NCF Nation: Kevin Rutland

Young corners? Big plays for the Tigers

September, 3, 2011
9/03/11
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Missouri lost two senior cornerbacks from last year's team, Kevin Rutland and Carl Gettis. Additionally, the team's third corner in 2010, Kip Edwards, isn't playing today.

Replacing them won't be easy, but the coaching staff has lauded its young defensive backs all offseason.

That confidence paid off late in the first half when sophomore E.J. Gaines intercepted a pass in the end zone to keep Miami (Ohio) off the scoreboard and the Tigers ahead, 10-0.

Gaines came from underneath on the play and intercepted the ball in zone coverage.

The road will get tougher for this secondary once it starts facing Big 12 quarterbacks, but for now, Gaines is helping Missouri's defense carry over a strong season from 2010.
We'll move on to the cornerbacks today in our position rankings across the Big 12.

Here's what we've covered so far:
This group? Well, it's not very good. And considering the crazy depth in the Big 12 at receiver, it could be a long season for cornerbacks in this league. I love the upside of many of the Big 12 corners -- namely the guys at Missouri and Texas Tech (especially working with Chad Glasgow's 4-2-5 in Lubbock). Texas could also develop fast in its new defense, but outside of Texas A&M and Oklahoma, I don't see any Big 12 teams that should be completely comfortable with their cornerbacks.

Of course, for fans who love points, this could be a welcome development. For secondary coaches and defensive coordinators? Not so much.

[+] EnlargeJamell Fleming
Mark J. Rebilas/US PresswireJamell Fleming returns as the Big 12's top cornerback.
1. Oklahoma -- Jamell Fleming is the Big 12's top returner at the position and gives the Sooners a huge boost after being reinstated last week. Fleming had withdrawn from the university because of academic problems following the season. Aaron Colvin moved to safety during the offseason, but Fleming will still have to beat out Gabe Lynn in fall camp to start opposite Demontre Hurst. Julian Wilson also adds depth.

2. Texas A&M -- Fleming's return pushed the Sooners over A&M as having the Big 12's best group of corners. But Coryell Judie and Terrence Frederick could both challenge for first team All-Big 12 honors at the position. They are ahead of reserves Dustin Harris and Lionel Smith, who will get plenty of time on the field.

3. Missouri -- Missouri loses starters Carl Gettis and Kevin Rutland, but the coaches consider Kip Edwards a returning starter because of how much he played last season. Edwards could join E.J. Gaines in eventually becoming better than both Gettis and Rutland. Trey Hobson and Robert Steeples will get time in the rotation, too.

4. Oklahoma State -- OSU has to replace the Big 12's interception leader Andrew McGee , but Brodrick Brown's development should continue. He's likely a dark horse to earn first-team All-Big 12 honors after the season. The Cowboys didn't release a post-spring depth chart, but don't be surprised if return specialist Justin Gilbert edges out Devin Hedgepeth for the starting spot before the opener. Andrae May has earned playing time on special teams in both of his first two seasons on campus, but could be counted on for a much bigger role this year as the fourth corner.

5. Texas -- The Longhorns are fairly decimated at corner after losing three to the NFL in one offseason. Curtis and Chykie Brown joined Aaron Williams for one of the most talented sets of corners we've seen in this league, but now, secondary coach Duane Akina will have to replace them. Texas' depth chart is still as in flux as any in college football, but I'd be surprised if Carrington Byndom didn't emerge with a starting spot. True freshman Quandre Diggs might swipe the other, but Eryon Barnett and A.J. White will be on the field, too.

6. Texas Tech -- The Red Raiders are likely to ascend this list by season's end, but for now, find themselves at No. 6. Injuries were costly for the defense last season, but Tre Porter and Derrick Mays should be much better, and Tech fans can be encouraged by the upside in Jarvis Phillips, Jeremy Reynolds and Eugene Neboh.

7. Iowa State -- This group might be a bit underrated, but with Iowa State's defensive problems last season, it's a bit hard to tell. Jeremy Reeves and Leonard Johnson return with loads of experience, and Anthony Young is a great additional piece as the third corner. Matthew Thomas should be in the rotation, too.

