TCU

Key issues as TCU, Baylor, A&M prepare for spring football drills

Arlington Lamar grad Shane Buechele enrolled early at Texas and is expected to compete for the starting job in the Longhorns’ new offense.
Arlington Lamar grad Shane Buechele enrolled early at Texas and is expected to compete for the starting job in the Longhorns’ new offense. Special to the Star-Telegram

The ink is barely dry on letters-of-intent from football players who selected their future colleges earlier this month on National Signing Day.

But spring workouts begin this week, with Baylor, TCU and Texas A&M among the February starters. The Bears begin Thursday, the Horned Frogs report Friday and the Aggies open Monday.

At all three schools, as well as other FBS programs that start spring drills in March, there are lots of unanswered questions about returning personnel, fresh schemes and impact newcomers. For the first time, junior-college transfers and January enrollees from the high school ranks will take the field with returning veterans, giving college coaches their first inkling of what to expect next fall over the course of 15 spring workouts.

When the curtain fell on the 2015 season, the final Associated Press poll included these Texas-based or Big 12 teams: No. 5 Oklahoma (11-2), No. 7 TCU (11-2), No. 8 Houston (13-1), No. 13 Baylor (10-3) and No. 20 Oklahoma State (10-3). All five should begin next in the Top 25 teams, with intriguing off-season personnel additions in place at Texas Tech (7-6), Texas A&M (8-5) and Texas (5-7) that could boost the fortunes of those programs.

As always, there is no shortage of spring storylines. Here are several worth tracking:

5 biggest storylines

1. How much will changes of starting quarterbacks or play-callers impact offenses at TCU, Texas and Texas A&M?

2. Can Baylor plug its graduation losses in the offensive and defensive lines well enough to remain a Big 12 title contender?

3. Are Oklahoma’s offensive difference-makers (QB Baker Mayfield, RB Samaje Perine, RB Joe Mixon) enough to trigger a national title run?

4. Can Houston, led by standout QB Greg Ward Jr., become the first College Football Playoff participant from a non-Power 5 league?

5. Will there be a postseason coaching vacancy at Texas or Texas A&M, two programs that finished unranked at the end of last season?

Teams with instant-impact QB options

TCU: Kenny Hill, a transfer from Texas A&M, is the early favorite among spring competitors to replace Trevone Boykin. He threw for 2,832 yards and 24 TDs in eight starts for the Aggies in 2014 after a stellar high school career at Southlake Carroll.

Texas A&M: Trevor Knight, a graduate transfer from Oklahoma, will compete for the starting job. Coach Kevin Sumlin called Knight “the most important recruit” in his 2016 class because he brings leadership and stability to an offense that needs it. A&M has lost three QBs to other schools in the past two years (Hill, Kyle Allen to Houston, Kyler Murray to Oklahoma).

Texas: Freshman Shane Buechele, an Arlington Lamar graduate, enrolled in January and joins redshirt freshman Kai Locksley as the new faces in a battle for the starting QB job with returnees Jerrod Heard and Tyrone Swoopes. First-year offensive coordinator Sterlin Gilbert is installing a new scheme so there is no advantage in experience for the returnees.

North Texas: Alec Morris, a graduate transfer from Alabama, will compete for the starting job in spring drills.

Kansas State: Heralded freshman Skylar Thompson, who enrolled in January, and redshirt freshman Alex Delton, who missed last season because of injury, give the Wildcats two fresh options to upgrade a key position.

Key personnel situations to settle

Baylor: QB Seth Russell, who led the team to a 7-0 record before undergoing season-ending neck surgery in October, will participate in spring drills. So will Jarrett Stidham, a Stephenville grad who played well in three starts in place of Russell before sustaining a season-ending broken ankle.

TCU: The Horned Frogs’ five-member secondary needs depth and production across the board, especially playmakers at the safety spots.

Oklahoma State: Cowboys must beef up a defensive line that will be without DE Emmanuel Ogbah, the Big 12’s top pass-rusher the past two seasons.

