NCF Nation: David Johnson
Signees: 17 (three enrolled early)
Top prospects: Junior college transfer Sheldon Richardson is a defensive tackle and former Missouri signee out of high school who ranks as the nation's No. 3 juco prospect. Shane Ray (No. 35 DE) and Gerrand Johnson (No. 58 DT) also give the Tigers some strength on the defensive line at the top of its recruiting class. Quarterback Corbin Berkstresser (No. 43 nationally) could also have a future at the helm of the Tigers' offense. Michael Boddie and Taylor Chappell give the Tigers a pair of tackles to develop for the future.
Needs met: Missouri got some help at receiver with Wesley Leftwich and Brandon Hannah, but the deep threat its offense needs might already be on campus. Three starting defensive backs graduated, but the Tigers signed four DBs in their 2011 class. The problem is only Cortland Browning (No. 82 CB) is ranked by ESPNU. Fellow corner David Johnson, and safeties Earnest Payton and Ian Simon are also coming to Missouri, but the Tigers will have to hope there are hidden gems among the unheralded group.
Analysis: You'll hear the standard recruiting cliches from Missouri about this class, but the truth is it's pretty underwhelming considering the success the Tigers have had in recent years on the field. Also true? You can't fully judge a class until it takes the field for a couple years. That said, Missouri didn't sign a single four-star high-school prospect in the class. Even if Richardson blossoms into a star, he sounds like a player intent on playing major college football for just one season before a jump to the NFL. The Tigers have proven they're one of the best programs in the Big 12 at developing talent once it arrives in Columbia, so maybe this class could surprise in a few years, but the expectations from this group will be low next season. ESPN ranks the Tigers' class as ninth in the Big 12, ahead of only Iowa State, and that's not very good for a program that's been on the rise the past six years or so under Gary Pinkel.
ESPN recruiting grade: C
Carter and Grant both decommitted from schools in automatic qualifying conferences. Grant was committed to Oregon and Carter to Nebraska. They were two of the Frogs' seven players who switched commitments to play in Fort Worth.
TCU also signed Matt Brown, an Allen High (Texas) quarterback who was headed to Arizona before offensive coordinator Sonny Dykes became the head coach at Louisiana Tech.
Coach Gary Patterson said the goal of this class was to find speed. And while many of the 18 signees might not see the field in 2010 since the Frogs lose just six starters, several will get an opportunity in 2011.
“We wanted to get speed because we knew we were going to graduate four or five wide receivers and safeties,” Patterson said.
The immediate need for TCU was at cornerback where the Frogs graduate both starters this year. There are two good backups in place, but the depth is depleted. Cornerback Travaras Battle-Smith is already on campus and is expected to compete for playing time. Stony Point High (Round Rock, Texas) cornerback Kevin White is considered one of the sleepers of the class.
“We played six freshman last year,” Patterson said. “If you had asked me before the season I would have told you that we wouldn’t play any. I believe we’ll probably have to play at least one at corner because we lost two seniors.”
Loading up on defense was one of TCU’s priorities considering it loses five starters on that side of the ball for 2011. Defensive tackle David Johnson from Argyle, Texas, is ranked the 26th best defensive tackle in the country according to ESPN's Scouts Inc. He's already enrolled in school and will participate in spring football.
Patterson also noted that he loses five safeties in 2011, which prompted him to pick up three in this year’s class.
“No one ever gets everything they’d like,” Patterson said. “And right now they're just paper tigers. I guess we’ll find out whether they turn out to be any good or not.”
Posted by ESPN.com's Graham Watson
Jan. 6, 8 p.m., (ESPN)
Both Tulsa and Ball State were picked to win their respective conferences and both fell short. For Ball State, its loss to Buffalo in the MAC Championship Game cost the Cardinals a perfect season. Tulsa, which started the season 8-0, lost three of its final five games.
Now it's a matter of which team can rebound.
Both of these offenses are similar in the fact that both have potent passing games, can diversify with the running game and can score quickly. Both Tulsa quarterback David Johnson and Ball State quarterback Nate Davis rank in the top 15 in total offense and both teams rank in the top 11 in total offense.
So what's going to set these teams apart?
As both teams learned in their respective championships, defense and turnovers are the way to victory. Ball State has the slightly better of the two defenses -- allowing 347.92 yards per game as opposed to 391.15 yards per game by Tulsa -- and these teams have played similarly potent offenses. But Ball State has gained 23 turnovers as opposed to losing 15, and Tulsa has gained 22 as opposed to losing 30.
I returned from Detroit to catch the last half of the C-USA Championship between East Carolina and Tulsa and what a game it was.