8. Baylor -- The Bears return both starters. Chance Casey has 15 career starts to Tyler Stephenson's four, but the Bears secondary struggled last season, especially the corners. Tuswani Copeland should be on the field, and Romie Blaylock offers some experience as a senior under new coordinator Phil Bennett, whose work is cut out for him at this spot.

9. Kansas -- Kansas loses Chris Harris from last season's team, but Isiah Barfield is a playmaker at the position. Greg Brown, Tyler Patmon and Anthony Davis fill out the group.

10. Kansas State -- The Wildcats have a huge talent in David Garrett, who led the team in tackles last season and was the nation's leader in tackles for loss, but he's still just one player at a position that needs lots of depth in this league. Also, his coverage leaves a bit to be desired. For now, K-State doesn't look like it has that necessary depth. Terrance Sweeney and Stephen Harrison are gone, but the Wildcats need to find more talents at the position in fall camp. Watch for Thomas Ferguson to emerge as the other starter.

The Big 12's three dark horses

May, 25, 2011
5/25/11
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A little more than three months before we kick off the 2011 season, one thing is clear: Oklahoma, Oklahoma State and Texas A&M are the Big 12 favorites.

Of course, last season, Texas and Oklahoma were the favorites and Oklahoma State came out of nowhere to contend.

So, who could be this season's Cowboys? Here are three teams with the most upside that could contend for a Big 12 title.

Missouri

Last season: 10-3

Big 12 Power Rankings: 4th

Why the Tigers aren't a contender: Simply put, Blaine Gabbert is gone. If the Tigers still had their first-round pick, they'd likely be a borderline top-10 team entering the season.

Why they can contend: Missouri's defense should be great once again after taking big strides in 2010 under coordinator Dave Steckel. The Tigers have lots of confidence in corners Kip Edwards and E.J. Gaines, and even list Edwards as a returning starter since he was in the rotation alongside Carl Gettis and Kevin Rutland last season. They'll get a lot of help up front from an offensive line that should be the Big 12's best, and perhaps one of the best in college football.

Offensively, James Franklin replaces Gabbert, but has lots of talent around him, including four returning running backs with experience and every single receiver on the team returns, including four with at least 39 catches a season ago. That's rare, and the experience gained will pay off next fall.

Texas

Last season: 5-7

Big 12 Power Rankings: 7th

Why the Longhorns aren't a contender: The offense crashed and burned in 2010 and the reigning Big 12 champs and national runner-up endured its worst season since 1997.

Why they can contend: Mock recruiting rankings all you'd like, but it's still hard to shake the feeling that Texas is a sleeping giant in 2011. The offensive talent didn't look like it was there last season, but can new coordinator Bryan Harsin change that? The Big 12 won't have a truly elite defense this season, so it's possible.

Texas also should have one of the Big 12's best defenses, as long as it can overcome some inexperience in the secondary. The front seven has loads of experience and potential, and if the turnovers, which coach Mack Brown has harped on all offseason, swing in the Longhorns favor, Texas could become a factor once again. That 5-7 record last season wasn't far from 9-3. Texas lost four games by eight points or fewer.

Kansas State

Last season: 7-6

Big 12 Power Rankings: 8th

Why the Wildcats aren't a contender: The Wildcats rode Daniel Thomas for two seasons, and lose him, as well as starting quarterback Carson Coffman. Combine that with a defense that struggled for most of last season, and it's not an attractive résumé.

Why they can contend: It all comes down to how good the new faces will be. Bryce Brown and Arthur Brown have gotten plenty of press this spring, but Arthur and quarterback Collin Klein will likely have the most to do with the Wildcats exceeding expectations. Klein will have receiver Brodrick Smith back, a transfer who started the season hot before breaking his leg against Nebraska.

The Wildcats are by far the darkest of these horses, but it could be one of Bill Snyder's best coaching jobs if this team contends or finishes in the top 25.
It's a different year this time around. Most of the guys on this list would already be signed to a team -- albeit with brief contracts -- and ready to work toward a future in the NFL.

