NCF Nation: Marcus Lucas

What to watch in the SEC: Week 15

December, 5, 2013
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Almost nobody thought these two teams -- neither of which even reached bowl eligibility a season ago after going a combined 2-14 in SEC play -- would be here when the season started, but here we are. No. 3 Auburn (11-1) and No. 5 Missouri (11-1) will meet in Atlanta on Saturday with an SEC championship, a BCS bowl berth and maybe a spot in the national championship game at stake.

Let's take a look at five things to watch in Saturday's showdown at the Georgia Dome:

Possible hangovers: One could hardly blame Auburn if it entered this game a bit flat. Gus Malzahn's Tigers are coming off consecutive miracle wins against their biggest rivals: Georgia and Alabama. Chris Davis' missed field goal return for a touchdown against the top-ranked Crimson Tide resonated outside the sports world, considering that it was a subject on conversation on “The View” and the “Today” show and not just on sports highlight shows. Likewise, an emotional win against Texas A&M prompted the home fans to empty onto the field after Missouri clinched the SEC East title last Saturday. If one of these teams starts slowly Saturday, it could easily find itself facing a big deficit early in the game.

Defending the run: If Missouri is able to slow down Auburn's powerful running game (No. 5 nationally at 318.2 YPG), it will be in a small group of defenses that has been successful in that endeavor this season. Alabama -- which entered last week's game ranked fourth nationally against the run -- couldn't do it, as Auburn ran 52 times for 296 yards. In fact, Auburn has run for at least 200 yards in all but one game this season. Tre Mason (237 carries, 1,317 yards, 18 TDs) is the league's top rusher at 109.8 yards per game and quarterback Nick Marshall (140-922, 10 TDs) is eighth at 83.8 YPG. Meanwhile, Missouri -- which is 14th nationally against the run (119.1 YPG) has yet to allow 200 yards in any game. Let's not forget about the other side of this token, however. Missouri's offense performs with more balance than Auburn's, but its running game has been extremely productive, as well. Missouri ranks second in the league in rushing offense (236.2 YPG) with Henry Josey (153-951, 13 TDs) leading the way and ranking ninth in the league with 79.2 yards per game.

Auburn secondary against Missouri's big wideouts: Auburn has done a good job of pressuring opposing quarterbacks, but its secondary has been erratic at best. The Tigers surrendered 277 passing yards and three touchdowns to Alabama quarterback AJ McCarron last week -- including a 99-yard touchdown pass to Amari Cooper -- and gave up 415 yards to Georgia's Aaron Murray in the previous game. Overall, Auburn ranks second-to-last in the SEC against the pass (256.7 YPG), which is a scary sign with Missouri's big, talented receiving corps on deck. The Tigers have the No. 5 passing offense in the league (252.6 YPG), featuring L'Damian Washington (44 catches, 824 yards, 10 TDs) and Dorial Green-Beckham (49-686, 10 TDs), who rank seventh and 12th, respectively, in the SEC in receiving yards per game. Senior Marcus Lucas (50-596, 2 TDs) ranks 10th with 4.17 catches per game.

[+] EnlargeMichael Sam
Zumapress/Icon SMIMichael Sam and Missouri's defensive front will be tested by Auburn's powerful run game.
Containing quarterbacks: Marshall's emergence has been one of the leading factors in Auburn's revival after last season's dismal results. Not only is he poised to become a 1,000-yard rusher, but he has made some enormous plays in the passing game -- and not just the miracle pass for the game-winning, 73-yard touchdown to Ricardo Louis against Georgia. He hit Sammie Coates with a crucial game-tying touchdown pass in the final minute against Alabama, went for 339 yards -- including the game-winning touchdown pass to C.J. Uzomah with 10 seconds remaining -- against Mississippi State and made some huge throws in the road win against Texas A&M. He has fumbled 11 times this season (and only lost four), however, so Missouri's turnover-happy defense (SEC-high 27 takeaways) will most certainly look to generate some momentum off Marshall turnovers. On the other hand, Mizzou's James Franklin creates major matchup issues of his own. The 6-foot-2, 230-pound quarterback earned the nickname “Frank the Tank” with his physical running style, although it would be understandable if he hesitated to put his shoulder down Saturday after missing four games with a shoulder injury suffered against Georgia. Franklin was a combined 30-for-47 for 375 yards, two touchdowns and one interception against Ole Miss and Texas A&M since returning from the injury and also rushed 26 times for 122 yards in those two games, so he appears to be back to the form that makes him so difficult to corral.

Defensive playmakers: Few defensive players, if any, have made a bigger impact around the SEC this season than Mizzou defensive end Michael Sam. He leads the league with 10.5 sacks and 18 tackles for a loss, while fellow defensive lineman Markus Golden is fourth with 13 TFLs and Kony Ealy (9.5) and Shane Ray (9.0) aren't far outside the top 10. If Auburn's typical form holds, Mizzou won't have much of a chance to add to its SEC-leading sack total, but its defensive front will be the determining factor in whether it can handle Auburn's running game. Aside from defensive end Dee Ford (eight sacks, 12 TFLs), Auburn doesn't have many defensive players whose individual stats jump off the page. But a deep defensive line and playmakers like Robenson Therezie, Ryan Smith and Davis have combined to deliver some clutch plays when the Tigers needed a boost the most.

Missouri's SEC run rests on Maty Mauk

October, 17, 2013
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All it took was a harmless pitch out of bounds by quarterback James Franklin to conjure up feelings of déjà vu for Missouri's football team.

He made a smart decision, but paid for it by getting slung to the ground by two Georgia defenders early in the fourth quarter last Saturday. Franklin hopped up and jerked his right arm a couple of times. On the next play, he passed up an opportunity to sprint upfield on a designed run, cutting left toward Georgia's sideline for a 4-yard gain.

"We had no idea what was going on," center Evan Boehm said. "You see James with a wide-open field and two defenders in front of him, and he sprinted towards the sideline. We were kind of drawn back, like there is something wrong with James. Then we saw him run to the sideline and take his helmet off and we knew it's time for Maty (Mauk) to come in."

[+] EnlargeMaty Mauk
Kevin C. Cox/Getty ImagesMaty Mauk has a tough draw in his first college start: Florida, the top-ranked defense in the SEC.
After a timeout, Mauk, a redshirt freshman, faced a third-and-6 from Mizzou's 45-yard line. With an empty set, Mauk took the snap, paused, and ran for the first down, slipping through a couple of tackles along the way.

Two plays later, a double pass resulted in a 40-yard touchdown pass from Bud Sasser to L'Damian Washington, giving Mizzou a 34-26 lead that it never relinquished.

With Franklin on the sideline, shoulder wrapped, Mauk completed all three of his passes for 23 yards, including a long of 20 to Dorial Green-Beckham. Mauk wasn't asked to do much, but that changes now.

"I'm not the type to get nervous," Mauk told reporters earlier this week. "I usually get a little hyped."

