Quarterback Battles Highlight Big 12 Spring
By Mike Casazza
For a league that lacks a preseason favorite in a way not seen in years, it seems apropos the Big 12 Conference goes through spring football with just one of its 10 teams not worried about who will start at quarterback.
Texas has junior David Ash, and following Saturday’s spring gam,e seems at peace with that arrangement under the watch of new co-offensive coordinator and play-caller Major Applewhite.
The rest of the league is going through the 15 practices with wide-open eyes, shrugged shoulders or both.
The uncertainty is an unimaginable situation for the league that featured Geno Smith, Landry Jones, Seth Doege, Collin Klein, Nick Florence and the alternatingly productive Wes Lundt-J.W. Walsh-Clint Chelf platoon last season.
This is also the league that has produced six first-round quarterbacks, and at least one every year, since 2009.
After Ash, the only Big 12 quarterback with what you might call a guarantee of starting the season opener is Iowa State sophomore Sam Richardson. He played four games last season with two starts to end the season and had eight touchdowns and one interception in 79 passes.
Richardson has talent, too. He was the first player to run for more than 100 yards against WVU’s awful defense last season. Think about that: as bad as the Mountaineers were in 2012, as prone as they were to give up prolific performances, Richardson did something to them that nobody else did in the first 10 games.
Texas Tech seems likely to hand new coach Kilff Kingsbury’s offense to sophomore Michael Brewer, but there’s a fresh start in Lubbock. Freshman Davis Webb, an Elite 11 finalist, enrolled in January.
Now a senior, Chelf started for Oklahoma State in the bowl win against Purdue, but sophomores Walsh and Lunt also started and played well in Mike Gundy’s offense. Lunt may be a favorite after winning the job as a true freshman last spring.
The rest of the league has more to consider, though Baylor may be fortunate enough to just plug someone in and watch the offense work like it’s intended to. Robert Griffin III and Florence have in back-to-back years set the school’s single-season passing record, and junior Bryce Petty may be next. He threw just 10 passes in 2012 and no one else has thrown a college pass. That would include January enrollee Chris Johnson, a noted dual threat.
Others teams may not be so fortunate. Kansas State had Daniel Sams as Klein’s backup last season. The sophomore can handle many of the running plays Klein executed so well. He’s not as big, but the Wildcats return their entire offensive line to make life easier. Then again, Bill Snyder also signed the nation’s best junior college quarterback. Jake Waters passed for 3,501 yards, 39 touchdowns and only three interceptions at Iowa Western last season.
Blake Bell was the backup to Landry Jones at Oklahoma, but was a bruising runner dubbed “Belldozer.” If the junior and his 24 career touchdown runs and 20 career passes get the nod over the quicker though less experienced sophomores Trevor Knight and Kendal Thompson, the Sooners could resemble last season’s Wildcats.
Kansas tried a transfer last season with Dayne Crist, who figured to perform well in the team’s first year with Charlie Weis, but the Notre Dame expatriate gave way to Michael Cummings and the Jayhawks became a running team. They return their top three running backs, and though Crist is gone, the sophomore Cummings is going to get a fight from BYU transfer Jake Heaps. Heaps fits better with what Weis wants to do long-term.
WVU has junior Paul Millard, who was invited as a walk-on before Dana Holgorsen’s first season as coach, and redshirt freshman Ford Childress. The Mountaineers were nevertheless worried enough to recruit Tanner McEvoy hard, only to see McEvoy pick Wisconsin.
The competition worth following closest is at TCU. A year ago, Casey Pachall had the Horned Frogs off to a 4-0 start in their first Big 12 season, but was arrested days before the team’s fifth game. Trevone Boykin, who had been practicing at running back, was named starter and went 3-6 as a freshman, but flashed with his arm and his feet.
Pachall was suspended for the remainder of the season and completed a three-month treatment program at a substance abuse facility. The senior returned to the team in January and is 15-2 as the team’s starter.
With all the unknowns, don’t expect many answers during the spring. Gundy settled one of the few competitions after last spring when he picked Lunt, but started three quarterbacks because of injuries. The contenders are so close across the league, and coaches are more likely extend the suspense and the competition during the summer.