Big 12: Jimmy Burge
Strongest position: Defensive line
Key returnees: Brad Madison, Jacquies Smith, Terrell Resonno, Dominique Hamilton, Jimmy Burge, Michael Sam
Key losses: Aldon Smith
Analysis: It's hard to believe a spot that loses a first-round draft pick could be the team's strength the following season, but that's the case for Missouri. For all of Smith's raw talent, his sophomore season was an anticlimactic encore to a promising freshman year, mostly because of a broken leg suffered just before conference play began. While he was gone, Madison emerged as a force, eventually leading the team with 7.5 sacks and earning second-team All-Big 12 honors despite playing most of the season as a backup.
But his teammate across the line, Jacquies Smith, was second on the team with 5.5 sacks and tied Aldon Smith with 10 tackles for loss.
Hamilton was enjoying a big year before suffering a broken ankle against Oklahoma. A week later, when the Tigers gave up 307 yards rushing to Roy Helu Jr., it was pretty obvious how much they missed him.
He and Resonno should hold down the middle, but what makes this such a position of strength for the Tigers is their depth.
Blue-chip recruit turned juco prospect Sheldon Richardson has been trying to get to Columbia for years, but it looks like his 6-foot-4, 290-pound athletic frame will finally make it to campus this summer.
As a freshman, end Michael Sam showed big-time potential, making seven tackles for loss and 3.5 sacks. Fellow end Kony Ealy has drawn favorable reviews this spring and looks like he'll get a chance to contribue as a freshman as well.
Tackle Jimmy Burge will be in the rotation as a junior after making 16 tackles last season.
Weakest position: Big-play threats
Analysis: One of the reasons Missouri should still be solid next season, despite losing a likely top 10 pick at quarterback, is its strength nearly everywhere else.
There are small questions at center and in the secondary, but I'd expect Missouri to end up at least solid in both positions with talented players who got some experience last season taking over at both spots. I also believe whoever wins the competition between Tyler Gabbert and James Franklin will at least be decent.
But for Missouri's offense, it's easy to see the biggest weakness lies in a big-play threat, something the offense has had in some way for the better part of the past decade until last season. Missouri ranked fifth in the Big 12 with 63 plays of 20 yards or longer and had just six fewer than the second-place team, Baylor.
But plays longer than 30 yards? The Tigers had just 21, and ranked eighth in the Big 12. Only Iowa State and Kansas had fewer than Missouri's six plays longer than 40 yards, and consider also that two of those plays were 69 and 71-yard runs to open up an early lead against Texas Tech, but the Tigers' offense was stymied the rest of the game in the deflating road loss.
Those six plays also ranked 106th nationally. There are worse things to have as a weakness for sure, but Missouri's offense will suffer next season if someone can't soften up defenses. Marcus Lucas, a 6-foot-5 sophomore receiver, is one name that comes up constantly in that group, but the fact right now is, Missouri has no proven big-play threats.
Underneath routes are hugely important for the Tigers' top two pass-catchers, Michael Egnew and T.J. Moe, and late in the season, defenses focused on the duo, causing dips in their production.
The good news for Missouri? Egnew and Moe had all of five receptions combined in 2009. Last season, they had 182.
Can Missouri find another under-the-radar player to help provide a more rounded offense?
More spring superlatives:
- Ever wonder exactly what a national letter of intent looks like? MSNBC has you covered.
- Missouri self-reported 17 secondary violations to the NCAA, reports WHB 810 in Kansas City.
- Iowa State has suspended linebacker Matt Tau'fo'ou indefinitely after a drunken-driving arrest over the weekend.
- Oklahoma State nearly reeled in an eventual Sooners star with a legendary chicken fried steak as part of his recruitment, writes Jake Trotter of The Oklahoman.
- Mr. Mizzou, radio man John Kadlec, is retiring after 16 years of calling Missouri football games and a member of the program for 60-plus years.
- Missouri defensive lineman Jimmy Burge is facing a misdemeanor drug charge after a traffic stop two weeks ago in Southwest Missouri.
- Texas' one down year hasn't hurt them in recruiting, writes John Hoover of the Tulsa World. The Longhorns are back near the top of the recruiting rankings.
