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Archive for Saturday, August 16, 2003

Big 12 Conference football at a glance

August 16, 2003

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Here's a look at the teams in the Big 12 Conference's upcoming football season, in alphabetical order.

Baylor

First-year coach Guy Morriss has the thankless task of trying to change the attitude among players in a program that has compiled a 4-52 conference record since being a part of the Big 12.

"Everybody runs the same offense and defense, basically," Morriss said. "I think it's more about personality and motivating players."

Talent wins games, though, and the personnel Morriss inherited doesn't feature many Big 12-caliber players.

Morriss, who came from Kentucky, will have a tough time replacing wide receiver Reggie Newhouse, who caught 75 passes last season and averaged 15.2 yards per catch.

Colorado

Buffaloes are coming off a second straight Big 12 North title, and coach Gary Barnett has eight starters returning on defense.

Three-peat, anyone?

After falling to Oklahoma in the Big 12 title game and suffering a loss to Wisconsin in the Alamo Bowl, Colorado probably won't be a solid pick in the North.

Barnett spent the spring revamping an offense that lost eight starters, including Chris Brown, the league's leading rusher who turned pro after his junior season. Bobby Purify, who stepped in when Brown was hurt late last season, is the heir apparent.

Iowa State

Was that slide at the end of last season a sign of things to come? Or are the Cyclones destined for their fourth straight bowl trip.

The Cyclones definitely must prove the late 2002 swoon that included a stunning loss at home to Connecticut, as well as a loss to Boise State in the Humanitarian Bowl, was then, and this is now.

Iowa State couldn't stop the run against the Big 12 powers, and quarterback Seneca Wallace, now departed, withered against potent league defenses. On the plus side, coach Dan McCarney lost only seven seniors.

McCarney's status in Ames wasn't affected by the late nosedive. He received a contract extension that will pay him $925,000 annually through June 2010.

Kansas State

A piddling seven points separated Kansas State from two losses and an undefeated regular season in 2002. While K-State returns enough firepower to make a legitimate run at the Big 12 North title, it must replace three high-profile defenders -- cornerback Terence Newman, linebacker Terry Pierce and defensive tackle Tank Reese.

The loss of those three, as well as three other starters, will make it hard on the defense to repeat last year's effort, when it ranked No. 1 nationally in total defense with a 244-yard average.

Quarterback Ell Roberson established himself as a multi-dimensional threat, although he's still better suited to the run. Running back Darren Sproles should have a productive junior year after finishing with eight consecutive 100-yard rushing games last season.

Best of the defensive returnees is undersized but aggressive linebacker Josh Buhl, last year's leading tackler as a junior.

Missouri

The Tigers were 5-7 last season, and fans are optimistic about Mizzou making its first bowl appearance since 1998. Coach Gary Pinkel has 15 returning starters, including talented quarterback Brad Smith.

Smith, who became the first freshman quarterback to start a season-opener for Missouri, went on to become the second quarterback in NCAA history to throw for 2,000 yards and rush for 1,000 in the same season.

The only disquieting note is a defense that ranked 11th in the league by allowing 450 yards a game.

"Obviously, we have to make a huge improvement," Pinkel said.

With tall and rangy Justin Gage, who finished his MU career with 200 receptions and 18 touchdowns, no longer around as a target, converted quarterback Darius Outlaw will be MU's go-to receiver. Zack Abron is the only experienced returnee at running back.

Nebraska

The defense disappeared, at least comparatively speaking, at Nebraska last season as the Blackshirts ranked 55th nationally in that category. After the Cornhuskers finished with a 7-7 record, defensive coordinator Craig Bohl lost his job and was replaced by Bo Pelini, who had been with the Green Bay Packers.

There are concerns elsewhere, particularly with Jammal Lord's development at quarterback and how he can rejuvenate head coach Frank Solich's offense.

Lord showed flashes, breaking Heisman Trophy winner Eric Crouch's record for total yards with 2,774, but he also had a tendency to self-destruct at critical times.

Oklahoma

With several quality players returning on defense, Oklahoma will be tough to budge for the league's upper firmament.

Even if coach Bob Stoops can't replace standouts such as tight end Trent Smith, quarterback Nate Hybl and running back Quentin Griffin at the skill positions, the Sooners can rely on their defense to give the offense plenty of quick opportunities.

Stoops also has to replace Andre Woolfolk, one of the nation's best cornerbacks last season.

Oklahoma State

Coach Les Miles has rebuilt the Cowboys nicely. The 'Pokes were 8-5 last season, and that was enough to earn Miles Big 12 Coach of the Year honors. The future is bright with Boone Pickens, an OSU grad, earmarking $20 million to renovate creaky old Lewis Field.

For the time being, Miles already has one of the best pass-catch combos in the league in quarterback Josh Fields and wide receiver Rashaun Woods. In all, 16 starters return.

Woods led the conference in receiving last year, catching 98 passes for 1,531 yards and 16 touchdowns. Fields completed 55 percent of his passes as a sophomore last fall.

Texas

Even with quarterback Chris Simms gone, the Longhorns are loaded. Starting tailback Cedric Benson returns after gaining 1,293 yards last season.

Chance Mock and Vince Young are battling for the quarterback job left open by the departure of Simms. Young might have the most athletic upside, though the red-shirt freshman doesn't have the seasoning of Mock, a junior.

Defensive back Tarell Brown was considered the top catch among Texas' high school signees. That makes him a potential impact player considering the Longhorns always excel on signing day.

Texas A&M

New coach Dennis Franchione wants to beef up an offense that was considered unimaginative under former coach R.C. Slocum, even though the Aggies threw the ball 65 percent of the time.

Slocum used three quarterbacks and they're all back under Franchione who bolted Alabama for College Stadium. The most athletic is sophomore Reggie McNeal, a high-profile recruit who discarded his redshirt last season. Also back are juniors Dustin Long and Jason Carter.

Wide receiver Jamaar Taylor had 44 catches last season.

Defensive standouts are tackle Marcus Jasmin and free safety Jaxson Appel, the only full-time starter returning in the secondary.

Texas Tech

Pass-happy Kliff Kingsbury won't be slinging aerials in Lubbock any more. The most likely candidate to replace him is B.J. Symons, who may get the job by default because the senior has served so long as the Red Raiders' backup.

The bigger questions could be on defense, where Lyle Setencich takes over as coordinator after Greg McMackin left for the NFL. The defensive staff will have two other new faces with former Kansas aide Johnny Barr and Charlie Sadler also hiring on.

Tech's defensive aides must fill voids left by six experienced seniors, including stars Lawrence Flugence and Aaron Hunt, off a unit that allowed more than 406 yards and 32 points per game.

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