Big 12: Andrew Gachkar

Missouri spring wrap

May, 6, 2011
5/06/11
8:30
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MISSOURI

2010 overall record: 10-3

2010 conference record: 6-2

Returning starters: Offense (9), Defense (6) P/K (2)

Top returners: DE Brad Madison, WR T.J. Moe, TE Michael Egnew, RB De’Vion Moore, LB Zaviar Gooden, S Kenji Jackson, LB Will Ebner

Key losses: QB Blaine Gabbert, DE Aldon Smith, LB Andrew Gachkar, CB Kevin Rutland, CB Carl Gettis, C Tim Barnes

2010 statistical leaders (*returners)

Rushing: De’Vion Moore* (517 yards)

Passing: Blaine Gabbert (3,186 yards)

Receiving: T.J. Moe (1,045 yards)

Tackles: Andrew Gachkar, Zaviar Gooden* (84)

Sacks: Brad Madison* (7.5)

Interceptions: Kevin Rutland (3)

Three spring answers

1. Primary concern? Not the secondary. Missouri lost both starting corners, Carl Gettis and Kevin Rutland, from last year’s team, but the secondary could be even better in 2011. Kip Edwards played extensively last year and the coaching staff considers him a returning starter. E.J. Gaines, just a sophomore, could be in for a solid year, too. Don’t expect a big dropoff from the Tigers’ secondary.

2. The next Aldon Smith? Missouri already has a solid duo at defensive end with Jacquies Smith and Brad Madison, but the Tigers found another this spring. Kony Ealy, a 6-foot-5, 250-pound redshirt freshman, was unblockable for stretches during the spring and should find a spot in the rotation of a loaded Missouri defensive line next fall.

3. Tigers find a center. Three-year starting center Tim Barnes is gone, and the search for his replacement was on this spring. Missouri’s reserve centers struggled with snaps at times, but Travis Ruth won the job over Justin Britt after the spring. I wouldn’t expect that to change in the fall.

Three fall questions

1. Is the new QB ready? James Franklin will enter fall as the starter, but Tyler Gabbert is right there with him. The Tigers didn’t settle much this spring, but most agree that this is the best team surrounding the quarterback maybe ever under Gary Pinkel. Once the Tigers figure out who’s starting, can he keep up with what should be a solid team?

2. Paging Sheldon Richardson. The defensive tackle is one of the most highly recruited prospects in Missouri history, and has already signed with the Tigers twice, snubbing USC the second time. He was scheduled to arrive this spring, but he hasn’t officially qualified yet. He’s expected to arrive in June, but if we’ve learned one thing throughout this saga, it’s nothing is a given. If he does eventually arrive, will he be the impact player that his athletic, 6-foot-4, 295-pound frame suggests he could be?

3. Can the offense stretch the field? Missouri’s two top receivers, T.J. Moe and Michael Egnew, are possession receivers that don’t often beat defenses deep. Defenders keyed in on them late in the season, and their production waned a bit. Can Missouri find a player like Danario Alexander or Jeremy Maclin this year to stretch the field and open up more space for Egnew, Moe and the running game?

Wrapping up the Big 12's draft

May, 2, 2011
5/02/11
9:00
AM ET
The NFL draft has come and gone, and I hope you're all prepared for no more NFL anything for awhile. I know I'm not.

Anyway, here's how the Big 12 shook out over the weekend, with a few thoughts to follow.

First round (8)

Second round (2)
Third round (2)
Fourth round (6)
Fifth round (3)
Sixth round (1)
Seventh round (8)

Here's how the Big 12 teams ranked in terms of total draftees:

1. Nebraska - 7
2. Baylor - 4
2. Colorado - 4
2. Oklahoma - 4
2. Texas - 4
6. Missouri - 3
7. Kansas State -1
7. Oklahoma State - 1
7. Texas A&M - 1
7. Texas Tech - 1
11. Iowa State - 0
11. Kansas - 0

And the major conferences (counting where players actually played):

SEC - 38
Pac-12 - 33
Big 12 - 30
Big Ten - 29
ACC - 35
Big East - 22

  • Texas A&M had just one player drafted, but the Aggies will have plenty next year, including a handful of possible first-rounders. Cyrus Gray, Ryan Tannehill and Jeff Fuller could all go very early in 2012, depending on what happens between now and then.
  • [+] EnlargeJeremy Beal
    Matthew Emmons/US PresswireOklahoma defensive end Jeremy Beal was drafted in the seventh round by Denver.

  • Interesting that Miller went 245 selections before the Big 12's Defensive Player of the Year, according to the media, Jeremy Beal. Also an interesting coincidence? The same team drafted both. I do think Beal will have a productive NFL career, and there's no denying what he did at Oklahoma, but the measurables were never quite there for Beal. What's not measurable? How difficult he is to block. That said, Miller was my vote for the Big 12's Defensive Player of the Year.
  • Good to see some hard-working, perhaps under-respected guys get drafted. This was an important year for that, considering those left over won't be able to get into NFL minicamps until the lockout ends and won't be able to do anything to further their NFL careers besides work out on their own. I'll have a post later today on some of those snubs. There's no guarantee that late-drafted guys like Baron Batch, Scotty McKnight, Jay Finley or Eric Hagg will catch on in the the pros, but I'd be willing to guarantee they'll do everything in their power to maximize what opportunities they get.
  • One of the most interesting selections? Mikail Baker. He wasn't invited to the combine, and played just one full season on defense at Baylor after working as a kick returner and a cornerback in 2009 before a season-ending knee injury. You don't see that kind of impressive athleticism at Baylor traditionally.
  • Let the debate continue: Kendall Hunter vs. DeMarco Murray. Murray getting drafted 40-some spots earlier only intensified that discussion, if you ask me.
  • Also, what's more impressive from Art Briles? That Baylor had four picks, the most in school history since 1996? Or that despite those four picks, Baylor's returning an even better team than last season, when it ended a 16-year bowl drought?
  • Colorado's draft, meanwhile? Not exactly a ringing endorsement for Dan Hawkins' coaching job in Boulder.
  • Alex Henery didn't win the Lou Groza Award, but his fourth-round selection makes him the earliest kicker draft pick since 2006. Will that end the state of Nebraska's blood feud against respectable OSU kicker Dan Bailey, who did win the Lou Groza Award? I doubt it. (Save your emails. For the 100th time, I agree, Nebraska fans. Henery > Bailey.)
  • A few guys who went way lower than I thought they would. In order of my surprise level: Beal, Gabbert, Amukamara, Hagg, Hunter.
  • A few guys who went way higher than I thought, in the same order: Aldon Smith, Batch, Gachkar, Baker.

