NCF Nation: Chase Daniel

Henry Josey and Malcolm BrownUS PresswireTexas' Malcolm Brown and Missouri's Henry Josey have revitalized rushing attacks.
Missouri and Texas made their living with NFL quarterbacks behind center over the last half decade. Vince Young and Colt McCoy at Texas and Chase Daniel and Blaine Gabbert at Missouri took the program to new heights and did so with thousands of pass attempts.

This season? Both programs are grounded.

"There’s a little bit of a contrast there with all the wide-open offenses and the quarterbacks and the passing yards we’ve had this year and traditionally in this league the last few years," said Missouri coach Gary Pinkel. "Both of us run the ball here pretty good."

A bit of an understatement, perhaps.

While a pair of wide-eyed, first-year starters in David Ash and James Franklin take snaps, Missouri and Texas have developed the Big 12's top two running games.

"We can throw it well, but we’d like to be at least 50-50 or 60-40 run to pass," Texas coach Mack Brown said. "And if you can run the ball and and stop the run in college football, you’ve got a chance."

Texas has averaged better than 246 yards a game on the ground this year, enjoying the fruits of consecutive 400-yard weeks on the ground for the first time since 1977.

Missouri, meanwhile, averages just fewer than 245 yards a game this year. The Big 12's next best, Kansas State, averages just 217 yards a game.

Both teams, best known for slinging it this decade, rank outside the Big 12's top half in passing offense.

"We didn’t need the passing game much the last two weeks. We threw it some and threw it downfield," Brown said. "But we do feel like over the next four weeks here, we’re going to have to be more balanced. We’ll still be physical. We’ll still run the ball, because that’s what we’re doing best right now, but we also feel like when people are stacking the box, it’ll alleviate some of the pressure in the passing game."

Both have the advantage of running quarterbacks. Ash ripped off runs of 47 and 18 yards against Texas Tech and Missouri's Franklin is 11th in the Big 12 with 599 rushing yards, second among quarterbacks behind Kansas State's Collin Klein.

Franklin also leads the team with 10 touchdowns, third in the Big 12. The Tigers' Henry Josey leads the Big 12 in rushing with 1,149 yards, fifth nationally and 234 more yards than any Big 12 back.

The Longhorns are led by freshman Malcolm Brown and his 635 yards, but even though he was sidelined in Saturday's game, fellow freshman Joe Bergeron exploded for 191 yards and three touchdowns on 29 carries.

"We’re doing a pretty consistent job of running the football, but I don’t think our offense is very consistent," Pinkel said of his 4-5 team. "We’re very hot and cold. We’re having to work through that, and we’re not working through it fast enough."

For both coaches, the aim is balance. Brown cited his Rose Bowl champion team in 2004 that was outside the top 100 in passing and second nationally in rushing. With McCoy at the helm, those numbers were reversed.

Texas has shown the ability to do both with its offense, just rarely in the same season.

"We’d like to get back to where we do both really well," Brown said.

The Longhorns finally have the physical running game they looked for last year, but outside of handing it over to offensive coordinator Bryan Harsin and offensive line coach Stacy Searels, Brown couldn't venture a guess as to why it's worked this year and didn't in 2010, when the Longhorns won just five games.

But expect this game to look markedly different than the Big 12 matchups the league has become known for.

"It will be a great test," Brown said, "a real physical game and a fun game to watch."

Big 12 helmet stickers: Week 9

October, 29, 2011
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Here's our awards for the day's best performances. Couldn't narrow it down to very many individuals Saturday. I'll need a new shipment of helmet stickers after this week.

James Franklin, QB, Missouri: Franklin isn't a mean guy much, if ever, in real life. Texas A&M's defense might find that hard to believe. Franklin was being downright disagreeable and delivering some punishment to the artists formerly known as the Wrecking Crew in Saturday's win. He threw 198 yards and two scores and ran for 97 yards and two more touchdowns, highlighted by a 20-yard run littered with broken tackles. The Tigers got by the Aggies in overtime, 38-31, thanks to Franklin's second touchdown pass, and the sophomore got a nice midweek pep talk from former Tigers quarterback Chase Daniel.

Oklahoma State's defense: So what if it gave up more than 600 yards? These guys got it done. Believe it. OSU beat Baylor 59-24 and led 49-3 after three quarters, thanks to forcing five turnovers in Oklahoma State's territory. They picked off Robert Griffin III twice after the Bears quarterback had only thrown two picks in his previous six games. Believe what you read in the stat sheet at your own risk. Garbage time lies.

Iowa State's running game: Can't narrow this one down to one player, either. A week after Oklahoma struggled to run against Texas Tech (just 124 yards), the Cyclones rolled over Texas Tech for 368 yards and four touchdowns in a 41-7 win over Texas Tech. Just unbelievable. Jared Barnett's reinvigorated the team, and after this development, both teams are a bit of a scary matchup. James White and Duran Hollis both topped 100 yards.

Texas' defense: The Longhorns shut down the Jayhawks all night in this one, a dominant 43-0 shutout. With 7:30 remaining, the Jayhawks had just 18 yards of offense on 29 plays. The team finished with just 46 yards on 36 plays, and gained just three first downs compared to Texas' 34. Texas outrushed the Jayhawks 441 to -2. To borrow a phrase: U-G-L-Y, you ain't got no alibi.

Landry Jones, QB, Oklahoma: Jones enjoyed a record-breaking day in the Sooners huge 58-17 win over Kansas State. He completed 35 of 47 passes for 505 yards and five touchdowns with two interceptions as the Sooners' outscored the Wildcats 35-0 in the second half. The 505 yards was a school record, breaking the record of 468 yards he shared with Sam Bradford. He also became Oklahoma's career leader with 90 touchdown passes. No offense had scored that many points on K-State since Colorado in 1989.

