Big 12: Henry Josey

ARLINGTON, Texas -- Missouri players sat and watched the Allstate Sugar Bowl with the bewildered feeling the rest of the nation was experiencing. Oklahoma was imposing its will on SEC power Alabama in the heart of SEC country, going from underdog to the talk of the nation on Thursday night.

“It was crazy, it came down to what team wanted it most,” Missouri receiver Dorial Green-Beckham said of the Sooners' 45-31 win. “You looked at Oklahoma and they wanted to win the game, they wanted to be Sugar Bowl champs, they went out and took what was theirs.”

Thus, Missouri players woke up on Friday morning with the knowledge that the weight of an entire conference was on their shoulders. Missouri needed to grab immediate revenge with a victory over Oklahoma State in the AT&T Cotton Bowl if it wanted to defend its conference’s reputation.

The SEC took a punch from the Big 12 in the Sugar Bowl, but the Tigers punched back Friday night with a 41-31 win over Big 12 foe Oklahoma State at AT&T Stadium.

[+] EnlargeHenry Josey, Blake Webb
Ronald Martinez/Getty ImagesMissouri might be new to the SEC, but the Tigers understood the importance of beating Oklahoma State and keeping the conference's rep.
“I did feel a tad bit of pressure, because I know we represent the SEC,” senior receiver L'Damian Washington said. “I think [OSU cornerback] Justin Gilbert made a statement earlier this week that the Big 12 was better than the SEC and I think we had to go out and prove the SEC is a force to be reckoned with.”

The Tigers used a combination of a relentless pass-rushing defensive line, strong running game and timely plays to earn their school record-tying 12th victory of the season, equaling the win total of the 2007 team.

Led by Cotton Bowl offensive MVP Henry Josey, Missouri rushed for 256 yards and averaged 5.4 yards per carry against a Cowboys’ defense that allowed 132.9 rushing yards and 3.46 per carry during the regular season. OSU quarterback Clint Chelf will have nightmares featuring Tigers pass-rushing duo Michael Sam and Kony Ealy. Missouri got to Chelf for three sacks, but the Cowboys quarterback was constantly flushed out of the pocket and forced to make plays on the move thanks to the Tigers defensive line, which cemented the win when Sam forced a Chelf fumble that was returned 73 yards for a touchdown by Shane Ray to halt OSU’s hopes of a game-winning touchdown in the final minutes.

“First-team All-American makes an All-American play,” Mizzou coach Gary Pinkel said.

SEC teams rejoiced as the conference escaped back-to-back losses to Big 12 opponents.

“We believe we’re the best conference,” said Andrew Wilson, who finished with a game-high 15 tackles. “And if you want to be the best conference you have to prove it, that’s why everyone is rooting for each other in these bowl games for everyone to go out and do what they can do.”

Make no mistake, the Tigers wanted the win for themselves, but they also wanted it for their conference.

“That’s something real big, representing the SEC,” Josey said. “The SEC is such a powerful conference, that’s the conference everybody looks to, that’s where the attention is. Coming into this game, that was in the back of our mind, that is always in the back of our mind that we had to hold up the rep for the SEC.”

Now, with its job done, Missouri passes the mantle to Auburn, which has the opportunity to win the eighth consecutive BCS title for the SEC when it takes on Florida State in the BCS National Championship on Monday night.

“Right now it’s up to Auburn to bring it home,” Ealy said. “We want to keep it in the SEC, that’s the most important thing as far as this conference goes.”

ARLINGTON, Texas -- Missouri sent a message for the SEC with a 41-31 win over Oklahoma State in the AT&T Cotton Bowl on Friday Night at AT&T Stadium. Here’s how it happened.

It was over when: Missouri defensive lineman Shane Ray returned a fumble 73 yards for a touchdown. Oklahoma State was driving to try to take the lead or tie the game in the final minutes when Missouri’s Michael Sam stripped OSU quarterback Clint Chelf of the ball, which Ray picked up for the scoop and score.

How the game was won: After Oklahoma State drove down to take the lead late in the fourth quarter, Missouri responded on its next drive to score the game-winning points. James Franklin led the Tigers down the field to jump right back on top after running back Henry Josey's 16-yard touchdown run made the score 34-31 with 3:08 remaining. Josey’s touchdown capped off a 7-play, 69-yard drive and gave the Tigers a lead they wouldn’t relinquish.

Turning point: Missouri receiver Dorial Green-Beckham made a key 27-yard catch on the Tigers' final drive on 3rd-and-9 from the OSU 43-yard line. Green-Beckham used his size and ball skills to outfight OSU’s Tyler Patmon for the key third down conversion. Josey rumbled 16 yards for the game-deciding touchdown on the next play.

Stat of the game: 256. Mizzou ran for 256 yards on the Cowboys, averaging 5.4 yards per carry. Josey was shifty and solid while backup quarterback Maty Mauk was explosive with three carries for 73 yards in spot duty. OSU simply didn’t have an answer for Missouri’s running game, particularly when it needed one in the fourth quarter.

Player of the game: Josey. He didn’t have outstanding numbers, but his quickness and cutback ability gave OSU’s defense fits. He finished with 12 carries for 92 yards and three touchdowns, averaging 7.7 yards per carry.

What it means for Oklahoma State: The Cowboys end the season with back-to-back disappointing losses after falling to the Tigers in the Cotton Bowl and losing to Oklahoma in their regular-season finale. OSU heads into the offseason with very little momentum and looking to replace several starters while opening the 2014 season with Florida State.

