Landry Jones, Geno Smith and Collin Klein are the lucky ones.
All three quarterbacks have established themselves as bona fide stars in the Big 12. They are the unquestioned leaders of their teams, and they’ve proven they know how to score touchdowns. Everyone is looking forward to watching what they can do this season.
That isn’t the case for most quarterbacks across the Big 12, though. For every Jones, Smith and Klein, there are just as many young passers who are still trying to make names for themselves.
Several of them will take the field as starters for the first time this weekend, and they all face different types of pressure as they get ready to take their turn in the spotlight. . Nick Florence has to replace a Heisman Trophy winner at Baylor.
Freshman Wes Lunt will have to follow in the footsteps of Brandon Weeden at Oklahoma State.
And Steele Jantz is one interception away from returning to the bench at Iowa State.
David Ash played in 13 games and threw more than 1,000 yards for Texas last season, but he faces the biggest challenge of them all: Returning the Longhorns to national prominence.
And, unlike Florence and Lent, Ash is expected to win immediately.
If Florence and Lent don’t play as well as their predecessors, they have a built-in excuse. No one expected them to. But Ash is viewed as the missing link on his team. The Longhorns have arguably the best defense in the Big 12 and a nice group of running backs. The only thing holding them back from a top 15 finish last season was poor quarterback play.
They lost to Kansas State and Missouri a year ago despite holding both teams to 17 points.
“The thing we need to do is score more points,” Texas coach Mack Brown said. “This is a points-driven league. We averaged in the uppers 20s last year. That’s not enough. When we won the national championship we were in the 50s. We’ve got to get back to those numbers.”
Garrett Gilbert started last season, but played miserably and transferred to SMU. Then Ash took over, but he never owned the position. Case McCoy saw plenty of action, too. He will continue to see playing time this season if Ash doesn’t improve.
Brown has made that abundantly clear. Now that’s pressure.
“We’ve got to do a better job of creating explosive plays,” Brown said. “You can’t just run the ball for four yards every time.”
Bender leaves Kansas State
Freshman quarterback Tavarius Bender enrolled at Kansas State a semester early and played well enough during his first few practices to see significant action during the Wildcats’ spring game, but that is where his K-State career will end.
K-State football coach Bill Snyder announced Monday that Bender is no longer part of the program. Snyder said he returned to his hometown of Lincoln, Neb., a few weeks ago.
"He chose not to be here and dropped out of football altogether," Snyder said during the weekly Big 12 football teleconference.
Bender’s departure shouldn’t impact K-State much in the short term with senior quarterback Collin Klein returning. But Bender was expected to compete with Daniel Sams for the main backup position behind Klein immediately, and the starting spot in future years.
He started opposite Klein with K-State’s second-team offense during the spring game, but played poorly. He completed 2 of 4 passes for eight yards and rushed for negative yardage on two attempts. Still, he was a three-star prospect coming out of high school and Rivals ranked him as the top overall recruit in Nebraska for his class.
Coaches complimented him when preseason practices began earlier this month.
Now Sams and Sam Johnson are competing for the backup quarterback spot.
“There are certain situations in which Daniel would be next in line, there are certain situations where Sam would be next in line,” Snyder said. “It kind of depends on where we are in the ballgame and what the circumstances are. But it would be one of those two right now.”
Nothing to brag about
The Big 12 is set up for a big opening weekend of football. Nine of the 10 teams will be in action, and eight of them are favored to win — most by wide margins. Tulsa at Iowa State is the lone toss-up. Baylor will have the Sunday night timeslot all to itself against SMU, and if the Bears defeat the Mustangs as expected the conference could boast an undefeated record at this time next week.
If all goes according to plan, the end result should look awfully good on paper.
Nine Big 12 teams have lined up nine opponents from outside the six major conferences. All of which, other than Tulsa and SMU, will serve as punching bags. Though it’s interesting to see Oklahoma heading to UTEP instead of the other way around, none of these games are must-see material.
Another sellout at Kansas State
Kansas State will play in front of capacity crowds during at least three home games this season. The Wildcats’ games against Missouri State, North Texas and Oklahoma State have all sold out. It is the first time K-State has sold out three games prior to the start of a football season.
K-State football coach Bill Snyder will release his first depth chart of the season on Tuesday, but he made one starting position clear on Monday. He said Keenan Taylor will start at guard. He also said Boston Stiverson will not play in the game for undisclosed reasons.
Off and running
Three notable running backs who finished last season on the injured list appear ready to get back on the field this weekend. Texas Tech’s Eric Stephens, Oklahoma’s Dominique Whaley and Iowa State’s Shontrelle Johnson are all expected to play Saturday.
Red Raiders coach Tommy Tuberville is looking forward to Stephens’ return. Stephens was averaging 113 yards per game when he went down midway through the season. He should add a much-needed ground presence to Texas Tech’s offense.
Whaley was averaging 89.6 yards per game when he went down at Kansas State.
“In my mind, he looks to be what he’s always been,” OU coach Bob Stoops said, “explosive, fast and strong.”
What watch, what to avoid
Must-see games: Check back next week
Worth watching: Oklahoma at UTEP, Tulsa at Iowa State, Marshall at West Virginia, Wyoming at Texas, SMU at Baylor (Sunday)
If there’s nothing better to do: South Dakota State at Kansas, Missouri State at Kansas State
Avert your eyes: Savannah State at Oklahoma State, Northwestern State at Texas Tech
BIG 12 POWER RANKINGS
|1. Oklahoma||Landry Jones came back to win a Big 12 title|
|2. West Virginia||Defending Big East champs will thrive in Big 12|
|3. Kansas State||A healthy Collin Klein should be fun to watch|
|4. Texas||Longhorns have best defense in the conference|
|5. TCU||Defending Mountain West champs will survive in Big 12|
|6. Oklahoma State||Life will be tough without Brandon Weeden and Justin Blackmon|
|7. Baylor||Life will be tougher without Robert Griffin III|
|8. Iowa State||Paul Rhoads will really have to overachieve this season|
|9. Texas Tech||Tommy Tuberville starts the season on the heat seat|
|10. Kansas||Charlie Weis’s first game should go better than Turner Gill’s|