What we learned in the Big 12: Week 1

September, 4, 2011
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[+] EnlargeLandry Jones
AP Photo/Sue OgrockiLandry Jones and Oklahoma opened the season with a strong performance against Tulsa.
1. Oklahoma is clicking, and deserves the No. 1 spot for now. Oklahoma was good everywhere and great in a few spots before racing to a 44-7 lead entering the fourth quarter against a 10-win team from a year ago. Bob Stoops is happy with all three phases of his team. Outside of Travis Lewis, the Sooners are pretty healthy and have two weeks to prepare for a showdown in Tallahassee with Florida State on Sept. 17. Life is good in Norman.

2. Baylor is going to be tough to beat. Much tougher than in 2010. What part do you want to be most impressed by? Baylor's rapid-fire offense that racked up a 47-23 lead in the fourth quarter against TCU? Or the gutsiness it showed after a pair of three-and-outs and a fumble cost them that lead, and the Bears rallied? Harp on that rough fourth quarter if y0u must, but the real Baylor is a lot closer to what we saw the rest of the game, and the Bears answered a huge test. Impressive. I picked the Bears to finish fifth in the Big 12 and called them a sleeper to win 10 games. I'm still feeling good about that, and Baylor is on my top 25 ballot for Week 2.

3. James Franklin is a work in progress. Franklin doesn't have the raw skill that Chase Daniel or Blaine Gabbert had, but he's a smart player that will have to figure out what works for him as he goes along. His mechanics aren't pretty, which is a bit jarring at Missouri after watching Blaine Gabbert for two seasons, but he's got the ability to win a lot of games. For now, his decision-making and accuracy need a lot of work, but as long as he can avoid big mistakes, Missouri is good enough to go a long way with him running the show.

4. The bottom of the Big 12? Well, it's not very good. At least not yet. Goodness, Big 12 North. For facing an uncertain conference future, you're sure not playing like it. Kansas took care of business and looked good, but the Jayhawks have a historic hoops program that should keep them afloat if the Big 12 breaks up. But Iowa State and Kansas State both needed late-game heroics to beat FCS opponents. I don't know if anyone's told them yet, but it's going to get a lot tougher very quickly. All three have to be better.

5. There is hope for Texas' offense. The Longhorns racked up 506 yards of offense, including 277 through the air and 239 on the ground. Here's guessing Texas leans on more of a running identity this season, but I loved what Malcolm Brown was able to do. He might never win a Heisman, but he's heading for a solid career in Austin. Additionally, Jaxon Shipley is the real deal. The best news, though? This offense looks like it at least has a direction and knows what it wants to be, which last season's team couldn't claim at any point.
We're taking a look around at the biggest debuts in college football today, and although Missouri's Week 1 opponent doesn't jump off the marquee, James Franklin's debut will have a profound impact on the Big 12 race.

Miami (Ohio) will be our first long look at the Tigers quarterback charged with replacing NFL first-round draft pick Blaine Gabbert.

Since taking over as the starter after Tyler Gabbert's post-spring transfer, his teammates have lauded the sophomore's touch passing, ability to pick up the offense and growing leadership.

[+] EnlargeJames Franklin
Mark J. Rebilas/US PresswireAll eyes will be on James Franklin when the Tigers open their season on Saturday.
"I feel really prepared," Franklin told ESPN.com in a recent interview. "I know the offense a lot better; now it’s just learning the other team’s defense and adjusting to what they run and the things they do so we can execute."

Franklin has the advantage of more talent around him than any other new quarterback in the league, which means more responsibility.

"Quarterback transitions are always the focal point, it always has been and it always will be," Missouri coach Gary Pinkel told reporters on Monday. "Especially at our level with the quality of quarterbacks we've had here."

Blaine Gabbert, Chase Daniel and Brad Smith didn't have the luxury of a more complete team, offensively and defensively, waiting for them when it was their turn to lead the Tigers.

Missouri will open the season in the top 25 but with the potential for a whole lot more.

How much more? That's ultimately up to Franklin. Helping him along are his two top pass-catchers, juniors T.J. Moe and Michael Egnew.

Miss a throw?

"Don't worry about it, James," they tell him.

Make a bad read or have a pass picked off?

"Forget about it," they tell him.

The real message is getting through.

"It meant a lot, because I know they’re trusting in me and encouraging me. They want me to get to greater heights," Franklin said. "We have a really good squad this year, and I think we can go far. That’s something they see that as well and they want it to happen and they want to move along faster so we can get there."

The ride starts Saturday.
James Franklin kept pleading. He kept hearing no.

First, he was too big.

"I was a little chubby, but I was taller than a lot of the other kids, too," he said.

In sixth grade, he weighed in at 185 pounds, 50 pounds over the 135-pound limit for his age group in Missouri, but was still allowed to play.

[+] EnlargeMissouri quarterback James Franklin
Mark J. Rebilas/US PRESSWIREJames Franklin is ready to prove he can be the next great Missouri quarterback.
He played everywhere but quarterback in the fifth grade, his first year playing the game, but his gig in sixth grade?

Right tackle and defensive end. He wanted to be a quarterback.

"I’d always ask about it and they’d never let me play," he said. He was better suited elsewhere, they told him.

He moved south to Texas before seventh grade and rotated between duties as center, guard, running back, receiver, linebacker and his background in soccer earned him a job punting.

But still no quarterback. Eventually his duties were trimmed to wide receiver and defensive end, but by his freshman year, he'd stopped asking.

That's when he finally got his shot.

After a year as the team's backup and a tight end, he took the starting job.

Just four years later, he's about to take hold of a Top-25 team.

Fall camp was supposed to be the stage for a big-time quarterback battle, but Tyler Gabbert's post-spring transfer abbreviated the race.

"When he said he was leaving, I was in shock," Franklin said. "At the same time, I was like, now I need to step it up, because guys are going to be looking to me."

Gabbert still hasn't found a permanent home, but Franklin felt he was robbed of a chance to prove he could win the job.