But this year, if you're not already aware, NFL teams had to turn out the lights after the draft reached its completion on Saturday evening. Players drafted can't have contact with their new teams, and teams aren't allowed to make offseason moves.

That means no signing of undrafted rookies, creating uncertain futures for these guys. Undrafted guys have plenty of value -- for example, last year's leading rusher among rookies, LeGarrette Blount of Oregon, went undrafted -- and here are a few guys looking for their shot in the future once the lockout ends. (It'll end eventually, right?)

Here are the Big 12 players that were productive in college and would be in camps, but thanks to the lockout, now have their futures on hold.

Tim Barnes, C, Missouri

Barnes was the first-team All-Big 12 center in 2010, but extended a streak of four consecutive Missouri centers to earn that honor and go undrafted. Barnes had more athleticism than his predecessors, but it wasn't enough to get drafted. You won't find a much more knowledgeable center, but a lot of that knowledge might not transfer well to the next level.

Kevin Rutland, CB, Missouri

Rutland was one of the Tigers' team captains last season, but his overall position skills weren't on the level of the cornerbacks drafted ahead of him.

David Sims, S, Iowa State

Sims has great speed at 204 pounds, but his 5-foot-9 frame isn't ideal for a safety. His past didn't help him, either. He enrolled at Oklahoma originally, but didn't qualify and went to junior college. After winning Big 12 Newcomer of the Year in 2009, he was suspended for the season opener in 2010 and stripped of team captain status after racking up charges on a Des Moines woman's debit card.

Orie Lemon, LB, Oklahoma State

Lemon was what you'd want in a linebacker mentally and physically when he was healthy, but his torn ACL last season hurt his draft stock. He's a big hitter, too, but at 242 pounds, NFL teams didn't love his speed.

Dan Bailey, K, Oklahoma State

Simply put, kickers don't get drafted too often. Bailey, who won the Lou Groza Award last season as the nation's best kicker, should get his shot at some point.

Colby Whitlock, DT, Texas Tech

Whitlock has great size at more than 300 pounds, but his lack of speed concerned NFL teams, who also weren't in love with his pass-rushing ability or overall athletic ability. I've been a fan of Whitlock's technique during his time in Lubbock, but measurables are more apt to get you selected.

Jerrod Johnson, QB, Texas A&M

Not a snub, per se, as it was pretty obvious that Johnson struggled in the events leading up to the draft, especially at the Senior Bowl. But Johnson likely would find a shot somewhere, and it's still shocking to see a player with Johnson's resume go undrafted. Coach Mike Sherman knows the kind of football mind Johnson has, though, and can sell his NFL connections on it. There's no question he'll end up in a camp once the option is available.
Springtime is almost here. And here's a look at what to expect across the Big 12 when it gets into full swing here in the next couple weeks.

BAYLOR BEARS

Spring practice starts: February 28

Spring game: April 2

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

Spring practice starts: March 22

Spring game: April 16

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

Spring practice starts: April 1

Spring game: April 30

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

Spring practice starts: April 6

Spring game: April 30

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

Spring practice starts: March 8

Spring game: April 16

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

Spring practice starts: March 21

Spring game: April 16

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

Spring practice starts: March 7

Spring game: April 16

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

Spring practice starts: February 24

Spring game: April 3

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

Spring practice starts: March 22

Spring game: April 16

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

Spring practice starts: February 19

Spring game: March 26

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

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

Recruiting needs: Big 12 North

January, 26, 2011
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Signing day is exactly a week from today, and it's time to take a look at who needs what in its 2011 class.

Some schools have addressed these with their current class. Some haven't. Others are still trying.

We'll kick things off with the artists formerly known as the Big 12 North and examine the South later today.

COLORADO

Cornerback: Jalil Brown and Jimmy Smith were pretty reliable for the Buffaloes, but both are headed to the NFL, and the Buffaloes could definitely use some depth behind their first-year starters. It's not quite as pressing of an issue considering their move to the less pass-happy Pac-12, but they still like to sling it out west.

