Big 12: Jake Harry
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.
The Tigers are still looking for their first Big 12 title, but they've had many memorable players dot their rosters over the decade.
Here's a look at the best of them. The toughest decision was to leave Justin Gage off the team at wide receiver, although I opted to go with an alignment much like offensive coordinator David Yost preferred, with one running back, two wide receivers and two tight ends. My team is reflected with that strategy.
QB: Chase Daniel
RB: Zack Abron
WR: Jeremy Maclin
WR: Danario Alexander
TE: Chase Coffman
TE: Martin Rucker
OL: Joel Clinger
OL: Tony Palmer
OL: Kurtis Gregory
OL: Rob Droege
C: Adam Spieker
DL: Justin Smith
DL: Atiyyah Ellison
DL: Lorenzo Williams
DL: Ziggy Hood
LB: Sean Weatherspoon
LB: Marcus Bacon
LB: Brock Christopher
DB: William Moore
DB: Pig Brown
DB: David Overstreet
DB: Shirdonya Mitchell
K: Jeff Wolfert
P: Jake Harry
KR: Jeremy Maclin
Offensive player of the decade: QB Chase Daniel. Orchestrated the Tigers’ back-to-back North Division championship teams in 2007-08, finishing fourth in the Heisman race in 2007 and setting the school’s career total offense and passing records as a senior.
Defensive player of the decade: LB Sean Weatherspoon. Lightly recruited player who emerged to become the dominant defensive player for the Tigers during his three-season career as a starter, leading the team in tackles each season.
Coach of the decade: Gary Pinkel. After struggling in his first two seasons, has taken the Tigers to a bowl game in every season except one, including two Big 12 title games and a No. 4 finish in the 2007 season.
Memory of the decade: Missouri’s 36-28 victory over Kansas in a 2007 showdown for the Big 12 North title pushed the Tigers to their first Big 12 championship game appearance. Daniel completed 40 of 49 passes for 361 yards and three touchdowns, but the game wasn’t settled until Lorenzo Williams sacked Todd Reesing for a safety to ice the victory.
The Big 12 had seven players who were selected as nominees for the Ray Guy Award given to the nation's top punter.
That total was more than any other conference. Conference USA had six nominees and the Big Ten and SEC had five players apiece selected.
Big 12 nominees include: Iowa State's Mike Brandtner, Colorado's Matt DiLallo, Baylor's Derek Epperson, Missouri's Jake Harry, Nebraska's Alex Henery, Kansas' Alonso Rojas and Oklahoma State's Quinn Sharp.
The list of nominees will be trimmed to 10 semifinalists on Nov. 13. The award, presented by the Greater Augusta (Ga.) Sports Council, will be awarded during the Home Depot ESPNU College Football Awards Show airing on ESPN December 10.
Here is a look at the candidates with the Big 12 nominees in bold.
2009 Ray Guy Award Candidates
Delbert Alvarado, South Florida
Bryan Anger, California
Ben Armer, Western Michigan
Jeremy Boone, Penn State
Brent Bowden, VA Tech
Mike Brandtner, Iowa State
Drew Butler, Georgia
Peter Caldwell, Utah State
Desi Cullen, Connecticut
David Defatta, Middle Tennessee
Kyle Delahooke, Navy
Matt DiLallo, Colorado
Matt Dodge, East Carolina
Ryan Donahue, Iowa
Clinton Durst, Auburn
Derek Epperson, Baylor
P.J. Fitzgerald, Alabama
Reid Forrest, Washington State
Will Goggans, Troy
Mickey Groody, Florida Atlantic
Trevor Hankins, Arizona State
Jake Harry, Missouri
Johnny Hekker, Oregon State
Alex Henery, Nebraska
Chas Henry, Florida
Kevin Jones, Duke
Scott Kozlowski, West Virginia
Spencer Lanning, South Carolina
Jeff Locke, UCLA
Rob Long, Syracuse
Kyle Martens, Rice
Zoltan Mesko, Michigan
Brad Nortman, Wisconsin
Matt Reagan, Memphis
Alonso Rojas, Kansas
Quinn Sharp, Oklahoma State
Brian Stahovich, San Diego State
Michael Such, Tulsa
Chris Summers, Purdue
Matt Szymanski, SMU
Ross Thevenot, Tulane
Kyle Watson, UNLV
The Big 12 has had more Guy Award winners than any other conference with four since the awarded started in 2000. Big 12 winners included Mark Mariscal of Colorado in 2002, Baylor's Daniel Sepulveda in 2004 and 2006 and Matt Fodge of Oklahoma State in 2008.
Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Griffin
I know this makes me sound like a coaches, but I actually think that special teams really does account for a third of a team's success. And I think that solid play in all facets is especially critical in the Big 12 because of the small margin of error in most games.
Here's a look at how I rank the special teams in the conference, giving each team a master rating including all facets of the kicking game.
1. Texas: The best combination kicking game in the league with two-deep talent at both kicker and punter and Jordan Shipley to take care of the returns. The Longhorns always have fast, talented athletes covering kicks as well. And I'm curious to see if Justin Tucker really will be able to produce rugby-style punts with both feet.
2. Oklahoma State:The Cowboys have the best kickoff/punt returners in the conference in Dez Bryant and Perrish Cox. Special-teams coach Joe DeForest always does an outstanding job, although he’ll be in tough spot replacing Matt Fodge as his punter this season.
3. Nebraska: Alex Henery was the best kicker in the conference with a knack for making huge kicks. It's curious that Nebraska coaches would risk that success by having him double up as a punter this season. But he actually came to college as a walk-on punter. Niles Paul will get the start as both punt returner and kick returner. And Adi Kunalic led the nation in touchbacks as a kickoff specialist.
4. Kansas State:I’m basing this as much on past success as anything else -- Ron Prince’s team blocked four punts for touchdowns last season. Brandon Banks is a threat to break a big return on every play and he’ll be doubling as a kick and punt returner this season. Even with Bill Snyder taking over, I’m still thinking this will be a productive unit as they break in new kicker Josh Cherry and new punter Ryan Doerr.
5. Baylor: The Bears have the most consistent punter in the conference with Derek Epperson. Look for improvement from kicker Ben Parks. One key will be boosting punt returns with new returner Krys Buerck after ranking only 118th nationally as a team last season.
6. Iowa State: I think that Jack Trice Stadium might be the toughest facility in the conference because of its swirling winds. Paul Rhoads has some confidence with Grant Mahoney back at kicker and Mike Brandtner at punter. Leonard Johnson is one of the most effective kickoff returners in the conference. But the Cyclones need a boost on punt returns and in covering kicks.
7. Oklahoma: For a team with as many athletes as the Sooners, I was surprised with their difficulties in covering kicks last season. That’s the immediate concern for them. DeMarco Murray was a threat on every return, but I doubt he plays there much because of his recent injury problems. Dominique Franks, Ryan Broyles and Cameron Kenney are expected to contribute in the return game. And Kenney might even push Tress Way for punting duties. Coaches have also been impressed with the improved range of kicker Jimmy Stevens. We’ll see if that holds up when the season starts.
8. Texas Tech: The story about Matt “Lynwood” Williams was one of the best in college football last year as he emerged from an in-game kicking contest to win most of the kicking honors for the Red Raiders. Donnie Carona was a disappointment as a kicker, but may emerge as a punter along with Ryan Erxleben (yeah, he’s the son of former Texas punter Russell Erxleben) as the Red Raiders wait for Jonathan LaCour to come off a Big 12-mandated suspension. Edward Britton and Jamar Wall will be involved in returning kicks, along with many others.
9. Texas A&M: Here’s a stat that shows how far Texas A&M’s once vaunting kicking game has fallen in recent years. The Aggies haven’t converted a field goal of 50 yards or more since 2000. Randy Bullock is back as the kicker and freshman Ryan Epperson and Ken Wood are still battling for the punting job. Christine Michael inherits the kickoff return duties, but look for heralded junior-college cornerback Coryell Judie to be involved some way.
10. Missouri: No Jeremy Maclin and Jeff Wolfert means that the Tigers will rebuild one of their strongest units last season. Their net punting figures to improve after Jake Harry’s strong start. Grant Ressel won the kicking job in a tight battle, but might be pushed this season. Gary Pinkel is sorting through his options in the return game but won’t have anybody nearly as gifted as Maclin. And they need to do a better job covering kicks after allowing a kickoff return for a touchdown for the first time last season.
11. Kansas: The Jayhawks desperately need some improvement in this category. Jacob Branstetter converted 75 percent of his kicks, but his longest was only 34 yards. Punter Alonso Rojas’ net average was only 33.9 yards. And the Jayhawks ranked 118th nationally in kickoff returns as Marcus Herford accounted for most of the returns. They showed some strong improvement late in the season when Dezmon Briscoe took over.
12. Colorado: The Buffaloes had the worst field-goal percentage in the country as they converted only 29 percent last season. They also lose Josh Smith, who set a school record for total kick return yards. Coaches think that Andre Simmons will be able to help here, but I’ll take a wait-and-see attitude before I get too excited.
Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Griffin
Missouri is entering the upcoming season with unprecedented publicity after winning the North Division last season. And to a man, the Tigers have adopted the mantra that they won't be satisfied unless they win the Big 12 championship.
