Big 12 spring football recaps: Breaking down the offseason for each team


With spring football wrapped up and the start of another season just four months away, let’s take a look at what we’ve learned and what we still need to learn for each Big 12 team.

Dave Wilson and Bill Connelly break down Baylor’s quarterback situation, how the new-look Sooners will jell on offense, how Texas gets back on track and more.

What we learned this spring: Coach Dave Aranda named Blake Shapen the starting quarterback after the spring game, and last year’s starter, Gerry Bohanon, who led the Bears to a magical 12-2 season, is headed elsewhere after entering the transfer portal. Against the Oklahoma State defense, one of the nation’s best last season, Shapen completed his first 17 passes in the Big 12 title game and finished the game 23 of 28 for 180 yards and three touchdowns. The return of Craig Williams at running back after a knee injury last year bodes well, as Aranda said after the spring game that the team’s leading rusher two years ago could still be Baylor’s most “electric” player.

What we need to learn by Week 1: Aranda has proved his mettle as a defensive coach and despite losing key pieces such as Jalen Pitre and Terrel Bernard, there’s reason for optimism that the defense that helped the Bears win a Big 12 championship can still be salty. If Williams is healthy, it’s a big boost, but the Bears also lost most of their production at wide receiver, and those position battles are still ongoing. The leading returner on the roster is Gavin Holmes, who started four games in 2017 and nine in 2020, but missed 2018-19 with knee injuries and redshirted last season. With inexperience at quarterback and receiver, how much time will the offense need to find its groove again?

What we learned this spring: Hunter Dekkers is the guy. After two years of backing up star quarterback Brock Purdy, Dekkers had a chance to establish himself as QB1 this spring and appeared to do so. The rising sophomore has completed 25 of 43 passes for 311 yards, three touchdowns and an interception in his career thus far, and his big arm impressed teammates this spring. Purdy’s accuracy will almost certainly be missed — as will outstanding security blankets in departed running back Breece Hall and tight end Charlie Kolar — but Dekkers and all-Big 12 receiver Xavier Hutchinson (83 catches for 987 yards and five TDs in 2021) could create quite a few big plays together.

What we need to learn by Week 1: Does the defense have enough depth? In end Will McDonald IV and cornerback-turned-safety Anthony Johnson Jr., the Cyclones have stars and leaders in the front and back of the defense. But there are lots of holes to fill. Of the 13 Cyclones defenders to take 400-plus snaps last season, eight are gone, including two other disruptive ends (Eyioma Uwazurike and Zach Petersen) and each of the top three safeties. (That’s why Johnson is changing positions.) Senior nose guard Isaiah Lee and linebackers Gerry Vaughn and O’Rien Vance will assure that each level of the defense has plenty of experience, but the Cyclones need disruption, too.

What we learned this spring: Spring ball is useful. Kansas underwent all of its 2021 spring football practices under an interim coach (Emmett Jones) following Les Miles’ firing. Lance Leipold wasn’t hired until late April, and it’s hard to install your own culture — Leipold’s specialty — when you don’t even know what your team is capable of. Still, the Jayhawks improved late in the season all the same, and this spring was all about setting actual expectations. They have an actual No. 1 quarterback (Jalon Daniels), and a majority of last year’s two-deep returns. Whether KU has enough upside to win a few Big 12 games remains to be seen, but we’ll actually see a Leipold team on the field this fall.

What we need to learn by Week 1: Exactly what is this defense capable of? The KU offense was ahead of its defense last fall, but players like O.J. Burroughs — who had a pick-six in the spring game — and Taiwan Berryhill were spring stars, and the addition of transfers like cornerback Kalon Gervin (Michigan State), linebacker Craig Young (Ohio State) and defensive end Lonnie Phelps (Miami (Ohio)) should create higher upside. There’s almost nowhere to go but up after ranking 126th in total defense, as the Jayhawks did in 2021, but exactly how much can this unit improve in a single offseason?

