Wednesday, March 24, 2010

A last look at the basketball season

I'm pretty much a football guy.  Always have been even when basketball was enjoying more success.  Shortly after my own college experience ended, Missouri wound up with one of the best recruiting classes in the nation when Norm Stewart brought in 2 of the highest rated high schoolers in the nation, Steve Stipanovich and Jon Sunvold.  All those guys did was win 4 Big 8 titles during their careers.  They were never able to get to a final 4 however which sort of taints our memories of them.  It was a different era however and Norm Stewart put much more emphasis on winning the conference, in part because there were fewer teams in the NCAA's then and winning conference was the only way you could be relatively sure of even reaching the tournament.  Plus, Norm had an almost Don Fambroughish obsession with beating kansas.  Just without the obvious wide eyed fanaticism.
I pretty much quit paying attention to basketball during the last 3 years or so of the Quin Snyder era.  Talk about an unmitigated fucking disaster.  He was considered to be the next "can't miss" guy by most of the pundits and frankly a whole lot of Missouri fans, including myself.  To watch him gradually circle the drain following the Ricky Clemon's episode, along with my enthusiasm for the program was disheartening to say the least.  But we did get a really nice arena out of the deal I guess.  
But then, in yet another of the weirder days in Missouri sports history, and if you know anything about Missouri, you know we've had some really bizarre incidents in our past. (5th down anyone?)  On March 26th, 2006,  Mike Anderson was to be announced as the new head coach of the Tigers following the termination of Snyder by Missouri play by play announcer Gary Link.  Seriously.  No need to make up stories about Missouri, we can do weirder shit on our own just by accident.  Anyway, the press conference was delayed while the Board of Curators was holding a meeting on whether or not to fire athletic director Mike Alden for the botched firing among other things.  So we have television cameras and reporters but no athletic director and a coach sitting in the back wondering whether the contract he'd just signed was going to be worth the paper it was printed on.  When push came to shove, Alden was able to hold on by the skin of his teeth and Mike Anderson's hiring was complete.
The first couple of years was tough for Anderson as he had to work with kids he'd not recruited and didn't have the sort of discipline and dedication you need to succeed in his "Fastest 40 minutes of basketball" system.  Unexpected losses, player altercations and a general belief that Anderson would never be able to get it done marred those first 2 seasons.  Then in year 3 it came together for him and his team as transfer and nephew Demarre Carrol and former Quin recruit Leo Lyons led the Tigers to the Big 12 tournament title, a 3rd seed in the tournament and an elite 8 finish.  Losing those 2 players plus fellow graduate Matt Lawrence made most of the experts again doubt Coach and the team was picked 7th in the league pre-season with little chance to be successful.  However, all that prevented them from another top 4 finish was an injury to junior Justin Safford which contributed to a late season swoon.  They did manage to notch one win at the dance before falling last Sunday to a good West Virginia team coached by that bastion of virtue, Bob Huggins, who was considered for the job when Anderson was hired.
The future looks bright for the Tigers again.  A good portion of this years team were just sophomores and he's bringing in his best recruiting class to date including high flyer Tony Mitchell and point guard Phil Pressey, son of his lifelong friend and college room mate and former NBA player Paul Pressey.  While Coach Anderson may never enjoy a stretch of league titles that Coach Stewart did, his system is built for the NCAA tournament and I firmly believe Missouri's first final 4 appearance will occur sooner than later.  Between he and Gary Pinkel, people are finally realizing that Mike Alden is a pretty damn good judge of coaches when he's not also being charged with finding 25 million dollars for a new arena. 
A few things to talk about concerning spring football and that's what I'll be getting to next time.  Have a good week.

Sunday, March 21, 2010

My first instant analysis.

 If you want to know what most any kansas message board you'd care to visit looks like, this pretty well covers it.  Sorry beaks, but this is what happens when you buy up a nice shiny herd of thoroughbreds and forget to hire a jockey or buy a saddle.  Oh and getting coddled by Big XII refs all year doesn't prepare you either.  Better luck next year.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Can the defense be a little less offensive?