With Franklin out three to five weeks with a separated right shoulder, Mauk is now the guy, and the 14th-ranked Tigers (6-0, 2-0 SEC), who were so hot, have to turn to the youngster to get through the meat of the SEC schedule.

"It's hard to lose a leader on the field, but at the same time, we know that he [Franklin] wants to be out there and it might make us play harder, knowing that he can't be out there," wide receiver Marcus Lucas said. "We're going to play for him.

"We have another quarterback coming in and we have full confidence in him. I don't think there's going to be any letdown."

And there can't be. Mizzou topped Georgia but now faces Florida, which owns the nation's third-ranked defense, on Saturday before hosting No. 11 South Carolina. If Missouri is going to stay in contention for the SEC East, Mauk has to grow up in a hurry. He entered the Georgia game with just three career pass attempts for 18 yards, which all came in Week 1.

Now, his first test as the Tigers' starter comes against a Florida defense leading the SEC in pass defense (152 yards per game), rush defense (83.3) and total defense (235.3).

"It might be the best defense in the country," Mizzou coach Gary Pinkel said. "I don't think you worry about that. I don't think you do that. You have to trust the people around you."

Mauk has plenty around him. Mizzou is one of three SEC teams with three receivers who have gained more than 300 receiving yards, including Washington and Green-Beckham, who rank fifth and seventh in the SEC in receiving and have combined for 854 yards and 11 touchdowns.

"The timing might not be completely there right now, but as receivers, we're going to have to make that extra play," said Lucas, who has 301 yards and a touchdown on a team-high 30 receptions. "We're going to have to make plays for him to get his confidence up."

Missouri also has three running backs with 350 or more yards on the season. Mauk also ran a similar offense in high school as offensive coordinator Josh Henson runs now. He can extend plays with his fight and might be a tad faster than Franklin. Lucas also said he's made some big throws from the pocket in practice.

"He was a parade All-American coming out of high school there in Ohio, and a guy, who athletically, can do everything that they want to do," Florida coach Will Muschamp said of Mauk.

Lucas said the Tigers' momentum hasn't dipped with Franklin sidelined, mainly because of the trust they have in Mauk, who arrived at Mizzou with comparisons to Brad Smith attached to him.

The first test is Florida, and while Lucas respects that defense, he still likes what his offense has, even with Franklin out.

"We're scoring a lot of points on offense so we're just going to use the things we've been doing and we're going to attack them with everything we've got," he said.

"I think we have a good chance of exploiting what they do. We have so many playmakers on the field. I like our guys against them."


ATHENS, Ga. -- One of the teams in Saturday's Georgia-Missouri game is a top-10 team and, until Saturday, felt like the overwhelming favorite to win the SEC East.

Then No. 7 Georgia (4-1, 3-0 SEC) barely survived a Tennessee upset bid, winning 34-31 in overtime while losing several key players to injury, while No. 25 Missouri (5-0, 1-0) smashed Vanderbilt 51-28 on its home field. And suddenly the Bulldogs' chances of winning the SEC East -- and their odds of winning Saturday's game at Sanford Stadium -- don't feel like such safe bets anymore.

“I'm not surprised to see Missouri jump in the top 25. They're an undefeated team and played extremely well against a good Vanderbilt team,” said Georgia coach Mark Richt, whose team dropped a spot in this week's Associated Press Top 25, while Mizzou entered the poll for the first time since September 2011. “… As far as where we are right now, it doesn't really matter all that much right this minute. What's important, really, is to try to score some points and slow Missouri down a little bit.”

[+] EnlargeAaron Murray
Jim Brown/USA TODAY SportsAaron Murray had reason to celebrate after Georgia's overtime win at Tennessee.
Missouri rolled through the first month of the season, blasting four overmatched nonconference opponents like Murray State and Indiana with its prolific spread offense.

Skeptics had reason to question the validity of that production because of the lower level of competition, but cracking the 50-point barrier in Nashville quieted much of that criticism. Sure, the Commodores aren't at the level of Alabama or Florida on defense, but they had not allowed 50 points to an opponent since 2010.

After demolishing Vandy on Saturday, Missouri passed Georgia for second in the league in total offense (543.8 ypg) and is second in scoring (46.6 ppg). The Tigers will face a Georgia defense that surrendered 277 yards after halftime to Tennessee's underwhelming offense.

Richt disputed the notion, however, that Georgia's fortunes rest on whether its offense is productive on a given Saturday since the defense has consistently struggled.

“I think we're all just one team, we're Georgia, and we know that regardless of the situation or the score, we're expecting our defense to get stops and our offense to score points and whatever it takes to win is all we're worried about right now,” he said.

After at least two Bulldogs -- tailback Keith Marshall, filling in for All-SEC star Todd Gurley, and receiver Justin Scott-Wesley -- suffered season-ending knee injuries against Tennessee. Receiver Michael Bennett also went down with a knee injury that will sideline him for at least the near future.

Quarterback Aaron Murray's late-game heroics saved the Bulldogs from a stunning upset, but they must regroup quickly in order to hang with Missouri's explosive offense where quarterback James Franklin has three of the conference's most productive receivers – Dorial Green-Beckham, Marcus Lucas and L'Damian Washington -- and the SEC's top rushing attack (258.8 ypg) at his disposal.

“No doubt, they're very good,” Richt said. “We think they're playing at a lot higher level on offense this year than a year ago. I think now their quarterback's healthy and he's just performing so well and you've got big, physical, great-looking receivers, but they're running the ball well. It's not just the passing game, that's for sure. A lot of yards -- they're averaging over 550 yards or so -- a lot of points per game. They're really doing some great things.”
James Franklin, Guz MalzahnAP PhotosMissouri hopes a healthy James Franklin leads to big things, while Auburn is looking for Guz Malzahn to lead the team back to prominence.
SEC bloggers Chris Low and Edward Aschoff will occasionally give their takes on a burning question or hot debate facing the league. We'll both have strong opinions, but not necessarily the same view. We'll let you decide which blogger is right.

With the Sweet 16 runs made by Florida Gulf Coast and La Salle capturing the hearts of the nation, we decided to check out potential Cinderellas in the SEC this fall.

Today's Take Two topic: Who has the best chance of playing SEC Cinderella in 2013 -- Auburn or Missouri?

Take 1: Edward Aschoff

Who will be the FGCU or La Salle of the SEC this fall? I’m going with the Missouri Tigers. This group was battered and bruised for most of 2012, and no one is giving them much respect at all in 2013. But those injuries should be healed up by September, and the Tigers could shock a few people this fall.

The offense was in shambles last year because neither the offensive line nor quarterback James Franklin stayed healthy. However, Missouri returns just about everyone up front and Franklin says his shoulder is better than ever. A good shoulder leads to a better throwing arm and a more confident quarterback. Plus, he’s extremely motivated to prove he’s one of the league’s best quarterbacks.

