Big 12 spring review

Let’s take a look at some of the storylines that played out this spring in the Big 12 as well as some of the questions that were answered and unanswered.

And in case you missed them last week, here are my Big Ten and Big East spring reviews.

The Bedlam series will once again be an offensive showdown

For those Oklahoma and Oklahoma State fans worried about their respective offenses taking a step back in the fall because of new coordinators, think again. These units are ready to continue to light up scoreboards every Saturday.

Ryan BroylesICONRyan Broyles returns to give the Sooners a consistent big-play threat.

Kevin Wilson and Dana Holgorsen may have moved on, but most of the main characters have returned from 2010 — with the exception of the starting running backs. The Sooners will be led by the quarterback-receiver duo of Landry Jones and Ryan Broyles, while the Cowboys will once again counter with Brandon Weeden and Justin Blackmon. The loss of DeMarco Murray is tough for OU, but the team is in good hands with Roy Finch leading a deep backfield. In Stillwater, it will be more difficult to replace Kendall Hunter, who recorded over 1,500 yards and 16 touchdowns in 2010. Untested Joseph Randle and Jeremy Smith will compete to take over starting duties.

Under co-coordinators Josh Heupel and Jay Norvell, the Sooners offense will continue to be effective, especially behind an experienced offensive line. And while Todd Monken inherits a unit that returns nine starters from a year ago, he is the one new to the team’s schemes — not the players. He also doesn’t possess the play-calling experience that Holgorsen and Gundy own. However, the expectation is that OSU will continue to click on all cylinders offensively.

Defensively, the edge still remains with the Sooners, who possess one of the nation’s top linebacker trios. The Cowboys improved on defense last year but will miss linebacker Orie Lemon and defensive end Ugo Chinasa. Can the unit be cohesive enough by the end of the year to earn the state’s bragging rights for the first time since 2002?

Can the Longhorns return to their dominant form?

Even if Texas gets better play out of the quarterback position — and the Longhorns better — it appears Mack Brown’s squad doesn’t quite measure up to the Oklahoma schools. However, keep in mind that Texas is always one of the most talented teams in the nation because some of the best players in the country make their way to the Austin campus year after year. After all, most players call the state home.

The big question is whether there are any playmakers on this offense. Kirk Bohls of the Austin American-Statesman reported early this week that rising junior Garrett Gilbert will start the season under center. But who will make plays for him in new coordinator Bryan Harsin’s offense?

Mike Davis will be the top receiving target, but who will step up and take some of the pressure off of the rising sophomore? The running game could be in very good hands if true freshman Malcolm Brown turns out to be the real deal. But the ‘Horns will be in a better spot if rising seniors Fozzy Whittaker and Cody Johnson can establish themselves as reliable backs.

While there is a major question under center, the success of the rushing attack behind an offensive line that disappointed last season will determine whether or not Texas can bounce back from a 5-7 campaign. Because with new coordinator Manny Diaz now running a unit led by end Alex Okafor, who recorded five sacks in the spring game, the defense won’t be the problem.

How good is Texas A&M?

Cyrus GrayICONCyrus Gray heads one of the best backfields in the nation.

The Aggies will score plenty of points in 2011 with quarterback Ryan Tannehill leading the offense. Cyrus Gray and Christine Michael comprise one of the best backfields in the country, and head coach Mike Sherman said Uzoma Nwachukwu pushed standout Jeff Fuller for the “rights to be the best receiver on our team” after his standout spring. So the Aggies can definitely go score-to-score with the Big 12’s best.

But it will be up to the defense to give A&M a chance at a league title. Second-year coordinator Tim DeRuyter will be without stud linebacker Von Miller as well as the team’s leading tackler from 2010, Michael Hodges. The team is also coming off of a flat effort in the Cotton Bowl against LSU after closing the regular season as one of the nation’s hottest teams. Does Sherman really have this program primed for bigger and better things, or was 2010 more of an aberration?

Other thoughts:

Missouri fans don’t have to worry about their offense — not with T.J. Moe and a deep backfield. Fans should be really excited about the team’s defense. The win over Oklahoma last season was no fluke.

Tommy Tuberville has Texas Tech primed for big things under his direction. The Red Raiders have good backfield depth, and new defensive coordinator Chad Glasgow will make a difference. They may not make a huge jump in 2011, but the town of Lubbock will eventually put the Mike Leach era in the past.

I love Baylor quarterback Robert Griffin III. But even with new defensive coordinator Phil Bennett, I just think the offense will have to do too much to keep the Bears in close games next fall.

Which transfer will have the biggest impact for Kansas State? Running back Bryce Brown or his brother, linebacker Arthur Brown?

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