Sorry about the delay from my last post.  I've been finishing an e book project that was actually my first paid writing gig.    Between that and not really knowing how to address this.  Frankly, since a very good performance in 2007, the defense has suffered horribly the past 2 seasons.  Many were rejoicing after the 2008 season when Matt Eberflus left for a job as the linebackers coach for the Cleveland Browns.  He was replaced by Dave Steckel, long time linebackers coach under Gary Pinkel.  A former Marine, Steck was expected to toughen up the defense that had become too passive under Eberflus.  However, things didn't really change much as the Tigers were about as successful at defending their territory as the French Army.
But, it's just the beginning of spring practice and optimism always flows like water for me.  The practice reports I've read from Gabe DeArmond and Dave Matter have both mentioned the defensive back playing more press coverage and less giving the receivers 8 to 10 yards of cushion.  This would definitely be a good thing, but one thing I have noticed is the Tigers lack of a defensive tackle that creates chaos on the line.  In 2007 Lorenzo Williams was an absolute terror in the middle, collapsing pockets and giving the quarterback no place to go.  In '08 Ziggy Hood was a run stopping piece of machinery, but rarely provided any discomfort for the quarterback as he tried to step up to get away from pressure.  Last year it was more of the same for starters Jaron Baston and Dominique Hamilton.  However, Hamilton was a red shirt sophomore and came on as the season went along so I have some high hopes for him.  I have no idea where the other starter comes from but some candidates are Terrell Resonno, Jimmy Burge, Marvin Foster and possibly even incoming freshman Lucas Vincent.  We simply have to get some pressure up the middle, whether it come from a down lineman or a linebacker.  There are ways to scheme around the lack of an overpowering defensive tackle.  It's just going to be up to Steckel and the rest of the defensive staff to find it.
Now when you talk about defensive ends and the Tigers, it's hard not to smile when you have guys like Jacquies Smith and Aldon Smith coming back.  Aldon was a freshman all america and the future looks just insanely bright for the kid coming out of Raytown.  Blessed with a 6'5" frame and a wingspan like a Cessna, the kid has early round NFL pick written all over him.  Behind these 2 are such notables as Brad Madison, Marcus Marbrough and Brayden Burnett.  As nervous as I am about the defensive tackle situation, I'm very confident that Mizzou has defensive ends that are as good as anyone in the country.  
Another spot I feel good about is the linebacking situation.  Missouri has quietly built depth there and despite the loss of All America Sean Weatherspoon,  I expect the crew to be more than adequate.  The guy in the middle should be junior Will Ebner; a Texas kid that just loves to hit people.
The down side of will however is the fact that he probably couldn't cover me out in the flat.  For him to be truly effective the Tigers have to have some guys on the outside that can run and cover a tight end or running back.  One guy that fits that description is Andrew Gachkar, a kid from across the state line in Blue Valley, kansas that the beaks let get away from them.   He's got the speed of a safety in a 230 pound body and another kid with a nasty streak.  Look for sophomores Zaviar Gooden or Donovan Bonner to man the other side, but don't forget about transfer Josh Tatum who was out with injury last season.
So now we come to what I really was regretting, the defensive backfield.  The upside is that all of the starters are returning.  The other side of the coin is that we were on the far side of terrible last year.  The starters, at least entering spring ball were Carl Gettis and Kevin Rutland at the corners and Jarrell Harrison and Jasper Simmons at the safeties.  You have to assume/hope that they'll all be improved with another year under their belts but I'm hoping to see some pressure put on them by younger guys such as Robert Steeples, Trey Hobson and Kenji Jackson.  If not, then the coaching staff showed their concern by bringing in no less than 5 and possibly as many as 7 new DB candidates in last years recruiting class.  The popular opinion is that EJ Gaines from Fort Osage and Tristen Holt from Gilmer, Texas would be the 2 most likely to contribute early, as in against Illinois at the dome on September 4th.
So in closing, I remain hopeful, but that's just how I am.  I think the talent level on the defensive side of the ball is comparable to any in the league except for the defensive tackle position.  The Tigers have a lot of young talent at that position but so far have rarely been able to find someone that's a real difference maker.  The offense should be good enough to position the Tigers for a run at a division title and possibly a conference championship.  If the defense can just wind up top 50 in the country, the Tigers should be a force for the next couple of years since this is still one of the younger teams in the league.  You have to think that this is in the coaches corner.  And the tackle position does have some bright spots also for 2011 when Vincent has a year in the program and hopefully we see Big Sheldon Richardson ride into Columbia.  
No idea what I have going on to write about next time, so if you have anything you'd like to hear about, please let me know.  I know people are reading this since I hear from some of you from time to time.  Please feel free to leave me a comment and have a great week.

