College Football Spring Practice: Big 12 Storylines

College Football Spring Practice: Big 12 Storylines

This article is part of our Spring Practice Storylines series.

Conference realignment has sent a shockwave through the college football landscape, and the Big 12 is no exception. The implosion of the Pac-12 left several teams without a home, and four of them found their way to the Big 12, which lost a lot of its identity by departures from Texas and Oklahoma. The Longhorns and Sooners were stalwarts in the conference for decades. While it's hard to imagine the Big 12 without those teams, commissioner Brett Yormark has done an admirable job keeping the organization relevant. He added Cincinnati, BYU, Houston and UCF to the conference in 2023, and the four Pac-12 squads bring the Big 12's total to 16 teams. With Texas and Oklahoma out of the picture, the conference title is up for grabs, making the spring practice storylines all the more interesting.

Arizona Wildcats

Looking stacked in the spring

The Wildcats headed into spring practice with a revamped coaching staff led by head coach David Brennan and OC Dino Babers, who once served a variety of roles before joining the head coaching ranks at Eastern Ilinois, Bowling Geen, and finally, Syracuse, who decided to part ways with Babers after eight seasons. Brennan has also brought in some assistants and players from San Jose State, with running back Quali Conley as probably the biggest offensive piece added to the roster.  

While QB Noah Fifita and WR Tetairoa McMillan will headline the offense, there are open questions at running back, wide receiver and tight end. Wide receiver coach Bobby Wade holds many records as a former pass-catcher with the Wildcats, and he's shepherding a young group of talented receivers who will be looking to make an impact. Although McMillan and Malachi Riley are favored as Fiffita's primary targets, freshmen Brandon Phelps and Jackson Holman have been turning heads. They should be able to carve a role in the offense.  Conley appears to have the inside track at running back after rushing for 842 yards and nine rushing touchdowns under Brennan, but he faces some competition in Rayshon Luke, who appeared in all 13 games for Arizona last season and was actually heavily recruited by the Spartans before joining the Wildcats in 2022. The biggest surprise may come from Jacory Croskey-Merritt, who committed to Arizona after logging a 15-touchdown season at New Mexico. He's an adept risher and pass-catcher who recorded over 1,000 yards of total offense with the Lobos last season. Conley has yet to appear in practice due to an undisclosed injury, so the starting role is an open question at this juncture.

Arizona State Sun Devils

Seeking improvement with an intact offensive core

Kenny Dillingham's Sun Devils have the advantage of most of their offensive corps returning in 2024, and hopefully, the extra year of experience and maturity will reap some benefits. The presumptive starter at quarterback is Jaden Rashada, a highly-touted recruit who suffered some injuries and had some spotty performances in his first season. He won't be at practice after undergoing surgery on his thumb and will probably start throwing in the summer. In the meantime, returnee Trenton Bourguet and Michigan State transfer Sam Leavitt will compete for snaps during spring practice. 

There's no confusion about the running back position - Cameron Skattebo will return after logging over 1,000 yards of total offense and 10 touchdowns for the Sun Devils last season. DeCarlos Brooks came over from Cal last season and played well in limited action, and he's expected to be the team's change-of-pace back once again. A potential sleeper is Raleek Brown, who was buried on the depth chart during his tenure at USC but showed flashes of potential with the Trojans when given an opportunity. The five-star recruit transitioned to wide receiver while in Los Angeles, but the 5-8 speedster will likely take on a dual role. He's already impressed the coaches in camp with his speed and versatility. 

Elijhah Badger is currently dealing with a back injury and is limited at spring practice, but he's projected to be the top guy in the wide receiver room to begin the season. Poor quarterback play hindered his 2023 results, but he still managed 65 catches for 713 yards and 11 touchdowns last season. The Sun Devils suffered a tough loss in the receiving game in Jalin Conyers, a nationally recognized pass catcher who entered the transfer portal. Markeston Douglas entered the transfer portal, left Florida State and is now in Tempe, where he's expected to be the top candidate for the job.

