NCF Nation: Aldon Smith

College football is all about promotion and development. Players undergo enormous growth in their time on campus, but every year, there's a handful of guys who make the jump from good to great. Who will make the biggest jump in the Big 12?

Brad Madison led Missouri in sacks last season, but did it as a backup. Fellow defensive end Aldon Smith is gone now, though, and Madison slides into a starting role. What's he have in store for 2011?

Like Madison, Damontre Moore filled in for an injured future top 10 pick early in the season, and excelled. Moore, though, did it as a true freshman. Once Von Miller got to full strength from his ankle injury, Moore was relegated back to the bench. Will he become a household name as a sophomore?

Baylor's Josh Gordon showed some flash as a sophomore in 2010, but has the size and speed to become one of college football's top receivers. Will that potential turn to production?

Joseph Randle caught more passes last year than every running back but DeMarco Murray. This year, though, he'll be counted on in a bigger role in the running game. What will be bring as a sophomore?

Corey Nelson made huge waves this spring, further intensified when Oklahoma coach Bob Stoops called him the best player on the defense. There's no room for him, it would seem, in the starting lineup for the Sooners, but he'll be on the field somehow. Can he crash the party?

Missouri DE Madison an unlikely star

March, 16, 2011
COLUMBIA, Mo. -- Gary Pinkel got his first real coaching job in 1976. Since then, he's never seen anything like Brad Madison.

Madison came to Missouri as an offensive lineman, spent a season at the position, then moved to defensive end last spring. In 2010, he led the Tigers in sacks, with 7.5, two more than any other player on the team. He also led the team with 11 tackles for loss.

"You recruit a guy as an offensive lineman and he ends up being an all-conference defensive end. That’ll never happen. That’s never happened in 34 years of coaching and that’ll never happen again," Pinkel said. "It never happens."

To quote a teenage, floppy-banged philosopher, "Never say never."

Nevermind that Madison did all that as a backup, earning second-team All-Big 12 honors despite being on Missouri's second team, too.

With the man ahead of him on the depth chart gone to the NFL, Madison has an opportunity in 2011 to become one of the league's premier pass-rushers as he moves into full-time duty.

"He’s good, he’s quick, he’s talented. His spin quick move is like a flash," Pinkel said. "He’s the great story."

The man ahead of him on the depth chart in 2010 was star defensive end Aldon Smith, who is likely first-round selection in next month's NFL draft. Smith broke a bone in his leg late against San Diego State and had to sit for four games, giving Madison a chance to shine.

"Coach always tells us to prepare like you’re starting even when you’re not, so I kind of knew what to do," Madison said. "but I knew if I had questions I could ask some older guys. It just kind of took care of itself."

Mop-up duty in an earlier game against McNeese State helped prepare him, Madison said. Madison says he played well, but he put up modest numbers in lopsided wins over Miami (Ohio) and Colorado. In the Tigers' first true road game, a 30-9 win over Texas A&M at Kyle Field, Madison sacked quarterback Jerrod Johnson three times as part of a defense that held the Aggies scoreless while the Tigers score the game's first 23 points.

"That was probably the best game of my career by far. It was pretty exciting," Madison said. "I just need to be more consistent and play like that every game this year."

Modestly, Madison admits he was matched up one-on-one for much of the game with true freshman left tackle Luke Joeckel.

"We were kind of in the same spot," he said. "We were both kind of new to the game and I just came out and played well."

He added 3.5 more sacks in a three-game stretch in conference play, including road games against Texas Tech and Iowa State.

So how'd he flip to the other side of the line of scrimmage. For one, raw data.

"We saw his 40 time, his jump, and we were going, 'This guy might be able to play defensive end,'" Pinkel said.

Added Madison: "In the back of my head, I kind of wanted to play that when I first got here, but my brother played on the offensive line, so I kind of just followed in his footsteps."

Pinkel and Madison met after the season and decided to make the switch. A little over a year later, it's paid off.
The NFL scouting combine concludes Tuesday, but the defensive line and linebackers took their turns under the microscope on Monday. We'll take a look at the defensive line here before moving on to the linebackers later this morning.

Position ranking in parentheses when available.

Defensive linemen

Sam Acho, Texas
  • 40-yard dash: 4.68 seconds (3)
  • Vertical jump: 33.5 inches (9)
  • Three-cone drill: 6.69 seconds (1)
  • 20-yard shuttle: 4.32 seconds (5)
Ugo Chinasa, Oklahoma State
  • 40-yard dash: 4.71 seconds (7)
  • Broad jump: 9-9 (7)
  • Three-cone drill: 7.07 seconds (7)
Aldon Smith, Missouri
  • 40-yard dash: 4.78 seconds (10)
  • Vertical jump: 34 inches (7)
  • Broad jump: 9-10 (6)
  • 225-pound bench press: 20 reps
Adrian Taylor, Oklahoma
  • 225-pound bench press: 34 reps (3)
Phil Taylor, Baylor
  • 225-pound bench press: 31 reps (6)

A couple of thoughts, notes and observations:
  • Acho's time in the three-cone drill (4.68 seconds) was the most head-turning number from the group. It was the best mark in the drill by a defensive lineman in six years. Best of all, it came in a drill that has a lot of applications to his position. I was pretty surprised that Acho's agility in the drill put him in that elite class. He's always been fairly light on his feet, but I didn't peg him for a guy who could change directions that skillfully.
  • One has to put measurements taken in controlled situations in perspective, but of this group, it seems likely that Acho was the only player to make a significant move on any teams' draft boards. Aldon Smith is the only player in the group extremely likely to hear his name in the first round, but it'll be based on his upside, still waiting-to-be-filled-out frame and freshman season at Missouri.
Springtime is almost here. And here's a look at what to expect across the Big 12 when it gets into full swing here in the next couple weeks.


