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July 24, 2007

Big 12 notes: A tale of two quarterbacks

SAN ANTONIO Nebraska and Oklahoma appear to be on two sides of the quarterback spectrum as both try to return to the Big 12 title game in 2007.

But on the first day of Big 12 Media Days, both teams' coaches insist no decisions or starting jobs are sure things before fall camp starts.

Nebraska will have the perhaps most heralded transfer in the country at the position, former Arizona State signal-caller Sam Keller. The Sooners are again scrambling to find a new quarterback in the wake of the departure of Rhett Bomar.

Keller passed for 2,165 yards and 20 touchdowns in only seven games with the Sun Devils in 2005, but Cornhuskers coach Bill Callahan says he will have to compete to earn the starting nod going into the opener against Nevada.

Junior Joe Ganz, the backup to record-setting quarterback Zac Taylor, is his chief competition in addition to three newcomers.

"We feel we're pretty well stocked at that position," Callahan said.

The Cornhuskers coach, though, has been at least as impressed with Keller's attitude as his play. Keller volunteered to run the scout team while he sat out last year per NCAA transfer rules.

Although he couldn't take snaps with the first- or second-string or watch the starters practice, he still attended quarterback meetings and dedicated himself to learning the playbook.

"He volunteered that (running the scout team) and he initiated that," Callahan said. "That speaks volumes of his selflessness. A lot of guys wouldn't do that. They'd say 'I have this one year left and I want to stand and watch practice.' "

Where Nebraska at least has experience in Keller and Ganz, Oklahoma returns only two pass attempts off last year's roster. Paul Thompson performed admirably in emergency duty after Bomar was dismissed from the team.

Now, the Sooners are back to square one at the position. Junior college transfer Joey Halzle is the only candidate with game experience after seeing limited duty last year. Rivals250 dual-threat quarterback Keith Nichol enrolled early to enter the competition with Halzle and redshirt freshman Sam Bradford.

Oklahoma coach Bob Stoops, though, isn't willing to say the quarterback position will hold the Sooners back. Under Stoops, Oklahoma has won four Big 12 championships with four different quarterbacks.

"Our offensive staff has been able to play to what we've been able to do and to our quarterbacks' strengths," Stoops said. "More than anything we've been adaptable to our personnel."

Three for one : For most teams, losing a player of the caliber of Adrian Peterson could be devastating. Not so for Oklahoma.

The Sooners lose a player who rushed for 4,045 yards and 41 touchdowns over of three seasons but will hope three players can do the work of one. Judging by the results of the last few years, Oklahoma will be just fine.

The Sooners were 8-0 over the last two seasons in games without Peterson, thanks largely to backup Allen Patrick, who ran for 761 yards.

But don't expect Patrick to put up Peterson-like numbers with Peterson gone. Chris Brown, who rushed for 343 yards last year, and redshirt freshman DeMarco Murray, who emerged as a big-play threat during spring practice, probably will split carries among the three of them.

"I don't feel any of those guys have the physical prowess that Adrian had," Stoops said. "The stamina and the strength that he had is very unusual. Adrian could play 60 snaps or more. These guys, I just don't feel their body types through hopefully 14 games will be able to. So in the end we look to use them, each of them, 20, 25 snaps in that kind of way."

Kansas on the edge : Kansas cornerback Aqib Talib didn't even have to stop to think about how many of the Jayhawks' losses could have gone the other way.

"We left exactly four wins on the field last year," Talib said.

Those four losses, each by seven points or less, dropped Kansas to 6-6 and out of the bowl picture. The Jayhawks lost to Toledo and Nebraska due to turnovers and then blew fourth-quarter leads against Baylor and Texas A&M.

After the season, Kansas coach Mark Mangino and his staff examined the fourth quarter of each game last year to find what went wrong. He found there was enough blame to go around.

"There's situations where we had some physical breakdowns by players, mental breakdowns, coaching decisions, and we put it all together," Mangino said. "We all share the blame for this thing; let's make it better. We went back and studied how we will handle situations as they arise again."

Baylor making progress : Wake Forest won the ACC last year, and Rutgers won 11 games, including a bowl.

Baylor isn't make the rapid progress as some other former conference bottom-feeders, but there are some encouraging signs in Waco.

The Bears won three Big 12 games for the first time in school history last season after winning two conference games the previous year.

The strides, however small, have helped change some of the culture surrounding Baylor.

"So many people have become accustomed to losing," Bears coach Guy Morriss said. "Ten coaches aren't going to change it alone. It's everybody."

Quote of the day : "I didn't have an established quarterback coming back for me last year and I still produced." Oklahoma wide receiver Malcolm Kelly (62 receptions, 993 yards, 10 touchdowns), erasing any doubt if the Sooners' quarterback situation will have any effect on his production.

David Fox is a national writer for Rivals.com. He can be reached at dfox@rivals.com.

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