Sizing up the Big 12's returning tacklers

April, 26, 2011
4/26/11
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You can size up Big 12 defenses any way you want, but here's how the Big 12 ranks in terms of experienced tacklers coming back in 2011.

1. Kansas State: The Wildcats bring back all five of their top tacklers, led by senior cornerback David Garrett, who made 92 tackles last year. Cornerback Terrance Sweeney is the only loss for the defense, which struggled last year, but will return eight of its top nine tacklers.

2. Texas: Five of the Longhorns six top tacklers return, led by a pair of linebackers among the best in the Big 12. Keenan Robinson and Emmanuel Acho combined for 187 tackles last year and should be the leaders of a Longhorns defense that lost defensive lineman Sam Acho, who turned in an All-American-caliber season as a senior in 2010. Blake Gideon, Kenny Vaccaro and Christian Scott give the Longhorns good experience at safety, too.

3. Iowa State: Linebacker Jake Knott is the Big 12's leading returning tackler after making 131 stops a year ago. The Cyclones return four of their top five tacklers, including junior linebacker A.J. Klein, who made 111 tackles of his own. Middle linebacker Matt Tau'fo'ou missed the second half of the season with a broken leg, but he'll be back on the field this year. Safety David Sims will be tough to replace.

4. Texas A&M: The Aggies return eight of 11 starters on defense, but two of the three losses (linebackers Michael Hodges and Von Miller) were among the top four tacklers. The other two starting linebackers, Garrick Willams and Sean Porter, will be counted on as more experienced backers this year.

5. Missouri: The Tigers lose two of their top three tacklers, but speedy linebacker Zaviar Gooden, who tied Andrew Gachkar for the team lead with 84 tackles, is back for a Missouri defense that should be one of the Big 12's best next year. Experienced safety Kenji Jackson, a senior who will enter his fourth year on the field as a major contributor, should be one of the team's leaders next year.

6. Oklahoma State: The Cowboys lose two of their three top tacklers, but bring back a pair of solid safeties in Markelle Martin and Johnny Thomas. Leading tackler Orie Lemon made 133 stops last year, and replacing his leadership might be harder than replacing his production on the field. Sophomore Shaun Lewis is the Big 12's reigning co-Defensive Freshman of the Year and looks poised for a huge encore at the Cowboys' "star" linebacker spot.

7. Oklahoma: Three of Oklahoma's top five tacklers, including both starting safeties, are gone. It could have been worse, but linebacker Travis Lewis decided to stick around for his senior season and chase a national title. All-Big 12 corner Jamell Fleming was fourth on the team in tackles, and currently isn't enrolled. Coach Bob Stoops has been cryptic about Fleming's status in the future, and it's hard to tell if he'll be back or not after a reported academic misconduct incident.

8. Texas Tech: Injuries forced that Red Raiders to play a lot of young talent too early last year, but three of their top six tacklers won't be back in 2011. Linebackers Bront Bird (106 tackles) and Brian Duncan are the most notable absences, along with defensive tackle Colby Whitlock. Sam Fehoko and Blake Dees should anchor the middle of the defense this year, and the secondary has lots of quality young talent returning. Cody Davis, Tre Porter, D.J. Johnson and Jarvis Phillips are all back.

9. Kansas: Steven Johnson, the team's leading tackler last season, returns after making 95 stops last year, but Kansas loses all four of its next top tacklers. That includes linebacker Justin Springer, but my guess? Huldon Tharp, who missed all of last season with a foot injury, will lead the Jayhawks in stops this year.

10. Baylor: The Bears take the biggest hit in the Big 12 when it comes to returning tacklers. The team's top five in stops last season were all seniors. Six of the top seven are gone, and senior linebacker Elliot Coffey is the leading returner. He made 61 tackles last year, and missed three games with a sprained ankle.

Mailbag: Defending my top 25 players

March, 22, 2011
3/22/11
3:00
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I asked. You delivered. Here's where you thought I got it wrong with my top 25 players of the 2010 season. I'm on the road again today, so no chat, but here's your chance to be heard on the blog.

Before we get to the questions, here's a disclaimer: First, you can take a look at the criteria I used to make the list.

Secondly, making any list like this is extremely difficult. I feel 100 percent confident in my ranking of the players in order of their positions, but when it comes to importance relative to another position? Well, that's certainly up for debate. It's tough to say with any certainty that X safety is more valuable than Y offensive lineman, but I felt pretty good about the list. In hindsight, I'd maybe make a few revisions, but the only big change I would have made is maybe bumping DeMarco Murray up a few spots. His rushing and receiving totals aren't eye-popping on their own, but combined, I think I underestimated how his total yardage from scrimmage stacked up against the rest of the league's backs. I'd probably put him somewhere around 14 or 15.

Finally, here's my list of players who deserved honorable mention.

So, here we go:

Will in College Station asks: How is Ryan Tannehill not on the list? If Robert Griffin can make it on a 7-6 Baylor squad, how is Tannehill, who went 6-1 as a starter, not near, or ahead of Griffin, on this list? Tannehill was also a solid receiver for the Aggies at the start of the season. If you're talking total utility players, Tannehill has to be up there.

Mark in College Station asks: You crazy, son. What was A&M's record before Tannehill? What was their record after?... and his stats weren't half bad either.Point made. No one from Tech should have made this list -- Tannehill should at LEAST be number 25.

David Ubben: These are all oversimplifications. For one, Griffin is markedly more important to his team than Tannehill. Teams have seen him play. They game plan for him, and he beats them. The big fish got by Baylor last year, but they won a lot of games they should have won last year. That's new for Baylor. Both in a) winning games they're supposed to win and b) having so many games they're supposed to win.

