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Big 12 Look-In

   by ASA - 08/23/2006

The Bears returned three starting offensive lineman to the playing field this week. Left tackle Travis Farst, right guard Will Blaylock and center Yancy Boatner all missed time due to various injuries but have now recovered. Baylor will need quality offensive line play if its new spread offense is going to work and these three will go a long way toward making the scheme successful.

“No offense to the guys behind them, but these guys are veterans,â€쳌 head coach Guy Morriss told the Waco Tribune-Herald. “They’re older, more mature, stronger, and we’re just a better line with those guys in there.â€쳌

Blaylock, an all-conference center a year ago, is the most important member of the offensive as he transitions to right guard this year. He was moved to guard so he can get outside and pull on screen passes, which are a staple of the spread offense.

The three-way battle for the starting quarterback position came to a close with new head coach Dan Hawkins choosing senior James Cox to lead the offense. Cox is the most experienced of the bunch, but that isn’t saying much as he has attempted just 79 passes in three years. Cox had a lot to overcome as he fell behind the competition after injuring his hand during spring drills. Hawkins said Cox’s play during scrimmages sealed the deal.

“He was a little more efficient running the club and a little ahead in terms of how he operates with an understanding of the offense,â€쳌 Hawkins told the Boulder Daily Camera.

Cox will face a lot of pressure as he not only has to replace the departed Joel Klatt – who owns 44 school records – but he also has to learn the new offense Hawkins brought over from Boise State.

Iowa State
The Cyclones ran a very one-dimensional offense last season due to an abundance of injuries to the running backs, namely Stevie Hicks. Hicks, now a senior, missed three games last year and sat out portions of three others due to a variety of injuries. Iowa State finished 96th in the nation on the ground last year and must improve if it wishes to build on last year’s 7-5 mark.

Hicks will be the focal point of that improvement process. He rushed for just 545 yards last year but gained over 1,000 yards as a sophomore. Hicks is 100 percent healthy this year and if he can return to his sophomore form, it could make all the difference for the Cyclone football program.

“To get to that next level we talk about, we have to rush the ball,â€쳌 offensive tackle Aaron Brant told the Des Moines Register. “Everyone knows we’ll have a great passing game. We’ve got to be able to run the ball too.â€쳌

The injury bug has bitten the Jayhawks and it has wreaked havoc on the depth of the program. Tailback Angus Quigley, who was expected to compete for carries this season, is the latest to be bitten and will be out for the season. Quigley follows starting safeties Darrell Stuckey and Jerome Kemp, starting linebacker James Holt and backup ‘backer Eric Washington onto the list of injured players.

“Injuries are a part of the game,â€쳌 head coach Mark Mangino told the Lawrence Journal-World. “The way I look at injuries is, one door closes, another one opens.â€쳌

Stuckey and Holt will both miss the season opener against Northwestern State while the statuses of Kemp and Washington are up in the air.

Kansas State
The starting quarterback situation in Manhattan remains unsolved with a little more than a week to the season opener. Dylan Meier, a senior who sat out last season, and Josh Freeman, a highly-touted freshman, have been in a battle for the starting nod since spring ball but new head coach Ron Prince has yet to reach a decision. Meier is getting a majority of the snaps with the first team now but that could change by the Sept. 2 opener against Illinois State.

“They can both throw the ball,â€쳌 Prince told ESPN.com. “We’re just going to see which one will lead the team best.â€쳌

Whoever is chosen will have to captain the newly-installed West Coast offense Prince brought with him from Virginia. In Prince’s five years at Virginia as the offensive coordinator, the Cavaliers set 12 offensive school records.

The Tigers returned one starter to practice but suspended one of their top defensive linemen for the season opener. Wide receiver and senior co-captain Brad Ekwerekwu returned from an emergency appendix surgery and will begin participating in contact drills this week. Ekwerekwu is the team’s biggest and most experienced wideout and led the team in touchdown grabs last season.

The news was not so good for defensive end Xzavie Jackson, who was suspended for the Sept. 2 opener against Murray State for undisclosed reasons. Jackson was second on the team with six sacks last year and is expected to get significant action opposite of all-conference member Brian Smith.

