NCF Nation: Derrick Washington

Former Missouri running back and co-captain Derrick Washington was sentenced to five years in prison for the off-campus sexual assault of a former tutor.

He may serve significantly less time, though.
Washington had faced a punishment of up to seven years in prison, a sentence sought by prosecutors. But he could now be released after 120 days in a "shock incarceration" program, while remaining on probation for the duration of his five-year sentence.

Washington's lawyers argued that no matter how long Washington spends in prison, he'd already been significantly punished.

The prosecuting lawyers, however, argued for the maximum sentence.
Defense attorney Chris Slusher, arguing for probation before the judge issued the sentence, said Washington harbored NFL dreams and was projected as a fourth-round draft pick before he was charged. He's now a registered sex offender who won't be able to coach youth sports teams or even visit his own child's school without permission, Slusher said.

"No matter what the court does today, Mr. Washington has already been punished," he said. "Those (NFL) dreams are likely done."

In arguing for the maximum sentence, assistant Boone County prosecutor Andrea Hayes said Washington has not apologized to the 24-year-old victim nor acknowledged any wrongdoing in the case.

"The defendant has yet to take responsibility for his actions," she said. "He's a predator."

Washington led Missouri in rushing as a sophomore and junior, and was named a team captain before being suspended and eventually kicked off the team during preseason camp in 2010. He was allowed to keep his academic scholarship.

More on this story here.
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."
Missouri began preseason camp with a two-year starter at running back in Derrick Washington as a perfect compliment to quarterback Blaine Gabbert and the passing game.

Washington was permanently suspended from the team nine days before the season opener, leaving the running game to a handful of backs coach Gary Pinkel already had confidence in, but also a handful of backs who had never handled a large share of the carries.

[+] EnlargeHenry Josey
AP Photo/L.G. PattersonFreshman Henry Josey leads Missouri with 212 rushing yards and four touchdowns.
Now, at 4-0 and entering conference play Missouri is one of the conference's most efficient running teams.

"We have two players that were experienced players coming back. That in itself, is where we’ve got to lean on those two guys, De’Vion Moore and Kendial Lawrence, and we have a couple freshmen in Henry Josey and Marcus Murphy," Pinkel said. "They’re good young players and definitely have great speed and we’re going to work. Our running game isn’t where we want it to be, we’re looking to improve and we’ve adjusted to that loss."

The Tigers' running backs average nearly six yards per carry, and only Nebraska has more rushing touchdowns in the Big 12 than Missouri's 12. Meanwhile, only Texas Tech has carried the ball fewer than Missouri's 124 touches through four games. The Tigers also have seven runs of longer than 20 yards.

Twice this season, Missouri has topped 190 yards and had five rushing touchdowns.

"We’re really just focusing on what the defense is giving us. If they’re going to play three people, four people in the box, of course we’re going to run the football and take advantage of that opportunity," said Gabbert. "My job is to do whatever it takes to win the football game. If we need to run the football, that’s what we’re going to do."

That job has meant pitching the ball to the sidelines on a bubble screen or pass to the flats, statistically a pass, but a play Missouri considers an extension of its running game.

"We’ve done pretty good overall. The whole thing is about consistency," Pinkel said. "I think [the offensive line is] certainly where it all starts. Not only for us, in running the football, and you get hats on hats and stay on blocks certainly, but protection, which is a big part of what we do. Our offensive linemen have to be very athletic because we ask so much of them."

That protection has helped Gabbert complete 70 percent of his passes in three games this season, and just under 84 percent against FCS foe McNeese State.

"If they’re going to load the box, we’re going to throw the ball. So it’s just taking what the defense is giving us right now," Gabbert said.

But Missouri's four running backs have had to shoulder an unexpected load in Washington's absence. Moore already has nearly half the number of carries he had last year, and the short passes have helped tight end Michael Egnew and receiver T.J. Moe both rank in the top-10 nationally in receptions.

Gabbert says he's spoken to Washington a few times since he left the team, but the focus remains on operating his offense without the former star who topped 1,000 yards and scored 17 touchdowns in 2008 before being hampered by a knee injury last season.

"It's their jobs," Gabbert says he told his young running backs. "Kendial and De’Vion have been there. They know what to expect going into Big 12 play. But the young guys like Marcus Murphy and Henry Josey, I’m just telling them to focus. Every team is good in the Big 12 and it’s going to be competitive."

Quick thoughts on Missouri's win

September, 4, 2010
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The final score, 23-13 didn't lie: This was an underwhelming performance from Missouri.

They can take away a lot of encouragement from outscoring Illinois 20-0 in the second half, but almost as many concerns about being outscored 13-3 in the first half.

Missouri, like most spread offenses, has a scheme that tends to look frustrating to fans and hopeless to outsiders when it struggles. There was plenty of that in the first half. But in the second half, when it got rolling, it looked unstoppable. When quarterback Blaine Gabbert is in rhythm and his receivers are holding onto the ball, the Tigers offense looks very, very good.