What it means for Missouri: The Tigers rebounded well from their SEC championship loss to Auburn. Missouri finishes 12-2 with the Cotton Bowl victory and will head into 2014 with plenty of confidence and momentum.

AT&T Cotton Bowl preview

January, 3, 2014
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Oklahoma State will want to strike another blow for the Big 12, Missouri will want to defend the SEC’s reputation. It should be a good one.

OSU and Missouri battle in the AT&T Cotton Bowl (7:30 pm ET, FOX) on Friday night at AT&T Stadium in Arlington, Texas. Here’s a preview of one of the most evenly matched games of this bowl season.

Who to Watch: Missouri defensive end Michael Sam. Look out Clint Chelf, Sam is coming for you and he’s been a terror for opposing offenses throughout the year. He led the SEC with 10.5 sacks and 18.5 tackles for loss. The senior brings a combination of acceleration and athleticism to the table that is very difficult for offenses to stop. If OSU has any hope to win, it can’t let Sam spend his holiday season in the backfield in hot pursuit of Chelf, the Cowboys quarterback, and OSU's running backs.

What to Watch: The interior lines. Missouri has a strong group in the trenches, and OSU’s success has mirrored its ability to control the line of scrimmage. Whoever wins the battle of the big fellas will probably win the game. Both teams have very talented skill players, like OSU receiver Josh Stewart and Missouri running back Henry Josey, who can make plays if given the chance. How do you take those explosive players out of the equation? Win the battle up front.

Why to Watch: The matchup between OSU cornerback Justin Gilbert and Mizzou receiver Dorial Green-Beckham is one reason. The battle between former Big 12 foes is another. These two teams know each other better than the normal bowl matchup, and the Cowboys will be looking to strike another blow for the Big 12 after Oklahoma’s Sugar Bowl win, while the Tigers will be looking to redeem the SEC. The Sooners’ win over Alabama could very well ramp up the intensity in this one.

Prediction: Oklahoma State 35, Missouri 34. The Cowboys prevail in one of the best games of the bowl season. Neither team dominates in the trenches, so this one is decided by turnovers and key plays on special teams. A late turnover by the Tigers helps OSU score a late touchdown to snatch the victory out of the hands of their former conference rival.
This time last year, we broke down which Big 12 players would most likely reach the benchmarks for their positions in 2011.

The benchmark for running backs is clearly 1,000 yards. Here's what I wrote about the Big 12's 1,000-yard rushers.

It's time to revisit those projections.

Forty-seven players in college football topped 1,000 yards rushing last season. I ranked the Big 12 backs in order of the likelihood they'd hit 1,000 yards, not how many yards I projected them to reach. The Big 12 had five of them. Here's who I picked to do it:
[+] EnlargeJames Sims
John Rieger/US PresswireJames Sims numbers in 2011 were very similar to those from his freshman season in 2010.
1. James Sims, Kansas -- As a true freshman in 2010, Sims didn't play in the opener, but it was clear as the season went on that he's the Jayhawks most consistent runner. Kansas is deep at the position, but Sims figures to get the biggest share of carries for a team with big questions at quarterback. The Jayhawks averaged nearly 40 rushing attempts per game last year. I don't see that number dropping this year. Sims got just 168 of those 470 carries, and he still managed 742 yards.
Final 2011 yardage tally: 727 yards

Thoughts: Sims simply didn't improve his production as expected from his true freshman year in 2010, even though his carries jumped from 168 to 182. I thought he'd get a few more touches, but the production wasn't there, and Kansas was limited in how often it could run the ball, considering some of the lopsided losses it suffered.
2. Cyrus Gray, Texas A&M -- Gray and his teammate in the backfield, Christine Michael, should both have very good years. I like both of them to clear 800 yards, and it's possible they both hit 1,000 yards, but there's only so much offense to go around. Ryan Tannehill and Jeff Fuller, along with the rest of the talented receiving corps, will have to get theirs. Considering the way Gray closed the season, he's likely to start out with the biggest share of carries.
Final 2011 yardage tally: 1,045 yards

Thoughts: Right on the money for Gray. Yes, Christine Michael was injured, which allowed Gray to grab a few more carries, but remember, Gray didn't play in the final two games of A&M's season. Still, a strong senior campaign.
3. Joseph Randle, Oklahoma State -- Randle will also be in split backfield along with Jeremy Smith, but he showed plenty of pop as a true freshman last year. Only DeMarco Murray caught more passes as a running back last year, so he may clear 1,000 yards of offense without doing it on the ground. But the Cowboys run an Air Raid system with a commitment to the run, so the touches should still be there for Randle with Kendall Hunter gone to the NFL.
Final 2011 yardage tally: 1,216 yards

Thoughts: Nailed the upside on Randle. Unlike Sims, he took a huge step forward as a sophomore, in part because of his featured role. Randle finished second in the Big 12 in rushing, and added 24 touchdowns, too.
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5. Roy Finch, Oklahoma -- Finch has the talent to do it. No doubt. But there's no getting around doubting his health. A stress fracture in his foot caused him to miss almost half his freshman season, and the Sooners are mindful of that with a good group of backs behind him that might sap a few carries. Finch will have to hit a few big runs to get to 1,000, but if he gets hurt again, perhaps true freshman Brandon Williams or Brennan Clay could step in.
Final 2011 yardage tally: 605 yards

Thoughts: Whiffed on this one. Finch inexplicably couldn't get on the field early in the season while walk-on Dominique Whaley dominated before breaking his leg in a win over Kansas State. In Finch's defense, after he started getting touches, he topped 83 yards four times in five games late in the season. He also averaged 5.45 yards a carry.

