(AP) — The Big 12 is facing an identity crisis at quarterback, with a lot of different players preparing to take snaps this fall.
Seven of the league’s 10 teams had senior quarterbacks, providing for a lot of changes during spring practice.
“With new QBs, there are always question marks. I mean, you don’t really know until you know,” Baylor coach Art Briles said Tuesday. “The only way to know is to get out on the field with them in the heat of battle and find out how they respond. Yeah, it changes the dynamics of the league 100 percent.”
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Gone are the likes of Landry Jones, who started 50 games for Oklahoma, West Virginia standout Geno Smith, Heisman Trophy finalist Collin Klein from Kansas State and Baylor’s Nick Florence, who led the Big 12 in total offense last season after Robert Griffin III won the Heisman for the Bears the previous year.
“There’s years where we’ve had the best quarterbacks in the country in our league, and last year was one of them,” Texas coach Mack Brown said during the league coaches’ spring teleconference.
“There’s a little bit of unknown until those new guys get out there and you see their abilities and what they do for their football team. There’s certainly no lack of talent,” Iowa State coach Paul Rhoads said. “I’m happy certainly that a lot of those guys have graduated and teams are having to break in new quarterbacks, but still fearful of the talent level that remains at that position.”
All the changes at the most high-profile position could lead to a wide-open race for the Big 12 title.
“I would think so,” Brown said. “There’s a lot of question marks in our league and that has not been the case the last couple of years.”
The Longhorns have the league’s most experienced returning quarterback in junior David Ash, who has started 18 of his 25 games and has Case McCoy as his backup.
Casey Pachall returned this spring to TCU, where he started 17 of 25 games, including the first four last season as a junior before leaving school for substance abuse rehabilitation. Freshman Trevone Boykin took over as the starter, passing for 2,054 yards and 15 touchdowns.
TCU coach Gary Patterson said he won’t name a starting quarterback until two-a-day practices in August.
“When we left spring last year, we felt like that we could only play with one quarterback, and obviously after four games we couldn’t play with him,” Patterson said. “Trevone grew up a lot during the season. He’s far surpassed that, enough to where that race at quarterback is very close.”
Oklahoma State returns three quarterbacks who won as starters last season. Wes Lunt and J.W. Walsh both started games as freshmen before getting hurt, then Clint Chelf finished the season and was first-string through the spring.
Blake Bell, Oklahoma’s 6-foot-6, 263-pound junior, was a short-yardage specialist behind Jones. Bell ran 102 times for 24 touchdowns the past two seasons, and then was one of three quarterbacks to throw touchdown passes in the Sooners’ spring game this month.
“He’s always been able to throw the football well. …. Blake throws a great deep ball,” Sooners coach Bob Stoops said.
Kansas State returns all five starters on the offensive line. As for who they’ll be blocking for this season, Daniel Sams, the primary backup for Klein, and highly touted junior college transfer Jake Waters are the leading candidates.
Coach Bill Snyder said there “is no clear-cut No. 1” and that both are getting equal snaps with the first- and second-team offensives this spring.
West Virginia also had a 50-50 split of reps at the quarterback spot this spring between Paul Millard and Ford Childress while trying to determine who succeeds Smith.
“Wide open, man,” West Virginia coach Dana Holgorsen said. “We will kind of encourage them to get out there and throw with the guys and study film for the next 3 1/2 months. … Then get the race kick-started back in August to see whose’ made the most progress. We don’t have to make the decision now.”
Kansas has Jake Heaps, who was a freshman starting quarterback for BYU and can now play for the Jayhawks after sitting out last season following his transfer. He played 22 games for the Cougars, including 16 starts.
Texas Tech, with former standout quarterback Kliff Kingsbury now its coach, has to replace senior Seth Doege. Sophomore Michael Brewer and freshman Davis Webb, who went through spring drills after graduating from high school in December, combined for 506 yards passing and three touchdowns in the Red Raiders’ spring game.
Bryce Petty gets his chance as Baylor’s starter after being on the team with Griffin and then Florence the past three years, including a redshirt season.
Sophomore Sam Richardson got to start a couple of games at the end of last season for Iowa State, who had a senior starter until that point.
“Quarterback play certainly has not gotten us to a position where we can win the nitty-gritty games. That’s a position that every program looks for a difference maker,” Rhoads said. “That’s a position we have to get better play out of to get us in the top half of the Big 12 conference.”