Big 12: Kip Edwards
Here are the other position rankings we've done so far:
Depth is somewhat of a factor here, but I weighted it heavily toward the top two starters at the position.
2. Kansas State — K-State overachieved in a lot of ways this year, and perhaps nowhere more than at cornerback. Juco transfer Nigel Malone led the league with seven interceptions. Known entity David Garrett was even more solid, making 88 tackles and 6.5 tackles for loss. I ranked this unit 10th in the Big 12 before the season. They finished second. I was wrong.
3. Oklahoma — The Sooners' corners were good, but not great, and underachieved slightly. Jamell Fleming and Demontre Hurst are supremely talented, but were susceptible to big plays this year. Granted, everybody in the Big 12 was, but the Sooners ranked fourth in pass defense. Fleming broke up 10 passes and intercepted two more. Hurst broke up 11 and had an interception.
4. Oklahoma State — At times, Oklahoma State's Brodrick Brown was a legitimate shutdown corner. Justin Gilbert turned in a solid effort in his first year as a starter, which was much more important after a season-ending injury to Devin Hedgepeth in September. Gilbert picked off five passes, second-most in the Big 12.
5. Iowa State — Leonard Johnson was quietly an NFL prospect that put together a huge year. He was a big reason for ISU's upset of No. 2 Oklahoma State, and helped shut down Justin Blackmon. He finished with 71 tackles, eight pass breakups and a pick. Jeremy Reeves added two picks and seven pass breakups.
6. Missouri — E.J. Gaines led the Big 12 with 16 pass breakups, and the Tigers ranked fifth in the Big 12 in pass defense. Fellow first-year starter Kip Edwards added a pick and three pass breakups.
7. Texas A&M — The team's top corner, Coryell Judie, was hampered by a hamstring injury all season, but production is production. It wasn't there for Judie, one of the league's top corners in 2010. Terrence Frederick had a good year with 13 pass breakups and a pick, but the Aggies were susceptible through the air all year. Lionel Smith and Dustin Harris filled in well in Judie's absence, but not well enough. A&M finished eighth in pass defense and helped five QBs set career highs for passing yardage in 2011.
8. Baylor — K.J. Morton played well down the stretch for Baylor, but the Bears defense left a lot to be desired almost everywhere. They finished last in the Big 12 in pass defense, giving up over 290 yards a game. Morton picked off four passes and broke up six more. All four of his picks came in the final three games of 2011. Chance Casey broke up six passes and made 48 stops.
9. Texas Tech — How's this for irony? The Red Raiders actually finished second in the Big 12 in pass defense. It doesn't matter much. Tre' Porter had the only interception for a cornerback all season, and broke up two passes. Injuries were a problem all season. Cornelius Douglas, Derrick Mays, Jarvis Phillips and Sawyer Vest filled the unit, but Tech faced 61 fewer pass attempts than Kansas and 111 fewer than the next team in the Big 12. That's what happens when you can't stop the run. Doesn't mean the corners played well.
10. Kansas — Greg Brown picked off two passes and broke up three more. Isiah Barfield made 35 tackles and broke up five passes. The Jayhawks ranked ninth in the Big 12 in pass defense. They didn't get much of a pass rush to help the corners, but the corners were very poor in 2011.
Turning point: Arizona State quarterback Brock Osweiler, who, if you haven't heard, is 6-foot-8, connected with Aaron Pflugrad on a gorgeous 60-yard rainbow down the right side of the field to give Arizona State its halftime lead. The momentum had shifted toward the Tigers, who scored on the previous drive, but Osweiler's deep ball gave ASU points on its first play of the ensuing possession and control of the game once again.
Turning point II: Missouri lost De'Vion Moore early on with an ankle injury and he won't return. Missouri had four reliable backs to begin the season, but for tonight and perhaps a bit into the future, it's down to just one. Henry Josey is the only healthy back left from a group that included Moore, Marcus Murphy (shoulder surgery) and Kendial Lawrence (broken fibula) and rushed for 1,557 yards and 19 touchdowns last season. Missouri already entered tonight's game missing six starters due to injury just a week into the season. Moore was a new starter, so it's still six, but still.