And then they run the ball.

De'Vion Moore looked great in the second half, finishing with 78 yards on 16 carries (4.9 average). Both Moore and Lawrence showed they were capable last year of replacing Derrick Washington, who was "permanently suspended" this week. We'll get a chance to see how freshmen Henry Josey and Marcus Murphy look now that Missouri returns to the safe confines of Faurot Field in Columbia for three games they should win easily, against McNeese State, San Diego State and Miami (Ohio), who actually gave Florida a scare in the first half earlier today and limited the Gators' offense.

Other good signs for Missouri: Receiver T.J. Moe and defensive end Aldon Smith are who we thought they were. Moe finished with 13 catches for 101 yards and Smith had a pair of sacks.

Missouri survived the rivalry game despite a poor first half today. They can probably do it again at some point in the next three games.

Do it once conference play kicks off, and it will cost the Tigers.

What to watch in the Big 12: Week 1

September, 2, 2010
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The season's opening weekend is always a little overwhelming. After all the scrimmages, practices and NFL preseason games, it's hard to believe meaningful football will be arriving as early as tonight.

Here's what to keep an eye on in Week 1 across the Big 12:

1. The triple option has new meaning in Lincoln. Who knows who will take the first snap for the Huskers? Well, Bo Pelini seems to have a pretty good idea, for one. The safe bet is Zac Lee, but fan momentum and preseason murmurs lean toward redshirt freshman Taylor Martinez over Cody Green. It's a pressing matter, but the Huskers Week 1 starter might not be the same guy as its starter for the conference opener, a tough Thurday night road game against Kansas State on Oct. 7.

2. Missouri moves on without a captain. In the most impactful story of the week across the conference, Missouri euphemized the exit of starting running back and captain Derrick Washington, calling it a "permanent suspension." Regardless, he's gone and the spotlight will be on co-starters Kendial Lawrence and De'Vion Moore against Illinois on Saturday.

3. Potts calling shots for the black. Taylor Potts beat out Steven Sheffield to win the starting job in Tommy Tuberville's first season at Texas Tech. A big opener in a losable game against SMU will help him regain some of the fan support he lost last season.

4. He's back. Robert Griffin, that is. Baylor's quarterback is itching to get back on the field after missing nine games last season with a torn ACL, and he'll finally get his chance on Saturday, albeit in an untelevised game against Sam Houston State.

5. The Air Raid heads east. The Cowboys open up against Pac-10 doormat Washington State, and will debut their version of the Air Raid implemented by new offensive coordinator Dana Holgorsen. First-year starter Brandon Weeden will run the show.

6. The return of the Wrecking Crew? Stephen F. Austin will be a poor gauge for growth, but holding the Lumberjacks to single digit points will be a good sign for Texas A&M. The Aggies will debut Tim DeRuyter's oft-blogged 3-4 from Air Force on Saturday.

7. Pressure on for the Cyclones. Northern Illinois isn't the sexiest opening opponent, but there isn't a team in the Big 12 who needs a win more in Week 1 than Iowa State. Drop their Thursday debut, and a 1-3 nonconference record is in play with Utah and Iowa looming. Win, and a 3-1 start becomes a possibility.

8. Rice is no Alabama. Texas quarterback Garrett Gilbert's test this weekend will be just a bit different than his first, an unplanned first-quarter entrance into the national title game against one of college football's best defenses. Hopes are high and signs out of Austin have been nothing but positive since the spring. Gilbert's legend could continue on Saturday.

9. A better start for Snyder? Kansas State's began last season with a tight win over UMass before suffering losses to Louisiana-Lafayette and another this year's Week 1 opponent, UCLA. It still managed to win six games and played for a North title in their 2009 finale. Winning six games -- and beyond -- will be easier if the Wildcats can get on track for a 4-0 nonconference record with a win over the Bruins in Manhattan.

10. An improved Colorado? Colorado needed to improve on both sides of the ball after a disappointing 3-9 season in Dan Hawkins' fourth season. Anything near that will likely bring the Buffaloes a new coach in 2011. Their attempt for the first winning season under Hawkins will begin with a rivalry game at Invesco Field in Denver, where Colorado State knocked off its rivals a year ago.

Barring a suddenly dropped sexual assault charge, Missouri will take the field on Saturday without one of its team captains and its leading rusher for the past two seasons, running back Derrick Washington.

Missouri coach Gary Pinkel was "embarrassed" by the development, in conjunction with three DWI arrests in a month for the program.

[+] EnlargeLawrence
Dustin Bradford/Icon SMIKendial Lawrence rushed for 219 yards during his freshman season.
Running backs De'Vion Moore and Kendial Lawrence won't have time to be embarrassed. Somebody's got to carry the ball. And in Saturday's season opener against Illinois, that somebody will be them.

