Spring look around the Big 12
With spring practices getting started, our Big 12 notebook addresses the big questions for each team.
Which quarterback is the frontrunner to start at Colorado? What upset Bob Stoops during Oklahoma's recent spring practice? Why was Texas A&M coach Dennis Franchione excited about the Night of Champions? Our Big 12 notebook addresses those questions and much more.
The Bears filled their schedule for next season by adding a road date at Mid-American Conference school Buffalo on Sept. 22. It will mark the Bulls' first game against a Big 12 school in the history of the conference. The only other time that Buffalo played a Big 12 team came in a 1968 trip to Iowa State Eric Schnupp, the offensive line coach at West Texas A&M the past three seasons, has been named the tight ends coach and the assistant strength and conditioning coach. Schnupp, a former football player at Miami from 1997-2000, coached on the same staff as offensive coordinator Lee Hays at West Texas A&M. Schnupp's hiring was the fifth change made by coach Guy Morriss to his staff since the end of last season. Among the members of Baylor's recruiting class of 22 players were the sons of former Baylor players Mike Singletary (DE Matt Singletary), Vann McElroy (DB V.J. McElroy) and James Francis (LB Chris Francis). "I'm going to hug [former Baylor] coach [Grant] Teaff for recruiting their daddies here so they were familiar with Baylor and us with them," Morriss told reporters after the class was announced. "I think it helped." Among the other players in the class were QB John Weed, who has two years of eligibility after transferring from Tyler Junior College, and QB Michael Machen, who graduated from Kent State and still has one more year of eligibility remaining. Both Machen and Weed will compete with sophomore Blake Szymanski for the starting quarterback job when spring practice begins on March 20. Machen's route to Baylor is particularly circuitous after three years in the Atlanta Braves' minor-league system and stops at Alabama and Coffeyville (Kan.) Community College. The 6-foot-6, 240-pounder also considered offers at Houston and Nevada after throwing for 2,177 yards and 11 touchdowns during his career with the Golden Flashes.
Returning senior QB Bernard Jackson is in a tight three-way battle for the starting position with junior-college transfer Nick Nelson and redshirt freshman Cody Hawkins, son of Colorado coach Dan Hawkins. Despite the presence of his son, the Colorado coach said he would not show any favoritism. "When I walk out on that grass, they are all my boys," Hawkins told the Denver Post. "It's great to have competition. It's great to have experience as it pertains to Bernard. Nick is not experienced, but he's won a lot of games." Cody Hawkins passed for 105 yards at the Buffaloes' first spring scrimmage and Nelson added 51 passing. Jackson was limited to only one pass after not practicing earlier in the week. "Part of it also is just trying to force feed those two guys [Cody Hawkins and Nelson] along a little bit," Dan Hawkins said. "And then, obviously we will bring Bernard along." Hawkins does not expect the quarterback battle to sort itself out until fall practice. Cha'pelle Brown has moved from defensive back to wide receiver and Joe Sanders will move from linebacker to tight end during the spring. S Reggie Foster and RB Thomas Perez will be held out of spring practice for academic reasons Former Colorado QB and professional golfer Hale Irwin will speak at the school's commencement ceremony on May 11. WR Chase McBride (shoulder), TE Devin Shanahan (knee) and OL Erick Faatagi (knee) all will have practice time curtailed this spring because of injuries.
Iowa State Cyclones
Former Minnesota assistant Tony Petersen has been hired as new coach Gene Chizik's quarterbacks coach. Petersen's experience with the multi-faceted Gophers' offense is expected to spur the development of incumbent QB Bret Meyer. Chizik has overhauled his coaching staff and also reshaped his roster with 11 junior-college transfers. Although Chizik will have a lot of work to do in transforming the program, the new ISU head coach will be rewarded handsomely with a six-year contract that will pay him a school-record $6.75 million contract. The contract will provide Chizik with a $100,000 bonus if he qualifies for the Big 12 championship, $100,000 bonus if he wins the championship game or a BCS bowl game. He's also been able to convince ISU athletic director Jamie Pollard to pay his assistants competitive wages. New defensive coordinator Wayne Bolt will earn about $240,000 next season and offensive coordinator Robert McFarland will earn $275.000. McFarland most recently worked at Division I-AA Stephen F. Austin. Bolt was out of football last season after serving as UAB's defensive coordinator from 2003-05. The Cyclones will start Chizik's coaching tenure with a Thursday night game on Aug. 30 against Kent State. The Iowa State-Iowa rivalry has intensified after ISU set ticket prices at $90 apiece -- among the highest one-game prices commanded in college football -- for the 4,000 tickets the Cyclones have made available to their cross-state rivals for the Sept. 15 game in Ames.
