Big 12 South spring recap

Updated: May 24, 2006, 11:26 AM ET
By Brett Edgerton | Special to ESPN.com

Can Texas defend its national championship with a rookie quarterback? What role will Paul Mosley play in Baylor's offense? Will Adrian Peterson stay healthy and lead Oklahoma to a national championship? Take a look at what questions were answered in the Big 12 South this spring, and what problems linger heading into the fall.

Baylor Bears
2006 Schedule
9/2 TCU
9/9 Northwestern State
9/16 at Washington State*
9/23 Army
9/30 Kansas State
10/7 at Colorado
10/14 at Texas
10/21 Kansas
10/28 Texas A&M
11/4 at Texas Tech
11/11 at Oklahoma State
11/18 Oklahoma
*at Seattle

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

Returning starters
Offense: 8, Defense: 4, Kicker/punter: 2

2005 statistical leaders (* returners)
Rushing: Paul Mosley* (657 yds)
Passing: Shawn Bell* (1,964 yds)
Receiving: Dominique Zeigler* (563 yds)
Tackles: Maurice Lane (84)
Sacks: Colin Allred (5.5)
Interceptions: C.J. Wilson* (5)

Spring Answers: It seems like every offseason there's a distinct and successful offense that just about everyone wants to incorporate into their own scheme -- last year it was the Urban Meyer spread option and this year it appears it's the pass-heavy Texas Tech spread attack. Baylor jumped on the bandwagon with the addition of offense coordinator Lee Hays. QB Shawn Bell picked up quick on the new approach and is basically an additional coach on the field. … While it's tough to see how big, bruising TB Paul Mosley fits into the offense, it's not hard to envision the role of Brandon Whitaker, who has the perfect skills for this offense. The junior is an explosive, slasher-type who can run and catch. Whitaker is so tough to tackle that he's one of those players who can turn a 5-yard pass into a 50-yard gain. A quarterback's dream, as Bell told the press. … Terrance Parks, who once competed with Bell for the job under center, will now be catching passes from him. The transition was golden this spring, and Parks, who can do a little bit of everything, looks like a real weapon at a position that has to have them. … Like they do in several spots on the defense, the Bears have some holes to fill at linebacker. That's why it was such a relief to see the impressive strides made my redshirt freshman Antonio Jones and JC transfer Paul Tolbert throughout the spring.

Fall Questions: If everyone is so excited about the new offense, why exactly was it dominated by the defense in the scrimmages? The staff saw enough glimpses to know it'll work eventually, but it might take time to break it in. Remember, this is basically the same group that finished last in the Big 12 in total yards and 91st nationally in scoring. And the line isn't yet a strength, especially depth-wise. … So will the defense be able to carry the team if the other side struggles early on? This group was decent last season, but did lost seven starters. Like on offense, the guys up front have plenty to prove and simply have to get more of a push. The Bears also need to find an end opposite Marcus Foreman. … Who will decide to take the starting spot at free safety? The secondary should be solid, but this one is still up for grabs. If neither Dwain Crawford and Jordan Lake earns the job, it's possible CB C.J. Wilson could move there. … Baylor won two Big 12 games in 2005. Not a big deal, right? Well, when it's never happened before, it is a big deal. Winning five games for the first time in a decade was also important. It was a sign things are going in the right direction under head coach Guy Morriss, who experienced a similar renewal at Kentucky before leaving for Waco in December 2002. The next step for the Bears is (gasp) a bowl game. Is it time?

Oklahoma Sooners
2006 Schedule
9/2 UAB
9/9 Washington
9/16 at Oregon
9/23 Middle Tennessee
10/7 at Texas
10/14 Iowa State
10/21 Colorado
10/28 at Missouri
11/4 at Texas A&M
11/11 Texas Tech
11/18 at Baylor
11/25 at Oklahoma State

2005 overall record:
8-4
Conference record:
6-2

Returning starters
Offense: 5, Defense: 8, Kicker/punter: 2

2005 statistical leaders (* returners)
Rushing: Adrian Peterson* (1,104 yds)
Passing: Rhett Bomar* (2,018 yds)
Receiving: Malcolm Kelly* (471 yds)
Tackles: Rufus Alexander* (102)
Sacks: Calvin Thibodeaux* (10)
Interceptions: Clint Ingram (5)