Receiver: Colorado isn't exactly starving anywhere on offense, but receiver sticks out a bit. Toney Clemons was good, but maybe not quite what the Buffaloes hoped he'd be in 2010, but they caught a break in getting Paul Richardson back after a great freshman season. The Buffaloes need some complementary pieces around Clemons and Richardson to replace departed pass-catchers Scotty McKnight and Travon Patterson. Next year, that should be tight end Ryan Deehan and receiver Will Jefferson.

IOWA STATE

Receiver: It's been a struggle for Iowa State in recent years, but they have to get better outside to help out their quarterback. Sedrick Johnson's transfer only worsens the Cyclones depth at the position, but Jake Williams and tight end Collin Franklin, the team's leading receiver, are gone. Shontrelle Johnson looks ready to become a big factor in the offense, but the Cyclones filling the space at receiver will make it easier for Johnson to replace running back Alexander Robinson.

Safety: Both starters, David Sims and Zac Sandvig, are gone. So is the Cyclones top reserve at the position, Michael O'Connell. Sims was a top-notch talent that will be tough to replace, but Iowa State needs more depth here. They should be solid at corner with Leonard Johnson, Ter'ran Benton, Jeremy Reeves and Anthony Young, which could make the new safeties' jobs easier.

KANSAS

Defensive line: KU is losing three of four starters on the line, including the team's only All-Big 12 talent, defensive end Jake Laptad. Turner Gill wants more speed, and this is a place to install it. Tackles that tip the scales at 320 pounds aren't too necessary in this league, but speed on the edge can go a long way in stopping the pass.

Quarterback: Neither Jordan Webb or Quinn Mecham look like long-term answers at quarterback for the Jayhawks. Mecham will be a senior, and Webb might develop into a better player as a sophomore next year, but Kansas needs other options. The Jayhawks hope Brock Berglund, the top-rated recruit in Colorado, is the solution to the problem.

KANSAS STATE

Running back: I hear your cries for Bryce Brown, Wildcats fans, but K-State can't expect to hitch their wagon to the former blue-chip recruit turned Tennessee transfer in the same way it did for Daniel Thomas. Thomas and his backup, William Powell, are gone, and the Wildcats need some depth at running back to show up.

Interior offensive linemen: K-State loses both guards and its center from an offense that produced the Big 12's leading rusher in 2010. Don't expect them to do it again in 2011 without Wade Weibert, Kenneth Mayfield and Zach Kendall, as well as Thomas and Powell, but finding some new talent behind them will help them come close.

Cornerback: David Garrett emerged as a budding star in 2010 ready for a breakout senior year in 2011, but the Wildcats lose Terrance Sweeney and Stephen Harrison, as well as safety Troy Butler. Like we've mentioned earlier, good secondaries are a must for success in the Big 12, and K-State had one of the league's worst in 2010.

MISSOURI

Receiver: Missouri has some good ones ready to suit up in 2011, namely Wes Kemp, Jerrell Jackson and T.J. Moe, but the Tigers don't have a true gamebreaker. They have some younger players in Marcus Lucas and Jimmie Hunt who they hope will develop into big-time, All-American caliber receivers, a la Jeremy Maclin and Danario Alexander. In Missouri's system, though, adding a few receivers is always a good idea. They certainly don't need any more running backs.

Defensive backs: Mizzou doesn't have any huge holes that need to be filled with recruiting, but the Tigers lose both corners, Carl Gettis and Kevin Rutland from their 2010 team. Kip Edwards and E.J. Gaines look likely to fill those roles, but the Tigers could use some depth and keep recruiting in the secondary to help add some talent around Tavon Bolden and Matt White, safeties who will replace departed Jarrell Harrison, who actually had to play some linebacker in 2010 because of injuries.

NEBRASKA

Every kind of kicker: Alex Henery, the team's punter and kicker is gone. So is kickoff specialist and lover/producer of touchbacks, Adi Kunalic. Fan favorite Henery was hardly underappreciated by the Nebraska faithful, but they'll miss him even more if the Huskers can't find a suitable placekicker and punter. Bo Pelini was reportedly after Wake Forest commit Mauro Bondi this week.

