WVU's new rivals have been busy too
MORGANTOWN, W.Va. - Spring practice is over at West Virginia and only two Big 12 Conference teams have yet to play their spring games. Kansas and Kansas State wrap up the spring Saturday and leave the Mountaineers just five months away from their first game in their new league.
A brief look at what's happening for WVU's new conference rivals:
The Longhorns won the 2005 national title and lost the 2009 national title game against Alabama. In the past two years, Texas went 5-7 and 8-5, with a win in the Alamo Bowl.
Coach Mack Brown often wonders if his team has rediscovered what carried Texas to such great heights.
"It's a good question," he said. "After going 5-7, the theme was trying to get the pride back and get the confidence back. We won eight and we're disappointed we didn't win 10. We feel like we had the opportunity to. Now I feel like we're back to where we feel like we have a chance to win every game.
"That's what we have to do. It's easy to say it, it's easier to start to feel it again, but you've got to produce. You've got to do it. The attitude I saw this spring was one where I see them working toward that goal again."
The Jayhawks were 2-10 in 2011 and fired Coach Turner Gill after five wins in two seasons. In his place is former Notre Dame coach and noted NFL offensive coordinator Charlie Weis. He worked this past season as the coordinator at Florida and had a 35-27 record in five seasons with the Fighting Irish.
"You have to come into a program that won two games this year and didn't win any in the conference and you have to try to get these guys headed in the right direction where that's just not acceptable on either end," Weis said.
"A lot of work has to be done by everybody for the entire organization, including the coach. It's important for these guys to know this is not a finger-pointing situation. It's, 'OK, what are we going to do to fix it? Let's take the appropriate measures and move in the right direction.' "
His quarterback will be arguably his top recruit at Notre Dame. Quarterback Dayne Crist transferred into the Kansas program and is eligible to play his senior season. He already has been named a team captain.
The Big 12 is a passing league with a premium on the passers. The Sooners have one of the best in senior Landry Jones. In his career, he has completed 62.7 percent of his passes for 12,379 yards (310 per game), 93 touchdowns and 41 interceptions.
His yardage and touchdowns were down last season and his interceptions were up, but Coach Bob Stoops said Jones improved in the spring. Jones has lost some weight, enhanced his frame and spent spring break working out with quarterback guru George Whitfield. So, too, did Clemson's Tajh Boyd and Thursday's No. 1 draft pick, Andrew Luck.
"The guys we work with at this age are still developing and Landry is just continuing to develop is footwork, his fundamentals, his mechanics, his strength and training, as he should and as all young people his age ought to," Stoops said.
"They all ought to be working for improvement in every part of their game. That's a positive and that's not unlike Sam Bradford or any of the other guys we've had here. He continues to work hard and polish all his fundamentals."
The Cowboys lost their prolific pass-catch combo in quarterback Brandon Weeden and receiver Justin Blackmon, only the second two-time winner of the Biletnikoff Award (the first was another Dana Holgorsen pupil: Texas Tech's Michael Crabtree).
"I said this after the spring game: When you lose Weeden and Blackmon, two first-round-talent players, from one side of the ball, it's not going to look the same until you get another quarterback acclimated to the system and until you develop another receiver with skills like Blackmon," Coach Mike Gundy said.
Gundy has yet to name his starting quarterback, but plans to pick soon among Clint Chelf, Wes Lunt and J.W. Walsh.
"My exact process as we went through this is I'm not a big fan of going through the summer and then preseason camp with a quarterback controversy or a quarterback competition," Gundy said. "Spring ball was the opportunity for all three players."
Quarterback Colin Klein tied a NCAA record last season with 27 rushing touchdowns. He carried 317 times for 1,141 yards and the 6 foot, 5 inch 225-pound Klein is back for his senior season and this time more capable of throwing the ball.
He only threw 218 passes and had 13 touchdowns and six interceptions, but four of his top five pass-catchers, three of his top four receivers and his tight end are back for 2012.
"They had ups and downs and every day was not a great day, but he's throwing with guys now who have been in the system, so he's had that much more time on the job, so to speak, to work together on things," Coach Bill Snyder said. "They have a good feel for each other and Collin has a better understanding of those individuals and they have a better understanding of Collin."
The Red Raiders have 4,000-yard passer Seth Dodge and eight other starters back on offense, but the focus is on defense. Second-year Coach Tommy Tuberville replaced his defensive coordinator and two defensive assistants in the offseason.
The Red Raiders were No. 120 out of 120 FBS teams in rush defense, No. 113 is pass efficiency defense, No. 14 in total defense and No. 117 in scoring defense. Tech's new coordinator, Art Kaufman, has done the job for 10 years in Division I football, most recently at North Carolina.
"You can't play good defense unless you have a starting point and I believe our technique and fundamentals were so poor last year - our run technique and taking on blocks and using your hands - so we want back to basics on that," Tuberville said. "We worked together on that and we understand what we have to do. We went back and looked at the film of just how poorly we played and now the coaches continue to be on the same page."
The Bears had their best season in school history, but lost Heisman Trophy quarterback Robert Griffin III. Coach Art Briles has an unusual convenience in place, though. Griffin's backup and presumes successor, senior Nick Florence, started in 2009 after Griffin was lost to a torn anterior cruciate ligament. He has watched and waited the past two seasons.
"It is an advantage," Briles said. "He's a very mature guy. He's already graduated college. He's already married. He has a good grasp of what's expected at that position after playing it and after watching Robert."
Florence has played 17 games and started seven. He's 180-for-290 for 1,992 yards, eight touchdowns and nine interceptions in his career.
Coach Paul Rhoads said he has more depth defense than he had his first three years, but the quarterback situation remains unclear.
Steele Jantz was named the opening day starter last season and is back this season, but after starting just seven games and putting up 10 touchdowns and 11 interceptions. It was his first season after transferring from City College of San Francisco. He battled a foot injury and was eventually benched in favor of then-freshman Jared Barnett.
He completed a lower percentage of his passes and had six touchdowns and interceptions, but led the Cyclones to a win over Oklahoma before Jantz played most of the bowl win against Rutgers.
"We don't have the full playbook in or as much as we'll have in August, but that being said, I'm very pleased with the frontrunners," Rhoads said. "Jared Barnett really controls he other 10 guys when he's on the field. Steele Jantz has the ability to make more plays because of his capability and his ability to improvise on the run.
The Horned Frogs, like the Mountaineers, begin their first season in the Big 12 in 2012, but something new is nothing new to Coach Gary Patterson.
"It's hard, but I've been in six conferences in the 15 years I've been here," he said. "It's always different, but I've always said it takes two years. You've got to play everyone once at their place and then have everyone at your place. Once you do that, then you have a road map for what you need to do."
Contact sportswriter Mike Casazza at email@example.com or 304-319-1142. His blog is at blogs.dailymail.com/wvu.