Spring practice starts: February 28

Spring game: April 2

What to watch:
  • Big changes on defense. Baylor brought in Phil Bennett as its new defensive coordinator, and he says his scheme will be multiple, built to fit the Bears' personnel. Considering the Bears' recent recruiting successes in the secondary, look for a 4-2-5 type of look.
  • Recruiting stars: time to shine. Both safeties, Tim Atchison and Byron Landor, are gone. Baylor, though, has two former ESPNU 150 recruits at safety who would be well served to start filling their potential. Prince Kent was a reserve last season and at one time, the nation's No. 51 overall recruit who originally signed with Miami. Ahmad Dixon, meanwhile, was the No. 15 overall prospect in the 2010 class. The opportunity is there. Baylor needs big talent at the position. Briles has recruited it. Can they develop into players who make Baylor a contender?
  • Running back competition. Jay Finley topped 1,200 yards in 2010, but he's gone. Who steps into his void? Terrance Ganaway is a bowling ball at 5-foot-11, 235 pounds, but the shifty Jarred Salubi could get a good amount of carries, too. They could begin to share carries this spring.

Spring practice starts: March 22

Spring game: April 16

What to watch:
  • Quarterback competition. It should be a good one in Ames this spring. Jerome Tiller is the name most recognize after getting lots of meaningful time and starts because of injuries to Austen Arnaud over the past two seasons. But juco transfer Steele Jantz sounds confident he can win the job. Rising sophomore James Capello and redshirt freshman Jared Barnett will compete, too.
  • Paging Cyclone receivers. Iowa State had one of the most underwhelming receiving corps in the league during the past season, and three of its top five pass-catchers won't return in 2011. Of those three, however, one is a tight end (Collin Franklin) and another is a running back (Alexander Robinson). The new quarterback will need some help, and Darius Darks and Darius Reynolds will need to provide it as seniors.
  • Shontrelle's time or not? Freshman Shontrelle Johnson looked like the running back with the most pop behind Robinson for most of 2010, but two other freshmen running backs jockeyed for carries, too. Paul Rhoads is hardly handing the job over to Johnson, but spring could be the time when he really separates himself from the pack.

Spring practice starts: April 1

Spring game: April 30

What to watch:
  • What are they doing behind center? Kansas never got much consistent play out of the quarterback position last year, but freshman Brock Berglund is one of the 2011 class' top recruits, and enrolled early to compete in the spring with Jordan Webb and Quinn Mecham. With a building program like Kansas, there's perhaps some value in handing the program to a younger player like Webb or Berglund, but they'll have to earn it. Doing so will start in the spring, but don't expect the Jayhawks to have a set-in-stone starter by spring's end.
  • Top linebacker back on the field. Huldon Tharp missed all of 2010 with a foot injury, but he says he's 100 percent and ready to get back on the field. As a freshman in 2009, he was fifth on the team in tackles, with 59, and looked like one of the league's possible budding stars. Now, he'll get his chance to join fellow linebacker Steven Johnson as one of the team's top tacklers, and he'll do it as a sophomore after redshirting in 2010.
  • Toben rising? Turner Gill raised plenty of eyebrows when he moved his team's leading rusher in 2009, Toben Opurum, to linebacker in fall camp, and eventually slid him up to defensive end. But toward the end of 2010, Opurum started showing some major signs of growth at the position. We'll get a better idea this spring if he's one of the league's most unlikely new stars at defensive end.

Spring practice starts: April 6

Spring game: April 30

What to watch:
  • Prodigal Kansan sons come home. There's no doubt that the Wichita native Brown brothers are the main attraction at Kansas State this spring, a season after transferring back home. Bryce Brown, the running back, was the nation's No. 8 prospect in the 2009 class. Arthur Brown, the linebacker, was the nation's No. 6 prospect in the 2008 class. Bryce transferred from Tennessee and Arthur from Miami. The Wildcats are pinning much of their hopes on the duo, and we'll get a good sense of what they can provide soon.
  • Quarterback competition. Carson Coffman is gone, and two new faces will challenge for the job: juco transfer Justin Tuggle and Daniel Sams. Sammuel Lamur is also up for the gig. Collin Klein may or may not be; Bill Snyder hasn't explicitly confirmed a past comment from Sams saying Klein had moved to receiver. Don't expect a starter to be named by spring's end, but a general order could start to form.
  • Can the defense show improvement? Kansas State had the Big 12's worst overall defense last year, and the worst rushing defense in college football, giving up 3,008 yards on the ground. Coordinator Chris Cosh looks like he'll still be around in 2011, and defensive backs David Garrett and Tysyn Hartman are solid pieces to try and build around. But this young maturing defense must get better to make a bowl game again with so many questions on offense. That starts in the spring.

Spring practice starts: March 8

Spring game: April 16

What to watch:
  • Franklin comes alive! Blaine Gabbert bolted to the NFL early, and Missouri has a gaping hole a quarterback. The position, however, is surrounded by a lot of quality talent that likely makes the Tigers a Top 25 team. There's no understating the importance of the position for the Tigers, and that will begin to be decided in the spring. James Franklin, a rising sophomore, saw spot duty in 2010 as more of a runner, and may have the inside track on the job, but Tyler Gabbert, Blaine's younger brother, and Ashton Glaser should make it an interesting competition in the spring. If neither of them impress early, don't count out incoming freshman Corbin Berkstresser.
  • Here is the new secondary. Same as the old secondary? After years of pass defense being one of the Tigers' biggest weaknesses, it became a strength in 2010 behind the leadership of senior corners Kevin Rutland and Carl Gettis. But the Tigers lose them and safety Jarrell Harrison. Rutland emerged as one of the team's most impressive players last spring, but was Missouri's success in the secondary a one-time thing or the beginning of a welcome trend?
  • Time to dominate the trenches? Missouri played without likely first-round pick Aldon Smith for much of the previous season, but the defensive and offensive lines for the Tigers were as good as ever in 2010. How will they look in 2011? Impact juco transfer Sheldon Richardson won't be enrolled by the spring, but the four returning starters on the offensive line should get some solid work against Brad Madison, Jacquies Smith and Terrell Resonno.