Pinkel complimented both Moore and Lawrence, who saw spot duty in 2009 when Lawrence was a freshman and Moore a sophomore. Moore carried the ball 63 times for 258 yards and a touchdown. Lawrence ran the ball 52 times for 219 yards and will be looking for his first career touchdown against the Illini in a game that, for Missouri, is more about getting to 1-0 against the limping Illini and avoiding further embarrassment.

Washington's suspension also means Missouri won't redshirt a pair of freshman running backs, Henry Josey and Marcus Murphy. Both are under 180 pounds and are 5-foot-10 and 5-foot-9, respectively. Both fit the mold of shifty scatback, as do Moore and Lawrence ahead of them on the depth chart, unlike the 215-pound suspended starter.

"We’ll move them over and move them up," Pinkel said of his running backs. "They’re excited about the opportunity."

Illinois will be without two starters in the secondary, cornerback Terry Hawthorne (foot stress fracture) and strong safety Supo Sanni (ruptured Achilles tendon), giving way to what could be a big day for quarterback Blaine Gabbert.

But Pinkel knows what he wants to see from his running backs for them to do the same.

"You’re always just looking for mastery of the game plan and great work ethic, trying to improve and get better," Pinkel said. " But the consistency of their play, they’ve been doing that all throughout two-a-days, so they’ll be ready to go."

Capable backs behind MU's Washington

August, 27, 2010
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Derrick Washington's suspension is bad for lots of reasons -- speaking strictly in football terms.

First, he's one of four captains on Missouri's team. To have one suspended for "disciplinary reasons" nine days before the season opener is a big problem. He may be stripped of that status when he returns, and if he's not, this incident has to at least have an adverse affect on his role as a team leader.

One would have to think the dynamic in the locker room has changed.

[+] EnlargeDerrick Washington
AP Photo/L.G. PattersonDerrick Washington, who faces a felony charge, will not play in the Tigers' opener vs. Illinois.
That's especially true in light of a report from the Columbia Missourian late Thursday night that Washington had been served a protective order in June by a county judge from a woman who planned to press sexual assault charges.

Missouri athletic director Mike Alden said he knew about the incident--which occured on June 19--for several weeks, but did not confirm that Washington's suspension was directly related to the protective order. How many players inside the locker room knew is unknown, but after today, it's safe to assume they all do.

The case was "dismissed without prejudice" after neither party showed up to a postponed court date on July 21, but can be brought back before courts.

Which raises obvious questions surrounding the timing of the suspension, questions which may or may not be answered in the weeks that follow. Missouri spokesman Chad Moller declined comment to the Missourian.

On the field, it's a bad loss, but not one that cripples the Missouri offense. Although Washington looked like he was on the verge of his best year at Missouri, he also has two capable backups behind him.

Junior De'Vion Moore has missed several recent practices with an injury, and was surpassed by sophomore Kendial Lawrence as Missouri's No. 2 back. It appears Lawrence will become the No. 1, at least temporarily.

Both backs are 5-foot-9, and weigh in around 190 pounds. They're both shiftier than Washington and are both big-play threats. Both carried the ball more than 50 times last season and averaged over four yards per carry.

Moore rushed for 268 yards last season. Lawrence finished with 219 yards.

They can't replace Washington's experience, but his backups aren't baby-faced scrubs.

"It was a shock to me," Lawrence said of the suspension, to the Associated Press. "I'm ready to pick up the slack and help this team out any way that I can."

It was a shock to me, too. Washington seemed ready to go when we spoke at media days in Dallas last month, and to my knowledge, hasn't been in serious trouble before. As mentioned above, he was having a great camp. It looks like that statement is suddenly inaccurate.

"We just have to fight through it," quarterback Blaine Gabbert said. "Things are going to happen to this football team but we are going to fight back."

One bright spot for the Tigers is their weak nonconference schedule could come in handy. Beginning the season 5-0 without Washington isn't a stretch, after Missouri opens conference play at home against Colorado.

But the Tigers begin a brutal four-game slate after that, featuring games on the road against Texas A&M, Nebraska and Texas Tech, as well as hosting Oklahoma. If Washington's not back by then, Missouri will be in big trouble. Of course, a suspension that lasts that long would mean Washington is in infinitely more trouble.

We won't know how long the Tigers running back is out until coach Gary Pinkel reinstates his third-year starter, and the number of people who know when that date is might be zero.

Big 12 Media Days schedule

July, 14, 2010
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Big 12 Media Days in Irving, Texas are only a couple weeks away, and the schedule for the three-day gabfest has been released.

First thing I noticed: Nebraska (first) and Texas (last) are as far away as possible. Though I don't think the week is going to be as conducive to fireworks as some believe, it should still be plenty entertaining.