New offensive coordinator Ed Warinner has vowed to keep things simple to help boost production for returning starting QB Kerry Meier. "What that has done is taken some pressure off of the quarterback," Kansas coach Mark Mangino told reporters at a news conference before spring practice. "The quarterback is not going to have to do as much thinking as in the past, and instead, more playing." Meier and Todd Reesing will have some intense competition for the starting job throughout the spring, despite Meier throwing for a freshman-record 13 touchdown passes last season. "Kerry is considered the incumbent, but he has to compete for that position," Mangino said. Missing a bowl game last season has served as a huge inspiration for Kansas, one of only three Big 12 North teams not to go bowling. "It would be hard to overlook that 800-pound gorilla sitting in the middle of the room, wouldn't it? If that's not motivation for you, you're in the wrong sport. You need to pick something else up," Mangino told reporters. Massive 235-pound senior FB Brandon McAnderson will get a shot at replacing departing Big 12 rushing leader Jon Cornish at TB. Former Miami Dolphins defensive assistant Steve Tovar has been hired as the Jayhawks' LB coach. Former RB Gary Green III has been switched to DB -- the same position where his father, Gary, earned Pro Bowl honors in the NFL.
Kansas State Wildcats
Former Tampa Bay Buccaneers and USC defensive assistant Greg Burns has been hired as KSU's secondary coach. Burns has been a part of a staff that claimed two national championships at USC. But after leaving the Trojans to work in the NFL, Burns was deemed as the scapegoat of Tampa Bay's defensive collapse last season and was let go by coach Jon Gruden after the season. The Wildcats will begin spring practice on March 29. Their spring game will be played on April 21 -- latest among Big 12 teams along with Missouri.
Coach Gary Pinkel is excited about the return of players that accounted for 98 percent of last year's yards from scrimmage. The Tigers ranked eighth nationally in total offense. Missouri's biggest challenge will be finding six new defensive starters. Defensive coordinator Matt Eberflus' biggest chore will be to find some production after losing key players like LB Marcus Bacon, LB Dedrick Harrington, DE Brian Smith, DE Xzavie Jackson and S David Overstreet. And his job got a little harder when CB Domonique Johnson, who started five games as a sophomore last season, quit the team last month. Hardy Ricks, who started eight games after Johnson lost his starting job last season, will get the first shot at replacing him. NT Lorenzo Williams will miss up to three weeks with a condition known as anterior compartment syndrome. The Columbia Daily Tribune reported that Williams' injury is a condition that occurs when the leg muscle becomes too large for the sheath that surrounds it. Other players missing practice include T Kurtis Gregory (shoulder and knee surgery), G Monte Wyrick (knee surgery). LB Quran Barge also is recovering at his home after suffering a stray gunshot wound during his semester break. He is expected to be ready for fall practice. New starters will be needed to replace WR Brad Ekwerekwu, G Mike Cook and T Joel Clinger. Missouri has its first two players in Pinkel's coaching tenure who are skipping their final semester of high school to join the Tigers early: LB Michael Keck, who arrives as the most heralded defensive recruit since Justin Smith in 1998, and LB Luke Lambert. Both are taking part in early practices. After backup QB Brandon Coleman's departure, redshirt freshman Dominic Grooms and junior Chase Patton are battling for the No. 2 position behind starter Chase Daniel.