Stat of the half: Osweiler and Missouri's James Franklin have combined to complete 23-of-29 passes. It's been a pretty clean-looking game so far with both quarterbacks dealing.
Best player in the half: Osweiler. He's been outstanding, connecting on throws at every level of the defense and really making the Tigers' defense work. In the first half, he was 11-of-14 for 229 yards and two touchdowns. He also swung the game on a huge throw to Pflugrad that earned our turning point of the half.
Second guessing: On Missouri's opening drive, Gary Pinkel elected to kick a 24-yard field goal on fourth-and-short in the red zone, rather than try and tie the game at 7 after Arizona State scored on its first drive. The Tigers have the perfect quarterback to make those kinds of plays, and OC David Yost has lauded Franklin's ability to push a pile. However, coach Gary Pinkel didn't give him the opportunity. Somewhat reminiscent of a similar decision early on against Oklahoma State in 2008, a game in which top 10 Missouri was upset on its home field.
What Missouri needs to do: Get in the backfield. Missouri's defensive line is strong, but it has been quiet in the first half. The Tigers have been unable to pressure Osweiler with any consistency, but the Tigers' cornerbacks need help. E.J. Gaines and Kip Edwards have both been burnt already, and two of Missouri's defensive backs somehow whiffed on the first touchdown pass. How did it happen, though? Osweiler had lots of time and receivers were able to find open space in the secondary.
Replacing them won't be easy, but the coaching staff has lauded its young defensive backs all offseason.
That confidence paid off late in the first half when sophomore E.J. Gaines intercepted a pass in the end zone to keep Miami (Ohio) off the scoreboard and the Tigers ahead, 10-0.
Gaines came from underneath on the play and intercepted the ball in zone coverage.
The road will get tougher for this secondary once it starts facing Big 12 quarterbacks, but for now, Gaines is helping Missouri's defense carry over a strong season from 2010.
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.
Here's what we've covered so far:
This group? Well, it's not very good. And considering the crazy depth in the Big 12 at receiver, it could be a long season for cornerbacks in this league. I love the upside of many of the Big 12 corners -- namely the guys at Missouri and Texas Tech (especially working with Chad Glasgow's 4-2-5 in Lubbock). Texas could also develop fast in its new defense, but outside of Texas A&M and Oklahoma, I don't see any Big 12 teams that should be completely comfortable with their cornerbacks.
Of course, for fans who love points, this could be a welcome development. For secondary coaches and defensive coordinators? Not so much.
2. Texas A&M -- Fleming's return pushed the Sooners over A&M as having the Big 12's best group of corners. But Coryell Judie and Terrence Frederick could both challenge for first team All-Big 12 honors at the position. They are ahead of reserves Dustin Harris and Lionel Smith, who will get plenty of time on the field.
3. Missouri -- Missouri loses starters Carl Gettis and Kevin Rutland, but the coaches consider Kip Edwards a returning starter because of how much he played last season. Edwards could join E.J. Gaines in eventually becoming better than both Gettis and Rutland. Trey Hobson and Robert Steeples will get time in the rotation, too.
4. Oklahoma State -- OSU has to replace the Big 12's interception leader Andrew McGee , but Brodrick Brown's development should continue. He's likely a dark horse to earn first-team All-Big 12 honors after the season. The Cowboys didn't release a post-spring depth chart, but don't be surprised if return specialist Justin Gilbert edges out Devin Hedgepeth for the starting spot before the opener. Andrae May has earned playing time on special teams in both of his first two seasons on campus, but could be counted on for a much bigger role this year as the fourth corner.
5. Texas -- The Longhorns are fairly decimated at corner after losing three to the NFL in one offseason. Curtis and Chykie Brown joined Aaron Williams for one of the most talented sets of corners we've seen in this league, but now, secondary coach Duane Akina will have to replace them. Texas' depth chart is still as in flux as any in college football, but I'd be surprised if Carrington Byndom didn't emerge with a starting spot. True freshman Quandre Diggs might swipe the other, but A.J. White will be on the field, too.