Media Days run July 26-28, and here's when to look for who on your team. (all times ET)

Monday, July 26

2:00 Nebraska: Coach Bo Pelini, WR Niles Paul, DE Pierre Allen, CB Prince Amukamara

2:45 Baylor: Coach Art Briles, LB Antonio Johnson, OT Danny Watkins

3:30 Iowa State: Coach Paul Rhoads, QB Austen Arnaud, RB Alexander Robinson, DE Rashawn Parker

4:15 Texas A&M: Coach Mike Sherman, QB Jerrod Johnson, LB Von Miller, DT Lucas Patterson

Tuesday, July 27

10:00 Missouri: Coach Gary Pinkel, QB Blaine Gabbert, RB Derrick Washington, CB Kevin Rutland

10:45 Oklahoma State: Coach Mike Gundy, QB Brandon Weeden, LB Orie Lemon, DE Jamie Blatnick

11:30 Kansas State: Coach Bill Snyder, RB Daniel Thomas, S Tysyn Hartman, OL Zach Kendall

12:15 Texas Tech: Coach Tommy Tuberville, QB Taylor Potts, QB Steven Sheffield, DL Colby Whitlock

Wednesday, July 28

10:00 Kansas: Coach Turner Gill, DE Jake Laptad, CB Chris Harris, OL Brad Thorson

10:45 Oklahoma: Coach Bob Stoops, DE Jeremy Beal, LB Travis Lewis, WR Ryan Broyles

11:30 Colorado: Coach Dan Hawkins, CB Jalil Brown, WR Scotty McKnight, OL Nate Solder

12:15 Texas: Coach Mack Brown, QB Garrett Gilbert, OT Kyle Hix, DE Sam Acho, DT Kheeston Randall

A few quick thoughts:
  • Definitely surprised that Texas' Garrett Gilbert will be making the trip. I saw firsthand how well-spoken he was this spring on my visit to Austin, but I'm still surprised Brown would trot out his first-year starting quarterback for the media horde outside Dallas. Although his presence guarantees there should be plenty to talk about with the Longhorns.
  • Tommy Tuberville probably had to bring two or none of his quarterbacks, lest he tip his undecided hand at his starter and get people talking about a nonexistent decision. He chose the former. Interesting to note that Colorado's Dan Hawkins went with the latter.
  • Not sure why DE Jamie Blatnick will be one of Oklahoma's State's representatives instead of DE Ugo Chinasa or S Markelle Martin. Chinasa is a senior two-year starter heading into his third, while Blatnick is a junior who started only part-time last season. Martin is one of the conference's rising stars.
  • Baylor is the only team in the league bringing just a three-man contingent, and in Waco, they're the closest team to Media Days. A little surprised that Robert Griffin III won't be making the short drive, but at least that forces everyone to ask questions not about Griffin's knee. For that, I thank you, Art. But throwing WR Kendall Wright in the car at the last minute wouldn't be a terrible idea.
  • Meanwhile, Texas is the only team with a five-man crew. Everything's bigger.
  • Pretty good representation elsewhere, no real complaints. What do you think?
After Adam Rittenberg over at the Big Ten and Brian Bennett in the Big East, it's now the Big 12's turn to take a look at the top three-headed monsters in the conference.

I may have snuck a fourth or fifth head on a couple of these, but the name of the game is skill positions.

1. Texas A&M
QB: Jerrod Johnson
RB: Christine Michael and Cyrus Gray
WR: Jeff Fuller and Uzoma Nwachukwu

What's so scary about them: Size, speed and skill. These guys have lots of all of it. Johnson was built to be a quarterback at 6-foot-5 and 243 pounds, with fast wheels to match his arm -- one of the strongest in the conference. Michael and Gray are a pair of backs with low centers of gravity -- especially Michael -- who split carries evenly and combined for 1,601 yards on the ground. Johnson threw for 3,579 yards and added 506 rushing yards. At 6-foot-4, Fuller is a perfect red zone target with speed who's also tough to bring down in the secondary. He and Nwachukwu combined for 13 touchdown catches in 2009.

2. Oklahoma
QB: Landry Jones
RB: DeMarco Murray
WR: Ryan Broyles

What's so scary about them: Lots of points and lots of yards. Murray and Broyles contributed to the best offense in college football history in 2008, and Jones threw for more than 3,000 yards last season in his first year as a starter. Jones didn't take all the first-team practice snaps until the last half of the year after Sam Bradford underwent season-ending surgery. Jones must limit his interceptions (14, tied for the nation's fifth-most) and Murray must stay healthy, but the entire group has to learn how to take their act away from Owen Field, where they lost all five games in 2009. With a year of experience behind him and Broyles and Murray to lean on, Jones could make a case as one of the conference's best quarterbacks by season's end.

3. Texas Tech
QB: Steven Sheffield or Taylor Potts
RB: Baron Batch
WR: Alex Torres and Detron Lewis

What's so scary about them: We'll probably only see one of these quarterbacks this season and they'll have plenty of talent to work with. They have the challenge of adjusting to new offensive coordinator Neal Brown, but the system is still pretty much the same, only faster. Batch has rushed for 1,642 yards in the past two seasons, but he's also an extremely capable receiver, hauling in 102 passes for 844 yards over that span. Torres and Lewis both topped 800 yards receiving in 2009 and caught six touchdowns apiece, and either could hit four digits in 2010. Expect the scoring in Lubbock to continue.