In 2011, I missed out on three of the five rushers. Baylor's Terrance Ganaway rumbled to 1,547 yards rushing and led the Big 12. Kansas State quarterback Collin Klein led the league in carries and rushed for 1,141 yards and 27 touchdowns.

Missouri running back Henry Josey took advantage of the injuries to two backs ahead of him on the depth chart and had a breakout year, rushing for 1,168 yards before suffering a catastrophic knee injury against Texas. He likely won't return in 2012, and just underwent an additional surgery earlier this week.

How would you grade my projections?

Ranking the Big 12's top 25 players: No. 14

February, 23, 2012
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Our countdown of the Big 12's top 25 players continues. The official list is locked away in a vault in an undisclosed location, but we're revealing a new member of the list every day.

Here's a quick rundown on my criteria for this list.

No. 14: Henry Josey, RB, Missouri

2011 numbers: Carried the ball 145 times for 1,168 yards and nine touchdowns. He also caught 10 passes for 91 yards.

Most recent ranking: Josey was unranked in our preseason list of the top 25 players.

Making the case for Josey: The speedster started the season third on Missouri's depth chart, but finally got his shot after De'Vion Moore and Kendial Lawrence went down with injuries early in the season.

After breaking out for 263 yards against Western Illinois, an FCS opponent, Josey still had his doubters. Then he rushed for at least 129 yards in five of his next six games and opened up a laughable lead by almost 300 yards in the Big 12 rushing race.

A catastrophic knee injury ended his season in early November, but he still finished third in the Big 12 in rushing, despite ranking 12th in carries. His 8.06 yards per carry was sky-high and second nationally. The only player whose average was higher, though, carried the ball just 61 yards.

His abbreviated season (both early and late) and the presence of James Franklin in the running game to open room for him to run keeps Josey out of the top 10, but not by much. Here's hoping he's able to rehab and get back on the field in 2012 for Mizzou in the SEC.

The rest of the list:
Each offense across the Big 12 starts 11 players on Saturday and plays 12-13 games. That's a whole lot of performances. Some are better than others.

These are the 11 best individual performances from the entire 2011 season. Here's our top 10 from 2010. Why are there 11 this year? Because.

If a player's team didn't win the game, he was ineligible, and this list omitted defensive performances. This is, after all, the Big 12. An opponent's defensive quality is factored in. That considered, my apologies to Henry Josey vs. Western Illinois.

[+] EnlargeJustin Blackmon
Mark J. Rebilas/US PresswireJustin Blackmon was the difference between a win and a loss for the Cowboys in the Fiesta Bowl.
1. OSU receiver Justin Blackmon vs. Stanford. Simply put, Blackmon completely changed the game in the Cowboys' 41-38 win. OSU doesn't come anywhere close to winning without him. His first two catches went for scores, and he was uncoverable, hauling in his biggest catch of the night on a slant on fourth-and-6 with minutes to play and OSU trailing by seven. He finished with eight catches for 186 yards and three touchdowns.

2. Baylor QB Robert Griffin III vs. TCU. Interesting that Blackmon's performance came in the second-to-last game of the Big 12 season, and Griffin's came in the very first. Still, both were legendary. Griffin launched a Heisman campaign with four touchdown passes of 28 yards or longer, and extended the game-winning drive with a third-down catch up the middle that resulted with getting the wind knocked of out him. He still marched Baylor down the field for the game-winning field goal in the 50-48 win and finished 21-of-27 for 359 yards and five touchdown passes.

3. OSU QB Brandon Weeden vs. Texas Tech. This was sheer dominance from Weeden, who had an unbelievable game in the 66-6 win, despite throwing passes in what I can assure you was 40 mph-plus winds. He somehow finished 31-of-37 for 423 yards and five touchdowns in the laugher against the Red Raiders.

4. K-State QB Collin Klein vs. Texas A&M. This was by far Klein's best passing game of the season, rescuing the Wildcats from a 10-point deficit in the fourth quarter with a pair of deep completions and winning the game, 53-50, in the fourth overtime with a QB sneak. He carried the ball 35 times for 103 yards and five scores. He also completed 17-of-27 passes for 281 yards, a touchdown and an interception. That's a ton of touches.

5. Oklahoma WR Ryan Broyles vs. Missouri. Oklahoma fell behind 10-0 early, but Broyles and quarterback Landry Jones helped bring the Sooners back in the 38-28 win. He was uncoverable for most of the game, catching 13 balls for 154 yards and three touchdowns.

6. Griffin III vs. Oklahoma. Griffin became the Heisman frontrunner after a second legendary performance in the same season. He threw the game-winning touchdown pass with seconds left to Terrance Williams, his fourth touchdown pass of the game. He finished 21-of-34 for 479 yards and carried the ball 18 times for 72 yards, including a late scramble on the game-winning drive.

7. Texas A&M WR Ryan Swope vs. Baylor: For once, the Aggies didn't struggle in the second half. Swope was solid for 60 minutes, breaking tackles and breaking loose from Baylor's offense all day. The Bears had no answer, and were blown out, 55-28. Swope finished with 11 catches for 206 yards and was the only receiver to catch four touchdowns in a game this season.

8. Baylor WR Kendall Wright vs. TCU. Now, you didn't think Griffin did it all by himself in the 50-48 win over the Horned Frogs, did you? Wright was blowing by an inexperienced TCU secondary, and RG3 found him all night. He finished with 12 catches for 189 yards and two scores, but he also threw a 40-yard touchdown pass to Terrance Williams and hit Griffin on his only catch of the night.

