Big 12: Jarrell Harrison

Recruiting needs: Big 12 North

January, 26, 2011
1/26/11
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Signing day is exactly a week from today, and it's time to take a look at who needs what in its 2011 class.

Some schools have addressed these with their current class. Some haven't. Others are still trying.

We'll kick things off with the artists formerly known as the Big 12 North and examine the South later today.

COLORADO

Cornerback: Jalil Brown and Jimmy Smith were pretty reliable for the Buffaloes, but both are headed to the NFL, and the Buffaloes could definitely use some depth behind their first-year starters. It's not quite as pressing of an issue considering their move to the less pass-happy Pac-12, but they still like to sling it out west.

Receiver: Colorado isn't exactly starving anywhere on offense, but receiver sticks out a bit. Toney Clemons was good, but maybe not quite what the Buffaloes hoped he'd be in 2010, but they caught a break in getting Paul Richardson back after a great freshman season. The Buffaloes need some complementary pieces around Clemons and Richardson to replace departed pass-catchers Scotty McKnight and Travon Patterson. Next year, that should be tight end Ryan Deehan and receiver Will Jefferson.

IOWA STATE

Receiver: It's been a struggle for Iowa State in recent years, but they have to get better outside to help out their quarterback. Sedrick Johnson's transfer only worsens the Cyclones depth at the position, but Jake Williams and tight end Collin Franklin, the team's leading receiver, are gone. Shontrelle Johnson looks ready to become a big factor in the offense, but the Cyclones filling the space at receiver will make it easier for Johnson to replace running back Alexander Robinson.

Safety: Both starters, David Sims and Zac Sandvig, are gone. So is the Cyclones top reserve at the position, Michael O'Connell. Sims was a top-notch talent that will be tough to replace, but Iowa State needs more depth here. They should be solid at corner with Leonard Johnson, Ter'ran Benton, Jeremy Reeves and Anthony Young, which could make the new safeties' jobs easier.

KANSAS

Defensive line: KU is losing three of four starters on the line, including the team's only All-Big 12 talent, defensive end Jake Laptad. Turner Gill wants more speed, and this is a place to install it. Tackles that tip the scales at 320 pounds aren't too necessary in this league, but speed on the edge can go a long way in stopping the pass.

Quarterback: Neither Jordan Webb or Quinn Mecham look like long-term answers at quarterback for the Jayhawks. Mecham will be a senior, and Webb might develop into a better player as a sophomore next year, but Kansas needs other options. The Jayhawks hope Brock Berglund, the top-rated recruit in Colorado, is the solution to the problem.

KANSAS STATE

Running back: I hear your cries for Bryce Brown, Wildcats fans, but K-State can't expect to hitch their wagon to the former blue-chip recruit turned Tennessee transfer in the same way it did for Daniel Thomas. Thomas and his backup, William Powell, are gone, and the Wildcats need some depth at running back to show up.

Interior offensive linemen: K-State loses both guards and its center from an offense that produced the Big 12's leading rusher in 2010. Don't expect them to do it again in 2011 without Wade Weibert, Kenneth Mayfield and Zach Kendall, as well as Thomas and Powell, but finding some new talent behind them will help them come close.

Cornerback: David Garrett emerged as a budding star in 2010 ready for a breakout senior year in 2011, but the Wildcats lose Terrance Sweeney and Stephen Harrison, as well as safety Troy Butler. Like we've mentioned earlier, good secondaries are a must for success in the Big 12, and K-State had one of the league's worst in 2010.

MISSOURI

Receiver: Missouri has some good ones ready to suit up in 2011, namely Wes Kemp, Jerrell Jackson and T.J. Moe, but the Tigers don't have a true gamebreaker. They have some younger players in Marcus Lucas and Jimmie Hunt who they hope will develop into big-time, All-American caliber receivers, a la Jeremy Maclin and Danario Alexander. In Missouri's system, though, adding a few receivers is always a good idea. They certainly don't need any more running backs.

Defensive backs: Mizzou doesn't have any huge holes that need to be filled with recruiting, but the Tigers lose both corners, Carl Gettis and Kevin Rutland from their 2010 team. Kip Edwards and E.J. Gaines look likely to fill those roles, but the Tigers could use some depth and keep recruiting in the secondary to help add some talent around Tavon Bolden and Matt White, safeties who will replace departed Jarrell Harrison, who actually had to play some linebacker in 2010 because of injuries.

NEBRASKA

Every kind of kicker: Alex Henery, the team's punter and kicker is gone. So is kickoff specialist and lover/producer of touchbacks, Adi Kunalic. Fan favorite Henery was hardly underappreciated by the Nebraska faithful, but they'll miss him even more if the Huskers can't find a suitable placekicker and punter. Bo Pelini was reportedly after Wake Forest commit Mauro Bondi this week.

Receiver: Niles Paul and Mike McNeill are gone. The Huskers need Brandon Kinnie to come through with another good year and it'd be nice if Quincy Enunwa broke through in 2011, but Taylor Martinez needs some more help at wide out, and a couple new recruits could provide it as Martinez's passing prowess matures.