Receiver: Niles Paul and Mike McNeill are gone. The Huskers need Brandon Kinnie to come through with another good year and it'd be nice if Quincy Enunwa broke through in 2011, but Taylor Martinez needs some more help at wide out, and a couple new recruits could provide it as Martinez's passing prowess matures.

2010 Big 12 All-Bowl team

January, 14, 2011
1/14/11
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We've spent the week wrapping up the bowls, and now that it's Friday, here's our Big 12 bowl team comprised of players who got it done individually in their bowl games.

Plenty of guys got snubbed, particularly at receiver (Sorry, Lyle Leong, Cameron Kenney and Kendall Wright!), but without further ado, here it is.

OFFENSE

QB: Landry Jones, Oklahoma
RB: Daniel Thomas, Kansas State
RB: Eric Stephens, Texas Tech
WR: Ryan Broyles, Oklahoma
WR: Justin Blackmon, Oklahoma State
WR: T.J. Moe, Missouri
OL: Zach Kendall, Kansas State
OL: Tim Barnes, Missouri
OL: Eric Mensik, Oklahoma
OL: Lonnie Edwards, Texas Tech
OL: Elvis Fisher, Missouri

DEFENSE

DL: Phil Taylor, Baylor
DL: Jeremy Beal, Oklahoma
DL: Jared Crick, Nebraska
DL: Richetti Jones, Oklahoma State
LB: Von Miller, Texas A&M
LB: Travis Lewis, Oklahoma
LB: Orie Lemon, Oklahoma State
CB: Jamell Fleming, Oklahoma
CB: Kevin Rutland, Missouri
S: Byron Landor, Baylor
S: Tysyn Hartman, Kansas State

SPECIALISTS

P: Matt Grabner, Missouri
K: Dan Bailey, Oklahoma State
KR: Coryell Judie, Texas A&M
PR: Ryan Broyles, Oklahoma

Missouri kicks off with a big run, too

November, 6, 2010
11/06/10
8:32
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Kansas State wasn't the only team to establish itself early on the ground in the Big 12's late games tonight.

Missouri's Marcus Murphy did to Texas Tech what Nebraska running back Roy Helu Jr. did to Missouri last week.

On Missouri's third play from scrimmage, the freshman broke a 69-yard touchdown run that has Missouri up, 7-0.

Last week, the Tigers gave up a 66-yard touchdown run on the first play of the game to Nebraska before falling behind 24-0 in the first quarter.

The Tigers will certainly score points, but the game will hinge on how well it can stop Texas Tech's offense. The Red Raiders have put up big points often, but teams like Oklahoma State and Texas have shut them down consistently in wins.

Missouri's secondary is much improved, and even though Texas Tech is playing without receivers Jacoby Franks and Alex Torres, top targets Lyle Leong and Detron Lewis will provide a tough test for Missouri's cornerbacks, Kevin Rutland and Carl Gettis.

Big 12 predictions: Week 10

November, 4, 2010
11/04/10
9:01
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» Predictions: ACC | Big 12 | Big East | Big Ten | Pac-10 | SEC | Non-AQ

OK, I'm done not listening to myself. I told you last week I picked against my gut twice last week, trusting Texas' defense to wake up like it did against Nebraska, and putting confidence in Missouri to be able to run the ball against Nebraska like it did against Oklahoma.

Nope. I whiffed on both picks. This week, I went with my gut on all six picks.

Last week: 4-2 (.667)

Overall: 59-12 (.831)

No. 17 Oklahoma State 51, No. 21 Baylor 44: In no way is this a joke. Come back later this afternoon for a video of me explaining my pick.

Colorado 27, Kansas 20: This one is by far my least confident pick. That comes with picking Colorado to win on the road, where it suffered 26-, 33- and 42-point losses this year. But here goes. Rodney Stewart has a big day, and Cody Hawkins hits Scotty McKnight enough times to halt the Buffaloes' 15-game road losing streak.

