Big 12: Jeremy Maclin

ESPN draft expert Mel Kiper has two Big 12 players -- Oklahoma’s Lane Johnson and Texas’ Kenny Vaccaro -- potentially going in the first round of this year’s NFL draft.

Fellow expert Todd McShay has the same two as Kiper and also is optimistic about the chances of West Virginia’s Geno Smith and Tavon Austin.

So let’s split the difference and label the potential Big 12 first-round picks as an optimistic three, with Johnson being the only absolute first-round lock.

Those three would represent the fewest Big 12 players taken in the first round of the NFL draft since 2008. Even if four went, the Big 12 still would have the fewest since 2008.

That year, only Kansas -- yep, the Jayhawks -- managed a first-rounder, Aqib Talib to Tampa Bay with the 20th pick. In the four drafts that followed, the Big 12 has always put at least five players into the first round, including the first four overall picks in 2010.

How well this year’s group of first-round picks will fare might not be known for years. What is known, though, is how well Big 12 players have done when they are selected in the first round. With that in mind, here is a ranking -- from worst to best -- of the Big 12’s best first-round draft classes over the past 10 years.

2008: It’s all about quantity, and a little bit of quality. In 2008, the Big 12 only produced one first-round pick, Talib. He has not produced dramatic returns in the NFL. In the past two years, he has only started nine games. He was somewhat productive for Tampa Bay in the previous three seasons, starting 41 games and playing in 53. But, again, he was the only Big 12 player taken in the first round in 2008.

2006: Vince Young is working out at Texas’ pro day at the end of March. Enough said. Davin Joseph and Michael Huff have been solid producers. But when the No. 3 overall pick is out of the league and having to work out at his alma mater's pro day, it means it was a bad year for the Big 12 in the first round of the NFL draft.

2004: Tommie Harris and Marcus Tubbs, the two defensive tackles taken in the first round, were productive for a few years, with Harris selected to Pro Bowls in 2005, '06 and ’07 before he was beset by injuries. Tubbs lasted four seasons in the NFL. Roy Williams had 5,715 receiving yards but never lived up to the hype he generated coming out of Texas. Rashaun Woods played only two years and had seven career catches.

2005: The lack of numbers might be what hurts this group the most. Cedric Benson, Jammal Brown, Derrick Johnson, Mark Clayton and Fabian Washington all proved they could play at the NFL level. Benson has had three 1,000-yard-plus seasons. Johnson is one of the top linebackers in the game. Brown remains a solid option on the offensive line. Clayton played seven NFL seasons; Washington played six. But there were only five guys selected and that isn't enough to push 2005 to the top of the list.

[+] EnlargeAdrian Peterson
Andy Clayton King/Getty ImagesThe Big 12's 2007 draft class wasn't huge, but did feature 2012 NFL MVP Adrian Peterson.
2009: Every Big 12 player selected in the first round in 2009 has produced and appears to be poised to continue to do so. Only Jason Smith didn’t have a start last year. But the offensive lineman still played in all 16 games for the New York Jets. Michael Crabtree, Brian Orakpo, Josh Freeman, Jeremy Maclin, Brandon Pettigrew and Ziggy Hood are all starters for their respective teams.

2007: It wasn’t the biggest group, but it did include Adrian Peterson, so there could be some quibbling that maybe 2007 should be higher in the rankings. Throw in Aaron Ross and Michael Griffin and the debate could get even more heated. Adam Carriker was also taken this year. He started his career strong but suffered an injury and only played in two games last season.

2003: Kevin Williams has been the standout of this group. The defensive tackle has started every game but four in his 10-year career. Terence Newman has been effective as a defensive back, first in Dallas and last season in Cincinnati. Tyler Brayton played at least 15 games on the defensive line in a nine-year career. Ty Warren played eight solid seasons for New England but tailed off last season with Denver. Andre Woolfolk lasted four seasons, mostly as a reserve.

2011: Von Miller, who was the highest pick among Big 12 players this year, has proved to be the top player so far. Aldon Smith is not far behind. Add in Prince Amukamara, Phillip Taylor, who when healthy is a starter at defensive tackle, a somewhat productive Blaine Gabbert and Nate Solder as well as reliable backups Danny Watkins and Jimmy Smith and this proved to be a successful year for Big 12 first-round selections.

2012: Three quarterbacks, and all were not only starters as rookies but also made huge differences for their respective squads. Clearly, Robert Griffin III made the most dramatic impact, but Ryan Tannehill, with the Dolphins, and Brandon Weeden, with Cleveland, were both solid. Kendall Wright and Justin Blackmon each had 64 catches, for Tennessee and Jacksonville, respectively. Blackmon was targeted more (133 to 104) and had 200 more receiving yards.

2010: This list maybe doesn’t have the star power and is not littered with offensive playmakers, but six of the nine players picked were selected for the 2013 NFL Pro Bowl: Gerald McCoy, Trent Williams, Ndamukong Suh, Earl Thomas, Russell Okung and Jermaine Gresham. And the other three players -- Dez Bryant, Sam Bradford and Sean Weatherspoon -- were vital pieces for their respective teams.
We took a look at the All-Big 12 crossover team earlier this week, but colleague Ted Miller took a look at the All-Pac-12/NFL team over at the Pac-12 blog on Tuesday.