Texas A&M: Competitors for the starting QB job combined for one start last season: by Jake Hubenak, who handled that duty in the team’s 27-21 bowl loss to Louisville. OU transfer Trevor Knight last started in the Sooners’ 40-6 bowl loss to Clemson to cap the 2014 season.

Texas: The four-man battle royale to decide its starting quarterback job could veer off in any direction. Candidates include Shane Buechele, Kai Locksley, Jerrod Heard and Tyrone Swoopes.

Impact freshmen for 2016

Tren’Davian Dickson, Baylor WR: Already enrolled, the No. 198 player on ESPN’s top 300 list seeks to carve out his role in spring drills.

Collin Johnson, Texas WR: Four-star talent offers a speedy, up-sized target (6-foot-5, 200 pounds) for competitors in this spring’s QB competition as well as next fall.

Sewo Olonilua, TCU RB: Versatile athlete will take part in spring drills and has the skills to make an immediate impact as a rusher, special teams contributor or linebacker.

Ed Oliver, Houston DT: The five-star signee from Houston Westfield (6-foot-2, 277 pounds) projects as a key cog in the Cougars’ defense.

Erick Fowler, Texas LB: The highest-rated player from the Rivals national Top 100 list (No. 13) to sign with any Texas school will arrive on campus in June for summer workouts.

Impact JC transfers for 2016

Derrick Willies, Texas Tech WR: Up-sized target (6-4, 210 pounds) has four-star credentials and will take part in spring drills.

B.J. Autry, Baylor OL: Versatile talent is enrolled and will be expected to contribute to an offensive front that lost four starters from last season.

Taj Williams, TCU WR: Nation’s top-rated JC receiver will compete in spring drills, has size (6-3, 180) that compares to NFL-bound Josh Doctson.

Chris Gaynor, TCU OL: Played both guard and tackle in JC and could find a home at either spot during spring drills.

Jeremy Faulk, Baylor DT: Key spring addition to a defensive line that must replace all four of last year’s starters.

Tyree Horton, TCU LB: Will not arrive until fall, which could limit his impact, but Horton was the top-ranked OLB prospect among JC players last season.

24TD passes by TCU quarterback Kenny Hill, a transfer from Texas A&M, during the 2014 season for the Aggies

Key under-the-radar additions

John Diarse, TCU WR: Graduate transfer from LSU will compete in spring drills and has two seasons of eligibility remaining.

Austin Kendall, Oklahoma QB: Heralded freshman enrolled in January and enters spring as the likely backup to Sooners starter Baker Mayfield. His spring development could be essential to OU’s hopes for CFP success next fall if Mayfield sustains an injury.

Mych Thomas, Texas Tech DT: JC transfer is one of 14 incoming defenders in a class that includes seven defensive linemen. The Dallas Skyline product could pay immediate dividends.

Tyrel Dodson, Texas A&M LB: Freshman was selected as “Mr. Football” among Tennessee high school players last season and fits a need position.

Michael Badejo, SMU DE: Mansfield Timberview product ranks among the three highest-ranked newcomers in the Mustangs’ all-Texan signing class and will address a need position in the fall.

Jimmy Burch: 817-390-7760, @Jimmy_Burch

Spring football dates

Team

Open drills

Spring game

Baylor

Thursday

March 18

TCU

Friday

April 1

Texas A&M

Monday

April 9

Texas Tech

March 5

April 16

Oklahoma

March 5

April 16

Texas

March 7

April 16

Oklahoma State

March 7

April 16

Houston

March 7

April 16

Kansas

March 7

April 9

Iowa State

March 8

April 16

West Virginia

March 13

April 23

SMU

March 15

April 16

North Texas

March 22

April 23

Kansas State

March 30

April 23

Note: Baylor’s scrimmage on March 18 in McLane Stadium is open to the public but the Bears will continue to practice until April 5. Texas A&M’s spring game in Kyle Field (April 9, 5 p.m.) will be the school’s first since 2013 because of stadium construction the past two years.

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