No. 7 Nebraska 38, Iowa State 20: Iowa State's pulled off a pair of wins nobody thought it would at the season's start, knocking off Texas and Texas Tech. But then again, neither team has been anywhere near as good as most thought in the preseason. Nebraska is considerably better, thanks to Taylor Martinez. No passing necessary in this one. The Huskers don't reach the double digits in pass attempts and roll over the Cyclones.

No. 8 Oklahoma 30, Texas A&M 28: Consider me a believer in Oklahoma's struggles on the road. It's probably unfair to say it necessarily struggled on the road last year, it just played much better competition. This year, though, the Sooners were a muffed punt return away from having a real chance to lose to a bad Cincinnati team and one bounce of the ball away from possibly going into overtime against Texas. Both sides of the ball fell apart in the fourth quarter against Missouri. The Sooners lead 27-14 midway through the third quarter of this one, but hang on late. The Aggies will miss Christine Michael dearly. Cyrus Gray is very good. Michael is better.

Texas 21, Kansas State 20: For all the curves Oklahoma State and Baylor should bring, this game's bringing the hairy moles. Kansas State and Texas might play the ugliest game of the year in the Big 12. Somebody's got to win, and Garrett Gilbert engineers a late drive, continuing his maturation process, and bringing along freshman receiver Mike Davis.

No. 12 Missouri 34, Texas Tech 24: Missouri won't blow out the Red Raiders; it is Lubbock, after all. But it will win comfortably if corners Carl Gettis and Kevin Rutland continue their solid play. The offense will move the ball consistently for 60 minutes, but chalk the Tigers up for an inexplicable turnover in one of the toughest places to play in the Big 12.

Missouri defense savoring improvement

October, 13, 2010
10/13/10
10:59
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Missouri captain and cornerback Kevin Rutland has gotten plenty of compliments and kudos on campus and elsewhere in Columbia. That's because he is the head of a unit that leads the Big 12 in scoring defense and his 14 forced turnovers is tied for second in the conference.

"It's been special so far, and you take note of it and would like it to keep going," Rutland said. "But we take it with a grain of salt. We know things can change, but we know if we keep our play at the level it’s been, we’ll be just fine."

[+] EnlargeKevin Rutland
John Rieger/US PresswireMissouri coach Gary Pinkel has put his trust in cornerback Kevin Rutland and the Tigers defense.
He would know. Rutland played corner for a defense that ranked outside the top 100 in pass defense a year ago, frustrating fans with its penchant for giving up backbreaking big plays.

This season, limiting those big plays has been goal No. 1.

"That’s always gotten us, whether it’s the big pass play or big run play, and not that we haven’t experienced those things because we have, but we're trying to keep those things to a minimum," he said.

There was a 93-yard touchdown run by San Diego State's Ronnie Hillman and a 42-yard run by Illinois running back Mikel Leshoure this year. None of those cost Missouri a game, unlike the 400-plus yards Baylor quarterback Nick Florence racked up in the Bears' lone conference win in 2009, highlighted by a 59-yard touchdown pass to Kendall Wright.

Missouri was never better this year than on Saturday when they shut out Colorado in a 26-0 win. Rodney Stewart's 22-yard run and a Scotty McKnight's 22-yard catch were the only sizeable chunks of yardage the defense gave up. Missouri is 5-0, thanks largely to its defense, and is headed to College Station for its first game outside the state this season.

"We’re getting better each week and with a lot of the little things, attention to detail things that we need to do and we haven’t arrived in any way, I’m not implying that, we’ve got some great tests ahead of us, including this week, but it seems like we’re playing real well as a team, together, as a unit," said coach Gary Pinkel.

They've had to do it without a full squad. Suspensions and injuries have kept contributors at every level of the defense off the field. Star defensive end Aldon Smith, who had 11.5 sacks a year ago, is out with a broken fibula and is expected to miss Saturday's game against Texas A&M.

"I’ll give some of the credit to experience and some of it to trust between coaches and players," Rutland said. "We go out there and we know what’s expected of us. The coaches have enough faith in us and enough trust in us to get job done, whatever the call may be. Whether we’re blitzing or we’re in zone coverage or man coverage. The coaches have so much trust in us, from the secondary down on to D-line, that it’s really opened up the playbook."

