Just like last season, Matt from over at Crimson and Cream Machine has organized a Big 12 Roundtable, where all SB Nation Big 12 blogs share some information about their respective teams. Make sure and check out Matt's blog for a Wrap-Up post coming in the next few days.
1. Who are some of the new faces that emerged in the spring who could be serious playmakers for your team this fall?
This is a tricky one to answer. We brought back so many starters, that chances to become serious playmakers by previous unknowns are going to be few-and-far-between. Still, to answer the question, I will give you an offensive answer and a defensive answer.
Offense :: Offensively, it has to be WR Jonathan Wilson. He hasn't exactly 'blown up' this spring, but he has more than enough potential to explode sometime this season. He figures to be the #4 receiver on the team, after incumbent starters Dexton Fields and Dezmon Briscoe as well as QB-turned-WR Kerry Meier, and has been compared numerous times to Briscoe. In fact, the staff loved him so much that they burned his redshirt halfway through last season, so he would be able to contribute. And while he didn't play too big of a role last season, his fine spring combined with a bunch of talent figures to make him a player to watch this upcoming season.
Defense :: On the defensive side of the ball, I'm going to split it up between two defensive tackles. Richard Johnson Jr. and Jamal Greene. Both figure to play prominent roles this season in the defensive line rotation, and while neither are listed as current starters (that would be senior Todd Haselhorst and junior Caleb Blakesley), they will both likely see more PT than the starters. Johnson Jr. is a quicker, get-in-the-backfield type of defensive tackle who figures to pressure the QB. This will be particularly crucial, as the weakness of our defense figures to be rushing the QB. Greene is a humongous man, a run-stuffing space-eater who has a boatload of potential.
2. What is your biggest concern following the spring?
I hinted at this with my last answer, but it would have to be the pass rush. Last season, we failed to put too much pressure on the opposing QB, and that was with one of the better pass-rushing DTs in the Big 12, James McClinton. With J-Mac graddyated, we will have to be able to, somehow someway, force some pressure. Richard Johnson Jr. will be a big factor in that, if he can have cause some havoc up the middle it will help the ends out considerably.
3. Any major changes (philosophy, coaching or personnel) that you are concerned or worried about?
The biggest change over the offseason was the loss of defensive coordinator Bill Young to Miami. However, his replacement, Clint Bowen, was the co-defensive coordinator last season, and rumor has it he actually called the majority of plays throughout the season. So, while there is a new face, the schemes figure to be very similar and there shouldn't be any major change in defensive philosophy.
That would make the change I am most worried about is how we will adjust to the loss of LT Anthony Collins. While we seem to have the athletes and players to compensate for the loss of Aqib Talib, almost every player figured to possibly replace Collins could have really used another year of development. The leader, right now, is freshman Jeff Spikes, with sophomore Ian Wolfe, senior Matt Darton and JUCO transfer Nathan D'Cunha all possible replacements.
4. Looking over the 2008 which home and away game will be the most difficult?
I am going to cheat and give three different answers; one neutral game, one road game and one home game.
Home :: The only really "tough" home game we have all season is against the Longhorns of Texas. Sure, Texas Tech and Colorado both have teams that are fully capable of beating us in Memorial Stadium, but I just don't see it happening. Texas, on the other hand, could easily pull off the win, especially with it being the game preceding the sure-to-be-hyped Border War Showdown with Missouri. Also, this game will be especially important as the last time Texas came to KU to play in Memorial Stadium, there was a controversial call that played a role in deciding the game. Something to do with "dollar signs".
Neutral :: This one is pretty obvious. November 29th. Arrowhead Stadium. Big 12 North on the line. The only loss we had last season. Need I say more?
Away :: Our toughest game, easily, will be the one in Norman, Oklahoma. We always struggle when making road trips, and while we seemed to capture some mojo last season, going undefeated in true 'road' games, that isn't enough to erase years of horrendous away play (heh, it rhymes).
5. Time for your way too early predictions (Yes, you can change them in August). Rank how you see your division finishing up next season.
Kansas :: Kind of a homer pick, but there is no way now, in the hopefulness of April, that I'm not picking us to win the division.
Missouri :: They are probably the most talented team in the North, and the game in Arrowhead will almost certainly decide this division.
Colorado :: I think the Buffs will be really good next year, actually. Not really sure why, just a gut-feeling I guess. And the really good recruiting classes.
Nebraska :: Bo Pelini won't ever be able to recapture the old glory days of Dr. Tom Osborne, but he should improve upon the historic lows of the Bill Callahan era.
Iowa State :: This has more to do with the fact that Ron Prince is the coach down in Manhattan than anything about the Clones.
- Kansas State :: Their spring game ended with a score of 3-0. No joke. Seriously, how is this team not going to be in last place come November? Unless all of their JUCOS (I think there are about 398) mesh together quickly, they figure to struggle early. And late, I guess.