Big 12: Sean Weatherspoon

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.

Mailbag: Preseason hype, recruiting, '04 title

June, 15, 2011
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Thanks for all the questions, everybody. Didn't get yours answered? Try again with a more interesting one.

Jon D in Davis, Calif., asks: Other than trying to pad his legacy or résumé, I cannot believe that Tuberville is being serious about his comments and the vacated 2004 title. Auburn should be the champ? Is he nuts? Was that not the same year that Auburn had the 90th-100th toughest schedule in the country? His comments make about as much sense as that hack that runs Ohio State and spews garbage out of his mouth "little sisters of the poor." We all saw how Wisconsin and the Big 10 handled that little sister TCU.

David Ubben: I can't believe people have a problem with him campaigning for it. As a lover of college football, I'd like to see it remain vacated if for no other reason than awarding it to someone else doesn't do very much and cheapens the title for the program that gets it.

But imagine if it was your school or in Tuberville's case, your team. Criticize the nonconference schedule all you'd like, it cost them a spot in the national championship. But the Tigers still made it through the SEC undefeated, and went 13-0 with five wins against top 15 teams. That's a national championship-caliber résumé. Tuberville's campaign is futile, but that doesn't mean it's misguided. I'd probably do the same thing if I were in his shoes.

Rob in St. Peters, Mo., asks: Why is aTm getting more preseason love than Missouri? Does nobody remember the beating that the Tigers gave them @ Kyle Field last season?

DU: Here's the thing: I've realized over time that fans have a very warped perception of a team based on how it played against them the previous year.

I saw A&M play in person four times last year, and watched their entire games on a few other occasions. I'll be clear about this: That was the worst performance the Aggies had last year by a wide, wide margin. It's the same reason why all my friends from Arkansas thought they were going to roll the Aggies in 2010. I disagreed then, too.

More than anything, the lack of an experienced QB is why Texas A&M is going to be favored by the posse of prognosticators this fall. But despite Missouri's solidness just about everywhere, I'd take the Aggies at just about every position other than defensive line. They're a solid team who, in the past, has shown some problems handling hype. We'll see how it ends up in 2011. Both are good teams, but A&M is just a bit better at almost every position. That pays off. I'm in the minority in thinking Missouri is a top 20 team, but I'd say A&M is a borderline top-10 team to kick off the season.

Edward in Austin, Texas, asks: Hey Ubbs...love the blog. It seems to me that talent doesn't necessarily translate from one level to the other; a lot of (if not, a substantial portion) of the time, highly-touted HS players don't do that well at the college level. And maybe as an extension of that, players that weren't highly sought after become superstars. I guess my question is, how much stock do you put in the ESPNU 150 rankings?It also seems the same is true for the next level. To recent memory, a couple of Heisman trophy winners (Matt Leinart and Eric Crouch) flopped in the NFL. Also you look at guys like Peyton Manning and Tom Brady...who were afterthoughts in their respective drafts. Am I being overly critical? Your thoughts?

DU: I'll nitpick a bit before I answer this question and point out that Manning was the No. 1 pick in the 1998 draft, but I get your question.

Obviously, the ESPNU 150 isn't the gospel, but it's still a good indicator of future success. Guys will hit and miss, and you can pick out plenty of All-Americans or Heisman winners who weren't top-flight recruits, but a good percentage of those All-Americans and Heisman winners? They were. It's no guarantee, but get more ESPNU 150 guys, and you're liable to have a better team. The simple truth is the chances of them turning out to be stars is much higher. Sure, there's a few two and three-star guys who become big time, but there's a whole lot more who don't. I'd be interested to see the percentage of guys who become starters after being five-star recruits vs. guys who become starters out of the three and two-star group. I'd bet good money the top guys are a lot higher.

John in Stillwater, Okla., asks: Why do you think recruits are decommitting from OSU? Are there any reasons to be alarmed?

DU: I assume you're talking about LB Dalton Santos and ATH Bralon Addison, a pair of former OSU commits who were ESPNU 150 guys. Santos reopened his recruitment and Addison did so briefly before committing to Texas A&M.

They were doing something right to get them to commit in the first place.