The record is a ridiculous measure of Tannehill's play. He was a big part of A&M's rise. There's no disputing that. But there were a ton of other factors, too. Cyrus Gray was perhaps the biggest, along with the offensive line maturing with two freshman starters on the front line. Additionally, a defense that played pretty well early in the season played inspired against Oklahoma and Nebraska, giving the Aggies their two biggest games of the year. He played OK in all three games, and was a big reason why, but the Aggies didn't beat the Sooners, Huskers and Longhorns only because of Tannehill.

Citing his record doesn't work as the sole reason to put him on the list. There's too many other factors. And look at his numbers over that seven game stretch. He's not even close to Griffin, Weeden or Jones. They're close to Gabbert, but I made it clear in his post that the numbers don't tell the whole story with him.

I'm not wholly discounting what Tannehill did. I still think he's the fourth best quarterback coming back for the 2011 season, but in 2010, he wasn't on the level of the four quarterbacks on the list. And that's without even mentioning that he only played seven games.

Von Miller in Right Behind You asked: Why wasn't I #1? I will sack you.

DU: Let me step up into the pocket on this one.

It breaks down to this: Miller had a great year, one of the best in the nation. Blackmon had a historic year, one of the best of any player to ever play the game. As well as Miller played in conference play, Blackmon did that -- and maybe more -- for the entire season. Giving him the No. 1 spot over Miller wasn't a difficult decision. His production throughout the year was staggering, and as shown in the Kansas State game, it paced the Cowboys offense. Early in the year, their offense devolved into a "drop back and chuck it" at times. Guess why they felt comfortable doing that?

Aaron in Edwardsville, Ill., asked: I think you got Landry Jones and Brandon Weeden's rankings wrong, they should have been flip flopped. You aren't the only one who doesn't see this though, as every major publication had Weeden over Jones which makes zero sense. Jones had more yards, more touchdowns, less interceptions, played a much tougher schedule, beat Weeden's team on his homefield and won a BCS bowl game. There is no way Weeden should be above Jones in any ranking. That is all, rest of the list looks solid.

DU: Nope. It's close, but you can't simplify it to numbers for Jones. He threw the ball 106 more times than Weeden, but a lot of those were swing passes to Ryan Broyles and DeMarco Murray, which definitely inflated his yardage total without requiring a massive amount of skill. Considering that, their interception numbers (13 for Weeden, 12 for Jones) are pretty much a wash. But like I wrote before, Jones is much, much more apt for the big mistakes (INTs against Missouri in the red zone and fourth quarter, pick sixes against Oklahoma State and Connecticut) and for that reason, I give Weeden a slight edge.

Dalton Gibson in Norman, Okla., asked: I didn't see my name anywhere on the list. What gives? I thought I cheered pretty hard this year.

DU: Maybe next year, Dalton. Maybe next year. Keep the dream alive.

Jason in Dallas asked: Are you kidding me? Where is Cyrus Gray? He was the best running back in the Big 12 in the second half of the season!

DU: If he wasn't the best, he was close. You could make that argument for sure. But how do you explain his numbers early in the year? The win over Florida International aside, he averaged less than four yards a carry while getting double-digit touches against Stephen F. Austin and Louisiana Tech. But what about when the Aggies hit their three-game winning streak?

Gray accounted for a whopping 7 yards on 11 carries without a touchdown.

Here's the bottom line: There's no question that Gray was one of the league's best the second half of the year, but there's a reason he wasn't getting the touches early in the season: Christine Michael was better. Over that first six-game stretch, Michael had 558 yards to Gray's 195. When Michael went down with the broken leg, and Gray's workload increased significantly, he exceeded everyone's expectations.

However, you can't ignore half the season. That's entirely unfair to everyone else in the league. He still finished just seventh in the Big 12 in rushing yards. The whole first half of the year, he wasn't a big factor. Accounting for the full picture of the season, that's about right. He was close to being in my top 25 again, but re-read my criteria.

"If I'm drafting players from the Big 12 to replay the 2010 season and I'm guaranteed that each player duplicates his 2010 performance, this is the order I would take them."

To just gloss over those first six games isn't fair. That said, Gray reached another level late in the year, and Aggies have a lot of reasons to get excited with him and Michael back on the field next year.

Andrew in St. Louis asked: On your Big 12 top 25 players list, you didn't even include linebacker Andrew Gachkar of Missouri on your honorable mention list. He finished the year with 84 tackles, 8.5 TFL, a sack, a couple picks, 2 forced fumbles, and 5 pass breakups. He was a senior leader and arguably the most important force on the conference's top defense. I think he makes a strong case for the top 25 over linebacker Travis Lewis.

DU: Yeah, that was my mistake. I think he was a bit of an oversight on my part. That's partially because he a) came out of nowhere and b) played so well late in the year. I started with a big list of guys, but Gachkar wasn't on it to start. He should have been, and he'd probably have been pretty close to cracking the top 25. He wouldn't have been on it, but he wouldn't have been far off.

Rob in Stillwater, Okla., asked: So... Why wasn't Justin Blackmon higher on your list? I feel like he exceed expectations and performed far better than anyone on the list. You could have at least left #2 empty in his honor.

DU: In my defense, I did exactly that on my list of the Big 12's most improved players in 2010.

Derek in St. Louis, Mo., asked: Where was Aldon Smith? The guy is gonna be a first-round pick, but he's not one of the top 25 players in the Big 12? Come on, Ubbs!

DU: It was in my criteria: Each player's draft stock wasn't considered at all. Smith's talent is through the roof, but his production wasn't there this year. The broken leg he suffered against San Diego State was a big part of that, and when he returned, he wasn't quite the same, but look at his numbers:
  • 4.5 sacks -- third on his own team, down from 11 as a freshman. Those also ranked 18th in the Big 12. (Note: I ranked him No. 18 on the preseason list)
  • 48 tackles
  • 10 tackles for loss (11th in the Big 12)
  • one forced fumble

I think Smith will have a good pro career, or he probably would have come back to the Big 12 and had a great junior year in 2011. But last year, perhaps through little to no fault of his own, the production didn't warrant inclusion on the list.