9. Baylor RB Terrance Ganaway vs. Washington. Ganaway sealed the Big 12 rushing title with his sixth 100-yard game and second 200-yard rushing game of the season, rolling over the Huskies and overshadowing RG3 in the Heisman winner's final game. He carried the ball 21 times for 200 yards and five touchdowns.

10. Blackmon vs. Kansas State. Blackmon was at his best late, hauling in a 54-yard touchdown pass to take the lead in the final minutes, capped by a two-point conversion to make it a seven-point lead. K-State couldn't handle him, and he finished with 205 receiving yards, 13 catches and two scores.

11. Missouri QB James Franklin vs. Iowa State. Franklin had a handful of great dual-threat games. This was his best, despite going up against the Big 12's best group of linebackers. He helped blow out the Cyclones with 289 yards and three scores on 20-of-28 passing. He threw two interceptions, but he also carried the ball 11 times for 84 yards and two scores.

Honorable mention: Oklahoma QB Landry Jones vs. Texas; Landry Jones vs. Missouri; Texas RB Joe Bergeron vs. Texas Tech; Kendall Wright vs. Texas; Henry Josey vs. Western Illinois
We're continuing our look at the postseason rankings for each position in the Big 12. Here's a look back at where the running backs ranked in the preseason.

In this position, unlike quarterback, depth is a major, major factor in these rankings.

1. Texas A&M

The Aggies had the two most talented backs, and despite injuries to both, proved it through an otherwise frustrating 2011. Christine Michael suffered a torn ACL, but still managed 899 yards on just 149 carries. Cyrus Gray injured his shoulder late in the season, but secured his second consecutive 1,000-yard season and ranked third in the Big 12, despite carrying the ball just 198 times. This duo should have easily surpassed 1,000 yards, but even when they were injured, Ben Malena played well in the final two games.

[+] EnlargeChristine Michael
AP Photo/Brandon WadeChristine Michael averaged 6 yards per carry before a torn ACL ended his season.
2. Missouri

Mizzou dealt with injuries, too, first to Kendial Lawrence and De'Vion Moore. Cue Henry Josey. Josey became the best back in the Big 12 this year before suffering a major knee injury that included torn ligaments. He may not be back in 2012. His 1,168 yards were third most in the Big 12, despite carrying the ball just 145 times. Lawrence finished 12th with 566 yards.

3. Oklahoma State

Joseph Randle stole the show this year, rushing for 24 scores and ranking second in the Big 12 with 1,216 yards. Only Collin Klein ran for more touchdowns and Terrance Ganaway was the only player with more yardage. Still, Jeremy Smith had averaged more than 7 yards a carry, and he'd be able to start for anyone else in the league. Herschel Sims showed promise, too, with 242 yards on 31 carries.

4. Baylor

Ganaway led the Big 12 in rushing with huge performances late in the season, including a 200-yard, five-touchdown game in his final outing as a college athlete in the Alamo Bowl. He averaged more than 6 yards on his 250 carries and had 330 more yards than any other back in the league. Jarred Salubi added 331 yards, too.

5. Texas

Texas' Malcolm Brown and Joe Bergeron were banged-up late in the season, but Fozzy Whittaker played well until suffering a torn ACL against Missouri, too. Scatback D.J. Monroe was effective in the passing game as well. Four running backs topped 300 yards and Brown led the team with 742 yards, despite missing three games and having his carries limited early in the season.

6. Oklahoma

Oklahoma got great contributions from walk-on Dominique Whaley early on, and he proved to be the team's most effective runner and best runner between the tackles. He fractured his ankle in midseason, and finished with just 627 yards to lead the team. Roy Finch emerged late in the seasons after a quiet first half and added 605 yards.

7. Kansas

KU's James Sims led the team in rushing again with 727 yards. Darrian Miller was excellent, too, with 559 yards, though he was dismissed after the season. Freshmen Tony Pierson and Brandon Bourbon have plenty of promise, both averaging more than 5.5 yards a carry in 2011. The bad news: All their carries were limited by an awful defense that limited KU's chances to run the ball.

8. Kansas State

K-State's rushing attack centered around Klein, but John Hubert, a slippery back from Waco, Texas, had a good year. Hubert was seventh in the Big 12 with 970 yards. Bryce Brown offered basically nothing to K-State, and beyond Klein and Hubert, the Wildcats were pretty thin. Additionally, without Klein, would Hubert have duplicated his success?

9. Texas Tech

An awful knee injury derailed Eric Stephens' likely 1,000-yard season, and the rest of Texas Tech's backfield got banged-up, too. Stephens will probably return in 2012 from his dislocated knee, and finished with 565 yards, 17th in the Big 12. Aaron Crawford and DeAndre Washington both topped 300 yards.

10. Iowa State

ISU lost Shontrelle Johnson for the season early on, but James White filled in well. He finished with 743 yards, which ranked ninth in the Big 12. Jeff Woody had 380 yards and provided quality carries late, including the game-winning touchdown against Oklahoma State.

Season report card: Missouri

January, 4, 2012
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We're offering up grades for each team in the Big 12 after their seasons conclude, so here's a look at how the 8-5 Missouri Tigers graded out in 2011.

More report cards:
OFFENSE: This season was supposed to be all about James Franklin. Could the sophomore -- used almost exclusively as a runner as a freshman in 2010 -- prove his worth as a passer and become the next in a long line of great Missouri quarterbacks?

That answer proved to be yes. Franklin is no Brad Smith: He is a better passer, though he lacks Smith's speed. He is no Blaine Gabbert: He's a better runner, but he lacks Gabbert's accuracy.