So, what about the Big 12? I'm glad you asked.

I love the NFL, and it's time to take a look at the Big 12's top players at the next level. This isn't about what you did in college. This is about what you've done at the next level. Sorry, Vince Young.

You must be active, and I'm judging this team based on how good players are right now. However, I included players from teams in the Big 12 during the 2011 season.

Let's start with the offense:

QB: Sam Bradford, St. Louis Rams (Oklahoma)

Bradford edges out Kansas State's Josh Freeman for this award. Bradford won Rookie of the Year honors after winning the Heisman at OU, but had a rough sophomore season. Either way, it's Bradford's spot here.

RB: Adrian Peterson, Minnesota Vikings (Oklahoma)

Peterson's recovering from a serious knee injury, but he's got a case as the game's best running back.

RB: Jamaal Charles, Kansas City Chiefs (Texas)

Charles is coming back from a torn ACL, but he rushed for 1,467 yards in 2010, his second consecutive 1,000-yard season.

WR: Wes Welker, New England Patriots (Texas Tech)

I hated to leave Michael Crabtree off this list, but there's no doubt Welker belongs. His 1,569 receiving yards in 2011 were a career high, and his fourth 1,000-yard season.

WR: Jeremy Maclin, Philadelphia Eagles (Missouri)

Maclin is a deep threat for Michael Vick and dangerous as a runner, too. Anybody who saw him at Mizzou isn't surprised. He dealt with a cancer scare in 2011, but should get back to his form in 2012 like he was in 2010, catching 70 passes for 964 yards and 10 scores.

WR: Dez Bryant, Dallas Cowboys (Oklahoma State)

Bryant's a rising star, but health issues have slowed him a bit. He nearly doubled his production in 2011, his second season, with 928 yards and nine touchdowns.

TE: Jermichael Finley, Green Bay Packers (Texas)

Finley's been a big target for MVP Aaron Rodgers, and caught eight touchdown passes on 55 catches for 767 yards.

OL: Jammal Brown, Washington Redskins (Oklahoma)

Brown is a two-time Pro Bowler and a one-time All-Pro who left OU as an Outland Trophy winner in 2004. Most impressive? He's started 84 of a career 85 games.

OL: Davin Joseph, Tampa Bay Buccaneers (Oklahoma)

Joseph made two Pro Bowls (2008, 2011) and helped pave the way for LeGarrette Blount and a powerful Bucs rushing offense. He only took a season as a part-time starter before earning full-time honors in his second year in Tampa.

OL: Jeromey Clary, San Diego Chargers (Kansas State)

Clary started 60 games since being drafted in the sixth round in 2006.

OL: Phil Loadholt, Minnesota Vikings (Oklahoma)

Loadholt was a juco transfer who made a big impact on one of the best O-lines in Big 12 history for the 2008 Sooners. He's started every game of the first three years of his career for the Vikings helping pave the way for Adrian Peterson.

OL: Louis Vasquez, San Diego Chargers (Texas Tech)

Vasquez was the only rookie starter for the Chargers in 2009, and he's started all 34 games of his career. He already established himself as one of his division's top linemen.

Come back later this week when we tackle the defense.

Who would you have on the team?

Who are the rising stars at quarterback?

November, 2, 2011
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ESPN's Brock Huard named his five quarterbacks in the "next wave" of stars, and topping the list?

None other than Missouri's James Franklin.

Writes Huard:
Sturdy, strong and athletic, Franklin is the most powerfully built of the quarterbacks mentioned here. He's been thrown right into the fire this season with road tests against the Arizona State Sun Devils, Oklahoma Sooners, Kansas State Wildcats and Texas A&M Aggies in his first eight games as a starter.

Franklin had his first signature win in College Station last weekend, and the early adversity he has faced in his career will pay dividends for him and the program in the future. Franklin has weathered the brutal schedule with 13 touchdowns, seven interceptions and a 61 percent completion percentage, plus an additional 542 yards and 10 touchdowns on the ground. He is calm, oblivious at times in the pocket, and his unwavering poise has won over head coach Gary Pinkel.

"This guy has a chance to be special," Pinkel said. "He is further ahead at this time in his career than the three quarterbacks who preceded him."

In case you didn't know, Pinkel's last three quarterbacks (Brad Smith, Chase Daniel, Blaine Gabbert) are all making a nice living in the NFL.

I'd agree with Huard. Franklin's been outstanding, one of a handful of great young quarterbacks in the league. Franklin's unorthodox passing mechanics present obvious questions, but he's hung tough in some really difficult situations. The 20-yard touchdown run against Texas A&M last week was arguably his best highlight of the seasons, with apologies to a clutch touchdown pass to Marcus Lucas against Arizona State.

Consider, also, that Franklin lacks an elite target at receiver or tight end like Danario Alexander in Gabbert's first year as starter or Jeremy Maclin, Chase Coffman or Martin Rucker in Daniel's first season.

Franklin's unusual calm in the pocket can look uncomfortably serene at times, but I see it working to his advantage in the future as his experience and accuracy grows.

His future looks promising, but he's not the only one in the Big 12. Which first-year starter has impressed you most this season? Vote in our poll.