Midseason review: Missouri

October, 12, 2010
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Missouri Tigers

Record: 5-0 (1-0 Big 12)

Missouri has safely secured its fourth 5-0 start in five years under coach Gary Pinkel, but the Tigers' real tests start now. Missouri's offense hasn't replaced the big-play threat it lost in Danario Alexander, but possession receivers Michael Egnew and T.J. Moe have helped pace the offense while racking up 83 receptions, 829 yards and five touchdowns between them. Both players rank in the top-10 nationally in receptions, with bubble screens, underneath routes and sure hands to thank. The longest play of Missouri's young season was also its biggest, a 68-yard, go-ahead touchdown in the final minute against San Diego State. Missouri's offense may lack the explosiveness it's had in the past, but with an improved defense, it hasn't needed to be. The Tigers gave up more than 25 points a game last season and ranked outside the top 100 in pass defense. This year, they're giving up just more than 11 points, tops in the Big 12 and No. 3 nationally. We'll find out just how good the defense is with games against Oklahoma and Texas A&M in the next two weeks, but the Tigers have clearly looked like the only real competition between Nebraska and a second consecutive North title.

Offensive MVP: WR T.J. Moe – This has been the year of emerging offensive stars in the Big 12. Like Justin Blackmon at Oklahoma State and Taylor Martinez at Nebraska, Moe has emerged as one of the Big 12's rising stars with five more catches and 129 more yards than Missouri's next-best receiver. Moe's hands are reminiscent of past Missouri star Chase Coffman, and Moe announced his presence loudly with 13 catches for 101 yards and a touchdown in the season opener against Illinois. Since, he's had at least seven catches and 79 yards in every game. But Moe will forever be remembered for his game-winning catch against San Diego State, saving Missouri from what could have been an embarrassing early defeat.

Defensive MVP: DC Dave Steckel – Missouri's battled injuries and suspensions all season, but Steckel, who took over as coordinator after the 2008 season, has kept his unit together and better than it's been in a long time. The Tigers have played without star defensive end Aldon Smith (broken fibula), linebacker Will Ebner (suspension), linebacker Luke Lambert (hamstring) and safeties Jarrell Harrison (meniscus) and Jasper Simmons (knee injury, suspension), who are all major contributors. But their replacements have stepped in and helped push the Tigers to a fantastic start defensively. Steckel's crew should be fun to watch if it can ever get back to full strength during conference play.

Lunch links: Joke-cracking coach

September, 7, 2010
9/07/10
12:15
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Somebody help these guys! STAT! His ankle! I think it's broken!

Injury bug biting Big 12 North

August, 12, 2010
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The top two teams in the Big 12 North have both suffered concerning injuries early in camp that have changed each's plans for their season openers on Sept. 4.

Nebraska's Mike Smith suffered the worst injury, a broken leg, in Tuesday's workout, Huskers coach Bo Pelini confirmed on Wednesday.

Smith had moved between center, left guard and left tackle throughout camp, but Pelini was confident in his unit despite being forced to play without Smith for 2010.

“We still have great competition,” Pelini told reporters after Wednesday's practice. “Really, not much has changed. Mike was kind of a swing guy. We were moving him to a number of different positions. So really, not a lot has changed.”

Smith's injury came a day after left tackle Yoshi Hardrick had to be taken to the hospital via ambulance after practice, presumably due to issues relating to the triple-digit heat in Lincoln. Hardrick attended but sat out Tuesday's and Wednesday's practices, and is expected to return Thursday.

Also, I have no plans to ever use his given name, "Jermarcus," in the forseeable future. The origin of the nickname? Yoshi's older brother (and I stress I am not making this up) is named Mario, and the two were extremely close growing up in Batesville, Miss. I'm not sure I've ever loved a nickname -- or it's roots -- more than that.


Missouri's Jerrell Jackson suffered a less-serious but more impactful injury in Tuesday's practice. The Tigers' leading returning receiver, Jackson broke a scaphoid bone in his left wrist on the end of a long catch-and-run and will miss an estimated four weeks. Three weeks from Saturday, Missouri opens its season in St. Louis against Illinois.

Though Jackson holds the distinction of the team's leading receiver, it's hardly a major blow for the Tigers. Junior Wes Kemp is just as experienced and had nice numbers (23 rec, 418 yards, 3 TDs vs. Jackson's 37 rec, 458 yards and 2 TDs). Additionally, Jackson's absence only provides more opportunity for T.J. Moe, who, by all accounts, has been one of the team's most consistent receivers after catching just two balls in 2009.

In the spring game, he caught 12 balls for 85 yards and the Columbia Tribune's Dave Matter predicted in his blog earlier this week that Moe would lead the team in receptions this season. Consider the odds helped a bit with the injury.

Most importantly, even if Jackson's recovery is slowed, opening 4-0 shouldn't be difficult for Missouri. They open with Illinois, who colleague Adam Rittenberg placed 11th in his preseason Big Ten power rankings. The Tigers' next three games are snoozers against McNeese State, San Diego State and Miami (Ohio). So, the situation could be worse for Missouri, who is also missing linebackers Luke Lambert (knee) and Will Ebner (hamstring) with minor injuries. Both should return soon.