Spring Answers: So it turns out this Adrian Peterson is a pretty good little back. You might have heard of him. The kid from the Lone Star State who piles up yards by the hash mark when healthy. Well, Big 12 fans, here's a scary thought: That Peterson guy is once again at 100 percent -- and looking better than ever. He's lighter on his feet and was even more evasive than usual this spring. Avoid injury and he can go ahead and book a trip to the Big Apple. … Based on proven talent, one could make a strong case the Sooners' defensive ends are the best in the country. In fact, let's just go ahead and say it. Larry Birdine and John Williams were in line for huge seasons in 2005 before devastating injuries hit. Their absence only cleared the way for C.J. Ah You, who was named Big 12 Defensive Newcomer of the Year, and Calvin Thibodeaux, who led OU with 10 sacks. Now all four are in the rotation, along with Alonzo Dotson, who sat out last year due to academics. … The emergence of rising sophomore Reggie Smith had to be the story of the spring for the Sooners. A converted safety, Smith already looks like a shutdown corner opposite D.J. Wolfe. At least one source inside the program is already predicting a Thorpe Award awaits Smith later in his career. Keep an eye, too, on converted WR Lendy Holmes, who looks like a solid nickel back.

Fall Questions: With the rash of injuries that took over the O-line last fall, several young linemen gained some valuable experience. Still, it's never easy losing three starters up front, along with an underappreciated fullback (J.D. Runnels) who could block the Red River. A couple of the potential starters on the line weren't able to participate in the spring, so it was tough to gauge (seven players took all of the snaps). The talent is there. At what point does the unit gel, though? … Instead of a fullback, might the Sooners consistently utilize a two-tight end set? We'll see. Between Joe Jon Finley, converted end Auston English and 6-7 uberprospect Jermaine Gresham, the options are aplenty. … Can Rhett Bomar crank it up a notch in the leadership department? It's hard to demand of a second-year player, but it's a must if OU wants to get back into national title contention, which it clearly has a chance to do. Peterson isn't really a vocal guy and there's only one senior starter on offense. Some have argued Bomar gets a little too emotional at times, but he's smart enough to find a happy medium (and maybe improve that 1-1 TD-INT ratio while he's at it). … Late in the spring, Bob Stoops threw starting punter Cody Freeby off the team for various off-field reasons. What does this mean? It's anyone's guess. Junior Mike Knall is in the mix, but Stoops hasn't ruled out seeking some help this summer. So if you're a soccer player with a good leg in the greater Norman area, you might consider giving Bob a call.

Oklahoma State Cowboys
2006 Schedule
9/2 Missouri State
9/9 at Arkansas State*
9/16 Florida Atlantic
9/23 at Houston
10/7 at Kansas State
10/14 at Kansas
10/21 Texas A&M
10/28 Nebraska
11/4 at Texas
11/11 Baylor
11/18 at Texas Tech
11/25 Oklahoma
* at Little Rock

2005 overall record:
4-7
Conference record:
1-7

Returning starters
Offense: 8, Defense: 5, Kicker/punter: 2

2005 statistical leaders (* returners)
Rushing: Mike Hamilton* (961 yds)
Passing: Al Pena* (1,102 yds)
Receiving: D'Juan Woods* (879 yds)
Tackles: Jamar Ransom (99)
Sacks: Victor DeGrate* (5)
Interceptions: Donovan Woods* and Calvin Mickens* (2)

Spring Answers: After WR Adarius Bowman was dismissed from North Carolina, some wondered if he would take advantage of Oklahoma State giving him a second chance. Wonder no more. Bowman is keeping his head on straight and is destined to be a star in this league. The physical, 6-4, 220-pounder can run you over, but he can also run past you and outjump you. Considering no receiver other than D'Juan Woods caught more than 16 passes last fall, finding that second option was crucial. And when the Cowboys go three-wide, they can add impressive JC transfer Anthony Parks to the mix at the slot position. Just like that, one of OSU's biggest weaknesses is now one of its biggest strengths. … Oklahoma St. also found a nice change-of-pace at tailback with the addition of JC All-American Dantrell Savage. Mike Hamilton is durable, had a nice freshman season and didn't put the ball on the ground once this spring. But on a team that generally has to rely on gaining large chunks of offense instead of pounding away at opponents, Hamilton is not exactly a home-run threat. Savage has a chance to hit one out of the park every time he touches the ball. Unlike Hamilton and more like Vernand Morency, Savage will make people miss. … Many inside the program are whispering that freshman Chris Collins is already one of the most talented linebackers to come through Stillwater in years. He looked that good this spring. Once a top Texas recruit, Collins hasn't played a game in two years and is still has some legal issues to deal with back in his hometown. But if he's on the field, oncoming skill-position players can forget about it. … Forced to redshirt last year after breaking his wrist, freshman Andre Sexton made such an impression at strong safety this year that incumbent starter Donovan Woods packed up and took his services to free safety. The Cowboys couldn't afford to have Sexton out of the lineup.