Baylor Bears

Facing open competition at quarterback

Although head coach Dave Aranda is back after a disappointing 3-9 season, the rest of the coaching staff is completely transformed. Former Texas State head coach Jack Spavital n the new OC in Waco, and former TCU head coach Gary Patterson is signed on as a defensive consultant. The biggest story heading into spring practice involves a hotly-contested competition at quarterback. Dequan Finn has arrived from Toledo, a dual threat who compiled 8,679 yards of total offense and 78 total touchdowns during his three-year starting tenure with the Rockets. Finn has all the skills to start in any FBS program, but former Mississippi State transfer Sawyer Robertson is still on the roster, and he'll provide some competition for the position. 

Overall, the Bears' running game needs a lot of work after ranking near the bottom of the FBS last season. The preliminary strategy is implementing a committee approach at running back, with Dominic Richardson and Richard Reese expected to get the first crack. Bryson Washington looked promising before missing most of the season with an injury, but the two-way player has been seen running routes at practice. 

Spavital's spread up-tempo offense suits both Finn and Robertson, but they'll need some receiving talent lineup to make things click. Monaray Baldwin will be back for his senior year, but transfer Ashtyn Hawkins is poised to make an immediate impact. He was recruited by Spavital at Texas State, so he'll come into spring practice with a firm handle on the scheme that's about to be implemented. During his three years at Texas State, he compiled 141 receptions for 1,745 yards and 11 touchdowns. Nevada transfer Jamaal Bell will be another receiver to watch as spring practice progresses.

BYU Cougars

Facing questions under center

The Cougars won't play a spring game, which isn't a huge surprise. BYU has skipped spring events over the years, and they won't be able to accommodate fans this time around due to renovations at Lavell Edwards Field, where the turf (which captured headlines for being in disrepair during the 2023 season) will be replaced. The quarterback position remains an open question, but returning starter Jake Retzlaff seems to be getting the bulk of the snaps right now. After stints at Baylor and USF, Gerry Bohanon entered the transfer portal again and landed in Provo to compete for the starting job. He's coming off a shoulder injury and didn't throw a pass during the 2023 season, so he'll need to prove himself further to gain ground on Retzlaff. The team also added Treyson Bourguet from Western Michigan, but he appears to be bringing up the rear in the competition at present. 

The offense lost a lot of talent, especially at running back, but LJ Martin should step up to assume the lead role in the backfield. BYU wanted to make some portal moves at the position but didn't succeed, meaning Hinckley Ropati and Miles Davis will work to spell Martin. The Cougars had one of the worst rushing attacks in the FBS last season, so it's an area in great need of improvement. 

The Cougars return an impactful wide receiver room, with all five of their top pass catcher back for another season. Darius Lassiter, Kody Epps and Chase Roberts are all capable wideouts, and they'll benefit whoever ends up under center in the fall.

Central Florida (UCF) Knights

Moving forward with Jefferson

After John Rhys Plumlee declared for the NFL Draft, the Knights knew they needed to make a big move in the portal. They succeeded in luring KJ Jefferson, probably one of the most-desired QB transfers available. The acquisition was a vote of no-confidence for Timmy McClain, who would have been the first man up. Although McClain had some respectable numbers, only injury would keep Jefferson from being under center to begin the season.

The Knights also lost Javon Baker to the draft, but standout receiver Kobe Hudson will be back to lead the wideout corps. Xavier Townsend will also be back after a solid sophomore campaign. The 5-10 speedster could be in line for a breakout season. 

The Knights were happy to welcome RJ Harvey back to school at running back, but moves in the transfer portal may muddy the waters at the position. Cincinnati transfer Myles Montgomery packs a lot of potential, but injuries limited him during his tenure with the Bearcats. Assuming he stays healthy, the 5-11, 205-pound dynamo will compete for a role in the offense. The talent at running back continues with returnee Johnny Richardson, who ran for 573 yards last year.

Cincinnati Bearcats

Striking gold in transfer portal

Cincinnati mined the transfer portal for talent to bolster its roster, creating some interesting positional battles heading into spring practice. The team welcomed 17 transfers and 10 incoming freshmen, addressing several spots requiring attention. At the forefront is the quarterback position, which was wide open after the departure of Emory Jones. Enter Brendan Sorsby, who threw for 1,587 yards and a 15:5 TD/INT ratio over 10 games for Indiana last season. Sorsby has three years of eligibility remaining, and if Cincy can compete in the reformed Big 12, he could be the Bearcats' signal-caller for years to come. He isn't alone in the quarterback room, however. Four-star recruit Samaj Jones finished an epic high school career, setting records at St. Joe's Prep and was one of the most sought-after quarterbacks in the graduating class. Jones has tons of potential and could put up a considerable challenge to Sorsby if his skills translate to the collegiate level. 