Spring practice starts: March 21

Spring game: April 16

What to watch:
  • Freshmen on display. Coach Bob Stoops hasn't been shy about saying his 2010 recruiting class was his best ever, but it could look even better after this spring. Two of his best emerging recruits, Justin McCay and Geneo Grissom, didn't even play in 2010, and could start to make an impact. The same goes for Corey Nelson, who will try to earn some more time somewhere backing up star Travis Lewis.
  • Is there a golden boot in Norman? Jimmy Stevens was much more accurate in 2010, finishing 19-for-23, but his attempts outside 45 yards were sparse. The good news is he missed none of his 53 extra points. Field goals have been a bit of an adventure for the past couple years, but continuing in the spring what he started last year would be a good sign for Oklahoma. The Sooners are strong everywhere and need good special teams play to reach their lofty title goals.
  • Are the Sooners' backs back? Roy Finch missed the Fiesta Bowl with a stress fracture, and his durability is certainly questionable entering 2011. When he's healthy, he looks like the next star in the Sooners' backfield, but they'll need some depth behind the 5-foot-8, 173-pounder. Jermie Calhoun, Jonathan Miller and Brennan Clay have all looked good at times, but there should be some good competition from newcomers Brandon Wegher, an Iowa transfer who'll be in camp this spring and eligible next season, and blue-chip recruit Brandon Williams, who enrolled early.

Spring practice starts: March 7

Spring game: April 16

What to watch:
  • Every piece of the offense. The spring in Stillwater is all about keeping or improving upon the status quo. Had it kept Dana Holgorsen, there'd be little doubt that would happen, but Oklahoma State must make the most of its five returning offensive linemen, quarterback Brandon Weeden and receiver Justin Blackmon. The opportunity for a historic season is there, but they'll have to pick up the nuances of the new offense quickly in the spring like they did last year.
  • What about the kicker? Dan Bailey won the Lou Groza Award as the nation's top kicker in 2010, but he's gone. Oklahoma State needs to fill that role quickly, and we'll likely know who will get the nod after the spring.
  • Who steps up on the defensive line? The Cowboys lose three starters up front on defense, including All-Big 12 performer Ugo Chinasa and tackles Chris Donaldson and Shane Jarka. Can senior Richetti Jones become a star in the Big 12? We'll have a good idea if he, or any of the Cowboys' other defensive linemen, can by the end of April.

Spring practice starts: February 24

Spring game: April 3

What to watch:
  • New coaches and their students/players. Texas has five new coaches. Although it's hard to get a good read early on, how they relate with the players on the field, in the film room and around the facilities will have a big impact on how the 2011 season plays out in Austin. The young-blooded coordinators could serve themselves well by relating to players and the players will need to spend plenty of extra time learning new schemes and plays.
  • Quarterback competition ... or not? Mack Brown says the gig is open and it is, for now. Garrett Gilbert can close it with a strong spring. If Garrett struggles on the field or has difficulty grasping the new system, the door will be wide open for Connor Wood or Case McCoy to step in and close it. Gilbert didn't get much help, but he did very little in 2010 to inspire a lot of breathing room with McCoy and Wood clamoring for playing time.
  • And you've got to defend the pass, too. Texas loses its top three cornerbacks to the NFL, and only Carrington Byndom and A.J. White got much meaningful playing time last season. Younger players can earn some rare early playing time with a strong spring. Will anyone step up?

Spring practice starts: March 22

Spring game: April 16

What to watch:
  • New linebackers in the running. Spring isn't so scary when you bring back nine defensive starters, but the two Texas A&M lost were the heart of its defense. Linebackers Michael Hodges and Von Miller are gone. Kyle Mangan didn't look fantastic when forced into action during the Cotton Bowl, but the time is now for Damontre Moore and Dominique Patterson, a pair of sophomores, to make their impact.
  • Tannehill's tuning things up. Quarterback Ryan Tannehill played about as well as anyone could have hoped late last season, but he'll need it to continue his performance with a solid spring nailing down the timing with his receivers, who all return. He's already got a leg up on last year's quarterback, Jerrod Johnson, who was held out of team drills last spring after shoulder surgery that eventually derailed his senior season.
  • Christine's back. Christine Michael missed the second half of the season with a broken leg, giving way to Cyrus Gray's rise among Big 12 backs. It should make Texas A&M's depth at the position even more impressive, but we'll see how Michael looks coming back from the injury.