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Spring football kicks off today!

If I had a professional baseball team to root for I'd probably be a little less excited about spring football kicking off this week.  However, I'm a Kansas City Royals fan so hope begins to fade for me somewhere between April 15th and the first of May.  So since I'm really not much of a basketball fan, (although I've become a big Mike Anderson guy) the thought of my favorite team getting out and getting after it is my main sports fix this time of year.  Missouri still enters spring ball as one of the youngest teams in the Big XII and the north division and is one of the co-favorites, largely being picked second behind hick nation up in Lincoln.
Today I'd like to take a look at the offense for the Tigers.  Despite losing most of their weapons from the year before, the Tigers averaged 29 points per game last year, which ranked 6th in the conference.  Not the heady statistics from the previous 2 seasons of course, but still pretty good from a conference that views defense as just something you do while you're drawing up plays for the next drive.  Sophomore Blaine Gabbert was ranked 3rd in the conference in yards per game and 2nd in pass efficiency with a score of 140.5, trailing only Colt McCoy of the Longhorns.  Of course, he's going to lose his biggest weapon in Danario Alexander, which might actually make him a better quarterback in the long run.  He's got to improve on his habit of staring down the receiver.  If he does that you can pretty much pencil him in as one of the favorites for 1st team all conference along with Jerrod Johnson from Texas A&M.
A bigger question, at least in my mind is who takes over the number 2 job.  The Tigers were rolling along at 4-0 when they met Nebraska in Columbia on October 8th in what turned out to be a monsoon.  Gabbert got his ankle rolled up on a completely clean tackle and wasn't the same for the next few weeks.  It was apparent that the coaching staff felt that a hobbled Gabbert was preferable to either of the alternatives, former walk on Jimmy Costello or true freshman Ashton Glaser.  So this year the Tigers went out and recruited and landed 2-4 star prospects in Tyler Gabbert, Blaine's younger brother and James Franklin from Lake Dallas high school in Corinth, Texas.  James was the 20th ranked player in the state and represents the highest ranked player Coach Pinkel has ever been able to pull out of the Lone Star state.  Both James and Tyler enrolled in January and are available for spring practice.  I'm going to go out on something of a limb right now and predict James is # 2 on the depth chart when fall practice rolls around in August.  I think Tyler takes a red shirt.
Despite the popular notion that all Missouri does is throw the ball, last year was the first time since 2006 when they didn't have a 1,000 yard rusher.  Senior Derrick Washington went for slightly over 800 yards last year after rushing for over 1,000 as a sophomore.  He's backed up by junior DeVion Moore and sophomore Kendial Lawrence, a former Parade All America as a senior in high school.  This year they also recruited Marcus Murphy, Henry Josey and Greg White as running backs.  I think the 3 returnees are all solid and expect red shirts for the incoming freshmen unless someone surprises in fall camp.  To me the problems we had running the ball had less to do with talent and more with scheme.  I hear rumblings that we'll see more 2 back sets this year and hope to see some of that occurring with a quarterback under center.
As I said, the receiving corp takes a hit this year with the loss of All America Danario Alexander.  He was Gabberts #1, #2 and #3 option last year and I believe we had some other guys miss opportunities as Blaine tended to focus in on Alexander.  Hell, the guy caught 113 passes for 1781 yards and 14 touchdown last year.  Why wouldn't you look for him?  However, there is absolutely some talent left in the cupboard as Wes Kemp returns for his junior year firmly entrenched as one of the starters.  Another junior, Jerrell Jackson absolutely showed that he's capable of making the big play.  There's also plenty of returning talent in Rolandis Woodland, Michael Egnew, Jaleel Clark and TJ Moe as well as incoming freshmen Marcus Lucas, Jimmy Hunt and Bud Sasser.  I think the red shirt burns on at least 1 of these guys, but frankly, I doubt any of them open the season as starters.  The tight end position was forgotten last year which was surprising considering the success of former Tigers Martin Rucker and Chase Coffman.  Junior Andrew Jones opens as the starter and really the only thing I believe he lacked last year was Gabbert being able to find him.
The offensive line returns 4 of 5 starters from last year, minus guard Kurtis Gregory who's moved on.  The tackles last  were juniors to be Elvis Fisher and Dan Hoch.  Elvis will miss most of spring ball due to surgery which should give "Big" Jack Meiners a chance to show his stuff with the 1st unit.  Tim Barnes will man the center position as the only senior starter this year and I expect expect either Meiners or Jayson Palmgren to fill in at the guard spot for Gregory.  I actually wouldn't be surprised if one of the starters last year, guard Austin Wuebbles is replaced by one of those 2 also.  To top it off, the Tigers brought in 3 highly regarded offensive line prospects in Mitch Morse, Nick Demien and Anthony Gatti.  Offensive line is a difficult position to play as a freshman in the Big XII and both Gatti and Demien are coming off knee injuries as seniors.  I really expect all 3 to take a red shirt but wouldn't be surprised if one is able to crack the 2 deep.   
So in closing, despite the fact that Mizzou lost one of the premier receivers from last years team, I really don't expect the Tigers to miss a beat this year.  They've been recruiting top notch talent and frankly they expect to succeed.  Offensive coordinator David Yost will benefit from his year of experience and the youngsters will have the benefit of another year in the program.  Mark it down, the Tigers will average 35 points a game this fall.
Next time we'll talk about the other side of the ball where the future is just a bit more cloudy.  Have a good week folks!

