Kansas City Star
How much difference can Dayne Crist make? In year one, Weis has hitched much of the program onto the back of his former prized prospect at Notre Dame. Crist’s Irish career derailed once Weis was fired — with injuries playing a big part — but now there’s hope that a Weis/Crist reunion can kick-start a program that was left comatose after two years of former coach Turner Gill.
Who will carry the load? Junior halfback James Sims will serve a three-game suspension at the beginning of the year. Sophomore Tony Pierson has track-star speed — but can his 170-pound frame hold up? Sophomore Brandon Bourbon also has physical tools, but Weis has yet to get a feel for him. Then there’s juco transfer Taylor Cox, who rushed for more than 1,500 yards in 10 games last season. They’ll all be in the mix.
Which new (or old) target emerges? Seniors Kale Pick, Daymond Patterson (who returns after missing last year with injury) and return man D.J. Beshears will see plenty of time. But the depth chart is crowded, and there should be plenty of competition. Six-foot-four junior Chris Omigie and 6-foot-3 juco transfer Josh Ford offer bigger options. Meanwhile, Weis believes that tight end Mike Ragone, a senior transfer from Notre Dame, could have a major impact. “Mike is a hungry young man,” Weis said.
Who will play right tackle? Senior captain Tanner Hawkinson is cemented in at left tackle, and seniors Duane Zlatnik and Trevor Marrongelli will hold down the left guard and center spots, respectively. The right side, however, is more fluid. And despite not being scheduled to arrive on campus until today, juco transfer Aslam Sterling, a 6-foot-5, 360-pound behemoth, was listed on the depth chart as battling with junior Riley Spencer for the starting spot at right tackle. “He is what they are supposed to look like,” Weis said of Sterling. “We need more looking like him. I mean he might be a cheeseburger away from 400 (pounds) right now.”
Will the cavalry save the defense? Weis is still waiting for juco defensive linemen Jordan Tavai and Ty McKinney to arrive on campus. (It could happen within the next seven to 10 days.) And KU can hardly wait. Tavai and McKinney, along with Nebraska senior transfer Josh Williams, could be crucial additions.
Will Opurum find his niche? New defensive coordinator Dave Campo will employ senior Toben Opurum in a hybrid rush end/linebacker role. Think of your favorite speed rusher coming off the edge. Can Campo unleash Opurum’s potential?
How much will true freshman Tevin Shaw play? Shaw, a native of Piscataway, N.J., sits No. 2 on the depth chart at free safety. Weis appears confident in his skills. Of course, Shaw, like Weis, is a Jersey Guy. So there’s that.
Can Doherty handle double duty? Standout punter Ron Doherty is also penciled in to handle first-team duties at kicker. Can his right leg hold up while mastering both disciplines?
| Rustin Dodd, firstname.lastname@example.org
Kansas State football previewQuarterback
How much has Collin Klein improved as a passer? Klein enters his senior season as a potential Heisman contender because of the way he used his legs last year. He rushed for 1,141 yards and 27 touchdowns on 317 carries. Klein also threw for 1,918 yards and 13 TDs on 281 attempts. To stay healthy, he may need to throw more than he runs this season.
Is John Hubert still the go-to guy? Hubert surprisingly emerged as K-State’s top back a year ago and finished with 970 yards on 200 carries. He is expected to enter the season as the team’s starting running back, but he will face competition from Angelo Pease, who was held back by injuries a year ago. Pease looked good in the spring game and could be in line for extra carries.
Tyler Lockett’s comeback: Before Lockett suffered a season-ending injury against Oklahoma State, the Wildcats looked explosive. In his first nine games, he scored three TDs as a receiver and two more as a return man. He is one of the fastest play-makers in the Big 12, and if he is ready to return to that form, Klein will have plenty of solid options in the passing game. But how healthy is he? Remember, he was held out of the spring game with a minor injury.
Who is the next B.J. Finney? As a freshman, Finney was one of the team’s top linemen, and this year he’s a team captain. Now everyone wants to know who will fill in for the loss of three tackles who started games last year. Boston Stiverson, Cornelius Lucas, Cody Whitehair, Tavon Rooks and Keenan Taylor will all get opportunities.
Vai Lutui and Meshak Williams step into the spotlight: K-State faces more uncertainty at this position than any other. Gone are Ray Kibble, Raphael Guidry and Jordan Voelker; who will fill their places?. Williams showed flashes of greatness last season with seven sacks at defensive end. But he didn’t start a single game. Neither did Adam Davis, who is expected to start at the other end position. Are they ready for the extra playing time? The same could be asked of Lutui, who made 34 tackles last year while playing in the shadow of Kibble.