The way East Carolina played reminded me of the East Carolina team that started the season and took down ranked Virginia Tech and West Virginia teams.
|AP Photo/David Crenshaw|
|Coach Skip Holtz and the East Carolina Pirates didn't achieve all of their goals this season, but did nab one, by winning the C-USA championship over Tulsa, 27-24, Saturday .|
Kicker Ben Hartman kicked a 36-yard field goal with 1:43 remaining and the Pirates recovered the last of Tulsa's seven turnovers on the Golden Hurricane's final drive for a 27-24 win.
It was the Pirates first conference title in 32 years.
I remember talking to Skip Holtz early in the season about how tough his nonconference schedule was and whether he was afraid that it would wear down his players as it worked toward a conference championship.
The Pirates played four BCS teams during its nonconference slate, and though it lost two of those games, I believe that the experience built the foundation for Saturday's win over Tulsa.
"We've talked about the way we want to build this program is inside-out instead of outside-in," Holtz told ESPN.com in August. "We're not looking to schedule a bunch of wins to say, 'Look at us, we won nine games last year.' We're not just going to build wins with scheduling. We've got to get to the point where we're good enough on the field to line up and compete with these Top 10 and Top 20 programs.
"What we can't do is get frustrated or disheartened because we lose a football game to a team like Virginia Tech or West Virginia or a lot of these Top 10 teams. That doesn't mean our season is a wash. We've got to take it and we've got to learn from it. But I think at the same time it's really helped our program because it's given our players an idea of what it's going to take to play at that level."
Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Griffin
This isn't the best season to be breaking in a new secondary in the Big 12.
Iowa State coach Gene Chizik, who made his reputation as a defensive wizard at places like Texas and Auburn, is facing that very difficult season with the Cyclones.
ISU has started cornerbacks Leonard Johnson and Ter'ran Benton at times this season. Both are heavily involved in the playing rotation. But this is no time to be breaking in new players in the Big 12.
Check out these pass defense statistics that the Cyclones have produced against Kansas, Baylor, Nebraska and Texas A&M in their last four games:
Put together that four-quarterback combination of teams that the Cyclones have faced so far this season (see chart) and judge their pass-efficiency numbers. Their statistics over four games would rank second in the nation in pass efficiency, trailing only national leader David Johnson of Tulsa.
And remember that none of those quarterbacks that Iowa State has faced in conference play has ranked higher than sixth in the Big 12 in pass efficiency.
So, we could only imagine the struggle that ISU would have if it was facing the heavy concentration of top Big 12 quarterbacks that it has missed so far this season.
It won't be surprising to see Iowa State struggle even more as the season progresses. The Cyclones will face Okl
ahoma State's Zac Robinson this week, who ranks fourth nationally in pass efficiency. They also will meet Chase Daniel of Missouri, who ranks fifth nationally.
Chizik's patience will be tested more during the final four weeks of the season. But he is committed to remaining upbeat as his young team learns as it goes.
"You can't beat them up," Chizik said. "We've got great kids who love the game. We've got to back [the players] and just be positive with them. We're going to pick them up and we'll go back to work on Tuesday. We'll be very positive, march on and have another game this week."
The best of the non-BCS: BYU was supposed to be the best of the non-BCS, but that theory was proven wrong on Thursday after the Cougars were thoroughly beaten by TCU. That leaves Utah, Boise State, Ball State and Tulsa as the remaining unbeatens and TCU in an interesting spot considering its only loss was to Oklahoma. There could be even more upheaval on the horizon with Boise State still to play San Jose State, Utah still to play TCU and BYU, Ball State still to play Central Michigan and Western Michigan, and Tulsa still to play Arkansas. The cream of the non-BCS crop will rise to the top over the next few weeks.
Tulsa is better than people think: With the exception of last week's close game against SMU, Tulsa has dominated every team it has played. Saturday's game against UTEP was supposed to be its best game to date and Tulsa just ran away with a 77-35 victory. The win finally moved the Golden Hurricane into the polls. The game was tied at 28 after the first quarter and that was as close as it got. Tulsa senior quarterback David Johnson has been sick so far this season. He threw for more than 400 yards for the third time this season and threw for five touchdowns. He has not thrown for fewer than three touchdowns this year. The Golden Hurricane has beaten its opponents by an average of 29.4 points per game.
Spartans continue to impress: I know it's Boise State's WAC title to lose, but San Jose State is not going to let the Broncos run away with it without a fight. The Spartans easily handled a New Mexico State team that had been held to fewer than 24 points just once -- a loss to Nebraska. The Spartans are winning because of their defense. Against New Mexico State, they had three interceptions, two that were returned for touchdowns, and 17 tackles for loss, including six sacks and three quarterback hurries. San Jose State leads the WAC in total defense, pass efficiency defense, interceptions and turnover margin. San Jose State and Boise State, the top two teams in the WAC, clash this weekend in San Jose.