Sunday, March 7, 2010

My 5 favorite sitcom's. Ever

I really don't watch much television anymore.  And that's not counting the fact that it made stars of idiots like Jon and Kate Gosselin.  The new wave of reality television frankly bores me whether it's an MTV production featuring 6 or 8 strangers trying to co-exist in a house, 18 idiots stranded on an island forming tribes or the next mediocre singer hoping to snag themselves a recording contract by subjecting themselves to insults from Simon Cowell.  I suppose that it's generally cheaper to produce a show like this since you don't have to actually pay writers to come up with a script and just send out a few cameramen with instructions to film everything.  What I enjoyed and would still enjoy are some of the great sitcom's that we used to be able to watch.  Usually having anywhere from 5 to 9 regulars and a host of extras that would appear semi-regularly.  Hell, M*A*S*H probably had 15 to 20 people that would appear on multiple shows for season after season.  I don't know.  Maybe I'm just getting old, but for better or worse, here are 5 of my favorites, as usual in no particular order.
Barney Miller:
Set in a New York police station, the show ran from 1975 until 1982 and featured Hal Linden as the police chief trying to maintain order over a collection of diverse, quirky detectives and even stranger characters being brought in wearing handcuffs.  The show wasn't about the detectives and how they performed their jobs.  It was how they interacted with each other in what would have to be considered "weird" circumstances.  The detectives included one of my favorite character actors of all time, Abe Vigoda as Detective Phillip Fish and Max Gail and the continually confused Stanley Wojciehowicz.  Another couple of favorites of mine was Barney's boss, Deputy Inspector Frank Luger, played by another great character actor, James Gregory and Ron Carey as officer Carl Levitt who was constantly hounding Barney on why he hadn't yet been promoted to detective.
Night Court:
This ran from 1984 until 1992 on NBC and featured a young comedian named Harry Anderson playing Judge Harry Stone who was presiding over naturally enough Reinhold Weege.  While Harry began as the focal point, the comedy generally centered around Bailiff Nostradamus "Bull" Shannon, played by Richard Moll and prosecutor Dan Fielding played by John Larroquette.  These 3 were constants all 9 seasons while the rest of the cast changed several times.  4 actresses played the public defender, including Ellen Foley as Billie Young.  Before that she had been best known as the singer who did the female parts of "Paradise by the Dashboard Lights" by Meatloaf.  Finally however, the settled with the delectable Markie Post as Christine Sullivan.  Although very intelligent and capable, Christine was infatuated with Princess Diana and managed to work that in as a gag line during almost every episode. 
This was the lead in for Night Court for years and made it, in my opinion the best night of television for the week.  The story took place in a neighborhood bar in Boston.  The owner, Sam "Mayday" Malone, a former Red Sox reliever and alcoholic was the owner.  The bars patrons and staff meshed together beautifully.  The show rarely had much of a plot but was more a series of skits, generally taking place in the bar with few exceptions.  The show started out with Shelly Long as Diane, his over educated barmaid and love interest.  Shelly left after a few seasons and was replaced by Kirstie Alley, who had the most beautiful eyes of any woman that's ever graced this planet.  But the real stars of the show, again in my opinion were 2 of his regulars, Norm and Cliff, played by George Wendt and John Ratzenberger.  Norm had some of the great one liners I've personally ever heard, and Cliff was the classic bar "know-it-all".  Their foil was Carla, the perpetually pregnant and tempered barmaid played by Rhea Pearlman.  NORM!
WKRP in Cincinnati:
This show only lasted 4 years, mostly due to the fact that CBS kept moving it around on it's schedule.  It was the tale of a struggling radio station in Cincinnati that hired new program director Andy Travis in an attempt to elevate them from the bottom of the ratings.  He changes to format to rock and roll, to take advantage of the lead DJ, a former burnout that went by the name of Johnny Fever and brings in a new night guy who went by Venus Flytrap.  The staff is mostly inept including the station manager played flawlessly by Gordon Jump and the news director Les Nessman.  One of my favorite episodes was the Thanksgiving when manager Arthur Carlson decided to do the infamous turkey drop.  The show launched Loni Anderson as the newest sex symbol of the day as receptionist Jennifer Marlowe, but for my money, give me Bailey.
That 70's Show:
Again, just in my opinion, this is currently the last of the comedies that fit what I enjoy and even it borrowed the time frame of the other comedies listed.  It's about a group of teenagers growing up in the fictional town of Point Place, Wisconsin.  This could have described my journey through high school except that it's a lot funnier and the endings turned out better.  It also had some of the weirdest real names by some of it's actors including Topher Grace, Mila Kunis, Ashton Kutcher and Wilmer Valderrama.  And though they weren't exactly Ward and June Cleaver, has there ever been a better set of parents than Red and Kitty Foreman?
Maybe I'll find something football related to write about next time.  After all, spring practice starts Tuesday.  After yesterday's game against the beaks we could use it.   Have a good week! 