Above all, though, Franklin was productive. Missouri's offense flourished for most of the season. It's easy to get frustrated when you see the Tigers were only able to muster a fifth-place finish in total offense in the conference, but consider that is good for No. 12 nationally.

We haven't even talked about Henry Josey yet. Receiver T.J. Moe and tight end Michael Egnew saw their production take a huge dip this season; a predictable result with Franklin carrying the ball 217 times for 981 yards. He threw for 2,872 yards and 21 touchdowns, too, but Josey was the offense's most valuable player this season. De'Vion Moore and Kendial Lawrence went down with injuries, and Missouri found out the Big 12's best running back was third on their depth chart. He led the league by averaging more than eight yards a carry, and despite suffering a catastrophic knee injury against Texas, he led the Big 12 in rushing for three full weeks after the injury.

The Tigers got it done offensively, but unfortunately for them, offenses are graded on a curve in the Big 12. Other teams in the league set the curve very, very high.

GRADE: B+

DEFENSE: The defensive line was the team's most hyped unit, and even though it didn't perform to the level many expected, the rest of the unit overachieved. A secondary that replaced both corners still ranked fifth in pass defense. Texas and Kansas State were the only Big 12 teams better at defending the big play, and the Tigers were among the league's most physical teams.

They did all of this without a single player approaching the top tier of defensive talent in the Big 12 and put just one player on the first-team All-Big 12 defense (DT Dominique Hamilton). The team's top producer in 2010, DE Brad Madison, played with a painful injury to his inside shoulder all season that limited his effectiveness. But the Tigers' unit was certainly solid enough to help support a prolific offense.

GRADE: B

OVERALL: Eight wins is the same result that Daniel and Gabbert endured in their first years as starter. Ultimately, the mark was about where Missouri belonged with the type of season it had. The Tigers missed a game-winning field goal against what ended up being a six-win Arizona State team, and lost a heartbreaker at Baylor, too. It also erased deficits to beat Texas A&M at home and forced a late turnover to beat Texas Tech in the final minute. All four of those games could have gone either way. Missouri split them.

The Tigers are headed to the SEC East next year, where at least in the immediate future, it looks like a division contender. This year wasn't a dream season, but it could set up something special. The Tigers rallied from a 3-4 start to win five of their final six games and salvage a good season. There wasn't a truly impressive win in the bunch, but all five losses came to teams ranked at the time.

FINAL GRADE: B+

Lunch links: Mizzou fosters feeling of family

December, 26, 2011
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Who came down with a nasty case of Independence Bowl fever this morning?

Independence Bowl: Three keys for Mizzou

December, 26, 2011
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Time to look at three keys for Mizzou in its matchup with North Carolina in the V100 AdvoCare Independence Bowl.

1. Maintain offensive balance. Missouri's been remarkably balanced all season long. The Tigers have 2,835 yards rushing and 2,834 yards passing. That's how it has to be for them. James Franklin isn't a passer precise enough to park in the pocket and fire 50 passes a game. He has to keep the defense off balance and aware of his running ability. His importance skyrocketed after Henry Josey's injury, but he's capable of getting it done.

2. Limit big plays. The Tar Heels are right in the middle of the pack in the ACC when it comes to big plays, but outside of Texas, Missouri has been the Big 12's best team at limiting plays from scrimmage longer than 10, 20, 30 and 40 yards. That should continue, and if it does, Missouri should be fine. Neither team has a huge advantage in this one, but the Tigers should win if they play like their usual selves. Fact is, 7-5 and 5-4 in the Big 12 is a lot more impressive than North Carolina's marks of 7-5 and 3-5 in the ACC.

3. Try to shake Bryn Renner. Not literally, though that would be a good sign for Missouri's defensive line. Renner's thrown multiple interceptions in four games this season, and gone without a interception in six games. It's pretty clear which side of Renner Missouri would like to see. Missouri's defensive line hasn't quite lived up to lofty expectations, but this is an opportunity for top pass-rushers Jacquies Smith and Brad Madison to have a huge impact on the game.

Independence Bowl: Missouri vs. UNC

December, 26, 2011
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The Big 12 bowl slate kicks off with what's technically not a Big 12 bowl. Mizzou landed in the V100 AdvoCare Independence Bowl after the league had more bowl-eligible teams than bowl tie-ins, and will be heading to the SEC next season.

Before that happens, we'll preview its finale as a member of the Big 12.

WHO TO WATCH: James Franklin, QB, Missouri. Franklin's the center of everything Missouri does offensively, especially since Henry Josey went down with a knee injury. When Franklin finds some running room, it opens up the passing game. And when he hits on a few passes down the field, it opens things up for his leg. He can do either to set up the other, and Missouri's offense goes as he goes. A big day for one means a big day for the other. A bad day for one means a bad day for the other.

WHAT TO WATCH: Missouri's defense vs. North Carolina's skill positions. The Tigers are strong up front, but have struggled in the secondary at times. The Tar Heels boast a 1,200-yard rusher in Giovani Bernard and an 1,100-yard receiver in Dwight Jones. Quarterback Bryn Renner has a lot around him, and Missouri's defense has to play well to win this one.

WHY TO WATCH: Missouri's had a few classics in bowl games under Gary Pinkel, and this is a good matchup that could be another. The Tigers erased a 21-0 deficit to beat South Carolina in this game back in 2005. The next year, Mizzou lost the Sun Bowl when Oregon State converted a two-point conversion with 23 seconds left. In 2008, the Tigers beat Northwestern in overtime in the Alamo Bowl. Last year, a late Blaine Gabbert interception was returned for a touchdown and the final dramatic drive came up short in a close loss to Iowa in the Insight Bowl. Stay tuned this year.