Along with that healthy line, Franklin will have a wealth of talent to work with, starting with a deep receiving corps led by Dorial Green-Beckham and Marcus Lucas, who totaled 904 yards and eight touchdowns last year, and a backfield that should have a healthy Henry Josey back. Remember, he was the Big 12’s best running back in 2011 before his devastating knee injury midway through the year.

The defense does worry me because of the holes in the front seven, but a healthier Mizzou offense will score more points next year and will make this team better equipped to challenge opposing SEC defenses. The Tigers will pull a big upset this year, and getting Florida, South Carolina and Texas A&M at home works in their favor.

Take 2: Chris Low

All this Cinderella talk has me thinking glass slippers and fairy godmothers. But, hey, we’re talking football Cinderellas, and my pick for the 2013 season is Auburn, which is coming off a train wreck of a season a year ago that saw the Tigers go winless in the SEC and Gene Chizik lose his job two years removed from winning a national title.

A familiar face on the Plains, Gus Malzahn, is back as head coach, and I have no doubt that he will find a way to put an offense on the field next season that will move the ball and score points. He’s done it everywhere he’s been. And on defense, veteran coordinator Ellis Johnson will see to it that the Tigers play to their talent level, particularly up front. They’re experienced and deep at tackle, and that’s always a good place to start in the SEC.

A fresh start should do wonders for the Tigers, who were a disjointed bunch last season. Talent wasn’t the problem. They were far more talented than they played a year ago, and Malzahn has assembled a staff loaded with SEC experience that will maximize that talent. All the Tigers need is a little confidence early, and the schedule is tailor-made for that. They play five of their first six games at home.

If Malzahn and offensive coordinator Rhett Lashlee can get the quarterback position up to speed, this is a team that could easily bounce back with an eight-win season and play in an attractive bowl game.
If Mark Richt and his Georgia Bulldogs are in the Twilight Zone, consider Missouri and Texas A&M the stars of "Trading Places."

In a year that was supposed to be a fine welcome for the Tigers and a rude awakening for the Aggies, both programs have switched roles as they prepare for Saturday's matchup against each other.

[+] EnlargeJames Franklin
Scott Kane/Icon SMIMissouri QB James Franklin has had his fair share of on-field challenges this season.
Missouri (5-6, 2-5 SEC) was supposed to be all smiles heading into College Station. They were supposed to have the high-flying offense and the deadly dual-threat quarterback. Missouri, which had more experience and more confidence coming into the SEC was supposed to challenge for the SEC Eastern Division.

But these new kids on the block aren't putting out many hits in their first year in the SEC.

Instead, No. 9 Texas A&M (9-2, 5-2) is a national darling and is equipped with a Heisman frontrunner in quarterback Johnny Manziel. Even with a brand new coaching staff, brand new offense, brand new defense and a brand new quarterback, the Aggies are in line for a BCS bowl. They even took down No. 1 Alabama ... in Tuscaloosa.

Roles really have reversed here. Missouri's James Franklin, who broke out onto the college football scene last year with his 2,865 passing yards and 981 rushing yards, was supposed to be the SEC's top dual-threat QB. But he's been held together by bandages this season and won't come close to his 2011 numbers, as he's averaging 1.4 yards per carry this season.

Johnny Football, who has become the first freshman and fifth NCAA FBS player to pass for 3,000 yards and rush for 1,000 yards in a season, now owns Franklin's old title, as he looks to extend his eight-game streak of having 300 or more total yards of offense.

The offenses flipped as well. Missouri returned so much experience and speed. The offensive line had good experience and the wide receivers were supposed to make Dave Yost's spread offense a challenge for SEC defenses.

Unfortunately for the Tigers, injuries piled up on the offensive line. All five preseason starters have gone down -- some for the season. Add inconsistency at wide receiver, and Mizzou's offense has gone in reverse, averaging just 316 yards in SEC games (12th in the conference).

[+] EnlargeJohnny Manziel
Cal Sport Media via AP ImagesQB Johnny Manziel has gone above and beyond expectations for the Aggies' first season in the SEC.
We thought we'd see a breakout year from the likes of Marcus Lucas or L'Damian Washington at wide receiver. And former No. 1 recruit Dorial Green-Beckham's impact in the passing game was supposed to come much earlier and more often.

Coach Gary Pinkel said he expected the SEC to be tough, but he never thought Mizzou would limp through the season like this. You have to wonder if the physicality of this league really has affected the Tigers.

Remember how the Aggies lost their starting quarterback and were completely changing the offense? Well, A&M leads the SEC in total offense (543.7 yards per game) rushing (234.9) and scoring (43.5). A&M is also second in passing (308.8). Kevin Sumlin has done a phenomenal job in his first year and many hats have to go off to offensive coordinator Kliff Kingsbury for the job he's done with Manziel and that offense.

Having receivers like Ryan Swope, who could have left for the NFL this spring, and Mike Evans combine for 124 catches, 1,681 yards and 10 touchdowns helps, but it's also nice to have a stout offensive line with two future first-rounder at the tackle spots in Luke Joeckel and Jake Matthews.

Both defenses have played well, but the Aggies were expected to struggle mightily with a brand new secondary. Instead, the Aggies have done enough to be about even with Tigers in pass defense.

Overall, these two teams just aren't what we expected. A&M has swag, Missouri has bruises.

Sumlin kept his guys working out for two extra weeks before spring practice and it has obviously helped with endurance and health. This team hasn't slowed down, even though it hasn't had a bye week, and that extra work is a major reason why.

Texas A&M is clearly on the rise, and this season should only help recruiting, where the Aggies will really be able to hit Texas -- and the southeast -- even harder with their success and popularity.

Sumlin has already been cleaning up with his 12th-ranked recruiting class Insider that has four ESPN 150 members and seven ESPN 300 members. Missouri has 17 commits with one ESPN 300 member.

It's too early to tell what impact this season will have in the long run in recruiting, but it's clear that 2012 has really helped A&M, and the Aggies are leaving Mizzou behind. They've done it on the football field and if they do it in recruiting, these roles won't change.

Mizzou, South Carolina, victorious

November, 10, 2012
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Missouri 51, Tennessee 48 (4 OT): Redshirt freshman kicker Andrew Baggett connected on a 35-yard field goal, lifting the Tigers to a thrilling four-overtime road victory at Neyland Stadium.

Missouri needed a near-miracle just to get the game to overtime, trailing 28-21 in the final minute of regulation. The Tigers converted two fourth downs, including a 25-yard touchdown pass from James Franklin to Dorial Green-Beckham on 4th-and-12 to tie the game at 28-28 with 47 seconds left.

Boos rained down from the fans at Neyland when the Volunteers decided to run out the clock and go to overtime.

The teams exchanged touchdowns in the first two overtimes, and Missouri receiver Marcus Lucas made another impressive catch, an 18-yard reception reminiscent of Green-Beckham's regulation haul, to send it to a third overtime tied at 42.