"My main competition left, so it was kind of like it was given to me in a way," he said. "It’s not like I earned it."

So Franklin, perhaps the next in a line of great Missouri quarterbacks under coach Gary Pinkel, didn't have a job to win, but he had (and still has) plenty to prove.

"What I did during the summer was try and work harder to prove that I have earned it," he said. "I wanted to come into fall camp and make it look like I had earned it and execute the plays and offense and not that it was just given to me."

Part of the transition from being the backup to NFL first-round pick Blaine Gabbert to the Tigers starter has been piping up.

He's a far cry from Gabbert and his predecessor, Chase Daniel, both of whom grew up with quarterback seemingly written all over their genes.

The naturally quiet Franklin has been prodded by teammates T.J. Moe and Michael Egnew, among others, to be the voice of a team with a chance to make plenty of people across the Big 12 listen in 2011.

"It meant a lot, because I know they’re trusting in me and encouraging me. They want me to get to greater heights," Franklin said of his receivers' tutelage. "We have a really good squad this year and I think we can go far. That’s something they see that as well and they want it to happen and they want to move along faster so we can get there."

Call it the final step from a lifelong transition from right tackle to quarterback. He's not asking to play the position any more.

Franklin's time has come.

The Big 12's annual tease teams

August, 12, 2011
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Today, we're taking a look at the tease teams across the Big 12, and the past three seasons, we've seen a good number of cases in the Big 12.

These three programs find themselves in the top 10 again this year, but here's what's happened lately. Is one of these squads simply a tease in 2011?

2010: Texas A&M

The Aggies, coming off a 6-7 season in 2009, weren't convincing enough to earn preseason top 25 honors, but the potential for a big year was there, and anyone paying attention knew it. The offense was loaded, led by the league's preseason offensive player of the year, Jerrod Johnson. Johnson, however, struggled early, throwing four interceptions in consecutive games against Florida International and Oklahoma State, turning the ball over five times in a loss to the Cowboys. The Aggies were embarrassed on their home field by Missouri to fall to 3-3, and despite a late-season rally, couldn't qualify for the Big 12 championship game.

2009: Oklahoma State

The offseason crescendo built to a pressure-packed season opener against SEC foe Georgia, but Dez Bryant and the Cowboys knocked off the Bulldogs to land in the top 5 and on the cover of Sports Illustrated. A week later, however, Case Keenum (and Dana Holgorsen, by the way) waltzed into Stillwater and gave the Cowboys a nasty buzzkill in the form of a 45-35 upset, officially derailing a championship season. OSU also suffered a pair of embarrassing 27-point losses to Big 12 South rivals Oklahoma and Texas, including a 27-0 shutout loss to Oklahoma. Kendall Hunter (ankle), Zac Robinson (shoulder) and Dez Bryant (NCAA suspension) were all forced off the field at times, but there's no doubt: That team was a tease.

2008: Missouri

The Tigers reached No. 1 heading into the Big 12 championship game in 2007, but a loss sent them to the Cotton Bowl and hoping for better luck next year. Chase Daniel and Co. opened the season at No. 6 and ran off a 5-0 start, including a 52-17 obliteration of Nebraska in Lincoln, the first win for the Tigers there since 1978. A week later, though? A program-defining win for Oklahoma State on Missouri's field, followed by an absolute undressing by Colt McCoy and Texas in Austin a week later, featuring a 35-3 halftime deficit. The Tigers were upset by Kansas before being rolled over 62-21 by Oklahoma and settling for an appearance in the Alamo Bowl. Quite the tease, Tigers.

So, which of the Big 12 teams ranked this year looks like a tease?
Yesterday, you saw our college football blog staff tab one player as the conference's next household name, but what do you think? I pegged Texas A&M running back Christine Michael as the next player folks will know well, but here's a few other suggestions.

Vote in the poll for who you're expecting to see a much bigger profile this time next year:

Kenny Stills, WR, Oklahoma

Stills caught 61 passes for 786 yards last year as a true freshman, the most of any freshman in Oklahoma history, even with the nation's leader (131) in receptions, Ryan Broyles, across from him on the field. He's got one of the best quarterbacks in the league tossing him the ball, and he'll be back in 2011 with a year of experience under his belt.

James Franklin, QB, Missouri

Franklin is the key to Missouri's rise in 2011. If he plays well, the Tigers should be a strong contender for the Big 12 title, something Blaine Gabbert, Chase Daniel and Brad Smith could never win. This Tigers team might be the best under Gary Pinkel, but there's a gaping hole at quarterback where Gabbert used to be. Will Franklin fill it and become a star as the next in a long line of Missouri quarterbacks.

Joseph Randle, RB, Oklahoma State

Randle caught more passes last year than any running back in the league, other than Oklahoma's DeMarco Murray, and figured to be a big piece of the backfield set to replace Kendall Hunter, who rushed for over 1,500 yards for the second time in his career last season. Randle has the advantage of a passing game that will require tons of attention and the Big 12's best offensive line. Will he hold off Jeremy Smith and become a 1,000-yard rusher?

Seth Doege, QB, Texas Tech

Doege, a junior, hasn't been a full-time starter since his sophomore year of high school, but Texas Tech stayed committed to him through a pair of serious knee injuries, and Doege has done the same. Now, he'll get a chance to do what he grew up wanting to do, carry on the Texas Tech quarterback legacy that guys like Graham Harrell and Kliff Kingsbury helped build. He'll do it under a different coach, but can he still produce the big numbers?

Malcolm Brown, RB, Texas

Brown hasn't even gone through a practice yet, but hopes are high for the incoming freshman who was the nation's No. 7 recruit in the 2011 class. The Cibolo, Texas, native runs with big power and if Texas' offensive line can give him a few holes, should be able to punish defenders with his downhill style. A year from now, will he be the first 1,000-yard rusher at Texas since Jamaal Charles?