It's no cause for alarm. Nothing happened for them to jump ship. It's different for every guy. I don't really see a trend. The larger trend is Mike Gundy being in classes that are better and better, and you've seen that with OSU's recent rise, culminating in the first 11-win season in school history last year.

You never know what exactly causes high school kids to pick or not pick a school. When they do, it's a lot of the same comments about "family," etc, but it comes down to the best fit and what each individual player wants out of his college experience. Not every guy goes to the best school he possibly can go to. You have to consider playing time, helping a program rise, family connections, etc.

OSU's recruiting is fine.

Jared in College Station, Texas, asks: With all the hoopla around A&M's recruiting class, how much of a disappointment is it that they only have a few guys on the ESPNU150? (Especially since Texas has 7)

DU: I wouldn't get too wrapped up in it. I don't get out and watch or scout high school guys, so it's tough for me to say definitively. If a top recruit is playing a game on national TV, I'll usually DVR it and kind of half watch it while I work.

But, every indication about A&M's class is that the strength is in that second group. You only see three of them in the ESPN 150, but if it was the ESPN 350, I bet you'd see a ton more.

Cal Hardage in Chelsea, Okla., asks: All the talk about ESPNU 150 makes me wonder which coaches do more with less. Sure Texas (outside of 2010) wins, but they also bring in highly rated recruits. I'm not sure how you calculate it. Number of stars per win? Wins per star? Do you use only starters, two-deep, or entire team? I'm sure you can figure out a great way for it. Thanks!

DU: Yeah, you could probably break it down over time, but from a birds-eye view, I'd say it's pretty clear Missouri does the most with the least of any team in the Big 12. They don't haul in a lot of top-flight recruits, but they've won consistently in the last six years or so under Gary Pinkel, winning a share of the North three times and playing in the Big 12 title game twice. Texas Tech is probably a close second in that group.

Both teams always seem to find a lot of great players that weren't highly recruited. Sean Weatherspoon and Danario Alexander are two great examples of guys that not a lot of schools wanted but became stars at Mizzou.

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.

Missouri defense savoring improvement

October, 13, 2010
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Missouri captain and cornerback Kevin Rutland has gotten plenty of compliments and kudos on campus and elsewhere in Columbia. That's because he is the head of a unit that leads the Big 12 in scoring defense and his 14 forced turnovers is tied for second in the conference.

"It's been special so far, and you take note of it and would like it to keep going," Rutland said. "But we take it with a grain of salt. We know things can change, but we know if we keep our play at the level it’s been, we’ll be just fine."

[+] EnlargeKevin Rutland
John Rieger/US PresswireMissouri coach Gary Pinkel has put his trust in cornerback Kevin Rutland and the Tigers defense.
He would know. Rutland played corner for a defense that ranked outside the top 100 in pass defense a year ago, frustrating fans with its penchant for giving up backbreaking big plays.

This season, limiting those big plays has been goal No. 1.

"That’s always gotten us, whether it’s the big pass play or big run play, and not that we haven’t experienced those things because we have, but we're trying to keep those things to a minimum," he said.

There was a 93-yard touchdown run by San Diego State's Ronnie Hillman and a 42-yard run by Illinois running back Mikel Leshoure this year. None of those cost Missouri a game, unlike the 400-plus yards Baylor quarterback Nick Florence racked up in the Bears' lone conference win in 2009, highlighted by a 59-yard touchdown pass to Kendall Wright.

Missouri was never better this year than on Saturday when they shut out Colorado in a 26-0 win. Rodney Stewart's 22-yard run and a Scotty McKnight's 22-yard catch were the only sizeable chunks of yardage the defense gave up. Missouri is 5-0, thanks largely to its defense, and is headed to College Station for its first game outside the state this season.

"We’re getting better each week and with a lot of the little things, attention to detail things that we need to do and we haven’t arrived in any way, I’m not implying that, we’ve got some great tests ahead of us, including this week, but it seems like we’re playing real well as a team, together, as a unit," said coach Gary Pinkel.