4. Missouri
QB: Blaine Gabbert
RB: Derrick Washington
WR: Wes Kemp and Jerrell Jackson

What's so scary about them: Washington is the experienced vet of the group, earning meaningful carries for the past three seasons and playing in a pair of Big 12 championship games. But Gabbert ascended into the top tier of Big 12 quarterbacks in his first year as starter, throwing for 3,593 yards and 24 touchdowns. He's the Big 12's top returner in pass yardage and threw the third-most touchdowns in the Big 12 among returning starters. This year could be Kemp and Jackson's turn to emerge after the exit of Danario Alexander, who led the nation in receiving yardage in 2009. Each racked up more than 400 receiving yards, but combined for just five touchdowns. Those numbers will all have to rise for Missouri to see success.

5. Oklahoma State
QB: Brandon Weeden
RB: Kendall Hunter
WR: Hubert Anyiam

What's so scary about them: Call it a leap of faith in offensive guru Dana Holgorsen. He coordinated the country's best offense at Houston last season, and he'll try to do it again this season with a first-year starter at quarterback in Weeden. Hunter will be itching to earn back his 2008 status as the Big 12's most productive back when he rushed for 1,555 yards, but he may do it more in the passing game this season -- catching short balls in the open field and making defenders miss. Anyiam didn't have a catch in the Cowboys' first three games, but became pretty reliable into the thick of the conference season after the NCAA ended star receiver Dez Bryant's college career. He finished with 42 catches for 515 yards and three scores, but only an injury is going to keep those numbers from skyrocketing in 2010.

Best and worst of the Big 12's bowl games

January, 11, 2010
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Here a look back at some of the highs and lows of the Big 12's bowl games.

Best game: In the grand scheme of things, Iowa State’s 14-13 triumph over Minnesota in the Insight Bowl was a matchup of two 6-6 teams. But the Cyclones’ pulsating victory still provided much excitement for the Cyclones. Alexander Robinson rushed for 137 yards in the victory that was settled by a late fumble recovery by ISU cornerback Ter’ran Benton, who was playing in his first game since breaking his leg on Oct. 24. Benton pounced on the turnover by Minnesota’s MarQueis Gray and the ISU did the rest with a clock-killing drive that provided an unexpected bowl victory for coach Paul Rhoads. Yes, that’s the same team that was expected to struggle to stay out of the North Division cellar before the season.

Best relief performance: Texas Tech starting quarterback Taylor Potts had a strong game in the Valero Alamo Bowl, but the Red Raiders needed a spark as they trailed Michigan State 31-27 early in the fourth quarter. Backup quarterback Steven Sheffield responded by completing his first six passes after relieving Potts, driving for two touchdowns to claim the victory. Potts earned the game’s most valuable player honors, but Sheffield finished by completing 9-for-11 passes for 88 yards as he directed the comeback.

Best use of bowl practice: Nebraska’s maligned offense showed some unexpected punch against Arizona in the Pacific Life Holiday Bowl. Nebraska offensive coordinator Shawn Watson took advantage of bowl preparations to rebuild quarterback Zac Lee’s confidence and incorporate freshman Rex Burkhead into the Wildcat formation. The result was a 33-0 victory over the Wildcats with 223 yards of rushing -- most for the Cornhuskers since the first game of the season.

Best bow to youth: Injuries forced Oklahoma to employ freshmen defenders including defensive linemen David King, defensive tackle Jamarkus McFarland and cornerback Demontre Hurst against Stanford in the Brut Sun Bowl. The trio came up big throughout the game to spark the Sooners’ 31-27 victory over the Cardinal. “The future’s bright,” Oklahoma defensive ends coach Chris Wilson understated to the Oklahoman after the game.

Most significant injury: Texas moved the ball smartly against Alabama, gaining 26 yards on five plays with Colt McCoy in charge. But McCoy went down with nerve damage to his right shoulder, the Longhorns’ offense unraveled during the rest of the half with backup Garrett Gilbert at quarterback. Alabama took advantage to charge a 24-6 halftime and take control of the Citi BCS National Championship Game.

Worst reaction to a defensive formation: Navy defensive coordinator Buddy Green dared Missouri to run the ball by using an alignment with two down linemen. Even with Derrick Washington in the backfield, the Tigers could produce only 65 yards rushing as they repeatedly passed and sputtered in a 35-13 loss to the Midshipmen.

Worst finish: Mississippi’s defense took over down the stretch, forcing turnovers on the Cowboys’ final six turnovers. Zac Robinson’s offense contributed four interceptions and his team lost two fumbles as the Rebels claimed a 21-7 victory over Oklahoma State in the AT&T Cotton Bowl.