Brennan Huff asked: Dave, i'm a little concerned about your rankings of running backs, or rather, the lack thereof. Seems to me like you just dont give much love to the running backs across the conference on what has become a fairly consistent basis.

DU: I'd disagree with that. On my preseason list, I had five running backs, the most of any position. This year, there weren't very many guys in the league that defenses had to truly fear. Guys like Rodney Stewart, Roy Helu Jr. Cyrus Gray, Jay Finley and Rex Burkhead weren't far off the list, but they weren't quite good enough to deserve inclusion.

The Big 12 North versus Big 12 South

December, 20, 2010
12/20/10
4:10
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Like it or not, the Big 12 will be without divisions after 2010, no matter how many legends or leaders made their mark in the league's short history as a two-part conference.

Over that history, the South has been dominant with a pair of national powers, Texas and Oklahoma who were consistently racking up big win totals over the last decade while the North has, more often than not, sent a significantly less impressive team to the title game. That's measurable in plenty of ways, but I'll settle for the 11-4 advantage in the championship game and a 13-4 advantage in BCS bowl game appearances.

But what about this year? The South is clearly the deeper division when you talk total teams, but then I got this e-mail, which got me wondering:

John in Omaha, Neb., wrote: Bored at work, thought I'd give you a blog topic idea. If you had to pick two all star teams, one made entirely of B12 north players at each position and then a B12 south all star team at each position and then had them play a game. Who would win and who would be the players. Off the top of my head I'd say the south would but I bet it's pretty close once you break it down player by player.

My interest was piqued. We know what the All-Big 12 team looks like, but what if you broke it down by division? For reference, my All-Big 12 team had 11 players from the North and 15 from the South.

Here are my picks, when broken down by division:

Big 12 South

OFFENSE
QB: Brandon Weeden, Oklahoma State
RB: Kendall Hunter, Oklahoma State; DeMarco Murray, Oklahoma
WR: Justin Blackmon, Oklahoma State; Ryan Broyles, Oklahoma
TE/FB: Bryant Ward, Oklahoma State
OL: Levy Adcock, Oklahoma State; Danny Watkins, Baylor; Eric Mensik, Oklahoma; Matt Allen, Texas A&M, Lonnie Edwards, Texas Tech

DEFENSE
DL: Jeremy Beal, Oklahoma; Lucas Patterson, Texas A&M; Colby Whitlock, Texas Tech; Sam Acho, Texas
LB: Von Miller, Texas A&M; Orie Lemon, Oklahoma State; Travis Lewis, Oklahoma
CB: Andrew McGee, Oklahoma State; Jamell Fleming, Oklahoma
S: Quinton Carter, Oklahoma; Byron Landor, Baylor

SPECIALISTS:
K: Dan Bailey, Oklahoma State
P: Quinn Sharp, Oklahoma State
KR: Coryell Judie, Texas A&M
PR: Ryan Broyles, Oklahoma

Big 12 North

OFFENSE
QB: Blaine Gabbert, Missouri
RB: Rodney Stewart, Colorado, Daniel Thomas, Kansas State
WR: T.J. Moe, Missouri; Scotty McKnight, Colorado
TE/FB: Michael Egnew, Missouri
OL: Nate Solder, Colorado; Ricky Henry, Nebraska; Tim Barnes, Missouri; Zach Kendall, Kansas State, Ben Lamaak, Iowa State

DEFENSE
DL: Jared Crick, Nebraska; Aldon Smith, Missouri; Brad Madison, Missouri; Pierre Allen, Nebraska
LB: Lavonte David, Nebraska; Andrew Gachkar, Missouri; Jake Knott, Iowa State
CB: Prince Amukamara, Nebraska; Alfonzo Dennard, Nebraska
S: Eric Hagg, Nebraska; Ty Zimmerman, Kansas State

SPECIALISTS:
K: Alex Henery, Nebraska
P: Alex Henery, Nebraska
KR: William Powell, Kansas State
PR: Niles Paul, Nebraska

So, there are my teams. I'll offer some further observations, plus my pick in a post Tuesday. But for now ... who you got?

Lunch links: Top coordinator talks future

December, 16, 2010
12/16/10
12:00
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Don't skimp on linens. Don't compliment a teacher on her figure. And when it comes to my mom, never ask questions I don't want the answers to.

Missouri Tigers season recap

December, 7, 2010
12/07/10
10:00
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Missouri's season featured the biggest win of the Gary Pinkel Era, and even though the Tigers couldn't capitalize on it for a historic season, there's nothing wrong with a 10-2 record.

Fresh off a program-altering win over then-No. 1 Oklahoma that featured a record crowd of 18,000 for College GameDay earlier in the day, the idea of a run to the national championship wasn't entirely far-fetched.

That was, until the first snap against Nebraska's offense the next week. Roy Helu Jr. keyed off a 300-yard rushing day with a 66-yard run and the Tigers found themselves down 24-0 after a quarter in an eventual 31-17 loss. A second loss the next week at Texas Tech removed the prospect of a third Big 12 North title in four years and eliminated the prospect of a truly special season, though a three-game winning streak to close the season salvaged a solid one with a third 10-win season in three years.

Unfortunately for the Tigers, what looked like the worst nonconference schedule in the conference to begin the season actually ended up being pretty good. Miami (Ohio) went from a 1-11 team to MAC champions. Illinois, picked to finish near the bottom of the Big Ten, went 4-4 in conference play and made a bowl. San Diego State also made a bowl at 8-4 and nearly knocked off TCU in Fort Worth earlier this year.

Offensive MVP: T.J. Moe, WR. Whispers of Moe's enhanced role in the offense leaked out of preseason camp, but few could have predicted just how integral he really was to the Tigers. Missouri's most consistent offensive target, Moe hauled in 77 catches for 893 yards and six touchdowns. Only Justin Blackmon, Ryan Broyles and Jeff Fuller had more receiving yards in the Big 12 this year.