The biggest news on the Cornhusker front is former Arizona State quarterback Sam Keller, who is widely considered one of the best quarterbacks in all of college football, transferring to Nebraska in time to play in 2007. As for the 2006 season, the battle between junior Chris Patrick and sophomore Lydon Murtha for the staring left tackle spot continues to wage on. Nebraska struggled mightily in pass protection last year, allowing 38 sacks, and will need a competent left tackle to protect quarterback Zac Taylor’s blindside and to make the West Coast offense run smoothly.

In other news, starting outside linebackers Steve Octavien and Stewart Bradley returned to practice after missing some time last week. Also, community college transfer Brandon Johnson made his debut this week and will provide some much-needed depth along the defensive line.

With quarterback Rhett Bomar gone, opposing defenses will focus even more on running back Adrian Peterson. If head coach Bob Stoops is to be believed, the opposition will have a lot focus on. Stoops recently said that he is anticipating giving Peterson up to 35 carries a game.

“He needs to get a significant number of carries,â€쳌 Stoops told the Daily Oklahoman. “I think it’s fair to say that he should carry it somewhere between 30 and 35 times a game.â€쳌

Peterson should have a solid starting group to run behind this season but if an injury occurs to one of the starters, there isn’t much depth. The tight ends at OU are also punishing blockers, with each measuring in at over 250 pounds.

Oklahoma State
The Cowboys lost all three of their starting linebackers from a year ago and are still sifting through this year’s group to figure out who will start. Only one ‘backer among the group, Rodrick Johnson, has any experience and he has the inside track on one of the starting spots. After Johnson, the rest of the group has a combined three tackles at Oklahoma State.

“I think we have pared it down to a number of guys, but we still aren’t ready to say, ‘OK, those three are going to be in there and play,â€쳌 linebackers coach Todd Bradford told the Stillwater NewsPress.

One of the standouts in the linebacking corps has been freshman Chris Collins. The rookie was highly recruited out of high school and has already established himself as one of the strongest and fastest players of the group. Other potential starters are Air Force transfer Marcus Brown, sophomore Alex Odiari and converted safety Jeremy Nethon.

Redshirt freshman Colt McCoy has all but locked up the starting quarterback position for the Longhorns. McCoy got a leg up on true freshman Jevan Snead by gaining an extra semester of work last season and has used that to propel himself into the starting role. McCoy distanced himself from Snead with a strong showing in Saturday’s scrimmage and solidified his starting spot with another solid outing in Wednesday’s scrimmage.

“Colt has come out and been very efficient in both scrimmages we’ve had,â€쳌 head coach Mack Brown told the Dallas Morning News.

While McCoy will get the starting nod, that doesn’t mean Snead won’t still see some action. Both ran an offense very similar to Texas’ in high school and are athletic. While neither McCoy nor Snead is as athletic as Vince Young, both are ahead of where Vince Young was in the passing game at this point in his career.

Texas A&M
The Aggies were the worst team against the pass in the nation last year – allowing 305 yards per game – but new defensive coordinator Gary Darnell has installed a new 4-2-5 defense to help combat the spread offenses of the Big 12. The defense features an extra defensive back that should be able to cover and rush the passer.

“(The 4-2-5) is pretty multiple and it has the ability to bring pressure from a lot different areas,â€쳌 head coach Dennis Franchione told ESPN.com. “It gives us better flexibility in the secondary.â€쳌

The Aggies will need this new defensive scheme to be successful if they are to compete in the Big 12. A&M fell from 7-5 in 2004 to 5-6 in 2005 and Franchione will need to improve if he is to retain his job.

Texas Tech
Raider head coach Mike Leach has tabbed sophomore Graham Harrell to be the next leader of Texas Tech’s high-octane offense. This season marks the fifth time in the last seven years that the Raiders have a new starting quarterback and the first time since the 2001 season that the starter will not be a senior. Harrell will have the opportunity to head what will be one of the top passing offenses in college football but will have to play well in order to keep his job. Harrell won the battle over freshman Chris Todd, but not by much.

“If we were to play today it would be Graham,â€쳌 Leach told the Dallas Morning News, “but that’s subject to change as we go.â€쳌

Harrell made six appearances a year ago and showed the ability to run the offense, completing 37 of 55 passes for 422 yards and three touchdowns. He competed for the starting job last year before breaking his leg and falling out of the competition. Todd was one of the top quarterback recruits in the nation last year after throwing for over 10,000 yards in high school.

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