The running back position is largely settled, as Corey Kiner will return to lead the rushing attack after a 1,000-yard season in 2023. Ohio State transfer Evan Pryor didn't see much action with the Buckeyes, but after not finding much success at this position in the portal, he seems poised to be the backup.  

The wide receiver room is where the Bearcats really shine, as they acquired some blue-chip talent through the portal. Xzavier Henderson will return after a productive 58-catch season, but he'll face competition from UTEP transfer Tyrin Smith, who should shoot up the depth chart if he can stay healthy in spring practice. FAU transfer Tony Johnson is also turning heads in practice, and coach Scott Satterfield has stated that former backup QB Evan Prater will begin his transition to wideout in the spring. The Bearcats also have an exciting addition at tight end: Joe Royer, an  Ohio State transfer who may find himself starting in the fall.

Colorado Buffaloes

Pressure on McCaskill to perform

All eyes will be on Deion Sanders and company as they are re-introduced to the Big 12. Luckily for Sanders, most of his offensive core is intact from last season, but it's a mixed blessing considering the team's struggles down the stretch. Although Shedeur Sanders and wideouts like Travis Hunter and Jimmy Horn are poised to make a forward leap, the team's Achilles heel on offense was the running back position. There will be a lot of pressure on Alton McCaskill to prove his worth after spending most of 2023 watching from the sidelines. The former Houston Cougar had an impressive record in Houston, but he must prove his worth in the spring. He's been practicing with the team without restriction so far, and that's an encouraging sign for the Buffaloes' rushing attack. The Buffaloes' success depends largely on the team's offensive line, which didn't protect Sanders well and will need to do a better job providing holes for the running game. Pat Shurmur was promoted to full-time OC for the season, and hopefully, he can design new ways for Colorado's raw talent to thrive.

Houston Cougars

Offensive core intact

The Cougars have most of their offensive core returning. QB Donovan Smith will miss spring practice after shoulder surgery, which will allow Texas Tech transfer Zeon Chriss to make a splash in the upcoming spring game. He's already impressed in practice, and his dual-threat skill set will force Smith to look over his shoulder when he gets back up to speed. 

The running back position is in pretty safe hands with Parker Jenkins and Stacy Sneed returning. We may see a bit more from Tony Mathis, who had a couple of solid games before sustaining an ankle injury that capped his output. 

The most exciting prospect for the Cougars could be tight end Maliq Carr, who heads to Houston after stints at Purdue and Michigan State. At 6-6, he provides a sizable target for Smith and flashed a lot of potential while with the Spartans. He appears to have a lock on the starting job after impressing early in the spring. The wide receiver room is largely intact from last season, with Samuel Brown and Joseph Manjack leading the way. The Cougars added one receiver from the transfer portal, Mekhi Mews. The former Georgia Bulldog will try to get past Stephen Johnson for the number three role. 

Iowa State Spring Storyline

Cyclones Have the Benefit of Experience in 2024

Head Coach Matt Campbell will embark on his ninth season with the Cyclones when they suit up for their Annual Spring Game on April 20th. Unlike last season, the team has an inherited edge with one of the most experienced teams in the conference as 18 starters are coming back, including Big 12 Offensive Rookie of the Year, QB Rocco Becht. Becht is surrounded by weapons with WR Jaylin Noel, WR Jayden Higgins, and RB Abu Sama III. This young core impressed last year by ranking 34th at 6.2 Yards Per Play. With Texas and Oklahoma's potent offenses departing for the SEC, Iowa State is a dark horse candidate to have the best offense in the conference.

Kansas Spring Storyline

How dynamic will Jalon Daniels be, and can Kansas rule the new-look conference?

Speaking of efficient offenses, the Jayhawks led the Big 12 in 2023 in offensive efficiency at 7.2 Yards Per Play. Despite not having Daniels at QB for most of the year due to a nagging back injury, they had the 6th best offense in the nation, which is a testament to how well-coached they are. Lance Leipold is one of the hottest names in all of college football, and the sky is the limit for Kansas during the 2024 season. It's unclear whether Daniels will be throwing at the team's Spring Showcase on April 12th, but RB Devin Neal should be ready to go. The senior back is coming off back-to-back 1,000-yard rushing seasons and should clearly be at the top of fantasy draft boards.

