|Missouri aiming for another crack at OU|
|Written by Admin|
|Friday, 08 August 2008 11:10|
Ranked No. 1 in the country, a Tigers program long relegated to mediocrity was poised to win the Big 12 and earn a chance to play for a national championship.
And they weren't just taking their program to new heights. They were pulling up the entire North division of a conference that for years had thrown out weaklings to be sacrificed to Oklahoma and Texas.
Alas, the revolution may have started in the North, but it stalled in San Antonio when the Sooners thumped Mizzou in the championship game, 38-17.
With 15 starters returning, senior quarterback Chase Daniel and the Tigers are favored to win the North again and take another crack at the league trophy.
``We haven't arrived,'' Missouri coach Gary Pinkel cautioned reporters this summer. ``We won the Big 12 North last year. (The) University of Missouri hasn't won a Big 12 championship yet.''
The Tigers are expected to be the class of a division that is starting to flex some muscle again.
Kansas, runner-up to Mizzou in the North last season, took a giant leap forward under coach Mark Mangino last season, finishing 12-1 and beating Virginia Tech in the Orange Bowl.
``Expectations are very high for our program in Lawrence, in the state of Kansas, and around the country,'' Mangino said. ``We embrace those expectations, because there was a time when I first arrived here that there were no expectations for Kansas's football program.''
Serious talk of lofty goals at places like Kansas and Missouri may cause a few snickers down south, especially at Oklahoma, where the Sooners have a trophy case packed full of Big 12 hardware.
Oklahoma returns 15 starters from last year's 11-3 squad that beat Missouri twice and will be favored again to win the South.
Since 1999, Oklahoma or Texas has represented the South in every Big 12 title game and the division is still loaded with talent. Sooners coach Bob Stoops has won so many big games that it's become his nickname - Big Game Bob. But given Oklahoma's recent pratfalls in BCS games - losing the last four its played - maybe it should be ``Big 12 Bob.''
Stoops prefers to focus on what his team has won, not what it's lost, in recent years.
``We've been in six Big 12 championship games and won five of them. We are doing something right,'' Stoops said. ``We know how to win those games and we'll manage these others as best we can.''
No league will have a better crop of quarterbacks. Daniel and Oklahoma's Sam Bradford are two of the best passers in a league full of them: Texas' Colt McCoy, Texas Tech's Graham Harrell, Kansas' Todd Reesing and Oklahoma State's Zac Robinson all are experienced playmakers.
``I think everyone knows the great quarterbacks that are out there in this league,'' Stoops said. ``It's just amazing.''
A capsule look at the teams in predicted order of finish:
MISSOURI - Key players: QB Chase Daniel, Sr.; WR/KR Jeremy Maclin, So.; TE Chase Coffman, Sr. Returning starters: 6 offense, 10 defense.
Notes: The feisty Daniel was a finalist for the Heisman Trophy last season ... Tigers must replace Tony Temple, the only running back in school history with consecutive 1,000-yard seasons. ... Mizzou won't face Oklahoma during the regular season, but face a tough trip to Texas on Oct. 11.
KANSAS - Key players: QB Todd Reesing, Jr.; LB Mike Rivera, Sr.; DE Stryker Sulak, Sr. Returning starters: 6 offense, 9 defense.
Notes: Reesing passed for 33 TDs last season against just seven INT ... Jayhawks led Big 12 in defense last season, but lost All-America CB Aqib Talib to NFL ... Schedule gets tougher with OU, Texas Tech and Texas back on.
COLORADO - Key players: TB Darrell Scott, Fr.; DL George Hypolite, Sr.. Returning starters: 7 offense, 7 defense.
Notes: Scott was the prize recruit and will be expected to make an impact right away .... Coach Dan Hawkins' son Cody is the starting QB, not that he's bragging. ``He might be the 12th best quarterback in the Big 12,'' dad says.
NEBRASKA - Key players: QB Joe Ganz, Sr.; RB Marlon Lucky, Sr. Returning starters: 6 offense, 6 defense.
Notes: The disastrous Bill Callahan Era is over. Now it's Bo Pelini's job to pull the proud Huskers out of the mess. Nebraska fans are so excited that more than 80,000 went to the spring game ... There's another Steinkuhler in Husker red. Freshman defensive lineman Baker Steinkuhler is the son of former Huskers great Dean Steinkuhler, who won the Outland and Lombardi trophies in 1983. Baker's brother Ty is a senior defensive lineman.
KANSAS STATE - Key players: QB Josh Freeman, Jr.; WR Deon Murphy, Jr.; DE Ian Campbell, Sr.. Returning starters: 7 offense, 5 defense.
Notes: Coach Ron Prince lost last four games and still got a new contract after going 5-7 ... Campbell is a bona fide big-time player, a two-time All-Big 12 selection, on a defense that was horrible during losing skid.
IOWA STATE - Key players: RB Alexander Robinson, So.; DE Kurtis Taylor, Sr.; QB Austen Arnaud, So.; Returning starters: 5 offense, 6 defense.
Notes: Coach Gene Chizik's first season was a 3-9 struggle. The good news is that South powerhouses Oklahoma, Texas and Texas Tech aren't on the schedule.
OKLAHOMA - Key players; QB Sam Bradford, So.; RB DeMarco Murray, So.; DE Auston English: Returning starters: 9 offense, 6 defense.
Notes: Bradford led the nation in pass efficiency last season and should be able to avoid a ``sophomore slump'' because he plays behind one of the best offensive lines in the country... Defense is the question mark. The Sooners must replace Big 12 defensive player of the year Curtis Lofton and will have three new starters in the secondary.
TEXAS TECH - Key players: QB Graham Harrell, Jr.; WR Michael Crabtree, So. Returning starters: 10 offense, 8 defense.
Notes: Tech could be the South spoiler and steal the title with 18 starters returning ... Everything starts with Harrell (5,705 yards in 2007) and Crabtree (134 receptions), the most dynamic pass-catch combo in the league ... Tech hasn't had a 10-win season since 1976.
TEXAS - Key players: QB Colt McCoy, Jr.; WR Quan Cosby, Sr.; DE Brian Orakpo, Sr. Returning starters: 6 offense, 4 defense.
Notes: McCoy must cut back on last season's 18 interceptions ... Texas ranked 109th in the nation against the pass last season, giving up a school record 277.8 yards per game. New coordinator Will Muschamp came from Auburn to fix it.
OKLAHOMA STATE - Key players: QB Zac Robinson, Jr.; TE Brandon Pettigrew, Sr. Returning starters: 8 offense, 6 defense.
Notes: Robinson might be most underrated QB in a star-studded league, with 2,824 yards passing 847 rushing last season ... OSU is the alma mater of Texas oilman T. Boone Pickens who loves to throw money at the program, which means coach Mike Gundy should be on the hot seat to challenge for a league title.
M - Key players: RB Mike Goodson, Jr.; QB Stephen McGee, Sr.; QB Jerrod Johnson, So. Returning starters: 6 offense, 6 defense
Notes: The Aggies begin the Mike Sherman Era with the former Green Bay Packers head coach trying to turn the program into a Big 12 contender again ... McGee, the starter the last two seasons, now in a wide-open battle with Johnson for the job ... Jorvorskie Lane, the 290-pound wrecking ball of a running back, has been moved to fullback and ordered to lose weight.
BAYLOR - Key players: QB Kirby Freeman, Sr.; LB Joe Pawelek, Jr. Returning starters: 9 offense, six defense.
Notes: Fifteen returning starters should be a sign for optimism. But this is Baylor, a program that has never won more than three Big 12 games in a season ... Freeman transferred from Miami.