They've had to do it without a full squad. Suspensions and injuries have kept contributors at every level of the defense off the field. Star defensive end Aldon Smith, who had 11.5 sacks a year ago, is out with a broken fibula and is expected to miss Saturday's game against Texas A&M.

"I’ll give some of the credit to experience and some of it to trust between coaches and players," Rutland said. "We go out there and we know what’s expected of us. The coaches have enough faith in us and enough trust in us to get job done, whatever the call may be. Whether we’re blitzing or we’re in zone coverage or man coverage. The coaches have so much trust in us, from the secondary down on to D-line, that it’s really opened up the playbook."

Rutland, a senior, has been one of the reasons why the coaches trust the unit. Rutland has adjusted to the team's more aggressive style under coordinator Dave Steckel and life as a team captain.

"My role is a lot more important than it’s been," Rutland said. "When there's a time to step up and say something, I enjoy being that guy. That’s the biggest thing, but even in practice or before a game or after the game, during the game, anything I can do. I like to go out there, make sure I’m doing my best and send a positive message with a great example to my teammates."

Texas A&M will be the toughest test yet for Missouri, and it won't get any easier. The Tigers host Oklahoma next week and travel to Lincoln for what could be a de facto Big 12 North championship game on Oct. 30. They will face the Huskers dynamic running game spearheaded by freshman quarterback Taylor Martinez.

So far a defense that returned nine starters from last year's team, but lost linebacker Sean Weatherspoon and defensive tackle Jaron Baston, has been as good or better than anyone might have expected.

"Players, athletes get better, if they’re good athletes and they keep working hard to improve and get better. People say they have so many starters back, but if the starters aren’t very good, it’s not going to matter," Pinkel said. "We have many tests to go here, but very pleased with the progress so far."

What we learned in the Big 12: Week 6

October, 10, 2010
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1. Taylor Martinez is a Heisman candidate. We're five games into the season. Martinez is a redshirt freshman who's played one conference game. Yes. It's a little early. He's going to make mistakes. But as it stands right now, Martinez has given the Big 12 its first legitimate candidate for the Heisman Trophy. When Nebraska's defense plays well like it did against Kansas State, Nebraska looks very scary, knowing that it may only be a matter of time before Martinez gets loose. He's going to get his carries every week, and when he gets in the open field, he's probably going to outrun whoever meets him there.

2. It's time to take Missouri's defense seriously. Talk all you want about strength of schedule, but so far, this defense looks like one of Gary Pinkel's best. The loss of linebacker Sean Weatherspoon hurts in the leadership department, but the other nine starters have forged together a defense that looks like one of the Big 12's best midway through the season. We'll find out more when the Tigers see the best offense they've faced all season in Texas A&M next weekend, but Missouri is giving up just more than 11 points a game -- good for a spot in the top three nationally and No. 1 in the Big 12. I don't care who you're playing, shutouts are hard to come by in conference play. And the ballhawking Tigers are in the national top 10 in turnover margin, tied for second in the Big 12 with Oklahoma State. Like Missouri's defensive coaches love to emphasize, "It's all about the ball!" And all of a sudden, that leaky secondary that ranked outside the national top 100 last year is stocked with experienced juniors and seniors tired of giving up big plays.

[+] EnlargeCollin Klein
Denny Medley/US PresswireCollin Klein's performance Saturday reopened the quarterback competition at Kansas State.
3. Quarterbacks who lose preseason competitions should keep the faith. First, we had Jordan Webb at Kansas, who took over for Kale Pick after a season-opening loss and got the Jayhawks a win over Georgia Tech. This week, two more quarterbacks got their chance. Collin Klein stepped in for Carson Coffman at Kansas State, and coach Bill Snyder says the job is back up for grabs. Colorado's Cody Hawkins stepped in for Tyler Hansen, but didn't manage to put any points on the board for the Buffs in a 26-0 loss to Missouri. Coach Dan Hawkins insisted after the game that Hansen was still his starter, but hey, you never know. A slow start next week for Buffs against Baylor may mean another appearance for the senior backup.