Kansas State Spring Storyline

Massive Hype Building Up Around the Dual-Threat Quarterback

Unfortunately, the Wildcats choose to keep their spring practices private and do not have an annual spring game. What is known is that the team is super excited to see a full season of dual-threat quarterback Avery Johnson. He had five rushing scores at Texas Tech in Week 7 of the 2023 season, which is the type of upside this young man brings when he touches the ball. Key losses for Kansas State include QB Will Howard, who transferred to Ohio State, and RB Treshaun Ward, who went to Boston College for his final season. With that in mind and the team having limited playmakers with experience, Johnson's usage for this next season could be massive.

Oklahoma State Spring Storyline

The Cowboys Will Roll It Back Again

Oklahoma State welcomes back 10 starters from a year ago, none bigger than RB Ollie Gordon and QB Alan Bowman. Gordon was the top back in all of college football with 1,732 yards and 22 total touchdowns, while Bowman played better at the end of the year. Last year was a lot about adjustments and getting used to new coordinators. Expect the Cowboys to take an offensive step forward as they enter the new conference as one of the most experienced squads. This season, they also have some extra motivation to succeed as their in-state rivals bolted for the SEC conference. 

TCU Spring Storyline

Reset of the Offense in 2024

With QB Chandler Morris moving on to North Texas, QB Josh Hoover will take over for the Horned Frogs. He likely won't participate in the team's spring game on April 27th, as he's currently dealing with an injury that has kept him out of spring practice. With just one returning starter on the offensive line and pretty much all of the playmakers gone from the National Championship runner-up team a couple of years ago, there will be a lot of new faces for this TCU team. Pay close attention to this spring game to see if there are any RBs or WRs that can emerge with a significant role for fantasy purposes.

Texas Tech Spring Storyline

Red Raiders All Set at Important Positions

It was recently announced by HC Joey McGuire that QB Behren Morton will be the starter for the 2024 season. The team's spring game will take place on April 20th; however, Morton will not take snaps as he rehabs his previous shoulder injury. Instead, the team will look for his backup in Cameran Brown, Jake Strong or true freshman Will Hammond. RB Tahj Brooks is entering his fifth year with the Red Raiders after rushing for 1,542 yards and 10 touchdowns a year ago. This new Texas Tech squad is much more centered around the run game than those high-flying teams of the past.

Utah Spring Storyline

Welcome Back for Some Offensive Studs

The biggest spring headlines for the Utes revolve around QB Cameron Rising and TE Brant Kuithe, who are both returning from serious knee injuries. Both of these players have national cache, as they are professional prospects, and Utah enters their new conference as arguably the best team in it. They will surely need to reload at running back and receiver after losing their best players from a year ago, but they have a notable transfer in WR Dorian Singer and some young talent at the RB position. It will be interesting to watch this team during the spring to see how close Rising and Kuithe are to 100 percent, as they are expected to be fully back in the Fall.

West Virginia Spring Storyline

Dominant Ground Attack on Display for 2024

The Mountaineers' Annual Gold-Blue Spring game is planned for April 27th. This team was a pleasant surprise in 2023, with the 29th most efficient offense in the country at 6.3 Offensive Yards Per Play. That was behind one of the best offensive lines and run games in the nation, powered by QB Garrett Greene and running backs CJ Donaldson and Jahiem White. Three starters are back from that powerful offensive line, and White is ready to roll this spring. It's worth noting that Donaldson is still recovering from offseason surgery; however, he is expected to be ready for the fall. There's no reason to think they won't be one of the most physical teams in the conference once again, and there will be a preview of that in late April.

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Jeff Edgerton
Jeff has provided sports content for numerous sports outlets and has played fantasy sports since scores had to be tabulated via newspaper. He started working with RotoWire in 2017. Originally from South Carolina, he's a lifelong Clemson fan now enjoying the sun in Los Angeles.
Nick Grays
Grays covers college football for RotoWire by night and is a Financial Analyst by day.
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