The teams exchanged touchdowns and failed two-point conversion attempts in the third overtime, then Tennessee coach Derek Dooley made an interesting decision in the fourth overtime, electing to go for it on fourth-and-3 at the Missouri 18. Quarterback Tyler Bray's pass to Zach Rogers fell incomplete and the Vols paid for it when the Tigers capitalized with Baggett's game-winning kick.

The loss keeps Tennessee (4-6, 0-6 SEC) winless in conference play while the Tigers (5-5, 2-5) picked up their second SEC win.

Franklin's day was a good one, as he went 19-of-32 for 226 yards with four touchdowns and an interception. He also picked up 43 yards on the ground, and senior running back Kendial Lawrence rolled to a 153-yard, two-touchdown day on 21 carries, which included a 77-yard third-quarter touchdown run.

Tennessee was awful in the penalty department, committing 11 for 80 yards.

South Carolina 38, Arkansas 20: Connor Shaw and the Gamecocks receivers found plenty of room downfield en route to the resounding victory against the Razorbacks at Williams-Brice Stadium.

Shaw, the Gamecocks' junior quarterback, was 14-of-22 passing for 272 yards and two touchdowns. He was able to hit on big plays down the field early and often -- the first coming on a 29-yard pass to a wide-open freshman tight end Jerell Adams.

The Razorbacks moved the ball well themselves in the first half, getting inside the Gamecocks' 10 on three straight drives, but only yielded 10 points from those three trips. The first ended in a lost fumble by Dennis Johnson, the second resulted in a 6-yard touchdown pass from Tyler Wilson to Keon Hatcher, and the third stalled before becoming a short Zach Hocker field goal.

Shaw continued his downfield assault before the half, hitting a wide open Bruce Ellington for a 42-yard touchdown at the 1:30 mark, giving South Carolina a 21-10 lead going into halftime.

The defense got in on the act in the third quarter when D.J. Swearinger stepped in front of a Wilson pass and returned it 69 yards for a score and a 31-10 lead.

The Gamecocks put ample pressure on Wilson, sacking him four times and picking up four hurries as well. Wilson was productive when he did have time (26-of-41, 277 yards) but threw two interceptions with his two touchdowns.

South Carolina was able to keep the chains moving fairly well, converting 7-of-13 attempts on third down. That's an area where Arkansas struggled mightily (3-of-17). The turnover battle went in the Gamecocks' favor also, 3-1, with the only South Carolina turnover coming with Shaw taking a shot in the end zone holding a 38-13 lead in the fourth.

Proving ground: Eastern Division

August, 20, 2012
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Now that you've seen Chris' five players in the SEC West with the most to prove this fall, let's take at the five players in the East who have a lot to prove in 2012:

Tyler Bray, QB, Tennessee: There's no doubting Bray's passing ability, but he's yet to play an entire season for the Vols. He came on late as a freshman and missed five games last year after breaking his thumb against Georgia. Can he stay on the field for a full season? He also has to get rid of his lazy tendencies on the field, something he's said he's worked hard at since the spring. Also, after proclaiming this spring that he was taking his leadership to another level, Bray transgressed with off-the-field issues. He has to be more serious on and off the field.

[+] EnlargeJadeveon Clowney
Scott Cunningham/Getty ImagesThe expectations have ramped up for Jadaveon Clowney after a very strong freshman season.
Jadeveon Clowney, DE, South Carolina: We all know how talented and athletic Clowney is, but he's getting a ton of press and attention heading into his sophomore season. He's being moved around the defense by South Carolina's coaches, but can he duplicate or improve on the eight sacks and 12 tackles for loss he had during his rookie season? A lot is expected from Clowney in his second year and while the coaches are thrilled with his progress we still have to see it on the field. His play could dictate a lot when it comes to the Gamecocks' defense.

Mike Gillislee, RB, Florida: The Gators are looking for their first real downhill rusher since Tim Tebow left. Gillislee is now the guy and its time for him to get over his inconsistencies on the field. One problem he had was just not getting comfortable in Florida's offense.Gillislee means so much this fall because the offense might have to revolve around him. With two young quarterbacks battling it out, the running game will have to be strong for Florida, and that starts with Gillislee. The way he goes is the same way the offense will go.

Marcus Lucas, WR, Missouri: Offensive coordinator David Yost said this spring that he tried to get Lucas on the field as much as possible last fall because of his speed and playmaking ability. The result was 23 catches for 414 yards and five touchdowns. Now, Yost wants more. Lucas admits he slacked some during his first years, but insists that he's totally dialed in now. Mizzou is still looking for a true downfield passing game and Lucas has what it takes to be a top deep threat in this league. A lot of attention has been paid to highly touted freshman Dorial Green-Beckham, but Mizzou's staff wants -- and needs -- a big year out of Lucas.

Aaron Murray, QB, Georgia: He has all the tools and leadership qualities, but as he enters his junior season, Murray still has the reputation for struggling in big games. He has a 2-7 record against ranked teams and has admitted to pressing too much and trying to take on too much in bigger games. That comes with building more trust and chemistry. Murray had a rough start and finish to the 2011 season, and the criticism continues to roll in. Still, Murray could be a possible Heisman candidate if he can stay calmer in the pocket and let his receiving weapons help him more.
Justin Hunter and Da'Rick RogersAP Photo/Wade PayneJustin Hunter (11) and Da'Rick Rogers (21) are considered to be the best receiving duo in the SEC.
Our SEC position rankings continue with a look at schools' wide receiver and tight end groups.

Past rankings:
On to the league's wide receiver/tight end groups:

1. Tennessee: The Vols are equipped with two of the top wideouts in the league with Da'Rick Rogers, who was second in the SEC in receiving last year, and Justin Hunter, who might be the SEC's top deep threat. It sounds like Hunter will be 100 percent this fall after his ACL injury last year. Junior college transfer Cordarrelle Patterson is big, fast and possesses the big-play gene. The speedy Zach Rogers is back and is so is talented tight end Mychal Rivera.

2. Arkansas: Cobi Hamilton is now Arkansas' primary receiver, and he might be the league's most complete wideout. He can make the big-play and elude defenders along the way. While Marquel Wade's status is still unclear, if he does return, he'll be a major lift for this offense because of his playmaking ability in the slot. Julian Horton and Javontee Herndon have always impressed coaches in practice and now will get their chances to in games. Tight end Chris Gragg should be even more involved and is the league's top tight end.

3. Georgia: While Malcolm Mitchell could go back and forth between receiver and corner, when he's at receiver he's Georgia's top offensive threat and was one of the league's best as a rookie. There are vets behind him, starting with reliable senior Tavarres King, who had a very good spring, senior Marlon Brown, who seemed to take a big step in his game this spring. Sophomores Michael Bennett and Chris Conley combined for 48 catches for 608 yards and seven touchdowns last year. Unproven tight ends Arthur Lynch and Jay Rome will replace Orson Charles and Aron White.