Fall Questions: If OSU doesn't want to repeat as the lowest-scoring team in the Big 12, holding on to the ball would be a good start. In 2005, the offense turned it over a mind-numbing 35 times. Think it's any better now? During a 103-play scrimmage this spring, the Cowboys turned it over 11 times. They followed that up with seven more in the spring game. Nice to see lessons were learned. … We can play this tune again and just change the lyrics: If OSU doesn't want to give up the most points in the Big 12, forcing a few turnovers through the air would be a good start. The team's crummy turnover margin wasn't all on the offense. The Cowboys managed to snare just five interceptions all year. Jacob Lacey and Martel Van Zant both returned picks for touchdowns in the spring game. Is that a good sign? And is there any way Van Zant holds on to that corner spot once JC transfer Scott Broughton and highly touted freshman Perrish Cox arrive this summer? … This team better hope it doesn't have to rely on its secondary to stop running backs again. Will the front seven decide to hit a few of those guys this year -- or at least wrap them up? OSU ranked 107th nationally last year by surrendering 205.5 yards per game on the ground. … QB Bobby Reid was all the rage when he first arrived on campus a couple years ago. He's firing up considerably fewer people these days. True, he had to split time last year, but there's a reason for that. Reid completed fewer than half his passes and never seemed quite up to speed with the offense, despite it being his second year in the system. Well, it's his show to run this year and he said this spring the offense is now second nature to him. But what about making big plays downfield? With the targets he now has, there's no excuse this fall.

Texas Longhorns
2006 Schedule
9/2 North Texas
9/9 Ohio State
9/16 at Rice
9/23 Iowa State
9/30 Sam Houston State
10/7 vs. Oklahoma*
10/14 Baylor
10/21 at Nebraska
10/28 at Texas Tech
11/4 Oklahoma State
11/11 at Kansas State
11/24 Texas A&M
* at Dallas

2005 overall record: 13-0
Conference record:
8-0

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

2005 statistical leaders (* returners)
Rushing: Vince Young (1,050 yds)
Passing: Young (3,036 yds)
Receiving: Billy Pittman* (750 yds)
Tackles: Michael Griffin* (124)
Sacks: Brian Robison* (7)
Interceptions: Aaron Ross* and Griffin* (3)

Spring Answers: For the second straight year in this space, we're going to rave about WR Jordan Shipley. One of these days the nation is going to get to see what we're talking about. After reconstructive knee surgery knocked him out of 2004, Shipley tried to come back too soon and ended up pulling his hamstring three times, missing that magical 2005 season. Back mentally and physically, the lightning-quick Shipley put up another productive spring. If he's healthy, that adds a whole new dimension to a receiver corps that already goes five- or six-deep. … Impress your friends and tell them early on about TE Jermichael Finley. You'll look smart this fall. During his redshirt season, Finley mentored under the great David Thomas and then switched his number to Thomas' 16. Three inches taller, Finley has the hands and can stretch the field just like Thomas. And don't forget about senior Neale Tweedie, who played plenty last season in two-tight end sets. … Last spring, it appeared the secondary would at least start out anchoring the defense. This spring, it appeared the front seven was taking over that role. Tackles Roy Miller and Derek Lokey look like they can block two or three guys at a time and end Brian Orakpo is quickly turning into a star. At linebacker, Rashad Bobino has moved back to his natural spot in the middle, leaving Drew Kelson and Robert Killebrew flanking the outside of what could the best linebacker corps in Austin in years. Usually the group has been dominated by one superstar, but these guys are all good.