4. Texas A&M's season is in serious jeopardy. It has to be frustrating for Texas A&M, who isn't that far from being 5-0, but they have two one-possession losses to ranked teams, Oklahoma State and Arkansas. That's not to say the Aggies don't have major issues on offense--quarterback Jerrod Johnson only managed to complete 15-of-40 passes against Arkansas--but that much-needed defensive improvement has arrived. Now that it's here, turnovers and poor execution have landed the Aggies at 3-2, staring down the barrel at 3-3 with a ranked Missouri team carrying lots of momentum into College Station next week. As one Texas A&M scribe said in the press box after Saturday's loss, "Now if that 2009 offense could come play with the 2010 defense, this team might have something." But alas, despite the best efforts of Doc Brown, they can't. Texas A&M needs badly to beat the Tigers next week.

5. Texas Tech is back off the mat. No team had their proverbial backs against the wall more than Texas Tech this week, facing Baylor in the Cotton Bowl. But for the Red Raiders, 45-38 winners, it's amazing how much better 1-2 looks than 0-3, isn't it? Texas Tech now has to ready themselves for a gigantic showdown in Lubbock with a red-hot Oklahoma State offense coordinated by familiar face Dana Holgorsen, who spent eight years in Lubbock as a coordinator for Mike Leach. A win means a lot remains on the table, with a 2-2 record holding the tiebreaker against Oklahoma State. But if Texas Tech hadn't won on Saturday, a season without a bowl game would have been a possibility.

Opening camp: Missouri

August, 5, 2010
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Schedule: Practice starts today

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

  1. Kevin Rutland

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

Lunch links: Huskers galore

July, 1, 2010
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I hope none of you stayed up all night to hear the Clippers will be allowed to make a presentation to LeBron.

Missouri spring wrap

May, 6, 2010
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2009 overall record: 8-5

2009 conference record: 4-4

Returning starters: Offense (9), Defense(9) P/K (1)

Top returners: QB Blaine Gabbert, RB Derrick Washington, WR Wes Kemp, LB Will Ebner, DE Aldon Smith, CB Carl Gettis, CB Kevin Rutland

Key losses: WR Danario Alexander, LB Sean Weatherspoon, DE Brian Coulter, DT Jaron Baston, OL Kurtis Gregory, P Jake Harry

2009 statistical leaders (*returners)

Rushing: Derrick Washington* (865 yards)

Passing: Blaine Gabbert (3,593 yards)

Receiving: Danario Alexander (1,781 yards)

Tackles: Sean Weatherspoon (111)

Sacks: Aldon Smith* (11.5)

Interceptions: Kevin Rutland* (2)

Three spring answers

1. Rutland speaks up. Without Missouri’s best—and loudest player—on defense, Sean Weatherspoon, Missouri needed to find a new voice opposite the offense. It’s not quite as loud, but senior cornerback Kevin Rutland emerged as the defensive leader in the spring. He’ll need to back it up with his play, but did what he could in 15 practices, picking off four passes in the Tigers’ five scrimmages.

2. Depth at receiver: Found. Experienced juniors Wes Kemp and Jerrell Jackson figured to be big factors in the passing game after Danario Alexander graduated. Not so much for sophomore T.J. Moe, who caught just two passes as a freshman, would be as big of a factor as he became in the spring. A quarterback in high school, Moe came to Missouri as the state’s Gatorade Player of the Year, and found a new position at receiver. He caught more passes during scrimmages this spring than any other Missouri receiver, including 12 in the spring game.

3. No problems backing the line. Missouri is replacing Weatherspoon, but isn’t short on talent at linebacker. It might be the team’s strongest and deepest position. Luke Lambert and Andrew Gachkar are experienced seniors, and Missouri has plenty of others who can play, including Will Ebner, Donovan Bonner and Zaviar Gooden.

Three fall questions

1. Will the secondary improve? Missouri’s pass defense was the second-worst in the conference a season ago. They’ll be fielding the same four players in the secondary, now all seniors. But will the experience mean improvement? It better, otherwise Missouri will have to score in the 30s to consistently win games.