4. Texas A&M: This isn't the fastest group out there, but there are some pretty reliable weapons, starting with star Ryan Swope, who could have left for the NFL after catching 89 passes for 1,207 yards and 11 touchdowns last year. Uzoma Nwachukwu was third on the team with 50 catches for 639 yards and three tight ends -- Nehemiah Hicks, Michael Lamothe and Hutson Prioleau -- return. Keep an eye on junior Nate Askew, who could be a downfield threat this fall.

5. LSU: Odell Beckham Jr. was one of the top rookies last year and could be even better in Year 2. He'll be joined by potential deep threat and big-play target Jarvis Landry, who developed some good chemistry with quarterback Zach Mettenberger this spring. Russell Shepard is talented, but he's been wildly inconsistent. Keep an eye on junior James Wright and incoming frosh Avery Johnson, who is the younger brother of Patrick Peterson. Also, tight end Chase Clement is on the John Mackey watch list.

[+] EnlargeJordan Matthews
Don McPeak/US PresswireWide receiver Jordan Matthews is one player the Commodores will be counting on this fall.
6. Vanderbilt: This group surprised last year and returns most of its components, starting with Jordan Matthews, who was fourth in the SEC in receiving last year. Sophomore Chris Boyd was solid last year, hauling in 31 catches and eight touchdowns. Jonathan Krause is very good in space and should see his role increase this fall after a solid spring. The coaches are excited about former QB Josh Grady moving to receiver. Replacing tight end Brandon Barden won't be easy.

7. Alabama: There is more speed out wide in Tuscaloosa, but there's a lot more youth. The Tide could turn to freshmen Chris Black, Amari Cooper and Eddie Williams to help develop a more downfield passing game. More will be expected from veterans Kenny Bell and Kevin Norwood, while sophomore DeAndrew White possesses a ton of speed. Still no word on Duron Carter. Tight end Michael Williams was solid last year, but will be used even more this fall.

8. Mississippi State: There is a lot of experience here, but this group has still underperformed at times, especially senior Chad Bumphis, who has yet to live up to all the hype that followed him from high school. Seniors Chris Smith and Arceto Clark combined for 65 catches last year, while the staff is very excited about the big-play potential redshirt freshman Joe Morrow possesses. Tight end Malcolm Johnson serves as a very reliable tight end target, as well.

9. Missouri: The Tigers lost two starting receivers and stud tight end Michael Egnew, but three of the top five pass catchers are back, including inside threat T.J. Moe, who led Mizzou in receiving last year. Big things are expected from Marcus Lucas, who can stretch the field with his speed and physicality, and the coaches think L'Damian Washington can also be a downfield threat. Also, Dorial Green-Beckham, last year's top recruit, should make an immediate impact. Eric Waters is replacing Egnew, but has just two career catches and suffered a knee injury this spring.

10. Auburn: Emory Blake is one of the league's top downfield threats and has been one of Auburn's most consistent offensive weapons. So has tight end Philip Lutzenkirchen, who should be more of a passing threat with the addition of transfer fullback Jay Prosch. There is a lot of depth, but it's unproven. Trovon Reed was supposed to be a star, but had a lackluster second year. Seniors Travante Stallworth and DeAngelo Benton have 15 and 14 career catches, respectively. Quan Bray has shown potential and could have a bigger role this season and keep an eye on freshman Ricardo Louis.

11. Florida: The Gators have struggled here since 2009 and still lack proven playmakers. Andre Debose is probably the best bet to be one, but he's been very inconsistent. Quinton Dunbar has the speed to be an outside threat, but caught just 14 passes last year. And the coaches are still waiting for senior Frankie Hammond Jr. to turn things up. True freshman Latroy Pittman had a great spring and the coaches are excited about his potential. Tight end Jordan Reed is one of the most athletic players in the league and will be a bigger target with two young quarterbacks throwing the ball.

12. South Carolina: Now that Alshon Jeffery is gone, the Gamecocks have questions and inexperience here. The fast, athletic Ace Sanders is the only returning pass catcher with at least 20 catches from last year (29). The hope is Bruce Ellington will be more of a factor this fall. Tight ends Justice Cunningham and Rory Anderson combined for 26 catches and four touchdowns. Damiere Byrd has blazing speed, but caught just one pass last year. DeAngelo Smith had a solid spring, and the coaches hope he can be a downfield threat. A lot will be expected from incoming freshman Shaq Roland.

13. Ole Miss: Sophomore Donte Moncrief is a budding star in this league and thinks he'll be even better in Hugh Freeze's spread offense. Ja-Mes Logan caught 20 passes last year, but had a very good spring. But Nickolas Brassell was an academic casualty and Randall Mackey had to move over from quarterback. The coaches are looking for consistency from Terrell Grant and Vince Sanders, who are both pretty unproven. Tight end Jamal Mosley is expected to do more in the spread and averaged 13.8 yards per catch last year.

14. Kentucky: Joker Phillips' goal this spring was to find more playmakers and he thinks he did with sophomore Demarco Robinson, who had five receptions last year, and redshirt freshman Daryl Collins. The hope is that they'll take some pressure off of La'Rod King, who is really the only proven receiving threat on the team. Tight ends Ronnie Shields and Tyler Robinson did well this spring, but combined for just 10 catches last year.
We're all looking for the next great thing. Whether it's in life or in football, new and better is what's popular.

As we get closer and closer to the 2012 college football season, we'll continue to poke and prod every team out there in order to figure out which teams should be front-runners and which teams will be in the rearview mirror for most of the season.

ESPN's KC Joyner points out that one way we can judge teams is by the amount of returning starts they have. But he also points out that sometimes new can be better in his look at four breakout first-time starters for 2012 .

Joyner's lone SEC member is LSU rising junior cornerback Tharold Simon. It's a good pick by Joyner. While I don't think he'll be the game-changer that Morris Claiborne was, he might be a better cover corner in one-on-one situations. Joyner points out some interesting facts concerning the two that might suggest that Simon does have better coverage skills, but isn't the ball hawk that Claiborne was.

We'll find out this season.

We'll find out if other new starters can get the job done and maybe make their positions better this fall as well, so why not take a look at a few more SEC players who will be stepping into new starting roles this fall?

Don't expect to see the obvious candidates, such as South Carolina defensive end Jadeveon Clowney or LSU quarterback Zach Mettenberger. Tennessee wide receiver Justin Hunter and Alabama running back Eddie Lacy aren't on here either because we know what those players bring to the table. Also, no junior college transfers. Sorry Denico Autry.