Of more concern is safety Jarrell Harrison's torn meniscus, which abbreviated one of the featured position battles in Missouri's camp.

Injury ends preseason position battle

August, 11, 2010
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Missouri's secondary has to improve if the Tigers want to surpass their eight wins from 2009. A tight race at strong safety was ready to become one of the camp's main attractions.

Now an injury looks to have ended that race early.

Last year's starter, Jarrell Harrison, injured his knee in Tuesday's morning practice and he sat out the afternoon. Late last night, the team announced he'll have to undergo surgery on the knee for a torn meniscus, sidelining the senior until Missouri's Sept. 4 opener against Illinois at the earliest.

Meanwhile, junior Kenji Jackson, who entered camp as the starter, seems likely to lock down the spot over the next three weeks. Harrison could challenge for the spot when he returns, but it might take Jackson struggling during the season for that to happen.

Jackson has started nine games over the past two seasons, including five last year, when he had 41 tackles. He also started the final four games of his true freshman season and ranked seventh on the team with 62 tackles. Both of his two career interceptions came as a freshman.

Jasper Simmons looks to have a solid hold on the starting spot at free safety, and Missouri returns both corners from last year's team, Carl Gettis and Kevin Rutland.

Rutland was named one of the team's captains this year, and had one of the team's best springs, snatching four interceptions in five scrimmages. That's a great sign for a defense that intercepted just eight passes in 13 games last season.

Lunch links: Underwater practice field

August, 10, 2010
8/10/10
12:00
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Anybody have directions to Janet Reno's dance party tonight?

Opening camp: Missouri

August, 5, 2010
8/05/10
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Schedule: Practice starts today

What’s new: Not much, and that's a good thing. Missouri's coaching staff is intact and the team lost just three starters from a season ago. Two of those starters were leaders on last year's team (receiver Danario Alexander and linebacker Sean Weatherspoon), and replacing them will be key for Missouri to make a run at its third North title in four years.

Key battle: The secondary returns all four starters, but junior Kenji Jackson enters camp as the strong safety over last year's starter, senior Jarrell Harrison, who had two minor run-ins with the law this summer for shoplifting and trespassing. Missouri doesn't have a lot of battles for starting positions, but Jackson and Harrison should be the most exciting and impactful. Missouri gave up the second-most passing yards of any team in the Big 12 in 2009, and the back line has to improve for Missouri to improve on its eight-win season in 2009.

New on the scene: Blaine Gabbert's top target. Jerrell Jackson and Wes Kemp both have experience and could share the job pretty equally of catching balls from Gabbert, one of the conference's best quarterbacks. Alexander's 1,781 yards last season were more than any receiver in college football, but Kemp and Jackson could both realistically top 1,000 yards.

Breaking out: Receiver T.J. Moe or tight end Michael Egnew. Moe will be working the slot and had one of the best springs of any Missouri player. Egnew caught just three passes a season ago, but should be featured more prominently in the screen game like past tight ends at Missouri like Martin Rucker and Chase Coffman.

Don’t forget about: Kicker Grant Ressel. He missed just one kick (26-of-27) last season -- a 43-yarder in a downpour against Nebraska -- and eases the pressure on the offense to put the ball in the end zone deep in opponent's territory. If it doesn't, Ressel's pretty close to a sure thing in making sure three points get on the board.

All eyes on: Quarterback Blaine Gabbert. He's got an argument as the conference's best quarterback, but he'll try to prove it this season. Former Missouri star Chase Daniel established himself as a star and Heisman finalist his junior year. Gabbert will try to do the same.

Quoting: "When you look at our program, and I constantly evaluate everything we're doing, I think we've made a lot of progress. There's a consistency of winning that we have. There's a lot of things we have to accomplish, and I want to win at a higher level on a more consistent basis. So I think we look back to evaluate, and then you look forward. You know, I just want to continue to build our program and raise the standards of the winning." -- Missouri coach Gary Pinkel

  1. Kevin Rutland

    K_Rutland Fall camp is finally here. I can smell the practice grass in the air! Time to work...

Lunch links: Minor troubles for Missouri

August, 4, 2010
8/04/10
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My name's Al Harrington ... I get buckets.

Lunch links: No written agreement in place for Big 12

July, 6, 2010
7/06/10
12:15
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Long weekend. Two-part links post necessary to get you caught up. Part two's coming in about half an hour.

CB Rutland emerging as leader for Tigers D

April, 21, 2010
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COLUMBIA, Mo. -- The Mouth is gone. That was obvious the moment Missouri lined up to stretch before its first spring practice of the post-Sean Weatherspoon era. He won’t be back, and a mouth of Weatherspoon’s volume can’t be duplicated.

But while draftniks discuss whether or not it’s good for an NFL locker room, Missouri is doing it’s best to replace all the good that came from Weatherspoon’s daily demeanor and leadership.