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

The Big XII north. Way too early predictions

The last time we got together we talked about things remaining the same in the south.  As far as last year goes, I sort of expect the end result to be what it's been for the last 2 years.  Missouri and Nebraska fighting it out for the top spot and everyone else sort of meandering around hoping for a 3rd place finish and a post season trip to Shreveport.  It really hasn't been that long since Colorado was a perennial contender for the CCG whipping boy and kansas finished 2nd as recently as 2007.  However, since that time Dan Hawkins has taken the Buffalos downhill faster than anyone could imagine and the beaks are in a state of flux thanks to last years little 7 game losing streak.
Starting out things in Boulder, the Buffs reeled in the 66th ranked class in the nation and 12th in the Big XII.  The Buff's only lost 2 starters on offense and 3 on defense but let's face it, when you wound up 3-9 and 2-6 in conference, are you really that excited to get all those starters back?  And it's not like they were ever so close to winning.  Those 9 losses include an opening season loss to 3-9 Colorado State and a 54-38 thrashing by 5-7 Toledo.  When your season highlight was starting the beaks 7 game losing streak, you aren't to be blamed if you're not terribly optimistic.  I've said for over a year that Coach Dan Hawkins is a dead man walking and I think this may finally be the year that he either produces or is fired.  At least I hope so.  I think he's a fairly nice guy that's in over his head and I've really never had a problem with the Colorado fans.  They don't do a lot of trash talking and they always offer you a hit off their bong if you travel to Boulder for a game.  Sadly, I think the Buffs are just treading water and hoping for an invitation to the Pac 10.
For a time it appeared that Bill Snyder had found another soul to sell and that the Wildcats were going to make a run at a north division title.  However, running into Missouri and Nebraska their last 2 games pretty much finished that hope off.  The 'Cats lose 4 starters on offense and 5 on defense which isn't terrible, but those were clearly the 9 best players that they had.  They go into this season with all sorts of questions, such as who will play quarterback and who might catch the ball should they find someone that can throw it.  They finished ahead of only Colorado as far as recruiting goes so no immediate help coming in there.  At some point they will have to find someone willing to coach the fiasco that their football program has become.  In the meantime they probably better pony up for Frank Martin so they can remain relevant in something.
Next stop is in Ames where head coach Paul Rhodes Cyclones went 7-6, (3-5 in conference) and made their first bowl appearance since a 2005 appearance in the Texas Bowl.   The 'Clones highlight of the season was a 9-7 barnburner of a win in Lincoln against the equally offensive challenged Cornhuskers.  They only lose 3 starters on the offensive side of the ball but lose 6 from what was a pretty good defense.   Also unfortunately for them they didn't really bring in much immediate help with their 60th ranked recruiting class.  (10th in the conference)  I've always liked the Iowa State fans and feel badly that they've had little to cheer about the last few years.  Hopefully they can keep Rhodes around, especially since he's an alumni, but facts are facts.  Their facilities are among the worst in the conference and Jack Trice Stadium with it's seating capacity of 55,000 isn't going to impress a lot of recruits.