Assessing the contenders: Missouri

July, 14, 2011
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Heading into the season, I see five teams in the Big 12 with a realistic chance to win the league. I'll be breaking them down in order (which won't be the same as my post-spring power rankings) of their chances to leave the season with the Big 12 title.

No. 1 on the list was the favorite: Oklahoma.

No. 2 was Texas A&M.

Oklahoma State came in at No. 3.

Why the Tigers will win the Big 12

1. Experience. Missouri returns 105 starts on the offensive line, losing only center Tim Barnes. That's the most in the Big 12 and 11th most in the nation on an offensive line that was fantastic in 2010. Just less than 80 percent of its total lettermen return, eighth-most in college football. That's a lot of guys who have been around, and the Tigers knocked over a big wall last year when they toppled the Sooners. Eliminate Mizzou's curious road hiccup at Texas Tech, and the Tigers would have been back in the Big 12 title game instead of sharing the Big 12 North with Nebraska after a third 10-win season in four years.

2. Dave Steckel. The Tigers' defense has steadily improved under Steckel, who previously coached linebackers under Matt Eberflus. Missouri had its best defense under Gary Pinkel last year, and that could continue this year with a great mix of experience and upside at linebacker, with Will Ebner and Zaviar Gooden set to knock around a few folks. Missouri's defense is noticeably tougher under Steckel, and though the Tigers must replace Aldon Smith and both starting corners, don't expect it to take a big jump back. Though Kip Edwards and E.J. Gaines lack the experience of Carl Gettis and Kevin Rutland, they may prove to be better corners very soon.

3. The defensive line. And what's the best way to negate inexperience at corner? How about the Big 12's best defensive line. Brad Madison is arguably the Big 12's best returning pass-rusher, and his counterpart at defensive end, Jacquies Smith, is one of the better ends in the Big 12, too. Missouri also has the best depth of any defensive line, with Michael Sam and Kony Ealy itching to spell Madison and Smith. At defensive tackle, Terrell Resonno could be poised for a breakout year, and blue-chip recruit Sheldon Richardson, if/when he actually makes it to campus, should join Dominique Hamilton at the opposite tackle spot, making sure Missouri's front four are not to be trifled.

Why the Tigers won't win the Big 12

1. The quarterback has never started a game. Sometimes, it's just this simple. James Franklin may blossom into a star at Missouri, but as a first-year starter, he's bound to have a few bad nights. Can Missouri survive them? Its Big 12 title hopes depend on it. If Blaine Gabbert had stayed, Missouri would likely be a top-15 or top-10 team and join Texas A&M and OSU as the chief contenders to knock off Oklahoma. Instead, the Tigers are relegated to a dark horse/wild-card role that depends heavily on how Franklin performs in his first year. The one advantage he has is after Tyler Gabbert's post-spring transfer, fall camp will be more about cementing his role as starter than winning it. Franklin walked in as a true freshman last spring and eventually won the No. 2 job behind Blaine Gabbert. That says a lot, and he earned some playing time last year, but his sophomore season won't be anything like 2010, when he threw all of 14 passes.

2. The passing game is limited. NFL teams knew Blaine Gabbert had a cannon, but he didn't get very many chances to showcase it to college fans last year, and Franklin may be forced to do the same. T.J. Moe and Michael Egnew are a great duo with some of the best hands in the league and a great sense of space, but without a deep threat to keep defenses honest, their production declined late in the season. Danario Alexander and Jeremy Maclin were able to stretch the field for guys like Chase Coffman and Martin Rucker in the past, but Moe and Egnew won't come close to 2010's production if the Tigers can't find someone to haul in a few passes over the top of the secondary.

3. Trips to Norman and College Station are on the schedule. I hear you, Missouri fans. I was there for the destruction of Texas A&M at Kyle Field last year. But that was a very different Texas A&M team than you'll be facing this time around. And the return trip may not be quite as enjoyable. Jerrod Johnson struggled against the Tigers, but the 30-9 loss was his penultimate start and Ryan Tannehill is driving the bus now. Also, don't count on this one being an 11 a.m. kickoff. I'd plan for prime time, and Kyle Field is a very different place at 8 p.m. than at lunch time. Ask Nebraska. Missouri knocked off Oklahoma last year, too, but don't think the Sooners have forgotten the fourth-quarter meltdown in Columbia. Oklahoma gets both of its losses in 2010 -- Missouri and Texas A&M -- in Norman this year, where it carries a 36-game home winning streak, the nation's longest, into 2011.

Sooners raid STL, swipe ESPNU 150 commit

June, 9, 2011
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Durron Neal is the nation's No. 9 receiver and came in at No. 62 on the ESPNU 150, which was released on Wednesday.

On Wednesday, the St. Louis native spurned his home state school and became a future Oklahoma Sooner.
"Talking to [DeSmet coach Pat] Mahoney, he said when you had a feeling that's when you know you have the right decision," Neal told the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. "Sitting down and talking to coach [Bob] Stoops, talking to the offensive coordinator and my position coach and talking to the players, they kept it straight forward. The campus, everything was in a four-block radius. There's not that many people, it's like 20,000. My parents loved it. I loved it. Everything went good."