Defensive MVP: Andrew Gachkar, LB. There's an argument to be made for cornerbacks Carl Gettis and Kevin Rutland, but the senior speedy linebacker was everywhere for the Tigers and came on strong late in the season with 36 of his 81 tackles in Missouri's final five games. Missouri got contributions from everyone, and really did play what you could call team defense.

Turning point: The win over Oklahoma. The first turning point announced, rather loudly, that the Tigers were for real and ready to contend for just about any title after torching Texas A&M in College Station the week before.

Turning point II: The loss to Texas Tech. The second turning point was a somewhat shocking loss that featured uncharacteristic inaccuracy by Blaine Gabbert, who couldn't bounce back from a rough outing against a great Nebraska secondary. The Tigers played well the following week against Kansas State to get back on track, but the loss in Lubbock ended up costing the Tigers a chance to play for a Big 12 Championship.

What's next: Probably more of the same. Missouri has trouble moving the ball against elite defenses who can match their speed. But the Tigers took a big step forward defensively this year, eliminating concerns in the secondary and turning the unit into a strength. We'll see if that continues with the personnel turnover in the secondary. Kip Edwards and Kenji Jackson look ready to take over with the departures of Gettis, Rutland and Jarrell Harrison. E.J. Gaines could move into a starting role opposite Edwards at corner next year. Aldon Smith's injury early in the season allowed the Tigers to discover talented young defensive ends Michael Sam and Brad Madison.

Thoughts on the media's All-Big 12 team

December, 2, 2010
12/02/10
4:30
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If you missed it, here are the award winners and All-Big 12 teams that were released today.

For comparison -- and I'll reference these briefly -- here's how the coaches voted for awards and All-Big 12 teams this week.
  • I expected on Tuesday for the media to vote differently from the coaches on the Defensive Player of the Year, and that's what we got. That's not necessarily good or bad, but definitely not surprising. Playmakers like Jeremy Beal, Von Miller and Orie Lemon get more attention and awards than cornerbacks like Prince Amukamara who relegate opposing receivers to irrelevance on a weekly basis, even if he leads the nation in pass breakups. That said, Beal's award is well-deserved, but it's also a good move on the coaches' part to award Amukamara.
  • Alex Henery had taken on a bit of a Susan Lucci persona from the media after consistently being one of the nation's top kickers, but never making All-Big 12 first team. That ended today, and it was well-deserved. The Big 12 has some great kickers, but if I'm building a team, I'm taking Henery. All-Big 12 isn't a career award, but the guy's made 66-of-74 career kicks, and missed just one this year -- a blocked kick from beyond 50 yards. Nebraska coach Bo Pelini called Henery not making the coaches' first team "crazy" this week. Barring a Big 12 title-game meltdown, he'll likely end his career as the most accurate kicker in college football history.
  • It's good to see underpublicized guys get recognition as well. Amukamara earns the awards and NFL scouts' love, but word out of Nebraska all season was that Eric Hagg was the defense's most valuable piece. The versatile defensive back plays the hybrid linebacker/defensive back spot in the Huskers' Peso scheme, and players like him aren't too common. He made plenty of plays from that spot, including one of the biggest of Nebraska's season, intercepting the pass on a two-point conversion in overtime against Iowa State that, if completed, would have cost the Huskers the North.
  • Like Hagg, Byron Landor at Baylor didn't get a lot of ink this year, but I'm glad to see his efforts weren't ignored. The first-year starter followed in former Baylor star Jordan Lake's footsteps as one of the league's hardest hitters, and was fourth in the league with 115 tackles.
  • I wasn't one of the 20 panelists for the awards, and I would have voted for Mike Gundy as coach of the year, but Sherman is definitely deserving. He made the toughest call of any coach this season, benching the school's leader in total offense, and it paid off bigtime. He also had to play through losing his best running back, Christine Michael, and Cyrus Gray (who earned a second-team nod) came through for him. The offense played well behind an offensive line with three freshmen, and his defense was one of the most improved units in the conference. Sherman started the season mildly on the hot seat, but a six-game winning streak to close the season after starting 3-3 (with three losses to good teams) and landing in the Cotton Bowl has put that on the backburner for quite awhile. This was a big year for the Aggies, who look like they've turned a corner under Sherman. Keeping defensive coordinator Tim DeRuyter must be a priority moving forward.
  • There were a lot more unanimous selections on the media's team: From OSU: WR Justin Blackmon, RB Kendall Hunter, OL Levy Adock, LB Orie Lemon; Nebraska: DT Jared Crick, LB Lavonte David. Others: Colorado OL Nate Solder, Texas A&M LB Von Miller and Texas DL Sam Acho.
  • I wrote extensively about Rodney Stewart not even earning honorable mention by the coaches. His spot on the media's second-team is well-deserved. I also mentioned Missouri linebacker Andrew Gachkar as a guy who perhaps deserved more than honorable mention, and I was surprised to see him on the first team, but he's one of the most underrated players across the league. On a stout Missouri defense mostly devoid of superstars, excluding Aldon Smith, Gachkar is the next-closest thing it has.
  • It's a little odd to see Oklahoma safety Quinton Carter earn All-America honors from the coaches, but not a first-team All-Big 12 nod from the media, but that's nothing new. Coaches and media have differing opinions. No breaking news there.