Of course, some programs would consider 55,000 to be a step up.  We talk about one of them with our next stop in lawrence, kansas, the home of the fighting beakers.  In an effort to appease the fan base after the mid season collapse and revelations about former coach Mark Mangino, they brought in a hoped for up and comer when they hired Turner Gill from the University of Buffalo.  Now some teams would have been put off by the fact that he managed only a 5-7 record in the MAC last year and I really think he was about their 3rd choice.  But he brings some success as a former Husker during their glory years and he could be brought in fairly cheaply.  This is a really important hire for athletic director Lew "Yoda" Perkins.  They already have had to put their proposed stadium expansion on hold and a few of their fan base have started to realize that everywhere sweet Lew has been wound up on probation after he left.  Seriously, would you buy a used car from this man?
So now we head to what is the north's version of the Big 2.  Nebraska and Missouri are outspending the rest of the division when it comes to facilities and salaries for coaches.  Nebraska has had this commitment since, well, forever and Missouri is starting to reap the benefits after 20 years of futility and inept leadership.  They've finished 1-2 the last 2 seasons in the north, their recruiting classes ranked 21st and 22nd nationally and 4th and 5th in the conference.  They were also 2 of the younger teams in college football.  The hicks lose only one offensive starter from last year which may or may not be a good thing.  They appear to be making a push to go back to old time husker power football.  They do lose 5 starters from a really good defense, including all world defensive tackle Ndamakong Suh.  I would expect their defense to take something of a step back next year, but it's not unreasonable to expect their offense to be better.    
In Columbia, the opposite is true.  While the Tigers offense took something of a step back from the last 2 seasons, it was still one of the better scoring teams in the conference.  The Tigers lose 3 players each from the offense and defense, but Danario Alexander will be very tough to lose.  He was sophomore starter Blaine Gabberts favorite target.  Likewise the defense will suffer with the loss of linebacker Sean Weatherspoon who was the emotional leader of the team.  The Tigers however have been stockpiling good receivers for a while now and it should be someone's time to step up.  Whether that comes from increased production from Wes Kemp and Jerrell Jackson or someone new steps in such as Rolandis Woodland, TJ Moe or Michael Egnew.   They also brought in a bumper crop of receivers this year including Marcus Lucas, Jimmy Hunt and Bud Sassar.  Someone will have to step up but the candidates are plentiful and talented.  On the defensive side of the ball, Dominique Hamilton emerged as a very good defensive tackle as a sophomore.  He'll need some help here from the likes of Terrell Resonno, Jimmy Burge and Marvin Foster to replace the graduated Jaron Baston.  If I was making an early guess it would be Foster.  The linebacking corps is deep and experienced even with the loss of Weatherspoon.  The problem the Tigers will face is improving the defense against the pass where they were one of the worst in the nation.
So from what I see we've essentially got a 2 horse race next season.  The talent disparity is simply too great.  I've also seen nothing from the rest of the coaches in the division that would make me believe anyone has the next Knute Rockne running the show.  (sorry beakers)  So how do I break down the finish?  Of the bottom 4 I'm going to go with Iowa State 3rd, Kansas State 4th, only because of Bill Snyder, kansas 5th and that's only because Colorado is also in the division.  The only question is who returns more talent and can get it performing quickly.  With that one I'm going to stick with my usual homer position and take Missouri.  The offense will improve with Gabbert having another year under his belt and hopefully realizing that he doesn't have to lock in on one guy.  I think/hope the defense will improve and Nebraska seemingly returning to more  of a running team will play into Missouri's strength defensively.  And as I said, I think there is an excellent chance that the winner of the division actually wins the conference championship game.
Enjoy the rest of your week and I'll see you this weekend!