[+] EnlargeMike Gillislee
Phil Sears/US PresswireMike Gillislee (left) made a case during the spring to be Florida's top running back.
Here are 10 first-time starters to keep an eye on in the SEC:

  • Kony Ealy, DE, Missouri: The Tigers' defensive line will get a lot of attention this fall, as it makes the transition to playing against SEC offensive lines. Ealy is a player who could make much more of an impact this fall. He left spring as a starter on the outside and the coaches think he has a good bit of upside to him. He started just one game last year, registering three tackles for loss, but seemed to be much more comfortable this spring.
  • Dee Ford, DE, Auburn: Ford made one start in 2010, but missed most of last season because of back issues. That didn't stop him from being one of Auburn's best players this spring and catapulting him to the top of the depth chart opposite Corey Lemonier. The rising junior was extremely disruptive this spring and looks poised to have a big year in 2012.
  • Mike Gillislee, RB, Florida: The Gators haven't had a power back since Tim Tebow and have struggled to generate any sort of consistent production between the tackles since. In steps Gillislee, who has appeared in 36 games with no starts. He's a bigger body who the coaches think will have much more of an impact up the middle, especially with what the coaches think is an improved offensive line. During his career, Gillislee has averaged 6.3 yards per carry.
  • Steven Jenkins, OLB, Texas A&M: Jenkins started during the second half of last season and had a very solid spring in College Station this year. With the Aggies moving to a 3-4 scheme, the coaches expect to get a lot more out of him in 2012. Jenkins has tremendous speed and athleticism and could be a real spark for a defense undergoing changes in a new league like the SEC.
  • Cyrus Kouandjio, OT, Alabama: Kouandjio was one of the top prospects coming out of high school and played in eight games before suffering a season-ending knee injury against Tennessee. While his conditioning suffered a little as he rehabbed, the hope is that he takes complete hold of the left tackle spot this fall, with Barrett Jones moving to center. Kouandjio has a ton of talent, but he'll have to get back healthy in order to show all his worth.
  • Jarvis Landry, WR, LSU: With Rueben Randle gone, the Tigers are looking for a new deep threat in their offense. While Odell Beckham Jr. had a bit of a breakout freshman year, keep an eye on Landry. The rising sophomore might be LSU's most athletic receiver and has a chance to take over as the Tigers' new big-play threat. He has solid speed and his bigger frame could frustrate opposing cornerbacks. Landry and Mettenberger seemed to generate good chemistry this spring, and LSU's staff hopes it carries over to the fall.
  • Marcus Lucas, WR, Missouri: Most of the focus when it has come to the Tigers' passing game has revolved around incoming freshman Dorial Green-Beckham. But don't forget about Lucas. He only started three games last year, but the coaches tried to get him on the field as much as possible because of the speed and deep-threat ability he possess. Lucas caught 23 passes in 2011, averaging 18 yards per reception, and registered five touchdowns.
  • Antonio Richardson, OT, Tennessee: The Vols were looking to enhance the play of their offensive line, and seeing Richardson's development this spring was a major plus for Tennessee's staff. After spending 2011 on special teams as a freshman, Richardson emerged this spring as the starter at left tackle. Richardson's move to left tackle shifts vet Dallas Thomas to left guard, giving what Tennessee's staff thinks is the best combination on the line.
  • Greg Robinson, OT, Auburn: The youngster redshirted last year, but could end up as the Tigers' starting left tackle this fall. Robinson said this spring that redshirting was probably the best thing he could have done. It gave him the chance to get much more comfortable with things on the field.
  • Avery Williamson, MLB, Kentucky: The Wildcats are looking to replace four starting linebackers from last year and Williamson stood out plenty of times this spring. He registered 49 tackles as Ronnie Sneed's backup at middle linebacker last year and was one of the better defensive players for the Wildcats this spring.
COLUMBIA, Mo. -- On paper, Missouri's group of wide receivers bleeds inexperience.

Outside of veteran T.J. Moe, who will be a senior this fall, Missouri's returning receiving targets have combined for 51 catches for 712 yards and five touchdowns in their careers.

But when you talk to players and coaches at Missouri, those numbers tell a much different story. They say that while the returners aren’t burning up the stat sheet, it hasn't been because of a lack of talent.

"It's only unproven because guys haven't got the chance to do anything yet," Moe said. "We have a lot of good receivers out here and we have a lot of guys out here who have made plays."

Last year, Moe led the Tigers with 54 receptions and 649 yards. Behind him, Missouri had former All-American tight end Michael Egnew (50 receptions) and seniors Wes Kemp (29 receptions) and Jerrel Jackson (17 receptions), who combined for 36 starts.

"It's hard to beat those guys out because they do all the right things," offensive coordinator David Yost said.

While most of the talk concerning Missouri's receivers has revolved around inexperience and numbers, Yost and Co. are excited about what this group can do.

[+] EnlargeMarcus Lucas
AP Photo/Matt YorkMissouri will be counting on speedy WR Marcus Lucas to make a significant impact in 2012.
Coaches and players think they have bona fide deep threats in rising juniors Marcus Lucas and L'Damian Washington. Lucas was fourth on the team in receiving last year (23 catches for 414 yards) and tied for first with five touchdowns. Washington was fifth with 20 catches for 364 yards and three scores.

Yost said both received more time as the season went on because of how explosive they were (Lucas has been clocked running a 4.3 in the 40-yard dash). Both ended the year averaging 18 yards per catch.

Washington was banged up this spring, but Lucas said he took full advantage of his time on the field. With more reps, Lucas said he shook the laziness that hurt him last year. His jogging and trudging around the field turned into sprints, his head stopped swimming and he finally learned how to finish plays after getting more comfortable in Missouri's offense.

"It comes with confidence, really," said Lucas, who caught four passes for 81 yards in Missouri's spring game. "When you don't really know exactly [what's going on] and you're guessing on what your exact assignment is it slows you down. Whenever you're out there just playing, you can play at your top-end speed."

Players like Bud Sasser, who worked at the Y position/tight end position, Gahn McGaffie and Jimmie Hunt, who caught an 88-yard touchdown in the spring game, all impressed this spring. So did tight end Eric Waters, who will now take over for Egnew, before he went down with an MCL injury that required surgery. Coach Gary Pinkel said Waters, who has two career catches, will be a key cog in the offense and should be back up to speed in three months.

Upperclassmen Rolandis Woodland, Jaleel Clark and Kerwin Stricker should also contribute more this fall and much ballyhooed recruit Dorial Green-Beckham, known around the program as "the big guy," will be on campus this summer.

"We're in pretty good shape," Pinkel said.

Before spring practice, 7-on-7 sessions helped build receiver chemistry, but what really brought this group together was not having quarterback James Franklin healthy this spring. After being sidelined with a shoulder injury, the receivers were forced to work with backups Corbin Berkstresser, Alex Demczak and Ashton Glaser.

Lucas said it was tough building chemistry with the other quarterbacks at first, but it forced the receivers to be more vocal in film sessions and in the huddle with the QBs

It also helped the receivers learn to take on more responsibility in the offense. They felt as though they were the voices this spring, and Lucas said that will be more beneficial for this group than in past seasons.

"We just want to be dominant," he said.

"We're kind of like the motor for [the offense]. We run the pace out there. If the wideouts are having a good day, it feels like the offense is having a good day."
James Franklin understands that from the outside, Missouri's wide receiver corps doesn't appear to be very polished.