Neal, a 6-foot, 190-pound receiver had given indications he was wide-open in his recruitment, but here's what our scouts had to say about him:
Neal is a gifted pass catcher that is employed as a utility player on offense due to his open field run skills, quickness and speed, but we feel he will be a wide receiver at the next level. Reminds us a little of Jeremy Maclin at times. He has good height and a wiry, lean athletic build. He is explosive and fast and plays at one speed. Shows little wasted motion in his change-of-direction which makes him such a gifted route runner and open field ball carrier.

He also left little doubt on what influenced his commitment the most.

"When coaches were showing me my chances of playing, there was a 90 percent chance of me playing," Neal told the Post-Dispatch. "Ryan Broyles is leaving and they don't have a slot guy. The coaches were telling me my chances were good. They win championships. They have the rings to prove it."

The Revolving Door: Missouri

May, 23, 2011
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I've done it. You've done it.

"Hey, is that guy still around?"

Even with two fewer teams, it's hard to keep track. Our next series, which we did last year, too, takes a look at two key players for every team in the league that are taking their talents elsewhere, returning to campus, or arriving to try and write a legacy of their own.

So really, this series isn't so much for the fans of the teams in the posts, but more for everyone else. It wouldn't be a bad idea to bookmark this series.

Next up: Missouri

Going:

Blaine Gabbert, QB

Gabbert left Missouri after his junior season with two years of starting experience under his belt. The rocket-armed, 6-foot-5, 235-pounder did it as the 10th pick in the NFL draft, after throwing for more than 6,800 yards and 40 touchdowns with just 18 interceptions. The St. Louis native came to Missouri as one of the program's most touted recruits ever and made a whole lot of his potential. It was obvious during his freshman season that Gabbert was the heir to Chase Daniel, and he earned the right the following season. As a first-year starter, Gabbert earned loads of respect from his teammates for playing through a painful ankle injury courtesy of the House of Spears. In 2010 he helped Missouri win the biggest game of Gary Pinkel's career, knocking off No. 1 Oklahoma at home in front of a homecoming crowd with ESPN's College GameDay in town for the first time.

One final note: At this rate, Gabbert is on pace to have the NFL's most recognizeable 'do south of Troy Polamalu and Tom Brady. Gordon Gekko? Give me Gordon Bombay.

Aldon Smith, DE

Smith earned a reputation as one of the league's best pass rushers fast, sprinting to an 11-sack freshman season in 2009, a Missouri record. His production was limited in 2010 because of a broken bone in his leg, but NFL teams believed in his freakish athletic ability and upside, enough so that the San Francisco 49ers made him the seventh overall pick in last month's draft.

The 6-foot-5, 260-pound Raytown, Mo. native was one of the first surprises of the draft, but he'll get his chance to develop while collecting hefty paychecks in the NFL.

Staying:

T.J. Moe, WR and Michael Egnew, TE

Missouri's top receiving duo is back and should provide Gabbert's replacement, James Franklin, with a lot of help. Both are sure-handed and won't go down easily. They were the driving force behind Missouri's passing game in 2010, which lacked a home-run threat a la Jeremy Maclin or Danario Alexander. A year of experience as relied-upon threats should be valuable, too.

In 2009, they combined for five catches and 33 yards. Last season? Try 182 catches, 1,807 yards and 11 scores. Finding a deep threat that was absent in 2010 will make it a lot easier -- their production dipped in the heart of conference play -- but both should put up big numbers again in 2011.

Will Ebner, LB

Ebner seems to continually battle injuries, but the big-hearted senior is back for a fourth season. As a freshman, he earned a reputation as one of the team's hardest hitters very early in camp. In 2009, he returned in two weeks from arthroscopic knee surgery, and in 2010 he played through a broken foot. He had just 47 tackles last season, thanks in part to being slowed by the foot injury, but he's likely to slide into a spot on the All-Big 12 team if he can finally stay healthy.

Coming:

Sheldon Richardson, DT

I'd argue that no player in Missouri history has had more written about him before he stepped on campus as an official, enrolled member of the Tigers. Richardson's three-year (and perhaps longer) saga seemed to reach its natural end when he signed with Missouri as its top recruit in 2009, a member of the ESPNU150. But Richardson didn't qualify and headed to junior college in California. Then, as the nation's No. 3 juco recruit, he committed to USC but switched back to Missouri before signing with the Tigers. He's expected to be on campus in June. The athletic, 6-foot-4, 296-pounder looks like a game-changer on paper and on the limited game tape he produced during an injury-plagued juco career. Will he become one at the major college level?

Corbin Berkstresser, QB

After Tyler Gabbert's transfer, James Franklin looks like the likely successor to Tyler's older brother, Blaine. But could Berkstresser slide in front of Ashton Glaser to become Franklin's backup, or perhaps earn time if Franklin struggles? The 6-foot-3, 218-pounder from outside Kansas City will have to make up a big experience gap between himself and Glaser, a redshirt sophomore entering his third season in the program. Berkstresser didn't come to Missouri this spring like fellow 2011 signee Wesley Leftwich, whose speed wowed coaches in his first 15 practices as a Tiger.
Click here for more from The Revolving Door.