Spring practice starts: February 19

Spring game: March 26

What to watch:
  • Past defending that pass defense. Texas Tech had the Big 12's worst pass defense last season, but has a pair of big potential players at cornerback in rising sophomores Tre Porter and Jarvis Phillips. Starters LaRon Moore and Franklin Mitchem are gone, but if returning starters Cody Davis and Will Ford can continue to mature, the defense should improve in the area most important for success in the Big 12.
  • And they're off! There's a four-man quarterback derby set in Lubbock this spring between Seth Doege, Jacob Karam, Michael Brewer and Scotty Young. I don't expect it to be settled until midway through fall camp, similar to last season, but there should be a solid front-runner and more clarity after spring. Coach Tommy Tuberville was extremely impressed with Doege and Karam last spring after Taylor Potts and Steven Sheffield went down with injuries.
  • Time to find new stars. Most of the big names on Texas Tech's defense are gone. Colby Whitlock, Bront Bird, Brian Duncan will all continue their careers elsewhere. The leaders on the defense will have to begin to emerge in the spring. Is it Scott Smith? Cody Davis? A younger, unexpected player? We'll find out. Sometimes these types of situations aren't as easy to predict as they might seem, like Missouri's strength in 2010 emerging in the secondary.

Baylor Bears, Iowa State Cyclones, Kansas State Wildcats, Missouri Tigers, Oklahoma Sooners, Oklahoma State Cowboys, Texas Longhorns, Texas A&M Aggies, Colby Whitlock, Brennan Clay, Christine Michael, Von Miller, Alexander Robinson, Chris Cosh, Steven Sheffield, Brandon Wegher, Turner Gill, James Franklin, Tysyn Hartman, Bill Snyder, Bront Bird, Case McCoy, Brandon Williams, Dan Bailey, Justin Blackmon, Franklin Mitchem, Richetti Jones, Connor Wood, Ryan Tannehill, Terrance Ganaway, Cody Davis, Travis Lewis, Cyrus Gray, Scotty Young, Chris Donaldson, Bryce Brown, Jerome Tiller, Brian Duncan, LaRon Moore, Justin Tuggle, Darius Darks, Paul Rhoads, Brad Madison, Art Briles, Sheldon Richardson, Bob Stoops, Jerrod Johnson, Blaine Gabbert, Jay Finley, Jared Barnett, Taylor Potts, Jimmy Stevens, Arthur Brown, Mack Brown, Garrett Gilbert, Jermie Calhoun, Collin Franklin, Phil Bennett, Jacquies Smith, Jarred Salubi, Collin Klein, Carl Gettis, Seth Doege, Scott Smith, Terrell Resonno, Carson Coffman, Aldon Smith, Brandon Weeden, Toben Opurum, Shane Jarka, Tyler Gabbert, Ahmad Dixon, Corey Nelson, Prince Kent, Shontrelle Johnson, Geneo Grissom, Quinn Mecham, Damontre Moore, Byron Landor, Darius Reynolds, Ugo Chinasa, Kevin Rutland, Roy Finch, Jacob Karam, Michael Brewer, Jordan Webb, A.J. White, Huldon Tharp, Ashton Glaser, Jarvis Phillips, Tim Atchison, Michael Hodges, Tre Porter, Kyle Mangan, Brock Berglund, David Garrett, Carrington Byndom, Justin McCay, Corbin Berkstresser, Daniel Sams, Dominique Patterson, James Capello, Jonathan Miller, Steele Jantz, Will Ford

Sizing up the Big 12 early entrants

January, 18, 2011
After the season, we took a look back at the players who had decisions to make about the NFL.

The deadline to make those decisions arrived on Saturday, and the results made one thing clear: We're in for a very strong Big 12 in 2011. Let's add it up:

Headed to the NFL:
  • Blaine Gabbert, QB, Missouri
  • Aldon Smith, DE, Missouri (sophomore)
  • Aaron Williams, CB, Texas
Staying in school:
  • Ryan Miller, OG, Colorado
  • Jared Crick, DT, Nebraska
  • Alfonzo Dennard, CB, Nebraska
  • Lavonte David, LB, Nebraska
  • Ryan Broyles, WR, Oklahoma
  • Travis Lewis, LB, Oklahoma
  • Justin Blackmon, WR, Oklahoma State
  • Brandon Weeden, QB, Oklahoma State
  • Jeff Fuller, WR, Texas A&M

Yes, Miller, Crick, Dennard and David are done playing in the Big 12, but Oklahoma, Oklahoma State and Texas A&M got huge announcements from stars ready to return in 2011. As a result, all three teams should be inside the top 15 at worst to kick off next season.

Had Smith and Gabbert joined them, Missouri could have been in the same group. The Tigers should be solid about everywhere else in 2011, but finding a new quarterback could prove difficult.

Don't expect the Big 12 to exert the same kind of dominance in the first round of the NFL Draft this year as it did last year, but it should still have four first-round selections. Gabbert is the only underclassman from that group that also includes Nebraska cornerback Prince Amukamara, Texas A&M LB/DE Von Miller and Colorado tackle Nate Solder.

The Big 12 had six early entrants last season.

More interesting is the Big 12's number of early entrants in 2011 compared to the rest of the country:
  • SEC - 14
  • ACC - 10
  • Pac-10 - 8
  • Big Ten - 7
  • Big East - 5
  • Big 12 - 3

Will that mean a big 2011 for the league in a year that it needs some balance at the top from teams not named Oklahoma or Texas?

Could be.

Kansas State patents Fumble-whoops-ki

November, 13, 2010
Kansas State tried some trickery to get back into its game against Missouri, but it cost the Wildcats three more points and they now trail 31-14 late in the second quarter, a three-possession deficit.

On the first play of its drive after Missouri's scoop-and-score, with the offensive line standing up, quarterback Carson Coffman took the snap and handed it under the legs of running back John Hubert while Coffman faked a play to the opposite side of the field.

Hubert carried the ball to the left after a delay, but was stripped and Missouri cornerback Carl Gettis came up with a recovery, giving the Big 12 its early leader for "Worst play" on Monday's Weekend Rewind here on the Big 12 blog.