Plenty of candidates abound for the Missouri defense that lost Weatherspoon and fellow outspoken leader and defensive tackle Jaron Baston from last year’s team that finished 8-5. Leading the way is senior cornerback Kevin Rutland.

“I’m trying to help on my own, but he definitely came in here and took that spot,” said senior cornerback Carl Gettis.

Rutland has led the way with his play, too. Production is a necessity for his words to have impact. In five scrimmages this spring, Rutland came away with four interceptions. No other Tiger defender had more than one.

“I’ve watched older players. I’ve been here the longest and I’ve seen what great leaders have done here, as far as Sean Weatherspoon, Lorenzo Williams, Tommy Saunders, Martin Rucker,” Rutland said. “”I watched those guys and I just felt them all my years here and now feel like it’s my time to pilot this team.”

Rutland’s ballhawking antics would be much appreciated this fall. Last season, Missouri defenders intercepted just eight passes in 13 games, second-fewest in the Big 12.

“We’ve had constantly good linebacker play. We’ve had constantly good D-line play. But it seems at times our secondary would fall apart,” Rutland said. “We’ve got to eliminate that completely and we’ll be a great defense.”

Rutland and three other seniors in the Missouri secondary (Gettis and safeties Jasper Simmons and Jarrell Harrison) are ready to make fans and critics forget about their 2009 shortcomings. Rutland has no plans to contribute to a secondary that gave up over 250 yards per game and 20 touchdowns last season.

“Every year we have something to prove,” Rutland said. “You come into a new season, you have goals set to reach every time. If you fall short of that, then it’s an incomplete season.”

Defense dominates in Tigers' scrimmage

March, 22, 2010
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Missouri's defense allowed a combined 74 points in its last two games. But in the first scrimmage of spring workouts, the Tiger defense took their first step toward eliminating the memories of those two forgettable performances.

Quarterback Blaine Gabbert completed just 9 of 25 passes for 105 yards, a touchdown and an interception. His backup, Jimmy Costello, completed 5 of 22 passes for 32 yards. The other three quarterbacks combined for 26-of-37 passing, a touchdown and two interceptions.

Missouri's quarterbacks completed 42 percent of their passes and the defense allowed just two touchdowns throughout the two-hour scrimmage.

Missouri's cornerbacks, often a source of frustration for fans and coaches a season ago, touted a new, more physical approach as the reason for the success.

Often on third-down and red-zone situations, Missouri's corners showed off their skills in press coverage, jamming receivers at the line of scrimmage and disrupting the offense's timing.

“To play in the Big 12, you have to be physical,” senior cornerback Carl Gettis told the Columbia Tribune. “And the only way we can win a championship in the Big 12 is to be physical.”

Part of the coaches' confidence necessary to turn to a more aggressive defensive approach comes from returning an experienced secondary, regardless of past failures. The Tigers return both starting corners (Gettis and Kevin Rutland) and both starting safeties (Jarrell Harrison and Jasper Simmons) -- now all seniors.

Missouri gave up the second-most pass yards in the Big 12 in 2009, and intercepted just eight passes -- seven by cornerbacks -- in 13 games. The Missouri pass defense ranked 104th nationally.

Coach Gary Pinkel admitted the offense struggled, and any scrimmages that look too one-sided can be a reason for concern, but he has to be pleased with the progress of his secondary.

Rutland led the team with two interceptions in 2009, but picked off another two passes on Saturday to equal his total from his entire junior season.

Weak & Strong: Missouri

March, 15, 2010
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Here, we’ll take a look at one area where each team in the Big 12 can expect to succeed, and another that needs improvement.

Missouri

Weak: Pass defense

The Tigers return experience at all positions in senior corners Carl Gettis and Kevin Rutland and senior safeties Jasper Simmons and Jarrell Harrison, but that experience must translate into on-field results for Missouri to eliminate its glaring weakness from last season.

Missouri ranked 11th in the Big 12 in pass defense, and opponents completed over 64 percent of their passes, nearly two full percentage points higher than any other team in the conference.

Everyone on the defense is to blame for that, from the pass rush up front, to the linebackers covering in space all the way back to the safeties protecting the back line.

At least the pass defense won’t have to see Todd Reesing anymore, who threw for 873 yards and eight touchdowns combined in the past two meetings with Missouri at Arrowhead Stadium.

Strong: Running back

The Tigers are deep and versatile next to quarterback Blaine Gabbert in the shotgun. Senior Derrick Washington is a 6-foot, 225-pound, experienced rumbler not lacking in speed. He topped 1,000 yards as a sophomore before seeing drops in yardage and touchdowns despite more touches as a junior.

Junior De'Vion Moore is a speedier 5-foot-9, 195-pounder not lacking in power. Moore carried the ball just 63 times in 2009, but is a suitable backup. Sophomore Kendial Lawrence also showed promise, rushing for 219 yards on 52 carries as a freshman and will try to find the end zone for the first time in his second season.