Worst play call: Texas could have gone to halftime trailing by only 11 points. But Texas coach Mack Brown elected to have Garrett Gilbert attempt a seemingly safe shovel pass to D.J. Monroe. The ball was batted around and finally ended up in the arms of Alabama defensive lineman Marcell Dareus, who then stiff-armed Gilbert to the ground and pirouetted around Kyle Hix en route to a 28-yard touchdown return.

Worst officiating call: With about nine minutes remaining in a tie game, Oklahoma State had the ball on the Ole Miss 19-yard line and appeared poised to claim the lead. Ole Miss defensive tackle Jerrell Powe looked to have obviously jumped offsides on a snap as he charged past center Andrew Lewis before the snap was completed. Feeling that he had a free play, Oklahoma State quarterback Zac Robinson threw to the end zone, where he was intercepted by Ole Miss free safety Kendrick Lewis in the end zone. Robinson begged to have the call overturned, but the officials didn’t do it. The Cowboys unraveled from that point in the game.

Worst special teams: Texas A&M’s struggles on special teams were the biggest reason the Aggies dropped a 44-20 loss to Georgia in the AdvoCare V100 Independence Bowl. The Bulldogs blocked a field-goal attempt, returned a kick for a touchdown and blocked a punt in the first half. The Aggies capped the debacle by snapping the ball over A&M punter Ryan Epperson's head in the third quarter, leading to another Georgia touchdown. The special-teams meltdown was the major reason the Aggies dropped their 11th game in their last 13 bowl games.

Big 12 predictions, Week 12

November, 19, 2009
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The upset bug didn't bite nearly as badly last week. My predictions were better because of it.

Everything turned out for me except for Missouri's surprising beatdown at Kansas State. I thought the Wildcats' perfect home record before last week would give them an edge.

I was wrong.

But the rest of the picks made up for it in a strong week with only one miss.

This will be the complete week of the season. Hopefully, I'm set for a strong finish with these picks.

Oklahoma State 34, Colorado 14: Zac Robinson's playing condition is iffy and the Cowboys have struggled passing the ball very effectively in recent weeks. But it won't matter Thursday night as they will be playing for their hopes as a BCS at-large team before a national television audience. That should help boost OSU's strong running tandem of Keith Toston and Kendall Hunter to have big games, no matter if Robinson plays or not. And look for a big effort from the underrated Oklahoma State defense, which has limited four of its last five opponents to 17 points or less.

Nebraska 28, Kansas State 17: The North Division title is up for grabs in this winner-take-all battle. The Cornhuskers' running game will be tested by Kansas State's gritty defensive front which has overachieved all season. Roy Helu Jr. has been Nebraska's key offensive threat in recent weeks, but Zac Lee needs to continue to build on his strong effort of last week against Kansas to balance the Cornhuskers' attack. Kansas State figures to struggle against the Cornhuskers' defensive front and will need to stay ahead of the chains to keep Grant Gregory from too many long-yardage situations. Bill Snyder will try to dictate the pace by shortening the number of possessions and keeping the game away from the Cornhuskers as much as possible. But Nebraska has too much defense to let the division title slip away.

Texas 45, Kansas 14: It should be an emotional game as Colt McCoy, Sergio Kindle & Co. play their last home game. Look for the Longhorns to try to build on their strong running performance that was developed last week at Baylor with featured ball carriers Cody Johnson and Tre' Newton getting most of the carries. Kansas has been through an emotional wringer this week with all of the discussion about Mark Mangino's coaching methods called into question. Todd Reesing will return home to play in Austin. The Jayhawks showed some improvement last week against Nebraska, but playing the No. 3 Longhorns in Austin will be an entirely different matter.

Oklahoma 28, Texas Tech 24: A rare matchup between these two old rivals without championship ramifications seems a little strange. But the Sooners will be looking to rebound after struggles on the road all season. Landry Jones bounced back with a big game last week, but the biggest story was the return of DeMarco Murray. If he's on, the Red Raiders will have difficulty matching Oklahoma's athleticism on offense. The Red Raiders have questions at quarterback and will be supremely challenged by the Sooners' strong defense. That combination should be enough to enable them to escape from Lubbock with a win.

Texas A&M 27, Baylor 21: Both teams have bowl aspirations in a must-win game for the Bears. Because of that, I expect them to play much better than last week against Texas. They have confidence from beating A&M soundly in Waco last season. But A&M has too manyoffensive weapons this season, starting with Jerrod Johnson and receivers Jeff Fuller and Uzoma Nwachukwu. Art Briles will make this a battle, but the Aggies have too much firepower not to continue their long winning streak over Baylor at Kyle Field, which dates to 1984.

Missouri 34, Iowa State 17: Gary Pinkel's team will be looking to play strong back-to-back conference games for the first time all season. Danario Alexander gives them solid hopes of being able to do that, as well as make some personal history against the smallish ISU secondary. The plucky Cyclones have given up a lot of yards, but have done a good job close to their end zone on defense. Missouri has too many athletic weapons for them as the running game might rebound this week behind Derrick Washington, along with Alexander's sizable contributions. And the Missouri defense came through last week with a big performance in clamping down on Kansas State's running attack. Iowa State has similar offensive aims, which should be a benefit to the Tigers.