Rutland, a senior, has been one of the reasons why the coaches trust the unit. Rutland has adjusted to the team's more aggressive style under coordinator Dave Steckel and life as a team captain.

"My role is a lot more important than it’s been," Rutland said. "When there's a time to step up and say something, I enjoy being that guy. That’s the biggest thing, but even in practice or before a game or after the game, during the game, anything I can do. I like to go out there, make sure I’m doing my best and send a positive message with a great example to my teammates."

Texas A&M will be the toughest test yet for Missouri, and it won't get any easier. The Tigers host Oklahoma next week and travel to Lincoln for what could be a de facto Big 12 North championship game on Oct. 30. They will face the Huskers dynamic running game spearheaded by freshman quarterback Taylor Martinez.

So far a defense that returned nine starters from last year's team, but lost linebacker Sean Weatherspoon and defensive tackle Jaron Baston, has been as good or better than anyone might have expected.

"Players, athletes get better, if they’re good athletes and they keep working hard to improve and get better. People say they have so many starters back, but if the starters aren’t very good, it’s not going to matter," Pinkel said. "We have many tests to go here, but very pleased with the progress so far."

What to watch in the Big 12: Week 3

September, 16, 2010
9/16/10
10:16
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Here's what I'll be keeping an eye on during this weekend's games across the conference.

1. Do you think the people away from home will be pretty cool? Texas and Nebraska didn't need great play from their quarterbacks to win their first two games. They might need it on Saturday, from first-year starters Garrett Gilbert and Taylor Martinez making their first starts on the road.

2. The next piece of the Jigsaw Jayhawks. Kansas visited its best and worst selves through two games this year, losing to North Dakota State before beating the defending ACC champs, Georgia Tech. What will we see from them in their first road game, a nationally televised game against Southern Miss on Friday night?

3. Yes, as of right now, TCU is the highest ranked team in Texas. Baylor will be making their first road trip this weekend, too, but they're big underdogs to in-state rivals up I-35, TCU. An upset or a close loss might make a few more people pay attention to the Bears, who have a great chance to qualify for a bowl game this year.

4. Gettis and Rutland Islands prepare for future visitors. Missouri's secondary has been one of the conference's best so far this year after being one of its worst last year, even if it has come against a first-year starter at Illinois and an FCS team. Can they keep it up, especially corners Carl Gettis and Kevin Rutland, who have thus far shown plenty of improvement? They'll face tougher offenses later, but San Diego State has shown they can move the ball through the air effectively, with two 300-yard games from Ryan Lindley in blowout wins to begin the season.

5. Rumblin', bumblin', stumblin' D-Train rolls into KC. Iowa State hasn't been able to stop anybody from running the ball yet this season, ranking outside the top 100 nationally. They also have yet to face a running back as good as Daniel Thomas. Will he roll over them like he has the first two defenses he's faced, or can the Cyclones contain him?

6. You take the dive, I've got the pitch, you take the QB. Where's the ball? After a poor showing in Week 1, the spotlight was pretty firmly on Oklahoma's secondary against Florida State. Now, it's the front seven, which turned in a great performance against the Seminoles, too. This time, the task is containing a dangerous Air Force option attack. Do the Sooners dominate like last week, eke out a close win or go down? The last team to beat the Sooners in Norman was TCU, another Mountain West team.

7. Bounce back needed in Boulder. Kansas did it last week. Can Colorado repeat the feat? It got embarrassed in Berkeley with a 52-7 loss to Cal in front of the Pac-10 commissioner, and host a Hawaii team capable of scoring another 52 points and beating them in Boulder on Saturday. A loss would almost certainly squash most of the remaining optimism from the fan base.

8. Cleanup on aisle T (Boone). Oklahoma State turned the ball over five times in a 41-38 win over Troy last week. This week, Tulsa comes to down with another dynamic playmaker on offense, Damaris Johnson. The Golden Hurricane's only loss came on a Hail Mary in Week 1 against East Carolina, and if the Cowboys don't take care of the ball, they may be in trouble.

