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July 13, 2013
Here are six things in the B12 that could be better than you think ...
1. The Texas offensive line.
I know, we will all believe it when we see it. We will all believe it when Texas shows it can run between the tackles against teams like BYU, Kansas State and Oklahoma. We will all believe it when Texas can average 4 yards per carry in more than just six games in a season (like 2012).
But there is an air of confidence about this group inside the program right now that I haven't seen in years. And let's be honest, the last time Texas had a physical running game was 2006. So we are talking about close to a decade.
The summer work of seniors Mason Walters and Donald Hawkins is getting positive reviews. The confidence of Dominic Espinosa at center, combined with his ability to read defenses, has coaches thinking the junior can take a big step in 2013.
Now, the remaining puzzle pieces are the return from injury of senior LG Trey Hopkins (leg stress fracture) and RT Josh Cochran (ankle) as well as the arrival of junior college transfer OT Desmond Harrison, who has made UT sweat by having to take a class in the first part of summer school before finally qualifying/enrolling at Texas.
Harrison is expected on the UT campus this week. There are a lot of fingers crossed. We'll keep you posted.
Stacy Searels has stressed cohesion to the group, and it's a group that seems to like each other. The bottom line in a show-me, don't-tell-me world is that there could and should be big improvement from the Texas offensive line in 2013.
2. Oklahoma State defense.
If Mike Gundy could ever get the defensive side of the ball to improve, he and the Oklahoma State Cowboys would be dangerous.
The Cowboys gave up 28.2 points per game last season, almost as bad as Texas' 29.2 ppg.
The biggest problem for OSU last season was a pass defense that was supposed to be pretty good because it had a bunch of talented juniors, including NFL prospect CB Justin Gilbert.
The group gave up 280 passing yards per game and didn't turn people over.
After having a +21 turnover margin in 2011, when OSU won the Big 12 with a 12-1 record, the Cowboys had a 0 turnover margin in 2012.
Gundy has dumped defensive coordinator Bill Young and promoted LB coach Glenn Spencer, in part, to play a more aggressive style of pass defense with more press coverage at the line.
Gundy thought Young played his corners too soft against the quick, inside routes that proliferate the Big 12.
But Gundy struck gold in junior college transfer DT Calvin Barnett, who earned Big 12 Defensive Newcomer of the Year in 2012, alongside junior DT James Castleman. The Cowboys now finally have the interior linemen on defense to make it harder for teams to run.
Gundy is looking to junior college DE Sam Wren to have a big impact at a position where OSU is thin and desperately needs a pass rush. (Defensive end is now OSU's top concern on D.)
The linebackers are solid, led by seniors Caleb Lavey and Shaun Lewis. And the secondary has three seniors, including CB Gilbert, SS Shamiel Gary and FS Daytawion Lowe. Gundy is hoping Spencer's promotion and more aggressive pass defense will pay big dividends in 2013.
3. Oklahoma's quarterback.
Oklahoma's OC Jay Norvell and QB coach Josh Heupel have a lot on their plate this year as the Sooners move to a dual-threat QB for the first time in the Bob Stoops Era.
Gone is Landry Jones, who became the Big 12's all-time leading passer while leading OU to comeback victories against West Virginia (554 yards passing) and Oklahoma State (512 yards passing) last season that helped Bob Stoops win his 8th Big 12 title in 14 years as coach.
Now, OU totally changes gears and moves to more of a dual-threat QB with either Blake Bell, Trevor Knight or Kendal Thompson.
Bob Stoops is not bringing a QB to Big 12 Media Days this year, so he may not be totally settled on Bell as most people think. I personally think the guy will end up being redshirt freshman Trevor Knight (6-1, 202) who showed accuracy in the spring (11 of 17 passing for 151 yards in the spring game) and mobility (36 yards on 7 carries in the spring game).
No matter who ends up at QB, OU is going to have mobility at the position for the first time in the Bob Stoops Era (Jason White arrived as a dual-threat but then tore his ACL and became a passer).
