Let's dive in and see what we've learned about how the league's teams are shaping up and what the pecking order looks like heading into the summer.
Texas's QB positionThe Longhorns will hold their spring game this Saturday and that should actually reveal quite a bit about how far along the team is in installing Sterlin Gilbert's take on the Briles "veer and shoot" offense. I'll have more coverage of that game and it's takeaways than non-Texas fans may be able to stomach.
The Sooner pass rushFrom the sounds of it, this is still very much in question. Obo Okoronkwo is the presumed answer but I'm not sure the Sooners have a developed, dominant pass-rusher on their roster right now and I have trouble believe that Caleb Kelly or Mark Jackson will be ready to fill that role as true freshman.
Long-term, the Sooners look great here, but in the interim I don't know. On the bright side for OU, with this DL and this secondary they may be able to set up their blitzing LBs for easy opportunities because of the attention that guys like Charles Walker will command and the time this secondary may buy.
This is less of an issue in terms of trying to repeat as B12 champs and more of an issue in terms of what happens if OU makes the playoffs again.
Kansas' need for a home run hitterLaQuvionte Gonzalez had a good spring game and he was evidently the only Jayhawk offensive player who did. Suffice to say, I think it's going to be another long fall in Lawrence next year waiting for Self's basketball squad to start playing. It is worth noting that Ryan Willis didn't play in the spring game due to a wrist injury and whatever Kansas coaches or insiders may say, I think it's pretty well established that Montell Cozart is terrible.
Combo blocks for Campbell's Cyclones?While breaking down Matt Johnson tape for an upcoming feature on some of the non-AQ quarterbacks dominating 2016 NFL draft discussions I caught some more Toledo tape and was surprised to find Campbell's Rockets running tons and tons of man/zone combo schemes and pulling the center all over the place.
I no longer have any confidence about what to expect from Iowa State's offense next season except that it will undoubtedly feature Mike Warren on downhill running schemes and it'll probably be fairly clever. Maybe we could guess if we knew absolutely anything at all about the Cyclones' starting OL but all I've seen is that it may include some redshirt freshman that I thought were promisingly light on their feet out of high school.
Tech finding safeties or riskies?Hat tip to Barking Carnival's Scipio Tex for that phenomenal term we can apply to safeties who's play doesn't alway fill us with feelings of security. There hasn't been too much out of Lubbock that I've picked up other then the fact that sophomore Payton Hendrix seems likely to join Jah'Shawn Johnson at safety next season and add a little more muscle and tackling to the equation.
I'm guessing they'll play Justis Nelson in the nickel and drop Hendrix or Johnson down to get Gibbs' preferred 5-2 fronts. They're going to be young on defense next year with Johnson, D'Vonta Hinton, Hendrix, Dakota Allen, and Breiden Fehoko all likely to play major roles but the good news is that all of those guys can actually play.
If Mahomes is back in 2017 look out for Tech.
K-State's Cat safetyKansas State got going on their spring practices later than everyone else so not a ton of info has come out about how their team is shaping up, particularly not in the secondary. The front is looking very solid though with so many returning players like NT Will Geary, DE Jordan Willis, and three quality linebackers in Mike Moore, Elijah Lee, and Will Davis.
Dante Barnett is back as well, of course, which makes the safety position a possible strength rather than a gaping wound. Smart money is probably on Donnie Starks making some improvements and resuming his role in the nickel but it's also possible that improvement from him could move him out wide to corner. We'll see.
The TCU run gameI'm leaning towards giving TCU the preseason nod for having the best defense in the league. They're keeping Nick Orr at weak safety, which allows them to mix their version of cover 3 in with the rest of their quarters concepts and aggressively play strong safety Denzel Johnson as an extra man in the box as needed.
With Ranthony Texada back at one corner they should be in really good shape and the fact that they return DE Josh Carraway, MLB Montrel Wilson, and SLB Travin Howard with increased weight means they are probably going to be pretty dang good when they can slip Johnson in there to outnumber offenses.