6. Texas Tech -- The Red Raiders are likely to ascend this list by season's end, but for now, find themselves at No. 6. Injuries were costly for the defense last season, but Tre Porter and Derrick Mays should be much better, and Tech fans can be encouraged by the upside in Jarvis Phillips, Jeremy Reynolds and Eugene Neboh.
7. Iowa State -- This group might be a bit underrated, but with Iowa State's defensive problems last season, it's a bit hard to tell. Jeremy Reeves and Leonard Johnson return with loads of experience, and Anthony Young is a great additional piece as the third corner. Matthew Thomas should be in the rotation, too.
8. Baylor -- The Bears return both starters. Chance Casey has 15 career starts to Tyler Stephenson's four, but the Bears secondary struggled last season, especially the corners. Tuswani Copeland should be on the field under new coordinator Phil Bennett, whose work is cut out for him at this spot.
9. Kansas -- Kansas loses Chris Harris from last season's team, but Isiah Barfield is a playmaker at the position. Greg Brown, Tyler Patmon and Anthony Davis fill out the group.
10. Kansas State -- The Wildcats have a huge talent in David Garrett, who led the team in tackles last season and was the nation's leader in tackles for loss, but he's still just one player at a position that needs lots of depth in this league. Also, his coverage leaves a bit to be desired. For now, K-State doesn't look like it has that necessary depth. Terrance Sweeney and Stephen Harrison are gone, but the Wildcats need to find more talents at the position in fall camp. Watch for Thomas Ferguson to emerge as the other starter.
Of course, last season, Texas and Oklahoma were the favorites and Oklahoma State came out of nowhere to contend.
So, who could be this season's Cowboys? Here are three teams with the most upside that could contend for a Big 12 title.
Last season: 10-3
Big 12 Power Rankings: 4th
Why the Tigers aren't a contender: Simply put, Blaine Gabbert is gone. If the Tigers still had their first-round pick, they'd likely be a borderline top-10 team entering the season.
Why they can contend: Missouri's defense should be great once again after taking big strides in 2010 under coordinator Dave Steckel. The Tigers have lots of confidence in corners Kip Edwards and E.J. Gaines, and even list Edwards as a returning starter since he was in the rotation alongside Carl Gettis and Kevin Rutland last season. They'll get a lot of help up front from an offensive line that should be the Big 12's best, and perhaps one of the best in college football.
Offensively, James Franklin replaces Gabbert, but has lots of talent around him, including four returning running backs with experience and every single receiver on the team returns, including four with at least 39 catches a season ago. That's rare, and the experience gained will pay off next fall.
Last season: 5-7
Big 12 Power Rankings: 7th
Why the Longhorns aren't a contender: The offense crashed and burned in 2010 and the reigning Big 12 champs and national runner-up endured its worst season since 1997.
Why they can contend: Mock recruiting rankings all you'd like, but it's still hard to shake the feeling that Texas is a sleeping giant in 2011. The offensive talent didn't look like it was there last season, but can new coordinator Bryan Harsin change that? The Big 12 won't have a truly elite defense this season, so it's possible.
Texas also should have one of the Big 12's best defenses, as long as it can overcome some inexperience in the secondary. The front seven has loads of experience and potential, and if the turnovers, which coach Mack Brown has harped on all offseason, swing in the Longhorns favor, Texas could become a factor once again. That 5-7 record last season wasn't far from 9-3. Texas lost four games by eight points or fewer.
Last season: 7-6
Big 12 Power Rankings: 8th
Why the Wildcats aren't a contender: The Wildcats rode Daniel Thomas for two seasons, and lose him, as well as starting quarterback Carson Coffman. Combine that with a defense that struggled for most of last season, and it's not an attractive résumé.
Why they can contend: It all comes down to how good the new faces will be. Bryce Brown and Arthur Brown have gotten plenty of press this spring, but Arthur and quarterback Collin Klein will likely have the most to do with the Wildcats exceeding expectations. Klein will have receiver Brodrick Smith back, a transfer who started the season hot before breaking his leg against Nebraska.
The Wildcats are by far the darkest of these horses, but it could be one of Bill Snyder's best coaching jobs if this team contends or finishes in the top 25.