Missouri spring wrap

May, 6, 2011
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MISSOURI

2010 overall record: 10-3

2010 conference record: 6-2

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

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

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

2010 statistical leaders (*returners)

Rushing: De’Vion Moore* (517 yards)

Passing: Blaine Gabbert (3,186 yards)

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

Tackles: Andrew Gachkar, Zaviar Gooden* (84)

Sacks: Brad Madison* (7.5)

Interceptions: Kevin Rutland (3)

Three spring answers

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

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

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

Three fall questions

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

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

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

The Big 12 and NFL draft history

April, 27, 2011
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For just the second time ever, the first round of the NFL draft will be the only part of the draft's first day, set for primetime on Thursday night.

This year, the Big 12 could have as many as five first-round picks, and five players from the league are in New York for the draft.

So, let's take a look back. Since the first NFL draft of the Big 12 era, who has the most first-rounders?

Texas: 16
Oklahoma: 12
Oklahoma State: 6
Missouri: 4
Kansas State: 3
Texas A&M: 2
  • 2003: DT Ty Warren, 13th overall, New England Patriots
  • 2003: DB Sammy Davis, 30th overall, San Diego Chargers
Texas Tech: 1
Kansas: 1
  • 2008: CB Aqib Talib, 20th overall, Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Baylor: 1
Iowa State: none since 1973 (George Amundson)

A few thoughts and observations:
  • I doubt many would be surprised that this list is also a reasonably accurate reflection of overall success since the Big 12's inception in 1996. Obviously, Texas and Oklahoma have dominated. Since 2000, Texas has the nation's fourth-most first-rounders. Oklahoma is No. 6. Their success has paralleled that, along with recruiting rankings.
  • In that same breath, it's impossible to look at this list and not once again be impressed with what Mike Leach did. He obviously has the reputation as an overachiever, but looking big picture, he was able to do it with one first-round pick. Nobody beat Texas and Oklahoma more and Leach helped put together what is still the Big 12's longest bowl streak.
  • Texas' consistency sticks out, too. Since just 2001, Texas has had two first-rounders in six different seasons. If you've got two first-rounders on your team, you're probably going to be pretty good. The Longhorns, if you haven't noticed, have been. Those two first-rounders in six seasons are more or as many as half the league has in the history of the Big 12. What else you should note? Texas is unlikely to have a first rounder this year, and after Aaron Williams is drafted, Sam Acho probably will be the next to go, which won't be until the third or fourth round.
  • Oklahoma State and Missouri's rise over the past three seasons has paid off in the NFL draft. Missouri had three first-rounders in the last two seasons and figures to add two more this year after having just one in the 12-year history of the league before 2009. That's quite a streak, and even more proof of what Gary Pinkel has built at Missouri. One more piece of evidence? Despite losing those two first-rounders, Missouri should be back in the preseason polls next year after losing two of its top players. That's definitely something new in Columbia. The Cowboys figure to add more soon with Justin Blackmon at least. As long as Pinkel and Gundy are at the helm for their respective programs, expect them to continue to rise.
  • Don't be surprised by Texas A&M's swoon following R.C. Slocum's departure. From 1990-1998, the Aggies won nine games every season but one. From 1990-96, the Aggies had eight first-round picks. Since 1998? Two seasons with at least nine wins and just two first-round picks.
  • More evidence you can't underestimate the importance of having first-round picks? None for Baylor in the history of the Big 12 before Art Briles. In just three years, Briles may have three if the Bears add two more this year with Phil Taylor and Danny Watkins. Taylor and Watkins both came from unlikely sources. Taylor was a Penn State transfer and Watkins a juco transfer that formerly worked as a fireman in Canada.
COLUMBIA, Mo. -- I hope you've enjoyed our coverage from Mizzou the past few days. If you aren't one of my most faithful readers, here's a refresher.
But not everything fit neatly into those stories. I've got plenty more on the Tigers from my visit to Columbia.

[+] EnlargeJames Franklin
Mark J. Rebilas/US PresswireJames Franklin may need to be more assertive if he wants to become a leader on offense.
Quarterbacks are the focus of spring for the Tigers, but there's no doubt, it's going to be a bit of an adjustment if James Franklin wins the job. That's no guarantee, and Tyler Gabbert has come on strong this spring, but Franklin is just a completely different type of person than the fiery Chase Daniel or uber-competitive Blaine Gabbert. Not that it's necessarily a bad thing. Offensive coordinator David Yost told me he wants each new quarterback doing things his own way, and that includes his demeanor and actions off the field.

"Blaine and Chase were different, and Blaine did a good job of not just copying Chase. He took what Chase did and tried to make it fit him and how he dealt with players, getting himself ready to play," Yost said.

Franklin will have to do something similar. Tyler Gabbert, who has come on strong of late in practices, is a much more heated competitor. "Sometimes you have to calm him down because he gets very, very 'on,'" Yost said. "He wants to make every throw. It’s great to have that, but you can’t let that affect the next play, so he’s kind of learning that."

Franklin is a much more easy-going type of guy. He's nowhere near as outspoken. It'll just be different. I believe it was Rene Descartes who said, "Different strokes for different folks." Seems to fit this scenario.

"I’m not too vocal as a quarterback. As a person, I talk a lot, but once I come on the field, I’m not as vocal. It’s something I hadn’t really done in the past, so it’s something I need to adjust to," Franklin said.