Monday, March 1, 2010

One of the first signs of spring is coming.

No, I'm not talking about some robin showing up in my yard.  They apparently have their butts parked down south somewhere still.  I can't even coax a sparrow to show up at the bird feeder right now.  What I'm talking about is spring football which starts up in a few short days, which culminates in one of my favorite events of the year; the "PowerMizzou Black and Gold Tailgate" which will be taking place on April 17th.  I'll absolutely get into that some more later but right now, just for fun, let's take a  way too early look at some of the teams that will effect the success or lack of for my favorite team.
So starting out today I'll take a look at the south division of the conference or as we like to call it, the have's.  4 of the 6 teams reside in Texas, home of spring football at the high school level.  We're 2 weeks away from basketball conference championship in Missouri which lead up to the state tournament and they've already determined their state champions, which tells you all you need to know about the food chain down south.  Can't have your star quarterback miss a snap because he's playing forward on the basketball team now can you?
Last years southern champion and national championship game sacrificial lamb was the Texas Longhorns.  They lost starting quarterback Colt McCoy early in the game so we'll never know for sure if they could have broken the stranglehold the SEC has had for the last few years.  On the upside, at least they didn't lose to Florida.  Man I'm glad I don't have to listen to the Tim Teabow lovefest any longer. The 'horns lost 5 starters on offense including McCoy and star receiver Jordan Shipley who finally completed his 11th year of eligibility.  They only lost 3 starters on defense and brought in the third ranked recruiting class in the country.  And to top it off they've already landed 11 recruits for next year.  It must suck to be them.  Oh, and they also sport some of the finest looking cheerleaders known to man.  They've really pretty much surpassed Oklahoma as the power in the south, (sorry Sooner fans, but it's true) but they have some question marks next year.
The other 600 lb gorilla down south is the aforementioned Oklahoma Sooners.  They suffered a ver un-Oklahoma like 8-5 last year including an ass pounding of epic proportions in Lubbock to the departed Mike Leach and the Red Raiders.  Sam Bradford spent most of the year sidelined with shoulder injuries but they did manage to get some quality time in for his backup, Landry Jones.  I think that's going to pay off in a big way for them this year.  They lost 4 starters each on offense and defense but were starting 2 freshmen on the offensive line which I expect to be much better this season.  Oklahoma is used to winning and expected to be much better last year than they were.  "Big game" Bob Stoops managed to win a bowl game and as usual, they brought in a top 10 recruiting class.  They also have one of the spookiest fan bases I've ever been around.
Down in Lubbock it's a new start as former head coach and Pirate deluxe Mike Leach is out and is being replaced by Tommy Tubberville.  The Red Raiders return 8 starters on offense, including every skill position player but must replace 5 on defense and just as importantly, their defensive coordinator.  Their recruiting class was ranked 41st in the nation, which will in no way allow them to compete with the Big 2 in the long run.  However, Tubberville was a very good coach during his time at Auburn and is considered to be something of a defensive wizard.  He has the makings of a team that could made a run at the south this year and could absolutely improve things on the recruiting front next year assuming they could get to 9 wins this season.  A lot of questions here, but I think they made the biggest splash in the conference as far as coaching hires went.