Three starting pass-catchers from 2011 are gone and the leading returning receiver (T.J. Moe) caught 54 passes last year. After that, Missouri's returners have just 77 career catches combined.

[+] EnlargeT.J. Moe
Photo by Scott Rovak/US PresswireT.J. Moe, Missouri's top returning receiver, caught 54 passes in 2011.
But for Franklin, who enters his second year as Missouri's starting quarterback, he's fine with the personnel he's passing to. Players might not have excelled in games, but he saw the talent and potential just about every day in practice last fall.

"Thankfully, it's been good to have so much depth at receiver," Franklin said.

"There's just not enough positions on the field to play them all."

There will be plenty of room in 2012.

Moe already has his place carved out in Missouri's starting lineup, but he isn't the only one defenses will have to account for. Junior Marcus Lucas showcased his deep threat skills last year and will see his role expand on the outside this fall, Franklin said. He's also expecting bigger things from outside threat L'Damian Washington, who caught 25 passes in 2011.

But those are names that people are familiar with. Franklin said there is still a heap of players who should gain more attention this fall.

There's Bud Sasser, who Franklin said really caught his eye during 7-on-7 drills but is dealing with a hamstring injury, Jimmie Hunt, who caught one pass for a 54-yard touchdown and has the ability to challenge as one of Franklin's deep-threat targets, and tight end Eric Waters, who is now out of Michael Egnew's shadow.

Franklin said he was impressed by the way his receivers and tight ends performed during 7-on-7s, but he was also thrilled by how fast the chemistry started to develop with them. Chemistry, Franklin said, will boost Missouri's passing game going after losing key components from a year ago.

"Obviously, we don't have telepathy," Franklin said, "but we know what the other guy is going to do in any given situation."

What else will help is having a big, talented youngster in top wide receiver prospect Dorial Green-Beckham coming in this summer. The hype machine has been pumping away when it comes to Green-Beckham and Franklin can't help but be excited about the chance to work with the 6-foot-6, 220-pounder.

Franklin said bringing Green-Beckham in will improve Missouri's passing game in multiple ways. First, he's a bigger, faster target for him to use vertically. Secondly, he's going to grab a lot of defensive attention. He can be used as a decoy at times, which should help open things up for other players.

"Really, it opens up everyone on the field to where [the defense] is going to have to start playing each side evenly, as if everyone were the same, and that's going to open up those opportunities because we have a lot of good route runners and a lot of good playmakers," Franklin said.

It's also going to push the handful of receivers already on campus. Franklin said there are some players who are a little worried about Green-Beckham coming in and taking playing time, but he's seen that motivate players to work just a little harder.

The Tigers will face a few more questions as they make the transition to the SEC, but Franklin assures the passing game won't be an issue this fall.

Big 12 position rankings: Receivers/TEs

February, 14, 2012
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We're continuing our look at the postseason rankings for each position in the Big 12. Here's a look back at where the receivers ranked in the preseason.

In this position, unlike quarterback, depth is a major, major factor in these rankings.

More postseason position rankings:
[+] EnlargeJustin Blackmon
Doug Pensinger/Getty ImagesJustin Blackmon highlighted Oklahoma State's deep group of receivers this season.
1. Oklahoma State: The Cowboys boasted two-time Biletnikoff winner Justin Blackmon, but he wasn't the only weapon. The Cowboys had nine (!) receivers with at least 19 catches and 200 yards receiving this season. Insane. Life is good with Brandon Weeden at quarterback.

2. Baylor: Kendall Wright actually outperformed Blackmon and Ryan Broyles on the stat sheet, catching 108 balls for 1,663 yards. The Bears didn't have the insane depth of OSU, but the trio of Wright, Terrance Williams (59 rec, 957 yards, 11 TDs) and Tevin Reese (51 rec, 877 yards, 7 TDs) were all in the Big 12's top seven receivers.

3. Texas A&M: Ryan Swope emerged to become one of just four Big 12 receivers to notch 1,000-yard seasons. Jeff Fuller's season was disappointing, but he still finished eighth in the league in receiving, and Uzoma Nwachukwu was in the league's top 15 in receiving.

4. Oklahoma: The Sooners weren't quite as solid as they thought to begin the season. Broyles was as advertised, though his Biletnikoff-contending season was cut short by a torn ACL. The unit was productive, but came down with the drops late in the season. Broyles and Kenny Stills were both in the league's top seven in receiving, and Jaz Reynolds caught 41 passes for 715 yards to crack the top 10.

5. Texas Tech: Tech's top target, Darrin Moore, battled injuries all year, but Eric Ward emerged as the team's most consistent target, catching 84 passes for 800 yards and 11 scores. Alex Torres missed two games, but added 616 more yards.

6. Missouri: The Tigers' receivers had their production dip with a dual-threat passer in James Franklin who ran the ball more than his predecessor, but they were still pretty good, despite lacking a true big-time threat. T.J. Moe caught 54 passes for 649 yards and four scores. Tight end Michael Egnew added 50 grabs for 523 yards and three scores. L'Damian Washington, Marcus Lucas and Wes Kemp had unremarkable individual seasons, but their production added up to a good year for Mizzou's receivers.

7. Kansas State: Kansas State was better than most thought to begin the season, but the ground-based offense limited their receivers' ability to finish with big production. Chris Harper (40 rec, 547 yards, 5 TDs) led the group. Tramaine Thompson and Tyler Lockett showed some good promise, too.

8. Texas: The Longhorns could get really good, really fast at this spot. The uncertainty/struggles at quarterback limited this group, but Jaxon Shipley and Mike Davis could both mature into absolute stars. For now, though, they didn't quite crack the top 15 in the Big 12 in receiving. Both topped 40 catches and 600 receiving yards.

9. Iowa State: Darius Reynolds' size downfield will be missed, but Aaron Horne and Josh Lenz are tough covers working the middle of the field. Reynolds caught seven touchdowns, and Horne and Lenz both topped 38 catches.

10. Kansas: Yikes. The Jayhawks didn't have a receiver in the league's top 20, but D.J. Beshears led the team with 40 grabs for 437 yards and three touchdowns. He was the only Jayhawk in the Big 12's top 32 in receiving.

Halftime: Confidence boost for A&M DBs

October, 29, 2011
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Three different quarterbacks have set school records for passing yards against Texas A&M this year.

The Aggies have given up 15 more yards per game through the air than any defense in the country.

The defense can use all the building blocks it can get, and the Aggies got one at the end of the first half, where it leads, 28-17.

The Aggies scored 21 consecutive points to take a 14-point lead, but nothing can make that evaporate faster than giving up a touchdown at the end of the half, and then having Missouri open the second half with the ball, which the Tigers do.

A pair of Marcus Lucas catches for a combined 34 yards got Mizzou into the red zone and threatening to climb back into a game it had lost control of in the second quarter.