The Huskers will be looking for depth at I-back, where only Marlon Lucky has experience among the players who will compete for playing time during the spring. Depth at the position has been depleted after Brandon Jackson's surprise departure for the NFL and injuries to Kenny Wilson (knee infection) and Cody Glenn (foot). Lucky, who was hospitalized with an unspecified medical emergency last month, and Marcus Mendoza will get most of the work in their absence. Mendoza is a 175-pound true freshman who enrolled in January. Converted S Major Culbert also will get a look at I-back. Another surprising defection for coach Bill Callahan came when OT Chris Patrick announced earlier this month that he will skip his senior season to declare for the NFL supplemental draft. Former junior-college transfer Carl Nicks will get the first shot at Patrick's old starting position during the spring. LB Bo Ruud has been moved to weakside linebacker, where he will vie to replace Stewart Bradley. The move will allow the defense to become more athletic, taking advantage of Ruud's natural talents as a blitzer and enable Ruud and Steve Octavien to play at the same time. LB Clayton Sievers will move to defensive end. With DE Barry Turner out for spring practice, Sievers enters the spring as the top player at one starting DE position. Other defensive switches will include Anthony West and Rickey Thenarse from cornerback to free safety and Tierre Green from strong safety to free safety. Green started all 14 games at strong safety last season. Other players who will miss spring practice because of injuries include QB Zac Lee (knee), TE Mike McNeill (shoulder), FB Matt Senske (back), OL Jacob Hickman (knee) and Mike Huff (ankle), Turner (shoulder), NT Craig Roark (shoulder) and CB Corey Young (shoulder). CB Zackary Bowman will be held out of contact work as he rehabilitates from a knee injury that caused him to miss last season. Callahan is in extended negotiations with the Nebraska athletic department about a contract extension. Callahan is the Big 12's only head coach who doesn't have an original contract or extension that will take him through the 2010 season. Nebraska has been able to generate about $8 million in sponsorship revenues for the upcoming season, the Omaha World-Herald reported.
None of the three Oklahoma quarterbacks took an early step to jump ahead of the others in the Sooners' first scrimmage last week. Freshman Sam Bradford produced eight completions for 117 yards, but had an interception returned for a touchdown. Incoming freshman Keith Nichol (6-for-8 for 40 yards, TD pass) and junior Joey Halzle (6-for-11 for 109 yards, one TD pass, two interceptions) also had their moments. But none of them could comment about their performance as coach Bob Stoops shielded them from media interviews after the scrimmage. Not surprisingly, OU's rushing game appeared strong at the first scrimmage as incumbent Chris Brown and DeMarco Murray combined to rush for 180 yards on 26 carries. Murray showed breakaway promise and versatility with a team-best 65-yard TD run and three receptions as a slot receiver. Stoops was disappointed by the struggles of his defense at the first scrimmage. "I wasn't very pleased," he told reporters. "I didn't expect it to be execution-wise where it needs to be, but I wasn't pleased with our overall intensity in the way we came out." The secondary and linebackers drew particular ire from Stoops. "I saw sloppy tackling, which hopefully is just rust," Stoops said. "We have some guys who are trying to get on the field who are showing that you've either got to make tackles or you're gonna have a hard time playing around here." WR Malcolm Kelly and G Brandon Walker both will miss spring practice as they rehabilitate after offseason knee surgery. Mammoth 6-8, 350-pound T Phil Loadholt has moved into the starting position on the left side, flanked by 330-pound George Robinson at guard. The Sooners will skip practice next week because of spring break, but will return to work on March 26 with the next scrimmage scheduled five days later.
Oklahoma State Cowboys
WR Adarius Bowman didn't waste any time returning to football, rejoining the football team only 16 hours after the Cowboys were eliminated in the NIT after a first-round loss to Marist. Bowman played five basketball games for the Cowboys, averaging 0.6 points and 3.4 minutes per outing. "I loved that experience," Bowman told the [Oklahoma City] Daily Oklahoman. "Not many [other people] can say they did that." New defensive coordinator Tim Beckman is wasting little time putting his imprint on the defense. Among his early changes have been tinkering with the move of starting MLB Rod Johnson to stand-up defensive end and bringing 235-pound S Donovan Woods closer to the line of scrimmage for run support. QB Bobby Reid has been dieting to try to bring his playing weight down. After a week off for spring break, the Cowboys will return to work on March 26. The biggest position switch of the spring has moved Ricky Price from wide receiver to safety. Price was recruited by former OSU coach Les Miles as a defensive back, but moved to wide receiver before his first college practice. Price has produced 20 catches in his first two seasons, but his move back to defense is because of improving depth at wide receiver. Other position changes include Zach Carter (from linebacker to fullback) and Scott Broughton (from cornerback to wide receiver). Among the players who are being held out of contact drills during the spring include DE Ugo Chinasa (ankle), LB Chris Collins (rehabilitation from knee surgery) and WR DeMarcus Conner (ankle).