PREDICTION: Missouri 34, North Carolina 28: The Tigers match up pretty well with UNC, and take care of business with a solid performance from Franklin, who tops 125 yards rushing and throws for 225, accounting for four touchdowns. The Tigers head to the SEC on the right note.

Recruiting rewind: All-Big 12 Offense

December, 13, 2011
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The season has come and gone, and brought with it an All-Big 12 team. But where do these guys come from? How easy is it for a no-name recruit to earn all-conference first-team honors?

Let's take a look at the All-Big 12 offense and see who surprises us.

You'll need ESPN Insider Insider to see each player's recruiting page from back in the day, but I excerpted a bit of what the scouts had to say about each player coming out of high school.

OFFENSE

QB: Robert Griffin III, Baylor
  • Griffin was infamously recruited as an "athlete" by top programs like Texas that may have moved him to safety or receiver. Scouts graded him as a 77 and the No. 40 quarterback. He committed to Houston before following coach Art Briles to Houston. One interesting note: He only threw for 1,734 yards as a high school senior. Development much? Scouts take: Griffin is a wonderful athlete with great size, solid arm strength and the ability to move to wide receiver if he doesn't remain at quarterback in college. He is long-legged, well built and is a smooth athlete. He's at his best when he is out of the pocket and can improvise. He will create when things break down and he shows very good presence to avoid the rush, use his feet to get on the perimeter and throw on the move.
All-purpose: Collin Klein, QB, Kansas State
  • Klein was graded as a 75 by ESPNRecruiting and the nation's No. 60 quarterback. He picked K-State over Colorado State, Utah and Air Force. Scouts take: Klein has prototypical size and a powerful arm. What you don't expect is how athletic he is and while he is a pocket passer, if he gets on the move, he can build momentum and create a few plays here and there with his legs. He can be unorhtodox in his delivery and mechanics can be inconsistent, but he is very productive and has a lot of physical tools to mold at the next level.
RB: Terrance Ganaway, Baylor
  • Ganaway played at Houston before transferring from junior college to Baylor. He was graded at the minimum grade of 45 and wasn't ranked by ESPN coming out of high school or junior college.
RB: Henry Josey, Missouri
  • Josey was a two-star recruit and the nation's No. 258-ranked athlete. He was also recruited by Baylor, TCU and UTEP. Scouts take: Josey flashes playmaker skills on both sides of the ball at the high school level and may get recruited on either side of the ball in college. We feel he is a bit of an overachiever and his weaknesses may get exposed at the major college level, but we like his foot-speed, quickness and overall savvy as a potential hybrid safety/Bandit type or change-of-pace back on offense.
FB: Trey Millard, Oklahoma
  • Millard was a three-star prospect and the nation's No. 59 athlete in the 2010 class. He graded out at 78, and was also recruited by Syracuse, Iowa, South Carolina and Tennessee. Scouts take: Millard is a thick inside linebacker prospect with good mobility and downhill burst between the tackles. We like his athleticism as a future tight end or H-back as well. Has a large upper-body and overall frame. Carries his weight well and has above average lateral agility for a defender with his thickness.
WR: Kendall Wright, Baylor
  • Wright was No. 118 in the 2008 ESPNU 150 and was the nation's No. 12 athlete. He was also recruited by Arkansas, Nebraska, Oklahoma and Texas A&M. Scouts take: Wright is an athlete playing quarterback who belongs at either wide receiver or at cornerback at the next level. He is an athlete with great speed and acceleration. He is at quarterback because he is a playmaker and is very difficult to handle in the open field. With the ball in his hands, he has running back-type skills. (My take: Hey, remember this?)
WR: Justin Blackmon, Oklahoma State
  • Blackmon was the nation's No. 139 receiver and was also recruited by Colorado and Missouri, grading out at a 74. Scouts take: Blackmon is a smooth-looking, natural receiver prospect with well-rounded tools at the position. A potential sleeper at this time. He is tall, rangy and layered with good muscle tone. Shows great downfield, big-catch ability with his good size, hands and large catch radius. Displays very good concentration tracking the ball in tight coverage and plucks the ball smoothly in stride.
WR: Ryan Broyles, Oklahoma
  • Broyles was the No. 58 receiver and graded out at a 77. He committed to Oklahoma State before switching to OU just before signing his letter of intent. He was also recruited by Arkansas, South Carolina and Tennessee. Scouts take: This versatile athlete excels as both a cornerback and wide receiver but appears to be more of a playmaker on the offensive side of the ball at this stage. Broyles is a lean, sleek athlete who is very shifty and fluid in his movements. He has excellent straight-line speed and acceleration. He is a threat to turn a short gain into a big play but is also a vertical threat who plays bigger than his size. Has very good hands.
TE: Michael Egnew, Missouri
  • Egnew was a two-star recruit who graded out at 40 and wasn't ranked. He was also recruited by Purdue and TCU.
C: Grant Garner, Oklahoma State
  • Garner was the No. 20 center in the 2007 class and graded out at 72. He was also recruited by Iowa State and Vanderbilt. Scouts take: Garner is a good center prospect but will need to add bulk to his frame. He is going to need some time to properly get up into that 280-290 lbs. range. He looks to have a strong quick snap and can also adequately handle shotgun responsibilities. Once he snaps the ball, he does a good job of bringing his off hand and making good contact.
OL: Kelechi Osemele, Iowa State
  • Osemele graded out at 68 and was the nation's No. 149 offensive tackle in the 2007 class. He was also recruited by Arkansas, Houston and TCU. Scouts take: Osemele is a good sized prospect that can deliver a good initial blow. He gets good hand placement and displays the ability to get into a defender and push him off the line of scrimmage in the run game. He needs to work on his initial footwork coming out of his stance.
OL: Levy Adcock, Oklahoma State
  • Adcock was a junior college recruit and not scouted by ESPN.
OL: Gabe Ikard, Oklahoma
  • Ikard was the nation's No. 19 tight end and graded out at 78. He was also recruited by Notre Dame, Stanford and Oklahoma State. Scouts take: Ikard is a good football player and it is tough not to like him. He comes across as a smart, hard working, and productive player. He plays both defensive end and tight end in high school and is a legitimate recruit on both sides of the ball. He is a sound defensive end prospect.
OL: Luke Joeckel, Texas A&M
  • Joeckel was No. 83 in the 2010 ESPNU 150 and was a four-star recruit. He was ranked as the nation's No. 6 offensive tackle prospect. He was also recruited by Nebraska, LSU, Oklahoma and Oklahoma State. Scouts take: Joeckel is a dominant offensive lineman. He has great size and is an intimidating force on the field. Exceptional run blocker that completely engulfs smaller defensive lineman. Has a real nasty streak and finishes his run blocks on a consistent basis. Does a great job of getting his hands into the frame of the defensive lineman and locks on like vice grips. Drives feet after initial contact and often puts defender into the turf due to his aggressiveness in finishing the block.