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?
That's how it goes, right?
College basketball is over, but brackets live on forever. Or something. Anyway, inspired by our friends over at the SEC blog, we'll try our hand at a little bracketology on the football field.
What if the Big 12 played a single-elimination tournament?
Ten-team brackets are a little unusual and more complex than the NCAA Tournament bracket, so if you're unfamiliar, we'll be working off this bracket.
I seeded the tournament based on my pre-spring power rankings (which, admittedly, have fluctuated already since January) and in true NCAA Tournament fashion, all the games will be played on neutral sites. Additionally, these games will be played riiiiight ... now!
That means no incoming freshmen unless they enrolled early, and no time to settle position battles, get players healthy or improve.
Wrenches being thrown everywhere! The humanity!
So ... here we go.
No. 7 Texas Tech vs. No. 10 Kansas: Texas Tech may be breaking in a new quarterback, trying to work with new receivers and giving the ball to inexperienced running backs (albeit backs loaded with potential) but the Red Raiders should win this one easily. Kansas doesn't have the skill position talent to exploit the Red Raiders' defensive weaknesses and won't be able to stop them. Seth Doege has shown signs of being far better than competent, but the same can't be said for Kansas' quarterbacks. The Red Raiders should be pretty good up front and slow the Jayhawks' running backs. Texas Tech 34, Kansas 13
No. 8 Kansas State vs. No. 9 Iowa State: Last year's Farmageddon was an underrated game in terms of entertainment, but both teams lost their workhorses. Alexander Robinson and Daniel Thomas won't face off in this one, but Kansas State is the only team in the Big 12 who hasn't started spring practice yet. Undone by unforeseen scheduling! The Wildcats' revolving door of quarterbacks can't find a rhythm against the Cyclones, who use Jerome Tiller like Nebraska used Taylor Martinez last year and zone read the Wildcats with Tiller and Shontrelle Johnson for the upset win. Iowa State 21, Kansas State 17
No. 1 Oklahoma vs. No. 9 Iowa State: Last year, Oklahoma beat these guys 52-0 in Norman. It won't be that bad this time, but the Sooners return just about everybody (save the secondary) and Iowa State lost its two best players, Austen Arnaud and Robinson. Sometimes, it's just that simple. Oklahoma 48, Iowa State 13
No. 2 Texas A&M vs. No. 7 Texas Tech: Texas A&M's deep receiving corps has worked together for awhile and can definitely take advantage of Texas Tech's youth in the secondary. The Red Raiders' safeties had a nice spring and did a nice job grasping new defensive coordinator Chad Glasgow's system from TCU, but the Aggies just have too many offensive weapons. Another big day for Tannehill, who won't touch his school-record 449 yards like he did last time against Tech in his first career start, but he clears 300 yards. Texas A&M 31, Texas Tech 21
No. 3 Oklahoma State vs. No. 6 Baylor: Baylor got steamrolled in their first big test once they climbed atop the Big 12 South standings, falling behind 34-0 in Stillwater. Both teams bring back loads of talent, and Baylor's defense should be slightly improved, but still learning. Baylor learns from the big-game failures from last year, but Oklahoma State is still the better, more balanced team. Oklahoma State 38, Baylor 35
No. 4: Missouri vs. No. 5 Texas: The one game this round that didn't happen last year, Texas will have a tough time capitalizing on Missouri's two big question marks: Quarterback and secondary. Missouri goes with Tyler Gabbert for most of the game and mixes in James Franklin for a few series with good results. Texas tests the Tigers' deep with a newly aggressive offense, but none of the quarterbacks even came close to completing a deep ball on Sunday. Kip Edwards grabs a couple picks on balls forced into Mike Davis and the Tigers get enough offense for the win. Missouri 27, Texas 14
No. 1 Oklahoma vs. No. 4 Missouri: Missouri won't have a raucous crowd or a locker room bent on beating OU for the first time under their current coach this time around. Missouri hangs around early, but the Tigers don't have enough offense. Although Oklahoma is playing without All-Big 12 corner Jamell Fleming, Missouri still doesn't have a deep threat or a quarterback quite comfortable with trying to find one. The Sooners zero in on T.J. Moe and the running game and knock off the Tigers. Oklahoma 31, Missouri 24