2. How good can Blaine Gabbert and Aldon Smith be? Both have the potential to become one of, if not the best in college football at their positions. But as of now, it’s just that. Both were extremely productive in 2009, and Gabbert did most of it on a gimpy ankle. If both continue to get better like coach Gary Pinkel believes they will, a North title is certainly within reach. If not, the Tigers won’t stray far from eight wins.

3. Can the Tigers get over the hump? Oklahoma stood between Missouri’s first Big 12 title twice in the past two seasons. The Tigers were dominated by Texas in Columbia last season, and now Nebraska looks like the favorite to win the North. They’ll take on the Huskers in Lincoln this year, but for Missouri to win the Big 12, it’ll have to win more games it’s not supposed to win than it’s had to in awhile.

Lunch links: Gill on the track, expansion, rookie mini-camps

May, 3, 2010
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Realignment

A few reports from the rookie mini-camps that a couple of the Big 12's first-rounders attended over the weekend:

Post-spring Big 12 power rankings

May, 3, 2010
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1. Texas

The defending champs will have one of the nation’s best defenses again, and perhaps its best secondary. Garrett Gilbert spent the spring validating his performance in the national title game, showing some of his near-limitless potential. The Longhorns won’t be easy to unseat in 2010, especially if they finally discover a running game.

2. Oklahoma

Here’s why the Sooners are here: The gap between Oklahoma’s offense and Nebraska’s offense is wider than the one between the Sooners’ defense and the Huskers’ defense. If Oklahoma’s offensive line can show improvement next season, the Sooners won’t have trouble scoring with the amount of talent they have at the skill positions, talent that’s much better than Nebraska’s.

3. Nebraska

The Huskers get Missouri and Texas in Lincoln and don’t see the Sooners, which has Big Red looking for a big season, but don’t count on another 10-win season if the offense doesn’t improve. The offense previewed its fall reopening in the 33-0 bowl win over Arizona, but if the quarterback play isn’t solid, the reopening could be a bad thing. With what could be the best defense in football again, and two solid backs in Roy Helu Jr. and Rex Burkhead, the Huskers’ floor is pretty high and the ceiling is even higher.

4. Missouri

Home losses to Nebraska and Baylor ended any chance the Tigers had of winning the North in 2009, but they bring back a lot from last year’s eight-win team and have a lot of experienced talent at linebacker and receiver ready to replace the big names -- Sean Weatherspoon and Danario Alexander -- they lost from last year’s team. Blaine Gabbert has to show he’s ready to become a household name, and if he does, the Tigers could make a serious run at the North.

5. Texas A&M

The Aggies kept almost the entire core from last year’s team, but remember, A&M still only won six games last season. It’ll be replacing three offensive linemen who could stop the Aggies' skill position players -- cumulatively the best in the conference -- from being as productive as they could be. One of those replacements should be true freshman Luke Joeckel, but if the defense improves and the line re-establishes itself, the Aggies are South contenders. If not, they won’t be much better than a seven-win team.

6. Kansas State

The Wildcats aren’t built to win 10 games just yet, but if Nebraska and Missouri stumble, they’ll be there to slip into the North conversation just like last season, when they were one upset win over the Huskers from a trip to Arlington. Carson Coffman took hold of the starting quarterback job in the spring, but he’ll need to keep it in the fall and be productive with his three new receivers to lighten the load on running back Daniel Thomas. If that happens, there’ll be more happy Saturdays than sad ones in Aggieville.

7. Texas Tech

Injuries kept the Sticks vs. Potts debate from really heating up this spring, but the switch to a higher risk/reward strategy with an aggressive defense could be fun to watch next season. The Red Raiders are deep at running back and receiver, but look for the former to get more touches this fall than they have in over a decade.

8. Oklahoma State

The Cowboys grabbed hold of Dana Holgorsen’s offense this spring, and Brandon Weeden grabbed hold of the starting role. Oklahoma State should have an impact player at each level of the defense in defensive end Ugo Chinasa, safety Markelle Martin and linebacker Orie Lemon, but they’ll need the rest of the D to solidify for the Cowboys to climb to a higher rung of the South ladder.