But no amount of talent in the backfield will matter if the offensive line can’t clear the way for a climb out of the middle of the pack in rushing offense in 2009. Missouri was No. 7 in the Big 12 in yards per carry and No. 8 in yards per game.

More Weak & Strong:

Big 12 North recruiting needs

January, 21, 2010
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Signing day is just around the corner, and each Big 12 team is doing what it can to keep together its class while adding a late upgrade in talent.

Here's a look at what immediate recruiting needs each North Division team must address first.

Colorado

Running back: With the departure of Darrell Scott and Demetrius Sumler, Dan Hawkins needs to find some talent at running back. With only three scholarship backs on the roster, an immediate talent infusion is needed. Tony Jones is the only commitment and the Buffaloes could use size from a bigger back.

Tight end/H-back: All of the positions are important in Kent Riddle’s offense, and six players graduated from those positions in December. The only player who will return with experience includes junior tight end Ryan Deehan, so Hawkins needs players at the position who can help immediately.

Quarterback: With Tyler Hansen set at quarterback and Cody Hawkins set to graduate after next season, the Buffaloes still would like to add some depth at the position. Nick Hirschman has enrolled early to get a head start on his development, and Josh Moten appears ready to enroll after failing to make his grades before last season.

Iowa State

Across the board talent infusion: The Cyclones already have added 24 commitments for the upcoming season. Junior college players like massive offensive lineman Jon Caspers, defensive end Rony Nelson, wide receiver Anthony Young and tight end Ricky Howard should provide an immediate lift. And look for coach Paul Rhoads to add a couple of more to capitalize on the late momentum from the Insight Bowl victory.

Running back: Preparing for the future will be important as Alexander Robinson will be entering his senior season. Freshmen Beau Blankenship still has some developing to do and Jeremiah Schwartz has left the program. The Cyclones have added depth with the addition of Duran Hollis and Shontrelle Johnson. Don’t be surprised if Hollis moves positions once he comes to college if Johnson develops as expected.

Wide receiver: The Cyclones had trouble making big plays and could use a talent boost at the position. Leading 2009 receiver Marquis Hamilton has graduated and Jake Williams will be a senior next season. Recruits Jarvis West and Chris Young appear to have addressed those needs.

Kansas

Defensive end: The Jayhawks could use a talent upgrade here with occasional starters Jeff Wheeler and Maxwell Onyegbule graduated, and Jake Laptad and Quintin Woods entering their senior seasons in 2010. It became more of a need after Oklahoma beat out the Jayhawks for top defensive end prospect Geneo Grissom earlier this week.

Quarterback: With unproven Kale Pick set to take over for Todd Reesing, the Jayhawks have added junior college transfer Quinn Mecham of Snow Junior College to immediately contend for playing time. Meacham threw for 3,091 yards and 40 touchdowns last season and has already captured the attention of new offensive coordinator Chuck Long because of his experience in the spread offense.

Secondary: New coach Turner Gill also needs help in the secondary where starters Darrell Stuckey and Justin Thornton were seniors and Philip Strozier, Chris Harris and Calvin Rubles will be seniors next season.

Kansas State

Adjust time-held notions to recruiting: Bill Snyder said recruiting seemed “out of kilter” in his first season back because of how teams now are in a hurry to link up with rising juniors. This strategy has caused Snyder to change his recruiting strategy, looking into signing more players earlier than in his previous coaching strategy.

Junior-college additions again will be critical in the trenches: Snyder has attacked the junior colleges with his traditional fervor as he attempts to unearth a couple of under-recruited gems in the offensive line and defensive lines -- the Wildcats’ two primary needs. Also, the Wildcats need some immediate help from the junior colleges after a recruiting imbalance during the last two seasons under Ron Prince that has left them with a need for immediate contributors. Snyder has estimated that up to 13 players will enroll at the semester break to contend immediately for playing time.

Quarterback: Even with a crowded group of potential contenders at the position, Snyder is still considering another quarterback. Carson Coffman, Sammuel Lamur, Collin Klein and Oregon transfer Chris Harper all are in the mix at the position heading into spring practice.

Missouri

Wide receiver: The Tigers have a lot of talent returning, but still will lose leading 2009 receiver Danario Alexander and Jared Perry. The opportunity for eventual playing time will be there for new arrivals, although Jerrell Jackson, Brandon Gerau, T.J. Moe and Wes Kemp will be back.

Nose tackle: The graduation of Jaron Baston and Bart Coslet’s senior-to-be status opens up a position for a contribution in the trenches for the Tigers.

Secondary: All four of Missouri’s projected starters next season -- cornerbacks Carl Gettis and Kevin Rutland and safety Jarrell Harrison and Jasper Simmons -- will be seniors. The Tigers need to restock depth at the position and perhaps move it forward from this class.

Nebraska

Defensive end: The Cornhuskers could use an additional player with Barry Turner graduating and Pierre Allen set to enter his senior season in 2010. They are in the hunt with Oregon for Owamagbe Odighizuwa, a heralded speed rusher from Portland, Ore., who would be the crown jewel in the Cornhuskers’ incoming class if he commits.