Anyone else deserve some consideration?
We'll have plenty of Heisman coverage as the season nears (and happens, eventually), but ESPN Stats & Info got the party started with a look at all the contenders, broken up by their classification.

The stats folk took a look at the system quarterbacks, the pro-style quarterbacks, and finally, the spread quarterbacks.

The top two contenders? Both from the Big 12 and both from Oklahoma schools.
Landry Jones, Oklahoma

The blueprint for a pocket passer to win the Heisman is simple: put up big numbers and win games. With the Sooners projected to be one of best teams in the country, Jones will have a chance to achieve both.

...

[+] EnlargeLandry Jones
Tim Heitman/US PresswireQuarterback Landry Jones should have the Big 12's best shot at winning the Heisman.
Jones could lead the nation in many passing categories because of Bob Stoops’ quick-strike offense. In 2010, Jones attempted more passes than any other quarterback, and almost 28 percent of his pass attempts were at or behind the line of scrimmage.

These slants and screen passes allowed Jones to increase his yards and completion percentage on relatively easy passes. It also allowed his receivers to make plays and gain yards after the catch.
My take: They're on point here. Jones is my frontrunner and the Big 12's best shot at a Heisman. I've taken a look at the value of those short passes on the blog before, and it was clear: they're a huge part of what Oklahoma does.

One more interesting point uncovered by the Stats & Info crew: Of Landry Jones 26 career interceptions, 20 have come on the road. That's astounding.
Brandon Weeden, Oklahoma State

If Weeden can replicate his 2010 performance, then he’ll put up the numbers necessary for Heisman consideration. Last season, Weeden ranked third in the nation in passing yards, and his career pass efficiency mark of 155.42 is fourth among active quarterbacks.

Yet Weeden may not even be the best bet for the Heisman Trophy on his team.

If he has a big year in 2011, then Biletnikoff Award winner Justin Blackmon probably will as well. In 2010, Blackmon was one of the best big-play receivers in the country and Weeden’s go-to guy on third down, in the red zone and when facing added pressure.
My take: I don't buy that Justin Blackmon is the biggest detriment to Weeden's Heisman chances. For me, the big question is will Oklahoma State win enough games for Weeden to take it home. If the Cowboys are undefeated, he's going to New York, at the very least. I'd bet quite a bit on that. One loss, it will be close. Two losses? No way, no matter what he does.

Is that right? Maybe not, but don't blame me. That's how the Heisman works. You should know this by now. I've got a vote for a handful of the CFB awards, but the Heisman isn't one of them. (Though I'd like one, Heisman Trust. Hint hint.)


One of the receivers from Oklahoma, Jones and Weeden's top targets, could end up in New York as a Heisman finalist, but the two Biletnikoff finalists from a year ago would shock me if they had a legitimate chance to win the Heisman when it came down to it.

Here's what Stats & Info had to say:
Ryan Broyles, Oklahoma

This season, Broyles’ numbers could be mind boggling.

Last season, he averaged more than nine catches per game and did not drop one ball. In his last two seasons, Broyles has 29 touchdown receptions, 20 of them have been for 10 yards or more. Both figures are tops in college football.

[+] EnlargeJustin Blackmon
AP Photo/Stillwater News Press, Chelcey AdamiJustin Blackmon's big advantage over Oklahoma's Ryan Broyles is Blackmon's ability to go up and get jump balls.
Justin Blackmon, Oklahoma State

Last season, Blackmon averaged 10.8 yards on receptions made at or behind the line of scrimmage. He also caught 63.6 percent of passes that targeted him 15 yards or more downfield. The ability to turn any throw into a big gain helped Blackmon lead FBS last season in receiving yards per game.

What could possibly haunt Blackmon in 2011? He dropped five passes last season, which may not seem like a lot. But it is when you consider that [South Carolina's Alshon] Jeffery had just one drop last season and Broyles had none.
My take: Those drop numbers are interesting, and I don't know about you, but I hadn't seen those stacked up against each other before. Stats & Info described Blackmon as a "monster," and I'd agree. The big advantage he has over Broyles is his ability to go up and get jump balls, but Broyles' experience (he's been a major contributor for three seasons already vs. Blackmon's one) may make him an even more difficult cover. I still consider Blackmon No. 1 and Broyles No. 2 nationally for receivers, but like I've said, it's a stretch to see either of these guys actually win the Heisman. Biletnikoff? Yeah, one of them will get it.


No Big 12 running backs made the list, but a big attraction? ESPN Insider's a look at a few dark horses. It's a fascinating list full of Big 12 talent. Most of these could, in theory win it. They're all dark horses for a reason, but I could see it happening for almost all these guys.
3. Jeff Fuller, WR, Texas A&M

If Aggies quarterback Ryan Tannehill continues to progress as he did after taking over in the middle of last season, Fuller could end up vaulting over Oklahoma wideout Ryan Broyles as the best pass-catcher in college football.
My take: Disagree! Fuller's great, and probably a top 5 receiver in the college game, but I don't see him overtaking Broyles in any scenario that involves both Broyles and Jones staying healthy. And what about Blackmon?
4. Roy Finch, RB, Oklahoma

Finch had a higher rushing yards per attempt (YPA) average last season than DeMarco Murray and, unlike Murray, all of his numbers were posted against Big 12 competition.
My take: Finch has already missed more games in one year than Murray did his entire career. Oklahoma is likely to employ a committee approach at running back, but if Finch proves he can handle 20-25 carries a game and stays healthy, he's got the best chance of any Big 12 back to win it. (If they're both healthy, Cyrus Gray and Christine Michael will siphon too many carries from one another to have a realistic chance to win, even if A&M goes undefeated.)
6. James Franklin, QB, Missouri

This might seem like a complete long shot on its face, but consider this: Over the past five seasons, Missouri's two starting quarterbacks (Chase Daniel and Blaine Gabbert) averaged the following Heisman Trophy-caliber statistical line: 324 completions, 493 attempts, 3,789 yards, 28 touchdowns/11 interceptions (including more than 3,500 yards each in their debut seasons).
My take: This boils down to winning games. I doubt Missouri's ability to win the 11-12 necessary for Franklin to win it, but if they do, he'll be a big reason why. He'll have a lot of help with his entire receiving corps returning, all of his running backs and four offensive linemen back, and supporting casts can make quarterbacks look great.