Combine a mobile QB with RB Damien Williams, FB Trey Millard, WRs Jalen Saunders, Sterling Shepard and Trey Metoyer as well as four starters on the offensive line, and there's a lot to work with.
OU averaged 38.2 points per game last season. Now Norvell and Heupel have to use their QB's legs to help overcome the loss of Landry Jones' arm and make sure isn't too much drop-off.
4. Baylor's defensive line.
Baylor's defense last year was terrible, giving up 37.2 points per game, including 70 in a loss to West Virginia, 49 in a loss to TCU and 56 in a loss to Texas.
But that loss to Texas is where the Baylor defense appeared to reach a crossroads. After that loss in Austin, I'm told defensive coordinator Phil Bennett went scorched earth on his players, putting them through the most grueling, physical practices the next week to prove a point.
And the team came out and played its worst game of the season in a 35-21 loss at Iowa State.
After that, Art Briles encouraged Bennett to love the defense up a bit and trust them more and not use fear so much as a motivating factor. The result was five victories in the final six games of the year, including staggering defensive performances against Kansas State and UCLA.
Against KSU, Baylor held the Wildcats to 76 yards rushing on 31 carries (2.5 ypc) in a 52-24 rout by the Bears. Against UCLA's Jonathan Franklin, the Bruins ran for only 33 yards on 28 carries in a 49-26 romp by BU.
The biggest improvement on the defense this season appears to be happening along the defensive line with the arrival of Penn State transfer DE Shawn Oakman (6-8, 270), who is raw but explosive. Oakman joins returning starters Chris McAllister and Terrance Lloyd, who combined for 10 sacks and 17 TFLs but may not keep their starting jobs.
BU defensive coaches are also high on sophomore Jamal Palmer and sophomore DTs Beau Blackshear and Javonte Magee as well as freshman Andrew Billings.
Baylor's linebackers are solid, led by junior Bryce Hager (son of former Texas tackling machine Brit Hager), whose 124 tackles last season led the Big 12.
BU coaches are hoping more of a pass rush up front will help a secondary with three seniors (S Ahmad Dixon, CB K.J. Morton and CB Joe Williams) improve from a national ranking of 119th (of 120 teams), giving up 323.5 yards per game through the air.
5. TCU's receivers
Gone are leading receiver from 2012 Josh Boyce (66 catches for 891 yards and 7 TDs and a fourth-round pick of the New England Patriots) and Skye Dawson (34 catches for 455 yards and 1 TD, an undrafted free agent now with the Redskins).
But TCU brings back junior Brandon Carter (36 catches for 590 yards and 6 TDs) as well as sophomore transfers Ja'Juan Story (6-4, 208) from Florida and Josh Doctson (6-4, 185) of Wyoming, both of whom have shown coaches big-play ability.
Sophomore LaDarius Brown (6-4, 220) also caught 27 passes for 385 yards and 5 TDs as a freshman last season.
Anyone thinking TCU's receivers will be down without Boyce and Dawson may be mistaken. And QB Casey Pachall probably gets the nod at starting QB over Trevone Boykin simply to take advantage of those receivers (Pachall is a career 67 percent passer with 35 TDs and 8 INTs).
6. Kansas State's QB.
When was the last time Kansas State didn't have a productive QB?
Michael Bishop. Ell Roberson.
Even Ron Prince had Josh Freeman.
And in Bill Snyder's encore return as coach he unearths Collin Klein.
Now, K-State has Jake Waters, the top JUCO dual-threat QB in the country last season (he led Iowa Western CC to a national championship). Or sophomore Daniel Sams, an electric, 6-2, 207 pound dual-threat who averaged 7.3 yards per carry last season (32 carries for 235 yards) in mop-up duty.
No matter who wins the job, they come into a good situation on offense with all five offensive linemen returning as well as RB John Hubert (947 yards, 5 ypc, 15 TDs) and WRs Tyler Lockett (44 catches, 687 yards, 4 TDs) and Tramaine Thompson (37 catches, 526 yards, 4 TDs).
Bill Snyder, who can X and O you to death on offense, will have lots to work with and always seems to get the most out of his QB.