Wide receivers: Many players are back, although the Cornhuskers could use an infusion of speed at the position. Niles Paul will be a senior and more talent is needed to make the Cornhuskers competitive with the athletic teams in the South Division like Texas, Oklahoma and Texas Tech.

Safety: Starters Matt O’Hanlon and Larry Asante both will be graduating and Eric Hagg will be a senior in 2010. The Cornhuskers will need some help to join with youngsters Courtney Osborne, Austin Cassidy and P.J. Smith at the position.

What to watch at Big 12 spring practices

February, 13, 2009
2/13/09
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Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Griffin

The Big 12 should again be loaded in 2009. And the spring will feature several key positional battles and holes to fill that will go a long way in determining whether Oklahoma can make history and claim a fourth-straight championship this season.

Here a look at each team and three major items to watch in spring practice.

NORTH DIVISION

Colorado Buffaloes

Spring practice begins: March 31

Spring game: April 25

What to watch:

  • The health of the team: The Buffaloes' players lost a combined total of 121 games to due to illness or injury last season. Some players like tight end Riar Geer, guards Devin Head, Maxwell Tuioti-Mariner and Mike Iltis, linebacker Jon Major and cornerback Jalil Brown will be limited during the spring because of past injuries. But others like tackle Ryan Miller, tailback Rodney Stewart and cornerback Benjamin Burney should be good to go throughout the spring. Coach Dan Hawkins won't push things, but it will be good to have as many regulars as possible practicing again.
  • The return of Darrell Scott: The conference's most publicized running back recruit of 2008 never could get untracked, rushing for disappointing totals of 343 yards and 3.9 yards per carry last season. The spring will give him a chance to show why he was one of the nation's top recruits in the Class of 2008.
  • Settle the kicking game: After Colorado kickers combined to shank 11 of 17 attempts last season, it might be the last chance for Aric Goodman or Jameson Davis to show what they can do after their struggles last season and the arrival of heralded recruit Zach Grossnickle in the fall.

Iowa State Cyclones

Spring practice begins: March 24

Spring game: April 18

What to watch:

  • Paul Rhoads' early assimilation: After his hiring last Dec. 23, Rhoads has concentrated on recruiting and building a coaching staff. Being able to work on the field with his team will likely be a relief for him after such a hectic start.
  • Help in the secondary: The Cyclones lose starters Chris Singleton and Brandon Hunley from a unit that ranked in the bottom 10 nationally in pass efficiency defense and pass defense. Rhoads' specialty is defense, but he'll have his work cut out with his new unit.
  • Finding another starter at wide receiver: Darius Darks is back after an impressive freshman season, but Rhoads needs to find a replacement for 2008 leading receiver R.J. Sumrall. Look for Sedrick Johnson, Marquis Hamilton and Houston Jones all to have their chances at the starting unit during the spring.

Kansas Jayhawks

Spring practice begins: March 9

Spring game: April 11

What to watch:

  • Finding starters at linebackers: The Jayhawks must completely rebuild their linebacking corps as James Holt, Mike Rivera and Joe Mortensen all are gone from last season. Arist Wright and Dakota Lewis are in the mix because of their experience. A bigger wild card could be converted running back Angus Quigley, who turned heads with his defensive instincts and tackling in work before the Jayhawks' bowl game last season.
  • Get a consistent kick returner: The mystifying struggles of Marcus Herford last season resulted in a drop of more than 8 yards per kick return as the Jayhawks fell from seventh in 2007 to 118th nationally last season. Dezmon Briscoe showed flashes of being a productive returner late in the season, but more work from different players will be needed in the spring to shore up the area.
  • Rebuild the center of the offensive line: Losing starting guards Chet Hartley and Adrian Mayes along with center Ryan Cantrell will be the biggest offensive concern this spring for the Jayhawks. Carl Wilson and Sal Kapra should get a long look at guard and Brad Thorson will given the first shot at center.

Kansas State Wildcats:

Spring practice begins: April 6

Spring game: May 2

What to watch:

  • Bill Snyder's return to coaching: The wily Snyder will be facing the biggest challenge of his professional career after returning after a three-year coaching sabbatical. The Wildcats aren't as bad as they were in 1989 when Snyder originally took over, but the Big 12 is a much tougher than the Big Eight was in those days. And it will test the patience and legendary work ethic of Snyder to get the Wildcats back into Big 12 title contention in the immediate future.
  • The quarterback battle: New offensive coordinator Andy Ludwig is one of the conference's most notable hirings after his strong recent work at Utah. Ludwig will be challenged as he looks at Carson Coffman or junior-college transfer Daniel Thomas to replace Josh Freeman as his starting quarterback.
  • Looking for a defensive turnaround: The Wildcats were woeful last season, ranking among the bottom 10 teams nationally in rushing defense, scoring defense and total defense and 106th nationally in pass defense. It will likely try the patience of new coordinator Chris Cosh, who will be looking for replacements along the defensive front for Brandon Balkcom and Ian Campbell. One potential playmaker could be Jeff Fitzgerald, who started 13 games for Virginia in 2007.