The Wildcats went back to regular football on the next drive, but Coffman was sacked again by Aldon Smith, forcing a three-and-out.

This one looks like it's getting out of hand, and if Missouri can hang a few more points on the board on this drive and eat up some clock, it could remove any drama from the fourth quarter.

Missouri's defense breaks the game open

November, 13, 2010
The Tigers' defense got one big fumble to end the first half and keep Kansas State off the board.

In the third quarter, it forced another one in a big way to put Missouri on it.

Missouri defensive end Aldon Smith stormed through Kansas State's offensive line and got a free shot on Kansas State quarterback Carson Coffman's blind side, forcing a fumble that Missouri's other end, Jacquies Smith, scooped up and carried 53 yards for a score that put Missouri up 28-14 midway through the second quarter.

Coffman was down momentarily and had to be helped off the field after a review confirmed the fumble and return.

Smith recovered the fumble at the end of the first half, and if Kansas State loses this game, it'll head back to Manhattan with nightmares of the fumbled snap at the end of the first half and its failure to keep Aldon Smith out of the backfield.

Kansas State has already proved it's not a team built to come from behind, but the Wildcats will be forced to throw the ball down the stretch more than it wants to. If the offensive line doesn't play much better, that could mean more hits from both Smiths.

What to watch in the Big 12: Week 9

October, 28, 2010
Here's what I'm keeping an eye on this weekend:

1. Oklahoma State's offense. They won't have suspended receiver Justin Blackmon, who's been the major driving force behind the passing game for the entire season, and leads the nation in receiving yards and touchdowns. How many more touches will that provide for running back Kendall Hunter, and can Josh Cooper step up as the primary remaining target for the Cowboys? I probably would have picked OSU to win this one by at least three touchdowns with Blackmon, and I still think it'll win convincingly, but Blackmon's absence is a big wildcard for the offense.

[+] EnlargeKendall Hunter
AP Photo, John A. BowersmithWith Justin Blackmon out on Saturday, Kendall Hunter may need to play a bigger role in Oklahoma State's offense.
2. Big hits. Clips of players easing up or doing things out of character filled NFL postgame shows last Sunday. Will Nebraska linebacker Eric Martin's suspension have any similar effects this week?

3. Aldon Smith vs. Taylor Martinez. Smith did a great job spying Illinois' Nathan Scheelhaase in the second half of Missouri's season opener. Martinez will be a whole different animal. He won't be able to do it alone, but if Smith can get in the backfield and muck up the Huskers' zone read, Missouri's defense could have a great day.

4. Texas. Broad, maybe, but what's this team look like against a team in Baylor that's very capable of beating the Longhorns this week? Longhorns coach Mack Brown called out his team and assistants during the week, and it'll be fascinating to see how they respond. Texas has already lost two games this year at home to teams that aren't as good as Baylor.

5. Texas A&M quarterbacks. Last week, Jerrod Johnson and Ryan Tannehill split 82 snaps equally, but Mike Sherman has been coy about who'll start on Saturday. Tannehill played well, but he did it against a bottom-feeding Kansas team. Will Sherman stick with Johnson against a more talented Texas Tech team?

6. Cody Hawkins. For the rest of the season, it's Hawkins' team. Tyler Hansen will miss the rest of the season with a ruptured spleen, so how does Hawkins begin the end of his career? He couldn't ask for a more difficult venue, trying to end Oklahoma's 34-game home winning streak, but Hawkins beat Sam Bradford and the Sooners in 2007, the last time he took on Oklahoma.

7. Huskers are no homebodies. Nebraska has had its two worst performances of the year at home, while unleashing two butt-whippings to Kansas State and Washington on the road, and beating Oklahoma State last week. Bo Pelini says he'll make a few tweaks to the routine this week, but what effect will they have?

8. D.J. Monroe. Texas offensive coordinator Greg Davis seems like he's made a weekly routine out of lamenting his under-use of the speedy, versatile Monroe, who admits he doesn't have a solid grasp of the playbook, but his playmaking ability makes it seem like the only play he needs to memorize is the "Here, take the ball and run." He had just one carry last week, and used it to run for 10 yards. How many more 60-yard scores like he had against Oklahoma are left in him this season? Texas' anemic offense needs as many as it can get against one of the best offenses in the league, Baylor.

9. Kansas' string of futility. They couldn't do it against Texas A&M, but is this the week Kansas competes? They travel to play an Iowa State team riding high after beating Texas, but the Jayhawks, 0-3 in Big 12 play, have yet to lose a conference game by less than five touchdowns.

10. Ryan Broyles. He played with two gimpy ankles last week against Missouri, and still caught eight passes for 110 yards with a thick tape job over his right cleat against the Tigers. Broyles is racking up receptions, but he's been surpassed by Justin Blackmon as the league's best wideout. With Blackmon sidelined and Broyles' ankles on the mend, what's he got in store for the Buffs, with a tough matchup waiting at both corners?
COLUMBIA, Mo. -- Tim Barnes remembers well. He should, he was there.

Missouri's senior center had -- in the most frustrating sense -- a front-row seat to Oklahoma's dominance on the line of scrimmage in three victories over the Tigers in 2007 and 2008.

Missouri left as losers, never coming within single digits of the Sooners, who celebrated a pair of Big 12 titles and a national championship appearance at the Tigers' expense.

"They pretty much handled us up front," Barnes said.

The quiet flights home from Norman and later San Antonio in 2007. A year later, the bus from Kansas City.

