Kickoff for the 2012 college football season is just around the corner. However, plenty of unanswered questions remain around the nation for every team. Injuries, quarterback battles and players that need to step up to make a run at the conference title will all be under the spotlight over the next couple of weeks.
The Big 12's 10 Biggest Storylines to Watch in Fall Practice
1. Can Texas Improve Its Passing Attack?
The Longhorns have the rushing attack and defense to win the Big 12. However, in a league known for offense, Texas still has to find a way to generate more from its quarterbacks. The Longhorns finished eighth in the conference in passing offense last year, and quarterbacks combined to throw 15 picks on 357 attempts. David Ash took control of the No. 1 spot late last season but injured a hamstring in summer workouts and could be limited for fall camp. Case McCoy and true freshman Conner Brewer will get every opportunity to win the job, but Ash is expected to finish atop the depth chart. Texas doesn’t need Ash to be Colt McCoy, but the passing attack has to be better than it was in 2011. With one of the nation’s deepest backfields and the Big 12’s best defense, Texas should be one of college football’s top 15 teams. However, winning the conference title and making a BCS bowl will come down to how quickly Ash, McCoy or Brewer can jumpstart the passing game.
2. Will unproven commodities at wide receiver and defensive line derail title hopes at Oklahoma?
A prolific veteran quarterback, the best offensive line in the Big 12 and the return of Mike Stoops as defensive coordinator was enough to push Oklahoma in to the top five of the Athlon national rankings, but the Sooners have plenty of questions to answer if they’re going to compete for a national title. At receiver, the passing game struggled when Ryan Broyles was hurt. Now he’s gone permanently. That puts more pressure on Kenny Stills to be the No. 1 option. Meanwhile the suspension to Jaz Reynolds puts pressure on newcomers Trey Metoyer and Lacoltan Bester to perform right away. On the defensive line, seniors R.J. Washington, David King and Jamarkus McFarland have been around for a while, but they have yet to emerge as consistent factors on the defensive front. That needs to change if Oklahoma is going to be a factor in the national race.
3. Can Oklahoma State Repeat as Big 12 Champs With a Freshman QB?
There’s always pressure when you have to replace a quarterback like Brandon Weeden, but Lunt is under extra scrutiny in 2012, as the Cowboys hope to repeat as Big 12 champs. The freshman was one of three candidates vying for time in the spring and edged out J.W. Walsh and Clint Chelf for the No. 1 spot. Walsh is expected to see time as a change of pace quarterback, but barring a setback in the fall, Lunt will be Oklahoma State’s starter in the opener against Savannah State. The Cowboys haven’t had much trouble producing good quarterback play under Mike Gundy, but it’s a lot to ask a true freshman quarterback to win a Big 12 title. Expect Oklahoma State to lean on running back Joseph Randle and a defense that led the nation in takeaways last season early in the year. However, for the Cowboys to win the Big 12, Lunt needs to be ready to deliver in the Big 12 opener on Sept. 29 against Texas. The freshman doesn’t have to be Brandon Weeden – but he needs to play beyond his years for Oklahoma State to repeat as Big 12 champs.
4. Will TCU have secondary to keep pace with the Big 12?
The Horned Frogs ranked an uncharacteristically low 32nd nationally in total defense last season, a stat that was not helped by allowing Baylor to pass for 414 yards and six touchdowns and SMU to pass for 349 yards and four touchdowns in TCU’s losses. The Horned Frogs must replace every full-time starter in the secondary, and the returning cast had only five starts last season, spread among three players. The pass defense may determine the course of TCU’s first season in the Big 12 as the Horned Frogs face SMU (again), Baylor, Texas Tech, Oklahoma State, West Virginia and Oklahoma.