Fascinating stuff here. I enjoyed looking these guys up. The two most highly recruited players on the All-Big 12 team? Kendall Wright and Luke Joeckel. Shocking stuff.

ESPN.com's 2011 All-Big 12 Team

December, 9, 2011
12/09/11
10:30
AM ET
Editor’s Note: Tune into the “AT&T ESPN All America Team Show” on Saturday (ABC, 1:30 p.m. ET) to see who ESPN’s writers and experts selected.

It's been a fun season across the Big 12, with a few big names who didn't play as well as we thought, and lots of unknowns who became household names by the end of the season.

I'll offer my comments below, but here's our All-Big 12 team for 2011.

OFFENSE

[+] EnlargeRobert Griffin III
Jerome Miron/US PresswireThe heroics of Robert Griffin III got Baylor to 9-3 and made him a Heisman Trophy finalist.
QB: Robert Griffin III, Baylor
All-purpose: Collin Klein, QB, Kansas State
RB: Terrance Ganaway, Baylor
RB: Henry Josey, Missouri
FB: Trey Millard, Oklahoma
WR: Kendall Wright, Baylor
WR: Justin Blackmon, Oklahoma State
WR: Ryan Broyles, Oklahoma
TE: Michael Egnew, Missouri
C: Grant Garner, Oklahoma State
OL: Kelechi Osemele, Iowa State
OL: Levy Adcock, Oklahoma State
OL: Gabe Ikard, Oklahoma
OL: Luke Joeckel, Texas A&M

DEFENSE

DE: Frank Alexander, Oklahoma
DT: Dominique Hamilton, Missouri
DE: Alex Okafor, Texas
DE: Jamie Blatnick, Oklahoma State
LB: Sean Porter, Texas A&M
LB: Jake Knott, Iowa State
LB: Emmanuel Acho, Texas
NB: Tony Jefferson, Oklahoma
CB: Nigel Malone, Kansas State
CB: Carrington Byndom, Texas
S: Kenny Vaccaro, Texas
S: Markelle Martin, Oklahoma State

SPECIALISTS

P: Quinn Sharp, Oklahoma State
PK: Randy Bullock, Texas A&M
PR: Dustin Harris, Texas A&M
KR: Tyler Lockett, Kansas State

Finally, a few notes and explanations:
  • I loved the media's idea to craft an all-purpose spot to accomodate Collin Klein. The Big Ten did the same for Michigan's Denard Robinson last season. I followed suit, and did so on the defensive side of the ball with a nickel-back spot for Oklahoma's Tony Jefferson. Two players that missed first-team designation by the coaches, but clearly deserve to be recognized.
  • Additionally, I prefer the teams to reflect the Big 12 style of play, so the nickel back fits. Each team doesn't have 11 players, but there were deserving linebackers. The same with Egnew and Millard. Does every team use a fullback or a tight end? No, but both are standout performers. They'd rotate in anyway, just as Jefferson would in a theoretical package.
  • Tough call to leave Philip Blake from Baylor off my team, but Garner's been better. Blake is very, very close, though.
  • Hated to leave off Brodrick Brown and E.J. Gaines, but I went with a more traditional two corners and two safeties, rather than four corners like the media's team.
  • Steven Johnson and Arthur Brown would have been right behind my three linebackers. That race was probably closer than at any other position, except maybe cornerback. Difficult to leave either of those guys off my first team, but the three on the team were better. I gave Brown my Newcomer of the Year nod, though.
  • I don't like going with three defensive ends and one defensive tackle, but there wasn't a defensive tackle who deserved the honor more than Okafor, my third defensive end. Okafor was a defensive tackle last year anyway, so that's close enough, right? He moved from tackle to end before spring practice earlier this year. In the Big 12, an additional pass rusher is necessary, too, right?
  • I made a similar move with my offensive line. Went tackle-heavy, but the guards didn't have quite as many standouts.

