One question every Big 12 team must answer during their spring training sessions leading up to the 2022 college football season

Spring Camps are in full swing in the Big 12 as all 10 programs come in with more questions than answers in key spots. Outside of the conference rescheduling, big-name coaching has been the dominant storyline within the conference. As a result, Baylor’s Dave Aranda is the only incumbent coach with a Big 12 championship to his name in the College Football Playoff era. However, three new coaches at Texas Tech, Oklahoma and TCU will immediately compete for first place.

Questions below center also persist throughout the conference as Oklahoma State quarterback Spencer Sanders returns as the lone entrenched starter of the 10 teams. Meanwhile, flagship programs like Texas and Oklahoma will depend on key transfers to put them back on the map. The answers to some of these burning spring questions could ultimately decide which team will hold up the trophy at the Big 12 Championship Game in December.

These are the biggest question marks any Big 12 team faces as they race through their respective spring camps.

Baylor

Who emerges as the workhorse on the run back?: After a Big 12 championship season, the Bears lost their top two rushers, Abram Smith and Trestan Ebner, to the NFL. Smith and Ebner combined for 2,400 yards rushing and 14 touchdowns, leaving Baylor without a returning running back who cleared 20 carries.

Outside of the top two, Taye McWilliams was the best rusher with 181 yards at 10.6 yards per carry in the Bears’ physical wide-zone system. Craig “Sqwirl” Williams had 197 yards in 2020 but suffered injuries in the first season from offensive coordinator Jeff Grimes. In addition, versatile weapon Josh Fleeks made the transition from running back to wide receiver, while Jordan Jenkins was able to work his way into rotation with his powerful frame.

Baylor’s assault on the broad zone is based on physical and decisive running, so finding a fearless position is critical to building on an impressive first year under Grimes. Fortunately, four offensive linemen return from a Joe Moore Award semifinalist group, which should ease the transition.

state of Iowa

Who will replace Charlie Kolar’s production at the end?: The 2021 Cyclones were something of a golden generation, with quarterback Brock Purdy, running back Breece Hall and linebacker Mike Rose among the legends leaving the program. But perhaps the most irreplaceable was Kolar, who received more than 2,100 yards in his career.

The Iowa State attack is heavily built around versatile tight ends that create extra holes and seams. Kolar was nearly unguarded in the Big 12 with 17 games from at least five catches in his career. There was no greater feat than his feat of 12 catch, 152 yards against his hometown Oklahoma squad that dragged the Cyclones all the way back in a tight 28-21 game.

Senior Jared Rus and junior Easton Dean have nine career catches to their name together. Freshman Tyler Moore is the only other tight end of the scholarship on the spring roster. Especially with Purdy moving to the NFL, the Cyclones must quickly find a new weapon to ease the transition for quarterback Hunter Dekkers.

Kansas

Can the Jayhawks make the most of a full off-season?: The Jayhawks’ 2-10 record hid what was quietly one of the more intriguing turning points in college football last season. After losing 2020 conference matchups at 32.1 points per game, Kansas defeated Texas in overtime on the road, playing TCU, West Virginia and even vaunted Oklahoma to the max.

Now sophomore coach Lance Leipold gets the chance to lead KU to another big leap. Remember, Leipold didn’t take the baton in Kansas until May 2021 after Les Miles was fired for inappropriate behavior during his time at LSU. By this time, spring training was over and nearly every key employee had left the program.

It’s a simple answer, but an underrated staff given the chance to take their roster through an actual install and development cycle should provide rare glimmers of hope for one of the sport’s most suppressed programs.

Kansas state

How to integrate Adrian Martinez as a quarterback: The Wildcats lost veteran quarterback Skylar Thompson upon graduation, but brought in one of football’s most prolific playmakers to replace him. Adrian Martinez ranks #1 among all Nebraska players in total offense and played 39 games in a Cornhuskers uniform before moving to Manhattan.

Martinez had an up and down career in Lincoln. He completed 64.6% of his passes for 2,617 yards in a breakthrough freshman campaign, but struggled to build on that efficiency. Martinez also rushed for more than 500 yards per season with 35 total rushing touchdowns, including seven 100-yard rushing performances in his career.

From a tool perspective, Kansas State should be a perfect fit. Coach Chris Klieman developed Carson Wentz and Easton Stick into NFL Draft picks in North Dakota State with dynamic dual-threat skills. If Martinez can quickly find his place in the Kansas State charge alongside Deuce Vaughn’s backtracking, the Wildcats could be a surprise team in the Big 12 race.

Oklahoma

Can Brent Venables rebuild a defensive culture?: After five years of offensive focus under Lincoln Riley, Oklahoma chose to turn things around by hiring defensive mastermind Brent Venables. The former Sooners assistant under Bob Stoops has helped put together 12 straight years of 10-win seasons between his time at Oklahoma and Clemson, but starting over in Norman brings complications.