5. Will West Virginia find any sense of balance on offense?
With Geno Smith at quarterback, Tavon Austin and Stedman Bailey at receiver and Dana Holgorsen calling the shots, West Virginia is going to throw the ball a ton, but will West Virginia have the ability to run when necessary? A 360-yard rushing performance against Bowling Green last year skewed the Mountaineers’ statistics a bit. The Mountaineers averaged 3.5 yards per carry in Big East games, ranking sixth in the league. Moreover, Dustin Garrison, West Virginia’s top rusher who accounted for 291 yards in that Bowling Green game, suffered a torn ACL during the spring. The Mountaineers’ inability to find balance bit them at times in the Big East last season. Could the same happen in the Big 12?
6. Can Baylor’s new backfield pickup where Robert Griffin/Terrance Ganaway left off?
There’s no question Baylor will miss Heisman Trophy winner Robert Griffin and running back Terrance Ganaway. The Bears ranked second in the nation in total offense and averaged 45.3 points a game in 2011. While the offense will probably struggle to reach those totals in 2012, don’t expect this unit to fall too much in terms of production. New quarterback Nick Florence started seven games when Griffin was sidelined with a torn ACL in 2009, throwing for 1,786 yards and six touchdowns. The Bears will miss Griffin’s ability to make plays outside of the pocket, but Florence has the experience and talent to keep this team among the best in the conference in passing offense. Terrance Ganaway was one of the Big 12’s biggest surprises last year, rushing for 1,547 yards and 21 touchdowns. Stepping into the backfield will be Oregon transfer Lache Seastrunk and Jarred Salubi. Seastrunk was one of the top recruits in the 2010 recruiting class and should add some big-play ability to the backfield. Although Baylor won’t match last year’s offensive totals, this unit should still perform at a high level.
7. Where’s the defense in Lubbock?
An average to below-average defense at Texas Tech wasn’t strange under Mike Leach. But it is a change of pace for Tommy Tuberville, former a defensive coordinator who fielded quality defenses at Auburn. Tuberville brought in Art Kaufman, his DC at Ole Miss, for his third coordinator in three years. He also brought in six junior college transfers on defense to improve a unit that ranked last in the nation against the run.
8. Will Kansas State Develop Other Weapons Outside Collin Klein?
Collin Klein was Mr. Everything for the Wildcats in 2011. He led the team with 1,141 rushing yards and 27 scores, while throwing for 1,918 yards and 13 touchdowns. Although Klein carried the offense last season, it’s probably too much to ask for him to repeat that task in 2012. The senior dealt with various injuries last year – likely a direct result from the 317 carries he accumulated. Kansas State doesn’t have to stray too far from Klein, but the offense needs more playmakers to emerge. Running back John Hubert is coming off a solid 2011 campaign – rushing for 970 yards and three scores – but the Wildcats would like to have more big-play ability on the ground. Another area that could lessen the wear and tear on Klein is his development as a passer. If the senior can lean more on his arm, it should help keep him fresh for the final weeks of the season.
9. Is there any hope at Kansas?
There’s hope, but change will be neither easy nor quick. After fielding one of the worst statistical teams on either side of the ball the last two seasons, Kansas is trying to plug holes with transfers. Quarterback Dayne Crist from Notre Dame is the most notable, but the defense adds defensive lineman Josh Williams (Nebraska) and linebacker Anthony McDonald (also Notre Dame) plus a handful of junior college linemen. Returning defensive end Toben Opurum is about the only sure thing on for defensive coordinator Dave Campo, who is continuing to figure out his personnel in fall practice.
10. Steele Jantz or Jared Barnett: Who Will Start at Iowa State?
The good news for Iowa State? The Cyclones have two experienced candidates ready to lead the team in the fall. The bad news? There wasn’t much separation in the spring, and the battle will resume in fall practice. Steele Jantz led the Cyclones to a 3-0 start but suffered an injury in the win over Connecticut and struggled in the next three games. Jared Barnett played well in Iowa State’s biggest win last season (Oklahoma State), throwing for 376 yards and three scores. Both players are good runners, but need to be better about managing turnovers (17 interceptions last year). Don’t be surprised if both quarterbacks see time, but Barnett should finish the year with the best stats and most starts.
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