Ask Garrett Gilbert.
The best players in football play with something to prove. But some have more to prove than others.

Tevin Elliot, DE, Baylor

Elliot is raw, but the versatile 6-foot-2, 245-pounder led the Bears in sacks as a freshman, with five. Baylor's defense held the team back from achieving much more than a bowl appearance last year, but Elliot could be a big piece of a defensive resurgence under Phil Bennett in 2011. A disruptive pass rush would be a huge help to a pass defense that struggled last season, and one player can make that happen. Can Elliot prove he's the guy to do it and help push the team further than the seven wins it reached in 2010?

Huldon Tharp, LB, Kansas

Tharp showed tons of promise as a freshman, making 59 tackles and landing on a freshman All-America team. He looked like he'd be one of the leaders on Turner Gill's first defense at Kansas, but his season cruelly ended in fall camp with a leg injury. Can he prove in 2011 that he's that leader, and that there's still reason to believe the potential he showed in 2009 is there?

[+] EnlargeJames Franklin
Mark J. Rebilas/US PresswireThe Tigers need James Franklin to fill the void left at quarterback by Blaine Gabbert's departure.
James Franklin, QB, Missouri

The pressure is on for Franklin to continue Missouri's quarterback lineage after Tyler Gabbert transferred following the spring semester. Brad Smith started it, Chase Daniel took the Tigers to new heights and Blaine Gabbert looks like he'll make the biggest impact of the three in the NFL. Where is Franklin's place? This could be his team for the next three years, but he'll step into his new role with one of the Big 12's most complete teams surrounding him. He has sure-handed receivers, a solid running game, an experienced offensive line and one of the league's best defenses. Can he fill the void and help Missouri contend for a Big 12 title, proving that the bloodline will continue?

Hubert Anyiam, WR, Oklahoma State

Anyiam might be the guy who truly makes Oklahoma State's offense unstoppable. He led Oklahoma State in receptions during Dez Bryant's abbreviated 2009 season, catching 42 passes for 513 yards and three scores as a sophomore. Last year, though, he never got started and finished with 11 catches for 135 yards, thanks to an ankle injury similar to the one that ruined Kendall Hunter's 2009 season. The 6-foot, 198-pounder has the potential to be a second game-changing receiver in the Cowboys offense, but can he return to 2009 form and prove he's a dangerous complement to Biletnikoff Award winner Justin Blackmon?

Ryan Tannehill, QB, Texas A&M

Tannehill was a big reason for the Aggies' six-game winning streak to close the regular season, but so was Cyrus Gray's emergence, a rapidly maturing offensive line and a defense that played its best football in the second half of the season. All the pieces are there for Tannehill to lead the Aggies to the BCS, but last year it was obvious: without good quarterback play, the Aggies were not a great team. Tannehill has been on the field for three seasons, but he still has just six career starts at quarterback. And there's that nagging Texas A&M senior quarterback curse that he'll surely be asked about at least a few times next season. Can he prove that his play late last season will continue into 2011, all the way to a possible Big 12 title?

We'll tab a few more later today.
Tyler Gabbert's career began as a near carbon copy of his older brother's.

A commitment to Nebraska, followed by a decommitment and finally signing a letter of intent with Missouri.

Tyler enrolled early at Missouri last spring. He spent a year behind a franchise quarterback, just as his brother did during his freshman season behind Chase Daniel .

As a freshman, though, Blaine played the role that James Franklin assumed last year, a freshman change of pace behind an experienced talent.

And in the spring that followed, their careers further diverged. While Blaine Gabbert won the starting job in what was a competition in name only, Tyler Gabbert narrowly lost a spring battle with Franklin.

[+] EnlargeTyler Gabbert
AP Photo/L.G. PattersonTyler Gabbert appeared to be behind James Franklin in the race to be the Tigers' starting QB.
Rather than stick around this fall and try to claim a No. 1 spot, Gabbert announced he would transfer on Monday, giving no indication of his future destination.

Based on coaches' comments, the race looked close, with Gabbert grabbing hold of a co-No. 1 spot midway through spring camp and briefly getting more time with the first team than his counterpart, Franklin.

But after spring break, Gabbert struggled while Franklin surged, capped by a disastrous spring game for Gabbert, who completed 8 of 22 passes for 48 yards and an interception.

Franklin completed 13 of 21 passes for 116 yards and two scores.

The pair's cumulative numbers were nearly identical over the handful of spring scrimmages, but based on the finish, Missouri's coaches made the right call for the time being, placing Franklin atop the chart but stopping well short of anointing him the starter for next season.

Publicly, at least.

Gabbert's father, Chuck Gabbert, spoke with the St. Louis Post-Dispatch on Monday after the announcement was made public.
Gabbert is leaving Mizzou, his father, Chuck, said Monday morning, "for an opportunity to compete and vie for a starting position."

Unstated but implied in those words and his son's action is the notion that Franklin had seized hold of the starting job for keeps after a back-and-forth battle in spring practice.

"This is not a knee-jerk reaction by any stretch of the imagination," he said.

Gabbert's father also told the Columbia Tribune "There are other factors that went into this decision that we’re not going to discuss with the press."

I won't stab a guess at what those are, but regardless of what Missouri's coaches told the media, it seems likely that Gabbert didn't feel he had a realistic shot to win the job in the fall.