Drew Kelson's early work at safety has been praised after he was switched from linebacker at the start of spring practice. "Drew is doing well," coach Mack Brown said. "He hasn't backpedaled in four years now because he moved to tailback and then up to linebacker, so it will take him a little big longer. He has a lot of recall that he needs to get back." The Longhorns' retooled secondary has shown flashes of promise at several early practices. Among those who have been impressive in the early work have included youngsters Chykie Brown, Ben Wells and Deon Beasley. "What popped out to me is that we've still got a lot of work to do," Brown told reporters after a recent practice. "There are so many young guys at so many positions that it's going to be a fun spring, but our coaches and myself are going to have to do a great job of evaluating and working to get young people to continue to improve." Neither true freshman John Chiles or redshirt freshman Sherrod Harris has distanced himself in the battle to be Colt McCoy's backup. "The two young quarterbacks will have a big learning curve this spring," Brown said. "You just have to keep working at quarterback to see if and when they separate. They will at some point, but right now, both of them are doing a good job and they are neck and neck." The Longhorns will return to practice later this week after taking last week off. "We think it's really good because it gives them a chance to get well," Brown said. "We also think it keeps your body from getting beat down over time in spring practice because you do get a break. And we also think it puts a little more pressure on them to stay in shape and act right during spring break, which we want to do, too." Texas' defensive coaches are rotating many players throughout spring practice. "Our whole defense is rotating every six plays," Brown said. "We have opened up every position on defense and turned everybody loose, and it's great competition right now. It's fun to watch them."
Texas A&M Aggies
As the culmination of winter conditioning work, more than 1,000 A&M fans turned out to watch the school's fourth annual Night of Champions conditioning competition. Offensive lineman Cody Wallace set a school record at the event by squatting 740 pounds. Other events included a tug-of-war and a slam-dunk contest. The strong physical efforts also excited coach Dennis Franchione. "It was impressive," Franchione told the Bryan Eagle. "It makes me feel like we ought to be able to move some people, create some seams, find some places to run and play physical football even more than we did this year, which was not bad. I was proud of what we accomplished this year." The Night of Champions also served as the team's final focal point before spring break begins later this week. The Aggies have rounded out their 2007 nonconference schedule with a home date Sept. 1 against Montana State. The Bobcats spoiled the home opener of Colorado coach Dan Hawkins last season. Franchione's prime emphasis during spring practice will be to implement more intermediate and deep passes into his offense. The Aggies also plan to tinker with several formations employing redshirt freshman QB Jerrod Johnson, a 6-6, 225-pounder who has been favorably compared to Vince Young because of his running and passing abilities. Johnson briefly played basketball for the Aggies before quitting the team earlier this month after seeing only four minutes of action in three games.
Texas Tech Red Raiders
Tech's athletic department will receive about $300,000 extra for allowing SMU to move its season opener back two days from Sept. 1 to Labor Day for national television purposes. The Red Raiders will then play UTEP only five days later. "It's all right," coach Mike Leach told the Lubbock Avalanche-Journal about the date switch. "I think the time spot is good, and then we'll just have to do a great job preparing the following week." It will be Tech's first visit to Ford Stadium in Dallas since the controversial 27-13 victory in 2004. Leach and SMU coach Phil Bennett nearly had a postgame altercation after Bennett was irate that the Red Raiders were throwing the ball late in the game. Tech hasn't lost at SMU since 1986. The Red Raiders also have agreed to switch their game against Oklahoma State from Sept. 29 to Sept. 22, figuring their chances of having the game picked up for television will be better if the game was moved up to a date when most of the conference will be playing nonconference foes. Leach was disappointed that rules changes cut the time of the average college football game by 13 minutes last season. "That's good, why?" Leach told the Lubbock Avalanche-Journal. "I can think of as many reasons to go from 3:20 to four hours than I can to go from 3:30 to 3:07 or whatever it turned out to be." Tech assistant football coach Ruffin McNeill has been chosen to participate in the annual Minority Coaches Forum on May 1-2 in Chandler, Ariz. The forum was created to provide better opportunities for minority coaches to interact with institutional administrators and search firms that are responsible for hiring Division I-A football head coaches. Kansas State offensive coordinator James Franklin also will participate. The Red Raiders will start spring practice on March 21 with the annual Red-Black game set for April 14.
Tim Griffin covers the Big 12 for the San Antonio Express-News.