri was just 81st nationally in KO return average last year, but that's not the embarrassing part. Do you realize the last time the Tigers returned a kickoff for a touchdown was 1983? That's somewhere in the range of 1,000 tries. How is that even possible?

Nebraska Cornhuskers
2006 Schedule
9/2 Louisiana Tech
9/9 Nicholls State
9/16 USC
9/23 Troy
9/30 Kansas
10/7 at Iowa State
10/14 at Kansas State
10/21 Texas
10/28 at Oklahoma State
11/4 Missouri
11/11 at Texas A&M
11/24 Colorado

2005 overall record:
8-4
Conference record:
4-4

Returning starters
Offense: 8, Defense: 7, Kicker/punter: 1

2005 statistical leaders (* returners)
Rushing: Cory Ross (882 yds) br> Passing: Zac Taylor* (2,653 yds)
Receiving: Nate Swift* (641 yds)
Tackles: Corey McKeon* (98)
Sacks: Adam Carriker* (9.5)
Interceptions: Corey McKeon* (3)

Spring Answers: A kid from Norman, Okla., becoming conquering hero of Big Red Nation? Before this year, that sounded about as likely as Nebraska finishing last in the conference in rushing, and we all know how that one turned out. So yes, believe it. Sooner-bred QB Zac Taylor is smart, avoids mistakes, controls the offense and just keeps getting better and better. The senior was sharp this spring and didn't look like he was worrying about much. The game is clearly slowing down for him, which is good news for Nebraska. … Those oncoming defenders will be slowing down as well. That's because the offensive line is certain to be better. OL coach Dennis Wagner recently admitted he only felt confident with six linemen last season -- and those worries came to fruition when Taylor kept getting pummeled and the running game never got out of neutral. So how did Wagner feel at the end of this spring practice? He now feels comfortable with at least 10 of his guys. It's a been few years since the Huskers have been able to say that. … When LB Steve Octavien got hurt in the first game last year, Bo Ruud stepped in and played well the rest of the regular season. When Ruud broke his arm before the Alamo Bowl, Lance Brandenburgh stepped in and played well against Michigan. When Stewart Bradley got hurt early in the season … well you get the point. The Huskers have some serious depth at linebacker -- and it's experienced depth. They have so many players like Corey McKeon, who don't necessarily look intimidating but always seem to be around the ball and making the big play. This is quite a group.

Fall Questions: A year ago, a big crowd came out to the spring game to see how much the Huskers would fling it around. This year, a big crowd came out to see whether their beloved team still knew how to carry the ball in a forward motion. Who could blame them? NU finished a mind-boggling 107th in the country on the ground and averaged just 2.7 yards a carry. During a three-game losing streak to Missouri, Oklahoma and (gasp) Kansas, Nebraska gained a total  a total  of 34 yards rushing. So are things any better this year? The spring offered a promising start. Sophomores Cody Glenn (the punisher) and Marlon Lucky (the gazelle) -- neither used extensively last season -- looked excellent. The talent, which includes the versatile Leon Jackson, is clearly there. Will we see the net product in the fall? … As pleased as the staff is with Taylor, it isn't comforting that he's not even getting a hint of competition from the reserves. The much-acclaimed Harrison Beck has yet to turn a head. And Joe Ganz and Beau Davis were a combined 5-for-25 in the spring game. … Will we ever see the old Matt Herian? When the tight end would glide down the middle of the field a couple years ago, he often looked like the best player on the field. But Herian suffered a devastating injury to his leg in October 2005, and hasn't played a game since. Then he had to deal with a nagging hamstring this spring. If he can come at least close to his old level, last year's 96th ranked offense will have a dangerous -- and perhaps forgotten  weapon. … On the defensive side, how will the new starters fare at the only two places hit hard by graduation, defensive tackle and safety? The inside push of Le Kevin Smith and Titus Adams played a big part in the recent pass-rushing accomplishments of the Husker ends. Are Barry Cryer and Ola Dagunduro up to the task? Back at safety, how will converted CB Tierre Green and career reserve Andrew Shanle hold up? If those four play well, this could be a dynamite defense. … How many times did punter Sam Koch rescue the team in crucial situations over the past few years? Too many to count. Whomever finally emerges between Dan Titchener, Tyler Kester and Jake Wesch has some rather large shoes to fill. In case they need any more pressure, it's only been about two decades since Nebraska had a bad punter.

Brett Edgerton is a researcher for ESPN. He can be reached at Brett.M.Edgerton.-ND@espn.com.

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