[+] EnlargeDe'Vion Moore
AP Photo/L.G. PattersonDe'Vion Moore celebrates one of Missouri's two rushing TDs against Oklahoma. The Tigers rushed for 178 yards against the nation's No. 1 team.
There wasn't much silence in Columbia, Mo., on Saturday night and into Sunday morning, following the Tigers' 36-27 win over No. 1 Oklahoma -- and there won't be in this midwestern college town for some time.

The Tigers' linemen on both sides of the ball are to thank.

"Our ability to run the football for 178 yards was huge. The offensive line played very, very well," said Missouri coach Gary Pinkel, who earned his first-ever win over Oklahoma and the program's first-ever win over a No. 1 team.

Blaine Gabbert completed 30 of 42 passes for 300 yards and a touchdown. Why? Well, it was obvious.

"He got a lot of time to throw," Pinkel said.

Way more than Chase Daniel got. The holes were bigger than the ones former backs Tony Temple and Derrick Washington tried to fit through. These Tigers won, and they did it by imposing their will on two Sooner lines filled with piles of recruiting stars that couldn't do anything about it.

This was a win over a No. 1 team, and it was a win over one of the Big 12 bullies that have tormented the Tigers, beating Pinkel 11 consecutive times before tonight.

It was a win for the program, and those players from the recent past were there to celebrate. Former receiver Tommy Saunders smiled amidst the sea of students on the turf, looking for someone to hug. Former linebacker Brock Christopher found one of his old teammates, defensive lineman Bart Coslet, and welcomed him with a huge, congratulatory hug.

There's no ceiling for Mizzou anymore. It left Faurot Field with the students carrying the goalposts to Harpo's downtown, celebrating through the steady rain. Players like Saunders, Washington, Christopher, Daniel and Temple helped Missouri reach that ceiling.

A new generation of players like Gabbert, Aldon Smith, T.J. Moe, Jerrell Jackson and Henry Josey helped shatter it.

"We wanted to come out there and prove to everyone that this year," Barnes said, "it was going to be a little different."

[+] EnlargeKevin Rutland
AP Photo/Jeff RobersonKevin Rutland and the Missouri defense disrupted the Oklahoma offense -- forcing two interceptions and holding the Sooners to just 99 yards rushing.
Message received. The defense held the Sooners to just 99 yards rushing.

Missouri knew this would be different early. The first time a Tiger touched the ball, Gahn McGaffie raced into the end zone on an 86-yard kickoff return. The first run from scrimmage: 20 yards by De'Vion Moore, longer than any other carry by a tailback in any of those three games in which Missouri failed to take its next big step as a program.

"We have a lot more experience and guys are getting better," Barnes said. "We wanted it so bad. I know for the linemen, it's just a little different for us."

It's different for Mizzou as a whole now, too, and Gabbert left no doubt as to what "it" was.

"I give all the credit in the world to our offensive line. They did an extremely good job winning the battle in the trenches," he said, "and that's why we were successful tonight."

The defensive line played just as well, pressuring the Sooners and hurrying Oklahoma quarterback Landry Jones.

The only thing the Missouri defense seemed to do wrong all night was fail to take an interception return into the end zone, a pick only created by Aldon Smith's pressure on Jones. Smith tipped the ball to himself and had to settle for a 58-yard return into Oklahoma territory, swinging the game's momentum and setting up a touchdown that put Missouri ahead 14-7 early.

"We'll talk about that later," Gabbert said of the return with a wide smile.

Pinkel couldn't help but crack a joke at the weaving return, too: "He's always talking about playing tight end," he said.

Smith's return to the field -- one he later said he had to make against the No. 1 Sooners -- from a broken fibula, helped spur a line that disrupted Oklahoma's passing attack, limiting them to just 60 yards passing in the second half after 248 in the first. None of Jones' final seven passes found their receivers; one found Missouri linebacker Zaviar Gooden deep in Oklahoma territory, which set up a field goal that put Missouri up 29-21.

"Our defensive line did really, really well, and that tempo of offense is very, very difficult," Pinkel said of the Sooners' high-speed attack. "When you win games like this, generally you go to the line of scrimmage and that tells the story."

It was a different ending this time for the Tigers, a story in Missouri's history that will be retold for decades. But after Saturday's celebration late into the night, they'll wake up on Sunday knowing that what happened on Faurot Field on Oct. 23, 2010, is exactly that: history. And that story's ending has yet to be written.

"We play Nebraska next week," Pinkel said. "This isn't the national championship."

Video: Missouri's Aldon Smith

October, 24, 2010

Missouri defensive end Aldon Smith discusses the Tigers’ win over No. 1 Oklahoma.

Halftime analysis: Mizzou 17, OU 14

October, 23, 2010
COLUMBIA, Mo.--That first half was a lot of things, but entertaining is at the top of my list. Two great teams going at it here at Faurot Field, and this thing is definitely up for grabs.

Turning point: The opening kickoff. The energy in the stadium was already off the charts. Then Missouri's Gahn McGaffie housed it from 86 yards away and added some genuine belief in the building to the already buzzing energy.

Stat of the half: Oklahoma's two turnovers. Both occurred in the red zone.

Best player in the half: Oklahoma receiver Ryan Broyles. He's playing with an injured ankle, and he still looks like a contender for the Biletnikoff Award. He's caught six passes for 95 yards, including a 39-yarder that he narrowly snagged from a defensive back on the sideline.

Unsung hero: Missouri's offensive line. Blaine Gabbert has had all night to throw. Missouri's running backs have consistently had holes to run through, racking up 70 yards rushing. That's a new phenomenon for the Tigers against the Sooners, and a great sign for their chances to spring the upset.