- Colleague Ryan McGee named Mack Brown one of the nation's best recruiting head coaches.
- Inclement weather could cause some complications for recruits on signing day, writes Robert Przybylo of The Oklahoman.
- A Nebraska walk-on defensive tackle was ticketed on suspicion of driving under the influence, reports Jon Nyatawa of the Omaha World-Herald.
- Jimmy Burch of the Fort Worth Star-Telegram has more from Mack Brown's meeting with the media on Monday. Brown blames the Longhorns' fall in 2010 on arrogance.
- B.G. Brooks at CUBuffs.com has a look at the two Buffaloes who enrolled early at Colorado.
- Oklahoma did what it sounded like it might do on Monday: It swiped a recruit from Notre Dame, reports Jake Trotter of The Oklahoman.
David Ubben: The logo's not exactly lighting it up like the Pac-12's, which might be the best logo in sports outside of the Jumpman, but I don't have a huge problem with the Big Ten's. As for the division names, I feel about like most do. A little lofty, no? Not exactly the people's choice.
If it makes a move to change the names, which sounds possible after Delany's comments this week, it'd be a nice chance for the league to endear itself and shed some of the elitist perception that emerged during the expansion brouhaha over the summer.
Jay in Austin, TX asks: Why is Will Muschamp such a hot commodity? His defense gave up 30 or more points in 4 games this year. They also gave up 20 or more points 7 times. They lost 7 games and really only had 1 impressive win (over Nebraska on the road) and no bowl game. He had some great talent around him too. I know the offense is a problem but sometimes that defense just looked pathetic Should Florida fans be concerned?
DU: Well, first off, since when did giving up 20 points or more become an indictment of a defense? And when your quarterback is throwing 17 picks and 10 touchdowns, you're out on the field plenty more than you'd like to be. That said, you're a little too wrapped up in 2010. This was a historically bad year for Texas, but the defense was pretty good most of the time. They had some poor stretches, but I'd hardly call them pathetic. And in the past, he's had some just amazing defenses. Like, you know, last year, when they got to the national championship (the second trip of Muschamp's career) and ranked third in total defense. Everyone around the SEC knows how good his defenses were at LSU and Auburn, too.
His pick for an offense coordinator will be a big, big decision, but I wouldn't be too concerned about his coaching future. As with any first-time head coach, there's always some slight reservation, but like I wrote when he was hired, there might not be another coordinator in the country more ready to be a head coach.
Brett in Kansas City asks: Hey David, correct me if I'm wrong but did West Virgina hire Dana Holgorsen as a coach in waiting. Did they learn anything from what happened at Texas less than a week earlier?
DU: Well, this is a very different situation. The kicker at Texas was Muschamp never knew when he'd be able to take over, and outside of a few anonymous reports during the year, there was never any indication that Mack Brown was being pressured to offer any kind of definitive timing.
Holgorsen knows he'll take over in 2012. That presents a whole other set of awkward problems and odd team dynamics for 2011, but when it's all over, Holgorsen should be in a good spot. It didn't sound like Muschamp was looking to go anywhere, but if Florida calls you, most guys are going to pick up the phone and give the Gators a good, long listen.
And then leave.
So yeah, they learned plenty. If Holgorsen hadn't been given a definite timeline, I don't know if he would have taken the job. Everyone involved would probably be better off if West Virginia just moved Bill Stewart into an administrative role after this season, but if the Mountaineers have a disappointing 2011 season, it's up to the next similar situation to learn from this one.
And on a side note, there's some major drain on great coordinators in the Big 12 this year. We'll see what that means next year. Barring their replacements, it could mean worse football. But it seems like everybody's leaving and nobody's coming.
Ben in CoMo asks: With the addition of Sheldon Richardson and the likely return of both Jaquis and Alden Smith, along with our D'line backup's (who led in sacks btw), won't most opposing offenses be scared senseless, and if they aren't shouldn't they be? MU is poised to have the best D in the Big 12 if they can replace their DB's with comperable or better players in 2011. Also, will 2011 bring a 10-2, 11-1, 12-0 or worse record for my Tigers during regular season play?