Fall Questions: Well, duh. With that dazzling Rose Bowl performance, Vince Young created a legend larger than the state itself. The shoes he leaves to be filled are just as large. Especially large considering neither candidate, redshirt freshman Colt McCoy nor true freshman Jevan Snead, has ever taken a snap in a college game. Now no one questions the talent of these two. The misconception is that they're strictly traditional drop-back passers, but they both ran for over 1,000 yards in the final year of high school and know all about the zone-read scheme that Young perfected last season. The kids can play. However, neither has a significant edge going into August and Brown has hinted that both will compete for at least the first few games. How many title teams rotate quarterbacks, though? And do the Horns really want a repeat of the whole Simms-Applewhite drama? It's imperative one guy steps to the forefront. … How much can "Hammering" Henry Melton contribute at defensive end? With the Horns so loaded in the backfield, Brown and Melton decided to give it a shot. The 270-pound Mack truck played both ways in the spring and might find himself in some situation roles at an equally stacked end position. … Will the Griffin twins own the safety position at Texas? Obviously Michael is an established star at free safety, but less-heralded brother Marcus enters the summer as the favorite at the strong safety spot. However, developing depth in a secondary that lost Michael Huff and Cedric Griffin is a concern. Players like Brandon Foster and Ryan Palmer need to continue the improvement they displayed this spring.

Texas A&M Aggies
2006 Schedule
9/2 The Citadel
9/9 Louisiana Lafayette
9/16 vs. Army*
9/23 Louisiana Tech
9/39 Texas Tech
10/7 at Kansas
10/14 Missouri
10/21 at Oklahoma State
10/28 at Baylor
11/4 Oklahoma
11/11 Nebraska
11/24 at Texas
*at San Antonio

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

Returning starters
Offense: 7, Defense: 6, Kicker/punter: 1

2005 statistical leaders (* returners)
Rushing: Courtney Lewis* (723 yds)
Passing: Reggie McNeal* (1,963 yds)
Receiving: Jason Carter (827 yds)
Tackles: Justin Warren* (95)
Sacks: Johnny Jolly (5)
Interceptions: Marcus Carpenter* (4)

Spring Answers: We're not sure if it was the on-field argument QB Stephen McGee waged with senior LB Justin Warren this spring. Or the way McGee invigorates his teammates with his fiery, hard-nosed attitude, an element that was lacking under the laid-back Reggie McNeal. Or maybe it was just when he changed his jersey to No. 7. Whatever it is, the comparisons to Aggie folk hero Bucky Richardson have already begun. A&M fans need no better answer than that. … The return of four starters on the line and a fully healthy receiving corps can only help McGee fulfill expectations. The sight of WRs Chad Schroeder, L'Tydrick Riley and Earvin Taylor out on the practice field was especially encouraging. The passing game was severely hampered by their absence last season. … America, get ready to hear the story of Mark Dodge. A military man who was actually in the Pentagon when it was attacked on 9/11, the 25-year-old Dodge transferred in from junior college and already has captivated the entire team with his natural leadership abilities. Some close to the program said they haven't seen those kind of qualities at that position since Dat Nguyen and his crew left in 1998. And oh yeah, the guy can play, too. He's already earned a starting spot next to Warren. … Those will be the only spots available in new defensive coordinator Gary Darnell's 4-2-5 scheme. The staff is hoping an extra defensive back will better defend against four- and five-receiver sets, as well as make it easier to draw up run blitzes.

Fall Questions: As long as TB Courtney Lewis gets his academics in order -- and it's expected he will -- the Aggies don't foresee many problems on offense. For this team to get out of its current rut, though, the defense is going to have to show a pulse. Last year's high expectations weren't met because opponents were allowed to pile up 443.8 yards per game, including a national-worst 304.6 yards through the air. In a four-game losing streak to end the season, A&M gave up 43.5 points per game. So in short, the Wrecking Crew was an all-out wreck. Will Darnell and two new defensive backs coaches make a difference? The 4-2-5 defense is essentially what the team has been using in recent years anyway. The real key is to find some big, physical safeties to set the tempo. That search is still ongoing. Last year, the Aggies were inexperienced and inconsistent in the secondary. Don't look now, but it's an area that's still populated by a host of sophomores and redshirt freshmen. So can Jordan Peterson live up to his press clippings? Can Japhus Brown get healthy? Can big and quick Jarius Neal arrive from JC and contribute immediately? … And what about that end spot vacated by sacks leader Johnny Jolly? The August competition is between inexperienced sophomores Cyril Obiozor and Michael Bennett. … Unlike A&M's defensive coaches in the past few years, Darnell has fully embraced the moniker "Wrecking Crew" for his defense. Having T-shirts made and firing up the troops can only do so much, though. Offense-happy Texas Tech comes to town for the Big 12 opener. That's when we'll really know if all this offseason activity paid dividends. … Is someone from the 12th Man eligible to return a kickoff? Heaven knows the football players haven't been able to do it for years. Once again, the Aggies ranked among the nation's worst -- and it's not like they were streaking down the field on punt returns, either. Someone? Anyone? … Coach Dennis Franchione is 16-19 in three seasons. The hated Longhorns are basking in the national spotlight. The schedule is favorable. It's time for the Aggies to make a move. If not, the administration might have to arrange one for "Coach Fran".