Coaches have told him that sometimes his silence, especially after negative plays, can come off as bad body language, so even if his head is clear, his actions have to communicate positive messages to teammates. Sometimes his quiet demeanor meant his teammates didn't even realize who had thrown them the ball in practice.

"They’d come back and say 'Hey, nice throw James' or 'Good call,' and I’m like, 'That wasn’t me, that was Ashton or that was Tyler," Franklin said. "To me, I’m thinking, 'How could they not know?' For one, I’m just a little bit taller and my skin is like 50 shades darker. But they’re just kind of in the zone, so if I’m more vocal and demanding of them, they kind of recognize 'hey, that was me.'"

The thing is, he has to do it naturally, and managing that balance will be a key for all three quarterbacks' development. Franklin can't just turn into an animated screamer overnight. That would only come off as disingenuous and be more counterproductive than anything.

"Being more vocal will help. Not only as a quarterback, but also as a person, because it should show you leadership and you demand things out of your offense.

  • You get the sense Yost could talk about Blaine Gabbert and what he's meant to the program for hours. I'm sure he could. But when it comes to influencing younger quarterbacks, it's easy to see why. "You’d go up for room check [the night before road games] and Blaine’s sitting in his bed with his iPod in and his computer on his lap watching cut-ups," Yost said. "Every week. That'd be at 11 o'clock and at meetings the next day I’d ask what he watched, and he'd tell me. I'd ask when he got to bed, and he’d say, 'Ah, it was about 1:30.'" Franklin roomed with Gabbert on the road, and his younger brother surely saw some of that.
  • Passing down lessons like that is nothing new. When Blaine Gabbert came into the program, he'd spend about two hours a day during the summer as a freshman with Chase Daniel watching tape. He wasn't watching the offense by then. He was looking at the defense. "Where are they moving? Backing up? Where can I get throws? When this guy does this, this opens up," Yost said. And because of those summer film sessions, "Blaine was way ahead of where Chase was in understanding defenses at the same spot in camp their sophomore years," he said. The idea, of course, is that continues with the younger quarterbacks.
  • Speaking of Gabbert, Yost loved how he blossomed into a "quarterback" after coming to Mizzou as a "thrower." "He was a tremendous, highly recruited thrower out of high school, but he bought into becoming a great quarterback," Yost said. He did it by first learning how to study film from Daniel and carrying it on once Daniel left and he became a starter. "People look and say, 'Well, his passing yards are down,'" Yost said. "But he became more of a quarterback because of how he prepared each week."
  • Part of the reason for that dip was Missouri's lack of a vertical passing game in 2010, which is are of focus this spring. Tyler Gabbert has the arm strength. Yost likes Franklin's deep ball a lot. But somebody's got to catch it. I did think it was funny that Yost cited my look at explosive plays across the Big 12 in our conversation. The number of plays longer than 20 yards didn't drop much for Missouri (73 in '08, 66 in '09 and 63 in '10), but the longer plays did. "We were still getting our 20-yard plays, but instead of having Danario [Alexander] take a 20 yarder to a 60-yarder, we were getting that 24-yarder. Even when you go back to 2008 when we had Maclin, the numbers were a lot higher than last year," he said. "Anytime you can get those, it takes off so much pressure. You could feel it last year. Guys were tightening up on us. We didn’t hit a lot downfield last year, and that was more disappointing than anything. We took some shots, and there were some games when we’d be at halftime and we’ve thrown the ball downfield eight times and we’re 0-for-8. Either we could have thrown it better, could have caught it, protected better and given him a better chance, there was a multitude of things. It wasn’t just one reason. But you hit those, it changes a game."
  • Jerrell Jackson and Wes Kemp have the ability to get vertical, even if they lack Alexander or Jeremy Maclin's straight-line speed. The potential is there for younger receivers such as Marcus Lucas and Wesley Leftwich, or older ones such as L'Damian Washington or Rolandis Woodland who have had modest careers thus far. But someone has to do it. Missouri has the rare opportunity to bring back every single receiver on its roster from last year, and it added Leftwich, who enrolled early and has 4.4 speed, according to Yost. But for Michael Egnew and T.J. Moe to be their most productive, someone has to stretch the defense.

Tigers continue growth in secondary

March, 16, 2011
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COLUMBIA, Mo. -- In 2008, Missouri's secondary ranked as the Big 12's worst, giving up more than 4,000 yards, 700 more than the next worst in the Big 12. That ranked 118th out of 120 teams in college football.

A year later, the Tigers ranked 11th in the Big 12 and couldn't crack the national top 100.

But finally, with a pair of corners who struggled in those two seasons, 2010 was a breakthrough season for Missouri's secondary.

"We have good players and they played at a very consistent level," said coach Gary Pinkel. "And I think the athleticism and experience level of our guys, with all that we saw a little more consistency."

Kevin Rutland and Carl Gettis helped Missouri's pass defense improve to No. 3 in the Big 12 and No. 37 nationally, behind only Nebraska and Texas, who both were in the national top 10.

Most importantly, the Tigers improved to 10 wins, the same number the team had in 2008, when Missouri fielded an offense with NFL talents like quarterback Chase Daniel, receiver Jeremy Maclin and Chase Coffman.