This spring, Missouri offensive coordinator David Yost described Gabbert to me as the quarterback with the most competitive fire and the strongest arm on campus.

Decision-making and accuracy will take you a lot further on the field than either of those, but I find it very, very hard to believe that Gabbert would leave before fall camp if he still felt he had a chance to start next fall. The message from the staff in the post-spring evaluations likely wasn't welcomed. The public was blindsided by what looked like a stunning decision. I'd be surprised if the same was true of Missouri's coaching staff.

The future could be promising for both. Gabbert is good enough to play somewhere at the Division I level, and he'll have four years of eligibility after he sits out a year at his new home, unless he goes the FCS route, where he'd be eligible immediately.

Nebraska, where he first committed, has already surfaced as one possible destination, as has Louisville, where former Nebraska offensive coordinator Shawn Watson coaches the quarterbacks.

But both schools have logjams at quarterback and young players taking part in those competitions. Louisville also signed Teddy Bridgewater, one of the nation's top dual-threat passers, in its 2011 recruiting class.

Both places sound good on the surface, but I'd expect Gabbert to look elsewhere and, with finals at Missouri wrapping up this week, take his time doing it. There's no rush for Gabbert, who I expect to make a few campus visits this summer and find a permanent home a few weeks before fall camp begins.

For Missouri, the quarterback situation gets simplified. Franklin might have to hold off incoming freshman Corbin Berkstresser this fall, but he'll begin preseason camp with a huge lead, and I'd expect him to ingrain himself as the team's offensive leader during voluntary workouts this summer.

That's probably an advantage in the long run for Missouri, which can focus on giving Franklin a huge share -- if not all -- of the first-team snaps during fall camp, too.

Missouri's fielding one of its most complete teams under Gary Pinkel, but a huge gap remains at quarterback.

For the first time since Blaine Gabbert's departure, though, there's little doubt about who will fill it.
Missouri's quarterback race has officially heated up.

Tyler Gabbert outperformed his competition, Ashton Glaser and James Franklin, at the first scrimmage of the spring for Missouri on Saturday, and as a result, debuted on Tuesday as the co-No. 1 quarterback with Franklin.

Last spring, Gabbert was the No. 5 quarterback when he enrolled early along with Franklin as a freshman. Franklin won the No. 2 job and played while Gabbert redshirted and started the spring at No. 3 behind Franklin and Glaser.

Now, it looks like he's neck-and-neck with Franklin to succeed Blaine Gabbert as Missouri's quarterback.

Coach Gary Pinkel downplayed the move, but it's obvious Gabbert has made an impression early.

"We looked at all the practices and scrimmages," Pinkel told reporters after Tuesday's practice, downplaying the big-picture impact of Gabbert's performance on Saturday. "There’s a lot of competition. That’s good. It’s going to be very competitive. Someone’s going to have to pull away. But there’s a long way to go here, you know. A lot of things are going to happen. They’re all great competitors."

What looked like an interesting spring in Columbia has lived up to its billing. Even if Gabbert wins the race, I'd still expect Franklin to get a good amount of playing time. As a freshman, Franklin spelled Blaine Gabbert in a role as a runner.

Chase Daniel did the same for Brad Smith as a freshman and Gabbert did the same for Daniel when he was a freshman in 2008.

That's consistent with what offensive coordinator David Yost told me during my visit to Missouri earlier this month. If a backup quarterback offers something the starter can't duplicate, it's worth getting them on the field. Daniel was a more accurate passer than Smith. Franklin was a much better runner between the tackles than Blaine Gabbert. Yost, in fact, compared him to Tim Tebow. The comparison stretched only as far as Franklin's ability to move the pile as a powerful runner and find creases between the tackles, but even though all three quarterbacks have decent wheels, Franklin, at 6-foot-2 and 225 pounds, has size and power the other two lack.

Like Pinkel said, there's a long, long way to go. At this point, it seems unlikely that Missouri will definitively settle much at the position by the end of spring, but like you read last week, the players will decide.
COLUMBIA, Mo. -- I hope you've enjoyed our coverage from Mizzou the past few days. If you aren't one of my most faithful readers, here's a refresher.
But not everything fit neatly into those stories. I've got plenty more on the Tigers from my visit to Columbia.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Continuing the QB line at Missouri

March, 16, 2011
3/16/11
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COLUMBIA, Mo. -- Missouri offensive coordinator David Yost sat down in the quarterbacks' meeting room, pulled out his cell phone and fired off a text to his former quarterback, Blaine Gabbert, alerting the soon-to-be first-round draft pick that Missouri's first spring practice was hours away.

"You'd make my life a lot easier if you were sitting here on the right side of me in meetings," Yost wrote.

But Gabbert isn't. He's been preparing for the draft and Yost, the Tigers' third-year offensive coordinator, is preparing for his first season running Missouri's offense without Gabbert behind center.

For Missouri, whose quarterbacks have been coached by Yost since Gary Pinkel and his staff arrived in 2001, it's the first real quarterback competition since some redshirt freshman named Brad Smith beat out senior Kirk Farmer to win the job in 2002.

[+] EnlargeMissouir's David Yost
AP Photo/L.G. PattersonDavid Yost, who has been the quarterbacks coach at Missouri since 2001, must find a replacement for Blaine Gabbert.
"Each guy kind of has his own thing that he does really well, but they’re all alike enough, and they can all throw the ball really well, and for the most part, the offense won’t majorly change for whoever wins the job," Yost said.

Sophomore James Franklin is the frontrunner after winning the No. 2 job as a true freshman last season and earning spot duty as a runner between the tackles and in short-yardage situations.

Sophomore Ashton Glaser has the No. 2 spot currently after enrolling early in spring 2009 and spending two seasons in the program.

Blaine Gabbert's younger brother, redshirt freshman Tyler Gabbert, entered spring as the No. 3, but possesses the strongest arm in the group, Yost says.