Texas Tech Red Raiders
2006 Schedule
9/2 SMU
9/9 at UTEP
9/16 at TCU
9/23 SE Louisiana
9/30 at Texas A&M
10/7 Missouri
10/14 at Colorado
10/21 at Iowa State
10/28 Texas
11/4 Baylor
11/11 at Oklahoma
11/18 Oklahoma State

2005 overall record:
9-3
Conference record:
6-2

Returning starters
Offense: 8, Defense: 5, Kicker/punter: 2

2005 statistical leaders (* returners)
Rushing: Taurean Henderson (872 yds)
Passing: Cody Hodges (4,238 yds)
Receiving: Joel Filani* (1,007 yds)
Tackles: Dwayne Slay (114)
Sacks: John Saldi (3)
Interceptions: Vincent Meeks (3)

Spring Answers: As long as the new quarterback can throw the ball forward, the Tech passing game should be fine. That's because there's a seemingly endless supply of receivers around, and they can all play. Joel Filani, Robert Johnson, Jarrett Hicks, Danny Amendola ... we could go on. Members of the staff are telling local boosters this is the best set of receivers in the Mike Leach Era -- and that's saying something. ... Keyunta Dawson made the All-Big 12 second-team as a defensive end last year, but the coaches felt he could be even more dangerous at weakside linebacker. All indications point to the coaches being right. Dawson has the size and strength to take on tight ends and the surprising quickness to adjust to pass-coverage demands. And just think how he'll rush the quarterback now that he's trimmed down and will have a running start. ... Speaking of linebacker, Kellen Tillman is absolutely determined to earn a starting spot -- and it shows. Heck, just the fact that he was out there was a story. After redshirting in 2002, he tore the ACL in his right knee during two-a-days in 2003 and then tore the ACL in his left knee during a 7-on-7 drill in 2004. Tillman also tore his lateral collateral ligament and stretched a hamstring in the same leg. If he avoids injury and plays like he did this spring, Tillman will see plenty of the field this fall.

Fall Questions: It's Lubbock, it's spring, it's Leach … it must be time for another unresolved quarterback situation. Keeping with tradition, Leach didn't name a starter after spring practice. Only this time, it actually seems like he's legitimately torn. Sophomore Graham Harrell entered as the slight favorite and probably still is, but redshirt freshman Chris Todd was tremendous. He's accurate, has a powerful arm and is a permanent resident of the film and training rooms. We all know whoever wins this thing will throw for a gazillion yards anyway. Only this season -- for the first time since Kliff Kingsbury's junior year in 2001 -- the director of the offense won't be a senior. … Can anyone match the versatility of the graduated Taurean Henderson at tailback? Shannon Woods is the favorite, but he wasn't really wowing anyone this spring. Woods doesn't look like the receiving threat Henderson was and he simply must get better with his blocking, which his predecessor had a natural instinct for doing. Tech doesn't need a 1,000-yard back, but it does need an all-around contributor. … The Raiders don't want to move Dawson back to the line unless absolutely necessary. So can sophomore McKinner Dixon get his academics in order and prepare himself for a starting role at end? And can senior Seth Nitschmann, who's had serious injuries to both knees in the last two years, stay healthy enough to shake off the rust on the other side? … Defensive coordinator Lyle Setencich called the safety spots "wait-and-see" positions. For those not familiar with coach speak, that basically means "uh-oh." Dwayne Slay was a vicious hitter and Vincent Meeks was an excellent anticipator -- those two changed how opponents gameplanned against Texas Tech. Now it's up to a group of only four scholarship players, none of which have much experience. At this point, Darcel McBath has a slight edge over fellow sophomore Lance Fuller at free safety and junior Joe Garcia has a similar narrow margin against sophomore Anthony Hines at strong.

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