What we learned this spring: Not much! Due in part to injuries and iffy depth, head coach Chris Klieman elected not to put on any sort of public scrimmage to finish the spring. Among those injured: Adrian Martinez, the Nebraska transfer and presumptive starting quarterback who sat out due to shoulder surgery. If we learned anything, it was perhaps that the skill corps could be pretty exciting. Of course there’s all-purpose star Deuce Vaughn, but slot receiver Phillip Brooks and wideout Chabastin Taylor, injured for most of last season, both stood out. Having Martinez available to build a rapport with his pass-catchers would have been optimal, but they still have the summer for that.

What we need to learn by Week 1: Is Martinez ready for his final-act redemption? In four seasons as a Cornhusker, Martinez threw for 8,491 yards, rushed for 2,301 more and took part in 80 touchdowns (45 passing, 35 rushing). Of course, he also threw 30 interceptions and suffered a ton of late-game miscues — Nebraska was a ghastly 5-20 in one-score finishes over those four seasons. A fresh start could work wonders for the fifth-year senior, and he’ll have some tantalizing weapons around him. But he has to learn a new offense, and his line is replacing three starters. How well can we expect this to go? And how much will it hurt that Martinez was unable to practice in the spring?

What we learned this spring: Brent Venables looks comfortable in his first head-coaching gig, not a surprise since he’s been a staple as one of the most high-profile assistants in the country since his first stint at Oklahoma from 1999 to 2011. His offense will look different, with the departure of both of last year’s starting quarterbacks, Spencer Rattler (South Carolina) and Caleb Williams (USC). UCF transfer Dillon Gabriel has sole command now, including taking most of the reps in the spring game for both teams. In Jeff Lebby’s offense, they’ll play fast and have the talent to make it work.

What we need to learn by Week 1: Can Venables and new defensive coordinator Ted Roof shore up a defense that ranked 76th nationally last season and ranked 109th against the pass, allowing 261.8 yards per game? Will key departures (receivers Jadon Haselwood and Mario Williams and TE Austin Stogner among them) have an impact on offensive depth, especially with the tempo? There’s no question Oklahoma fans are energized by Venables’ return, but Lincoln Riley never lost more than two games a year and won four Big 12 titles in his five seasons. There are still big expectations at a place like Oklahoma, so there’s not much time for a learning curve.

What we learned this spring: The backup QBs can hold their own. While starter Spencer Sanders returns for what feels like his 17th season in Stillwater, he has suffered plenty of injuries through the years, and backups Shane Illingworth and Ethan Bullock are both gone. Spring ball offered a chance for both redshirt freshman Gunnar Gundy — the son of head coach Mike — and four-star true freshman Garret Rangel to make an impression. Both did so, with Rangel’s 40-yard heave to receiver CJ Tate one of the highlights of the spring game. Rangel certainly brings the more high-profile pedigree to the table, but Gundy boasted MAC offers and, well, he probably knows what the head coach is looking for.

What we need to learn by Week 1: Who steps up on defense? New coordinator Derek Mason will have an experienced and potentially dynamite defensive line at his disposal, as three players with double-digit tackles for loss return (Brock Martin, Tyler Lacy, Collin Oliver). But the back seven must replace a ton of stars, from sure-tackling linebackers Malcolm Rodriguez and Devin Harper to safeties Kolby Harvell-Peel and Tanner McCalister to corners Jarrick Bernard-Converse and Christian Holmes. That’s a lot for any team to replace, especially a team that doesn’t typically load up on blue-chip recruits. How much regression will the Pokes suffer here?

What we learned this spring: For the first time in nearly 25 years, Gary Patterson isn’t on the sideline in Fort Worth and change is afoot at TCU. Patterson’s trademark 4-2-5 is gone and new coordinator Joe Gillespie will be running a 3-3-5, which is in itself a symbolic shift. But new coach Sonny Dykes has brought some new energy into a program that has won seven or fewer games in five of the past six seasons, including a 5-7 finish last year. The Horned Frogs lost big pieces in running back Zach Evans (Ole Miss) and defensive end Ochaun Mathis (Nebraska) but Dykes has been active in the transfer portal, working the same plan he used in three straight winning seasons at rival SMU.