The Sooners have a proud history of rock-solid defenses, but things have slipped massively under Riley. The Sooners gave up nearly 400 yards per game in an average Big 12. In addition, six top starters are gone, including nearly every leader in the team’s front seven from last year.

Oklahoma has recruited well on the defensive side of the ball and Venables has six defensive transfers along the way. However, the defensive struggle in Norman seemed to be beyond staff and plans. Venables is in a critical spring to build confidence in the roster and to put together the kind of defensive culture that can keep OU battling for national titles again.

Oklahoma state:

Who will replace Jaylen Warren in the backfield?: Warren was arguably the most underrated player in the Big 12 after he unexpectedly switched from Utah state and led the Cowboys with more than 1,200 yards rushing. Warren was, in fact, a 5-foot-8 battering ram, carrying the state of Oklahoma to major victories over Baylor, Texas, and Boise State.

Sanders is a running threat of his own with more than 1,500 yards to his credit in his career, but the rest of the room is unproven. Dezmon Jackson ran 547 yards in 2020 but dropped out of the rotation last year. Dominic Richardson finished third with 373 yards rushing, but didn’t play much of the season.

One name that is overlooked to keep an eye out for is freshman Ollie Gordon of Trinity High School in Euless, Texas. Gordon was a battering ram of his own in the state’s highest ranking, running more than 2,000 yards in each of his last two seasons. There is no doubt that he is a long-term answer to the position.

Texas

Will Quinn Ewers Be Ready For The Spotlight?: When quarterback Quinn Ewers resigned as a Texas recruit, it marked the end of the Tom Herman era. When Ewers chose to move from Ohio to Texas, it gave Steve Sarkisian’s program the shot in the arm it desperately needed to recover from a 5-7 season.

Ewers was the consensus No. 1 recruit in the nation and the first quarterback to receive a perfect rating from the 247Sports Composite since Vince Young. But now that spring has sprung, hype isn’t enough. Ewers must perform as a generational quarterback recruit.

The Longhorns’ 5-7 record was the worst freshman campaign by a Longhorns coach since Dana X. Bible in 1937. Texas was ranked number 47 in total offense and number 72 in transient offense during the disappointing campaign. Whether or not Texas can make it to the Big 12 battle depends almost exclusively on Ewers popping out from day 1.

TCU

Who is the right quarterback for Sonny Dykes’ system?: The Horned Frogs have fused a number of offensive systems together in recent seasons, but they should finally have a clear identity under freshman coach Sonny Dykes and touted offensive coordinator Garrett Riley.

Riley and Dykes both have a deep connection to the Air Raid, albeit with their own wrinkles. Under Riley’s tutelage at SMU, Tanner Mordecai finished in the top 15 nationally in passing yards and No. 5 in passing touchdowns despite playing just 12 games. The Frogs will have open competition between incumbent Max Duggan and backup Chandler Morris to step in.

Duggan is a powerful runner with a big arm, but often struggled with consistency and found himself in bad spots in recent seasons. Morris is an accurate passer who completed 65.8% of his throws, but the majority came in one game against rival Baylor. This battle could go either way.

Texas Tech

Can the line of attack be productive?: Freshman coach Joey McGuire took some swings in his first staff, but none are bigger than Western Kentucky offensive coordinator Zach Kittley to the same position on his alma mater. Kittley led the Hilltoppers to the best passes in the country in his first year after moving from FCS Houston Baptist, and he hopes to do the same at Texas Tech. However, in order for Kittley’s system to thrive, the Red Raiders must quickly get their line of attack in order. Three starters have disappeared from an offensive line unit that struggled by giving up 22 sacks and failing to clear the way for a run back to obscure 600 meters.

However, McGuire has acted decisively to fill the gaps. All-conference lineman Cole Spencer joined WKU’s Kittley as one of four offensive line transfers. Oklahoma State’s Monroe Mills and UT-Martin’s Michael Shanahan also join the rotation. The transfers would have to compete with a handful of remaining high school recruits for game time. If Kittley can have a base five in mind to get out of spring camp, the Red Raiders will be ahead of schedule.

West Virginia

Who emerges as the long-term solution under center?: The Mountaineers have been known for their dynamic offenses over the years, but the Neal Brown era has been a disaster on that front. The only Big 12 school to trail West Virginia in both total offense and scoring offense was Kansas. With maligned quarterback Jarret Doege transferring to Western Kentucky after two seasons, the Mountaineers have an open quarterback league. Unfortunately, there are no obvious answers to the feature.

Garrett Greene served as primary backup to Doege, but he has only thrown 30 passes in two years. Will Crowder completed both his passing attempts against LIU in a red shirt season. The dark horse is freshman Nicco Marchiol, the only blue-chip in the quarterback room who had interest from several top programs. Failure to reverse the offense in Year 4 could mean the end of the Brown era.

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