How much better can Arthur Brown play? After leading the team with 101 tackles, Brown was named Big 12 Defensive Newcomer of the year and is now considered an All-American candidate. His speed helped K-State stop both runs and short passes, and the Wichita native will try for even more this year. Tre Walker should play well alongside him as he transitions into an every-down player. The question is who the third linebacker will be. Jarell Childs and Justin Tuggle seem to be the most likely candidates.
Can they stop the big play? Though K-State’s defense improved in most areas last season, its secondary was still susceptible to the big play. The Wildcats allowed 263.3 yards passing yards per game last year and gave up 26 TDs through the air. The Wildcats’ secondary will look to improve behind cornerback Nigel Malone and safety Ty Zimmerman this year. The question is who will play alongside them. Thomas Ferguson is the likely replacement for Tysyn Hartman at safety, and Allen Chapman seems ready for more playing time with the departure of David Garrett.
Everyone is back: Anthony Cantele returns at kicker, Ryan Doerr is back at punter, Tyler Lockett should continue returning kickoffs and Tramaine Thompson and Ty Zimmerman are ready to return punts. They all have experience at their positions and are looking for big seasons.
| Kellis Robinett, email@example.com
Missouri football previewQuarterback
How healthy is James Franklin? Much of Missouri’s hopes this year will rest on the right arm of Franklin, who tore the labrum in his throwing shoulder during spring practice and has been recovering ever since. Missouri fans received some good news during SEC Media Days, when coach Gary Pinkel expressed his belief that Franklin — who is looking to build on a sophomore campaign in which he threw for almost 3,000 yards and rushed for almost 1,000 more — will indeed be ready for fall camp.
Provided that's true, all eyes will be on the star junior, in hopes of answering the following questions: How much zip does he get on his passes? Can he throw the deep ball? How is his accuracy on short and intermediate routes? Things can change when the hitting - and the real games - start, but it will be interesting to see how much, if any, rust Franklin needs to knock off before the Tigers' season-opener.
If the injury continues to linger and Franklin is unable to go, the Tigers will likely turn to redshirt freshman Corbin Berkstresser, who ran with the ones in spring practice once Franklin got hurt and made marked improvement. Regardless, it will be interesting to see how the coaching staff splits up the reps between Berkstresser and gifted true freshman Maty Mauk, a coach's kid who directed a prolific passing offense in high school and could be uniquely prepared to contribute as a freshman.
Can Kendial Lawrence carry the load? With the move to what is quite possibly the nation's most defensive-minded conference, it will be crucial for the Tigers to maintain their impressive run-pass balance. And with Franklin's shoulder a possible target for opposing defenses, it will be critical for the running backs to carry some of that burden.
Enter senior Kendial Lawrence. After an up-and-down junior season that same him seize the starting job, lose it and seize it again, Lawrence is back at the top of the depth chart, and looking to improve on his career highs last season in carries (119), yards (566) and touchdowns (five). But keep an eye on explosive sophomore Marcus Murphy, who missed all of last season with a shoulder injury but turned in an exceptional spring in which he was named the spring's most improved tailback. Freshman Morgan Steward - who attended Staley - and Russell Hansbrough are talented backs who could also make an instant impact if they make enough strides during fall camp.
One last thing: Pinkel recently indicated it will be hard for junior Henry Josey - a budding star before his devastating knee injury Nov. 12 against Texas - to see the field this year. However, Pinkel has repeatedly said he has been encouraged by Josey's progress, and it will be interesting to see what - if anything - Josey does during fall practice.
Just how good is Dorial Green-Beckham? You've heard the stories already - thanks in large part to senior receiver/unofficial team spokesman T.J. Moe - but it's finally time to see what Green-Beckham, the 6-foot-6 super-prospect from Springfield, can do on the field. During SEC Media Days, Moe made it seem like the freshman is the evolutionary Randy Moss, a big body with freakish speed and ball skills without the diva attitude.
If Moe is right - and hey, Green-Beckham wasn't rated by Rivals as the No. 1 overall player in the entire Class of 2012 for no reason - he will bring a superstar quality to offensive coordinator David Yost's already prolific offense. That means defenses will be forced to key on Green-Beckham - who is expected to play Michael Egnew and Danario Alexander's old position in the offense - which will only create one-on-one situations for other talented receivers like Moe, L'Damian Washington and Marcus Lucas, who have each had their moments in the past.