Season recap: Missouri

December, 7, 2011
12/07/11
8:30
AM ET
MISSOURI TIGERS

Record: 7-5 (5-4)

The Big 12 is a quarterbacks league and The Big Question for Mizzou was simple: Did it have one? It had two until Tyler Gabbert transferred, but James Franklin proved in 2011 that the answer was yes. He progressed as a passer throughout the season and never lost sight of his ability to run, either, rescuing Missouri from a 3-4 start to win four of the team's final five games and reach a bowl game.

The Tigers won seven games, the fewest since the 2005 season, but that's telling of the program's progress. All five losses were quality, and the Tigers might be the best five-loss team in America. Take that for what it's worth, but No. 3 Oklahoma State was the only team to beat Mizzou at home. It's other losses came to Oklahoma, Arizona State, Baylor and Kansas State, all on the road. Not bad at all. The defense was a bit underwhelming, but the Tigers were playing their best football late in the season, and won a dramatic game against Texas Tech in the home finale without coach Gary Pinkel, who was suspended for the game after a drunk driving arrest. The Tigers handled that crisis as well as possible, being up front about the mistakes made and handing Pinkel a stiff punishment that included financial penalties exceeding $300,000. It didn't prove to be a huge distraction for the team, and though the Tigers would have liked to leave for the SEC with more impact, the bar is not high in the Big 12 for teams with first-year starters at quarterback.

Offensive MVP: Henry Josey, running back. Josey suffered a serious knee injury, tearing his left MCL, ACL and patellar tendon, but he was still the Big 12's leading rusher for almost three full weeks after his season was over and the Big 12 continued on. He averaged an outlandish 8.06 yards per carry and finished with 1,168 yards, despite having just the 12th-most carries in the Big 12. Not bad for a guy who started the season as the team's No. 3 back.

Defensive MVP: E.J. Gaines, cornerback. No clear winner here. Missouri could point to a handful of places, but I went with the team's truly most outstanding season. Gaines intercepted three passes, but he broke up 16 more. The next most on Missouri's team: four. In a passer's league like the Big 12, that's pretty amazing. So, with apologies to Andrew Wilson, Zaviar Gooden, Luke Lambert, Brad Madison and Jacquies Smith, I'm going with Gaines.

Turning point: The overtime win over Texas A&M. You could see in the Tigers' emotion after the win how much it meant. Dropping to 3-5 would have been a huge hit and put a lot of pressure on the team down the stretch. Franklin highlighted the day with a certified "Beast Mode" run, bouncing off tacklers for a 20-yard touchdown run early on, but the win featured a 14-point second-half comeback and keyed off a 4-1 finish for the Tigers. The only loss came on the road to Baylor by three points.

What’s next: For now, it's a brief jaunt into SEC country -- Shreveport for the AdvoCare V100 Independence Bowl -- before a permanent stay next season. The Tigers will bring back a ton of experience on offense, though three of the top six tacklers on defense will be gone. The program's already altered its recruiting strategy, assigning two coaches to recruit Florida and another in Atlanta. Maintaining recruiting ties to Texas as much as possible is important for the program's future, and a cross-divisional rivalry with Texas A&M -- Missouri will visit the Aggies every other year, vs. once every six years for the other SEC West teams--should help a bit. The Tigers should contend for the SEC East title next year, but their recruiting will determine longterm success in their new home.

AdvoCare V100 Independence Bowl

December, 4, 2011
12/04/11
11:09
PM ET
Missouri Tigers (7-5) vs. North Carolina Tar Heels (7-5)

Dec. 26, 5:00 p.m. ET (ESPN2)

Missouri take by Big 12 blogger David Ubben: Missouri is headed to the SEC next season, and went out quietly in Big 12 play. The Tigers roll with dual-threat quarterback James Franklin, but are still trying to find their offense after losing Henry Josey, the Big 12's leading rusher at the time, to a serious knee injury. He started the season No. 3 on the depth chart. It's been up to Kendial Lawrence and De'Vion Moore to pick up the slack.

The Tigers' defense had high hopes coming into the season, and it's been good after some early-season struggles, but perhaps not as good as expected. The defensive line hasn't dominated as most expected, but the Tigers played well enough to win four of their final five games to rescue a rough start against a brutal schedule. Mizzou may have the best five losses of any team in the country: Oklahoma State, Kansas State, Baylor, Oklahoma and Arizona State. Not a bad one in the bunch, and all four but Oklahoma State came on the road. Mizzou is better than its record suggests, and will get a chance to prove it in the postseason.


North Carolina take by ACC blogger Heather Dinich: The entire season could have unraveled for UNC, considering former coach Butch Davis was fired just days before summer practices began, but interim coach Everett Withers kept the program on track for its fourth straight bowl appearance.

North Carolina has faced Missouri twice, losing both times, but has not played the Tigers since 1976. North Carolina started the season 5-1, but fizzled down the stretch against better competition. The Tar Heels lost four of their past six games, including a fifth-straight loss to rival NC State. Individually, though, it has been an impressive season for a few Tar Heels. Tailback Giovani Bernard rushed for a UNC freshman record 1,222 yards and became the first Tar Heel since 1997 to run for more than 1,000 yards.

Receiver Dwight Jones set a school record with 79 receptions and has 11 touchdown catches, which is just one shy of the single-season record. And quarterback Bryn Renner enters the bowl game tied for the school record with 23 touchdown passes. Defensively, Carolina is led by defensive end Quinton Coples and linebacker Zach Brown. Coples ranks fourth among active college players with 24 career sacks. Brown led the Tar Heels with 91 tackles, including 11.5 for losses and 5.5 sacks.

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