NCF Nation: Justin Thornton

Official visit: Thomas saga, Auburn poised

May, 8, 2013
5/08/13
11:00
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NoleNation’s Corey Dowlar talks with Phil Murphy about the latest in Florida State 2013 signee Matthew Thomas' saga, and Greg Ostendorf stops by to talk about the impending decisions of ESPN 150 recruits Tre’ Williams and Justin Thornton.

Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Griffin

Kansas checks in at No. 22 in the preseason rankings compiled by my colleague Mark Schlabach.

The Jayhawks are ranked that high because of a potent offense keyed by quarterback Todd Reesing and a strong cast of offensive weapons around him.

The biggest concern about the Jayhawks has been their defense and specifically the loss of starting linebackers James Holt, Mike Rivera and Joe Mortensen from last season.

Any time you have to replace consistent producers like them, it's a big worry. But it might not necessarily be as troublesome for Kansas as you might expect.

First, Coach Mark Mangino is tinkering with a 4-2-5 defense that he expects he will use in most base situations. It's a good idea because of the heavy aerial attacks in the Big 12, but also because the four players he started in the final six games of the season all return. That group is keyed by a potential big-time producer in strong safety Darrell Stuckey, free safety Phillip Strozier and starting cornerbacks Justin Thornton and Daymond Patterson.

But the biggest reason I expect the Jayhawks to improve will be their depth up front along the defensive line. I really like Jake Laptad at defensive end who is one of the most underrated defensive linemen in the league. And I expect junior college transfer Quinton Woods to be an immediate force on the other side.

The Jayhawks also have a nice set of experienced tackles returning in Jamal Greene and Caleb Blakesley. Their experience will help them immeasurably in their second season together as starters.

It will be interesting to see how much the Jayhawks' statistics are altered with the losses at linebacker. Needless to say there's a lot of pressure on returnees like Dakota Lewis and Arist Wright. And I'm intrigued how much playing time that converted running back Angus Quigley will receive.

Another factor that will be interesting in the team's development will be what the addition of veteran co-defensive coordinator Bill Miller means to the group. Bill Young had all kinds of success with the defense and got much of the acclaim for the team that won the Orange Bowl two seasons ago.

When Young left, it was left to first-year coordinator Clint Bowen to start his program. There were some rocky parts along the way, considering they allowed at least 33 points in seven of their final 11 games.

Development in the defense will be the biggest key in the Jayhawks fulfilling their high preseason ranking and determining whether they will be able to contend for their first berth in the Big 12 championship game.

It won't necessarily be a surprise because Kansas' defense might not be as depleted as some might presume.

Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Griffin

After making a trip to the Orange Bowl last season as the first BCS appearance in school history, Kansas is back for more in tonight's Insight Bowl against Minnesota. Here's a look at several items to watch in the game.

Who to watch: It's easy to get lost as a quarterback in the Big 12 at times, but Kansas quarterback Todd Reesing quietly broke a slew of his own single-season school records this season with 302 completions, 406 attempts and 3,575 passing yards. When Kansas' young offensive line gives him protection, the diminutive Reesing can carve defenses up. His chances for success Wednesday will be magnified by the return to health of key weapons like wide receiver Kerry Meier and running back Jake Sharp, who both struggled with injuries late in the season. It will be the healthiest that Kansas has been since early in the season, providing the Jayhawks an opportunity against a slumping Minnesota team that lost its last four games after starting 7-1.

What to watch: The play of Kansas' secondary will be critical to the Jayhawks' chances. Starting cornerback Justin Thornton did not make the trip for undisclosed disciplinary reasons. Senior Kendrick Harper will start in his place. That retooled unit will try to contain Minnesota quarterback Adam Weber, who was hot during the Gophers' fast start but averaged only 144.7 yards and threw more interceptions than touchdowns in Minnesota's last three games. Minnesota coach Tim Brewster fired offensive line coach Phil Meyer and replaced him withTim Davis as the running-game coordinator after the late slump. But the Gophers' ability to pass the ball from the spread offense will determine whether they can sneak out of Sun Devil Stadium with an upset against an erratic Kansas pass defense that ranked 113th nationally and allowed 19 touchdown passes in its last six games.

Why to watch: The Jayhawks already made their mark by making back-to-back bowl trips for the first time in the 119-season history of the program. They can crack another barrier Wednesday by winning, which would give them 20 victories in the last two seasons for the first time as well. A big effort against Minnesota also could set the tone heading into next season when the Jayhawks are positioned to be one of the North's preseason favorites.

Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Griffin

The Big 12 claimed its first bowl victory Monday night. But it will get a lot tougher tonight when Oklahoma State faces Oregon in the Pacific Life Holiday Bowl.