But about that run game, with Joseph Noteboom and Aviante Collins anchoring the tackle spots they are looking pretty experienced and solid there and the spring depth chart they released has the OL going:
LT: 6-5, 320 Redshirt senior
LG: 6-3, 300 Redshirt junior
OC: 6-6, 300 Junior
RG: 6-7, 350 Redshirt junior
RT: 6-6, 305 Senior
That's a pretty big group blocking for Kyle Hicks and Shaun Nixon and there'll be plenty of ways to constrain defenses from packing in extra numbers (like TCU's defense does) by utilizing Kavontae Turpin on the perimeter.
Skill athletes in Stillwater?I don't think we'll know what OSU looks like on the outside at corner or DE until they line up and play in the fall. If they've found one really good pass-rusher from their young group of DEs and one good corner from Ramon Richards and Ashton Lampkin then they could challenge OU at the top and make them worry about whether they have enough pass-rush to win the league.
Holgorsen's future in West VirginiaWith Ka'Raun White back at WR along with Shelton Gibson and David Sills, the Mountaineers are kinda loaded if they can get better play from Skyler Howard at QB. In particular I could see them doing real damage on play-action from diamond and spread-I looks because their run game is going to be fierce and you can't double everyone.
It's hard to believe the defense will be very good. If they are solid or better we'll have to give some real props to DC Tony Gibson.
Baylor's alien quotient
This is a really big deal for the Bears and their chances of having another big season in 2016. You figure the QBs will be good with Jarrett Stidham pushing Seth Russell at QB, the OL may not have a Spencer Drango but it's hard to believe they won't be pretty good, and Shock Linwood and Johnny Jefferson makes for a very strong backfield.
But if Baylor doesn't have guys on the outside that can rip your heart out unless you double them then it's all for naught.
The spring depth chart has KD Cannon moving outside and Lynx Hawthorne stepping up as the likely go-to slot receiver, so far so good. Ishmael Zamora and Blake Lynch are the other outside and inside guys in their four-wide sets while the TE formations will include either Jordan Feuerbacher or Sam Tecklenburg (nothing like a pair of Germans to act as mobile bludgeons for Briles' blitzkrieg) both of whom I suspect will be better than future pro-wrestler Laquon McGowan.
KD Cannon has flashed brilliance in his time at Waco and he's probably a safe bet to have a phenomenal season. Who else? We may not know if the Bears have another alien until they travel to Austin on October 29th and face man coverage from the talented young Longhorn secondary.
As things stand with what we know about these teams after spring, here's how I would rank the teams in this league purely based on quality not on the likely results that their respective schedules will generate:
Established identity with Mayfield, Perine, and Mixon on offense + a ton of talent on defense.
2. Oklahoma State
Because the D won't be awful and Rudolph-to-Washington is one of the most well-established features of the league.
The best defense and plenty of potential and time for the offense to put together something special.
Worried about that defense and whether the offense will be as overwhelming as in prior years. Off the field distractions can't be helping either. Teams 2-4 are fairly interchangeable here.
5. Kansas State
I'm going to give the Wizard the benefit of the doubt that the QB play and thus overall offense is much improved and that the defense can shore up their weak spots. This team was devastated by injuries last year, hard to see them having such misfortune again.
6. Texas Tech
Tough to put them this low but that defense is so young and the offense needs a few of these young skill players to step up. They probably will but not enough to allow Tech to beat the teams that play defense.
They're going to be one of the most talented teams in the league and perhaps the most talented, but I'm not sure if it's all going to come together cleanly for at least another year.
8. West Virginia
By all accounts there's a lot of talent on this team rising up the ranks, but is any of it ready to lead the team? Can Skyler Howard lead comebacks on the road? How do these young LBs and DBs respond if Mahomes starts burning them?
9. Iowa State
I've got my eye on Iowa State as a team to watch and perhaps the most likely to shoot up the rankings if Snyder has lost his edge or Holgs gets the stanky boot.