DU: We'll see about the best defense in the Big 12, because replacing those corners is easy to do in theory, difficult in practice. That's been a big problem for Missouri under Gary Pinkel. The two senior corners this year, Carl Gettis and Kevin Rutland, really struggled before having fantastic seasons in 2010. Is that just simple player development, better coaching from coordinator Dave Steckel, or a little of both?
Next year, with guys like E.J. Gaines, Kip Edwards and Trey Hobson, we'll get a better idea of what to expect from Missouri's secondary in the years to come.
That said, you're right about the front four. That rotation with Jacquies and Aldon Smith (assuming they both return), Sheldon Richardson, Terrell Resonno, Michael Sam, Brad Madison and Jimmy Burge could be pretty scary.
Wally Washington in Dallas, Texas asks: My Brother,Can you explain why the loser of the Big 12 Championship doesn't play in the 2nd best bowl tie in? You would think a division winner should be automatic to either the BCS game or fall to the next level Bowl. For example, Nebraska should be playing in the Cotton Bowl this year. Or in a better year be the next choice for an at-large bid for a BCS game. Enlighten me.
DU: I actually get this question a lot. It seems like a lot of fans don't quite understand. The bowl system is not a meritocracy, and they don't have to pick teams via standings. It's about making money. Fans more excited about their team and more likely to go watch their teams are going to make more money. Period. Outside of Oklahoma, I don't think any fan base in the Big 12 is more excited about their team than Texas A&M. Six consecutive wins, with two over top 10 teams will do that. And they're three hours away from the Cotton Bowl with a huge alumni base in Dallas. That's a big deal, and a big factor, fair or otherwise.
And if you're running the Cotton Bowl, you think fans of Oklahoma or Nebraska are going to be willing to travel back to the same stadium and the same city a month later after losing the Big 12 Championship? Not happening.
The Cotton Bowl sold out its ticket allotment for both schools really, really quickly. It didn't want an Arkansas-Texas A&M rematch back in Cowboys Stadium (the same game would have taken place three times in the same stadium within a year) but they got LSU when Arkansas got into the BCS. It's a great matchup with two great fan bases and the best Big 12 bowl matchup. I'd say the Cotton Bowl did pretty well.
KCC in Missouri asks: Dubbs, Absolutely love the blog, and as a huge husker fan I'm definitely gonna miss it. My question is when do I have to stop reading you and go to Ritt's big 10 blog, and how do we say good bye? A "thanks for everything", fist bump, awkward hug or what?
DU: Hey man, just do what feels right. Shoulder pat, awkward side hug, crushing bear hug, whatever strikes you. Maybe shed a few tears. I won't tell anyone.
Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Griffin
Missouri coach Gary Pinkel said he prepared for two scenarios when recruiting heralded nose tackle/tight end Sheldon Richardson.
The Tigers' top product in their 2009 recruiting class failed to qualify to attend Missouri. Instead, he is expected to start summer classes today at the College of the Sequoias, a junior college in Visalia, Calif.
Pinkel told the Columbia Tribune that Richardson is expected to return to the Missouri program for the start of the 2011 season. He compared Richardson's path to the Tigers as similar to former tailback Damien Nash, who needed two years at Coffeyville (Kan.) Community College before arriving at Missouri.
"There was an A plan and a B plan," Pinkel told the Tribune. "If the A plan works, that's fine. Let's roll. If not, [Richardson] can still graduate from Mizzou. He can still be a great football player. He can still accomplish all his goals. There's just a little detour here.
"He's going to do Plan B. He can still be a great player and still graduate from college, which at Mizzou, he will."
Pinkel said that his staff prepared for the eventuality that Richardson might not qualify. He will be the only member of Missouri's recruiting class who did not qualify academically.
"We didn't wake up one day and say, 'Oh my gosh!'" Pinkel said. "We were aware of what's happening a year and a half ago, as we are with all our kids."
The loss of Richardson for the next two years is a big loss for the Tigers, who could have really used one of the nation's top defensive line prospects. But Pinkel and his coaches are obviously preparing to make sure he arrives two years from now.
His loss for the upcoming season places more pressure on projected starting sophomore tackle Terrell Resonno, Andy Maples, converted tight end Bart Coslet and Jimmy Burge to replace Ziggy Hood.
It will be one of the biggest challenges for new defensive coordinator Dave Steckel, who will have to wait for Richardson for two seasons.