Last week: 5-1 (83.3 percent)

Season record: 64-22 (74.4 percent)
Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Griffin

After being hobbled by a sprained ankle for the past several weeks, Missouri sophomore quarterback Blaine Gabbert professed himself healthy and ready to go for the Tigers' game Saturday against Baylor.

 
 Jamie Squire/Getty Images
 Blaine Gabbert appears to be healthy for the first time since the Nebraska game.
The best indicator was when Gabbert appeared for the Tigers' weekly media availability on Monday afternoon. There was no walking cast this time around, as Gabbert appeared wearing tennis shoes.

It was easy to tell he was feeling better, after watching his improved performance in the Tigers' 36-17 triumph over Colorado last week.

Gabbert completed 17 of 29 passes for 192 yards and two touchdowns. But even more telling was his 26 rushing yards on six carries -- his largest rushing total since the third game of the season.

"It felt good. My ankle's feeling a lot better than it has been," Gabbert said. "It means that they can't drop everybody into coverage. It really helps the running game out a lot, because the defense can't key in on Derrick [Washington] because they have to focus on me, too."

Gabbert was injured Oct. 8 against Nebraska, which helps explain Missouri's three losses to start conference play that pushed the defending North Division title-game participants deep in the cellar.

But Missouri coach Gary Pinkel said that Gabbert's recovery immediately helps enliven his team's offense.

"He might be 100 percent this week," Pinkel said. "We saw him run a little bit, not near as fast as he can. He made a couple mistakes, forced a couple balls. Young quarterbacks do that, but it's important we get that fixed. He's showed a tremendous amount of courage through this. There are some quarterbacks who would say, 'I'm not 100 percent. I don't think I should play.' But he's just a warrior."
Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Griffin

Texas has a clear path to the Big 12 title game and beyond after an impressive victory over Oklahoma State. But their opposition in the championship game looks as muddled as ever after another wacky week in the Big 12 North.

Here are a few observations after Saturday's games.

1. Kansas State proved more in a loss Saturday than in any of their earlier conference wins. It looked bleak for Bill Snyder’s team after they fell into an early 28-9 hole after spotting Oklahoma the first three touchdowns of the game. But the wily and resourceful Kansas State coach has his team prepared and they made Oklahoma sweat to win a tougher-than-expected struggle after a determined and resourceful comeback. The Wildcats were four-touchdown underdogs, but certainly didn’t play like it. We learned much about KSU resiliency as they produced more points against the Sooners in a 42-30 loss than any team this season. And KSU still controls its destiny in the North Division with three upcoming games to finish the season against Kansas, Nebraska and Missouri. All of them look winnable if the Wildcats play like they did Saturday night in Norman.

2. Missouri's rediscovery of a bruising running attack helped spark the Tigers’ big early binge against Colorado. The Tigers elected to go in some unusual -- at least for them -- two-back sets that paid some big dividends. It resulted in the most balanced effort of the season for the Tigers and provided some hope the Tigers will at least be making a bowl trip after losing their first three conference games. And if the ground game continues and Derrick Washington builds on his big game on Saturday, the Tigers could emerge as a dark-horse possibility for the North Division title, even after starting the conference race with three losses.

3. I was a little surprised that Mark Mangino had such a quick hook for Todd Reesing Saturday at Texas Tech. Reesing showed a lot of guts standing up to a determined Texas Tech defense that produced six sacks and knocked the Kansas quarterback all over the field. But Mangino told reporters that Reesing appeared tentative as the game went on during his struggling performance. Most amazingly, Mangino told reporters that Reesing would have to earn the starting job for next week’s game against Kansas State in practice next week. That seems a tad judgmental for a player who Mangino said was a Heisman Trophy candidate only two weeks ago and who will go down in history as one of Kansas' all-time greats. One struggling performance shouldn't blot that history.

4. The most impressive statistic in Texas A&M’s solid 35-10 victory over Iowa State was that the Aggies were not forced to punt in the entire game. Suddenly, a bowl trip looks like a strong possibility for the Aggies. And their Nov. 26 season-ending game against Texas at Kyle Field could be a little interesting, particularly if the Longhorns bring some BCS title game hopes into the annual grudge battle with their oldest rival. Kyle Field will be hopping that night and the Aggie faithful would like nothing more than to snuff out Texas’ national championship hopes at that final regular-season game.

5. The difference between Oklahoma State’s offense with and without Dez Bryant could be seen on two key plays in the first half against Texas. Hubert Anyiam had a chance to make an impressive catch to cap an early Cowboys drive, but he dropped a fourth-down pass from Zac Robinson near the Cowboys’ end zone on a drive where they were turned away without points. Anyiam fumbled later in the half -- one of the Cowboys’ five turnovers. Bryant likely would have made both plays, turning the key setbacks into potential scoring opportunities. The Cowboys still likely wouldn’t have beaten Texas with Bryant and a healthy Kendall Hunter in the lineup, but the final score would have been much closer than the final 41-14 margin.

Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Griffin


COLUMBIA, Mo. -- Here's a quick look at how Missouri has claimed a 9-0 lead at the end of the first half.

Turning point: Missouri receiver Jared Perry got behind Nebraska cornerback Prince Amukamara for a pivotal 38-yard gain in the final minute of the half. The gain helped set up the game’s only touchdown four plays later, providing the Tigers with a 9-0 halftime advantage.

Stat of the half: Nebraska’s ballyhooed rushing attack came into the game producing 183.8 yards per contest and 5.7 yards per carry. In the first half, the Cornhuskers produced 21 yards on 15 carries for an average of 1.4 yards per rush.

Best player in the half: Blaine Gabbert’s statistics were pedestrian (12 of 24 passing, 107 yards, minus-8 yards rushing), but he appeared to gain confidence as the game continued. His two clutch plays on the final drive of the half -- the pass to Perry and his touchdown run -- showed that he has moxie to lead his team. That appears to be missing from Nebraska quarterback Zac Lee.

Best call: Missouri coach Gary Pinkel made a gutty decision on the final play of the half, allowing Gabbert to go for the touchdown on fourth-and-1. After faking to Derrick Washington, Gabbert reached the end zone after a scramble around right end before fumbling to account for the only touchdown of the half. After a replay, the call stood.

What Nebraska needs to do: The Cornhuskers need some consistency in their passing game. Lee thrown for only 75 yards on 8 of 22 passing and has appeared discombobulated by Missouri’s intensifying pass rush. Roy Helu Jr. hasn’t been a factor, meaning he still might be struggling with his cold. But the Cornhuskers need an infusion of offense quickly because this game is looking very similar to their lackluster offensive effort at Virginia Tech.

What Missouri needs to do: Gabbert looked comfortable as the half continued. But the Tigers need to get the running game to open up and do a better job of staying away from penalties. The Tigers have repeatedly shot themselves in the foot as they’ve been flagged for 65 yards in the first half. They can’t afford those mental mistakes if Nebraska ever gets its offense cooking.

Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Griffin


Here are three things that Nebraska and Missouri need to tonight in order to win tonight at Faurot Field.

Three things Nebraska needs to do to win:

1. Dominate in the trenches. Nebraska’s front four has to dominate the Missouri offensive line and get to Blaine Gabbert often. Nebraska doesn’t necessarily need sacks, but they do need to knock him around. Ndamukong Suh, Barry Turner and Co. can’t let the sophomore get into a comfort zone or it could be a long night. Interestingly, Bo Pelini didn’t think his defensive line was good enough last season so he came up with a wrinkle of a stand-up lineman he thought would fool Missouri. Instead, it paved the way for a 52-17 Missouri win. The Cornhuskers are better and more experienced this season. No gimmicks needed. Just beat them with straight four-man pressure.

2. Have strong, mistake-free games from their cornerbacks. Missouri loves to spread its wide receivers, trying to get matchup advantages. Starting Nebraska cornerbacks Anthony West and Prince Amukamara often are on an island. They can’t get beat by the Tigers’ athletic bunch of receivers.

3. Run the ball effectively. If the Cornhuskers can climb onto Roy Helu Jr.’s back, they likely have a good shot of winning. That would enable them to keep Missouri’s high-powered team off the field and dominate the game. But remember, Nebraska averaged only 2.3 yards per carry against Missouri last season. It has to do a better job to win.

Three things Missouri needs to do to win

1. Early success by Gabbert. The sophomore has played as well as any Big 12 quarterback in the first month of the season, but he hasn’t played a defense anywhere like Nebraska’s. The Tigers like to beat opponents with short passes. Look for Nebraska to play Missouri’s receivers tight and challenge Gabbert to beat them deep.

2. Run the ball better than earlier this season. The Tigers during their Big 12 title seasons ran the ball effectively. But they’ve struggled this season, averaging only 3.8 yards per carry. Derrick Washington, who rushed for 1,000 yards last season, hasn’t played as well this season. He needs a big night against the Cornhuskers. The Tigers seem to have closed ranks this season from the wide splits that marked the Chase Daniel era. Maybe they need to go back to that strategy to provide some running lanes for Washington, Kendial Lawrence and De'Vion Moore.

3. Play with the defensive intensity of the Illinois game. As predicted before the season opener, Missouri’s Sean Weatherspoon indeed “squeezed the pulp” out of Illinois quarterback Juice Williams. The Tigers haven’t played as well since, barely escaping against Bowling Green, allowing Furman to pass for 305 yards and Nevada to run for 218 yards. In order to beat Nebraska, the Nebraska front seven needs to turn up its intensity of that first game as it tries to contain Helu. If Missouri can control the ground game defensively and force Zac Lee to beat the Cornhuskers, it has a good shot at winning.

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