Is Elvis back in the building? Missouri's most affable and engaging offensive lineman also happens to be its best. Sixth-year senior Elvis Fisher won over media members with his personality during his appearance at SEC Media Days a few weeks ago, but is now ready to win his old job back at left tackle after missing all of last season with a knee injury.
Before the injury, Fisher - a three-year starter - was primed to enjoy a solid senior season and on his way to becoming a surefire NFL draft choice. Now, he needs to prove he's every bit as agile and strong as we was before the injury. If he is, he'll bring added stability to an offensive line that returns tackle Justin Britt (his replacement last season) and two guards (Travis Ruth and Jack Meiners) who each started seven games last season. That would make for plenty of experience on the offensive line, and trench play, of course, is always crucial in the SEC.
However, it's worth noting that the lineup also hinges on the play of possible first-year starter Mitch Morse, a sophomore who had a strong spring at center and whose presence allowed the coaching staff to slide Ruth back to guard, where he fills a need. It will also be interesting to see whether talented true freshman Evan Boehm - a Lee's Summit West grad who is listed as 6-feet-3, 290 pounds - can pick up things quick enough to earn some playing time at guard this year.
Will shoulder woes remain for stars? Junior defensive tackle Sheldon Richardson and senior defensive end Brad Madison share a few similar traits as football players. They are both big, talented and above all, productive. But here's something else they share that's a little less positive: both were limited in the spring while they recovered from offseason shoulder surgery.
With the loss of star defensive tackle Dominique Hamilton and defensive end Jacquies Smith to the NFL, there's no doubt the Tigers need Richardson and Madison to be completely healthy this season. While several youngsters along the line - like tackle Matt Hoch and ends Kony Ealy and Shane Ray - impressed in the spring, both players are surefire bets to start, provided they are healthy. But given the nature of their injuries and the amount of time it has been since they played in pads, it will also be interesting to see how strong both are at the point of attack.
Will Ebner stay healthy? Here's what is known: on paper, at least, the skills of projected starters Andrew Wilson (strongside), Will Ebner (middle) and Zaviar Gooden (weakside) complement each other extremely well. Wilson is the hard-hitting thumper, Ebner is a heady and steady leader while Gooden brings 4.37 speed to the position in the 4-3 defense that former Tampa Bay star Derrick Brooks made famous. And while Missouri finished a respectable fourth against the run in Big 12 play last season - the Tigers allowed 157 yards per game - its worth noting that Ebner missed all of last season due to a concussion and an ankle injury.
Still, the trio played well together during the spring, and if Ebner - who has been sidelined most of the last two seasons with injuries - can stay away from the injury bug, it will go a long way toward improving the Tigers' run defense against a SEC conference slate that features a number of teams - including Alabama, Georgia and South Carolina - that love to run the ball.
Who will serve as the nickel and dime backs? In returning starters E.J. Gaines and Kip Edwards, Missouri features plenty of experience at cornerback. Gaines, a junior, is particularly entrenched; he could be poised for a big season after setting a school record with 16 pass breakups last season. However, the depth at the position took a hit in the offseason with the graduation of senior Trey Hobson and the transfer of Robert Steeples, who followed former safeties coach Barry Odom to Memphis. Both players saw time against three- and four-wide receiver sets last year, which means Missouri will need to find a couple of players to fill those roles.
One player who has emerged is junior Randy Ponder, who joined the team as a walkon last spring but eventually earned a scholarship and was named the cornerback position's most improved player during spring practice. He positioned himself well to be the Tigers' primary nickel back in the fall, but backups Ernest Payton, Xavier Smith, David Johnson and true freshman John Gibson are among those who remain in the mix to see playing time.
Can Barrow re-establish himself as the undisputed starter? When struggling starter Grant Ressel was lost for the year due to injuries last season, senior Trey Barrow - who was already handling the punting duties - stepped in and performed admirably, converting 23-of-23 extra points and seven of nine field goals. Barrow struggled in the spring, so much so that Pinkel even said freshman walk-on Andrew Baggett was sitting atop the depth chart at kicker entering the spring game. However, Barrow converted his only field goal attempt in the game and is currently listed as the starter in the post-spring depth chart. A strong fall camp would go a long way toward settling a position that will prove to be critical if and when Missouri finds itself in a traditional smashmouth, low-scoring SEC conference game.
| Terez A. Paylor, firstname.lastname@example.org