At This Point You Could Ask Many Questions About Every Big 12 Football Team. Here are Ten Big Ones From Kevin
by KEVIN LONNQUIST
The dog days of summer are here. July is taking forever to finish. And the 2012 Big 12 college football season can’t get here fast enough. A lot can happen to a team’s roster between now and Labor Day weekend. Still, it’s time to whet your appetite with the way-too-early big question about each Big 12 football team. We do this in alphabetical order.
1. Baylor: Can defensive coordinator Phil Bennett’s defense make significant strides?
Go look at the 2011 Big 12 defensive numbers and it’s really alarming – ninth in total defense, last in passing defense, eighth in rushing defense. Coach Art Briles and this team know it can’t rely on its offense to bail it out like it routinely did against the likes of Kansas, Oklahoma and Washington. This is a group that has key players coming back including nickel back Ahmad Dixon and defensive end Gary Mason, Jr. If this unit can finish somewhere in the middle of those defensive numbers, then it will be a good sign.
2. Iowa State: Will the Cyclones have enough on the defensive line?
The face of the ISU defense will be linebackers Jake Knott and A.J. Klein. They are arguably the two best the conference features. But they could get more than a workload if there isn’t enough support from the front. Iowa State lost three starters including defensive ends Jake Lattimer and Patrick Neal. The Cyclones were third in the conference in 2011 in pass defense and opponent third-down conversions. Coach Paul Rhoads hopes the spring produced some ideas.
3. Kansas: Is Charlie Weis the right fit?
Pundits around the country raised their eyebrows when he was announced as Turner Gill’s replacement. He had a very sub-par tenure running Notre Dame (35-27 2005-09) and the numbers the Florida offense put up in 2011 weren’t exactly eye-catching as it averaged 14.5 points in its last eight games against Division I opponents. But Weis is not Gill whose two-year stint was a disaster (five wins) and he has no expectations. Weis can work on the Jayhawks’ passing offense which averaged only 167 yards per game in 2011.
4. Kansas State: Was 2011 a one-year wonder?
Bill Snyder’s Wildcats were the surprise of 2011 going 10-3, finishing second and going to the Cotton Bowl. But this group won’t catch anyone sleeping in 2012. With some of the main characters including quarterback Collin Klein returning, there is going to be the pressure to duplicate if not exceed what they did. That means Klein has to average more than 235 total offensive yards and running back John Hubert has to surpass 1,000 yards.
5. Oklahoma: Can Mike Stoops go home again?
Fired from Arizona, Mike Stoops found a place with his brother Bob and returned to run the defense. Stoops is always known for his fiery approach. And that’s what the Sooner defense needs. Oklahoma was good (second in total defense in 2011) but there were times when this group was exposed. Witness the 45 points Baylor scored, 41 Texas Tech scored and 44 Oklahoma State scored. This is a group that needs a personality.
6. Oklahoma State: Who replaced QB Brandon Weeden and WR Justin Blackmon?
Mike Gundy’s Cowboys are going to look a lot different on offense in 2012. Clint Chelf has the edge at QB but will get some heat from some unproven backups. The biggest targets at receiver are Josh Stewart and Tracy Moore. They combined for 61 receptions in 2011 but is one of them a difference-maker like Blackmon was?
7. Texas: Is QB David Ash the answer?
To be sure, coach Mack Brown’s switch to a run-oriented attack is still in transition but the quarterback play has suffered. It appears David Ash is going to have this offense. But he needs to make some plays in the passing game in order to keep opposing defenses from loading up with eight or nine in the box. But it is likely Ash is going to see that until he demonstrates he can do it.
8. TCU: Has the secondary grown up?
If you watched TCU’s games against Baylor and SMU in 2011, the secondary was a mess. Coach Gary Patterson wasn’t happy. Deep balls were completed. Short passes were completed. And TCU finished 60th in the nation in total pass defense. It also didn’t help that three starters graduated. The only returner is cornerback Jason Verrett. There needs to be an infusion of support in the form of quick learners as there are some pretty good passing teams in the conference including Baylor, Oklahoma, Oklahoma State and West Virginia.
9. Texas Tech; Can the running game be factor?
It was so bad in 2011 that when running back Eric Stephens went down with a season-ending knee injury in early October with 565 yards, he finished as the Red Raiders leading rusher. Not surprisingly, Tech was last in the Big 12 in rushing yards per game at 125. So is Stephens healthy enough? Can Kenny Williams be an every-down back? Someone is going to have to help 4,000-yard passer Seth Doege.
10. West Virginia: Can new defensive coordinator Joe DeForest make an impact?
Jeff Casteel joined former WVU coach Rich Rodriguez to Arizona as the new defensive coordinator. So coach Dana Holgorsen went back to his former Oklahoma State roots and hired DeForest who coached the Cowboys secondary. This is his first run as a coordinator so communication will be key. Now, Oklahoma State did give up its share of yards in 2011 but it did create 44 turnovers including a conference-high 24 interceptions.
Big 12 Briefs:
TCU offensive guard Blaize Foltz has been named to the watch list for the Outland Trophy, recognizing the top interior lineman in college football.
The Outland Trophy, presented annually since 1946, is the third oldest award in major college football. It is named after the late John Outland, an All-America lineman at Penn and Kansas at the turn of the century.
Foltz was a first-team all-conference selection last season. With his bench press of 580 pounds and squat of 800 pounds, Foltz was named to “The Freak List: The 10 craziest athletes in college football” by Bruce Feldman of CBSSports.com.
A senior from Rose Hill, Kan., Foltz appeared on the Yahoo! Sports All-Bowl Team last season for his performance in the Horned Frogs’ Poinsettia Bowl victory over Louisiana Tech.
Foltz anchored an offensive line last season that paved the way for TCU to rank ninth nationally in scoring (40.8 points), 19th in rushing (208.6 yards) and 28th in total offense (440.2 yards). He was key in the Horned Frogs placing fourth nationally in third-down conversions (52.0 percent) and 15th in fewest sacks allowed per game (1.0). TCU scored at least 27 points in all 13 contests while producing three players with over 700 yards rushing.
Also, TCU defensive end Stansly Maponga has been named to the watch list for the Bronko Nagurski Trophy, presented to the nation’s top defensive player.
It’s the second honor this week for Maponga, tabbed Monday for the Chuck Bednarik Award which is also given to the nation’s best defensive player. Maponga was selected last month by Dave Campbell’s Texas Football as the State’s Best Defensive Lineman.
Maponga, a first-team all-conference selection last season, was one of four players nationally to rank in the top 10 in forced fumbles (five) and top 20 in sacks (nine). He topped TCU in tackles for loss (13 1/2), sacks (nine), forced fumbles (five) and fumble recoveries (two).
A junior from Carrollton, Texas, Maponga led all linemen and ranked sixth on TCU with 55 total tackles. His five forced fumbles were the most by a Horned Frog since Jerry Hughes led the nation with six in 2008.