"They’re going to decide it," Yost said. "If one guy would separate themselves, that’d be good, but it’d still probably continue on throughout the summer."

Though the specific experience of a quarterback competition is foreign, Pinkel maintains that competition isn't.

"There’s no difference if we’re talking about this position or if we’re talking about the offensive guard," Pinkel said. "You’ve got to perform and you’ve got to perform consistently, and you’ve got to play better than the guy in front of you. That’s how it works."

Casual Missouri fans may think of Franklin as a runner. The 6-foot-2, 225-pound quarterback did run well last season, albeit with power and shiftiness as opposed to the blinding speed of Smith, who started four seasons for Missouri. But Franklin is plenty more, and now's his chance to showcase it.

"Not that James couldn’t throw it, but we thought, well, if we’re going to throw it, we better let No. 11 [Gabbert] throw it," Yost said. "There's a reason why he was so talented."

A player's potential does nothing to influence the coach's decision. As much as the staff would like one player to separate himself, if it doesn't happen, it doesn't happen.

[+] EnlargeJames Franklin
AP Photo/L.G. PattersonJames Franklin showed last season how much of a threat he can be running with the ball.
Want the job? Show them who you are. Who a quarterback could be doesn't matter at Missouri.

"That’s the beauty of how we do it," Pinkel said, "and the reason we don’t -- I don’t think as coaches, I don’t do it and our coaches don’t do it -- we don’t think in our head, 'Well this guy might be ‘The Guy’ or I might think that guy might be ‘The Guy,’" and the reason we don’t is it taints your evaluation. Let the players decide what’s going to happen and we’ll just see it and evaluate it."

Gabbert and his predecessor, Chase Daniel, had the potential and talents different enough from the starter that they earned meaningful playing time in spots as freshmen. But once the torch was passed in spring, they were clearly better than the passers below them on the depth chart.

This time around, it hasn't happened yet. But regardless of how far the separation is, Missouri will have a No. 1, a No.2 and a No. 3 quarterback leaving spring, just like it did to begin spring practice.

"We’re trying to get better because we all want the spot. Even though I'm in the No. 1 spot right now, that doesn’t mean I’m going to keep it," Franklin said. "I know that’s what a lot of people expect, and that’s what their guess is, but that doesn’t mean anything."

He says he feels the added pressure of those expectations, but he also felt more comfortable this spring after getting a chance to adjust to the speed of the college game with an early spring and a season on the field already under his belt.

"It’s kind of hard not to think, 'Oh, I’ve got all this pressure, I’m supposed to be the starter and this and that,'" Franklin said. "I just think it’ll help me have that edge."

He threw just 14 passes last season, completing 11 for 106 yards and a touchdown, in addition to running 23 times for 116 yards and a pair of touchdowns, including one in Missouri's win over then-No. 1 Oklahoma.

Those 14 passes in real games, though, are 14 more than Tyler Gabbert and Glaser have thrown in their careers combined.

"Everyone messes up, but when I go out there, it should look like someone that’s gone through it before," Franklin said. "I don't want to have thoughts like, 'Hey, well this guy is a sophomore or a freshman and he’s going to make those mistakes,' so I should look maybe not on the level of a veteran, but closer to that than a rookie."

The coaches wanted this competition. They signed two quarterbacks in the 2010 class so this would be a three-man battle instead of a two-man battle. Now, they've got it. All that's left is for someone to win it.

"I think we’re going to be pretty good at quarterback," Yost said. "He’s going to be the least experienced member of our offense, a lot of other guys will be counted on, but I think we’re going to be fine at that position with whichever guy separates himself whenever that happens."
Baylor, Texas and Texas Tech already have begun spring drills., but I'm kicking off my spring tour around the Big 12 campuses on Wednesday.

Here's a wide-angle look at the Big 12, with the five biggest questions hounding the conference to begin the spring.

[+] EnlargeLandry Jones
Tim Heitman/US PresswireQuarterback Landry Jones is one reason Oklahoma will get plenty of preseason attention. But can the Sooners overcome off-the-field problems?
1. Does it have a national championship contender or not? Oklahoma is by no means uncontested at the top of the Big 12, but it is a clear notch above Texas A&M and Oklahoma State as the favorite to win the conference. Additionally, there's a good chance the Sooners will open 2011 as the No. 1 team in the country. But in the two months before spring drills began, Oklahoma's had plenty of negative headlines off the field. Their best cornerback, Jamell Fleming, won't be with the team in the spring and his future is in doubt. Starting defensive tackle Stacy McGee was cited for misdemeanor marijuana possession. Star freshman Kenny Stills, a receiver, was arrested on a DUI complaint and his close friend, freshman safety Tony Jefferson -- also a California native and the Big 12 Defensive Freshman of the Year, was booked on a complaint for interfering with the official process in the incident with Stills. That's a lot of distractions, but the Sooners will need to end that list now to have the best chance of validating their preseason hype on the field. Oklahoma has no glaring weaknesses as it stands, but if academics or discipline keeps players off the field, that could change. The hype will only grow if the Sooners stay out of the police blotter and book a solid spring camp.

2. Is Texas over its "entitlement?" Is the new staff jelling with players? This should be a fascinating spring in Austin. For the first time in perhaps a decade, the Longhorns have a long, long list of things to prove. They'll try to do it with a youth-infused staff and it all begins this spring. The defense was decent last season, the offense was awful. Both will need to be great if the Longhorns are going to compete for a Big 12 title after a last-place finish in the Big 12 South. Is Texas up to the challenge?