The media's All-Big 12 teams/awards

December, 2, 2010
12/02/10
12:43
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Here's how the media picked its All-Big 12 teams and awards:

Offensive Player of the Year: Justin Blackmon, WR, Oklahoma State

Defensive Player of the Year: Jeremy Beal, DE, Oklahoma

Offensive Newcomer of the Year: Taylor Martinez, QB, Nebraska

Defensive Newcomer of the Year: Lavonte David, LB, Nebraska

Coach of the Year: Mike Sherman, Texas A&M

FIRST TEAM

QB: Brandon Weeden, Oklahoma State

RB: Kendall Hunter, Oklahoma State; Daniel Thomas, Kansas State

WR: Justin Blackmon, Oklahoma State; Ryan Broyles, Oklahoma

TE: Michael Egnew, Missouri

OL: Tim Barnes, Missouri; Levy Adcock, Oklahoma State; Ricky Henry, Nebraska; Nate Solder, Colorado; Danny Watkins, Baylor

RT: DeMarco Murray, Oklahoma

K: Alex Henery, Nebraska

DEFENSE

DB: Prince Amukamara, Nebraska; Jamell Fleming, Oklahoma; Eric Hagg, Nebraska; Byron Landor, Baylor

LB: Lavonte David, Nebraska; Andrew Gachkar, Missouri; Orie Lemon, Oklahoma State; Von Miller, Texas A&M

DL: Sam Acho, Texas; Jeremy Beal, Oklahoma; Jared Crick, Nebraska; Colby Whitlock, Texas Tech

P: Quinn Sharp, Oklahoma State

SECOND TEAM

QB: Landry Jones, Oklahoma

RB: Cyrus Gray, Texas A&M; Rodney Stewart, Colorado

WR: Jeff Fuller, Texas A&M; Lyle Leong, Texas Tech

TE: Collin Franklin, Iowa State

OL: Wade Weibert, Kansas State; Dan Hoch, Missouri; Zach Kendall, Kansas State; Eric Mensik, Oklahoma; Mickey Okafor, Texas Tech

RT: Eric Stephens, Texas Tech

K: Dan Bailey, Oklahoma State

DEFENSE

DB: Quinton Carter, Oklahoma; Alfonzo Dennard, Nebraska; Andrew McGee, Oklahoma State; Aaron Williams, Texas

LB: Michael Hodges, Texas A&M; Jake Knott, Iowa State; Travis Lewis, Oklahoma; Keenan Robinson, Texas

DL: Josh Hartigan, Colorado; Brad Madison, Missouri; Lucas Patterson, Texas A&M; Phil Taylor, Baylor

P: Kirby Van der Kamp, Iowa State

I'll have some thoughts on both teams later today.

Five from Big 12 up for Rudy Awards

December, 1, 2010
12/01/10
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Five players from the Big 12 have been nominated for Rudy Awards, an award established by former Notre Dame player Daniel "Rudy" Ruettiger, the subject of the film "Rudy."

The awards is reserved for players who bring "something extra" to the team.

Says the awards committee, which began handing out the honors in 2007:

"Rudy wanted to find the most inspirational and motivational players in America who best defined what he refers to as "The Four C's": Character, Courage, Contribution & Commitment."

Here are the five nominees:

Andrew Gachkar, LB, Missouri: Gachkar needed surgery to repair a life-threatening blood clotting problem that required the removal of a rib. His other option was to quit football. He eventually lost 30 pounds during the recovery process, but returned to the field and earned All-Big 12 honorable mention this season.

Alex Henery, K, Nebraska

Michael Hodges, LB, Texas A&M: Hodges walked on to Texas A&M after transferring from Air Force, and caught coaches' eyes in the spring of 2009, but suffered a knee injury on the last day of spring practice. He played injured in 2009, and returned to be one of the defense's top talents in 2010.

Steven Johnson, LB, Kansas: The former walk-on has battled a handful of injuries, but stayed on the team and became one of the defense's leaders in 2010.

William Powell, RB/KR, Kansas State: Powell was a walk-on junior college player who also walked on at Kansas State after earning the starting job in junior college. His mother died during his junior year, but Powell dedicated his performance to her and became the top backup to star Daniel Thomas in 2010 and led the nation in kick returns.

See the full list of nominees and their stories here.

Weighing in on the All-Big 12 teams/awards

November, 30, 2010
11/30/10
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For reference, here are the awards and here are the All-Big 12 first and second teams. Voting took place before last week's Oklahoma-Oklahoma State game.

My thoughts:
  • Defensive Player of the Year is definitely an interesting choice, and one that inspires a lot of discussion. No, that's not a euphemism for "bad." Prince Amukamara doesn't have the numbers that show up on a stat sheet, but all he does is blanket every receiver he lines up across every week. Gotta love that. Nebraska sent out a stat -- last week or a bit earlier, I believe -- that he had been thrown at 40 times this year, and gave up 11 receptions. Five of those came via the Offensive Player of the Year Justin Blackmon. That's impressive. Guys like Von Miller, Orie Lemon, Lavonte David and others were racking up the tackles and fumbles and plays that get the fans going, but I don't have a problem with Amukamara winning the award. It all comes down to what you value. The Associated Press awards and All-Big 12 teams are scheduled for release on Thursday. My guess is the media won't vote the same way.
  • I sense that what happens late in conference play isn't as weighted as what happens early. The two victims in this case are Nebraska kicker Alex Henery and Colorado running back Rodney Stewart. Oklahoma State's Dan Bailey made his first 18 kicks (more than Henery attempted all year), but missed four kicks in three games before last week's Bedlam game. He was the runaway winner early in the season, but Henery's lack of attempts (15-of-16 on the year) isn't his fault. Additionally, as a member of the All-Big 12 second team as a punter, the combination should have given him enough oomph to best Bailey. I don't have a major gripe with the selection, but if it were up to me, Henery deserved Special Teams Player of the Year.
  • Stewart's absence is my biggest gripe, and the timing of his rise has a lot to do with it as well. Stewart ranks third in the Big 12 in rushing yards (1,310) and leads the league in carries with 290, and though he's a low-profile player in the league, he didn't get enough respect with his late charge. Nebraska limited him to 88 yards, but in the three games prior, he racked up a combined 493 yards and five touchdowns. I can deal with him being left off the first team, but it's unbelievable he was left off even honorable mention. Roy Helu Jr. has a gaudy 6.75 yards a carry, which landed him on the second team, but I've got no idea how Stewart didn't at least garner honorable mention.
  • DeMarco Murray's spot on the first team was a little surprising at first, considering he ranks sixth in the league in rushing, but the coaches rightfully took his receiving prowess under consideration. Murray leads all running backs with 64 receptions for 535 yards, which is a good season for any receiver, and Murray topped 1,000 yards rushing, too. The next-best running back when it came to catching passes was Oklahoma State freshman Joseph Randle, with 35 catches for 399 yards. Most of Murray and Randle's yards came on screen passes and swing passes, but those are extensions of running plays that aren't much different than pitches. Murray has accounted for 1,598 yards of offense with 19 touchdowns.
  • The only unanimous selections were Oklahoma State running back Kendall Hunter and receiver Justin Blackmon, as well as Oklahoma receiver Ryan Broyles.
  • Just how important is recruiting for Turner Gill? Look no further than the Jayhawks lack of a single player on the first or second teams, and just three players earned honorable mention. Worse, one of them was a kick returner and another was a punter. The other was defensive lineman Jake Laptad. Seriously, the importance of the next couple February signing days cannot be understated for Kansas.
  • I'm a little surprised at Landry Jones absence on the first or second teams, especially considering his performance in conference play, but I imagine it was pretty close between him and Robert Griffin III for the final spot. Jones probably deserved a spot, but there's no doubt that Griffin is infinitely more important to his team's success. My guess is the coaches took that under consideration. We'll see how the media votes later this week.
  • All in all, a pretty good set of teams. Snubs like Henery and Stewart are minor complaints, but it's not difficult to see the reasons why the guys above them were given the nod.
  • Here's a few guys I didn't mention who were All-Big 12 caliber, but would be tough to argue over players who did make the team: Byron Landor, S, Baylor; Jalil Brown, CB, Colorado; Ryan Miller, OL, Colorado; A.J. Klein, LB, Iowa State; DeJon Gomes, DB, Nebraska; Keith Williams, OL, Nebraska; Andrew Gachkar, LB, Missouri; Jamell Fleming, CB, Oklahoma; Keenan Robinson, LB, Texas; Cyrus Gray, RB, Texas A&M; Michael Hodges, LB, Texas A&M; Trent Hunter, DB, Texas A&M; Ryan Swope, WR, Texas A&M; Cody Davis, S, Texas Tech; Lyle Leong, WR, Texas Tech