Missouri Tigers

Spring practice begins: March 10

Spring game: April 18

What to watch:

  • The changing of the guard on offense -- and then some: Gone are all-time greats like Chase Daniel, Jeremy Maclin and Chase Coffman, along with productive receivers Tommy Saunders and Earl Goldsmith. Offensive coordinator Dave Christensen has left for the Wyoming coaching job, meaning that Dave Yost takes over as the coordinator along with Blaine Gabbert at quarterback, Andrew Jones at tight end and Jerrell Jackson as the featured receiver. Collectively, it will be the largest transformation in Gary Pinkel's coaching tenure at Missouri.
  • Finding a pass rush: Three starters are gone along the defensive front as productive starters Stryker Sulak, Tommy Chavis and Ziggy Hood all are gone from last year. Look for redshirt defensive end Aldon Smith to get in the fight for playing time immediately, along with holdover Brian Coulter at defensive end if he can recover quickly from labrum surgery. Terrell Resonno and Dominique Hamilton will get a long look at defensive tackle before the arrival of heralded "tight end" Sheldon Richardson in the summer.
  • Secondary assistance: The Tigers need help after losing starting safeties Justin Garrett and William Moore and cornerback Tru Vaughns from last year's team. Considering all of the prolific offenses in the Big 12, this will capture much of defensive coordinator Matt Eberflus' attention as newcomers like safety Jarrell Harrison and cornerback Robert Steeples will show what they can do.

Nebraska Cornhuskers

Spring practice begins: March 21

Spring game: April 18

What to watch:

  • The battle for quarterback: One of the nation's most intriguing quarterback battles will play out during the spring. Incoming freshman Cody Green arrived in college early intent to battle for the starting job and become the first four-year starting quarterback for the Cornhuskers since Eric Crouch. Holdovers Patrick Witt, Zac Lee and redshirt freshman Kody Spanos all are in the hunt to replace Joe Ganz. Witt has more experience, but it's not much more than any other contender. It should be interesting to see how offensive coordinator Shawn Watson handles the competition.
  • Find starters at wide receiver: The Cornhuskers lose starters Nate Swift and Todd Peterson who combined for 125 receptions last season as the team's two major receiving threats. Menelik Holt has more experience than any other returner, although coaches are salivating about the chance to work with Antonio Bell, a 2008 recruit who wasn't on the team last season while he got his grades in order.
  • Rebuild the right side of the offensive line: Powerful blockers Matt Slauson at guard and tackle Lydon Murtha both are gone from last season, leaving a huge void for offensive line coach Barney Cotton to fill. Marcel Jones and D.J. Jones should get the first crack at the starting jobs during the spring.

SOUTH DIVISION

Baylor Bears

Spring practice begins: March 3

Spring game: April 4

What to watch:

  • Competition at offensive tackle: The Bears will be looking for two new starting tackles to replace Don Gay and Jason Smith along the offensive line. Sophomore Joe Korbel figures to get a look at one of the positions, but beyond him it's anybody's guess who will replace the talented pair that combined for 73 career starts.
  • New starters on the left side of the defensive line: Starting defensive end Leon Freeman and defensive tackle Vincent Rhodes both will be gone after their eligibility expired. The only holes in Baylor's front seven will be found there as Jameon Hardeman and Zac Scotton will challenge at defensive end and Sam Sledge at defensive tackle.
  • Better production in their pass defense: The Bears struggled mightily last season and could never seem to produce big plays when they needed them, ranking 103rd in pass defense, 84th in sacks and 109th in tackles for losses. Another spring learning the concepts of defensive coordinator Brian Norwood should benefit them and perhaps serve as a catalyst for a bowl berth with significant improvement.

Oklahoma Sooners

Spring practice begins: March 3

Spring game: April 11

What to watch:

  • Help at wide receiver: After losing Juaquin Iglesias, Quentin Chaney and Manuel Johnson from last season's BCS title-game runner-up, the Sooners desperately need some players to emerge this spring. Ryan Broyles assumes the No. 1 position, although junior college receiver Cameron Kenney will help, along with Brandon Caleb from last season's two-deep roster. It will also be noteworthy to watch the work of running back Mossis Madu, who will receive some work at slot receiver.
  • Competition in the offensive line: Trent Williams is the only returning starter from last season for a talented veteran group that will lose four starters who combined for 149 starts during their college career. The Sooners aren't devoid of talent, but it's just untested. It means they need a big lift this spring from players like tackle Cory Brandon, guards Brian Simmons and Alex Williams and center Jason Hannan.
  • New look at safety: Nic Harris and Lendy Holmes seemingly had been at Oklahoma since
    the days of Brian Bosworth. That's a little bit of an exaggeration, but the Sooner duo combined for 83 starts and provided steady, efficient defense throughout their careers. Quinton Carter and Desmond Jackson appear poised to take over for them, although it will be impossible for the Sooners to match their experience.