Before we get there, here are a few lunchtime links to help prime the palate:

  • Joseph Duarte of the Houston Chronicle writes that Texas players are excited to start their football preparations for the Jan. 5 Tostitos Fiesta Bowl against Ohio State. "There comes a point when your mom asks you to take the trash out, so it was time to leave home and get here," Texas quarterback Colt McCoy said. "Those days off are nice, but now it's time to go back to work."
  • The Kansas City Star's Jason Whitlock writes that Missouri shouldn't celebrate its Valero Alamo Bowl victory over Northwestern. Instead, Whitlock calls them "The kings of the pathetic North Division."
  • Reid Laymance of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch reports that Missouri linebacker Sean Weatherspoon, the defensive MVP of the Tigers' Alamo Bowl victory over Northwestern, will return for another college football season. Weatherspoon hopes to convince his roommate Jeremy Maclin to join him.
  • Texas Tech's defense is bracing for a heavy dose of Mississippi wide receiver Dexter McCluster from coach Houston Nutt's "Wild Rebel" formation in Friday's AT&T Cotton Bowl.
  • Tonight's Pacific Life Holiday Bowl could serve as an important catapult for an Oklahoma State program hoping to compete for its first Big 12 South Division title next season. The Oklahoman's John Rohde said a win tonight could serve as a serious stimulus to the program's first BCS bowl appearance.
  • Starting Kansas cornerback Justin Thornton won't play in the Jayhawks' Insight Bowl game Wednesday night against Minnesota, starting linebacker James Holt told the Topeka Capital-Journal's Tully Corcoran. It will mean senior Kendrick Harper will get the start for a Kansas pass defense that ranked 113th nationally in yards allowed.

Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Griffin

Here are a few tidbits from across the conference heading into this week's games.

1. A transformed Kansas secondary has been readied for the Jayhawks' late push for the North Division title. Kansas coach Mark Mangino has gradually broken in new cornerbacks Daymond Patterson and Justin Thornton and moved up former backup Darrell Stuckey to the starting job at free safety. Those moves have left early-season starting cornerbacks Kendrick Harper andChris Harris buried in Mangino's playing rotation. The change is being made to boost Kansas' athleticism before huge tests against the horde of playmaking wide receivers the Jayhawks will be facing against Texas and Missouri in upcoming weeks.

2. Oft-injured playmaking Oklahoma defensive end Auston English will be missed during the rest of the regular season, although Sooner coaches privately aren't disappointed that redshirt freshman Frank Alexander will be the player replacing him. Alexander's comeback from an early-season stabbing injury has been strong and he's shown some noticeable instinctive defensive moves. There will be a drop-off from English to Alexander, but not as much as might be expected.

3. One of the major reasons for Texas Tech's recent defensive success has been the simplification of schemes since Ruffin McNeill took over as defensive coordinator midway through last season. Two players who have particularly thrived up front have been defensive endsBrandon Williams and McKinner Dixon, who have combined for 17 sacks this season. And Tech's starting safeties, Darcel McBath and Daniel Charbonnet, merely are playing like the best pair at their position in the conference since the change.

4. Kansas State coach Ron Prince took over the play-calling responsibilities in the second half of the Wildcats' 52-21 loss last week at Kansas, helping spark a late offensive charge after the Wildcats had fallen into an early 31-0 hole at the half. While Prince was careful to say he hasn't lost confidence in offensive coordinator Dave Brock's calls from the press box, he wanted to provide his team immediate feedback from the sideline by taking a more active play-calling role.

5. Missouri tight end Chase Coffman has been listed as questionable for Saturday's game against Kansas State because of a sprained toe. But Coffman has a little extra inspiration to return to the lineup quicker. It's not only his final home game at Missouri, but he'll be playing against the old college team of his father, former NFL tight end Paul Coffman. And his little brother, Carson, is a backup quarterback for the Wildcats. If Chase Coffman can't go, freshman Andrew Jones would get the start, but expect him to at least to try to play early in the game.

Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Griffin

Here's a collection of factoids, notes and quotes that I came up with during the course of the week.

HOT AND NOT

Sizzling

  • Nebraska's ball-control offense in the last two games. The Cornhuskers have dominated time of possession by a 77:23 to 42:37 difference -- an incredible margin of nearly 35 minutes. And Nebraska's 10 scoring drives in those two games have averaged 10.3 plays, 73.6 yards with an average time of possession of 5 minutes, 7.6 seconds.

Hot

  • Oklahoma State's run defense, which has limited opponents to 53 yards and 2.2 yards per carry in the last two games.

Not:

Texas A&M, which started the season at 2-5 for the first time since 1980.

Hot

  • Missouri tight end Chase Coffman who has produced 38 catches in his last four games, including more than 10 receptions in three of the games.

Not

  • Missouri running back Derrick Washington, who has rushed for an average of 14 yards per game and 1.9 yards per carry in his last two games. Washington produced an average of 100 yards per game and 7.5 yards per carry in his first five games.

Hot

Not

  • Missouri's defense, which slid to 114th in pass defense and 100th in total defense after losing to the Longhorns last week.

Hot

  • Kansas, which has won 13 straight games at home. Texas Tech, however, will be the first foe during that streak that has been ranked.

Not

  • Baylor has lost 15 straight games to ranked teams

Hot

  • Texas Tech's defense, which limited Texas A&M to 32 yards in the second half and 20 yards rushing in the game to nail down a 43-25 victory over the Aggies.

Not

  • Texas Tech's kicking game, which has missed six extra point opportunities and made only 4 of 8 field goal attempts. No wonder coach Mike Leach is considering walk-on Matt Williams as an alternative.

Hot

  • Colorado running back Rodney Stewart, who last week tied the school freshman record with his third 100-yard game of the season.

Not

  • Colorado kicker Aric Goodman has missed six straight field goals since earning a scholarship after his game-winning kick against West Virginia on Sept. 18.

Frigid

  • Missouri's ballyhooed offense at the start of last week's game against Texas. In their first four possessions, the Tigers produced 14 yards on 15 plays.

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