But now, Rutland and Gettis are gone, as is safety Jarrell Harrison. Those stepping into their voids are charged with building on last year's successes without the experience (and lessons learned) from Rutland and Gettis' early years.

"Our expectations are to be No. 1 in the league in pass defense. That’s our goal," said cornerback Kip Edwards.

The Tigers classify him as a returning starter because he was on the field in all of Missouri's nickel and dime packages, and often rotated in with both Gettis and Rutland.

Sophomore E.J. Gaines entered spring as the other starter, ahead of senior Trey Hobson. Edwards was counted on for plenty in 2010, but Gaines, Hobson and new free safety Tavon Bolden will have a lot asked of them in trying to continue the growth the unit showed last season. Junior Robert Steeples should contribute as the team's second corner behind Edwards, similar to how much Edwards played last year.

"I don’t say you don’t miss a beat, but Kip is obviously good enough to win a championship with, and E.J. is really improving. Steeples is going to try to earn a job. Hobson is going to try and earn a job," Pinkel said.

Along with the only other returning starter in the secondary, strong safety Kenji Jackson, the Tigers will know where to look for guidance.

"I should be able to step in and guide the young guys through it," Edwards said. "Really, we have the talent to be the best secondary in the Big 12."

Ranking the Big 12's best players: No. 16

February, 28, 2011
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The official list of the Big 12's top 25 players is locked away in a vault in an undisclosed location, but we're revealing the list day by day here on the blog. Here's a refresher on my exact criteria.

[+] EnlargeBlaine Gabbert
Mark J. Rebilas/US PresswireMissouri quarterback Blaine Gabbert could be a top-10 pick in this spring's NFL draft.
No. 16: Blaine Gabbert, QB, Missouri

2010 numbers: Gabbert completed 301 of 475 passes for 3,186 yards, 16 touchdowns and nine interceptions. Also ran 112 times for 232 yards and five touchdowns.

Most recent ranking: Gabbert was ranked No. 12 in our preseason list of the Big 12's top 25 players.

Making the case for Gabbert: Gabbert didn't have the receiving corps his predecessor, Chase Daniel had, or even the receiving corps he had as a sophomore in 2010. He had reliable underneath threats in tight end Michael Egnew and receiver T.J. Moe, but Gabbert played his final season as a Tiger without a game-breaking speedster like Jeremy Maclin or Danario Alexander. That said, Egnew and Moe's impressive numbers are a credit to Gabbert's accuracy, an attribute that may land him inside the top 10 of this year's NFL draft. His touchdowns (24 in '09, 16 in '10) and yardage (407 fewer in '10 than in '09) were down this year without Alexander, but he completed nearly five percent more passes and won 10 games, versus eight in 2009. Gabbert's stock in our ranking remained fairly constant. His drop from 16 to 12 was more because other unforeseen stars passed him, rather than Gabbert doing anything to cause it. The 6-foot-5, 235-pounder had arguably the strongest and most accurate arm in the Big 12, and he's the first quarterback to crash our postseason top 25 list.

The rest of the list:

Best case-worst case rewind: Missouri

January, 28, 2011
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We're taking a look back at what we thought the best- and worst-case scenarios for each team were in August, and how it shook out now that January has arrived.

Next up: Missouri.

Best case: 11-1, with a loss to either Oklahoma or Nebraska, and depending on the loss and Nebraska's fate, a Big 12 North title.

Worst case: 6-6, with wins over Illinois, McNeese State, San Diego State, Miami (Ohio), Colorado, Iowa State and Kansas.

Reality: Missouri raced to a 7-0 start and a top 10 ranking before dropping a pair of games against Nebraska and Texas Tech and finishing 10-3 with a loss to Iowa in the Insight Bowl. The Tigers also went 6-2 in Big 12 play to finish as co-Big 12 North champions.

Analysis: The Tigers did what most thought they'd do in 2010. They gave Nebraska a solid run in the Big 12 North race and put together a solid season. I pegged the Tigers for 9-10 wins in the preseason, with losses to Nebraska and Oklahoma and a decent shot at dropping a random game on the road in the Big 12. A bowl game, generally, is a coin flip, though Missouri was upset 27-24 by an unranked Iowa team.

Missouri snagged an upset over Oklahoma, but the Tigers dropped slightly surprising game on the road to Texas Tech. The loss of Derrick Washington in the preseason hurt the Tigers, and there's no telling what his experience and new-found shiftiness might have meant to the team, but Missouri's stable of four backs filled in nicely. They ran the ball well against Oklahoma, despite being shut down about everywhere against Nebraska's defense.

Quarterback Blaine Gabbert's numbers fell, but the cause was more the lack of a big play receiver like Danario Alexander or Jeremy Maclin than anything Gabbert did or didn't do. T.J. Moe and Michael Egnew are great at getting open underneath, but neither is going to beat very many defenders deep. Finding a deep threat will help the new quarterback and further open things up underneath for Moe and Egnew. Gabbert topped 300 yards just four times on the season, but he did what was necessary for the Tigers to get wins.

