Big 12 spring preview: Preparing for new rivalries

The Big 12 had a new look last season; it will have even more of a new look this season.

Missouri and Texas A&M are the third and fourth schools to leave in the past two years, with both heading to the SEC. But unlike last season, when Colorado and Nebraska left but were not replaced, there are replacements this season. TCU, which has been one of the nation’s premier non-Big Six programs, moves in from the Mountain West, and rejoins former Southwest Conference opponents Texas and Texas Tech. West Virginia arrives from the Big East; its entrance wasn’t nailed down until Tuesday.

[Related: TCU football player Tanner Brock among 17 arrested in drug sting]

Here’s a look at the Big 12’s 10 teams as they prepare for spring practice.

Spring practice opens: March 19
Spring game: April 14
Buzz: Welcome to life without Robert Griffin III (and without WR Kendall Wright and RB Terrence Ganaway, too). Coach Art Briles and his staff have a lot of work to do on offense. Griffin’s departure obviously is huge, and it’s exacerbated by the loss of Wright, a 1,000-yard receiver, and Ganaway, a 100-yard rusher, as well as by the departure of Baylor’s two best offensive linemen. Finding playmakers is of the utmost importance this spring. The front four on defense has to be rebuilt, and the defense as a whole needs to show this spring that it can be at least competent this fall. A Griffin-led offense was overcome numerous defensive deficiencies this past season, but with all the offensive changes, the defense must do a better job in 2012. It’s vital that some big-play guys pop up during spring practice for coordinator Phil Bennett.
Iowa State
Spring practice opens: March 20
Spring game: April 14
Buzz: The Cyclones are coming off just the 11th bowl appearance in their history, and there are reasons for optimism. There’s an OK group of tailbacks, and QB Jared Barnett flashed some skills in the latter half of the 2011 season. Coaches need to find a new go-to receiver and adequately replace two starting linemen, including all-league T Kelechi Osemele. The run defense needs vast improvement, and there will be two new starting linemen. The secondary also will have two new starters, and CB Leonard Johnson will be hard to replace. Star LBs Jake Knott and A.J. Klein return and will be the centerpieces of the defense. Coaches have to find some pass rushers, though.
Spring practice opens: March 27
Spring game: April 28
Buzz: New coach Charlie Weis and his staff have some work to do. KU was 106th nationally in total offense and 120th – last – in total defense. Kansas started 2-0, then lost its final 10 games. Finding a productive quarterback is Weis’ first task; it could be Dayne Crist, who graduated from Notre Dame and is eligible immediately. Weis signed Crist when he was coach at Notre Dame. The passing attack must be ramped up, too. The rushing attack should be OK, assuming two starting linemen can be replaced. The defense? KU may as well start over on that side of the ball. The Jayhawks had just 10 sacks, the second-lowest figure nationally, and coaches need to find some playmakers in the front seven. Alas, they also need to find some playmakers in the secondary: The Jayhawks had just eight picks last season, and three of those came in one game.
Kansas State
Spring practice opens: April 4
Spring game: April 28
Buzz: K-State was one of the nation’s biggest surprises this past season, and coaches will be looking to keep that momentum going. The Wildcats were all about the run last season, and QB Collin Klein and TB John Hubert return. But they will be running behind a rebuilt line, and finding three new starters up front is the most important aspect of this spring practice. Klein also needs to work on becoming a more effective passer. A solid defense lost five starters, including two linemen and two players in the secondary. K-State also lost coordinator Chris Cosh; secondary coach Tom Hayes takes over that role.
Spring practice opens: March 5
Spring game: April 14
Buzz: OU was a disappointment of sorts this past season, and as a result, there hasn’t been much preseason buzz about the Sooners. But as soon as QB Landry Jones announced he was coming back for his senior season, OU took on the look of a preseason top-five team. There are relatively few holes for Bob Stoops and his staff, which includes brother Mike as the new defensive coordinator, to fill. The most pressing issue is improving the rushing attack. True freshman RB Trey Metoyer, who already has enrolled, will be in the spotlight this spring. OU also needs to find a go-to receiver to replace Ryan Broyles. Defensively, the key is finding someone to replace E Frank Alexander as a consistent pass rusher.