No. 2 Texas A&M vs. No. 3 Oklahoma State: These two weren't separated by much last year, and I'd have loved to see them play one more time. Their 38-35 classic last year was one of the league's best games and both teams look loaded up for another big year. A&M still has defensive coordinator Tim DeRuyter, but Oklahoma State lost Dana Holgorsen. Bad news? Yes. But the good news for Oklahoma State is Texas A&M is missing three starters from the secondary this spring. Play this thing in July and we might have another classic. But now? Another heartbreak for the Aggies. Oklahoma State 34, Texas A&M 31
No. 1 Oklahoma vs. No. 3 Oklahoma State: Bedlam may very well decide the Big 12 title next November, and it decides our little bracket party here with a spring tournament. Both offenses are breaking in new offensive coordinators, but Oklahoma's Josh Heupel is much more ingrained in the system than Oklahoma State's Todd Monken, who was being taught the offense by the current Cowboys this spring. Both offenses lost big-name running backs, and both have solid replacements in line with depth. Jeremy Smith and Joseph Randle at Oklahoma State match up well with Oklahoma's Roy Finch, Brandon Williams and Brennan Clay. Both have receiver depth and Oklahoma State should have an advantage against a young OU secondary. The league's co-Defensive Players of the Year, S Tony Jefferson of Oklahoma and LB Shaun Lewis of Oklahoma State, validate the award with big nights. But Oklahoma State has to convince me that it can win a big game with so much (humor me, here) on the line. It played well in last year's Bedlam but came up short. They're even closer this time, but Oklahoma takes home the title in another classic. Oklahoma 41, Oklahoma State 38 (OT)
Luther, take it away!
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."
What’s new: Not much, really. There will be a quarterback derby, but we'll get to that in a bit. Missouri returns nine starters on offense and six on defense and didn't have a coaching change in the offseason. There will be new faces in the secondary, but Gary Pinkel has established a solid foundation for his program around his quarterback and there shouldn't be much concern about a down year in 2011 with a new passer.
On the mend: Linebacker Donovan Bonner missed all of 2010 with a knee injury, but he looked like a budding star before the injury. He's back this spring and should get a chance to get back to where he was in fall camp.
Key battle: There's plenty to see at quarterback. Pinkel says sophomore James Franklin will enter spring practice as the starter, but Ashton Glaser and Tyler Gabbert will push for the starting gig. This is definitely new territory for the Tigers, who haven't had any real uncertainty about their starting quarterback since Brad Smith took over as the starter in 2002. Chase Daniel and Blaine Gabbert were clear heir apparents, but a quarterback competition should add some new intrigue to the offseason in Columbia.
New faces: Receiver Wesley Leftwich will take part in camp, alongside offensive lineman Michael Boddie and defensive lineman Gerrand Johnson.
Breaking out: When defensive end and likely first-round pick Aldon Smith suffered a broken leg last year, backup defensive end Brad Madison flourished. He had three sacks against Texas A&M and finished with 7.5 sacks to lead the team and with Smith gone. Madison's road to becoming a household name across the conference could begin this spring.
Question marks: Secondary troubles have been a constant for Missouri's defenses over the past decade. Until last year, anyway. The secondary became a strength, but it did it with a pair of experienced, senior corners, Carl Gettis and Kevin Rutland. Now, promising young players E.J. Gaines and Kip Edwards look ready to replace them, but will the excellence on the back line continue under third-year defensive coordinator Dave Steckel, or was last year an anomaly?
Big shoes to fill: All-Big 12 center Tim Barnes is gone, and Justin Britt and Travis Ruth will compete to take his place. Barnes was responsible for a lot of organization for the offense before the snap, not to mention his blocking and snapping talents. A weakness there would throw a kink into Missouri's offense. The Tigers need a solid talent to emerge, and that could happen this spring. The good news is the other four offensive linemen return.