Sun Belt gets clearer: After starting the weekend with four teams locked at the top of the Sun Belt standings, Troy and Louisiana-Lafayette emerged as the two teams to beat for the Sun Belt title. Troy handled FIU as it has every other time the Trojans have played the Golden Panthers and the Ragin' Cajuns got by Arkansas State with a touchdown with 42 seconds remaining. The most intriguing thing about Louisiana-Lafayette's win was that it came without the help of quarterback Michael Desormeaux, who missed the game with a knee injury. Desormeaux and running back Tyrell Fenroy comprise the nation's most potent rushing backfield.
CMU still the MAC's best: Central Michigan has won the MAC each of the past two seasons and it made a strong case for a third bid after a win over rival Western Michigan. Ball State is still in the mix since it was idle this week. But the Cardinals are gearing up to go through their toughest stretch of games here in the final quarter of the season. They still have to play Central Michigan, Western Michigan and Northern Illinois. However, there's little doubt that the winner of the MAC, and probably all its bowl teams, will come from the West Division.
Posted by ESPN.com's Graham Watson
Brian Brunner, QB, Central Michigan: Threw for a career-high 346 yards and a touchdown after he found out a half hour before the game that he was going to make his second career start in relief of starter Dan LeFevour.
Tim Hiller, QB, Western Michigan: Set a school record with 471 yards passing (38-of-53) in a losing effort against Central Michigan. Hiller has thrown for 300 or more yards in three consecutive games.
Aldrick Robinson, WR, SMU: Had eight catches for 186 yards and two touchdowns in a losing effort against Houston. He's had a touchdown in seven of the last eight games.
Jerry Hughes, DE, TCU: Had four sacks and forced two fumbles to help the Horned Frogs to a 32-7 win over previously undefeated No. 9 BYU.
DeAndre Brown, WR, Southern Mississippi: Caught 12 passes for 221 yards and four touchdowns, including a score with 17.2 seconds remaining, in a losing effort to Rice.
Case Keenum, QB, Houston: Led Houston to another come-from-behind win by completing 78 percent of his passes for 404 yards and two touchdowns. He also rushed for a touchdown.
Jerrel Jernigan, WR, Troy: Accounted for 221 yards of total offense and two touchdowns -- one passing and one receiving -- in a 33-23 win over Florida International to stay atop the Sun Belt standings.
San Jose State defense: Had three interceptions, two that were returned for touchdowns, and 17 tackles for loss, including six sacks and three quarterback hurries.
Tim Jefferson, QB, Air Force: The freshman quarterback led the Falcons with 261 total yards, including completing 6 of 7 passes for 162 yards in a come-from-behind win over UNLV. He also had two touchdowns.
1. Upset special: With Southern Cal falling out of the No. 1 spot with a loss to Oregon State on Thursday, No. 2 Oklahoma looks poised to become the leader of the pack. This might be a perfect time for TCU to sneak in the upset.
2. Offensive explosion: Buffalo's Drew Willy and Central Michigan's Dan LeFevour are two of the most prolific quarterbacks in the MAC and when they get together this weekend, both defenses better be on high alert.
3. Catch more, Passmore: If you don't know the name Darius Passmore, you will by the second half of Marshall's game against West Virginia. Passmore leads all receivers in receiving yards per game and should have a field day against WVU's 86th-ranked pass defense.
4. Dominance of the Pac-10: The Mountain West and the WAC have a chance to continue to kick the Pac-10 while it's down. Fresno State will attempt only its second win in the eight times it's met UCLA, and Colorado State will look to extend the Mountain West's streak over the Pac-10 to 6-0 with a win at Cal.
5. Crazy finish: Arkansas State and Memphis have had some crazy finishes the last two seasons and considering the way Memphis' season is going, it wouldn't be surprising to see another one. The Tigers' last two loses have been by a touchdown or fewer.
6. Notre Dame, good or bad?: After its first loss of the season last week, there's no telling how the Irish will play this week when it hosts Purdue. This is one of many winnable games on their schedule, but you never know when thoughts of last year could creep in.
7. Moving on: Ball State played with great emotion after the loss of receiver Dante Love, but a week after his injury, how will the Cardinals respond against Kent State? The Cardinals are already in the midst of one of the best starts in school history and that should continue if they don't get in their own way.
8. Six more touchdowns: Tulsa quarterback David Johnson could throw six more touchdowns when the Golden Hurricane play FCS opponent Central Arkansas. Smith has thrown six touchdowns in each of the last two games -- a C-USA record.
9. Movin' on up: BYU could find itself in the top 10 this week even though it's idle. After Southern Cal's loss to Oregon State, every team below the Trojans figures to move up until the Trojans find their spot. A couple more upsets, which is possible, could put the Cougars in the top 10 for the first time since Dec. 2, 2001.
10. Success story: UNLV has burst onto the scene as a one-team BCS wrecking crew, but what happens when it drops back to non-BCS earth? We'll see this weekend when it meets in-state rival Nevada. Nevada has won each of the last three meetings, but might still be smarting from a thrashing at Missouri two weeks ago.