Big 12 wraps up spring football workouts with new faces, question marks
OK, Big 12 fans, grab a roster and settle in for some offseason studying.
Spring has finished in the league. Head coaches will need an orientation to get to know each other, considering there are four new guys at Texas Tech, Kansas, Kansas State and West Virginia. TCU’s Gary Patterson and Oklahoma State’s Mike Gundy are the conference’s esteemed elders. Iowa State’s Matt Campbell is the only other Big 12 coach who has been in the league longer than two seasons.
There’s also been an upheaval in star players, with Oklahoma’s Kyler Murray and West Virginia’s Will Grier headed to the NFL, along with a number of really good tailbacks, receivers and offensive linemen.
We’ve summarized the hot topics of each team’s 15 spring workouts:
• 2018: 7-6
• Hot spring topics: Coach Matt Rhule is pleased enough with his running back depth that he’s decided to try John Lovett, last year’s leading rusher, at safety. Lovett reeled off the two longest runs of the past two seasons, both longer than 70 yards. He led the team with 573 yards.
Rhule said he envisions Lovett playing both offense and defense, but “he’s got a long future ahead on defense.”
The Bears’ running offense ranked fourth in the Big 12 last season and all those tailbacks return and will compete for the starting spot. A solid running game also will help take the pressure off of quarterback Charlie Brewer, the bowl game MVP. Baylor allowed 39 sacks last fall, a total Rhule wants to drop way down.
• 2018: 8-5
• Hot spring topics: The Cyclones have to replace starting tailback David Montgomery and receiver Hakeem Butler, two of last season’s stars. But Campbell knows he has a nice foundation in the offensive line and quarterback Brock Purdy. The line returns five starters. Purdy will be in his second season as a starter.
• 2018: 3-9
• Hot spring topics: Les Miles is using all of his charisma to charm Jayhawks fans into liking football again. Miles, the former coach at LSU and Oklahoma State, changed the name of the spring game to “Late Night Under the Lights” and he used his cache to entice rapper Rick Ross to be the post-game entertainment.
The Jayhawks still have much work to do. Miles said junior college transfer Thomas MacVittie has an edge over Carter Stanley, last year’s starter, at quarterback. Kansas still doesn’t know if Pooka Williams, the all-conference running back, will be with the team. He recently agreed to a diversion program to settle a misdemeanor domestic battery charge. Williams has been suspended since December, when he was accused of punching a woman in the stomach.
• 2018: 5-7
• Hot spring topics: The chatter in Manhattan begins and ends with new coach Chris Klieman, who replaced Bill Snyder. Klieman is new school to Snyder’s very old-school ways. He allows music at practice and he doesn’t mind publicity. The Wildcats amped up their social media activity and gave fans an all-access glimpse of their new coach.
Klieman installed more of a pro-style offense this spring and lauded Skylar Thompson for adapting to it.
There was some bad news this spring. Linebacker Justin Hughes, a likely team captain, tore a ligament in his knee and will miss the season. ... Receiver Hunter Rison, who sat out last season after transferring from Michigan State, was suspended last weekend after he was arrested for domestic battery. Rison, a potential starter and son of former NFL receiver Andre Rison, posted on social media that he’d done nothing wrong.
• 2018: 12-2
• Hot spring topics: The Sooners have sported the last two Heisman winners, so the most talked about player who will be the replacement. The main candidate is Jalen Hurts, the one-time starter at Alabama. The spring game offered a clue as to how well he’s adapting. Hurts completed 11 of 14 passes for 174 yards and a touchdown.
Riley hasn’t announced officially that Hurts is the starter. Redshirt freshman Tanner Mordecai also is in the mix.
The less talked about guy, but one who is a key to Sooners fortunes, is new defensive coordinator Alex Grinch. He spent last season as co-defensive coordinator at Ohio State. He also was Mike Leach’s defensive coordinator for three seasons at Washington State.
• 2018: 7-6
• Hot spring topics: The Cowboys are breaking in a new offensive coordinator in Sean Gleeson. He’s coach Mike Gundy’s fifth offensive coordinator in 15 years in Stillwater. Gleeson replaced Mike Yurcich, who left for Ohio State. The offensive philosophy won’t change that much.
But it’ll be run by a new quarterback. The main contenders are Dru Brown, a transfer from Hawaii, and redshirt freshman Spencer Sanders. The starting quarterback will have a quality tailback standing by him in Chuba Hubbard, who is coming off a 145-yard outing in the Liberty Bowl.
• 2018: 10-4
• Hot spring topics: The Sugar Bowl champions will try to earn their first Big 12 title since 2009 after playing in the championship game last December. Whether they topple OU probably rests with the durability of quarterback Sam Ehlinger. Finding his backup was key in the spring. Casey Thompson is the guy after Shane Buechele (SMU) and Cameron Rising (Utah) transferred. Thompson scored the only touchdown in the spring game.
Coach Tom Herman also is working on revamping a defense. Collectively, the unit responded with five sacks and nine pass breakups.
• 2018: 7-6
• Hot spring topics: Patterson may have as many as five players competing for starting quarterback. Michael Collins, who finished last fall as the starter, missed the spring to recuperate from a leg injury. Justin Rogers, the star recruit from 2018, probably has first crack at the job. He missed all but one series of last season as he recovered from a severe knee injury he suffered in high school. Patterson said Tuesday that Rogers is at least 90 percent healthy. An intriguing candidate is Alex Delton, the former Kansas State starter who transferred to TCU for a final season. Matthew Downing, a preferred walk-on at Georgia, also joined the team and quarterback competition.
Patterson said all the quarterbacks, collectively, prepped for spring practices in much the same way as former Frogs star Andy Dalton. The offense, Patterson said, has been “tweaked” so that TCU can run it at a quicker pace.
• 2018: 5-7
• Hot spring topics: According to players, new coach Matt Wells has introduced a more disciplined approach to workouts. His offense also will rely more on a tight end and the running game than what Tech fielded under Kliff Kingsbury, who was fired last November.
Quarterback Alan Bowman was strong in the spring. He was leading the nation in passing last October when he suffered a collapsed lung. Bowman had a recurrence of the injury later in the season. He’ll wear a specially designed pad to protect his chest this fall. Since Wells took over, Tech has lost two quarterbacks to transfer —McLane Carter and Colt Garrett.
To aid the running game, Tech signed grad transfer Armand Shyne from Utah. Shyne rushed for 512 yards and five touchdowns last fall for the Utes. Wells also signed Penn State defensive back Zech McPhearson, who will have two seasons of eligibility remaining.
• Hot spring topics: Neal Brown, who replaced Dana Holgorsen, also is installing a more pro-style offense. He doesn’t have a ton of work with considering the Mountaineers lost their starting quarterback, tailback and best receivers.
Quarterback Austin Kendall, the former Sooner, probably has the inside track to the starting job, but Brown hasn’t decided. The receiver position also is iffy. Marcus Simms missed an early chunk of spring because of injury. Then Brown said he was absent because of personal issues. He was posting on Twitter during the spring game. A fan asked him if he was coming back. He tweeted that he’d never left.