What we need to learn by Week 1: The offense won’t look much different as former coordinator Doug Meacham comes from the same Air Raid tree as Dykes and remains on staff coaching wide receivers with Garrett Riley taking over as OC from the same role at SMU. But a starting QB hasn’t been named between Max Duggan (2,048 yards, 16 TDs to 6 INTs in 10 starts) and Chandler Morris (461 passing yards, 70 rushing in his first career start against Baylor). And the Frogs will likely continue to search for pieces for Gillespie’s defense.

What we learned this spring: Off a disastrous 5-7 introduction in Austin, Steve Sarkisian was aggressive in the transfer portal, finding new potential starters at quarterback (Quinn Ewers from Ohio State), wide receiver (Isaiah Neyor from Wyoming and Agiye Hall from Alabama) and tight end (Jahleel Billingsley from Alabama). Combined with Bijan Robinson, one of the country’s best running backs, the offense could take a big leap this season. But Sarkisian hasn’t named a starting quarterback between Hudson Card, who won the job last fall before giving way to Casey Thompson (who has since transferred to Nebraska) and Ewers.

What we need to learn by Week 1: The Longhorns signed seven highly ranked offensive linemen in their 2022 class, and they’ll need them to be quick learners to help protect the winner of the quarterback derby and open holes for Robinson, after struggling up front last season. Sarkisian will score points, but the defense, which ranked 100th nationally, was a big source of concern in Year 1, enough that the Longhorns hired former TCU coach Gary Patterson as a special assistant to Sarkisian in the offseason. The Horns just missed on one of Patterson’s former players, All-Big 12 defensive end Ochaun Mathis, who picked Nebraska, as they work to improve their pass rush up front. Their pursuit of him could indicate they still have work to do there.

What we learned this spring: Joey McGuire has injected new life into the Red Raiders’ program, including garnering 20 commitments already, with Tech sitting atop the national recruiting rankings as a result. Under new coordinator Tim DeRuyter, the defense will be attacking and both spring-game teams ended up with three turnovers, a point of emphasis for McGuire this spring. New offensive coordinator Zach Kittley started his career as a volunteer assistant under Kliff Kingsbury in Lubbock, and returns after running two of the nation’s most prolific offenses at Houston Baptist and Western Kentucky in recent years. The Red Raiders will be aggressive on both sides of the ball.

What we need to learn by Week 1: Who will win the quarterback derby, Tyler Shough, Behren Morton or Donovan Smith? Shough, who transferred from Oregon, won the job last season but got just four starts after breaking his collarbone. Smith went 2-2 as a starter late in the season. Morton, a redshirt freshman, was a prized recruit last season. There is talent, but McGuire said this spring no one had separated themselves just yet. And the ages-old question in Lubbock: Can the defense do enough to keep pace in what are sure to be more shootouts in Big 12 games?

What we learned this spring: The secondary needs a giant “help wanted” sign. Seven defensive backs saw at least 300 snaps in 2021; only one, cornerback Charles Woods, will take the field in 2022. Transfers and attrition destroyed depth, and while there is more than enough length and talent to go around — redshirt freshman Andrew Wilson-Lamp has a particularly impressive amount of both, and fellow redshirt freshman Aubrey Burks recorded a pick in the spring game — experience is almost nil. (That’s doubly true if sophomore safety Saint McLeod needs extra time to recover from getting stabbed in Morgantown in early March.) There’s a chance head coach Neal Brown hits the transfer portal (or the junior college route) to search for last-minute additions here.

What we need to learn by Week 1: Who’s No. 2? We probably know who QB1 is, and it wasn’t any of the guys who took the field this spring. Brown won the JT Daniels sweepstakes in mid-April — thanks in part to his addition of former USC offensive coordinator Graham Harrell — leaving youngsters Garrett Greene, Will Crowder and Nicco Marchiol to fight for a likely backup role. None of them really separated themselves from one another in the spring, but with Daniels’ injury history (and the simple fact that starters get hurt quite a bit), whoever ends up No. 2 could still end up seeing the field this fall. Do all three stick around until fall camp? Does what appeared to be a slight lead for Crowder hold up?

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