Don’t forget about: The running backs. Missouri split carries between four backs last season, with none receiving more than 100 carries. Pinkel says he wants one to emerge and separate themselves, and if I'm guessing, I'd put my money on sophomore Henry Josey. He's the shiftiest of the four backs, and in Missouri's offense, a scat back can be a big asset. He may not get the goal-line carries (look for De'Vion Moore to take that duty), but he could get the Tigers down there.
All eyes on: Quarterback James Franklin. It sounds like he has a lead to start the spring, but the job isn't his yet. Missouri fans would like to see him (or someone, anyway) grab a firm hold on the job by the end of spring practice and impress them heading into fall camp. Uncertainty may not be the best option for Missouri's offense next fall, but if no one separates themselves, it might be a necessity.
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.
Fresh off a program-altering win over then-No. 1 Oklahoma that featured a record crowd of 18,000 for College GameDay earlier in the day, the idea of a run to the national championship wasn't entirely far-fetched.
That was, until the first snap against Nebraska's offense the next week. Roy Helu Jr. keyed off a 300-yard rushing day with a 66-yard run and the Tigers found themselves down 24-0 after a quarter in an eventual 31-17 loss. A second loss the next week at Texas Tech removed the prospect of a third Big 12 North title in four years and eliminated the prospect of a truly special season, though a three-game winning streak to close the season salvaged a solid one with a third 10-win season in three years.
Unfortunately for the Tigers, what looked like the worst nonconference schedule in the conference to begin the season actually ended up being pretty good. Miami (Ohio) went from a 1-11 team to MAC champions. Illinois, picked to finish near the bottom of the Big Ten, went 4-4 in conference play and made a bowl. San Diego State also made a bowl at 8-4 and nearly knocked off TCU in Fort Worth earlier this year.
Offensive MVP: T.J. Moe, WR. Whispers of Moe's enhanced role in the offense leaked out of preseason camp, but few could have predicted just how integral he really was to the Tigers. Missouri's most consistent offensive target, Moe hauled in 77 catches for 893 yards and six touchdowns. Only Justin Blackmon, Ryan Broyles and Jeff Fuller had more receiving yards in the Big 12 this year.
Defensive MVP: Andrew Gachkar, LB. There's an argument to be made for cornerbacks Carl Gettis and Kevin Rutland, but the senior speedy linebacker was everywhere for the Tigers and came on strong late in the season with 36 of his 81 tackles in Missouri's final five games. Missouri got contributions from everyone, and really did play what you could call team defense.
Turning point: The win over Oklahoma. The first turning point announced, rather loudly, that the Tigers were for real and ready to contend for just about any title after torching Texas A&M in College Station the week before.
Turning point II: The loss to Texas Tech. The second turning point was a somewhat shocking loss that featured uncharacteristic inaccuracy by Blaine Gabbert, who couldn't bounce back from a rough outing against a great Nebraska secondary. The Tigers played well the following week against Kansas State to get back on track, but the loss in Lubbock ended up costing the Tigers a chance to play for a Big 12 Championship.
What's next: Probably more of the same. Missouri has trouble moving the ball against elite defenses who can match their speed. But the Tigers took a big step forward defensively this year, eliminating concerns in the secondary and turning the unit into a strength. We'll see if that continues with the personnel turnover in the secondary. Kip Edwards and Kenji Jackson look ready to take over with the departures of Gettis, Rutland and Jarrell Harrison. E.J. Gaines could move into a starting role opposite Edwards at corner next year. Aldon Smith's injury early in the season allowed the Tigers to discover talented young defensive ends Michael Sam and Brad Madison.
Facing a fourth-and-12 at Missouri's 22-yard line, Hawkins was sacked by Missouri's Kip Edwards to keep the shutout intact.
But on the next drive, Missouri's Blaine Gabbert stayed on the bench in favor of backup James Franklin. Gabbert took a big hit late in the first half, but had remained on the field since.
Franklin completed his first two passes, the second in the direction of Michael Egnew for Egnew's second touchdown of the day, putting Missouri up 26-0.
He set that up with a 34-yard run down to the Colorado 10-yard line.
Hawkins is 3-of-6 for 18 yards, but expect Franklin to do a lot of handing off over the game's final 10 minutes.