9. Speaking of squeaky clean. Texas A&M fumbled the ball four times on special teams last week, while also mixing in a punt return for a touchdown and downing a punt at the 1-yard line. Those kinds of mistakes won't cost them a win against Florida International, but if they don't eliminate them, they will eventually.

10. Jake who? You mean, like a cabinet-type thing? The Blackshirts shut down a whole lot of good quarterbacks last year. Blaine Gabbert, Colt McCoy, Tyrod Taylor and Landry Jones among them. If they want to live up to lofty expectations set by the Brothers Pelini this offseason, adding Washington's Jake Locker to the list of players who struggled against them would be a good start.

Big 12 Media Days schedule

July, 14, 2010
7/14/10
11:57
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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?
Some of you have asked for it, and since it makes sense to do it early on, I’ll be breaking down the Big 12 over the next couple of days. Today, I’ll give my take on the North and South races. Tomorrow, I’ll put them together for my own pre-spring power rankings.

Update: My pre-spring power rankings will go up later this afternoon.

1. Nebraska
The Huskers will do without the services of the House of Spears, but the Pelini brothers’ defense was hardly built around one player. Replacing linebacker Phillip Dillard and safeties Matt O’Hanlon and Larry Asante won’t be easy, but the Nebraska defense should still be stout.

As for the offense, last season’s home loss to Iowa State in which the Huskers had more turnovers (8) than points (7) would suggest the only way to go is up.

To repeat in the North, the Huskers must defend Memorial Stadium, where they’ll get to face Missouri and Texas.

2. Missouri
Missouri returns 18 starters, including junior quarterback Blaine Gabbert, who threw for 3,593 yards and 24 touchdowns as a sophomore.

He’ll need support from still-maturing senior corners Carl Gettis and Kevin Rutland, who gave up 427 yards passing to Baylor freshman quarterback Nick Florence (almost 200 more yards than he had in any other game last season) in an ugly home loss to the Bears, negating Gabbert’s career high of 468 yards.

For Missouri, taking back the North will mean surviving a difficult early conference schedule, which opens with Colorado but then forces the Tigers to play at Texas A&M before hosting Oklahoma. The next week, they travel to Lincoln for another showdown with Nebraska that would give the winner the inside track at a North title.

3. Kansas State
The Wildcats busted in their bowl-or-bust game against Nebraska to close out last season, but will try and rebound with a run at the North title. They’ll miss Brandon Banks’ kick returns, but Daniel Thomas (1,265 yards in 2009) wouldn’t mind getting his number called almost 250 times again like he did last season. For Kansas State, the earlier the uncertainty ends at quarterback, the better. Three candidates enter spring with a chance to start.

4. Kansas
The personnel behind Kansas’ missing offensive firepower last season is gone. Kansas standouts QB Todd Reesing, receivers Dezmon Briscoe and Kerry Meier and running back Jake Sharp won’t return, and new coach Turner Gill will try to patch back together a team that finished last season on a seven-game losing streak after winning its conference opener against Iowa State.

Sophomore running back Toben Opurum provides a nice foundation for Gill’s new offense after playing well when Sharp sat out or was slowed with injuries.

5. Iowa State
Paul Rhoads’ team showed progress in 2009, finishing the season with a win over Minnesota in the Insight Bowl for the program’s first winning season since 2005. He’ll try to improve on that with only four defensive starters returning this season.

Quarterback Austen Arnaud and running back Alexander Robinson return, but on the Cyclones’ schedule, so do Oklahoma and Texas. They’ll also face Utah, Iowa and Northern Illinois in nonconference games. Returning to a bowl for a second consecutive season won’t be easy.

6. Colorado
The Buffaloes didn’t earn much respect around the conference after giving up 54 points to Toledo in an early-season loss in 2009. They finished with three close losses at Iowa State and Oklahoma State before finishing the season with a home loss to North champ Nebraska.

If Colorado wants to dig itself out of the North basement, it’ll need Tyler Hansen to play like he did in the first half of a win over Kansas in Hansen’s first start, when the Buffaloes charged to a 24-3 second-quarter lead behind two Hansen touchdowns.

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