The defense forced two incompletions and a holding penalty negated a touchdown pass, forcing the Tigers into a 3rd-and-20, which it didn't convert.

That's an encouraging sign to build on in the second half for the Aggies. Two weeks ago, they played some of their best defense of the year in the second half against the league's top passer, Robert Griffin III, grabbing his second interception of the season and getting a turnover on downs inside the 10-yard line to turn the game heavily in their favor.

This has to feel similar.

James Franklin is a more powerful runner, but they've got to feel good about making the stop heading into the half. The Aggies players said in the win over Baylor that the fourth-down stop turned the game's momentum.

That's especially encouraging without the team's top corner, Coryell Judie, who is out with a recurring hamstring injury.

Could we see something similar in this game? I'm betting yes.

Missouri doesn't look pretty, but wins

September, 3, 2011
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Miami (Ohio) isn't a big-name opponent, but it is a quality opponent that won 10 games a year ago.

The RedHawks were a solid starting point for Missouri, which won its season opener on Faurot Field, 17-6.

James Franklin's debut was the big draw, and while he wasn't brilliant, he showed promise and did enough for the Tigers to win.

He finished 17-of-26 for 129 yards and a touchdown, while also running for a team-high 72 yards and a touchdown on 14 carries.

Miami's only score came on Franklin's worst play of the day, an ugly interception on the sideline that handed the ball over on the Tigers' 14-yard line.

He didn't look wholly confident, but he made plays. And most importantly, he got the win. He's got a defense behind him that will allow him to make mistakes like his interception today, but also, don't forget this: It was the first start of his career.

He'll improve. That's what college football players do.

He threw the ball much better in the second half, highlighted by a nice throw downfield on a 28-yard pass to T.J. Moe and a pretty 10-yard touchdown pass to Marcus Lucas.

He'll have to be better on Friday night when Missouri travels to play Arizona State, but for now, Missouri can consider his debut a success.

Two big things to watch, though: the health of starting defensive end Jacquies Smith and linebacker Will Ebner. Ebner reportedly has a high ankle sprain, which can linger for extended periods of time.

Smith appeared to suffer a serious arm injury, but no update on his status was provided after he was helped into the locker room.

It wasn't perfect. It was nowhere near pretty. But it's a win, and Gary Pinkel has produced a lot of those at Missouri of late.
The Big 12 might be weak at the top of the running back heap, but it's definitely not at receiver. The conference has at least three of the top five receivers in the country, and the top two. They highlight a very strong group of receivers across the league, and I continue our position rankings with receivers today.

Remember that depth plays a big part of these rankings. We'll be ranking the top 10 individuals at each position later on before the season begins.

Other position rankings: 1. Oklahoma

[+] EnlargeRyan Broyles
J.P. Wilson/Icon SMIRyan Broyles finished the 2010 season with 131 catches for 1,622 yards and 14 touchdowns.
The Sooners have the nation's No. 2 receiver, Ryan Broyles, but found a handful of others to surround him in 2010 and should have a couple more in 2011. Sophomore Kenny Stills broke Broyles' freshman receiving record and looks like a budding star. Dejuan Miller came on strong before a season-ending knee injury, but he's back. The Sooners lose Cameron Kenney, but Trey Franks had a strong freshman campaign, and freshmen Justin McCay (redshirt) and Trey Metoyer could provide even more playmakers.

2. Oklahoma State

The Cowboys boast the returning Biletnikoff Award winner and 2011 favorite, Justin Blackmon, with a great group around him, too. Slot machine Josh Cooper returns for his senior year, and fellow senior Hubert Anyiam (the team's leading receiver in 2009) is hoping to return to form after being slowed by an ankle injury in 2010. Isaiah Anderson is a shifty speedster, while Michael Harrison and Tracy Moore offer a more aerial approach to receiving.

3. Texas A&M

The Aggies have the Big 12's No. 3 receiver, Jeff Fuller, who is arguably one of the top-five in the college game. But they also have the Big 12's most experienced receiving unit, with guys who won't be surprised by anything they see in Big 12 play. Juniors Ryan Swope and Uzoma Nwachukwu are the team's second and third options, but fellow juniors Kenric McNeal and Brandal Jackson could be bigger pieces of the offense in 2011. Tight end Nehemiah Hicks should see his profile rise in his coming sophomore year.

4. Baylor

Top target Kendall Wright will likely end his career as the Bears' leading receiver for all four of his seasons on the field, and 6-foot-4, 220-pound junior Josh Gordon looks like the new Jeff Fuller. Terrance Williams, Lanear Sampson and Tevin Reese round out the Bears' top five, who all had at least 40 catches last season, and all return.

5. Missouri

Missouri still lacks a proven big-play threat, but has two pass-catchers who have some of the best hands in the game. Receiver T.J. Moe and tight end Michael Egnew won't drop many passes, and combined to catch 182 for 1,807 yards and 11 touchdowns. Wes Kemp and Jerrell Jackson bring a lot of experience and both had at least 39 catches last season. If Marcus Lucas or Rolandis Woodland can become a consistent downfield threat, Missouri will rise up these rankings by season's end.

6. Texas Tech

Tech's top two receivers, Lyle Leong and Detron Lewis, must be replaced, but the Red Raiders have a few solid candidates to do it. Junior Alex Torres will likely lead the group, but fellow junior Austin Zouzalik and seniors Jacoby Franks and Tramain Swindall will be counted on for more production. Dark horse/juco newcomer Marcus Kennard could blossom into a household name across the Big 12 by season's end.

7. Texas

Sophomore Mike Davis and redshirt freshman Darius White are loaded with potential, but two of the team's top three receivers (James Kirkendoll, John Chiles) are gone, and no Texas receiver caught more than two touchdowns last season. Malcolm Williams and Marquise Goodwin are as different as two receivers could be, but both need to break out to help whoever becomes the Longhorns quarterback next fall.

8. Kansas State

Brodrick Smith will be back this season after breaking his leg in a loss to Nebraska. But two of the team's top three receivers are gone, leaving converted quarterback Chris Harper as the leading returner, though Smith might have held that title if he'd stayed healthy. Sophomore speedster Tramaine Thompson can make plays if he gets the ball with some space.

9. Iowa State

The Cyclones will be breaking in a new quarterback this season and they will need a playmaker to step up. Tight end Collin Franklin led team in receiving last season but he is now gone. Darius Reynolds looks like a possible candidate to fill the role, although incoming slot receiver Aaron Horne might rack up a few catches in space. Darius Darks and Josh Lenz should earn some more targets too.

10. Kansas

Converted defensive back Daymond Patterson is the team's top receiver, but the team's No. 3 receiver junior Bradley McDougald, moved to safety in the middle of the season. Tight end Tim Biere is one of the Big 12's best and led the team with four touchdowns last season. Chris Omigie and D.J. Beshears have some potential, and converted quarterback Christian Matthews keeps showing up in spring games. But all three, along with the rest of the group, would benefit from some consistency at the quarterback spot.

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