Texas quarterbacks Arch Manning (16) and Quinn Ewers talk during the team’s first spring practice of 2023 at the Frank Denius Fields. 2023-03-06-manning-ewers
Spring Football in full swing for Texas Big 12 programs
As the weather warms and winter turns to spring, fans across Big 12 country can be comforted by the thought that a new football season is just around the corner. Schools across the conference have begun spring football, and the teams we will see this season are taking shape.
Let’s look at some position battles and storylines to see their implications for the Texas-based schools that will compete in the revamped Big 12.
In year two of the Steve Sarkisian era the Longhorns took a major step forward from the 5-7 debacle in 2021. Texas improved to 8-5 in 2022, and all the losses came in one score games. They could be on the verge of returning to the ranks of the college football elite.
The Horns have added talent with back-to-back top five recruiting classes, this talent infusion includes two five star quarterbacks in last years’ starter Quinn Ewers and incoming freshman Arch Manning. These two will battle for the starting job under center with head coach Sarkisian stressing that no spot on the roster is guaranteed.
One of the biggest reasons for Texas’ resurgence this past season was the dramatic improvement on defense. With another year under coordinator Pete Kwiatkowski and his staff, this unit should be one of the best in the Big 12 in 2023. The addition of safety Jalen Catalon, a transfer from Arkansas, should bolster the Longhorns’ secondary.
Texas appears to be on the brink of taking another major step forward this year, but only time and the big games will tell.
Though most Longhorn fans have been counting down the days for number one overall recruit Arch Manning to arrive in Austin, the talented freshman is unlikely to emerge from spring practice as the starter.
Texas recently released a depth chart that shows Manning as the third quarterback behind returning starter Quinn Ewers and four-star redshirt freshman Maalik Murphy.
Manning enrolled early at Texas so that he could participate in spring practice, and even if he does not overtake Murphy or Ewers, he will still be ahead of the game for the Longhorns next fall. He is getting valuable reps in practice, learning the offense, and participating in strength and conditioning that will pay dividends down the road.
Ewers, last year’s starter, was always the most likely winner of any battle at the position because he is simply starting ahead of everyone else. He already knows the offense and has experience with Sarkisian and the other coaches and players in Austin, and this will give him an edge. Also, let’s not forget, Ewers is a very talented five-star recruit in his own right, and he will be very difficult to unseat.
Murphy might be the wild card in the equation, having already used his redshirt year in Austin, the 6-foot-5, 235-pound pocket passer has missed the first few days of spring with an injury. As Murphy returns to action, he might have the most realistic shot of pushing Ewers even if he can’t unseat him from the starting role.
The Bears are looking to rebound after a disappointing 6-7 season. After winning the conference in 2021, Baylor struggled through a 1-3 November and several subpar defensive performances. The faithful in Waco hope that new defensive coordinator Matt Powledge will help solve the problems on that side of the ball and help the Bears regain their place atop the conference.
Offensively breakout running back Richard Reese returns after setting the freshman rushing record last year. Reese should power a ground game that will allow quarterback Black Shapen to improve on his performances over the last four games. Sawyer Robertson has transferred in and will compete with Shapen in the spring.
The biggest addition in Waco in impact as well as mass could be Campbell and Clark Barrington; the brothers are BYU transfers from the state of Washington. These offensive linemen will look to provide improved pass protection and open bigger holes for the Baylor ground game. The offensive line should be the biggest area of focus in spring football as these new pieces fit together and try to make a stronger unit.
This will be a big season for the Bears. If they can’t improve on last year’s performance, the recent successes will look like a flash in the pan.
In his first year at the helm, Joey McGuire beat both Texas and Oklahoma, something that had never been done in the same season before. The Red Raiders have momentum after completing an 8-5 season and landing a top-25 recruiting class.
The Tech offense will return all but one starter, and after rotating passers, they may have found their quarterback in Tyler Shough, who was a perfect 5-0 as a starter last year and roasted Ole Miss for 353 yards in the Texas Bowl.
Defensively the Red Raiders added transfer edge rusher Steve Linton from Syracuse. Defense has not been a strength in Lubbock for years, but coordinator Tim DeRuyter and his staff could change that in year two as players gain more comfort and knowledge in his scheme.
Sonny Dykes had a season that coaches dream of in 2022. He took a team that was 5-7 the year before and guided them to an undefeated regular season and a College Football Playoff berth. TCU overcame a loss to Kansas State in the Big 12 Championship to advance to the national championship game before falling to juggernaut Georgia.
But now, reality is setting in, and Dykes and his staff are facing a huge overhaul. Quarterback Max Duggan must be replaced along with leading rusher Kendre Miller and receiver Quentin Johnston. If that wasn’t enough, defensive leaders Dylan Horton, Dee Winters, and Tre’Vius Hodges-Tomlinson are also gone.
Chandler Morris is the most likely replacement for Max Duggan. Morris was named the starter last year, and only his injury allowed Duggan to step into the role. Chance Nolan has transferred in from Oregon State and should be the strongest competition for the starting job this spring.
Dykes and his staff did sign a strong recruiting class, and the Horned Frogs have become a destination for transfers, so talent should be there, but in a what have you done for me lately business, the results will show in the fall.
Over the past several seasons, the Cougars have built a solid program, but with their arrival in the Big 12 this season, they will be tested like never before.
As they enter the new conference, Houston must also replace veteran quarterback Clayton Tune and receiver Nathaniel Dell. The water should get deeper for the Cougs, but head coach Dana Holgorson made his name as an offensive savant in the Mike Leach coaching tree, and he should be able to find a way to produce points.
The arrival of Texas Tech transfer Donovan Smith should help Holgorson reload on offense. In three seasons at Tech, Smith passed for 2,686 yards and 19 touchdowns. His experience should give him a big advantage in the quarterback competition.
Houston has proven that they are capable of defeating anyone in the nation on a given day, but the question is how will they fare week in and week out against the competition in the Big 12.