Best call: Bob Stoops elected to go for it on 4th-and-1 in the red zone, with his team already coming up empty-handed there twice in the half. Fullback Trey Millard converted a dive play, and DeMarco Murray scored on a 5-yard reception two plays later to tie the game.

What Missouri needs to do: Keep protecting Blaine Gabbert. He's the team's best player with some functional talent around him. Give him time, and he'll make enough plays to win this with sure-handed guys like Michael Egnew and T.J. Moe running around in the secondary. Jerrell Jackson has played well, also.

What Oklahoma needs to do: Take advantage of opportunities. The easiest way to lose on the road is with turnovers. Do it in the red zone and you almost assure yourself a loss, especially to a quality team like the Tigers.

Mizzou using formula for upset

October, 23, 2010
In almost any upset, you'll see the underdog win the turnover battle.

Missouri's doing that tonight, forcing a pair of turnovers in the red zone on an Aldon Smith interception and forcing a fumble from Oklahoma running back Mossis Madu.

The Tigers lead, 14-7.

That's nothing new. Missouri's done it all year, with a plus-5 turnover margin.

It's pretty obvious how much more impactful those turnovers become when they come in the red zone.

But it is new for Oklahoma, who leads the league with a plus-9 margin entering tonight's game.

There's a big difference in picking off a downfield pass and returning an interception in the red zone 58 yards into an opponent's territory.

Twice, the Sooners have threatened to score, and on the play before Smith's interception, DeMarco Murray caught the ball in space but fell down before he could compose himself after the reception.

So far, Missouri's taken advantage of everything Oklahoma has given it, and in addition to Smith's pick, made big plays like Gahn McGaffie's kick return to open the game.

Iff you're trying to knock off the No. 1 team in the country, that's how you do it.

All systems go for Mizzou-OU

October, 23, 2010
COLUMBIA, Mo. -- Missouri star defensive end Aldon Smith plans to play, returning from a month-long absence following a broken fibula. Rumors of an ankle injury holding Oklahoma receiver Ryan Broyles out of tonight's game proved false. He was working during warm-ups and appeared to be moving well.

The rain has -- for now -- held off.

The Tigers and Sooners look ready to go.

Missouri is breaking out the gold pants and black jerseys for this one, a combination rarely used, but one the Tigers broke out for a win that launched one of the best seasons in school history. Playing in a nationally televised game against Nebraska in 2007, the Tigers rolled to a 41-6 win and eventually ended up ranked No. 1 for part of that season.

With another "Gold Rush" underway at Faurot Field like it had on that night, the Missouri fans are looking to capture some of that mojo, or perhaps more accurately, "Moe-Jo," a GameDay sign seen Saturday with a nod to star receiver T.J. Moe, who leads the team in receptions.

Top 10 storylines to watch, Week 8

October, 22, 2010
Let’s count ‘em down, the Top 10 storylines to watch across the nation as we head into another wild weekend. Thanks to ESPN Stats & Information for some of the nuggets sprinkled in throughout:

1. Is No. 1 going down again? Oklahoma is the No. 1 team in the nation according to the BCS rankings, so we have to wonder whether the Sooners are set to become the third straight top-ranked team to lose. The Sooners face a big test at No. 11 Missouri, which showed last week it has a pretty solid defense. Is it solid enough to contain Landry Jones? Texas A&M is no Oklahoma. Keep in mind -- the No. 1 team in the season’s first BCS standings has gone on to win the national championship only twice (FSU in 1999 and USC in 2004).

[+] EnlargeLandry Jones
AP Photo/Sue OgrockiLandry Jones and Oklahoma face Missouri in one of two big games featuring unbeaten teams.
2. The unbeatens will be whittled down. Ten teams are currently unbeaten, but we are guaranteed to lose at least two from their ranks come Sunday morning. Two games feature matchups of undefeated teams: No. 1 Oklahoma at No. 11 Missouri, No. 6 LSU at No. 4 Auburn. We could get more clarity in the race for the national championship, but we could get more chaos as well, depending on who wins.

3. Let us take a closer look at the two matchups of unbeaten teams, starting with Oklahoma and Missouri. No question the Tigers' defense is much improved over a season ago, but they are going to need a big game for any chance to win. They are set to get a boost from defensive end Aldon Smith, who says he is ready to play after missing three games with a broken bone in his left leg. Missouri will need him to harass Landry Jones, who ranks No. 3 in the nation in passing. The Sooners have scored more than 25 points on Missouri in all seven meetings since Bob Stoops arrived in Norman, and the Sooners' average margin of victory in the past five meetings is 21.8 points.

4. Tiger vs. Tiger. This marks the first time LSU and Auburn are 7-0 in the same season. Auburn quarterback Cam Newton has emerged as the leading Heisman candidate because he is so dangerous with the run and the pass. But he has not played a defense yet that is as good as LSU, which ranks No. 6 nationally against the run and hasn’t allowed a 100-yard individual rusher this season. LSU has allowed just two teams to rush for more than 100 yards as well.

5. Does the T-Magic of old return? Nebraska coach Bo Pelini admitted this week that he made a mistake when he benched Taylor Martinez in the second half of a 20-13 loss to Texas. How is this going to affect Martinez, and will Oklahoma State bring the same pressure Texas brought to try and contain him? Nebraska has the secondary to limit the high-flying Cowboys offense, so there is going to be a lot of pressure on Martinez to improve his play, or the Cornhuskers could be staring at a two-game losing streak.

6. Over in Big Ten country, another big game featuring Wisconsin. The No. 13 Badgers are riding an emotional high after upsetting No. 1 Ohio State last week. But they have another big game at No. 15 Iowa, which has won six of the past eight meetings between the two schools. Will the Badgers have a letdown, or will their offensive line be able to dominate Iowa the way it did the Buckeyes? The past seven teams to beat the AP No. 1 in the regular season have a 3-4 record in their next game.

