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February 9, 2011

Big 12 spring primer: QB questions

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The Big 12 has a reputation as a strong quarterback league, but that distinction -- as with its number of teams -- seems to be dwindling.

This spring, the soon-to-be 10-member league has at least four teams -- Iowa State, Kansas State, Missouri and Texas Tech -- breaking in a new starting quarterback. Texas' quarterback job is an open competition even though the incumbent starter returns.

Not surprisingly, the top teams -- Oklahoma, Oklahoma State and Texas A&M -- are in good shape at that position but have other issues to address.

Here's a look at the start and end dates for spring drills, as well as a quick look at what each team hopes to accomplish.

BAYLOR
Practice begins: Feb. 28
Spring game: April 2
The buzz: Developing the defense under new coordinator Phil Bennett, who previously has fielded strong defensive units at Kansas State, Texas A&M and Pittsburgh, is the top priority. The Bears have to bolster a lackluster pass rush that managed just 20 sacks in 2010. Baylor also needs to find a new starting tailback.
IOWA STATE
Practice begins: March 22
Spring game: April 16
The buzz: The Cyclones are seeking a successor at quarterback to Austen Arnaud, who started for three seasons. Jerome Tiller, who threw for 363 yards in a backup role last year, will vie with junior college transfer Steele Jantz. The Cyclones have to replace a center and a guard, and they also might find a new starting tailback. Defensively, finding two new starting safeties is important.
KANSAS
Practice begins: April 1
Spring game: April 30
The buzz: The offense is in major need of an overhaul. The Jayhawks ranked 87th in the nation in rushing offense last season -- and that was their strong point. They also have to improve a pass defense that was ranked 103rd in the nation and an offensive line that allowed 37 sacks. Highly regarded QB recruit Brock Berglund already has enrolled and will challenge holdovers Jordan Webb and Quinn Mecham.
KANSAS STATE
Practice begins: April 6
Spring game: April 30
The buzz: The Wildcats desperately need to improve the defensive line in general and bolster the pass rush in particular. The Wildcats managed just 20 sacks last season to tie for 90th in the nation, and they allowed an average of 231.3 rushing yards per game to rank 119th in the country. The Wildcats have quarterback issues, too. No quarterback on the roster threw for more than 138 yards last season. Junior college transfer Justin Tuggle should get a lot of attention this spring. Tuggle is the son of former NFL LB Jesse Tuggle; he began his career at Boston College before moving on to Blinn College in Texas, where he succeeded Cameron Newton.
MISSOURI
Practice begins: March 8
Spring game: April 16
The buzz: The Tigers must find a quarterback to replace Blaine Gabbert, who declared for the NFL draft. Tyler Gabbert, Blaine's younger brother, and James Franklin will be the key figures in a wide-open competition. The offensive line should be a strength, so a renewed emphasis on the run would help ease the new quarterback into the job. The big issue on defense is rebuilding the secondary, which lost three starters.
OKLAHOMA
Practice begins: March 8
Spring game: April 16
The buzz: Strengthening the interior defensive line is important for a team that likely will enter next season ranked atop the polls. Last season, the Sooners were vulnerable to the run. DTs Jamarkus McFarland, Stacy McGee and Casey Walker need to get bigger, stronger and better. Finding two new starting safeties and developing a pecking order at tailback also will be spring priorities.
OKLAHOMA STATE
Practice begins: March 7 or 8
Spring game: April 16
The buzz: The holdovers from last season's high-scoring offense must adapt to major changes on the coaching staff. Coordinator Dana Holgorsen left for West Virginia, and there are two other new offensive coaches. The defense will undergo some changes, too. The Cowboys are looking for three new starters on the line and two new guys at linebacker.
TEXAS
Practice begins: Feb. 24
Spring game: April 3
The buzz: With six new assistants, the Longhorns have to adapt to some new ideas. Once again, bolstering the running game is a top priority, as is making improvement at quarterback. They also must work to plug leaks in the middle of the defense.
TEXAS A&M
Practice begins: March 22
Spring game: April 16
The buzz: The Aggies must upgrade a pass defense that was ranked 89th in the nation and gave up 19 touchdown passes in 2010; that was with Von Miller, one of the country's premier pass rushers who has completed his eligibility. All the starters in the secondary return, but it's clear the Aggies need to make progress there after allowing three touchdown passes to LSU in the Cotton Bowl. Finding a new center is important on offense.
TEXAS TECH
Practice begins: Feb. 20
Spring game: March 26
The buzz: Coaches have to find out if Seth Doege is ready to take over at quarterback. If he falters, Texas Tech has plenty of other options, including sophomores Scotty Young and Jacob Karam and incoming freshman Michael Brewer, a three-star prospect who already has enrolled. Defensively, the Red Raiders must make the transition from a multiple look to a 4-2-5 that new coordinator Chad Glasgow brings from TCU. Linebacker could be a concern.

Olin Buchanan is the senior college football writer for Rivals.com. He can be reached at olin@rivals.com.



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