3. Where are the quarterbacks? Think back to 2008. The Big 12 had -- by my count -- eight quarterbacks that could play for about anybody across the country. Sam Bradford won the Heisman. Colt McCoy was one of the best in school history, winning more games than any quarterback in college history and reaching a pair of BCS bowls, including a national championship appearance. Chase Daniel, Graham Harrell, Todd Reesing, Robert Griffin III and Josh Freeman were all solid. That's eight out of 10 teams in the current Big 12 with excellence under center. This year? I count four. Griffin is still around. Oklahoma and Oklahoma State are set with Landry Jones and Brandon Weeden and Texas A&M should be fine with Ryan Tannehill. Beyond that? It's pretty slim. Will we see breakout stars at Texas Tech, Missouri or Kansas State? All three have players who could be set for breakout years in Seth Doege, James Franklin and Justin Tuggle, but they'll have to win the job first and try to make a name for themselves if they can pull that off.

4. Are leaky defenses with new coordinators ready to support their teams' high-powered offenses? Texas Tech and Baylor both had offenses good enough to compete for a Big 12 title, but poor defense meant both had to settle for seven-win seasons and lower-tier bowl games. Both are back this spring with new coordinators. Veteran Phil Bennett is in at Baylor, and first-time coordinator Chad Glasgow will try to extrapolate the success he had coaching TCU's secondary into Texas Tech's secondary and defense, which ranked last in the Big 12 last year.

5. Can the Cowboys keep the status quo? Dana Holgorsen was the big story in Oklahoma State's spring camp last year, and he showed why during the season, turning the Cowboys into the Big 12's best offensive team. He's gone, and Todd Monken is taking over. Can the excellence continue? Bringing back all five offensive linemen will make it a lot easier. Skill positions look a lot better when quarterbacks have time and running backs have holes. Justin Blackmon and Brandon Weeden are back, but can their talents be showcased as two of the Big 12's best in 2011. They better be. If not, the Cowboys can rule out a Big 12 title.
Blaine Gabbert made the right decision by declaring for the NFL draft. ESPN's Scouts, Inc. has Gabbert as the No. 20 overall prospect in April's draft, and Gabbert received a first-round grade from the NFL draft advisory committee after he submitted his paperwork.

For every Jake Locker and Jevan Snead, there's a Sam Bradford: There's nothing wrong with sticking around another year if you're projected as a first-rounder, and the risk of injury is somewhat overrated.

[+] EnlargeBlaine Gabbert
Scott Rovak/US PresswireBlaine Gabbert is leaving Missouri to enter the NFL draft.
Gabbert is a bit different. In Missouri's spread offense, he wouldn't have been much further along as an NFL prospect this time next year, and his size (6-foot-5, 240 pounds) and arm strength (ridiculous) are exactly what NFL teams want in a prospective future starter. His capability to make NFL reads and develop footwork on dropbacks wouldn't have been much further along, and for a guy with a promising future looming like Gabbert, he might as well get a head start. Now was the time.

The lack of an elite receiver like Jeremy Maclin or Danario Alexander kept Gabbert from posting jaw-dropping numbers in 2010, but he played well and notched Missouri's fourth 10-win season in school history. To Gabbert's credit, he didn't force very many plays this year, and did what he needed to do for Missouri to win games. Missouri notched 10 wins because of it.

Gabbert is a competitive guy, and he'd surely like to achieve more than he did -- he never played in a Big 12 Championship or won a bowl game -- but he still had a great career and will go down as one of the best quarterbacks in Tigers history. He'll lack the legacy of Heisman finalist and three-year starter Chase Daniel, but don't be surprised if Gabbert is better in the NFL than in college. He's an Academic All-Big 12 performer and a smart, coachable player who made clear strides for all three of his seasons at Missouri. I'd expect that to continue in the NFL.

For the Tigers, things get a bit complicated.

The knee-jerk reaction for some will write off Missouri as a Big 12 contender in 2011, but that's not necessarily what should happen. It'll be tough for Missouri to win, but they bring back plenty of talent, especially on defense and in a more experienced receiving corps with a stable of young running backs who all got experience this year. Talk about replacing starters all you'd like, but Oklahoma State lost a "franchise" quarterback in Zac Robinson and played a first-year quarterback in Brandon Weeden who had not made a start in nine years. His last start was in high school. That worked out pretty well for them. I'd say 11 wins is a pretty good season.

Replacing Gabbert will be crucial for Missouri not just in 2011, but in retaining its stability as a winner in the Big 12. Tommy Tuberville said it last week at the TicketCity Bowl: In the SEC, you win with running backs and defense. In the Big 12, you win with quarterbacks. That's exactly how Missouri has done it.

In the last four years, Oklahoma is the only team with more Big 12 wins than Missouri.

Sam Bradford, Colt McCoy, Chase Daniel, Zac Robinson, Graham Harrell, Todd Reesing -- the bar has been set high in this league, even in just the most recent few years.

And for Missouri, any hope they have of being a legitimate Big 12 contender hinges on the guy who steps in for Gabbert. And unlike Daniel and Gabbert were, choosing the next starting quarterback won't be a formality this spring.

James Franklin played more than any of Missouri's other young quarterbacks, but he was used mostly as a runner. He was a miniature version of Brad Smith, at the risk of Missourian heresy.

He has the arm strength, but his decision making ability is a question mark. His coaches probably have only a bit more information from what they've seen in practices. That's what Missouri has to figure out when spring practice kicks off in a couple months.

The true freshman threw all of 14 passes in 2010. That's not much of a sample size.

I'd expect a fierce competition between Franklin and Gabbert's younger brother, freshman Tyler Gabbert, as well as redshirt freshman Ashton Glaser.

Franklin's experience, however limited, gives him the edge. And the Tigers have a few proven playmakers in receiver T.J. Moe, tight end Michael Egnew and receivers Wes Kemp and Jerrell Jackson.

Franklin's legs produced a valuable change of pace, especially in the red zone. He ran 23 times for 116 yards and a pair of touchdowns.

But those legs won't win him the job in 2011. He has to prove it as a passer. Maybe he's Missouri's most accurate passer. Maybe it's the younger Gabbert or Glaser.

We'll find out soon. It should be an interesting spring in Columbia.

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