9. Iowa State

Iowa State is getting better, but the tough schedule and young defense will make it difficult for the Cyclones to improve on their 7-6 record in 2009. Five linebackers from last year’s team graduated, and the three likely starters this year, sophomore A.J. Klein, Jake Knott and juco transfer Matt Tau’fo’ou have a combined 41 career tackles. Iowa State is solid in the secondary, but with the amount of quality running backs in the North, a good defense up front is more important. It's also replacing two starters on the defensive line.

10. Baylor

A bowl game isn’t out of reach for the Bears, but they’ll have to prove something before they move out of the South’s cellar. Robert Griffin gives Waco hope, but the other 21 guys have to provide substance for Baylor to succeed. Replacing two safeties, two linebackers who combined for 190 tackles last season and an offensive line shift to replace All-American center J.D. Walton could make Baylor’s early road a bumpy one.

11. Kansas

Kansas will be short on talent this year, but expectations are measured after losing plenty on both sides of the ball. The Jayhawks are a team that could get a lot better as the season progresses, but when it starts, they’ll have a lot of work to do. They’ll be competitive in the bottom half of the North, but slipping past rival Kansas State to finish in the top half of the division is about as good as it could get for the Jayhawks in Turner Gill’s first season. Not having Texas or Oklahoma on the schedule could help make that happen.

12. Colorado

Transfer Toney Clemons infuses some excitement into the Colorado faithful, and alongside Markques Simas and leading receiver Scotty McKnight, the Buffaloes could have one of the more underrated receiving corps in the conference, helping loosen things up for Rodney Stewart. But the defense gave up the second-most points in the conference last season, and there’s little reason to think they’ll be a lot better in 2010. Scoring 22 points a game and allowing just under 29 is the opposite of a recipe for success.

Sorting out the draft for the Big 12

April, 26, 2010
4/26/10
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The Big 12 had 30 players drafted over the weekend, fifth most among the major six conferences.


Here's a look at who went where when:

First round (9):
1. Sam Bradford, QB, Oklahoma (St. Louis)

2. Ndamukong Suh, DT, Nebraska (Detroit)

3. Gerald McCoy, DT, Oklahoma (Tampa Bay)

4. Trent Williams, OL, Oklahoma (Washington)

6. Russell Okung, OL, Oklahoma State (Seattle)

14. Earl Thomas, DB, Texas (Seattle)

19. Sean Weatherspoon, LB, Missouri (Atlanta)

21. Jermaine Gresham, TE, Oklahoma (Cincinnati)

24. Dez Bryant, WR, Oklahoma State (Dallas)

Second round (2):

43. Sergio Kindle, DE, Texas (Baltimore)

44. Lamarr Houston, DT, Texas (Oakland)

Third round (3):
80. J.D. Walton, C, Baylor (Denver)

84. Jordan Shipley, WR, Texas (Cincinnati)

85. Colt McCoy, QB, Texas (Cleveland)

Fourth round (4):

110. Darrell Stuckey, FS, Kansas (San Diego)

115. Phillip Dillard, LB, Nebraska (New York Giants)

121. Keenan Clayton, LB, Oklahoma (Philadelphia)

131. Roddrick Muckelroy, LB, Texas (Cincinnati)

Fifth round (6):

135. Dominique Franks, CB, Oklahoma (Atlanta)

137. Perrish Cox, CB, Oklahoma State (Denver)

141. Joshua Moore, DB, Kansas State (Chicago)

160. Larry Asante, SS, Nebraska (Cleveland)

162. Brody Eldridge, TE, Oklahoma (Indianapolis)

165. Kerry Meier, WR, Kansas (Atlanta)

Sixth round (4):

191. Dezmon Briscoe, WR, Kansas (Cincinnati)

196. Jamar Wall, CB, Texas Tech (Dallas)

198. David Gettis, WR, Baylor (Carolina)

202. Jordan Pugh, DB, Texas A&M (Carolina)

Seventh round (2):

228. Reggie Stephens, OL, Iowa State (Cincinnati)

250. Zac Robinson, QB, Oklahoma State (New England)

When you arrange those by team, Oklahoma comes out on top, with seven selections.
1. Oklahoma (7)

2. Texas (6)

3. Oklahoma State (4)

T-4. Nebraska (3)

T-4. Kansas (3)

6. Baylor (2)

T-7. Iowa State (1)

T-7. Kansas State (1)

T-7. Missouri (1)

T-7. Texas Tech (1)

T-7. Texas A&M (1)

12. Colorado (0)

Sooners, Big 12 enjoy draft's first round

April, 23, 2010
4/23/10
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Thursday's first round was relatively free of surprises (apologies to Tyson Alualu and Jimmy Clausen) to Big 12 teams.