Game's back on in Manhattan

September, 25, 2010
9/25/10
2:17
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Kansas State and UCF are finally back playing again after a delay of over an hour.

Meanwhile, Missouri's off to a nice start in avoiding last week's close call against this week's non-BCS opponent. The Tigers' Andrew Gachkar forced a fumble on the opening kick and cornerback Carl Gettis returned the ball for a touchdown to put the Tigers up 7-0 eight seconds into the game.

Missouri is also playing without three starters. Receiver Jerrell Jackson is out with a hip injury, defensive end Aldon Smith is shelved after breaking his fibula and safety Jasper Simmons is still out after suffering a torn meniscus against Illinois. Jackson was already playing with a broken bone in his wrist, catching balls with a cast.

Missing starters, stickers and ESPN beef

August, 10, 2010
8/10/10
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Enjoyed the time off, and I hope you guys enjoyed the quick camp previews that ran while I was gone. No, I'm absolutely not doing away with lunch links, those of you who e-mailed me. But there won't be any when I'm away from the blog.

Thanks for the e-mails. The wedding was fun, but I'm back and 100 percent ready to go for the season, which is more than a few players around the Big 12 can say. Here's a few things we missed on the blog over the long weekend:

This is any fan of football's least favorite thing about the sport, but it happens every year. Always unfortunate, but a few players' 2010 seasons are over before they've begun.
  • Kansas coach Turner Gill announced on Monday that linebacker Huldon Tharp will miss the entire season with a foot injury. He was ready to join Drew Dudley as the stars of what could have been one of the Jayhawks best units. Now, his encore to his 59-tackle freshman debut will have to wait 12 months.
  • Another linebacker, Missouri's Donovan Bonner, will miss the year with a torn ACL. Though his tweet in response was admirable, his injury could be a big deal for the Tigers. Bonner was likely the top backup to weakside linebacker Andrew Gachkar, but now his absence could give a player like juco transfer and former USC Trojan Josh Tatum a chance to shine. Freshman Michael Brennan is listed behind Bonner on the depth chart.
  • Another notable backup won't be on the field this season, but not because of injury. Texas backup QB Sherrod Harris has left the team to focus on his degree, leaving freshmen Case McCoy and Connor Wood to backup sophomore starter Garrett Gilbert. It's worth noting that Harris says he'll stick around to help the young arms along when he can. Good to see that.
Buffs adding receivers

No receiving corps in the conference has seen more turnover this offseason than Colorado. The Buffaloes lost Andre Simmons to ineligibility and Markques Simas left the school after a suspension.

Stepping in: Two new players via California schools in the Buffaloes soon-to-be new conference. Paul Richardson was kicked off the UCLA team in June, but he'll join USC transfer Travon Patterson as the two newest targets for Tyler Hansen or Cody Hawkins. Richardson, a 6-foot-2, 185-pound freshman should be a nice addition along with Patterson, a speedy 5-foot-9, 170-pound slot receiver.

Also at Colorado, I enjoyed coach Dan Hawkins somewhat-gimmicky approach to fall camp. He's taken away his team's Buffalo logos on their helmets, forcing them to earn the insignia instead.

"You got to earn your Buff," Hawkins told local reporters last week. "That's part of it. I respect the heck out of this tradition and our guys do too. I just want them to earn it."

Freshmen safeties on display

Ahmad Dixon was the prize of Art Briles' 2010 class as the nation's No. 3 safety. Early in camp, he's impressed, according to the Waco Tribune-Herald:
After moving to the indoor practice facility for the second half of practice, Dixon delivered some turf-shaking tackles on Baylor's receivers. Imagine how Dixon will hit when they get to full pads.
That has to be a good sign for Bears fans. I'd be surprised if Dixon's doesn't log at least a couple starts this season.

Meanwhile, a few hours up I-35, Oklahoma's Tony Jefferson may start early in his freshman season.

"If we started today we would play Tony Jefferson as our starting nickel back," defensive coordinator Brent Venables told The Oklahoman.

That position is somewhat of a hybrid linebacker/safety spot a la former Sooner Roy Williams. He'll have to beat out Joseph Ibiloye, who made 15 tackles as a freshman, in camp to win the job.

Tech's Sheffield has beef with ESPN

Chalk this one up as by far my favorite story of the weekend.

