This weekend we take a look at our most intriguing offseason questions from the Big XII conference. You can view Part I of our offseason preview (focusing in on the Southeastern Conference) here. And no, we did not steal this whole "offseason questions" idea from SI.com's Andy Staples, who we just happen to be a big fan of. I guess great minds just think alike...
What's next for the Mad Man of Lubbock? Mike Leach has replaced some record setting quarterbacks in the past, along with his fair share of 1000-yard receivers. Yet he faces arguably his largest rebuilding project yet in Lubbock this spring, as his Red Raiders must replace a seemingly irreplaceable star studded class on offense which includes quarterback Graham Harrell and wide receivers Michael Crabtree and Eric Morris. Once more, Leach will have to deal with the fallout from a somewhat ugly contract dispute this offseason, as well as the expectations which came from last season's near Big XII South title run. It's a far cry from the "others receiving votes" perception that most associated with this program just a few years back, and could dramatically turn up the heat on an already shaky relationship between Leach and the university.
Will OU's receiving corps find its star? The Sooners return what undoubtedly figures to be a Big XII Title worthy team, but the difference between a trip to the Big XII or even National Title and playing second fiddle to Texas could come down to how well the Sooners restock at wide receiver. Considering that OU loses some 2300 yards and 21 touchdowns between outgoing playmakers Manuel Johnson, Juaquin Inglesias, and Quentin Cheney, head coach Bob Stoops will need one of his inexperienced backups from a season ago to emerge to compliment sophomore Ryan Broyles and tight end Jeremy Grisham. With Broyles and Grisham forming a solid duo, the Sooner offense will border on impossible to defend if previously unheralded wide receiver Adron Tennell can step up in 2009.
Who is the new quarterback in Lincoln? As if Bo Pelini wasn't going to have enough trouble in trying to groom Patrick Witt for the starting job vacated by Joe Ganz after last season's breakout year, the Huskers now have to deal with the ramifications of Witt's intent to transfer from Lincoln. The options are sparse for Pelini and his staff, who'll likely have to decide between early enrollee Cody Green and former third teamer Zac Lee. Yet with a host of offensive playmakers departing after last season (including starting wideouts Nate Swift and Todd Peterson) they'll be no easy transition for whichever quarterback comes out of spring on top, with the position battle likely to continue well into the summer. The good news for Husker fans? Nine returning starters on a defense which is well on its way to restoring the ‘Blackshirt' legacy.
Will Oklahoma State find some defense? With Mike Leach and his Red Raiders facing a major overhaul on both sides of the football the Big XII South is actively seeking its perennial third wheel. Yet given what Oklahoma State proved last year (at least as far as the offense was concerned) the Cowboys may be more than just the proverbial punching bag for Texas and Oklahoma in 2009. Yet for that to happen Mike Gundy and his club will need to develop some kind of defensive identity, as the Cowboys gave up an average of over 400 yards per game in 2008, including 267 yards a game through the air (10th worst in the country.) With six starters back on defense for 2009 there are enough veteran faces for this unit to improve, but it remains to be seen whether it'll be enough to get Gundy's group over the hump.
Can Gary Pinkel stave off decline? Pinkel did a masterful job in constructing Missouri into a nationally recognized power of the past few seasons, but his Tigers were still no match for Big XII South heavyweights in league play a season ago. Now, with the team's top offensive players departing for the NFL and offensive coordinator Dave Christensen taking over at Wyoming, Pinkel and his Missouri team face an uphill challenge just to remain favorites in the North part of the Conference. Throw in the recent departure of defensive coordinator Matt Eberfluss to the Cleveland Browns and you've got the potential for a major dropoff in Missouri's win total for 2009. If Pinkel can revamp his staff in working order and find enough talent on offense to still win the Big XII North, than we're looking at nothing short of one of the best head coaching jobs in college football.
Big XII Spring Game Dates Baylor (April 4th) Colorado (April 25th) Iowa State (April 18th) Kansas (April 11th) Kansas State (May 2) Missouri (April 18th) Nebraska (April 18th) Oklahoma (April 11th) Oklahoma State (April 18th) Texas (April 5th) Texas Tech (April 18th) Texas A&M (April 18th)