The first four picks came from the Big 12, three from Oklahoma, and the conference added five more through the rest of the first round.

"This was historic night, a statement for our program," Oklahoma coach Bob Stoops said in a release. "Everyone associated with our program should be proud of what was accomplished in this draft. I am just overwhelmed and feel privileged to have had the opportunity to get to know these guys and coach them." Stoops also added a fourth first-rounder in Jermaine Gresham, who went to the Bengals at No. 21.

"To think that four guys who came in as members of the same recruiting class went in the first 21 picks is amazing."

The Sooners were the first team to have three of the first four picks since Notre Dame in 1946, which bodes well for the Sooners' future, even after losing its talent. The Fighting Irish won national titles in 1947 and 1949.

They also won in 1946 with their three draft picks, but the Sooners played most of 2009 without 2008 Heisman winner Sam Bradford and Gresham.

Plenty of critics said Bradford made a mistake by coming back. Their volume only grew after Bradford suffered a shoulder injury that eventually required surgery in a season-opening loss, derailing the Sooners' second chance at a title. Thursday night, Bradford proved them wrong by becoming the first name off the board.

"I also want to salute these guys for staying in school," Stoops said, adding that each of the four players has or nearly has a degree. "I don’t know how you could look at this draft and think that these players did anything but improve themselves by staying for another year."

Here's where each of the Big 12's nine first-rounders were drafted.

1. St. Louis Rams: Sam Bradford, QB, Oklahoma

2. Detroit Lions: Ndamukong Suh, DT, Nebraska

3. Tampa Bay Buccaneers: Gerald McCoy, DT, Oklahoma

4. Washington Redskins: Trent Williams, OT, Oklahoma

6. Seattle Seahawks: Russell Okung, OT, Oklahoma State

14. Seattle Seahawks: Earl Thomas, DB, Texas

19. Atlanta Falcons: Sean Weatherspoon, LB, Missouri

21. Cincinnati Bengals: Jermaine Gresham, TE, Oklahoma

24. Dallas Cowboys: Dez Bryant, WR, Oklahoma State

Big 12 set to flex in NFL draft's first round

April, 22, 2010
4/22/10
4:00
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Sam Bradford/Ndamukong Suh/Gerald McCoyUS PresswireSam Bradford, Ndamukong Suh and Gerald McCoy are expected to be the first three players selected in tonight's first round of the NFL draft.
We're only a few hours away from tonight's first round of the NFL draft, one that could be unprecedented for the conference.

As many as five of the first six picks could come from the Big 12.

Oklahoma's Sam Bradford is the assumed first pick. Defensive tackles Ndamukong Suh and Gerald McCoy should follow. As will offensive tackles Trent Williams (Oklahoma) and Russell Okung (Oklahoma State).

Considering where the conference has been in recent years, that's not a surprise to the coaches sending those players to the next level.

"I don’t think there’s any question it’s been excellent, evidenced by what, us and Texas in the last couple national championship games," said Oklahoma coach Bob Stoops, who was forced to play most of 2009 without Bradford, the 2008 Heisman winner. "And year in and year out we’ve been there. I’ve known that for a long time and it’s obvious the talent in this league is second to none and its throughout the league and it’s exciting."

Texas coach Mack Brown could also have a pair of Longhorns go in the first round: defensive back Earl Thomas and defensive end/linebacker Sergio Kindle. Both are Texas natives, with Thomas hailing from Orange and Kindle from Dallas.

"More of the kids are staying at home and wanting to play in the Big 12 area, where one of our schools is traditionally playing for the national championship, so we’re in the mix each year," Brown said. "And I also feel like since we’ve won in this league and we’ve been in the final game more often, that more national kids are starting to look at our schools more readily than before."