Oklahoma State Cowboys

Spring practice begins: March 9

Spring game: April 18

What to watch:

  • Bill Young's work: Oklahoma State has the offense to challenge for the Big 12 championship. But the success of the season ultimately will be determined by the defense generated by new defensive coordinator Bill Young. The Cowboys return six starters but must improve drastically after last season's late collapse that saw them blistered for 56, 61 and 42 points among their final three games of the season.
  • Help at safety and defensive tackle: The Cowboys lose starters Tonga Tea and Jeray Chatham at tackle and starting safeties Quinton Moore and Ricky Price. Those key positions in the heart of Oklahoma State's defense will command much of Young's attention. He's particularly excited about the play of Swanson Miller and Shane Jarka and Johnny Thomas at safety. But other players need to step up when they get their chance.
  • Develop depth at wide receiver: Dez Bryant accounted for a larger percentage of completions than any other wide receiver in the Big 12. His absence this spring as he recovers from knee surgery will enable others to have a chance to play and become acclimated with the first-string offense. The Cowboys' depth at the position is aggravated after Bo Bowling was suspended after his arrest earlier this week. It will provide players like Hubert AnyiamJosh Cooper and DeMarcus Conner an opportunity to work with Zac Robinson while Bryant and Bowling are gone.

Texas Longhorns

Spring practice begins: Feb. 27

Spring game: April 5

What to watch:

  • Build consistency in the running game: The Longhorns ranked 41st nationally in rushing last season -- their worst national ranking since 2002 -- and relied on Colt McCoy as their primary running threat. That dangerous strategy has to change this season if the Longhorns have any legitimate national title contenders. Key tasks during the spring will be to build cohesion in an offensive line that loses only starter Cedric Dockery from last season and additional work for Fozzy Whittaker, who struggled with injuries most of his freshman season last year.
  • Rebuild the defensive front: The Longhorns had the nation's most productive pass rush, leading the country with an average of 3.62 sacks per game last season. It will be a challenge to replace key players like Brian Orakpo, Roy Miller and Henry Melton. But defensive coordinator Will Muschamp liked what he saw in limited playing time for players like Sam Acho, Russell Carter, Ben Alexander, Michael Wilcoxson, Kheeston Randall and Eddie Jones. Those players, along with possibly Sergio Kindle getting more playing time at defensive end, will be key to Texas' defensive hopes this season. And incoming freshmen Dominique Jones, Alex Okafor and Kyle Kriegel all arrived at college early to challenge for immediate playing time.
  • Build confidence with young receivers: Leading receiver Quan Cosby graduated and Jordan Shipley will miss spring work after recovering from shoulder surgery. It will give McCoy a chance to build confidence in some of the younger members of his receiving corps, most notably Brandon Collins, Dan Buckner, Malcolm Williams and James Kirkendoll.

Texas A&M

Spring practice begins: March 26

Spring game: April 18

Spring practice ends: April 24

What to watch:

  • Additional development of young talent: The Aggies were one of the nation's youngest teams last season as 10 true freshmen combined to see action in 90 games and start in 41 of them. The spring will provide an additional opportunity for those young players and others on the roster to gain much-needed experience.
  • Improvement of the pass rush: The biggest hole on defense for the Aggies will be at defensive end where Michael Bennett, Amos Gbunblee and Cyril Obiozor accounted for most of the playing time last season from a group that ranked 11th in the Big 12 and 100th nationally in sacks. Paul Freeney is poised to assume one of the starting positions there. The other side looks like a wide-open battle that will play out throughout the spring and into summer camp.
  • Find a running back: Coach Mike Sherman will be looking at Keondra Smith, Cyrus Gray and Bradley Stephens for the role as the Aggies' featured running back -- for a few weeks anyway. Whoever wins that battle may celebrate a kind of pyrrhic victory as heralded running back Christine Michael arrives for fall camp as the Aggies' likely featured back. But Sherman likely will be working on building depth in the spring.

Texas Tech Red Raiders

Spring practice begins: March 25

Spring game: April 18

Spring practice ends: April 20

What to watch:

  • Any passing game regression?: Graham Harrell and Michael Crabtree rewrote the national record book as one of the most prolific pass-and-catch
    combinations in NCAA history. But yet, the Red Raiders always have always had a potent passing attack with Mike Leach in charge. It will be interesting to see Taylor Potts' development at quarterback and the growth of wide receivers like Detron Lewis, Lyle Leong, Edward Britton, Rashad Hawk and Tramain Swindall as they try to fill those big shoes for the Red Raiders.
  • Find a pass-rushing threat: Defensive end Brandon Williams is turning pro after leading the Big 12 with a school-record 12 sacks last season. McKinner Dixon was a big performer in spot duty last season and could be ready to emerge, as is junior-college transfer Daniel Howard.
  • Rebuild the left side of the offensive line: Rylan Reed and Louis Vasquez were the two most decorated linemen in Texas Tech history during their careers. The productive duo will be missed, along with starting center Stephen Hamby. Chris Olson at left tackle and Lonnie Edwards at left guard aren't nearly as big or experienced as Reed and Vasquez. Growth during the spring for the unit will be important as the Red Raiders prepare for a difficult September schedule.
Tags:

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