Following a somewhat disappointing end to what was their most anticipated year in recent memory, the Oklahoma State Cowboys go into full rebuilding mode this year.  They lose 7 starters on offense and must adapt to losing QB Zac Robinson and wideout Dez Bryant, as well as most of their skill positions.  To make matters worse they'll be looking to replace 9 starters on the defensive side of the ball.  It appears that the 2010 season could be a long one for Okie Lite and I can see a few blowups coming from head coach and resident psychopath Mike "I'm a man" Gundy. 
One of the biggest surprises, at least to me was the resurgence in College Station.  Now you may say, and with good cause that a 6-7 record including 3-5 in conference is hardly a resurgence, but I fully expected the Aggies to be hunting a new coach this off season, especially after the 4 touchdown throttling they received at the hands of a mediocre Arkansas team in week 4.  However, Mike Sherman managed to put 6 wins together and get themselves the bowl game that would have belonged to kansas had they not gone into that little 7 game losing streak to close the season.  heheh.  A&M loses only 2 starters on defense but must replace 5 from last years offense.  They did manage the 16th ranked recruiting class in the country which was good enough for 3rd in the Big XII.  I still think that Sherman is a buffoon, and I don't think another 6 win campaign will buy another year for him, but he has them poised for some legitimate success in the future.
I thought it was all there for Baylor last year.  They had one of the most dynamic young quarterbacks in the conference, lots of experience and a schedule that looked conducive to qualifying for their first bowl game since 1994.  This certainly looked to be the case when they opened the season with a 24-21 win at Wake Forest.  However, it all came crashing down quickly after quarterback Robert Griffin went down with a knee injury.   The Bears struggled mightily after that to a 4-8 record with the season highlight being a 40-32 win at Missouri in week 9. #$@&^^  Their recruiting was mediocre at best this year and I'm afraid that Art Briles, who I think is a pretty decent coach is going to see the handwriting on the wall and bail for a better job as soon as something comes available.  It's just going to be almost impossible to recruit well enough in Waco to compete in the tough Big XII south and they'd probably have been better served if they'd wound up in a different conference back when the SWC was disbanded.
So just looking at what each team has coming back, my initial guess for the finish next year pretty much mimics the way it's been for most of the last decade.  I think it will be OU's turn to finish first and win the division, followed by Texas, Texas Tech, A&M, Baylor and Oklahoma State.  What I do think will be different this year is that the south team that makes the conference championship game isn't going to be an automatic 3 touchdown favorite in that contest.  For a change, I think that 2 teams in the north have a legitimate chance to end the south domination this year and that's what I'll talk about next time.  Have a good week.