A season with 10 of them -- the third time that's happened in four years at Missouri -- is a good season. The special season that looked possible after a win over Oklahoma never materialized, and the avoidable losses to Iowa and Texas Tech will sting for the Tigers looking back, but 10-3 is a year to be happy about. Replacing Gabbert in 2011 will be difficult, but there's plenty of talent around the new starter, and if they play well, 10 wins is within reach again for the Tigers in 2011.

Recruiting needs: Big 12 North

January, 26, 2011
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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.

What we learned in the Big 12: Week 3

September, 19, 2010
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1. Not much about Oklahoma State's offense. I know the numbers look impressive. So do the highlights. But I've seen this show before, and it was called Missouri in 2007 and 2008. The truth is, spread offenses can look absolutely unstoppable against inferior athletes. So far, that's all Oklahoma State has seen, and for the most part, it's looked unstoppable. But in 2008, Missouri rose to as high as No. 3 in the polls, scoring 52 points three times and 69 points in another one of its first five games -- all against bad defenses. Then came the teeth of conference play. The Tigers lost to Oklahoma State at home and found themselves down 35-0 in the second quarter to Texas a week later. Will Oklahoma State see a similar result when it reaches the bulk of its Big 12 South schedule? Maybe not. I don't know. But I do know that Missouri team had a better quarterback (Chase Daniel), a better top receiver (Jeremy Maclin) and a Mackey Award-winning tight end (Chase Coffman) as a reliable alternate option in the passing game and the No. 1 option in the red zone Oklahoma State has in Justin Blackmon. Clearly Oklahoma State has a superior running game, headlined by Kendall Hunter. Will that mean results that look more like what Texas Tech has been able to do at home against Texas and Oklahoma and less like what had made Missouri 0-11 against those teams under Gary Pinkel? Considering Dana Holgorsen's resume, the former might be reality. We'll find out soon. But I'm not ready to crown Oklahoma State's offense as a Big 12 South gamechanger just yet. Its Week 1 opponent, Washington State, beat Montana State by a point and lost convincingly to SMU. Its Week 2 opponent, Troy, lost to UAB on Saturday. We know Oklahoma State's offense can dominate defenses it's clearly better than. We don't know how it will look against a well-coordinated defense with similar or superior athletes.

[+] EnlargeKendall Hunter
AP Photo/Brody SchmidtKendall Hunter and the Cowboys haven't been tested during nonconference play.
2. Missouri and Texas A&M have to get better fast. Neither team had any business winning its game this week. Each was rescued by clutch fourth-quarter performances. Play like that in conference play and you lose big. Period. Texas A&M is off next week. Missouri plays Miami (Ohio). Both open conference play in two weeks. If the kinks aren't worked out by then, both can forget being factors at the top of their divisions. Play like that, and they're more likely to slide down well below where each was picked to finish in the preseason.

3. Baylor isn't ready for the big time. TCU is a very good team. So are several teams in the Big 12. Baylor looked helpless against the Horned Frogs in Fort Worth, letting TCU earn a lopsided win against a major conference opponent. If Baylor plays like that against the rest of the Big 12 South, it can brace for similar losses and make plans at home for bowl season.

4. Nebraska's running game is terrifying. Yeah, Washington's defense is weak. But plenty of teams play plenty of weak defenses. Few, if any, have three 100-yard rushers that are all threats to do it again on any week. Nebraska's defense looks on track to be as good as it was a year ago, and it will only get better as the season progresses. If the running game does the same, the Huskers will be a team in the national title picture. So far, the Huskers are the only team in the conference with three blowout wins, and their three includes a road blowout against a Pac-10 team. Taylor Martinez, Roy Helu Jr. and Rex Burkhead give this Huskers offense an edge that was missing in 2009 behind an offensive line that's turned in outstanding performances for the season's first three weeks.

5. So is Texas' defense. The offense clearly has to make strides, but this was a "Wow" performance from the Longhorns. Most "wow-worthy" was how easy the Longhorns made it look. They stopped the run. They rushed four guys. That left the rest to a secondary and linebacking corps full of pro talent, who gave Texas Tech quarterback Taylor Potts nowhere to go with the ball, while running from those four rushers who provided constant pressure and finished with four sacks. Coach Mack Brown said in August he thought this year's version had a chance to be his best defense ever. More performances like the one it turned in on Saturday night in Lubbock will prove Brown right.

Another star born for Missouri

September, 4, 2010
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Missouri's offense struggled for the first half, scoring just three points, but T.J. Moe was one of the bright spots, catching four passes for 37 yards.

The sophomore, who had two catches all last season, has added nine more catches -- including his first career touchdown -- in the second half as Missouri has taken a 17-13 lead with a pair of touchdown passes by Blaine Gabbert.

Word out of camp was Moe had become one of Gabbert's top targets for all of preseason camp. His debut couldn't have done more to prove that.

Michael Egnew caught his eighth pass of the game for the go-ahead touchdown early in the fourth quarter. But Moe set up the score after turning a short pass into a 26-yard gain inside the Illini 15.

Moe has 13 receptions for 97 yards.

Three years ago, in the 2007 version of this game, Jeremy Maclin burst on the scene with two touchdowns, one from Chase Daniel and another on a punt return that showcased his speed.

A star was born that day. Last year was Gabbert's turn to introduce himself to Missouri fans, engineering a 37-9 win.

Based on Moe's performance, the Tigers have found another star.

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