Oklahoma State
Spring practice opens: March 12
Spring game: April 21
Buzz: The Cowboys are coming off back-to-back seasons of double-digit wins for just the second time in school history. The last time it happened was 1987 and ’88, and the Cowboys then won just four games in ’89. That’s not going to happen this time, but there are some holes, most notably at quarterback, at wide receiver, along the offensive line and at defensive end. The Cowboys have had some of the nation’s most prolific offenses of late, and making sure the line is solid might actually be priority No. 1 this spring. There’s also obviously a need for someone to step up to replace Justin Blackmon as the go-to receiver and for a quarterback to replace Brandon Weeden. Defensively, the important thing is improving the run defense. The back seven looks good; it’s the line that needs the most work.
Spring practice opens: Feb. 25
Final practice: April 5 (no spring game scheduled)
Buzz: The Horned Frogs’ move into the Big 12 comes complete with a scandal, as four players were arrested Wednesday on drug charges. That obviously casts a pall on the football program. Offensively, the only real concern is rebuilding the line, which is losing three starters. The other pieces are in place for a productive unit, and QB Casey Pachall is a star on the rise. Defensively, the main issue is with the secondary, which is going to have to replace four starters. All three starting safeties are gone. The secondary was rebuilt last season, too, and it wasn’t up to normal standards. The rest of the defense looks solid, though.
Spring practice opens: Feb. 23
Spring game: April 1
Buzz: The defense outperformed the offense last season, but that unit is losing five starters. The biggest concern is at tackle, where some unproven talent needs to come through this spring. Two starting linebackers are gone (they also were the top two tacklers), but there looks to be enough talent on hand there to overcome the personnel losses. Offensively, Texas really needs to ramp up its passing attack. The first priority is deciding on a quarterback, but that may not be that easy. The line made strides last season and should be even better this season, which bodes well for the rushing attack. But that rushing attack would be even more productive if opposing defense had to truly respect the pass. Offensive coordinator Bryan Harsin did some nice work with the running game last season; now he needs to go to work on the passing game.
Texas Tech
Spring practice opens: Friday
Spring game: March 24
Buzz: The Red Raiders’ 12-year run of bowl appearances came to an end this past season and folks are a bit antsy in west Texas. Coach Tommy Tuberville changed defensive coordinators again, and Art Kaufman will be Tuberville’s third DC in as many seasons at Tech. The Red Raiders had the worst rush defense in the nation in 2011, and improving against the run will be the highest priority this spring. Tech was small up front last fall, and the hope is some bigger underclassmen can prove they deserve playing time this spring. Offensively, the Red Raiders have to get better running the ball, but injuries will sideline two of the top three backs, so that could be a lingering problem into the fall. Developing depth behind QB Seth Doege is important.
West Virginia
Spring practice opens: March 11
Spring game: April 21
Buzz: The league announced Tuesday that WVU would be a member this fall, and the Mountaineers go into spring as a sort of unknown in the Big 12 race. They would’ve been the prohibitive favorite in the Big East. Offensively, WVU should fit right in its new league. This should be a prolific unit, particularly if the running game shows even a bit of improvement. Four starting linemen return, which is a huge positive, and there are a number of serviceable backs; one important aspect of spring practice will be to establish a pecking order among the tailbacks. The passing attack is in good shape. Defensively, there are questions. Longtime coordinator Jeff Casteel left, and took his 3-3-5 scheme with him. The new coordinator is Joe DeForest, who is familiar with the league because he comes from Oklahoma State. But he never has been a coordinator before. His defense is expected to feature more of a 3-4 look. The front seven has more issues than the secondary, and developing depth at linebacker will be a spring priority. WVU’s defense had good stats last season, but lacked consistency. Syracuse and Maryland put up big numbers on WVU, for instance.

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