The Tigers claimed the Big 12 North title, marred only by losses to Oklahoma midway through the season and in the conference championship game that killed their national title hopes. But they rebounded for a 38-7 blowout victory over Arkansas -- their first bowl victory on Jan. 1 or later since 1966 -- that has sent expectations soaring heading into the season.
Despite the return of most of their offensive weapons and 10 defensive starters, several critical questions remain that will keep Gary Pinkel concerned as the Tigers prepare for Saturday's pivotal rivalry game in St. Louis against Illinois.
1. What happens if Chase Daniel is injured? The Tigers have two other graduates of the EA Sports Elite 11 Camp behind Daniel in senior Chase Patton and freshman Blaine Gabbert. But the two backups have combined to throw 13 passes during their college career, making their experience lacking. Patton has been hobbled by a sore hamstring during training camp and Gabbert is still learning his way with the Tigers' offense.
2. Can Derrick Washington replace Tony Temple? The 220-pound Washington is a more effective inside runner than Temple and Jimmy Jackson and De'Vion Moore both are capable of becoming strong breakaway threats. But will the rotation replace what Temple brought to the team, capped by his record-breaking 281-yard effort against Arkansas in the Cotton Bowl?
3. Will a retooled offensive line adequately protect Daniel? Pinkel is taking a gamble by starting redshirt freshman LT Elvis Fisher, who will start his first college game by protecting Daniel's blind side Saturday night against All-Big Ten defensive end Will Davis of Illinois. But Fisher has been the talk of camp, developing so quickly the Tigers felt comfortable enough to switch Kurtis Gregory back to RG. C Tim Barnes will be the other new starter.
4. How will the Tigers' defensive push remain strong without NT Lorenzo Williams? Junior Jaron Baston will replace Williams, an All-Big 12 performer who led the team in sacks last season. Even more important was Williams' leadership to the defense, which will be sorely missed.
5. How will the new punter work out? Jake Harry was expected to win the job last season after arriving from Palomar Junior College, but never seriously challenged Adam Crossett after a struggling start. He switched his training regime and says he's ready to play, but remains a huge unknown until he receives some game experience.
Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Griffin
The quote of the day comes from Scott Wright of the Oklahoman, who caught up with Troy coach Larry Blakeney and asked him about Oklahoma State's aim for revenge after losing at Troy last season. "They might have a bonfire and burn some of T. Boone's money to get ready for the game," Blakeney said, referring to the megabuck Oklahoma State booster.
Meanwhile, new Baylor coach Art Briles has shucked a traditional playbook in favor of his new team learning his philosophies by seeing and doing rather than reading. It's targeted to a younger generation that doesn't have the attention span to sit and learn by reading a book.
"It does require a lot of film study, because you've got to know what to do in live action in case anything happens," junior receiver Ernest Smith told the Waco Tribune-Herald. "If there's a check or an audible, you've got to be able to react fast. I've watched a lot of U of H film ... just getting familiar with it all."
Briles was successful with his new-age strategy, at least if four bowl appearances in the last five seasons at Houston is any indication. We'll see how it works at Baylor this season.
And for those readers out there who are too impatient to wade through 20 newspapers that cover the Big 12, I've take something from Briles' approach. Here's a condensed version of what's happening around the conference in about 20 quick links.
- Kansas sophomore RB Carmon Boyd-Anderson has opted to transfer from the program for "personal reasons," the Kansas City Star reported.
- A massive offensive line has prompted a new word around the Colorado team to describe them: "gifreakinnormous."
- Des Moines Register columnist Sean Keeler has to cover Iowa State and Iowa relatively equally. That's why he listed his top 23 ranking for a combination of the Big Ten and Big 12 conferences on his blog. Hope that Big Ten commissioner Jim Delany doesn't see this. He might get an idea for some kind of "gifreakinnormous" super-conference.
- The Topeka Capital-Journal's Tully Corcoran unearthed an interesting nugget buried deeply in Ron Prince's new contract.
- Colorado DE Drew Hudgins will miss the season with a knee injury. Hudgins told the Denver Post he plans to petition the NCAA for a sixth season of eligibility.
- Massive Texas A&M FB Jorvorskie Lane tells the Houston Chronicle's Terrance Harris that he's come to terms with his lessened role in the Aggies' backfield.
- New Texas director of high school relations and player development Ken Rucker is credited for the Longhorns' lack of off-the-field incidents this summer, according to Austin American-Statesman columnist Kirk Bohls.
- Mike Leach's European vacation is fodder for the San Antonio Express-News' Mike Finger's report on Texas Tech. Leach earlier described the trip as something like the Griswolds might have made.