Missouri's program has reached new heights in the last few years, winning 12 games in 2007 and another 10 in 2008. Missouri's two first-round draft picks last season, receiver Jeremy Maclin and defensive tackle Ziggy Hood, helped make those seasons possible. The Tigers also had safety William Moore drafted in the second round of last year's draft.

"I remember Don James, my mentor who I worked for at Washington, he told me about three or four years ago, he says, ‘When you start getting more players drafted, a lot more high draft choices, you’re going to win a lot more games.’ And at this level, as it was at Washington, that’s the way it is," Pinkel said. "You’re not going to get six drafted every year, but certainly, if you’re going to win at this level, you’re going to get more players that go on and play in the NFL."

He could add another first-round pick, his third in two seasons, tonight in linebacker Sean Weatherspoon, giving the Big 12 as many as 10 selections among the first 32 picks.

"It shows schools are recruiting quality young men and good football players," said Oklahoma State coach Mike Gundy.

CB Rutland emerging as leader for Tigers D

April, 21, 2010
4/21/10
10:30
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COLUMBIA, Mo. -- The Mouth is gone. That was obvious the moment Missouri lined up to stretch before its first spring practice of the post-Sean Weatherspoon era. He won’t be back, and a mouth of Weatherspoon’s volume can’t be duplicated.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Revolving Door: Missouri

April, 15, 2010
4/15/10
10:00
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Here, we'll take a look at a couple of key players going, staying and coming for each team in the Big 12.

Going:

Sean Weatherspoon, LB

Weatherspoon, a possible first-round pick in next week's draft, was the unquestioned leader of the Missouri defense as a senior. His 111 tackles were second most in the Big 12, despite dropping from 155 as a junior and 127 as a sophomore. Missouri loses only a couple of starters from an eight-win team in 2009, but the hole Weatherspoon leaves behind is the largest, because he anchored the defense physically, emotionally and mentally.

Danario Alexander, WR

The 6-foot-5, 215-pounder spent three injury-prone seasons trying to become a major contributor to the Tigers offense. His senior season, he finally did it, and stayed healthy throughout the season. His 113 receptions were third most nationally, and his 1,781 receiving yards were more than any other receiver in college football. That's thanks to a big finish to his regular season, when he caught over 10 passes in each of the final four games, surpassing 200 receiving yards in three of those games.


Staying:

Blaine Gabbert, QB

Gabbert begins his second season as starter with a chance to stake his claim as the conference's top quarterback. He loses Alexander, his top target, but he'll be throwing to a couple of experienced receivers in Wes Kemp and Jerrell Jackson, along with relative newcomers T.J. Moe and Rolandis Woodland. Look for tight end Michael Egnew to reignite the tight end tradition at Missouri this season, too. Gabbert threw for 3,593 yards and 24 touchdowns on a bum ankle for most of conference play. If he stays healthy this season, both of those numbers could grow.

Aldon Smith, DE

NCAA Clearinghouse issues kept Smith from playing as a true freshman, but last season, he delivered on legends of him dominating the first-team offense throughout his redshirt season. Smith had 11.5 sacks, good for fourth in the Big 12, and 19 tackles for loss, earning Big 12 Defensive Newcomer of the Year honors.


Coming:

Tyler Gabbert, QB

Gabbert, like his brother, decommitted from Nebraska with and made his way to Columbia. The 6-foot, 190-pound Ballwin, Mo., native won't get a shot to play until his brother is gone, but he enrolled early as the nation's No. 56 quarterback, along with fellow 2010 signee James Franklin (No. 60 QB) and either could prove to be the future of the position for the Tigers.

Nick Demien, OL

Demien, a 6-foot-5, 295-pound freshman, isn't likely to play early, but with 18 starters returning, few of the incoming freshmen will get chances to be major contributors. Demien, the nation's No. 17 offensive tackle prospect and the top overall prospect in Missouri, could provide depth on the line for the Tigers, and will likely be over 300 pounds by the time he comes to campus. When he does, he'll be coming back from an ACL injury.


More Revolving Door:

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