When Texas Tech quarterback Steven Sheffield showed up to campus, his nickname of "Sticks" was pretty accurate for a 6-foot-4, 160-pounder. But like he told me at media days last week, he's up over 200 now, and he'd like people to take notice. Namely, his player profile on ESPN, which still lists him at 175 pounds.

"It kind of fluctuates, but that's a big difference from what I was playing at last season at 185 – or 180, some people had me 175. I was probably 175 but I didn't want to tell anybody that.

"If y'all can, tell ESPN to change their little thing, it says 175," Sheffield told the Dallas Morning News.

Sheffield's broken the same foot twice, and there's been some concern that his lanky frame could cause him to be injury prone--especially since he's more apt to run than his competition, fellow senior Taylor Potts.

"I'm still fluctuating quite a bit," he told the paper. "If I don't stay on it, I'll drop back to the high 190s, mid 190s. I've got to keep eating and if you keep working out through the weight gaining process you transition pretty well. So I think it's going pretty good."

Fresh Faces: Missouri

July, 13, 2010
7/13/10
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Here are three Tigers with relatively low profiles throughout the Big 12 who you'll be hearing from this season.

Zaviar Gooden, LB

Gooden has earned a reputation as Missouri's most athletic player, with a 4.37 40-time, a 405-pound bench press and a 40-inch vertical jump at 6-foot-2 and 225 pounds. This season, he'll take that onto the field as a probable first-year starter at outside linebacker for the Tigers. As one of the most-used reserves from last season, Gooden notched 30 tackles -- including at least three in six of his final seven games -- and appeared in all 13 games. He'll play in the strongside spot to replace fellow linebacker Andrew Gachkar, who moved to the middle to fill the hole left by first-round pick Sean Weatherspoon. Gooden also wears the honorary No. 25 jersey, given to a Missouri linebacker as a tribute to former Tiger Aaron O'Neal, who died during a voluntary workout in the July 2005. He'll pass it on to another linebacker when his career ends.

T.J. Moe, WR

Moe was one of Missouri's sudden stars during the spring. The former quarterback caught just two passes all of last season while battling an injury, but he rebounded this spring, hauling in 12 passes for 85 yards. He also caught more passes through all five spring scrimmages than any receiver on the Tigers roster. The 6-foot, 190-pound sophomore came to Missouri as the state's Gatorade Player of the Year and should offer some additional depth at receiver behind Jerrell Jackson and Wes Kemp. Junior quarterback Blaine Gabbert has to be pleased with that development after losing the nation's leading receiver, Danario Alexander, from last year's team.

Terrell Resonno, DT

Resonno earned significant playing time in 2009 -- including a start in the season opener against Illinois -- but he'll likely be counted on as a starter in his junior season with 27 games of experience. A physical, 6-foot-5, 295-pounder, Resonno sticks out quickly on Missouri's front line, and should have a big impact on the Tigers run defense in 2010. He made 13 tackles as a sophomore, including 1.5 for loss. He also had a career high three tackles in a loss to Texas, later tying the career high with three more against Baylor.

More Fresh Faces:

Missouri spring wrap

May, 6, 2010
5/06/10
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2009 overall record: 8-5

2009 conference record: 4-4

Returning starters: Offense (9), Defense(9) P/K (1)

Top returners: QB Blaine Gabbert, RB Derrick Washington, WR Wes Kemp, LB Will Ebner, DE Aldon Smith, CB Carl Gettis, CB Kevin Rutland

Key losses: WR Danario Alexander, LB Sean Weatherspoon, DE Brian Coulter, DT Jaron Baston, OL Kurtis Gregory, P Jake Harry

2009 statistical leaders (*returners)

Rushing: Derrick Washington* (865 yards)

Passing: Blaine Gabbert (3,593 yards)

Receiving: Danario Alexander (1,781 yards)

Tackles: Sean Weatherspoon (111)

Sacks: Aldon Smith* (11.5)

Interceptions: Kevin Rutland* (2)

Three spring answers

1. Rutland speaks up. Without Missouri’s best—and loudest player—on defense, Sean Weatherspoon, Missouri needed to find a new voice opposite the offense. It’s not quite as loud, but senior cornerback Kevin Rutland emerged as the defensive leader in the spring. He’ll need to back it up with his play, but did what he could in 15 practices, picking off four passes in the Tigers’ five scrimmages.

2. Depth at receiver: Found. Experienced juniors Wes Kemp and Jerrell Jackson figured to be big factors in the passing game after Danario Alexander graduated. Not so much for sophomore T.J. Moe, who caught just two passes as a freshman, would be as big of a factor as he became in the spring. A quarterback in high school, Moe came to Missouri as the state’s Gatorade Player of the Year, and found a new position at receiver. He caught more passes during scrimmages this spring than any other Missouri receiver, including 12 in the spring game.

3. No problems backing the line. Missouri is replacing Weatherspoon, but isn’t short on talent at linebacker. It might be the team’s strongest and deepest position. Luke Lambert and Andrew Gachkar are experienced seniors, and Missouri has plenty of others who can play, including Will Ebner, Donovan Bonner and Zaviar Gooden.

Three fall questions

1. Will the secondary improve? Missouri’s pass defense was the second-worst in the conference a season ago. They’ll be fielding the same four players in the secondary, now all seniors. But will the experience mean improvement? It better, otherwise Missouri will have to score in the 30s to consistently win games.

2. How good can Blaine Gabbert and Aldon Smith be? Both have the potential to become one of, if not the best in college football at their positions. But as of now, it’s just that. Both were extremely productive in 2009, and Gabbert did most of it on a gimpy ankle. If both continue to get better like coach Gary Pinkel believes they will, a North title is certainly within reach. If not, the Tigers won’t stray far from eight wins.

3. Can the Tigers get over the hump? Oklahoma stood between Missouri’s first Big 12 title twice in the past two seasons. The Tigers were dominated by Texas in Columbia last season, and now Nebraska looks like the favorite to win the North. They’ll take on the Huskers in Lincoln this year, but for Missouri to win the Big 12, it’ll have to win more games it’s not supposed to win than it’s had to in awhile.

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