7. Can Arizona hang on without Nick Foles? Matt Scott gets the start for the No. 18 Wildcats against Washington as Foles recovers from a knee injury. It is tough to say what team he will be facing. Washington is one of the hardest teams to figure out in the Pac-10. One week the Huskies are losing to BYU. The next they are beating USC and Oregon State. One thing that is clear is Arizona is going to have to do a better job in pass protection. The Wildcats have allowed 17 sacks in six games, after giving up 13 all of last season.

8. How does Rutgers handle the injury to Eric LeGrand? Unless you have been through the devastation that Rutgers has over the past week, it’s impossible to know how this might affect the team. Worry about the condition of LeGrand has dominated, and rightly so. Rutgers faces a huge Big East game against Pittsburgh. Both teams have been underwhelming this season, though the Panthers showed signs of life in a win against Syracuse last week.

9. Will Notre Dame lose to Navy for the third time in four years? The Irish have had trouble stopping the Navy option in their two recent losses, giving up 348 yards on the ground last year and 257 yards rushing in 2007. They have been simulating the unique offense since the start of the season, but there is nothing like facing it in a game. The good news for the Irish is that Navy is not playing as well as it was when the teams played last season. Ricky Dobbs has been pressing, and the Midshipmen have gotten off to slow starts in all their games. Notre Dame has to jump on top early and pressure Dobbs, but beware of the late comebacks. Navy has thrived as a second-half team.

10. Don’t count out North Carolina and Miami. Big game in the race for the Coastal Division, as the Tar Heels and Hurricanes are one game behind Virginia Tech. The winner here puts itself in position to win the division, since they both host the Hokies in November. North Carolina has won four straight games and has made an impressive comeback despite being without so many of its best players. Butch Davis has also won three straight over his former team, which has to keep the turnovers down. In those three losses, Miami has turned the ball over 10 times.

Missouri rolls over Texas A&M into OU

October, 16, 2010
COLLEGE STATION, Texas -- Missouri entered Saturday's game against Texas A&M looking for a win in the same stadium where a 6-0 start was derailed four years ago during the Tigers' last visit.

It did that and plenty more, pitching a first-half shutout against one of the Big 12's best offenses and rolling to a 30-9 win at Kyle Field.

Brad Madison
AP Photo/Pat SullivanThe Tigers' defense smothered the Aggies most of the afternoon.
Missouri didn't need big plays. Its longest play was 45 yards, and the next-longest went for 28.

It didn't need turnovers; neither team committed one.

Missouri was three touchdowns better than Texas A&M and the Tigers spent 60 minutes proving it.

"You earn respect," Missouri coach Gary Pinkel said of his defense, which limited Texas A&M to just 130 yards of offense in the game's first 35 minutes, and led 23-0 early in the third quarter. "That's just what you do."

The Tigers did plenty of it, sending a Texas A&M team with big dreams to a third consecutive loss -- the first of the season on its home field, marring one of the team's preseason goals of going undefeated at Kyle Field. The Aggies' vaunted 12th Man headed for the exits early in the Tigers' win, but the pocket of black and gold stood in the southeast corner of the stadium waiting to celebrate with its still-undefeated team. Now, the Tigers head back to Columbia for a homecoming showdown with Oklahoma, a team that kept Missouri from achieving BCS dreams with three victories in two years over the Tigers during the 2007 and 2008 seasons.

"You could see it in everybody's eyes today, that they were in the zone," said Tigers quarterback Blaine Gabbert.

He says he has game tape of the Sooners on his cell phone, and film study starts on the flight back home.

But for at least a few minutes -- 12 hours for the rest of the team, Pinkel said with a smile -- Missouri can savor its best performance of the year, waiting to fix what minuscule mistakes it made in this masterpiece for a few more hours.

"Trust me," Pinkel said, "I've got a list of things."

[+] EnlargeBlaine Gabbert
Thomas Campbell/US PresswireMissouri's Blaine Gabbert threw for 3,186 yards and completed 63.4 percent of his passes last season.
Gabbert, playing with a hip pointer and a previously undisclosed rib injury Pinkel perhaps mistakenly alluded to after the game, lined up against a defense that flustered and frustrated a Heisman hopeful in Ryan Mallett a week ago. The junior completed 31 of 47 passes for 361 yards and three touchdowns, both season highs.

T.J. Moe, Wes Kemp and Michael Egnew combined for 26 of those completions and 305 yards, along with all three touchdowns.

"Really, distributing the ball to all our receivers left the defense unbalanced," Gabbert said. "We were just focusing on what they were giving us, just taking completions. Those guys were my completion guys today and they made a bunch of plays."

They did it without much pressure from the offense on the opposite sideline. The defense didn't allow the Aggies to take a snap on the Missouri side of the field until the second quarter was more than halfway over, winning the field position battle easily. By then, Missouri already led 13-0.

Perhaps most impressive was the defense's effort came without the aid of sophomore defensive end Aldon Smith, who entered the game as the Tigers' best defensive talent. He didn't make the trip, missing his third consecutive game with a broken fibula.

"I don't know how many superstars we've got -- great, great players," Pinkel said. "But we've got a lot of good players, I guarantee you that. And when we play well, we're pretty good."

Never better than on Saturday. And for all the superstar talent on teams past, Pinkel's team is 6-0 all the same, likely headed for a top-20 matchup with Oklahoma next Saturday, a team Pinkel has never beaten.

"I'm glad it's in The Zou," Pinkel said. "We're excited."