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Big 12 roundtable: Top storylines of spring practice?

As Iowa State, TCU and Texas Tech prepare to open spring practice next week, we’re discussing spring storylines at the Big 12 roundtable.

What’s the most important storyline for one team or a group of teams in the Big 12 this spring?

Mitch Sherman: I’ll stick with Texas. Football in the state of Texas needs the Longhorns to improve. The Big 12 needs Texas to get better. I’ll argue that college football at large is a better game when Texas competes, at minimum, for a conference title. New coach Tom Herman's quest in Austin began three months ago, but spring practice marks a key step in Texas' progression. Outside of the program, we might not get a clear vision in March and April of just how far the Longhorns must advance to turn seven-loss seasons into double-digit win totals. But in practices and meeting rooms, Herman and his staff will receive a solid indication of the work that remains. Just how close is Texas to a resurgence? Everyone will be on the lookout for clues this spring.

Max Olson: What stands out to me is this will be a fascinating spring for all four Texas schools in the Big 12. At Texas Tech, Kliff Kingsbury and his staff have to make a ton of progress in all areas. The talent injection of all those mid-year transfers should help. TCU will be trying to bounce back big from 6-7 and should take a big step forward this spring since the Frogs didn’t lose many seniors. Baylor will be going through a lot of install to kick off the Matt Rhule era, and I find their quarterback situation intriguing. And then there’s Texas and the challenge Herman faces of instilling a culture that gets all these elite recruits to perform like elite players. These teams went a combined 23-27 last season. They’ve got a ton of work to do.

Jake Trotter: Can Oklahoma find offensive weapons for Baker Mayfield? The Sooners lost a ton of production from last season's record-setting offense. With Samaje Perine, Joe Mixon and Dede Westbrook gone, Oklahoma must begin to unearth reliable sidekicks for Mayfield. The Sooners have plenty of potential options, notably Trey Sermon and Marquise Brown, both enrolled early for spring ball. But they will need some of those options to begin to show this spring that they can be counted on to help Mayfield keep Oklahoma's offensive machine rolling.

What’s the most important storyline for the league in general?

Sherman: It’s no different than the top storyline during the rest of the year. Like it or not, this sport revolves around the College Football Playoff, and the Big 12 has watched from the sideline two of the first three years in this new era. How can the spring aid the league’s cause to get a team back in the hunt? First, know that the the Big 12 is still on the outside, looking in, with its highest-ranked team in the Way Too Early Top 25, Oklahoma, at No. 8, and Oklahoma State at No 10. The rest is up to the coaches and players. They’re largely done adding to their rosters for 2017. Spring ball is critical for the integration of newcomers like Justin Broiles and Sermon at Oklahoma, who have the ability to make an immediate impact for a playoff contender.

Olson: Look, the biggest thing the Big 12 needs these days is as many top-25 caliber teams as possible. So to me, the critical development this spring is the establishment of a strong second tier of contenders behind Oklahoma and Oklahoma State. I don’t know if there’s a consensus No. 3 team in the Big 12 at the moment for 2017, at least in terms of perception. Maybe it’s Kansas State. What I’m interested to see is the progress K-State, TCU, West Virginia, Texas and Baylor make over the next two months and how bullish their coaches are on their chances by the end of spring ball. How many top 25 teams does the league have this year? Could be three, could be five or six. What’s clear is the Big 12’s path to getting back into the College Football Playoff starts with producing a champion whose schedule is full of top-25 battles.

Trotter: I'm with Max. Can K-State, TCU, West Virginia and Texas all solidify themselves as top 25 teams to enhance the perception of the Big 12 alongside the Oklahoma schools, which are likely to open in the top 10 of the preseason polls? If the middle of the Big 12 can win some of those big games in the nonconference (K-State over Vandy? TCU over Arkansas? West Virginia over Virginia Tech? Texas over Maryland and/or USC?) that it collectively didn't last season, that will go a long way to incrementally improving the national perception of the league.